Archive for the Theatre Category

Vampire Nightclub

Posted in FILM, Interactive, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2018 by dcairns

If Max Schreck is looking a bit unusual above, that’s because I photographed him off the screen at The Hidden Door Festival’s BLADE event. I shall attempt to explain.

Hidden Door put on surprising and unusual events in empty buildings around Edinburgh. A bit like squatters, only they invite an audience. Flashback a week —

I’d given up going to the Filmhouse Quiz (second Sunday of the month) because I found the new quizmaster a bit inept. I felt bad for him, but after all I don’t go out at the weekend looking to feel bad for someone. If I want to cringe, I can stay home and think about my adolescence.

But there’s a NEW new quizmaster and I’d heard she was great and I went along and she was — and my team won, which doesn’t always happen. My kind of film trivia doesn’t always turn up in a film trivia quiz.

AND there was a special question with a special prize — there was a line of dialogue which turned out to be from BLADE, and BLADE is a very special film for team member Kim — she met her future husband Eg through their shared love of BLADE. So of course she recognized the line, won the prize, and it was free tickets to the Hidden Door event…

On the night, Kim got in touch as there were still a couple of tickets going spare. The Leith Theatre, site of the event, is only five minutes from out house, but Fiona had just set off for a nap, so I popped along myself, curious about the venue and the “immersive cinema experience” promised.

Not quite curious enough to stay. The show started at 7.30 but the movie itself… when? NOSFERATU was on when I arrived.

The disco lighting created lots of odd effects unimagined by Murnau. The pumping music did not exactly sync with the movie — it wasn’t intended as accompaniment, really — but I’ve heard worse attempts at scoring. And they’d really put a lot of effort and imagination into creating a vampire nightclub, including people playing vampires who prowled up and down or danced on podiums by the screen. It was all fine. I hate night clubs, but I was happy to have a beer, walk about, watch NOSFERATU for a bit…

NOSFRATU ended… I prepared for BLADE… and NOSFERATU began again. Of course they weren’t going to sync the start of one film to the end of the other. NOSFERATU was just screen-filler. They would start BLADE whenever.

The thing is, I don’t actually like BLADE, so having enjoyed the venue and seen a bit of NOSFERATU under unique circumstances, I left. The thought of being in a night club, even a vampire one, for an indeterminate period, was intolerable to me. I enjoyed what I’d had — would strongly recommend Hidden Door (it’s still running) to those who enjoy nights out — but it wasn’t really for me. And the reward for staying in the club would have been BLADE…

I warmed to Stephen Norrington at the time his debut, DEATH MACHINE, came out, because he did an interview saying “We are the generation that hates LONDON KILLS ME.” He was foursquare against gritty British social realism, which was the only flavour on sale at the time apart from heritage Merchant-Ivory stuff. I was with him. We might also have been the generation that hates DEATH MACHINE, I’m not sure — I never saw it.

BLADE had an impressive opening sequence, but one that invalidate the rest of the film — once you’d seen Wesley Snipes effortlessly kill a hundred vampires, there didn’t seem much point sticking around. Then Norrington made the autobiographical tortured genius film THE LAST MINUTE, which I haven’t seen, then THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, oh dear. I recently learned that Sean Connery had been set to do a film with Milos Forman until his experience with Norrington made him retire instead. Another reason to dislike this loud mess.

Norrington hasn’t made a film since, which is pretty remarkable. Normally, you do a film of that size, and SOMEBODY will hire you again. There’s a story there, but a lot of disagreement about what it is…

From one party I heard that everybody on LOXG hated Norrington. He famously didn’t attend the premiere. Another friend bumped into Norrington and heard his side of it. He’d been treated abominably. My friend was totally convinced by his account. But it doesn’t take too much finagling to find a theory that would square both versions: possibly Norrington was being mistreated by the producers, and this made him hard to work with, and Connery loathes disorganisation, and Norrington wound up universally unpopular but it wasn’t originally his fault. I don’t know. But I do find it hard to forgive him for using up Sean Connery right before he would have made the Milos Forman film. We are the generation that hates THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

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The Scottish Play

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on May 12, 2018 by dcairns

I borrowed William Packard’s book The Art of Screenwriting from the college library to see if it was worthwhile. Interesting passage where he takes the first scene of Macbeth, the witches’ meeting, and fleshes it out into screenplay form. A worthwhile exercise.

The scene looks like this in the original play.

ACT I  SCENE I  A desert place.
[Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches]
First Witch When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch That will be ere the set of sun. 5
First Witch Where the place?
Second Witch Upon the heath.
Third Witch There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch I come, graymalkin!
Second Witch Paddock calls. 10
Third Witch Anon!
ALL Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
[Exeunt]

Packard does things like adding EXTERIOR, though oddly he doesn’t give a full slugline (EXT. HEATH – DAY or should it be NIGHT?) and adds some scene-setting description. He sets the action in the aftermath of the big battle{“broken swords, armor pieces litter the ground”), which seems to me to fly in the face of strong textual evidence that the witches are meeting before the battle, or anyway before it’s finished. But some kind of addition is necessary since Shakespeare doesn’t give us any scenic description — even the sparse exits and entrances provided in the text were added by other hands (so, sadly, we can’t credit the Bard with “Exit, pursued by a bear.”)

Then Packard adds parentheses to each of the first lines ~

First Witch (cries out) When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch (quickly) When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch (knowing) That will be ere the set of sun.

I don’t really see the point of that (and I normally LOVE parentheses) and you shouldn’t really add so many hints to the actors. Leave the director something to do.

Other action seems under-described. Shakespeare has his witches crying to their offstage familiar spirits, Graymalkin and Paddock, which are presumably meant to make some sound, but Packard doesn’t mention this. Maybe the spirits’ sounds are only audible to their respective witches, but that seems to me missing a trick.

At the end, he has the witches “vanish into nowhere,” but I feel here he’s leaving too much room for interpretation. There are a lot of ways of vanishing into nowhere.

Packard notes that the scene being short, it’s unnecessary to trim it, but *I* note that didn’t stop Polanski and Kenneth Tynan, who couldn’t resist ending the scene on the hero’s name, thus cueing the main title. Welles also ends the scene on his character’s name, as well as trimming the lines “Where the place?” and “Upon the heath,” which unfortunately makes “There to meet with…” less sensible. But changing plays into films often involves lopping off entrances and exits, since these can to make things seem stagey: Polanski allows his weird women to wander off, stressing their mundanity as he did with the Satanists in ROSEMARY’S BABY, whereas Welles just ends the scene on the clay homunculus — a touch of voodoo — birthed from the boiling cauldron (his witches are evidently flame-retardant, which must come in handy for them).

I thought I’d have my own stab at it scripting this scene,

EXT. CAVE MOUTH, MOUNTAINS – DAWN

A barren expanse of rocky mountains. Thick fog rolls across the peaks. In the foreground, a cliff ledge juts out.

On this outcrop, a small fire smolders at a cavern mouth  Round it huddle three ragged, withered old women. One of them gets to her feet.

FIRST WITCH: When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Another looks into the fire.

SECOND WITCH: When the hurlyburly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.

The third woman throws handfuls of dirt onto the fire and extinguishes it.

THIRD WITCH: That will be ere the set of sun.

The seated witches stand.

FIRST WITCH: Where the place?

The other witches are wandering away separately along the mountain ledge.

SECOND WITCH: Upon the heath.

THIRD WITCH: There to meet with Macbeth.

An uncanny feline noise echoes across the mountains, catching the First Witch’s attention.

FIRST WITCH: I come, graymalkin!

As she disappears into the fog, her silhouetted figure is abruptly snatched upwards, like a rag doll, rising into the mist until she vanishes.

A bizarrely loud frog croak echoes from the other direction.

SECOND WITCH: Paddock calls.

Her shape is likewise snatched up from view.

THIRD WITCH: Anon!

She vanishes the same way, as if yanked on a string from above. We follow her into the fog bank, swirling clouds billowing past us.

ALL (V.O.): Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.

And then maybe we could break through the clouds and soar down over a battlefield or something as the title appears. Hopefully, this is a scene the reader can visualise, with drama and cinematic interest. I haven’t done anything original with the witches’ appearance, as Polanski did, but I think the manner of their exit suggests something spooky and interesting about their relationship with “graymalkin” and “paddock.” But I’d be interested in any suggestions readers may have.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Gag Man

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2018 by dcairns

This is, I think, the only funny intertitle in THE GENERAL, the only one that even attempts to be funny. And even then, it’s just alliteration, not some kind of wisecrack.

It’s a shock to see Keystone films after watching mature Keaton or Chaplin, because at Keystone they tried to cram gags into every title. I think the idea was to take what had been filmed and punch it up with another layer of comedy. Whereas Buster and Charlie knew what they’d got was good enough. Harold Lloyd would do funny titles — “When the man with the mansion met the miss with a mission…” — really witty ones. And they seem to be more intimately connected to the story — that one, from FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, was going to supply the movie’s original title.

Keaton does gag titles in his shorts, but again, they’re plot-based, as with the boat’s name in THE BOAT. “Damfino.” “Well I don’t know either.”

Weirdly, the writing credit on THE GENERAL names directors Buster and Clyde Bruckman, but adds, “Adapted by Al Boasberg and Charles Smith.” Smith was an actor, who plays the heroine’s dad in the film. And Boasberg was a joke writer from vaudeville who had helped shape the personae of everyone from Jack Benny to Milton Berle and Burns & Allen. Keaton referred to him as an example of how that kind of verbal humour wasn’t needed on his films, and the credit seems likely to be a compensation to Boasberg for not having any of his work used. The straightforward, purely functional titles of the film could be entrusted to a minor actor with, I suspect, Keaton more or less dictating ~

 

Smith.

Boasberg’s trumped-up credit reminds me of H.M. “Beany” Walker, who got writing credit on all the Laurel & Hardy shorts, despite the fact that the story was already in place when he came on, and so he’d write a dialogue script full of one-liners which the boys basically ignored. Those titles at the start of many L&H talkies would end up being his major contribution.

But it’s nice Boasberg got a credit because his name goes unmentioned on a lot of films he DID contribute to — notably A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, where he seems to have originated the legendary stateroom scene, a scene dependent on his speciality — verbal quips which not only fit the situation, but the speaker’s unique comic personality.

Info from Ben Schwartz’s amazing bio essay, The Gag Man, available in The Film Comedy Reader.