Archive for 3D week

Imagination Time

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on October 6, 2009 by dcairns

You’ll just have to imagine Bob Fosse in KISS ME KATE is in 3D, as originally released.

Shouldn’t be too hard.

In other news, my 3D clip from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is finally up on YouTube, I think, having passed the “fair use” test. Put on your glasses NOW.

Which also serves as a reminder of the approaching Halloween Film Club, where we will all be watching THE HAUNTING (version originale), I hope. I may presage this with one of Robert Wise’s Val Lewton horrors. They’re all good.

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Bwana Bubble

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by dcairns

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So — like a lot of people who’ve read some basic film history, I knew that the first 3D feature was BWANA DEVIL, promoted with the tagline “A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!” There were things I did NOT know, however  —

1) I didn’t know that BWANA DEVIL is based on the same astonishing true-life case as THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS: an unheard-of incident of two man-eating lions who hunted together, finishing off scores of hapless humans and delaying construction of the first trans-African railway.

2) I didn’t know that the film was made by Arch Oboler, genius of scary radio with a background in low-budget noir, and that he carried on pushing 3D into the 70s, long after the rest of the world had given up on it.

domoarigatposterOboler just wouldn’t give up on “Space-vision.”

I had occasion to mention Oboler this summer when I met Bruce MacDonald, director of the stupendous PONTYPOOL, which deals with the power of radio. He mentioned Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. I mentioned Oboler’s Chicken Heart broadcast, in which a giant, ever-expanding chicken heart eats the world, and discovered that MacDonald was familiar with the Bill Cosby routine based on the show, but not the show itself.

It still strikes me as weird that Oboler would come from radio, which uses only the dimension of imagination, sparked by sound, and yet the ordinary two-dimensions of cinema were not enough for him.

Here’s a classic slice of Oboler — listen with the lights out!

Oboler’s cult output also includes the slick psycho-noir BEWITCHED, which I wrote of here, post-atomic survival drama FIVE, and THE TWONKY, a bizarro comic fantasy about an alien visitor who takes the form of a TV set. As a drunken sports coach says, “I used to have a Twonky when I was a kid. A Twonky is something that you don’t know what it is…”

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The big problems with BWANA DEVIL are that (1) it doesn’t really benefit from 3D much at all, and Oboler’s flat, washing-line compositions are a waste of the medium. The lion leaps over the camera every time it appears, but there’s not enough suspense to make us afraid of the thing. Paul Schrader’s CAT PEOPLE gets one thing right — the very tactile  and three-dimensional big cats in the movie feel really alive and present, in a way Oboler’s cut-out creations never get a chance to. What’s needed is some Val Lewton atmospherics, giving the lions the aura of the supernatural the African and Indian characters ascribe to them. The real motheaten beasts in this movie, and the CGI creations in the more modern version (another form of 3D — computer-generated 3D cartoons) are neither real enough nor phantasmagorical enough.

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(2) The wonder of the story depends on the audience carrying it its head the fact that this is TRUE and UNIQUE, two qualities from outside the frame of the movie. We have to remind ourselves, in the midst of important action “Seems implausible, but apparently it really happened,” and “I don’t know much about lions, but apparently they never normally do this.” It’s a story that works brilliantly in the history books and when William Goldman tells it in prose. And the movie begins with a title, “This is a story that was told to me in Africa,” hinting at the excitement he must have felt when encountering this great yarn around the campfire.

Robert Stack tries hard in a role not so much underwritten as unwritten, and Nigel Bruce, the beloved Dr Watson from the Basil Rathbone Holmes films, makes a good fist of his Scottish accent — he ought to, despite being born in Mexico (!) he was a descendant of Robert the Bruce.

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“Take these damn Space-Vision glasses! Take them, I say!”

Much better is THE BUBBLE, Oboler’s penultimate Spacevision production, which draws on some of the pulp mystery and numinous terror of his best radio work. A group of 1D characters is trapped in a 3D town which seems to be surrounded by a giant perspex dome. The town is as incomplete and inconsistent as a movie set reconstruction of Patrick McGoohan’s Village, left half-finished, and its populated by humans reduced to robotic repetition, who “feed” by some kind of gross osmotic process conducted in a queer biomechanical temple. Is there no escape?

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The groovy yet unexplained brainwashing sequence.

Oboler’s direction is much friskier here, with carnivalesque effects created by camera movement and odd angles, but the aesthetic is still one of sticking stuff in the viewer’s eye. Why was Oboler obsessed with 3D if that’s all he could see to do with it? Unfortunately, his compelling premise fizzles out, and a lack of consistency in the characters’ behaviour robs it of a lot of its potential. The crux of these Twilight Zone scenarios is that they only work if played out to their natural conclusions, with the crazy idea followed through step by step with impeccable logic.

But the hackneyed effects are still enjoyable, the underwritten character are played by fresh, unskilled but somehow believable actors, and the idea is a nice, creepy one. If Oboler had only come up with a neat, PLANET OF THE APES-style zinger ending, the movie would probably have found its place as a minor cult object.

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Buy Arch Oboler from Amazon —

Five

The Bubble

Lights Out Everybody

“All the same I feel sorry for the creature.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2009 by dcairns

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I’m pretty sure Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was the first movie I saw in 3D… unless the TV screening of the turgid FORT TI came first. Certainly CREATURE was the first I saw projected, at my school film society. Man, we didn’t appreciate how lucky we were to have that Film Soc.

The Universal logo at the film’s start may be the most successful bit of photography in the movie: the cloudless globe twirling behind the studio banner has a pleasing heft and roundness. Elsewhere, as is usually the case, the 3D figures resembles paper cut-outs in a toy theatre, flat shapes positioned at different distances from the observer. Perhaps owing to the speed of production, or to inherent limitations in Jack Arnold’s visual sense, the action doesn’t do much to dramatize the interpersonal relationships via framing, something which 3D could conceivably have played a part in. The compositions are generally a cut above the washing-line approach, but not by much.

The explosions that shower rocks on us during the opening VO went down well with the schoolkids, and watching it again 25 years later with Fiona, I enjoyed them anew with our anaglyph copy of the film and our tinted specs. The fossislized creature claw is also enjoyable, and the shot taken through a fish tank is amusing. But by ignoring the human drama, the filmmaker reduces these effects to a few isolated high points.

The cast isn’t bad. Richard Carlson is a lot more effective in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, where he’s given an actual character to work with. Richard Dennings fares better: the poor man’s Kirk Douglas, he’s effective whenever he gets to exploit his neurotic overcompensating asshole schtick. The movie is really about the conflict between the two Richards, except Dennings loses too soon and too easy, and then the gill-man gets him.

Julie Adams is there to be squabbled over by the Richards and the gill-man, and to look fairly awesome in a ’50s bathing suit, conical breasts like torpedoes aimed into the heart of the audience. She doesn’t convince much as a scientist (the script doesn’t allow her to know anything, and hints she’s only along because Dennings fancies her) and she’s required to do the all-time fakiest monster-fall. You know how the girl is supposed to trip and twist her ankle fleeing the monster? Poot Julie doesn’t even manage to take a single step, she just falls on her perfect ass and assumes an ideal position to be scooped up by the hulking amphib.

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Good monster — his lust for a person not only of a different species, genus and family (as with Kong), but of a different order and class, is unexplained, and he doesn’t otherwise display any personality, but he does have a good classic look. It can’t be that easy to design a fish-man, let alone one that can swim gracefully. The water ballet scene is a justly acclaimed highlight, exploiting the 3D, the monster design, Ricou Browning’s swimming and Julie Adams’ figure, with the strange teasing movements of the creature’s webbed claws towards Adams’ ankles creating suspense and an odd kind of humour.

I’m not altogether surprised that Universal have struggled to come up with a serviceable approach to a remake: there’s so little really going on here. Fiona pointed out that Carlson plucking a plant from the lagoon bed is like a quote from Beauty and the Beast — the stolen rose — and the creature’s depredations and romantic yearnings both follow on from this. Adams dropping her cigarette in the crystalline waters, where it drifts past the gaping monster hints at an ecological angle. But nothing is really done with this stuff. When the beast sinks lifelessly into the waters (to return for a couple of plodding sequels) one wonders what the point was — the monster gone, the movie can only fade out as quickly as possible.

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Buy here (flat) if you’re in the UK —

The Mummy / Creature From The Black Lagoon [DVD]