Archive for Black Sabbath

Rubber Biscuit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2018 by dcairns

Was discussing something with Anne Billson on Twitter. Those shots where either a character moves on a dolly independently of the camera —

Examples:

Belle in Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, gliding eerily down a corridor of wafting curtains.

This ghost in William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL — Cocteau maybe invented the trope and Castle maybe introduced it to Hollywood.

The implacable revenant in Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, who never makes the mistake of moving like a normal living person. She teleports from room to room like Droopy (“I do this to him all through the picture.”), sits up in bed without the use of arms, rising like a drawbridge, then finally wheels forward through a rainbow of artfully gelled lighting, arms already in position for a spot of strangling…

Kathleen Freeman as the Penguin in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Landis’s parodic use of the supernatural glide is striking because the trope was scarcely in common use at the time. It wasn’t like the trombone shot/exponential zoom in his THRILLER video, where the gimmick was maybe on its way to becoming overexposed and thus ripe for parody. The nun on wheels (at the very end of the long clip above) feels like it could have been played absolutely straight in a real horror movie.

(I like to think they intended to hire Kathleen Byron as a scary nun but asked Freeman by mistake. But I know this is not true.)

Also, those shots where the camera moves WITH the actor, as if the actor were on wheels or the camera were attached, or both. There are two variations on this (well, two main ones) ~

At the opening of SECONDS, John Frankenheimer and James Wong Howe mount their camera on an actor via some kind of rigid harness, getting a whole range of eerie effects whereby the world lurches about, a drunken handheld nightmare, while the foreground shoulder or slice of face remains rock steady.

Another example of the same thing: Scorsese fastens on to Harvey Keitel for (appropriately) a drunk scene in MEAN STREETS, to the tune of Rubber Biscuit. Scorsese has also attached his lens to a boxer’s forearm to deliver a fist’s-eye view of a punch in RAGING BULL (blink and you’ll miss it) and to Willem Dafoe’s crucifix as it’s raised in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Interestingly, mounting the camera on a car is normal film language (although this still feels unusual) but latching on to any other moving object is still a novelty.

The other variation ~

Spike Lee is the main proponent of this one — camera and actor are moving in unison, but it’s a steady tracking shot, as if the actor is standing on the same dolly the camera moves on (and he is). Lee seems to do this in every film, and, distressingly, sometimes he seems to be doing it just to prove it’s him. His signature shot.

I used this one in my short film CLARIMONDE, back in the nineties — so Lee may have been the influence. I wanted a dreamlike effect and to show a character moving without free will. We didn’t actually have a proper dolly, just a tripod with castors, so I got my lead actor, Colin McLaren, to balance his feet on the castors and grip the top of the tripod so we could wheel him across the studio floor. I still like the result.

This whole slew of techniques seems to be without a name, unless I’ve missed something. I propose calling it the Rubber Biscuit Shot, even though Scorsese didn’t invent it and Spike Lee could probably stake a better claim to ownership. I just think Rubber Biscuit Shot sounds absolutely right for the weird, dislocating effect.

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The Noms

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2018 by dcairns

So, unusually, I have actually seen some of the Oscar-nominated films.

We saw THE SHAPE OF WATER. Fiona is a big Del Toro fan. I like him as a person on the movie scene, but usually wish I could like his films more than I do. I like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE best, the rest seem to miss the mark. I like the compromised MIMIC better than I like PAN’S LABYRINTH, which gives you some idea.

This one disappointed both of us, but all the reasons I could give you don’t mean much, because the real reason was we didn’t buy into the central relationship and as a result we weren’t moved. We were interested, but we didn’t get weepy, which we should have, surely, since this is basically E.T. (and SPLASH, but then SPLASH is E.T. too).

The romance seemed to consist of Sally Hawkins giving Doug Jones some hard-boiled eggs. I can imagine that Guillermo sees this as the highest form of love, and he might feel he would be tied by unbreakable romantic bonds to anybody who gave him some hard boiled-eggs, but I couldn’t relate to this. Now, if it had been cheese on toast…

The production design of Hawkins’ apartment, styled after Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (episode: The Drop of Water), is gorgeous. We didn’t buy the light from the cinema downstairs filtering through the floorboards, but we were willing to be indulgent. But then when Hawkins fills the bathroom with water, we stopped indulging. You can have a flimsy, permeable floor or an impossibly strong, almost-watertight floor, not both. And that flooding the house was a stupid thing to do when you’re hiding from the authorities.

(How I know about water and floors: there’s an anecdote from the filming of TOMMY. The production made what can in hindsight be seen as a mistake in putting Oliver Reed and Keith Moon in the same hotel. One evening, Moon knocks on Ollie’s door and asks for help moving his water-bed. Ollie is a very strong man: his party trick was to seize a bar-top and hold his entire body out horizontally. But he doesn’t know that it’s impossible for a human being to move a water-bed when it’s full of water. It weighs about twice what any strong man could lift. Still, Ollie has a try, and does succeed in ripping the water-bed, flooding the room with 200 gallons of water, not enough to fill a bathroom but enough to cause Moon’s hotel room to collapse into the room below. So I always laugh at stories of rock stars destroying hotel rooms. They merely destroy the contents of hotel rooms. Moon and Reed destroyed two actual rooms. This may seem like a digression but the film is called THE SHAPE OF WATER so it isn’t.)

Other bits of production design we liked: well, all of it, but the dais Jones is strapped to is borrowed from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

And the idea of a film set in a secret government lab but centering on the cleaners is lovely.

But I didn’t buy the baddies wanting to dissect their only specimen, I didn’t buy the Russians at all (what they wanted seemed to make no sense). I couldn’t invest because I couldn’t believe. The twist was cool, but the sudden miraculous powers bit kind of confused that. It seemed odd that a writing team wouldn’t pick up on each others’ mistakes more. But I’m sure if Del Toro asked me to co-write a film (ain’t going to happen NOW, is it?) I would be somewhat in awe of him and just agree with all his ideas even if I privately thought maybe they were silly.

We also saw THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. That has lots of entertainment value, and we did respond emotionally, and I think we’re all grateful Martin McDonagh isn’t trying quite so hard to be Irish. I did have qualms, but mostly some time after seeing it, so I can kind of recommend it as a cinema experience.

At first, when I heard people having an issue with the film’s treatment of race, I thought, well, that’s not really what the film’s about. Which I would stand by. But Sam Rockwell’s character is explicitly identified as a particularly horrible racist. And then he’s put through quite a lot, and tries to redeem himself. But racial awareness never plays any role in that character arc, that shot at redemption. He doesn’t seem to think about it, and nor does the movie anymore. Which I think is a problem. It does seem rather too urgent and serious an issue to drop into and out of your movie. Would it have been better to leave it out, or else deal with it more fully? How would they have done that?

By making Frances McDormand’s character black, I guess. Hmm, would that make it a more urgent, serious and meaningful film, all by itself? I think it might.

And we have seen GET OUT (no complaints, a masterpiece — so why didn’t I write about it?), THE DISASTER ARTIST (a wasted opportunity), I saw DUNKIRK, Fiona saw and liked LOGAN, we saw the STAR WARS and the BLADE RUNNER and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Gotta see PHANTOM THREAD! That’s the one I feel doltish for not having caught. But oh look, it isn’t out here. So I’m not stupid for missing it, yet.

Thing Roddy Said During half of Dracula Prince of Darkness

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona’s brother Roddy is in hospital again. His rare chromosomal disorder, Williams Syndrome, is associated with elastin problems, which can cause difficulties with breathing (intercostal muscles need elastin), heart and bowels, and he’s having trouble with all three, plus he keeps giving himself infections. An inveterate fiddler, he also won’t keep his drip or his breathing tubes in, but another problem is that he’s loving the attention and could easily become completely institutionalised, having enjoyed a fair bit of independence for years. From his point of view, lying in a hospital bed and just being brought everything he needs is a pretty good lifestyle, and you can’t explain to him that it’ll shorten his life, because the cause and effect are too far apart for him to see.

Still, when I visited him in hospital he was in good spirits, if sleepy, watching DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Fiona. He looked very shrunken in the big hospital bed — I guess most people do, they look like newborns, all small and wrinkly. He’s gotten considerable muscle wastage by refusing to get up even to go to the loo or have a shower, even though he’s quite capable. He has his malfunctioning heart set on being bedridden. Everything has shrunk except his ears, which hang gloomily from the sides of his rumpled head like great crenellated pancakes, elephantine, drooping forward under their own weight as if cupped by the hands of gravity. The rest of him is frail and insubstantial. Formerly bulbous, he’s now like a stick figure draped in an outsized balloon skin which someone has half-heartedly attempted to fill with jelly.

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I’d watched this Hammer hokum with Roddy before, but it was interesting to see him engage in an elaborate pretense of having no idea what was going to happen next. I guess we all do this when rewatching a film — somehow we’re wrapped up in the moment-by-moment drama despite knowing what’s coming.

“Where’s he going now?”

At one point Roddy actually placed himself in a character’s shoes to voice his thoughts, as he understood them: “What’s happening to me?” I’d never seen Roddy do that. He’s not what you’d call deeply empathetic. I remember a frustrating conversation during ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, in which Roddy couldn’t understand that a policeman didn’t know that Lon Chaney is the Wolfman. “But Lon Chaney IS the Wolfman!” “Yes, but this guy doesn’t KNOW that.” “I’m SURE Lon Chaney is the Wolfman.” “Yes, he IS, but this guy doesn’t know that.” “I’m SURE he’s the Wolfman.” It’s startling to realize that, while Roddy has the verbal skills of an adult, he has the theory of mind of a two-year-old. He can’t comprehend that other people don’t all know the same information as him. Later he blew up at Fiona for suggesting he shave — “Shave, shave, shave, you’re always on me to shave.” Fiona hadn’t mentioned it before, but someone else had, unbeknownst to her.

“What are you writing, David?” Roddy had noticed me taking notes. “You’re a swine,” said Fiona, slightly aghast at my obvious intention to get a quick blog post out of her possibly expiring brother. “Aye, he is,” said Roddy, happy to agree without knowing why. So I’m a swine.

“Where’s he going now?”

“Uh oh, here he comes!”

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Francis Matthews attempts to ward off Dracula with a sword. “How does Dracula feel about swords?” I ask Roddy, and he mimed the action of a tall vampire snapping a sword in half, seconds before Christopher Lee grabbed the blade and broke it in twain. So, it’s all new to Roddy, unfolding as if for the first time, the question of where people are going an urgent mystery, but at the same time he remembers it all from last time.

Thorley Walters turns up as a Renfield substitute, merrily and madly singing to himself. “Dum diddly dum diddly dum.” Roddy joins in.

“He has been known to erupt,” says kick-ass monk Andrew Keir. “Like you,” says Fiona, to Roddy. “That wasn’t me,” he protests.

We learn that vampires can only enter a building if invited. I ask Roddy what he would say if Dracula appeared at the door.

“I’d say, Come in, Dracula.”

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Barbara Shelley, newly vampirised and looking much better for it, is just about to appear at the window in an echo of Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (and a foreshadowing of Salem’s Lot) when Roddy says, unexpectedly, “Uh-oh. This is the bit I did like. When she comes to the window.” Rare for him to step out of the time frame and admit he knows what’s coming.

And then, minutes later, he had fallen asleep.