Archive for “300”


Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2016 by dcairns


Regular Shadowplayer Mark Medin sent me this 1926 ad/announcement by one John McDermott who, true to his word, never lifted megaphone to mouth again. Harold never called. I thought it would make a nice little item for The Late Show which, characteristically, is running past its alotted week…


We also watched THE 300 SPARTANS, believing it to be the last film by cinematographer-turned-director Rudolph Maté. It isn’t, but it’s a very late one, followed briskly by SEVEN SEAS TO CALAIS, ALIKI MY LOVE, and a massive coronary. I’d had quite good reports of SPARTANS via chum David Wingrove, who characterised it as an unusually literate and intelligent peplum. True — that doesn’t quite turn it into a wholly dignified, proper film — it’s still a peplum. But a peplum with pep.

Lots of Brit acting talent to give it “class” — David Farrar of all people plays the dastardly Xerxes, and for once seems to be enjoying himself. “He’s a terrible actor,” pronounced Fiona, which is pretty severe but pretty true. I have to acknowledge that the one film he’s genuinely good in, THE SMALL BACK ROOM, could still be improved (great though it is) by the casting of any other Brit leading man of the era. Kenneth More wouldn’t be any worse, though less handsome. Dirk Bogarde would be better, David Niven would be better, Roger Livesey would be totally wrong but vastly better…


But anyway, he’s a decent pantomime villain here, and then there’s Ralph Richardson, who has evidently shot all his scenes in the studio, necessitating overdubs to explain why he’s somehow always indoors. After hearing Ralph debating Laurence Naismith (whose presence along with Kieron Moore and certain Greek locations gives it all a very Harryhausen feeling) it’s a shock to have yank Richard Egan dumped in our lap like a giant concrete bicep.


But as the movie develops, you get used to him. I can’t say I ever worked up any kind of rapturous pleasure at his screen appearances, but I grew accustomed to his face, to the extend that I would have been sincerely sorry if, say, Donald Houston had bitten it off or something.

The story itself is martial, stirring, hawkish stuff, but it slightly soft-pedals the brutality of the Spartans and does a goodish job of presenting them as characters we should support (although the emphasis on Persia being a “slave empire” is undercut by young Barry Coe, i think it is, promising to bring back a flock of Persian slaves for cutie Diane Baker. Face it, everyone in history is awful).


“About your Immortals, sire. We might have to change the name.”

The whole time I was watching, I was imagining little Frank Miller seeing this innocent, rather noble entertainment, which even manages a bit of emotion, as an awestruck kid, and then years later giving us his comic 300, and thence the movie 300, which dehumanizes, brutalizes and stupidifies the original on every level. The remake LOOKS nice, in its way, but it’s a horrible, fascistic, mean-spirited thing. A film for our times. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zack Snyder becomes Trump’s Riefenstahl.

Let George Do It

Posted in FILM with tags , , on July 15, 2011 by dcairns

Maybe the pre-teen years of this century will be remembered as the era in which George C. Scott mash-ups replaced all other forms of art. Certainly, the video that intersplices Gorgeous George “emoting” in HARDCORE with the trailer for Adam Sandler’s JACK AND JILL is getting a lot of play, and I inadvertently anticipated it by mangling the poster for Scott’s self-directed vehicle RAGE. Now, my friend Brian Robinson draws my attention to the poster for DAY OF THE DOLPHIN, which has a unique tagline I can’t believe hasn’t been widely copied. The basic approach could apply to any movie.

DIE HARD: “Accidentally, he dirtied his vest, then killed everybody.”

GANGS OF NEW YORK: “Mistakenly, he set out to avenge his father’s death then didn’t do anything about it for hours of screen time.”

LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD: “Unintentionally, they mooned around a big house, unable to make up their minds what was going on.”

I’d love to hear your own suggestions…

Spartan furnishings

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2008 by dcairns

The digital epic look of “300”, interestingly enough, was nearly prefigured by Oliver Stone’s sprawling arse-marathon ALEXANDER.

That lacklustre blockbuster had a long and involved gestation, as Stone tried and failed to set the colossal project up at different studios.

The film was going to cost 400 million, and that was deemed TOO MUCH by one interested-but-not-THAT-interested studio. So it became a question of shaving off 100 mill, and that was attempted by looking at different countries to shoot in. Hungary? Morocco? Thailand? But there IS no country where you can shave off 100 mill just by going there.

The assistant director boarded a plane to fly to a meeting with Stone. His reading material was the new draft of the script. The first thing he noticed was that it was now fifty pages longer…

He arrives at the meeting. Stone bursts in, possibly flying high on a variety of herbs and spices. “David Lean is dead! I don’t want to make this film out of some third-world hotel — we’ll shoot it in L.A. and C.G. everything in.”

The AD gently tried to explain: “What you’re doing there is, you’re adding ANOTHER $100 million to the special effects budget.”

ALEXANDER finally happened, at another studio, minus the CGI and with a different AD. And so did “300”, a movie conceived from scratch as a CGI reinvention of the epic. Jettisoning any idea of reality and scale, it concentrated on flash and sizzle and pop-promo panache. It also ignored historical reality and conjured an aesthetic that, however hamfisted, works. As my costume designer says, whatever you think of the hotpants look modelled by King Leonidas and his Spartan leather boys, it’s an effective aesthetic that suits the film. The historically correct nappies modelled in ALEXANDER do nothing for the characters’ dignity, and the real sets and locations and elephants give the film that cumbersome quality we associate with so many bad historical epics from Hollywood’s past.

shiny nappy people

A sad thing about “300” — it has its origins in comic-book writer childhood Frank Miller’s viewing of the old Rudolph Maté movie 300 SPARTANS, a smarter-than-average ancient world romp. As the movie rumbled to its inevitable Carthaginian solution, little Frank started to fear the worst. “Are they all going to die?” he asked his dad. It was a revelation to him that a movie, and indeed history, could end that way.

300 SPARTANS ends with the glorious defeat. The 2006 “300” ends with the beginning of another battle, one that we are told will be victorious. It’s the same Hollywood Ending as BRAVEHEART and PEARL HARBOR — follow a historical defeat with a grafted-on victory to create a spurious hapy ending that’s literally strayed in from a different movie or a different page of the history books.


The result of this bowdlerisation is that little boys seeing “300” (and despite certification we know they’ll see it in their millions) will be denied the transfiguring experience little Frank shared with his pop all those years ago, when he realised the cathartic force of tragedy (Hollywood style).