Archive for the Television Category

Fliegender Zirkus

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on March 2, 2018 by dcairns

Tatort is a German cop show that’s been running forever. It can get pretty wild — one would suggest it had entered its decadent phase, except that they had Sam Fuller on it to direct an episode entitled DEAD PIGEON ON BEETHOVEN STREET in 1973 so one has to assume it’s always been that way.

Dominik Graf, maestro of the modern krimi, has directed several episodes. By chance, I obtained a 1995 show he helmed, set at the onset of a blizzard — the perfect viewing for this snowswept March. Decadence this time includes bizarre red herrings like a housing estate where butterflies never go out of season, and a series of references to Monty Python sketches. When the first one showed up (above), it made me momentarily wonder if the Eric the Half a Bee sketch was telling the truth and Marcel Proust really DID have a haddock. I wouldn’t put it past him.

And then we get this — 

Excellent plotting, as in all Graf’s stuff. I interviewed him once at the Edinburgh Film Fest but the stupid machine didn’t record.

Here’s how you do a great mystery, apparently: come up with a good crime. Then work backwards, disguising what really happened under layers of obfuscation, until you arrive at the inciting incident, which also has to be intriguing and unusual. I can never manage to write backwards. I start with a good clue, and then i can’t solve it, or else it leads to a disappointing solution. Backwards is the only way to go. If I could find a co-writer with the backwards ability, I could RULE THE WORLD.



Checking boxes

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2018 by dcairns

You know how I said I was really busy viewing film festival submissions and art school applications? Well, I have less of the latter to view this year, as it turns out, so that’s not so bad. The whole thing is still a KARMIC SEWER, though — with a few clicks, I sentence to death the dreams of young hopefuls, again and again. It’s not the most enjoyable sensation. And in the few instances where I can honestly give a wholeheartedly welcoming response, I have no way of knowing if it will bear fruit: someone further up the food chain may doom the applicant for their own reasons, or the talented applicant, having received a better offer, may take their skills elsewhere.

Still, I managed to watch the first two installments of Bertrand Tavernier’s TV series Voyage à Travers le Cinéma Français, which is ace, even better than Scorsese’s similar shows, and that gave me a clue as to what to watch for this fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten. It even gave me the key image (above). Now the piece is up and you can rush over and find out what film it is.


The Sunday Intertitle: the thrill of the Chase

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2018 by dcairns

From Laurel & Hardy and Harold Lloyd’s work for Hal Roach, it seems natural to move on to Charley Chase, whose silent work in particular includes some of the greatest little farces ever put on screen. Leo McCarey, who directed most of them (though he credited Chase as the real creative mind), compared the films to The Dick Van Dyke Show — domestic comedies using farcical plotting. (And when DVD found Stan Laurel in the phone book and called him up to see if it was really him, he remarked, “I stole a lot from you,” to which Stan, a regular reviewer, replied, “Yes, I know.”)

I had a conversation with an eminent farceur recently in which we agreed that feature-length farces rarely work — “very hard to find a comic motor to sustain the plot,” was his diagnosis. So shorts in the twenties and thirties did it repeatedly, sitcoms can do it endlessly, but features usually sputter. In this light I’m fascinated that THE AWFUL TRUTH works so well. Part of its success is due to director McCarey having learned so many lessons from his work with Chase (plus Stan & Ollie and I guess Max Davidson). But part of it I think is the way it drops little emotional scenes in along the way to keep the stakes clear — we should feel that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are an ideal couple and it’s a tragedy they’ve broken up, and then we can go back to laughing as they sabotage one another’s attempts to find a replacement mate.

Chase, working on two-reelers, doesn’t require any of that weight, but the films do want you to like and root for his character. Though a kind of cruelty is required, surely, to dream up such exquisite comic embarrassments, the audience is expected to wince in sympathy even as it laughs, and the ending is required to resolve the situation with a kind of poetic justice.

In INNOCENT HUSBANDS he’s married to the great Katherine Grant, in Mrs. Hardy termagant mode. She’s obsessively suspicious of her blameless spouse. Fate contrives to heap incriminating circumstances on the poor fish, really putting him through a lot of hell he doesn’t deserve, but the ending restores happiness and trust in a very McCarey way…

The film’s big idea is to combine two situations of compelling interest, the “Oh no! My wife!” bedroom farce and the mediumistic séance. Chase has to smuggles three people out of his bedroom while a spiritualist meeting sits in his living room, by disguising them as spooks. The contrivances involved to get us to this point are considerable, and almost too much — the key to this success is to make the contrivances themselves funny (as they never are in Ray Cooney type farces), playing up their absurdity or using them to point up character.

At the end of the story, Chase catches Katherine in an innocent compromising position with a man, forcing a very McCareyesque compromise: she promises not to be suspicious of him if he won’t be suspicious of her. As in THE AWFUL TRUTH, a successful marriage is like a conjuror’s trick: undeniably marvelous, but don’t inspect it too closely.


Then, just as peace reigns, one of the forgotten “guests” Charley has been trying to get rid off, comes tiptoeing through the back of frame. Charley sees her and cringes. Katherine, embracing him, does not. And then the character, on the way to the door, gets caught on a piece of cloth and starts pulling an ornament off its tabletop… Charley sees this too, and cringes some more…

But Charley has a revolver (established earlier) and so fires a shot at random in perfect sync with the smashing of the ornament — and the house detective (established earlier) pops out of a chest, rubbing his wounded posterior.

Amazing stuff — the condensed plotting is on a par with the final minute of NORTH BY NORTHWEST. It boggles the mind that such tightly-plotted, inventive and funny stuff was put together, at speed, by serious alcoholics (McCarey, Chase, Grant too). But maybe working alcoholics need to have more discipline than the rest of us, just to be able to pull of their (farce-like) double lives. Maybe so.