Rivette the Rosier

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 2, 2016 by dcairns

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First up — the Indiegogo campaign for THE NORTHLEACH HORROR is going great — but that doesn’t mean you are exempt! More contributions greatly appreciated.

Second up — more limericks at Limerwrecks, of a vampiric nature — NOSFERATU, THE VAMPIRE BAT (with Surly Hack) and also a solo one, and on bats in general, taking in BRIDES OF DRACULA and KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.

Third up — like a lot of people, I have been revisiting Rivette in the wake of his passing from this corporeal plane. I’d never watched LA BANDE DES QUATRE, so I did, and by coincidence it features a character who calls her parents in Limerick, so it all ties together, doesn’t it?

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This is one of Rivette’s long film about life and theatre — the four leads are female drama students on an exclusive course run by Bulle Ogier. There’s a mysterious man hanging around them, whose stories don’t add up. And there’s an invisible dancing ghost in one room of the suburban house they share. Rivette on ghosts and magic is fascinating — it seems pretty clear he really believes in them, unlike nearly everyone else who makes films about those kinds of things. I mean, Del Toro I think has said he’s had supernatural experiences, but his films are so stylised there’s no question of him bringing his true-life encounters to bear on his cinema. Rivette’s languorous mise-en-scene makes the most sense when it’s dreamily, eerily but casually evoking the numinous and occult, and in a way the electrifying effect of these scenes (here, and in DUELLE, and in L’HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIENNE) justifies the slow, relaxed approach elsewhere. Rivette films everything as if it was a supernatural encounter.

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Here are some interstitial moments from LA BANDE DES QUATRE, what the ancients of cinema used to call PHANTOM RIDES, which contrive to make Paris look haunted, haunting, desolate, unreal and undead. A film made from a spirit’s-eye-view. Aren’t they all?

 

Striking Down the Unroadworthy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2016 by dcairns

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Wrote this last year after enjoying MAD MAX: FURY ROAD — we watched all the previous MAXES, I wrote this, and then forgot to publish it. Now I’m thoroughly sick of staring at it in my Drafts section, I’ll finally punt it out there.

***

So, we finally watched all the MAD MAX films, in the wrong order. Fiona hadn’t seen any, and I had seen MAD MAX II: THE ROAD WARRIOR on VHS and the first film at my school film society when I was 17. FURY ROAD got us all pumped up and fuel-injected and we thought it was time to catch up. Oddly enough, my teenage self hadn’t been all that taken with the first film, so we left it to last. But in the interests of clarity, I’ll take them in order here.

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MAD MAX — first seen at my school film society — has all the strengths and weaknesses in position already. The action is hairy and scary and impressive and the ruthlessness is total. The movie menaces a child in the first reel and kills one to motivate the last-act carnage. Max’s wife isn’t killed, just horribly wounded, and then allowed to completely disappear from the movie, and the series. Maybe he likes Charlize Theron in the latest film because she reminds him of his wife’s missing arm?

Throughout the action the movie contrasts Max’s heteronormative family values with the rampaging psychopathic polyamorous biker gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Keays-Byrne) who are equal-opportunities rapists. “A woman! My favourite!” remarks one. Director/doctor George Miller takes a bully’s gloating delight in their depravity and laughs along with their jokes, which I think is what I disliked about the film first time.

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Max and his sex-sax-playing wife actually play at Tarzan-and-Jane, and like that previous screen couple, they have an unimaginative way with baby names: their’s is called Sprog.

I don’t remember the cartoonish eyeball-bulge moment, played twice in the film. Either it was censored from our UK print or it went by so fast I convinced myself it never happened. Or I suppressed the memory and Miller should start paying my therapist bills.

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The second film is an exponential leap in budgetary terms, and also in bringing in the self-consciously mythic aspect of the series. The ending is particularly fine in this respect, unearned by the preceding action — the Gyro Captain’s going to make a terrible tribal leader, obviously. The weird lack of continuity between films — no series save THE PINK PANTHER has survived so much surreal garbling — already creeps in, but is less overt. Miller’s skill with actors seems to have actually regressed, with this movie brimming with lousy supporting players cast for their appearance. Emil Minty as the Feral Kid is good though.

Isn’t he YOUNG? Mel Gibson is actually too boyish in the first film, struggling to appear bad-ass enough or convincingly tormented until his descent into nemesis mode at the end. He has just enough gravitas by the time of the second.

Once more, though, the film is far more in love with its bad guys, and can’t quite bring itself to give the hero much to do or say — only at the climax is there a clear imperative to get his arse in gear.

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The third film is probably the most dated, since its budget now allowed Miller and his co-George to really indulge themselves, so we get more sex-sax, Tina Turner, some dubious hair for Max, and a bit of a Frankie Goes To Hollywood vibe. Everything at Thunderdome is a bit confused, with baddies who aren’t bad enough, fighting other baddies, and Max stuck in between without a clear role. Once we get to the “Jesus in leather” part, the high concept that made the film worth making to Miller, with Max as messiah leading a tribe of semi-feral children from the wilderness, things pick up. The Riddley Walker devolved dialect of the kids is inspired, and it’s only when you start picking at it that you realize the whole thing makes no sense at all — how long have these kids been here?

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So the third film is the least satisfying and most naff, but also has a lot of the best bits of the series, with the epic, mythic ending of film 2 extrapolated out so as to occupy considerable screen time. In the first film it’s a really cool grace note at the end of a silly, nasty romp. Here, it’s almost substantial. The post-apocalyptic poetic is a major thing in literary sci-fi, but rarely gets a look-in at the movies. Surprising that the most brutal, comic-book and nonsensical post-apoc flicks should also approach the sublime most nearly.

The Sunday Intertitle: Quaker Boats

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2016 by dcairns

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I was reminded of 1922’s DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS by a Guardian article about whaling in the movies, prompted by Opie’s recent HEART OF THE SEA. There is a great deal of whaling — actual whaling, with actual whale death, in DTTSIS, which is not surprising I guess since it’s produced by the Whaling Film Corporation. Not, I’m guessing, a hugely prolific outfit. Though the intertitles quote Moby Dick (accurately, unlike those of THE SEA BEAST, an official adaptation with John Barrymore s a sexy Ahab, later remade as an even more ludicrous talkie), the company never even got as far as doing Melville. Perhaps they could have tried adding a whaling component into popular stories of the day?

Mass cetacean snuff footage is not the only thing that makes this hard to watch in places. The movie has a part-Chinese villain, “Samuel Siggs” (Jack Baston), a yellowface stereotype who goes undercover in whiteface to seduce the heroine while defrauding her father. So it’s about the yellow peril and miscegenation nightmares in Massachusetts.

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The other reason I’d heard of it is the presence of the juvenile Clara Bow, and here at least the film isn’t appalling. Bow is a screen natural from the first, shown scrapping with a little boy, and though she doesn’t apparently know how to make a fist when fighting (that would be unfeminine), she throws herself into the action in a blur of flailing arms, porcelain features contorted in feline snarl. Hooray!

Also — Clara in drag!

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By the end she’s properly girl, in summer dress in a field of flowers, but still untamed — popping up from the petals to startle her beau and make him break all his eggs. New Bedford’s first flapper is about to be formed.

I provoked hilarity n Facebook by reproducing the credit “Personally directed by Elmer Clifton,” a branding which even seems comic when used by Griffith or Stroheim. On the forgotten Elmer it’s ludicrous. But in fact Clifton’s work is very able, setting up the life of the Quaker whalers with ethnographic precision, expressive detail shots and elegant wides. He can’t find a way to reconcile the vigorous naturalism of young Bow with the slinking melodramatics of Baston, but then the whole concept of Baston’s character is a ghastly mistake anyway.

And here’s Mr. Clifton’s name again ~

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