Archive for Barry Lyndon

An Odyssey in Bits: Dr. Smyslov, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Squirt

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2019 by dcairns

Complicated bit now. We’re moving through Kubrick’s 2001 in sort-of chapters. This one contains several sub-sections.

First, Kubes chops into The Blue Danube at an opportune moment, so the transition to the interior of the Big Space Wheel is neat yet abrupt. The grinding sound of the rotating chamber that introduces William Sylvester’s Heywood Floyd to the wheel’s security atrium helps as aural interruption. There’s another of those pretty stewardess types (Maggie London) in the room with him (it’s not quite an airlock, something like an elevator that doesn’t go up or down, just around… a revolving door you can sit down in), and then another (Canadian Chela Matthison) at the sort-of customs desk.

Floyd meets a faceless functionary, Miller, who has something to do with security, bland pleasantries are exchanged, blandly. The first dialogue of the film, discounting ape-grunts, is arguably the noiseless lip-flap of the characters in the TV show Floyd is sleeping through on his shuttle trip, but these encounters offer the first audible speech and it makes about the same impression.“Here you are, sir.” “See you on the way back.” “We haven’t seen you up here for a long time.” “Very nice to see you again.” “Did you have a pleasant flight, sir?” “Sorry I’m late.” “You’re looking great.” “It’s nice to have you back.” “Did you have a good flight?”

Let’s assume this is all deliberately dull. Science fiction writers believed for a long time that their stories should feature rather bland, standard-issue characters without distracting quirks, so that the strange situations could stand out by contrast and there would be a grounding in what they’d probably insist on calling “normalcy.” This was a false good idea, because boring cut-outs don’t help make a story credible. But there’s more to that going on in 2001. The functionaries we meet here are rather dull men and women doing, what are to them, dull, everyday things. The astronauts, later, embody what the filmmakers’ and actors’ research told them, accurately, astronauts would be like: flat and not very emotional. You don’t want hand-flapping hysterics piloting your interplanetary craft, you want Neil Armstrong.

There are two characters called Miller in this film. Which gives you an idea of the deliberate blandness. This one is played by Kevin Scott, whose immediately previous film credit was THE COOL MIKADO for Michael Winner. “I like to work with the best actors in the world,” said Kubrick. Worth repeating that every so often as we watch this film. But Kev is fine here, exactly right for what’s called for.Good to see that the Dutch are prominently represented in space travel.

I like the weird garbled stuff Floyd is forced to say by the security screen woman (Judy Keirn, who plays an actual stewardess in her only other film, Sidney Lumet’s THE DEADLY AFFAIR) for his voice print identification: destination, nationality, full name, surname first. So he has to say “Moon. American. Floyd. Heywood R.” Which is certainly the best line of the film so far.Then Floyd says he has to make a couple of phone calls, but in fact makes one: he tries to speak to his wife but gets Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, playing his daughter, Squirt. Is it an issue that she has an English accent, despite Heywood being a yank who lives in America? I don’t mind it: she’s so cute and the conversation has such a realistic awkwardness — the authentic feeling of talking to a distracted child via technology — and we can easily invent an explanation. Mrs. Floyd must be English, they must have lived there until recently…What IS a mistake is that the camera filming Squirt is able to pan right to keep her in frame during her hilarious and random postural contortions. A videophone wouldn’t do that, and if it had some motion-sensor capacity to do so, it would look more automated than Kubes’ spontaneous movement. But I guess he couldn’t bear to have a misframed daughter disappearing out of shot in his space epic. And the scene appears to have been filmed casually in the Kubrick home so it hasn’t had the rigorous thought put into it that you’d expect from S.K.

Vivian Kubrick later joined the Church of Scientology (I blame Tom and to a lesser extent Nicole) and is now completely estranged from her family. Horrible.Leaving the phone booth having been billed $1.70, which I guess was a lot of money in 1968, Floyd is ambushed by the Russians. It seems foolish of station security man Miller to have let HRF out of his sight like that, but maybe they actually WANTED this encounter to take place — because Floyd proceeds to bamboozle the Russkis, refusing to confirm the cover story his own people have leaked out, thereby making them think this story must be true. (To conceal the discovery of an alien artifact at the Tycho Clavius base on the moon, they’ve concocted a false tale of infection and quarantine.)

This scene features two actors who don’t quite fit the film’s pattern of nondescript performance. Margaret Tyzack would return in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, her plummy English solicitude acquiring a sinister edge. And Leonard Rossiter would nearly capsize BARRY LYNDON with the comic flamboyance of his performance. Here, he’s Dr. Andrei Smyslov, pumping Floyd for info as they all sit around on their comfy ’60s space chairs.

We should previously have praised Tony Masters, Harry Lange and Ernest Archer for their production design, and it’s a bit crap that I focus on them here where the design is noticable in a partially negative way. The curve of the floor, indicating that we’re inside that big wheel we saw floating in space, is fantastic. And the contrast of the white white set with the red furniture is really beautiful. But of course within ten years the chairs dated it. But then a little later we could appreciate how attractive they were, and by the time the year 2001 rolled round for real they seemed perfectly plausible space furniture.

This sequence, so soon after one of the great cuts of film history, contains the worst cut in 2001 ~

A jolting jounce inwards, not far enough to feel like a meaningful change, with a jarring continuity glitch in Rossiter’s stance. OK, not quite as bad as my frame-grabs suggest. And they make William Sylvester’s head-turn the focus, and preserve the continuity of movement there. But it’s the small size of the reframing that makes the whole cut ugly. Perfectionist, my ass!

This scene also has some beautiful pausing. If Harold Pinter was writing it, he wouldn’t even put “(a pause)”, he’d go all out and put “(a silence)”, indicating that the actors should really go for maximum discomfort. The seeds of THE SHINING’s creepy conversations are sown here.

Our latest two podcasts have a science fiction theme:

SPACE MADNESS

LET’S GET SMALL

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Paddington Beary Lyndon

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on May 9, 2015 by dcairns

shining bear

So, Paddington Bear, beloved character of books, TV and now a movie, has crossed paths with Stanley Kubrick already, in the internet meme which saw the Peruvian immigrant popping up in various horror films, including THE SHINING.

I’ve long felt that something should be done about the fact that Kubrick’s masterly BARRY LYNDON and the charming children’s show Paddington Bear share a narrator, the great Michael Hordern. So I’ve done something.

Paddington Beary Lyndon from David Cairns on Vimeo.

I’m not sure it redounds to my credit. Still, I can add my name to Soderbergh’s on the list of people who have interviewed Richard Lester and fannied about with Kubrick films. Next I shall remake SOLARIS in my backyard.

PaddingtonBearyLyndon2 from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Belated Sequels

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2014 by dcairns

lasttango

I think belated sequels are great! Doesn’t everybody? Like remarriage, they represent the triumph of hope over experience, as studios pray that for once the desperate target of making a follow-up to a film their audience only vaguely remembers, with clapped-out stars or new nobodies, will respark fading careers and fill box office tills. Here are some that should happen.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS 2. Admittedly, both stars of the original are dead, but Jean-Pierre Leaud is still clinging to life and sanity and Bernardo Bertolucci may be poorly but it’s not like we’re asking him to do the shagging. Would necessitate retroactively retitling the previous installment, George Lucas fashion — something like NEXT-TO-LAST TANGO IN PARIS. So maybe the new one could be POSITIVELY LAST TANGO IN PARIS, though that would be a hostage to fortune come the inevitable Part III. Still, even if we’re unsure about the title and cast, we have a slogan and so the thing should immediately be greenlit: “LAST TANGO II: Just when you thought it was safe to whack off in the butter.”

DR STRANGELOVE II: DR STRANGERLOVER. It might seem that destroying the world at the end of the first film would preclude a follow-up, but there is precedent here — EVIL DEAD II opted to pretend the first film never happened, and stage a mini-remake with Bruce Campbell and a new co-star. So the urgent need to address global warming, the new end-of-the-world peril, can be assuaged with a film in which, I don’t know, Eddie Murphy or somebody puts on some masks and pretends to be different people while we all boil to death in our own industrial effluent. And Kubrick’s heirs can reassure us that it’s what Stanley intended all along.

BIRTH OF A NATION II: AFTERBIRTH OF A NATION. Cinephiles have long agonized over the fraught position of DW Griffith’s epic. Historically and artistically significant, yet morally and politically abhorrent. Could not the problem be solved altogether with a belated sequel? In this thoughtful reworking by Ron Howard, the second half of BOAN, which contains all the really unspeakable stuff, turns out to have been a dream sequence. The Little Colonel comes out of the shower and realizes it was all just an overheated fantasy brought on by the trauma of losing the Civil War and eating too much cheese. Then he fights the Klan, possibly by joining the FBI or something. We can get a CGI Lillian Gish. It’ll be super.

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SE7EN 2WO. The hard-hitting sequel to SE7EN in which Kevin Spacey plays the nicer brother of his character from the David Fincher classic, Jim Doe, who is out to kill people in ways reflecting ironically on the Seven Cardinal Virtues. “It’s a less dark, less rainy film, and Jim Doe is really a positive guy,” explains Spacey. “Instead of trying to point at all the evil in the world, he wants to use his murdering to highlight the good things.” Baz Luhrmann will direct, as long as they agree to add an exclamation mark.

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2005: SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE. This one would be exciting because it’s not only a sequel to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY but also a prequel to 2010: ODYSSEY II. It’ll also be a futuristic science fiction film set in the past, which is obviously twice as exciting. “It’s what Stanley would have wanted,” say heirs. It’s set after astronaut Dave Bowman disappeared near Jupiter, but before he turned up again, so I guess he won’t be in it. Mostly I guess it would be about Dr. Heywood Floyd relaxing at home. Since he has a dolphin in his living room (and possibly a bush baby by now) it’ll be by far the cutest film in the series.

BARRY LYNDON II. Basically three hours of a one-legged Ryan O’Neal losing at cards. Kubrick’s heirs voice quiet doubts.

THE GREAT ESCAPE II. Contemporary setting. POW camp is still running, having somehow been missed at the end of the war. Producers are determined to unite as many of the original cast as possible, including those whose characters died in the first film. So, David McCallum, who is basically immune to old age it seems. Expect extensive flashbacks.

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KING KONG DOESN’T LIVE. In an effort to expunge the memory of his misguided sequel to his KONG remake, John Guillermin will return to the director’s chair to lens this epic production. “It starts with Kong coming out of the shower,” he explains, “Which is the waterfall he bathes in with Jessica Lange, and then we realize that the last half of KONG and the whole of KONG LIVES were a dream. A giant gorilla’s dream.” Guillermin hopes to reunite Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin, “Because they’re all still alive, unlike that GREAT ESCAPE crowd.” The sequel will pick up exactly where the middle of KONG leaves off, with Guillermin explaining the cast looking 36 years older as “The effects of the shock of seeing this giant gorilla. I mean, I aged ten years when I saw that stupid heap of junk Carlo Rambaldi had built.”