Archive for Bill Williams

Vlad Hair Day

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2018 by dcairns

Yes! It’s time once again to play Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Francis Coppola, from the comfort of your own home.

there’s a lot going on here because of these various killing and awakening of Lucy. So yes, doing a collection of actions simultaneously happening and edited together in parallel with a ritual is reminiscent of the time I did it first in the baptism sequence in THE GODFATHER

The big intercut is probably the closest thing Coppola has to a signature. The ending of COTTON CLUB, where the movie starts suddenly pulling together instead of pulling apart, is another.

Fiona is overjoyed to see Keanu has turned grey after his terrible experience with the naked ladies, because she has been transitioning to grey hair and has just gotten a haircut a lot like his.

“My terrible experience has just been life.”

Here’s Fiona as Jonathan Harker ~

Coppola tells us that he originally shot the wedding in an abstract set with just shadows, but then decided to reshoot in a Russian Orthodox church in LA — abandoning his own idea of using minimalistic sets. He also says that as a result of shooting the scene there, Keanu and Winona were actually married for real. Can this be true? Anyhow, this is the only location shot, it seems. (Apart from the sea, the moon, a few other little things.)

Sadie Frost gets finally killed by a wolf, in bed — kinda looks like she’s cuddling a big friendly dog — and tsunami-gouts of blood splash in from all sides. Curiously, the bed seems to be empty. Well, wet dogs smell pretty awful, and stage blood never dries, so you’d have had a big red wet dog, FOREVER, I guess. I don’t know what Sadie Frost smells like wet, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

That’s clearly an hommage to Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING

“Yes, and you shouldn’t have done it,” admonishes Fiona. It’s not her favourite bit of THE SHINING anyway. The gory shagging also makes me think of ANGEL HEART, which is a sensation I resent. Alan Parker wrote in the script for that, “They make love, as fluid as a flight of birds,” which deserves some kind of bad sex prize.

As a child I just loved Snow White because she had beautiful black hair like my mother and I never could forget the glass coffin

And of course Snow White is raised from her coffin, as Sadie Frost will be… that’s a good hommage. Of course, in this scenario, Richard E Grant is Doc, Bill Williams is bashful and Cary Elwes is Dopey. Stoker doesn’t give Lucy’s suitors much more characterisation than Disney provided his dwarfs. But I like how Williams enhances his role by trying to stand in the back, out of the light, almost as if he didn’t want to be seen. The above is probably the clearest view we get of him, tucked behind the mantel, and we still can’t see his jet-pack.

Now that Sadie is dead, Eiko Ishioka has finally been able to crowbar her left tit back into her costume, which comes as bit of a relief. It was a bit too much of a scene-stealer, that breast.

I must confess, and this maybe sounds disheartening, but when I look at this and I think of all the work it is to make a movie, any movie, I have to say that unless it’s a theme or subject matter that you have to make, because it says something that has never been said before or just is in your soul and you have to get it out, I can’t see any point to wanting to make a film at all. The way it’s been set up, and the way the whole profession has gone, it’s like, you have to tolerate so much stuff, you have to work on this movie for so long, under such unenlightened directives from the company financing it, and when it’s all said and done, they publish in the newspaper like the sports scores how much money it did, and they show it in a theater that’s like a box with ten other theaters and you have to not only hear the battery of critics that rightly or wrongly say their opinion, but absolutely everybody else

uh oh

it seems to me that the only reason to make a movie is because it’s something that’s never been made before and is really part of your feelings about life and that therefore it should be something that you should finance as well as make, because that’s the only way that you can have the same rights that a painter has when he paints a picture or a poet has when he writes a poem or to a large extent a novelist has when he writes a novel.

Not necessarily disheartening, just true. “No amount of money is enough to pay you to direct a movie,” says Scorsese, meaning there has to be creative satisfaction otherwise it’s just WOES. On the other hand, following Coppola’s ideas means we can only make low-to-no-budget movies, unless we’re fabulously well-to-do like him.

The apotheosis of Sadie Frost. Coppola tells us that the two-year-old she’s carrying was genuinely terrified and it took great effort to calm her enough to even get her on the set, She was scared of the fangs. Yet Coppola shows no inclination to go look her up and give her a present, which he was so keen to do with the baby Gary Dracula brings to his wives.

Fiona says that Sadie’s ferocious vamp act (she’s the one cast member who really paid attention during Uncle Frannie’s trip to the zoo, and the reverse-motion is fantastic, the costume is divoon), “It’s her best scene in anything, ever, the best scene in this movie, and one of the best scenes in any Dracula movie.”

“If Sadie Frost had done all her movies backwards, she would be bigger than Garbo,” I declare.

“No she wouldn’t,” reasons Fiona.

If everybody in this film gets a bit where you sort of cringe in embarrassment for the actor, which I submit is true, then this is Cary Elwes’ bit. He’s just so happy to see Lucy so ALIVE and WELL and HERSELF AGAIN…

   

Sadie opening her eyes and getting up, rendered backwards as Sadie lying down and closing her eyes (with frock wranglers tugging her dress about on invisible wires) is a stunning uncanny moment, almost ruined by the gratuitous EXORCIST knock-off blood puke, and then the cut from her decapitated head (shouldn’t that really be decorporated head?) to the Sunday joint being carved. The first is a bad idea because it’s just meaningless grossness — in THE EXORCIST that was the point: demons seek to remind us of our base physicality. And vampires treasure blood, so why is she barfing it all over Tony Hopkins? The meat shot is beneath contempt. True, trashing Sadie Frost has long been a popular British pastime, but we’re supposed to like her character and feel sad she’s dead.

Winona Ryder was really thrilled with the cast […] In a way it was her idea, she’s the one who gave me the script and I was very attentive to her wishes. But she had a friend, Keanu, just a friend, who she liked very much and thought was a very nice person and I did too, so we cast Keanu in the role.

The dinner ladies at my college are very nice people, if you’re ever casting something, Mr. Coppola.

 

We’re just coming up to Keanu’s best bit. The line “I know where the bastard sleeps,” can be said to justify his whole miscast, ridiculously well-intentioned and serious performance. It’s not good for the film, but it’s a wonderful moment of wrongness. The way he rises a few millimetres in his seat and sort of wiggles on his arse, like his English accent is finally taking over his entire body. A marvel.

Just before that, Winona does a great, complicated, funny, sweet bit, where Keanu has to say that he DID NOT drink the blood of those women, and Winona looks ashamed for him, proud of him, relieved, tender and embarrassed in quick succession. It’s a masterclass in Advanced Winona.

As the surviving cast light their torches and pull up their tights for an excursion to scenic Carfax Abbey, Coppola tells us that he had originally planned to direct MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN also but got to asking himself ~

what am I wasting my time for? I should be reading books or something and of course turned over that project to Kenneth Bra-nag.

He did suggest Bra-nag should cut the first twenty minutes of the movie and get to the creation faster, not a terrible thought in principle. We’re not told if he did actually read some books.

Coppola still insists that when this movie is shown on cable, they cut Tom Waits’ entire performance, something that makes no sense to me. He’s the best-cast actor in it (and we have to give Uncle Francis credit for that).

It’s not because of anything other than to make it fit into their time schedule.

Couldn’t they have cut some of the useless Winona & Sadie blather scenes?

Dracula as green fog slipping into Winona’s bedsheets is an in-camera effect via Roman Coppola, we’re told, which is why it doesn’t feel like CGI. Double exposures and reverse-action. But having him waft out of the covers like a Dayglo queef was probably a bad idea.

If you goof it up and it doesn’t work and you’ve already developed it, you’re sort of dead.

Like Dracula, who outs himself as a walking corpse to his lover. “Winona’s pretty good in this scene,” says Fiona. But, as so often in this movie, the best bits of her perf are right next to the worst, so we get the line “Take me away from all this… DEATH!” which is her version of knowing where the bastard sleeps. The way she curls her lips in distaste on the D word. Promoting the film, Winona listed the exciting elements of the Dracula story and when she got to “erotic” she did a little involuntary lip-curl which was very cute.

Winona later said that doing the press interviews to promote BSD was the greatest acting challenge of her life.

I think if I was going to shoot a big elaborate sexy scene involving so-called sexual activity I would hire a fight co-ordinator to do it

And his reasoning is actually really sound.

Everybody seems to have decided that Winona’s non-Victorian VPL is in no way a problem.

The foam rubber nipple of Gary Oldman! Where is it today, I wonder? Melted down to make Winston Churchill’s jowls, probably. A shame, I’d like to make a Frankensteinian assemblage using Nicole Kidman’s false nose from THE HOURS and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s prosthetic vulva from ANTICHRIST (you can glue the clitoris back on, it’ll be good as new) and so on. The Oldman teat would be a valuable addition.

I think it was Orson Welles who said the two most difficult or convincing things to show in a movie are people praying or people making love.

He probably didn’t say it in quite those words. And I haven’t heard it before. But I’m willing to sort-of trust Uncle Francis here.

“Keanu’s hair suddenly looks like Widow Twanky’s!” Or maybe the farmer’s wife in the painting American Gothic. It’s back to “normal” in the next scene but here it’s all bushy and centre-parted, a literal fright wig. Maybe it’s turning into Vlad’s bum-head hair.

When my Japanese friend Kiyo saw this scene, with Oldman in his batsuit, he said, “But he hasn’t got a pennis.” The slight mispronunciation made it very funny at the time, and we quote the line almost as much as his “But he’s obviously strange.” The two arguments might go together, supporting one another.

I remember this now also… I really blew my top once in rehearsal, because we’re trynna stage this scene and I’m saying, “OK, you’re in the wolf suit but like you’re not in the wolf suit because we don’t have the wolf suit, but you get up on the bed and of course they’re all frightened because you look like a bat, or whatever it is you look like,” and he starts to get very, you know, he’s a very good actor and a very intelligent person, but he started saying to me in this very early stage of rehearsal, “How can I go up on this bed and be this weird creature when I’m not IN the weird creature suit?”

“Just pretend! You’re an actor!” says Fiona.

And I said, “Well just pretend you are!”

“I’m in agreement with Uncle Francis.”

And he started to get really, “How can I do it blah blah blah” and I just lost my cool and kicked the chair across the room

“The cat knows how to get mad.” – Gregory Hines on Francis Ford Coppola, referring to a hole Uncle F once kicked in a door, as high as his head.

and I left and said “Forget it, goodbye,” and left the rehearsal.

My memory — and I can’t remember if I’m correct for sure and if I got this from Coppola’s diary in Projections or some other source — is that the bat costume was devised to ANSWER Oldman’s question, “How can I dominate this group of people who ought to just rush in and beat the shit out of me?” But the answer, really, should be, you’re Dracula. Toshiro Mifune could just stand there and everybody else could look scared to go near him. Christopher Lee or Robert Ryan or Danny DeVito could do it. But those are super-confident screen dominating presences, and kind of tough guys. Oldman has presence, but maybe not the same physical confidence, which may mean he’s miscast… which I’ve been suspecting all along.

Super-hilariously, while the Dread Pirate Roberts has a duelling pistol and the Rocketeer his Bowie knife, Withnail, being a psychiatrist, is brandishing a steaming test tube. I really really want to know what’s supposed to be in it. Richard E Grant is acting like it smells really bad. I would guess garlic, but it’s red and glowing.

This *might* be the scene where Coppola yelled “You whore!” at Winona, to “help” her with her character. Or that might be later. But it definitely happened. The kind of thing a director COULD perhaps get away with, if it were done purely for motivational purposes, but as is apparent from this commentary, Coppola doesn’t really like Winona very much. Which makes me sad. How can you not love Winona, Uncle Francis? She has such cute ears.

“Oh, I’d forgotten about that, that’s GREAT” — Gary just turned into “a man-shaped pile of rats.” It’s not a talent everyone has. It’s such a brilliant coup de cinema — he backs into the shadows so only his eyes are visible, glowing like a WB cartoon character when the lights go out, then the illuminate him, and he’s made of rats, a sort of rat king gestalt figure, which then collapses to the floor as individual constituent rats — I wish he WASN’T a bat because that’s over-egging it. From human to rats is much stronger. There’s TOO MUCH good stuff in this film and of course also too much BAD STUFF. Just TOO MUCH STUFF. But God love ’em.

“Of course, if I were doing it, or Tex Avery were doing it,” says a cartoonist friend, “all the rats would have Gary Oldman’s face.”

The rats flee the room. All of them. To think, if Withnail or the Rocketeer or the Dread Pirate Roberts had managed to stamp on just one of them, Dracula would have ended up reconstituting himself without a knee, or a chin, or something.

Coppola does a really bad Jack Nicholson impression, which is something I never knew about him.

what Gary was telling me was that my attempt to stage this in rehearsal was futile because he wasn’t in his rat suit, and I was saying, “We know it’s going to be something interesting and horrendous, so let’s just work it out for the movement.”

I love how it’s morphing from bat to wolf to rat in Uncle Francis’s lively mind. I mean,Dracula keeps changing, but not as much as Francis’s mind. Sometimes he just says “beast,” and is correct.

TO BE CONCLUDED!

Advertisements

Life in the Twenty-First Century

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on December 27, 2013 by dcairns

Amazing trailer for movie by Bernard Knowles, who was a cinematographer for Hitchcock and ended his career “co-directing” with the Beatles on their Magical Mystery Tour TV movie. More on him soon.

Crazy rhythm, freeze-frames, effulgent acting (Wee John Cairney goes CHOP!) and Bill Williams as the ludicrously named “Captain Mead Ralston.” The kind of name Brits think all Americans have. Also, there’s a tiny Mark Lester in there, even before his FAHRENHEIT 451 walk-on. But mostly I love the harebrained way this moves.

spaceflight

“Take a letter.”

Please note — it is set just over a year from now. Aren’t you excited?

“Between you and me and the lamppost…”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2010 by dcairns

The sailor suit — an important artifact in Woolrich’s personal iconography…

When Alexander Mackendrick was prepping the classic THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, he was anxious about the script. Partly because it wasn’t finished, of course. That never helps. But also because it seemed kind of… hammy. Screenwriter Clifford Odets reassured him —

“‘My dialogue may seem somewhat overwritten, too wordy, too contrived. Don’t let it worry you. You’ll find that it works if you don’t bother too much about the lines themselves. Play the situations, not the words. And play them fast.”

The  only trouble with Nicholas (OUT OF THE PAST) Musuraca’s cinematography is that I want to grab a still from every shot…

And so to DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946), adapted by Odets from a Cornell Woolrich yarn, the only feature directed by Broadway champ Harold Clurman. The combination of Woolrich’s flakey plotting and doom-laden mood with Odet’s florid phrase-making is an enticing one, and the cast is quite incredible — Bill Williams was the unknown factor for me, but he’s very good here, and in addition we have Susan Hayward, Paul Lukas, Joseph Calleia, Jerome Cowan, Stephen Geray, Al Bridge…

One thing that strikes you straight off: this is what happens if the director doesn’t follow Odets’ advice. The dialogue is slower and more emphatic than in Mackendrick’s film, and has more time to register as strange. Clurman’s direction occasionally lumbers, with stilted blocking and strenuous dramatics, a result of his inexperience in cinema, I guess. And the characters are not sleazy media jackals like those in TSSOS, they include a simple-minded sailor, a hard-bitten taxi dancer, an idealistic old taxi driver, a gangster, etc. So the verbal fireworks seem less plausible, and aiming for naturalism in the performances doesn’t make the issue go away. Odets’ “poetry of the streets” has nothing much to do with the way anybody really talks or ever did talk.

And yet — after marveling at the oddness of it for ten minutes or so, I got right into it and enjoyed the film excessively. It’s the lighter side of Woolrich’s world, with mostly appealing characters — even Calleia’s vicious hood ends up on the side of the good guys, sort of, and his energy and drive make him someh0w likable. And he never does anything terribly bad.

This is Woolrich’s No. 1 plot, where a web of circumstantial evidence enfolds an innocent person, and someone close to them must clear their name against a tight deadline — usually an impinging execution date. This serves Woolrich and his adaptors well in PHANTOM LADY, BLACK ANGEL and CONVICTED, and probably others. Here, the deadline is 6 am, when sailor Bill Williams should be catching the bus back to his naval base, so the whole situation seems less severe. However, Woolrich throws in one of his favourite devices, the amnesia blackout, so that Williams is not entirely certain he’s not after all guilty of murdering the floozy who picked him up earlier in the night.

The mental instability of the lead — he seems to be a bit punchy, and has a childlike naivety to go with his memory lapses — adds a touch of darkness to the tale, augmented by the nocturnal setting. This is a movie about running about desperate in the early hours of the morning, getting increasingly tired and increasingly hopeless. One of the most haunting moments is when a fugitive man with a mysterious box, a possible suspect, proves to be a janitor trying to get his sick cat to the vet. He’s too late.

Hayward: “Golly, the misery that walks around in this pretty, quiet night!”

Lukas: “June, the logic that you’re looking for, the logic is that there is no logic, but you’re too young to know it. The horror and terror you feel, my dear, comes from being alive. Die and there’s no trouble; live and you struggle. At your age I think it’s beautiful to struggle for the human possibilities — not to say, “I hate the sun because it don’t light my cigarette!” You’re so young, June — you’re a baby! And love is waiting outside any door you open! Some people say, “Love’s a superstition!” Dismiss those people, those Miss Bartellis, from your mind. They put poison bottle labels on the sweetest facts of life! You’re only twenty-three, June. Believe in love and its possibilities the way I do at fifty-three! Right now I hear in you the musical sounds of feeling for that boy, June! And no matter what else happens, that’s the real mystery tonight; how a casual, passing stranger can change your entire life! Am I understood? I think I am…”

Williams, for whom all seems lost, implausibly recruits dance hall hostess Hayward to his cause, and together they start following a series of unlikely leads in vain hope of catching the real killer. They’re discovered by Lukas’s philosophical cabbie (“Statistics tell us…”), who decides to help them rather than report them. When they’re investigation leads them to former mobster Calleia, the victim’s sister, he at first wants to kill Williams, but them, partially persuaded of the kid’s innocence, he joins them in their quest.

Basically, it’s like THE WIZARD OF OZ, only in Manhattan. No wait, that’s THE WIZ. And AFTER HOURS. But this is like that too, the way our wide-eyed hero picks up his ragtag band of helpers as the story goes on and the night darkens. Or else it’s like one of those Bertrand Blier films where the confused hero finds himself at the head of a growing crowd of equally misguided misfits.

Odets weaves a more upbeat yarn than Woolrich normally does, but the darkness glows through, which creates an exciting mix of tones. And there’s so much charm to its oddball mix of people and cunningly developed story. Premier noir.

Calleia!

“Just imagine, at my age, to have to learn to play a harp.”