Archive for Alex Winter

Nights at the Villa Deodati #1: Byron & Shelley’s Bogus Journey

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona was so entranced by the sight of Eric Stoltz, as Percy Shelley, emitting a flawless English accent while splashing about naked in a stream, that it may have taken her slightly longer than usual to notice that HAUNTED SUMMER is a very dull piece of work. Usually she gets bored before me.

I hated popped this one in the Panasonic after enjoying Ivan Passer’s SILVER BEARS (I also recommend his Czech debut, INTIMATE LIGHTING), but was dimly aware that this Cannon production did not enjoy a stellar reputation. The script by Lewis John Carlino (SECONDS) is literate and clearly the result of extensive research (source novel: Anne Edwards), but crucially lacks drama. Things only very occasionally get remotely tense, for instance when Shelley is induced to smoke opium in a scary cave, with Byron inciting him into a bad trip in which he is terrified by a transmogrified Mary — but the best the movie can manage for a hallucination here is Alice Krige in sudden lipstick, filmed off a wibbly-wobbly reflector. And then any anxiety produced is dissipated by a soft focus sex scene. A later love scene is shot through drifting muslin, the kind of “tastefulness” which quickly seems extremely tacky.

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We DO get a vision of a monster, and rather sweetly the filmmakers have made him resemble Charles Ogle as the monster in the Edison FRANKENSTEIN.

Those perfect English accents are part of the problem. Apart from Krige, who talks posh naturally so far as I know, the movie showcases cut-glass vocalisations by Laura Dern (as Claire Clairmont), Philip Anglim (Bad Lord Byron) and a tiny, barely-formed Alex Winter as Dr. Polidori, looking like an Oompa Loompa with jaundice. They’re all quite good — nobody dives into the strangulated manner of Keanu Reeves in B.S.’s DRACULA — but the cast’s inability to talk in their own tones does create a slight feeling of airlessness. I wonder if Passer shouldn’t have followed his Czech mate Milos Forman’s lead in AMADEUS and let the Americans talk American? This nagging doubt is confirmed if you tune out the chatter and just look at the relaxed faces: these are all terrific actors, able to bring an unwonted naturalism to the period setting.

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The great Giuseppe Rotunno shot this, but I would have to see a better copy to know if he was having an off-day or if he’s simply fallen prey to pan-and-scan and a washed-out transfer — unlike the other 80s visits to Villa Deodata, this movie seems to offer nothing resembling a strong, cinematic image. It also soft-pedals the whole point of the story — the origins of Frankenstein — leaving out the ghost story competition completely. If you didn’t know that Mary Shelley would conceive the idea for her masterwork during this sojourn by the lake, you wouldn’t guess it from the movie. How not to win the audience over: leave out the one historical fact they know, and the thing they’re already interested in.

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Thematically, the film could be about the end of the sixties, rather than 1816. Byron refers to his friends as “children of the revolution,” conjuring Marc Bolan rather than George Gordon Byron, and the progress from light to dark could represent the corruption of idealism. If so, the film would have seemed more dated in 1988 than it does now. All the late-80s slew of films dealing with this literary vacation come up against the same problem — apart from the conception of Frankenstein, an internal event difficult to capture on film, not much is known to have happened at the Villa Deodati, despite the explosive mix of people. The various filmmakers involved — Passer & Carlino, Gonzalo Suarez, Ken Russell & Stephen Volk, and Roger Corman & F.X. Feeney, all have their own strategies for tackling this problem. I might as well tell you now: none of them could quite solve it.

Read on…

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The Sunday Intertitle: The Greatest Shoe on Earth

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

My Russian is rudimentary — confined to a series of crude coughs and hand gestures — but I think what this is saying is “Roll Up! Roll Up! See the enormous footwear!”

As Randy Quaid so justly says in Alex Winter’s FREAKED, “Now that’s a big shoe.”

This may even be my favourite outsized boot since the flaming Elvis pump that floats downstream in Philip Ridley’s preposterous THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON. The magnificently insane thing in that movie is not the vision of the Viking funeral boot, but the lost circus entertainers who turn up an hour later to explain its presence, as if anything in that film would benefit from explanation. I mean, if you’ve got Brendan Fraser running about in a barbed wire bra, you really should have the courage to embrace the numinous. Because, you see, whether you like it or not, you have already done so.

Our b&w boot, meanwhile, derives from LA GALERIE DES MONSTRES, a circus revenge story rather in the Tod Browning vein, but directed by Jaque Catelain (don’t know who he is) and produced by Marcel L’Herbier (very much know who he is — L’INHUMAINE, THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW CHAMBER, LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE). The Russian intertitles in no way spoil the fun, since the plot is biblically simple and the roar of a ravenous lion needs no translation. And, as in my all-time favourite film (a circus revenge story) HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, where there’s a roaring lion, a sad/sinister clown cannot be far behind. This one’s a doozy ~

Kongwatch

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 9, 2010 by dcairns

I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for giant gorillas this week, for I am in New York City.

Anthony Mann season! Sirk double-feature! Bookshops! Alas, no Kim’s video store anymore…

Image from SQUEAL OF DEATH, by Alex Winter and Tom Stern.