Archive for the Theatre Category

Nothing succeeds

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2021 by dcairns

Finally catching up with Succession which is every bit as good as everyone says. An excellent lesson in how to make a show without sympathetic characters, except damned if I can pin down how they’re doing it. I guess because everyone is focused on achieving things that we can understand, so we can follow the machinations with interest. As Hitchock knew and constantly showed us, watching somebody try to do something is fascinating and involving when we know (a) the goal (b) the stakes and (c) the obstacles. And then it doesn’t necessarily matter if we like them, we at least understand them. The boardroom battle in episode 6 was incredibly tense, even though the character most involved, the one with the clearest goal and the most at stake, is one of the least appealing (great per from Jeremy Strong) though admittedly he does have a rather heartrending central position (needs his father’s respect, will never, not ever, get it).

The only character without a really clear set of wants is, arguably, Brian Cox’s Logan Roy, the show’s Lear, who is basically just futzing around, upsetting people. Maybe he had a sense of direction once in his life, but now it’s just the love of power, making people do things.

Nothing will come of nothing.

The show, at least in these early eps (we’re at S1E06) has an irritating, jerky-zoom style presumably imposed by exec Adam McKay who directed the pilot. It’s a look, I suppose, but not a pleasing one. He tried something similar on THE BIG SHORT. It’s purportedly a cinematic idea, this “look” thing — TV used to all look the same, while movies tried to look distinctive (sort of — there have always been genre norms, and constraints on what was considered “commercial,” though these are fluid over time). I think Hill St. Blues‘ briefings introduced the idea of the unstable camera — use all the reframings! It’ll give it a documentary edge. Except we can tell, I think, when the camera is reframing just to create jitter, as opposed to actually, you know, getting a better framing.

I discussed the Paul Greengrass approach with a producer friend. “He tells the operator to move whenever they feel like it,” I said. He replied, “I think if you asked most operators what they feel like, they would feel like offering up a nice, stable, beautifully-composed shot.”

Through the static, we can still see that Succession is brilliantly written by Jesse Armstrong and team, always brilliantly acted, and often well directed by folks like Adam Arkin and Andrij Parekh. I eagerly await the moment when they realise the crash zooms are stinking the place up and ditch them.

Stagebound

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2021 by dcairns

So, the reason Joe May’s been turning up so much here is that we’re at work on a video essay for Masters of Cinema’s forthcoming THE INDIAN TOMB Blu-ray, and it’s a job that benefits from a little research. Perversely, it turns out to be a project with an immense appetite, the more we dig up the more interesting it gets. Trying to stop it from running away and becoming gigantic, like the film itself.

We watched HOUSE OF FEAR — not the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes adventure, but the earlier remake of Paul Leni’s THE LAST WARNING. Though May filmed on the same main set as his former production designer (who had in turn recycled the Paris Opera stage from the Chaney PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), he did not deign to produce a shot-for-shot remake, which is a pity. I expect budgetary limitations prevented that, so the movie is much flatter and more ordinary to look at — but it does feature a nice APPARITION…

Sadly, the play this is based on isn’t terribly interesting, except for a bravura climax that must have worked really well on the stage. Carl Laemmle (Junior, I think), the Universal studio boss who produced the original, reviewed the remake for Variety and gave it a pan. An act that highlighted how far both Laemmle and May had fallen.

I do give the movie points for attempting to electrocute El Brendel (top), but deduct those points since it failed to finish him off. He seems to be in this purely because he was in an earlier backstage thriller, THE SPIDER, which someone must have remembered, God knows why. Nobody’s bothered to write any Swedish meatball malapropisms for him, so he has no reason to be here, but then he never did in my view.

William Gargan “stars” and there’s a typically fun performance from Robert Coote, anticipating his swan song in THEATRE OF BLOOD.

Student Bodies

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2021 by dcairns

SPRING MADNESS, from a play by Philip Barry, is very Philip Barry, but not substantial the way HOLIDAY and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY are. Feels like they left something out. Since part of the plot is Lew Ayres & Burgess Meredith’s plan to journey to Soviet Russia, maybe part of what was gutted was politics.

The director is the intriguing S. Sylvan Simon, but I have yet to find an SSS film that has as much dynamic blocking as GRAND CENTRAL MURDER, which is a real masterclass in actor-camera dance moves, or, failing that, the rambunctious slapstick of the Red Skelton WHISTLING movies. He gets the thing going at a hell of a pace, I have to give him that, but nothing seemed to stick. Although Maureen O’Sullivan is a joy to watch, and Joyce Compton (Dixie Bell Lee from THE AWFUL TRUTH) clowns very well.

Lew & Burgess’s jimjams also deserve mention. Costumes by that great eccentric Dolly Tree. Some sociological interest here since the decorous student ball around which the story revolves masks a riotous and rather nasty spirit of wild hedonism not so far removed from the modern phenomenon of the spring break.