Archive for A Hard Day’s Night

Poolsideburns

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on March 21, 2018 by dcairns

It is getting ridiculously cheap to buy second-hand DVDs in Leith’s charity shops. I can’t control myself. I thought the Blu-Rays of BICYCLES THIEVES, GREMLINS, PASOLINI and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, all less than a pound, were insane bargains, but the biggest may have been the Polanski box set for 25p, working out at 5p per Polanski. Then again, when I tried to give away my resulting PIANIST duplicate copy, none of my students had a machine that could play discs.

One recent bargain was VIVA LAS VEGAS, which I recalled had zestful musical numbers, staged by George Sidney with proper MGM gusto and glitz. Fascinating to think you could see this and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT in the same year. And you still don’t have to choose.

This is certainly one of the best Elvis pics (I should see the Curtiz), and while the music isn’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll, it’s at least lively and not the lugubrious, glutinous ballad stuff that oozed from the Presley lips in other movies.

They have eye-tracking software, don’t they, that can record where a viewer is looking in a given shot? I must never allow myself to be subjected to such a procedure while watching The Lady Loves Me (But She Doesn’t Know It Yet) number in this picture. I could just about survive Ann-Margret’s entrance in the picture with my reputation intact, first seen from under a car as a pair of disembodied legs, the camera then sliding forward as grease-monkey EP and his buddy ease themselves out from under on their aptly-named car creepers (those trolley things you lie on when inspecting your undercarriage) to slowly reveal more and more of the Swedish torso, ending on the girlish/predatory grinning face and amber locks. When she then walks THROUGH the camera at navel level, the lens somehow emerging from her butt as she walks away (“director as proctologist,” someone said) I can plead innocent because the angle isn’t exactly giving us any choice where to look.No, it’s the swimsuit scene that would get me in trouble. Elvis, though impossibly-beautiful and eerie-looking, has a somehow mask-like face, even though it’s clearly mobile — he’s an uncanny valley mo-cap creature — “Elvis was behind a sheet of glass,” said Sidney — so I turn to the animated, perhaps over-animated Ann-Margret, who Sidney was evidently smitten with. And then I’m in trouble.

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Legit Video Essayist

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2018 by dcairns

This is the complete-to-date heap of discs I’ve contributed video essays to, for Criterion, Masters of Cinema, Arrow and Kino (just the one, on Zulawski’s COSMOS). More are on the way and then there’s some that are purely online, notable the Anatomy of a Gag series for Criterion, which there will be more of soon.

I was quite anxious when I made my first piece for Arrow’s release of Roger Corman’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. I wanted the thing to have a style of its own and not to be just a text essay read out flatly with images from the movie run under it. But I wasn’t sure how to make sure it was more than that. I tried whispering the VO but the producer kindly told me the effect was ridiculous. I had two ideas for all-visual sequences, one where we cut together all the mood scenes where Corman’s camera wanders around the house, and one where we dissolved all the exterior matte paintings of the house together to create a kind of time-lapse image of the mansion by day, by night, in fog, on fire, and finally crumbling into the tarn. And I read in bits of Poe’s source story. The rest of the time it was basically a text essay read over film clips, though they were at least edited to make them appropriate to what was being said.

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT gave me a wealth of material to work from — the film, lots of stills, behind-the-scenes footage shot by the BBC, film of the premiere, clips from later Richard Lester films, and then an audio interview with Mr. Lester which had to be cut in a couple of weeks before the deadline. Having additional material helped turn the piece into a mini-documentary, and the feedback from producer Kim Hendrickson was always helpful, but it was something Lester said that solved my worries about the form. He advised me not to directly illustrate what was being said, but to aim for oblique connections. Or maybe he was just talking about his own preferred approach. But I think it gave him a physical pain whenever I matched an image directly to a word. And I should have known better.

One that’s pretty direct that I still like is when the VO, spoken by Rita Tushingham, explains that Lester never used a shot list or storyboard, he just carried the film in his head, and I accompanied this with a rear view from the BBC footage of Lester operating a hand-held camera, the magazine beside his cranium. That’s pretty close to an illustration — it has FILM and HEAD in it — but I like it because it accompanies an image you can’t literally show photo-realistically, of a man holding the thought of a sequence in his mind.

A good review from the film dept. technician at college.

From then on, I started writing my VOs without regard to what the images would be. If you assume there will be a suitable image, you can always find one. Or maybe you end up cutting a sentence or two. But the editor’s code states, as I understand it, that there will always be a solution to any editing problem. You just need to look hard enough. So an account of C.T. Dreyer’s childhood for the forthcoming Blu-ray of MICHAEL gets illustrated with one of the film’s few urban exteriors (connecting pretty flatly to the word “Copenhagen” even though the shot is probably a wintry Berlin), a face at a window (played in reverse) and a pan across an array of dolls. An anecdote about HB Warner playing Jesus Christ for Cecil B DeMille which I decided was useful for my piece on THE APARTMENT started life with a series of stills from the movie, but when MGM nixed that idea we used a shot from the movie in which a guy dressed as Santa Claus appeared right on cue when the messiah was mentioned. I liked the effect.

I think literal connection is better than no connection at all, but the human mind is always making connections, so the real danger is not a lack of connection but the confusion of false connections. After the new year we’ll be returning to a work in progress where a line about an actor’s early, unsuccessful work needs changing so it doesn’t play over a later, successful one, even though there’s a nice metaphorical link between the image and the sentence.

I showed a bit of the Vertov set (bottom left) to students, and one said, “Is this, like, a legit DVD extra?” in an impressed voice.

Sometimes the VO deals with biographical info and background, if I know it or can research it. That’s sometimes the most fun, because you end up cheekily matching images from the film at hand with facts only abstractly connected to them. Close analysis of the film-making technique presents a different challenge, because often what I say takes longer than the clip at hand, or jumps about in time. Often my long-suffering editors Timo Langer and Stephen C. Horne do the hard work here, subtly changing the timing of the sequence to make it fit the VO, or else we might blatantly rewind, speed up or slow down the footage to make it overt.

I always like to bring in a director’s other work, if we can do it by fair use, or public domain works, or other films the distributor owns. Combined with stills, this can get you closer to the feeling of a true documentary, it enhances the production values.

My pieces for talkies are usually longer than the ones on silents because I drop in lines of dialogue from the movie. This is maybe too much like a TV clip-show, and maybe it can get illustrative again. I’m a little wary of it, but at the same time it can be amusing and I enjoy finding lines to take out of context and give fresh undertones to. What I need to remind myself to do is use wordless clips from silent films in a similar way. I’ve also added sound effects into silent movies, a technique I would generally disapprove of if it were done to the movie itself but which I give myself permission for in video essays. DER MUDE TOD has guttering candles, CALIGARI has creaking hinges. And I got Timo, who’s German, to read a couple lines in for that one also. I got Fiona to narrate DIARY OF A LOST GIRL. I should have got her to do DER MUDE TOD too: her voice sounds more serious than mine.

With CARNIVAL OF SOULS we had a whole array of public domain industrial films made by director Herk Harvey’s company. The trick was to use them amusingly but not condescend to the material too much, not make fun of the filmmaker. I also recorded audio interviews with critic and novelist Anne Billson, cartoonist Steve Bissette, and Fiona again, in her capacity as horror screenwriter. These had to be recorded over Skype, so we alibi’d the audio quality by cutting to radios and jukeboxes from the movie whenever these voices were going to come in. We did the same with Groucho biographer Steve Stoliar for Arrow’s Marx Bros at Paramount box set.

Finally, for a forthcoming piece with Randall William Cook, we worked it so that we both had recording devices going on opposite sides of the Atlantic so both halves of our conversation were recorded well, and just had to be synched up. But then I cut all my lines anyway.

With Bill Forsyth things were technically easier: I was able to record him in the same room for Criterion’s SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, and then Stephen actually filmed some original material indirectly illustrating a story about recording the movie off the TV on audio tape in the days before video. We’ve filmed a few more things since then.

For Masters of Cinema’s forthcoming release of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s HOUSE, I made an animated main title. I haven’t done any animation in twenty years, but I was inspired by a story about Obayashi’s beginnings as a filmmaker. Actually, I just traced the hand-drawn title in different colours with different patterns, and Stephen scanned the pages, flipped them into negative and we cut them together in time with the movie’s soundtrack. I really enjoyed that and I want to do more of it.

But another part of the operation has been Danny Carr, who made titles echoing Lester’s graphics to accompany the A HARD DAY’S NIGHT piece. Then he created an amazing animated title for the SULLIVAN’S piece, ANTS IN YOUR PLANTS OF 1941, in the style of a 1941 cartoon. Since then, I’ve had him disassemble the graphic grids of Ozu’s GOOD MORNING so that the pastel panels slide off the screen like, well, like sliding screens. We’re working on something else now…

London Particular

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2017 by dcairns

I found this unused blog post from 2014 when I was first in Bologna. Why let it go to waste, just because some of its content got used elsewhere?

An eclectic and idiosyncratic array of shorts, Chaplin’s London & Calvero’s Colleagues, presented by Mariann Lewinsky, ran at Bologna — the selection aimed to reproduce the sights and sounds of Chaplin’s music hall days, with street scenes of London life in the years before his departure for the US (“America — I am coming to conquer you!”), and theatre acts which echoed those mentioned in his autobiography or recreated in LIMELIGHT. Maestro Neil Brand provided live accompaniment.

LIVING LONDON (1904) is one of the best Victorian street scenes I’ve ever seen, full of life and detail and quirks of behaviour, captured forever by Charles Urban. You can see a brief extract above.

WORK MADE EASY (1907, USA) was a trick film in which an inventor trains a gadget on various heaps of boxes, barrels, and a building site, causing the desired tasks to be performed in super-quick-time via both reverse motion and accelerated motion. At the end of the film, for no comprehensible reason, his arms fly off and streamers flicker from each hollow shoulder. That’s entertainment for you!

In L’HOMME QUI MARCHE SUR LA TETE, acrobat Monsieur Tack not only stands on his head but walks on it, kicking his legs to lift him off the ground, even descending a shallow flight of stairs with only a little pad bandaged to his cranium for protection. He’s my new hero.

KOBELKOFF (1900) was included in homage to a deleted scene from LIMELIGHT featuring an armless wonder. I’d forgotten how portly Nicolai Kobelkoff was, giving him a disturbing resemblance to a winesack or a sea-lion. Prince Randian, by contrast, was all muscle.

Albert Capellani’s CENDRILLON (CINDERELLA, 1907) is enchanting, and shows the growing sophistication of narrative and performance in this period — Capellani would be a key player in developing the motion picture from short subjects to features.

FESTA PYOTECNICA NEL CIELO DI LONDRA (FIREWORKS DISPLAY IN THE LONDON SKY, 1902) is Urban again, offering hand-tinted images of a rather spectacular fireworks display. Apart from the blazing portraits of Victoria & Albert, there’s a fire engine made of fireworks, from which firemen emerge, also apparently made of fireworks. Close examination reveals how this was done. Pyrotechnicians, hopefully dressed in asbestos, wear exoskeletons to which are affixed blazing, sparking fireworks at regular intervals, creating a luminous outline which converts them into animated figures — Victorian mo-cap technology in action.

This screened a second time in the Piazza Maggiore, ahead of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, where I snapped the following blurry image:

DSCF4215

A carriage made of fireworks, right? I have a better phone now, so expect better snaps from me when I’m back in Bologna in a couple of weeks…