Archive for Breaking the Waves

Fleurs du Malaprop

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2014 by dcairns

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I once spoke to an actor, Emily Bruni, who had worked for Alan Rudolph (in INVESTIGATING SEX, which never came out in the UK at all) and I asked her what his direction was like. “He just made us all feel incredibly loved — and that was his direction,” she said.

I am curiously up-and-down with Rudolph. There are films of his I love — CHOOSE ME, TROUBLE IN MIND, THE MODERNS, MRS PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE, AFTERGLOW, INVESTIGATING SEX. Then there are films he didn’t write, which seem like work-for-hire and which I never care for — ROADIE, ENDANGERED SPECIES, SONGWRITER, MORTAL THOUGHTS. But then there are films which he did write which are personal but where the alchemy just doesn’t seem to come together right — WELCOME TO L.A. (turgid), REMEMBER MY NAME (dour), MADE IN HEAVEN (compromised by studio interference), LOVE AT LARGE (uneven), EQUINOX (shapeless) and especially BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS (a book I love, and a director I love, but they don’t come together at all).

This might not strike some people as strange at all, but usually when I like a filmmaker I like everything they do, or near enough. My early practice loving the compromised films of Orson Welles probably stood me in good stead here. But I can’t love the Rudolph misfires — they grate too much. Maybe he loves his actors a little too much, and doesn’t always filter their excesses (though I really like AFTERGLOW for the Nick Nolte and Julie Christie stuff, the young couple are a bit irksome, especially Lara Flynn Boyle). But then again, he has drawn some career-best work from a wide range of players.

So to TRIXIE, where Rudolph evidently loved the hell out of Emily Watson, who plays a cop/security guard who gets mixed up in a murder case. Trixie mangles the English language, which is the one joke about her, and it’s a joke that works much better with a supporting character than it would with a lead. So the flaw is in the writing to begin with. One-note characters are delightful when done well — you just keep hitting the same button whenever they show up, and the predictability and inflexibility of the character because a source of pleasure. But you can’t play that card with your protagonist — they need a second dimension, possibly a third. Trixie does have other layers, but the need to have her jam a malapropism into every line — “You can’t drink yourself into Bolivia” — obscures them.

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Then there’s the performance. Watson had just made a big splash in BREAKING THE WIND WAVES, a film I hate (every story point is repeated three times in three consecutive scenes, because the movie thinks we’re stupid), but it’s an undeniably ballsy perf. I once had a drink with another actor who had auditioned for that role, who did a bitterly twisted parody of Watson’s delivery, right there and then at the bar, which was startlingly accurate. She decimated the performance, not by caricaturing it, but by reproducing it exactly, affirming the Warhol line that “the best form of parody is the thing itself.” But I still think it was a bold piece of work.

Well, Watson is big as all outdoors in TRIXIE, but it doesn’t work so well. Firstly, she augments her Amurrican accent by chewing gum, a trick borrowed from the Kenneth Branagh school of verisimilitude. So now we have a character constantly masticating while mangling her dialogue, which is a bit much. And then, visually, the approach seems borrowed from Burt Young (above) — Watson can somehow protrude her eyeballs, as if she’s clenching her skull until they pop out. It seems like she might sock her co-stars in the jaw with these great orbs. Everything that’s going on underneath the actorly tricks is fine — there are still moments which fascinate. But the pyrotechnics and schtick seriously get in the way.

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(I think Nick Nolte’s only good Rudolph performance is in AFTERGLOW, btw. He’s a man who has been known to overplay, as we know, and Rudolph seems to encourage or at any rate allow this. His best moment here is simply staring in astonishment at Watson, which feels just right, although you wonder why nobody else was equally amazed at this freak in their midst.)

What the role demanded was a sort of Giulietta Masina or Rita Tushingham — a female clown. Those actors are rare. But, frustratingly, the movie features one in a supporting role — Brittany Murphy is delightful in this, big and broad and goofy but NOT ANNOYING with it. When she’s around you can see the movie this could have been.

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Bind fast his corky arms

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2012 by dcairns

We’re always looking to share what spambots like to call “great information” here at Shadowplay. Recently, while watching THE BROTHERS (a 1947 British melodrama) with Fiona and Marvelous Mary, I took note of an exciting new way to SLAY YOUR ENEMIES, and I’m passing it on in hopes that it may prove efficacious.

If my instructions aren’t clear, by all means See The Film for a demonstration.

1) Subdue Your Enemy. Any method is allowable, but he ideally should remain conscious or be capable of regaining consciousness with the application of Cold Water (of which much more later).

2) Bind Your Enemy hand and foot, but with Great Quantities of Cork under each arm. Buoyancy is essential to this method of dispatch.

3) Secure via string or twine, a hat to the head of the prospective victim. Secure to the hat or bonnet a large fish. This will henceforth be known as the Fish Hat.

3) Set the unhappy fellow to bobbing in the nearest lake or ocean. You need to be sufficiently close to the sea to allow for Large Sea Birds. Some Large Sea Bird (a goose is fine), espying the glittering Fish Hat, is sure to dive down for a ready meal, and its Mighty Beak will pierce the unhappy fellow’s skull and effect his destruction.

This method has the Great Moral Advantage that you will not be in any way culpable for the demise of your enemy, who will owe his fractured skull solely to the action of the Large Sea Bird. Heaven is satisfied, Nature’s will is done.

THE BROTHERS does feature more of interest than the novel method of murder outlined above — as a rare foray North for the British film industry, it follows in the footsteps of Michael Powell’s THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. Fortunately, Marvelous Mary is pretty expert on the culture and history of the Scottish islands, so she was able to keep us straight on the film’s numerous inaccuracies.  Patricia Roc plays a young girl sent from the orphanage to work as servant in a croft where there is no woman, only two sons and an elderly father. Firstly, no crofter could  afford a servant (unless maybe she’s to be unpaid, an indentured slave, in which case you’d think the film would make this clear), and secondly, there are no Catholics on Skye, and for some reason the islanders are all characterised as Catholic. Maybe the filmmakers felt that was safer, since religion is a pretty ineffectual force in this film, where it’s not positively destructive, so putting the blame on a minority religion was less likely to offend anybody who mattered. In fact, sects like the Wee Frees (the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland) are as eccentric and intolerant as any branch of Catholicism, so might have served just as well. Certain customs, like taking a newly deceased man’s body on a long haul around the island while the women, forbidden attendance at the funeral, wait at home, are quite accurate to this sect, rather than to Catholicism. Lars Von Trier’s BREAKING THE WAVES gives as accurate a portrait of the austere and loveless feeling of this faith.

The menfolk in Roc’s new household consist of Duncan Macrae (WHISKY GALORE) and Maxwell Reed (the first Mr Joan Collins, whose Scottish accent is little better than his Danish one in DAYBREAK), with the estimable Finlay Currie as patriarch. Roc’s supposed sex appeal soon leads the family to infighting and injury by heart attack and conger eel. It’s hard to understand, although the filmmakers supply their demure actress with an unlikely low-cut wardrobe and a nude swim (in extreme long-shot, but still quite an eye-opener for 1947!). Roc declined a body double (or else wasn’t offered) and treated herself to a whisky afterwards.

The film also features Scots comic Will Fyffe, who recounts a tale of the selkie (merfolk who transform from seal to human). He’s a delightful presence, but sadly this was his last movie. After undergoing an operation, he was resting up in a hotel in St Andrews, was overcome by dizziness, and fell out the window.

In spite of its quirky moments and interesting milieu, the film doesn’t quite gel as a story, and Roc does her best but has little of the siren about her. Even a more wide-eyed and innocent effect could have worked. David MacDonald directs rather flatly, but does raise his game for a couple of sinister moments, notably this one, featuring John Laurie, the World’s Most Scottish Man ~

Director David MacDonald, an actual Scot from Helensburgh (Deborah Kerr’s birthplace), reached his apogee with this film, before the disastrous THE BAD LORD BYRON wrecked his career, leading to the Shadowplay favourite DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS

Thanks to Guy Budziak.

The Brothers [DVD] [1947]