Archive for Being Human

The Five Ages

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 13, 2019 by dcairns

The Forgotten this time follows up on my recent chat with Bill Forsyth, of which more later. BEING HUMAN now looks like a sweet, beautiful, but very direct route out of the Hollywood mainstream, and certainly fulfilled that role for its director. It’s well worth your time.


Vanishing Points

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 7, 2019 by dcairns

A week ago today I was interviewing Bill Forsyth, for the second time in my life. I can now safely say I recommend the experience. Not sure I can reveal yet what the interview was about, though hints seem to have leaked out online.

This morning I’m off to the BF Archive, which should be fun. A secret mission to scan some mysterious polaroids whose very existence was unknown to their owner…

In preparation for meeting the Great Man I rewatched some of his films and visited one I’d never seen, BEING HUMAN, which is better than I’d heard — in fact, excellent. I’ll try to describe why later.

I also very much enjoyed HOUSEKEEPING, which I hadn’t seen since its release — once in a while I’d glimpsed bits of it on Film4 and thought, “That looks beautiful, I must watch it again.” A good thing about being a part-time critic is you get prompts to do the kind of things you want to do anyway.

I complimented Bill on the closing shot, which is absolutely beautiful and really haunting. “Darkness all around them!” said Fiona when she saw it. And Bill launched into a story, even though we were no longer filming. Here it is.

“We couldn’t find a bridge,” said Bill. They wanted a particular kind of railway bridge in a particular location. As with the town/beach combination of LOCAL HERO, it proved impossible. So they built part of one.

This worked fine for all the side views. But when it came to the end shot, there wasn’t enough length to make it dramatic. The characters just ran along for five or so seconds then had to stop.

In the cutting room, ace editor Michael Ellis said, “Don’t worry.”

So, what he did was, he duplicated the shot, reduced in size, and planted the miniature version in the centre of frame. Since it was a vanishing point kind of perspective, the angles matched up. The bridge now appeared to disappear into infinity.

When the two protagonists run down the bridge, they get masked out by the soft edge of the inserted reduced shot, then they run into view as miniature versions of themselves in that hidden frame-within-the-frame. What the audience sees is a kind of shimmer as the full-size figures dissolve into the smaller-size figures, but you can’t really make out enough to be confused. The effect is smooth: the two actors run off into infinity.

(So that HOUSEKEEPING’s ending is a brilliant innovation, a poetic rescue job, as was LOCAL HERO’s phone box ring.)

“You don’t get enough credit as a special effects filmmaker,” I told Bill, awestruck.

“It took Mike Ellis about a week to explain to me what he was going to do!”

Knight Aberrant

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2015 by dcairns



The Red Knight is a Rorschach blot!

To the Cameo, where celebrity guest programmers are introducing favourite films. My friend, actor Gavin Mitchell introduced THE FISHER KING, which I hadn’t seen since it came out. I recall Terry Gilliam saying the access to real human emotion he was permitted by Richard LaGravanese’s script made him feel his previous films were kind of superficial. I didn’t agree, but I liked this one too.

Then I remember a couple of friends criticising Gilliam for the way he films extras, specifically those cast as the homeless and/or mentally ill. He seems to use them as compositional elements rather than human beings — perhaps a consequence of his love of medieval painting. There’s clearly both a visual excitement and a social commentary in the way Gilliam creates a medieval atmosphere in modern New York here, and when the figures are active it works great. But the bad quality reaches a climax with the catatonic patient whose job is to hold a newspaper and then get wheeled out of shot, a combination of expositional device and visual gag, depending for its effect on the dehumanization of the individual. This unexamined tendency crops up again in TWELVE MONKEYS a bit and DR PARNASSUS a lot.


Serious bit over. I enjoyed the film, and Gav’s intro, which was a whole show in itself. Gavin met Robin Williams on BEING HUMAN, Bill Forsyth’s ambitious, career-trashing reimagining of INTOLERANCE, and became friendly with him — he spoke hilariously and touchingly about the pressure he felt when Williams wanted to riff with him. Gavin can do great impersonations — and is possibly the funniest person I know — and found himself roped into an impromptu Mick & Keef crosstalk.

“Bobby Carlisle had been given the job of getting some Scottish actors, so he found fourteen of us. Fourteen actors — two wankers. That’s not bad going.”

Makes me think I need to give BEING HUMAN another try.

THE FISHER KING works great when Williams is around. There’s a real danger in the film’s presentation of the homeless man as redemptive plot mechanism, but Williams skirts the troublesome areas and somehow defuses the risk. It’s not so much that the performance is free of the sentimentality that was a Williams weakness, it’s that he has enough mania and rawness to compensate and make the character seem credible.


Jeff Bridges is playing one of the most obnoxious characters of his career, and to his credit commits absolutely. Still, there’s a drop in interest whenever the film has to do without Williams. The satire of talk radio and TV is sometimes ham-fisted, and one particular moment, when Bridges is pitched a TV sitcom about the homeless, is eggy in the extreme. The script is so tautly structured it just can’t resist making this scene, which is about Bridges becoming disgusted with his former success and rejecting it, also be about the Williams plotline. Something less on-the-nose would have served better: It’s a big coincidence in a script already brimming with them, and one can’t help feeling that some of the TV exec’s odious pitch could apply, with slight modifications, to the film we’re watching. Using issues like homelessness and mental illness in an entertainment is such a delicate thing.


The film’s secret weapons are Michael Jeter, delivering a to-the-edge-and-beyond showstopper melding pathos and grotesquerie, and Amanda Plummer, who has never, it seems, been exploited so well. The energy released when she and Williams eventually get together is… quite considerable. Mercedes Ruehl is also awesome (best line: “If I had to live with my mother I would stab myself six times,”) but she’s a wide shot actress and Gilliam gets too close too often. I flinched a few times when her eyes opened wide.

The BBC, I believe, did a fine documentary on the making of this movie, which Gilliam didn’t like — this may be why it’s not available. Gilliam didn’t appreciate the way it took the producers’ view, which had a sense of “taming the beast” — redeeming Gilliam after BARON MUNCHAUSEN and getting him to make a film on budget. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating doc and deserves to be seen.