Peak Condition

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2017 by dcairns

YES, now that you mention it, we ARE still enjoying the new series of Twin Peaks, thank you very much!

One intriguing thing about David Lynch & Mark Frost’s version of the world here is that apparently no one ever retires. Lynch himself, in his early seventies, is on active duty for the FBI. Ernie Hudson is a colonel in the Pentagon, aged 72. Robert Forster, new sheriff in town, is in his late seventies, and he’s assisted by Michael Horse, who’s in his late sixties. And the great Don Murray, in his late eighties, is running an insurance company. “The sheriff is, like, 90,” sneers bad boy Richard Horne, inaccurately.

Richard Beymer, 79, runs a hotel, while his screen brother, David Patrick Kelly, is in the marijuana business at 66. I don’t believe retirement has ever been formalised in that particular trade, though it has often been assumed to be a young man’s game.

And maybe it should be?

At 83, Russ Tamblyn’s Dr. Jacoby doesn’t seem to be practicing psychiatry anymore, but he’s, uh, sort of in business for himself.

Harry Dean Stanton is running a trailer park at, like, 90.

My supposition is that when we finally meet Everett McGill as Big Ed, he’ll still be working in a gas station at 72, and Warren Frost, as Doc Hayward the town GP, he’ll still be practicing medicine*.

Back in season 2, there were some impressive geriatrics also — Mr. Mibbler, the world’s oldest bank teller (Ed Wright, who was 85) — and the world’s oldest waiter, Hank Worden, who was 90. But the way these characters (associated with Lynch-directed episodes) were treated was a little different. Both were subject to jokes about their doddering, their dithering, their slow pace. One could find it a little cruel, and class it in the same camp as Lynch’s casting of little people and disabled people. But one could also ask, who else is casting the very elderly and the oddly-shaped? Lynch is a surreal filmmaker, but he also deals with realities otherwise somewhat neglected. Doesn’t mean he gets a free pass or anything.

When asked if the slow-scrolling highway lines in THE STRAIGHT STORY were a joke on his usual low-angle road shots, Lynch replied, straight-faced, “No. That’s what it looks like when you move at that speed.” And so Mibbler and the waiter gradual and uncertain movements were recorded with the same accuracy. It could be that it’s THE STRAIGHT STORY that shifted the attitude to the elderly, but it’s more likely to be Lynch’s own advancing years.

Anyhow, there are no jokes about Gordon Cole “getting too old for this” or Sheriff Truman taking a long time to cross a room. The only time you’d guess Don Murray’s age is when we first see him stand up, and it takes a bit more effort than it did back in BUS STOP or A HATFUL OF RAIN. Lynch’s vision of aging is now a happily, or angrily, defiant one. Do not go gentle. Lynch & Frost’s weary, rumpled, kindly authority figures will keep on trying to protect us from immortal evil forces.

*Yes, I’ve now watched episode 7. The doc seems to be spending a lot of time fishing, but he also refers to having diagnosed a patient via Skype just the other day. So in the world of Twin Peaks you can be a doctor at 91, though perhaps on a somewhat informal basis.


The Monday Matinee, Episode 10: The Rebellion

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 19, 2017 by dcairns

An interesting discovery — Joseph H. Lewis, noir maestro, was working at Mascot Pictures as supervising editor when THE PHANTOM EMPIRE was made, so he probably had a hand in it. Also, Mascot, a little company that thought big (their logo combined MGM with Universal by depicting a tiger sprawled across a globe of the Earth) later morphed into Republic, a well-remembered minor studio which allowed Ford, Borzage and Welles to make inexpensive experiments…

But we’re a long way from that here! Now read on ~

Those dad-blamed vicious research scientists!

Dispensing with the cliffhanger that saw its juvenile leads fatally irradiated, the serial simply declares them to be perfectly fine — just stunned — and Queen Tika has their prone forms lugged off to the dungeon.

Having quoted Alice in Wonderland last week, the serial now invokes The Arabian Nights as a cowboy’s cry of “Open, sesame!” apparently unlocks the garage door leading to the kingdom of Murania. Now comes The Adventure of the Comedy Relief Cowboys Among the Robots. Discovering some hollowed-out discards, Deke and Ike, or whatever their stupid names are, disguise themselves as droids, anticipating Woody Allen in SLEEPER, and start braining people with sledge-hammers, anticipating the current UK government.

This is the only time these guys have EVER been funny (I didn’t even mention them for the first few episodes) but it’s HILARIOUS seeing them blundering about in robot costumes, getting giddy in the Tube Elevator, etc. Shades of Spike Milligan’s Dalek sketch (a sketch which could conceivably kill a person, if the right amount of drink were taken first). I take my hat off to them, and I’m sure they would return the compliment were their hats not bolted to their tin heads. The slight flexibility of their costumes, which would have been so useful in their original role of intimidating Joan Crawford in her lingerie, adds wonderfully to their comic motion. It’s like Keystone comedy painted by Fernand Leger.

wonky bots from David Cairns on Vimeo.

In as fine a display of monologuing as I’ve ever seen, Queen Tika takes Gene Autry on a guided tour of all the important equipment central to Murania’s smooth operation. You know, all the stuff that really shouldn’t be sabotaged, ever. Then a robot randomly punches a guy in the head — also hilarious. And of course, the robot is a cowboy comedy sidekick (CCS for short), not a proper robot at all. “Don’t get excited, lady,” he says, which would be a dead giveaway even if her Highness felt inclined to dismiss the whole head-punching thing as a mere quirk.

Intending to prove that Frankie and Betsy are alive and well after being irradiated (asides from having glow-in-the-dark skeletons, I guess she means), the Queen accidentally tunes into her councillor, Argo, plotting her overthrow. Of course, with her Giant Circular Floor Television, she could have done this at any time since episode one, or indeed before Episode One, which would spared us this whole farrago. Gene spills the beans, in one of the most awkward deliveries of one of the most awkward speeches ever: “He’s the man that released me from the Death Chamber, so that the revolutionists could study mah breathin’ structure.”

Queen Tika promises to release Gene and the kids in exchange for her freedom (he’s awfully credulous, but then, he agreed to appear in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE). This is overheard by one of Argo’s men at the door. Meanwhile, at another door, Frankie & Betsy are overhearing Argo’s fomentations — there are more leaks in Murania than there are in the Oval Office and Justice Department combined.

Brief but enjoyable moment of fake robots running. Not something they do well, but credit is due for even attempting the feat.

Argo takes the palace, armed with one of those whisk-like ray-guns. “Stand where you are, I am the Queen!” declares the Queen.

“You were the Queen! I now control Murania,” retorts Argo, and I’m waiting for him to say “I am the Queen!” but he doesn’t go quite that far.

A proper cliffhanger — Gene is knocked unconscious on a conveyor belt, which drags his limp, chubby form towards a robot with a blow-torch, smelting bombshells. Anyone dumb enough to smelt bombshells is presumably not smart enough to know the difference between a bombshell and a country singer, so Gene is set to get his head smelted off, unless, by some miracle, he can awaken and stand up.

Will Gene awaken and stand up? Or will a team of editors, under the loose supervision of Joseph H. Lewis, interpolate additional footage of arriving rescuers so he doesn’t have to? Tune in next week!

The Father’s Day Intertitle: Strike!

Posted in FILM with tags , , on June 18, 2017 by dcairns

I am actually looking at Eisenstein’s STRIKE, but this is from the considerably less well-known French short by Etienne Arnaud, LA GREVE DES APACHES. The apaches of Paris — who are like thugs, but more charmant — take industrial action. It’s not quite clear what their demands are. But their downing tools (handing their pistols in to the gendarme) puts the entire legal profession out of a job.

“AT THE COURT. The Judge has no work. The tx collector forces the president, the secretary and the attorney to hand in their robes.”

This 1907 film adheres to the standard practice of the day — the intertitles tell you all you need to know, while the shots merely illustrate what you’ve just read. But the visual storytelling is arguably not lucid enough to get by on its own. Perhaps opening a scene with an inexplicable image, then inserting a title midway to explain, then returning to the image which can now be appreciated in the light of the added context, would be a better system. And that’s kind of what happens in the next few years. Better, we get a kind of relay, where the images and text each carry those parts of the necessary plot information to which they are best suited.

Meanwhile, the prolific Artaud (no relation to the Theatre of Cruelty guy, so far as I can gather) does have a lot of fun imagining what crooks, judges and policemen would get up to if they didn’t have any work.

The apaches revert to infancy.

The cops knit, do needlepoint, play with their kids.

Highly dubious conclusion: the judges try to tempt the strikers back into crime by offering themselves up as tempting targets for mugging — a weird masochistic flirtation. But the apaches have become too nice, it seems. So the judges’ wives take over, dragging up as low-life floozies and approaching the men with dangling cigarettes and winking eyes. Reverting to form, the apaches immediately fall on them, kicking the crap out of the society dames. The last scene shows normality restored and the criminals being prosecuted, but their new posh gigolettes are showering them with gifts, as they are apparently now addicted to this rough treatment.

Hey, I didn’t make this thing! (Maybe this Artaud WAS related to the Theatre of Cruelty guy.)