Archive for Batman

The Couch Trip

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2012 by dcairns

I read Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room some years back, being a fan of the Powell-Pressburger film. It’s very good, and the film is very faithful, apart from softening the ending — Balchin had a weakness for bleak, all-is-lost finales.

I haven’t seen SEPARATE LIES, filmed by Julian GOSFORD PARK Fellowes, from Balchin’s A Way Through the Woods. Is it any good? But I do like 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET, which Balchin scripted. He did quite a bit of screenwriting, in fact.

This year I tracked down Darkness Falls from the Air, Balchin’s novel of the London Blitz, which is devastating (I guess they said the same about the Blitz). It’s not surprising that one was never filmed — for a book written in wartime, it’s quite spectacularly un-jingoistic. Again, Balchin’s pessimism prevents him from offering any pathway to victory: there’s an argument for the stripping away of bureaucracy to allow the can-do chaps to get things done, but no real hope that such a thing will ever happen. The nation will strangle in red tape as the bombs ceaselessly drop. All of this is tied up in a truly agonizing, wretched love story: the hopeless agony of the lovers in The Small Back Room seems actually desirable compared to the quandary of the stoic desk-jockey and his tender-hearted, unfaithful wife.

Pair it with Patrick Hamilton’s wonderful The Slaves of Solitude.

So, then I read A Sort of Traitors (terrible title, good book) and then Mine Own Executioner, which I discovered was a movie, scripted by Balchin himself and directed by Anthony Kimmins. I was intrigued: the book really doesn’t feel like it has a film in it. Having now seen the film, I kind of feel vindicated: there wasn’t a film in it, or anyway not a filmic structure: the action climax comes twenty minutes ahead of the supposed emotional climax.

But it’s very interesting stuff. The protagonist, Felix Milne, is a lay psychiatrist with a wife (Dulcie Gray) he’s ambivalent about, who has a sexy sister he’s somewhat less ambivalent about. He takes on a war-damaged patient (Kieron Moore) who has recently attempted to strangle his wife while in a fugue state. Most synopses of the story suggest that it’s a “physician heal thyself” yarn about a man who can solve others’ problems but is powerless to tackle his own. But in fact, Milne does eventually sort out his domestic sphere, whereas his efforts with Moore…

Milne is played by Burgess Meredith, because this was an era of frantically shoehorning Americans into British films wherever we could (how little has changed). Meredith is a good choice in that he seems intellectual enough, but a problematic one in that he seems a bit creepy. It’s not a quality BM can turn on and off, it’s just inherent. So that when the lovely Barbara White, as Moore’s wife, first describes the strangling incident, and Milne perks up, thinking “This case is more interesting than I expected,” Meredith’s rendition of this reaction inescapably suggests a man becoming sexually aroused by an account of attempted asphyxiation. Not what’s needed here.

Then, since he’s a psychiatrist, Milne must perforce smoke a pipe, and whenever we see Burgess with the stem clamped between his teeth, we’re reminded of his seminal turn as the Penguin in TV’s Batman, with his long cigarette holder (why the association of penguins with cigarette holders anyway?), and that’s kind of unfortunate too. Burgess doesn’t actually resemble a penguin, of course, he resembles a small, rat-like dog, eyes glinting with cunning and lust. His chemistry with John Wayne in IN HARM’S WAY is so good precisely because at any instant we expect him to start fervently humping the Duke’s leg.

Still, Meredith has that magnificent wet-gravel voice, so effective in the truth serum scene quoted below…

(And he directed the stage production of DUTCHMAN, developing the performances which were transferred direct to the movie.)

Everybody else is cast very well. I couldn’t work out what Moore was doing with his accent: it at first sounded like Welsh valleys, but maybe it’s Moore’s own Irish, a brand I perhaps haven’t encountered before. But it seems to change from scene to scene.

“The trauma lies in your childhood… your childhood… your childhood…”

Balchin is very faithful to his own novel, except that he’s forced to condense one subplot down to a series of montages (always a sign that something really ought to be discarded) and muffs one emotionally climactic death scene by rushing it badly. But Moore’s more extreme episodes of insanity and dissociation are chillingly powerful: the way he slides from first person to second person when describing his own actions, his inconsistent mood, and his mental blurring of the different people in his life is all very effective and convincing. The psychobabble is less so: “He’s a bad schizo,” says Meredith, concerned. But it’s slightly better than most Hollywood attempts at this kind of stuff.

Balchin himself worked as an “industrial psychologist”, a job his hero casually rejects in this book and film: he helped develop Black Magic chocolates, based on the absence of the colour black in the sweetshop window (economics plays a part too: the black box was cheap to make, allowing Rowntree to spend all the money on the choccies themselves).

Here’s the cinematic highlight.

Mine Own Executioner from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Anthony Kimmins had an odd career, swerving from George Formby comedies to this bleak and noirish melodrama. And then onto the reputedly dreadful BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE. This may be his high point. The framing and lighting in the psychiatrist’s office is great, but the subjective camera flashback (the first of several) is a stunner. Mucho credit to W. Percy Day for the process work, Ned Mann for the models, and special effects supervisor Cliff Richardson. If Kimmins conceived the idea for this, a major tip of the hat is in order.

Meredith’s therapeutic methods may be unconventional, but he GETS RESULTS, damnit! 

Superhero Death Match

Posted in Comics, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by dcairns

THE AVENGERS, or AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, or whatever it’s called, may signal the death knell of what I call “double voodoo,” the principle that you can’t have more than one aberrant, reality-defying concept per movie. Or not without ending up with an unacceptable fruit salad. Thus, HOUSE OF DRACULA combines lycanthropy and vampirism, which are both sort of supernatural blood diseases, which could work, but then throws in mad science electro-galvanism, which “makes the whole thing unbelievable,” as Bob Hope says to the bibbed vultures in SON OF PALEFACE.

But in AVENGERS we have aliens and mutants and cyborgs, which I guess are all SF concepts, and also Norse gods. That’s quite a stretch. The only overarching idea that can umbrella all those disparate elements is the superhero genre, which does exactly that in comic books. The Frankenstein Monster, a crime-fighting millionaire, the last son of an alien civilization, a vegetable nature god, and demon-conjuring magicians are all part of the DC Comics universe, and Marvel Comics have just as big a menagerie.

Until now, the movies have been cautious of this everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach. SUPERMAN featured only one superbeing. SUPERMAN II added three supervillains, but they all had the same origins and powers as Supes. The entire BATMAN saga got by with no superpowers at all, ever. Only X-MEN introduced the gimmick which makes most superhero comics amusing — the idea of an array of characters with different powers. They’re like chess pieces, each with their own strengths and limitations. When Magneto’s magnetism cancelled out Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton, I suddenly recognized what the earlier movies had been missing.

The X-MEN characters are all mutants, an implausible enough excuse for their multiple magic powers, but at least a consistent one. AVENGERS seems to throw the door open to a much crazier clashing of different fantasy concepts. Here are some suggestions.

SANTA CLAUS VS LOKI

Both are immortal nordic demi-gods, so you could say this was a grudge match waiting to happen. Loki commands an extraterrestrial army in AVENGERS, and Santa has experience fighting Martians. He also had his own movie, from the Salkinds, who produced the Chris Reeve SUPERMAN. But it was seeing Loki in his flying chariot that made me realize how perfectly suited they are as opponents. Tom Hiddleston versus David Huddleston.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS BIG BOY

In the De Niro-Pacino rematch fans have been waiting for, the HEAT stars reprise their roles from MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN and DICK TRACY respectively. Kenneth (THOR) Branagh directs, and also cameos as Laurence Olivier (SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW).

THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER THE GREEN HORNET’S NEST

Lisbeth Salander is a superheroine, let’s face it. A bisexual, maths genius, computer hacking, bike riding, autistic, kick-boxing emo girl? Come on. Anyhow, after David Fincher’s highly watchable revenge-fantasy fairy-tale underperformed, and the comedy GREEN HORNET positively UNperformed, both series need a reboot. And Seth Rogen is surely just the kind of crass male Salander would enjoy butt-fucking and tattoo-graffitizing.

He might like it too.

TARZAN VS MECHAGODZILLA (hat-tip to Godard). HOWARD THE DUCK MEETS CONDORMAN. FANTOMAS CONTRE FU MANCHU. TEAM AMERICA: SLAVES OF THE PUPPET MASTER. METEOR MAN MEETS CANDYMAN. CONDORMAN MEETS CANDYMAN.

Roland Joffe exec produced SUPER MARIO BROTHERS. And made a film about the Manhattan Project. You’d think I’d be able to make something of that, wouldn’t you?

Obviously, the comments section is merely an open invitation to you guys to join in…

Turkish Original

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2009 by dcairns

Are there two more exciting words in any language than “Turkish remake”? I know, I know, I said that about the words “Admiral’s Pie”, but LOOK ~

BADI, the Turkish ET is a fine example. The little fellow looks like an ambulatory bolus of compacted faeces. How adorable.

But stifle your disappointment with the pillow of hope, for this is not a post about Turkish remakes, but about a Turkish original. The story appears in the latest Fortean Times, that the mayor of the Turkish town of Batman is suing Christopher Nolan and Warner Brothers for stealing the name of his town.

I like this story.

But I like the idea of a town called Batman even more. Why think, if I moved there, my address could be something like ~

David Cairns,

43 Sevastopol Terrace,

Batman.

Although I suppose it could get tiresome. If somebody said, “Where do you live?” and I said, “Batman,” they would be almost certain to respond, “No, where do you live?”

I wonder if Batman is twinned with Robin, Iowa?

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