Archive for Anne Bancroft

May 6th

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by dcairns

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Without any particular plan, we watched THE HINDENBURG on Friday. We were supposed to be getting married, but we watched THE HINDENBURG instead. I can’t actually tell you whether this was a wise choice, because I haven’t had the experience of getting married, but now that I have watched THE HINDENBURG I can say that married life doesn’t have a great deal to live up to. It ought to be able to knock Robert Wise’s 1975 disaster movie into a cocked hat.

The interesting bit is that we were watching on May 3rd, and part of the film takes place on May 3rd. And then the Hindenburg blows up today, May 6th, only in 1937, giving me plenty of time to write about it.

Basically, most of the film is a snooze. Nelson (THE HAUNTING) Gidding’s screenplay doesn’t manage to make all these sympathetic Nazis very sympathetic, and the unsympathetic ones don’t get to do any real Nazi stuff — Charles Durning in particular is terribly wasted — and there just isn’t a lot of human emotion to it. Oh the humanity! What humanity?

Edward Carfagno’s meticulous production design, apparently extremely accurate, could serve as an analog for the whole project — the Hindenburg’s gondola resembles a 1970s conference centre. It’s pretty small, and doesn’t offer the epic opulence of a Titanic. Against this accuracy, there’s the fact that the film’s sabotage plot is bullshit, but at least it gives William Atherton a chance to be twitchy, and George C. Scott something to brood about. Most watchable of all is Anne Bancroft, even though she has little to do.

We can see the cunning of James Cameron, who made a banal little drama the focus of TITANIC, with all the spectacle simply as dynamic backdrop. Whereas HINDENBURG really is about the Hindenburg, and nothing but the Hindenburg. As boring as the first 90 mins of TITANIC are — and admit it, they’re awesomely boring — at least the romance gives the characters something to do, something which would matter dramatically even if the ship were not sinking. All the action of the airship movie is about stopping a bomb from going off — a bomb which we know IS going to go off. We even know when.

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“Jesus–not Hitler!” I guess a lot of people were thinking that same thought.

I like a lot of Robert Wise films, though I’ve never quite forgiven him for screwing with MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. Perfect for him to make a film about a sympathetic Nazi who’s only following orders. That’s harsh, I know. But it’s brought to mind by the film’s deliberate quoting of CITIZEN KANE, with a newsreel (above) at the beginning and the burning sign at the end…

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Ah yes, the end. My favourite bit, because suddenly this staid non-thriller goes batshit crazy. A weird optical effect has the bomb go off like something from a James Bond title sequence, and the movie goes into b&w — purely so as to incorporate the actual newsreel footage of the disaster. Now, it seems unfair to make a disaster movie called THE HINDENBURG and then not stage the climactic destruction yourself. Possibly poor taste, too. But even if you’ve got Albert Whitlock, which they have, I guess it was impossible to create anything as impressive as the reality using 1970s technology. Still, for a colour movie to go into monochrome the second a towering inferno breaks out seems perverse. But the madness has just begun.

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Bottom centre — the burning sign –” Hindenbud!”

Determined to get some sense of urgency into his cinematic dirible, Wise starts zooming randomly, in the modern manner. The newsreel footage freeze-frames for no apparent reason, repeatedly. I guess to try to say, Yes, we know this is stock footage. Look how we’re making it stop and start. There’s one really great high angle where everybody on the ground suddenly grows a long shadow — magnificent stuff. Atherton, mortally wounded, frees a dalmatian from the baggage car — and we spend the whole climax wondering if it got out OK. We don’t care about Burgess Meredith. We don’t care about Rene Auberjonois. Even Anne Bancroft takes a back seat to the dog.

People leap from high places, some of them on fire. The guy from Hogan’s Heroes seems to drop thirty feet without the aid of a stunt double. Small children are flung similar distances, amid flaming debris. Charles Durning smolders, and not in a good way.

Then we get the roll call of the dead. A narrator reads character names, and says “Dead. Dead. Survived. Dead.” as little pictures of the cast appear. After a while he stops bothering to name the minor players. “Dead. Dead. Dead.” Finally, we get the dog. “Survived.” Hooray! The movie ends on a high note.

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Dog — bottom left.

Then it gets better — against Michael Shire’s lovely, elegiac theme music, we get the special effects departments miniature Hindenburg drifting majestically against matted-in blue skies, while the famous real-life news reporter totally loses his shit on the soundtrack. It was a mistake to hire Franklin Pangborn to narrate an air disaster, I feel. False economy.

It’s a really nice and interesting sequence, and probably it should have gone at the start, thus admitting what we already know about the story. But that would have left the movie even less to impress with at the end.

Mason jaws

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2011 by dcairns

Another scene from THE PUMPKIN EATER (see previous post here). What a pleasure to see James Mason outfitted with Harold Pinter dialogue. Beats playing a Chinese gangster.

Again, Clayton’s approach is a standard one in dramatic scene construction — he starts by establishing the space with a  mixture of wide shots and details (opening on a detail can become a tired trope if overused — note how tyro director John Sayles does it in every damn scene of RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN — also, has any director ever resisted opening a zoo scene with an animal close-up to take the audience by surprise?) before moving progressively closer as the scene builds in tension.

The difference is, Clayton goes a little further than is usual, until we’re weaving amid Mason’s crooked teeth like druids cavorting round Stonehenge. It’s not a subtle technique, although in Clayton’s hands its rather less obvious than Leone’s use of it in DUCK YOU SUCKER. What it does, of course, is dehumanize Mason, converting him into a giant mouth, spitting venom and vitriol, while adding to his power — the mismatch in shot sizes violates a tradition of shot-countershot filming, where usually each close-up is of a matching scale. The effect, if taken literally, would suggest that Anne Bancroft has sat down to lemon tea with the cyclops from SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Metaphorically, that’s not so inaccurate.

Anytime you start on the path of moving closer (by cuts, or camera moves, or leaning the actors in towards the lens…) you eventually reach a point where you can’t get any closer, so you have to break the tension for a moment and allow us to back off, lest the camera plummet through a skin pore and end up circulating round the thespian metabolism like Martin Short in INNERSPACE. Such breaks can easily be triggered by having an actor move, which is a dying art in modern cinema (Oh, they wriggle around in action scenes, but dialogue two-handers tend to the inert) — here, Bancroft’s panicked exit, in a riot of wildlife dissonance, resolves the fight-or-flight dilemma and allows us to escape the snarling jaws of Mason.

Yootha Runs Wild

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2011 by dcairns

Anne Bancroft meets Yootha Joyce at the hairdresser’s in Jack Clayton’s film of Harold Pinter’s script of Penelope Mortimer’s novel — THE PUMPKIN EATER.

This must have been an uncomfortably autobiographical book for Mortimer to write. The story of a woman married to an unfaithful, famous writer, seems to echo her marriage to John Mortimer who, apart from writing the Rumpole of the Bailey stories, worked on Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS and father actress Emily Mortimer and another daughter out of wedlock…

I find Clayton’s work as impressive as Neil Sinyard does, and he wrote a book about Clayton to prove his admiration. At the time, THE PUMPKIN EATER seems to have been dismissed by a lot of British critics as imitation Antonioni or something, but it’s uniquely English (even with American and Australian leads) and quite precise in its milieu… Pinter gets a lot of comedy of menace into it, Georges Delerue provides a truly heartbreakingly beautiful score (as he always did for Clayton) and Clayton’s handling is expressive, imaginative, forceful and not notably like anything else going on in British film of the period. The people are wealthy and in the media, so a movie like DARLING… would seem to be the nearest equivalent, but that makes for a pretty small sub-genre.

Anyhow, Yootha Joyce, best known here for her sitcom work (Man About the House and George and Mildred co-starring Ken Russell rep company fave Brian Murphy) is terrifyingly deranged. Directorially, the major device is the inexorable creep in, achieved with a slow jib in and down, which initially seems to be about progressing the intimacy, but soon serves also to impart menace to relentless Yootha. Then cuts take the strain, bringing us even tighter into claustrophobic proximity — at some point in this sequence, we may start to reflect on the brilliance of the setting, the strange no-escape tension of the scene, carried mainly by the social taboo against jumping up and shouting “Get this maniac away from me!”

And strange how the last angle on Bancroft in this scene makes her look like THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE.

Thanks to Chris Schneider for reminding me off this great scene.

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