Archive for the weather Category

Air Hordern

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2015 by dcairns


Michael Hordern gave the wing commander a very hard stare indeed.

After enjoying Leslie Norman’s work on X: THE UNKNOWN, we popped THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP into the Panasonic and let her fly. I guess Norman is one of the missing links between Ealing and Hammer, but he never caught on at Hammer (he was fired from the staggering LOST CONTINENT), unlike Seth Holt whose taste for sensation made him arguably a better fit there than he had been as a producer at Ealing (where he had produced THE LADYKILLERS, an atypically subversive work).

But, excitingly, TNMNCU *does* have supernatural elements, though they are not of a suitably sensational quality to satisfy the House of Gore. The place: Hong Kong. Michael Hordern has a strange dream, which he tells to Denholm Elliott, who blabs it to a group of associates at a party. The dream involves a flight crashing on the Japanese coast. And the next day, all the circumstances of that dream begin to come true. Elliot, a heroic airman who cracked up after the Battle of Britain, is on the flight, as is his boss Alexander Knox, who has never flown before, and Michael Redgrave and Sheila Sim and various others. The exact makeup of the party changes at the last minute and comes to exactly resemble the dream. Then the radio breaks down, just like in the dream. The plane is lost in thick cloud… fuel is running low…


The elaborate model shots are recognisable as just that, but they’re very impressive all the same.

The screenplay is by R.C. Sherriff, a James Whale associate who wrote JOURNEY’S END and worked on all the famous Whale horror films after FRANKENSTEIN. This manifests not so much in the uncanny element, as in the extreme Britishness and the unexpected dashes of humour — the ending, in particular, is a delight, a left-field gag like the abrupt laugh that finishes Hitchcock’s second MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. Hordern delivers it with supreme aplomb.

Until then, it’s a slow simmer of suspense. It’s not as if that much is going wrong with the flight for most of the movie — it’s just the creeping dread as reality takes on more and more of the qualities of that damned (prophetic?) dream. An abstract kind of fear with a very concrete smash-up waiting at the end of it.

The film also deserves credit for its unusual structure: we begin after the crash, with search parties scouring Japan in search of wreckage, but then Hordern turns up and says they’re looking in the wrong place altogether. Refusing to say how he knows, he simply says that he knows. Being Michael Hordern, he’s very convincing, and the search may be diverted…

Then we go into flashback to the dinner party before the flight, and Hordern is prompted to tell his dream. Then we get a flashback within a flashback showing a dream sequence. Possibly a first for British cinema.


And then we get to enjoy Knox’ tight, nervous grin, Redgrave’s slowly accentuated voice-quaver, Elliott’s glassy-eyed sense of subdued panic… The whole movie is a single sizzling slow fuse, ably illustrating Polanski’s dictum that “anxiety has no upper limit,” while the passengers delight their author by passing the time in feverish meditations upon free will and predestination. A philosophical disaster movie.


Ants in Your Plants of 1941

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2015 by dcairns


Today I was supposed to be in New York but flight got pushed back. Something to do with a slight snowfall. Daniel Riccuito of The Chiseler reports that the sky is basically solid snowflakes, drifting UPWARDS. Which sounds fine — the ground will be cleared in no time. It’s just the sky you have to worry about. Walk in a crouch, New York, and you’ll be alright. But I can see how an atmosphere composed entirely of frozen water would make air traffic problematic.

So I go tomorrow, arriving at the Walter Reade Theater hopefully just in time for the 3,15 screening of NATAN as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival. I will be lugging my luggage, tired and wired, but hopefully coherent enough for a cogent Q&A. And then another screening 8.45 the same day. Hope to see you there, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, there is time to tell you about SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection. I made a video essay for this, aided by editor Stephen Horne and graphic designer Danny Carr who gets a special shout-out here for an amazing 40s-style animated title sequence, sampled above. Since the Coen Brothers swiped one title from John L. Sullivan’s fictional filmography (O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) I wanted to grab another. It was this or HEY-HEY IN THE HAY LOFT. The conversations then came to be about what a title for such a film might consist of. Danny surpassed all expectations by combining the pull-back-thru-lettering device of THE PALM BEACH STORY with the animated characters of THE LADY EVE, all in a convincing early forties style despite working with computer rather than cel animation. I’m blown away by his work.

The piece also features an interview with Bill Forsyth, a fan of the film who explains how it influenced him. This was folded into my script after I wrote it, much as I did with Richard Lester’s interview for my A HARD DAY’S NIGHT piece. One of these days I’ll manage to do the interview first and then write the VO around it, like a sane person.

You can pre-order this magnificent product here —

Sullivan’s Travels [Blu-ray]

I’m really chuffed with how it turned out!


You are in the village

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, weather with tags , , , , , , on December 23, 2014 by dcairns


These two young go-getters are writing their names in the snow, which isn’t easy in Japanese. It takes years of calligraphic tuition.

The movie is Shohei Imamura’s THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (it’s not like any ballad I ever heard) and I thought I’d enjoy the snow scenes, since Mother Nature hasn’t provided us with any good ones in Edinburgh so far this winter.

In fact, the movie is resplendent with nature footage from every season, though the human drama inclines to the grim. Though not without humour, also grim. All I knew going in was the premise than in this mountain village, when people get to be seventy they go up into the mountains in winter to perish, this relieving their relatives of the burden of supporting them. It’s like a sclerotic LOGAN’S RUN (which also has some nice snow scenes, including AN ICE CAVE with A ROBOT! The most Christmassy thing ever!)

A dead baby turns up in a muddy field; one oldster has brought shame on his family by apparently running off rather than doing his duty to the mountain gods; his wife is so keen to make up for this that she’s stoically chipping away at her teeth trying to make herself decrepit sooner; one family are caught pilfering from the others and meet a terrible fate; a chubby virgin with appalling halitosis tries to seduce the neighbours’ dog. Much of this is observed with a slightly wry detachment, making it less unbearable to watch than you’d think. And it’s all rendered perversely beautiful by the photography and music.


Imamura intercuts his shots of animals copulating, giving birth and killing one another with less documentary material of his human characters doing likewise. The effect is NOT AT ALL like the love scene in RYAN’S DAUGHTER, for reasons which may be illuminating to examine. Dispensing with the fact that David Lean built hs forest in a studio space, an incredible feat in itself, there’s the deeper meaning of the juxtaposition of man and nature in each filmmaker. In Lean’s work, weather and nature are either a crucible to test human character, as is largely the case in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and a bit in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and maybe even the caves in A PASSAGE TO INDIA have mutated from their more mysterious purpose in E.M. Forster’s book to assume this role, albeit in a somewhat perverse and enigmatic way; or else they are anthropomorphic, mirroring the emotions of human characters. We see this in particular with the thorns which entwine together to suggest the mother’s birth pains in OLIVER TWIST, and we see it in the aforementioned arboreal love scene in RYAN’S. In this sense, Lean is Shakespearian, with weather serving as an emotional barometer.


Imamura’s point is at once more blunt and simple, and more definitely true — he shows that humans and animals are in many ways similar, driven by lusts and appetites but also by the need to fit into their surroundings. Cutting from a love scene to copulating frogs may seem obvious, and certainly unpoetic, but it’s also an honest observation, and not one that lends itself to a more subtle approach.

And then Imamura climaxes the film with the ascent of the mountain by mother and son, in almost total silence (as decreed by mountain law), for forty-five minutes, an astonishing bit of epic drama, ending amid the vast open-air ossuary in a parting that’s genuinely moving. Neither character has been entirely endearing — both are, in fact, effectively murderers — but the unspoken farewell is extraordinarily powerful. And then there’s the most impressive bit of bird-wrangling since Hitchcock.


The movie was a gift from my pals at Masters of Cinema, and is available on Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD here ~
The Ballad of Narayama (1983) (Masters of Cinema) [Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD]