Archive for Black Sabbath

Ghostlight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 16, 2019 by dcairns

Theatrical lighting change from THE DEMON OF MOUNT OE (1960).

One thing Fiona and I don’t have time to get into in our forthcoming video essay on KWAIDAN (1964) is the extent to which some of the film’s stylised effects were somewhat longstanding tropes in the kaidan genre. Here, director Tozuko Tanaka is fading up a light to change the aspect of a character and show that something spooky is afoot and to present a transformation.

While I have no trouble believing Masaki Kobayashi had seen this movie or ones like it before embarking on his own ghost story compendium, what I haven’t figured out is whether Mario Bava was aware of this school of filmmaking when he started doing similarly theatrical colour changes in BLACK SABBATH and THE WHIP AND THE BODY. Easy to imagine the Italian maestro catching a look at KWAIDAN and loving what he saw, but his effects were staged before Kobayashi’s… but after Tanaka’s. But it doesn’t seem very likely that DEMON OF MT. OE was screened much anywhere in the west.

Is there a missing link in this chain?

Bava had emulated Mamoulian and Karl Struss’s lighting changes in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) when he created a transformation scene in Riccardo Freda’s I VAMPIRI (1957). But that’s slightly different: you’re not aware of the lighting change, since it’s a change only of colour in a b&w movie: what it does is reveals coloured makeup on an actor, resulting in a transformation before your very eyes in a single shot. That could very well have given Bava the idea of doing something in colour where the shifting gel effects are undisguised, which would make it one of those weird cases of parallel development you get sometimes…

Operazione Paura

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

It occurs to me that Boris Johnson would be good casting for HG Wells’ invisible man, with his unpigmented hair and psychopathic personality and thirst for power, but there he is, on television, horribly visible.

Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY… KILL! was released in Italy as OPERAZIONE PAURA, which loosely translates as PROJECT FEAR, so I should really have written about it in our Project Fear blogathon, and maybe I can catch up with it on Friday 13th December when the general election results come in. Instead, we watched THE WHIP AND THE BODY and HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (really more of a cleaver) but I didn’t get around to saying anything about them.

Bava notoriously made KBK from a script of, I think it was, twenty-five pages. Surely WHIP’s source document must have been ever shorter, given the amount of atmospheric prowling around gloomy corridors the director perpetrates to make up the time. Olivier’s HAMLET has nothing on this. The sadomasochistic relationship at the centre of the story is quite compellingly drawn, though, the photography is luminous, and Chris Lee looks good in that fringe he seemed to acquire for European movies around this time (his No. 2 hairpiece). Too bad he never recorded his own line readings: Lee with someone else’s voice is only half the pleasure.

This is another movie that screwed itself by being too much too soon, like WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? Arguably audiences weren’t ready for such naked sadism in 1963, and censors certainly weren’t, either banning it outright or cutting it until it no longer made even marginal sense.

HATCHET is basically AMERICAN PSYCHO, with similar games played with reality and perception. Stephen Forsyth shows us what that movie would be like with a genuine blank at its centre — a lot less fun to watch. He’s absolutely appropriate but not very entertaining. Bava shot this one himself, but it has neither the Gothic trappings nor the pop-art pizzazz of his finest work.

Interesting, though, for what Bava steals from others — the Hitchcock-Freud recovered memory plot — and from himself — a clip from his own BLACK SABBATH plays on a television.

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.