Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on October 20, 2016 by dcairns


In the UK, we say “burgled.” I imagine that sounds as comical in the US as “burglarized” does in the UK. We need a word we can take seriously for this nasty crime. Let’s switch to “housebreaking,” at least it isn’t tittersome.

THE BURGLAR is a nifty, punchy (see above) noir from director Paul Wendkos and author David Goodis, and as the Forgotten returns after a few weeks off, what could be more suitable than a nifty, punchy (see above) noir? Now read on.


Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on October 19, 2016 by dcairns


I was lecturing today upon the art of visualisation — getting from words on a page to images on a screen. I wanted to show the first talking scene from THE GRADUATE but I also thought “What the hell?” and showed the whole title sequence.

It brought back to me my first impressions of seeing the film as a teenager: how the opening shot immediately made me feel that I was in… not safe hands, but purposeful hands. Here’s Dustin Hoffman as a kind of disembodied head. The filmmaker definitely has something on his mind. It turns out Mike Nichols signature image for the film was “He’s out of his depth.” Hence all those shots of Dustin Hoffman poolside, or filmed through glass, or otherwise framed in a way to suggest drowning. Here he is, shot as if bobbing in a sea of white upholstery.


Then we get the shot Tarantino stole for JACKIE BROWN’s title sequence. As blatant thefts go, it can be excused somewhat on the basis that it’s not just a nice shot repeated, but the shot is apt in both cases. Our main character is a passenger. Dustin Hoffman is literally a passenger, Pam Grier is a stewardess, but still, she does not control where the plane is going. By shooting both characters on a kind of conveyor belt, the directors suggest that these people are trapped in a rut, being led along by life, passive. But this is going to change.

Nichols goes one better and cuts to Hoffman’s suitcase, on its own conveyor. Dustin is like his suitcase, and inanimate object trundling along on a preordained path.

For the first time, I noticed the sign. I’m obsessed with writing onscreen but I had not become so when I first saw this movie. It’s a great line to put up front in what is, in effect, a romantic comedy in disguise ~


Just back from Ricky Callan’s funeral. When the music in the pub switched to Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, I figured that the day had come full circle and it was time to wander home. Cheers, Ricky.

The Return

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 18, 2016 by dcairns

Big spoiler for UGETSU MONOGOTARI in this one. If you haven’t seen it, here it is — watch it!

I usually use a certain clip (starting at around the one hour twenty-three minute mark) when discussing long takes with students. Mizoguchi liked his long takes. Since UGETSU is a ghost story (and perhaps we should be getting in the mood for Halloween and/or the Day of the Dead), our director gets to use this technique, often associated with realism, in a more fantastical way.

Our “hero,” who may be a talented potter but is something of a louse, has been away from home for ages, dallying with a woman who turns out to be a ghost. Discovering this enchantment, he leaves, resolved to return to the wife and kid. In this scene he gets there, and Mizoguchi cuts to the inside of the barren, lifeless home as the potter arrives, enters, crosses the room, and exits.

Then we stay in the room and observe through the windows and doors as our man wanders disconsolately around the outside of the house, calling for his wife.

Finally he returns to the door he previously entered, and comes back in and now finds his wife and their baby with a little fire going, the whole place looking much cosier and more lived-in.

Of course, we’re in ghost story terrain again. The potter’s family are dead, but have risen from the grave to welcome him home. As in Edith Wharton’s short story Afterwards, the thing about ghosts is you only realize you’ve seen one, well, afterwards.


Somehow Mizoguchi, while creating a slight sense of the uncanny in this shot, convinces us to forget what we’ve seen (a deserted hovel) and accept a new reality without questioning it overmuch. It’s as if the long take, which we’re used to seeing as a representation of uninterrupted time, with no jiggery-pokery or sleight-of-hand or hanky-panky, can be used to overwrite itself (as in crackpot philosopher Daniel Dennett’s “multiple drafts” theory of consciousness), so that what we perceive to be true in the first half of the shot is replaced by a fresh, contradictory perception in the second half. We have to accept that the house is occupied because that’s what we’re seeing NOW, and we trust that better than our memory. Rather than immediately realising the supernatural has slipped back into the story, we just have a vague, head-scratching sensation of not-rightness. Unheimlich, in fact.

It’s also fun to think about all the busy Japanese stagehands redecorating the interior while the camera is busy looking elsewhere, including the tricky job of sliding a lit fire into position…