Archive for Barbet Schroeder

Significant Other in a Coma

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2019 by dcairns

I’d never gotten around to Jeremy Irons’ Oscar-winning turn in REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, but was finally spurred on by a few things. Viewing director Barbet Schroeder’s fascinating feature doc TERROR’S ADVOCATE led me to suspect the film might provide a more nuanced view of legal ethics than hitherto suspected, and recent appearances in the news by Alan Dershowitz, who is portrayed in the film, and Felicity Huffman, who acts in it, further sparked my curiosity.

Huffman’s appearance in the flick, giving a perfectly decent performance in vivid contrast to the sort of behaviour she’s been charged with, isn’t specially revealing. The representation of Dershowitz, now a bloviating Trump mouthpiece, is more intriguing. The seeds are present here.

Though a lot of the film’s interest comes from creepy touches like Sunny Von Bulow’s narration from her coma bed (beautifully performed by Glenn Close), Irons’ bravely accurate rendition of Claus Von B.’s distinctive and very weird mode of speech, and Ron Silver’s typically robust performance as Dershowitz, a good deal of the fascination now stems from the ambiguity in the way this figure is presented. Though Schroeder’s filming is a bit too dependent on the Steadicam for my liking, with shots floating about aimlessly when they could have been more tightly rendered with traditional tracks (perhaps the schedule was oppressively tight?), he does well with the story, characters and issues explored in Nicholas Kazan’s script.

In TERROR’S ADVOCATE, we hear the story of Jacques Vergès, a lawyer who started out defending, based on his political convictions, of various Algerian freedom fighter’s/terrorists, and follow his path from this to acting as legal advisor to a mindbogglingly array of war criminals, dictators and serial killers. The slow decay of the moral sense, or just a successful career progression?

ROF is very interesting on the ethical dilemmas a lawyer may face, and when the film uses the same arguments as THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT to show that every accused person deserves a good lawyer — “I may not like Claus Von Larry Flynt-Bulow, but etc” — it does so with more nuance, with the sense that this may be a slippery slope fraught with peril. Silver, looking like a sort of Groucho Einstein, plays Dershowitz with enough compassion to be compelling and enough beady-eyed critique to make us feel that this flawed and morally rather flexible figure could turn into the televisual apparition we now all know and regard with revulsion. For the lawyer who fights a monstrous system becoming a monster may be a professional hazard.

Nicest directorial touch, for me: standard-issue helicopter shot credits, but sailing over palatial residence after palatial residence, as Mark Isham’s score pours a kind of heartsick malaise over the top of it all.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE stars the Marquise de Merteuil; Beverly & Elliot Mantle; Eugene Hunt; Angie Tucci; Frieda Maloney; Constance Bulworth; Lynette Scavo; and Elaine Dickinson.

Advertisements

The hearth moved

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2008 by dcairns

Ground-breaking sexual shenanigans from Jules Dassin’s PHAEDRA. Faced with the challenging task of manufacturing sexual chemistry between his wife, Melina Mercouri, and Anthony Perkins, Dassin pulls out all the stops. The result is like a MOVIE MASH-UP of love scene clichés — soft focus; roaring fireplace; clenching hands; rain battering on window; the sweeping music of Mikis Theodorakis on the gramophone (there will be NO remarks about Anthony Perkins and Greek love in this post. Apart from this one). By the end it’s a wonder there’s a stick of furniture intact in that apartment.

David Thomson in his BioDic of Film, writes, “In good company, and a little drunk, HE WHO MUST DIE, PHAEDRA and 10.30PM SUMMER might cure would-be suicides.” I’ll allow that Dassin skirts the edges of absurdity in 10.30, and PHAEDRA looks like it plunges headlong into a basin of ludicrous pomp, but I still get a kick out of this scene. The effect is overdone but the individual elements are orchestrated with great skill — I like the compositions and editing and music.

I heard of an English teacher one time who would object to purple passages of sexual action in DH Lawrence with the words, “But it’s not LIKE that!” which is a good argument, though not necessarily one that should take precedence over all other concerns. I don’t think it applies to Dassin — taken metaphorically, his sex scene could be seen as quite authentic. Unless what you’re after is complete authenticity (which would mean SOUND EFFECTS, and none of us wants THAT) evoking the corny (there’s rarely anything ORIGINAL about sex) but overwhelming emotions of what General Ripper calls “the physical act of love” seems reasonable, and doing it without fear of looking silly seems at least commendable.

Kubrick told Michel Ciment that the exhilerating and goofy William Tell Overture time-lapse threesome in CLOCKWORK ORANGE was in part a reaction to the way movies tend to solemnize sex, and he had a point there, but sex is very often quite humourless. There’s plenty of room for giggling at the start, but there comes a point where that could be  OFF-PUTTING.

So, if sex is overwhelming, serious, and best treated in a stylised way — Dassin is surely the man for the job. He was dismissed for his “strained seriousness” by Andrew Sarris, but that seems somehow wrong: it’s no strain for Dassin to be serious. His lighter films from this period, TOPKAPI and NEVER ON SUNDAY, seem far more effortful (though I love TOPKAPI and make allowances for NOS).

Dassin was a Sexual Pioneer! The bisexual triangle of 10.30PM SUMMER must have been strong stuff for 1966. I also think there’s enough textual evidence in his work to deduce a keen interest in sado-masochism (whippings abound in THE LAW, RIFIFI…)

Two Ladies

Sex, in the movies, is fraught with difficulty. Maybe because it’s universal but also distinctly personal. There’s a cringe-making story of a well-known actor who, in his first sex scene, grabbed his partner by the hair and began slamming her head off the pillow. “Cut! What are you doing?” He was totally perplexed. What’s the problem? Doesn’t everybody do it this way?

Everybody does it every which way! The first sex scene in a mainstream movie is supposed to be in ECSTASY, in 1933. Director Gustav Machatý attempted to evoke an orgasmic reaction from his star Hedy Lamarr by pricking her feet with a pin. “That would just be really annoying,” says my partner. “Maybe everybody Gustav Machatý slept with found him really annoying.”

a little prick

Another technique — in RED ROAD, an actress appears to receive oral sex. In reality she was holding half a peach between her thighs for her co-star to munch on. Hey, it’s a system!

In SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, Barbet Schroeder wanted to film a more than usually convincing blow-job, so he purchased a dildo for Jennifer Jason Leigh to fellate: the hope was to show she had SOMETHING in her mouth without offending the censor by showing WHAT. But, perhaps fearful of insulting his male lead, Schroeder acquired a jaw-breakingly enormous plastic dinosaur appendage…

DON’T LOOK NOW is justly famous for it’s cinematically beautiful love scene. One story I heard, from former producer/director turned educationalist Brent MacGregor, who heard it from an assistant editor, casts an interesting light on the scene. Supposedly, Donald Sutherland was more “into” the sex scene than co-star Julie Christie, which resulted in (a) her walking off the set after one take and (b) Warren Beatty bursting into the cutting room and attempting to beat up director Nicolas Roeg.

I don’t generally credit such gossip, but a couple of aspects of it at least make sense — if you look at the actual lovemaking, MOST of what you see is consistent with a single hand-held shot. But bits of the shot were unusable as the cameraman was clambering over the bed, etc. With only one continuous take, partly no good, Roeg was forced to intercut, and all he could intercut WITH was neutral material, the couple dressing to go out (which would have to have been shot deliberately for the purpose, later, if we buy this version of events). And thus is born a thing of immense beauty and poetic resonance.

Donald Sutherland reports being locked in that bedroom “for hours” with Roeg, Christie, and an extremely noisy unblimped camera. But what’s seen in the film isn’t consistent with such a prolonged shoot. And what’s been rumoured about Roeg’s swinging lifestyle might be consistent with the desire to go a little further than usual in the name of realism…

Donald Fuck

(Also — looking through the scene for not-too-explicit frame grabs, I realised that it’s quite a bit more explicit than I’d previously thought. Much of the “stronger stuff” is compositionally decentred and hard to spot due to the pace of cutting, but… let’s just say I hope Julie Christie remembered to bring half a peach to the set…)