Archive for Brian Easdale

Ready…Steady…

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2009 by dcairns

Jenny Agutter, as 15-yr-old Wynne Kinch (great name!), starts to suspect that her foster brother, with whom she’s in love, may be the local serial killer.

“Is this bringing your childhood back in a sudden Proustian rush?” I asked Fiona after five minutes of I START COUNTING. It was. Maybe the most personally evocative seventies childhood movie I’ve seen, (although it’s from 1969, when I was two) apart from things I actually saw during my own seventies childhood, which evoke feelings of nostalgia and terror due to their precise connection to my memory of seeing them then. This was my first time watching START COUNTING, as my badly cropped copy seems to be called (starring “Jenny Agutt”), so the resonance was more with the precise details of design, social behaviour, and evocation of early-mid teenagerhood.

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Design — this was by the brilliant Brian Eatwell, whose biggest job in the 70s was Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS and sequel (attach wooden scaffolding to ruins, make them look like they’re under constrcution!), but he also designed several of Greene’s films: MADAME SIN, a failed TV pilot with Bette Davis as a sort of female Fu Manchu — if only this had been picked up!) THE STRANGE AFFAIR, which I have a ratty copy of, unwatched, and GODSPELL. Here he makes a church look like a space station, but still keeps it believable. He also did those amazing art-deco sets for the DR PHIBES films –

– which leads us to jazz genius Basil Kirchin, who scored this with its haunting theme song, and also wrote the music played by Dr. Phibes’ clockwork orchestra. Kirchin’s stuff always makes me think of drifting downstream in a punt, trailing my fingers in the water, probably in soft focus. But in a good way.

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Social observation — START COUNTING was filmed in the same Berkshire new town where Sidney Lumet made THE OFFENCE. Greene, a Canadian, and Lumet, an Unistater, find cinematic values in these drab UK surroundings that seem to elude most of out homegrown filmmakers: it’s striking how many of the great images of Britain were directed by outsiders. A bit more recently, I was struck by the epic sweep Atom Egoyan brought to our motorways in FELICIA’S JOURNEY. The film’s flawed, but he really got a look going in it, using precisely the kind of places we Brits might dismiss as unphotogenic, or else use only for their grimness.

Apart from the very particular sense of suburban-village-sprawl nowhere, there’s the dialogue, which is peppered with teenage fantasy and blunt period tastelessness: reflecting on the recent spate of murders, Agutter’s brother muses, “He might at least rape them, it seems such a waste.” Whereas in an Italiasn giallo this unbelievably crass remark might be part of an overall seediness and misogyny, here it just seems the kind of thing an insensitive young man in that environment might say, with a slight “Tsk,” from his mum the only rebuttal.

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Jenny Agutter: astonishing. I mean, astonishing.

There is an ever-present risk of exploitation and tackiness, since this is about  burgeoning teen sexuality and all, and Greene does originate that shot where the camera follows Agutter’s knickers as she pulls them up her legs, but he doesn’t linger on the action as Nic Roeg would in WALKABOUT, two years later: nothing to see here. On the whole, I thought the film managed to be interested in its subject without leering at it. And some of the teen girlspeak is very funny, especially when Agutter and her best friend exchange confidences in church by speaking their lines with the same rhythm and stress as the catholic liturgy being recited by the rest of the congregation: “What’s he like?” “Tasty.”

Elsewhere in the cast, lovely old Fay Compton from Welles’ OTHELLO and Wise’s THE HAUNTING, unrecognisable in an old bag role, played to the hilt, and by contrast, Simon Ward as a randy bus conductor, who’s very very young indeed. He’s practically an ante-natal Ward, in fact. And Jenny Agutter, who makes everything work. She gets a drunk scene, she gets to behave in slightly random ways, she’s an authentic teen to the hilt, but a very specific, English, Jenny Agutterized teen. We will not see a performance like this again. Makes me realise what an underexploited national resource she is. Remember how there was a Jenny Agutter film or two every year, in which she would be duly nude, and then suddenly she did a clothed cameo in DARKMAN and disappeared? And now you only see her in bit parts on TV? Shocking.

Ou sont les Jenny Agutters d’antan?

The Chills #1: “You’re out of your senses!”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2008 by dcairns

Get thee to a nunnery 

When a film hits you with such an overdose of poetry that it bends the needle on your Aesthetometer, and the part of your brain known as Fassbinder’s Eggcup starts to overflow with meaningful beauty, causing a pint of freezing cold serotonin to squirt down the back of your neck, the whole thing “kind of monkeys around with the body’s periodontal atrium,” bringing on what we at Shadowplay call THE CHILLS.

You get goosebumps, shivers, all that. You feel in danger of falling into the sky.

In celebration of this neural havoc, we present the first in an occasional series devoted to isolating those dangerous moments of sublime transcendence. Send in your nominations.

Fiona says:

As part of David’s new ‘Chills’ thread I would like to offer up a few thoughts on a specific sequence from ‘Black Narcissus’, but I would also like to talk about the outrageously neglected actress involved, Kathleen Byron. No one in the British film industry (apart from Powell) knew what to do with her gimlet-eyed, somewhat disturbing presence, and after a brief flourish, she all but disappeared from our screens. Fortunately she’s left us with some peerless screen moments, and as she’s still “very much alive” I’d like to personally congratulate her on contributing to that subtle frisson that ‘Chills’ is all about. We’re not talking about fear here. It’s all about that delicious shiver up the back of the neck that happens when you’re particularly moved by something. And this one never fails to get me, even after years of repeat viewing.

The sequence involves the now fully bonkers Sister Ruth stalking ‘our Debs’ (She was a Scot you know) through the mountaintop ex-harem, in a fabulously choreographed sequence, culminating in a murder attempt in the dawn mist. At precisely the moment Kathleen swings open the outer door and we have that astonishing CU on her face, the chills overtake me, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and I proclaim “F***ing Hell. That’s Genius!” (It’s true. Ask David)

Of course the build up to this moment is crucial — the whole thing was actually shot with Brian Easdale’s pre-recorded score played on the set to provide it with drive and rhythm. But the clincher comes when Kathleen charges through that door in her Kabuki makeup. It’s an extraordinarily stylised, overwrought moment, so unBritish in every way, and I love it for that.

Nun from the Heart

Kathleen should have been a star, with that long, haughty nose, febrile intensity and unconventional beauty, but it wasn’t to be. Outside of Powell’s patronage, she failed to flourish, and that’s a damn shame. For the most part our films just weren’t daring or interesting enough to contain her. However, even her relationship with Powell wasn’t a smooth one. She was one of the few people happy to stand up to him, Powell even suggests in his autobiography the she attempted to shoot him in the nude (her not him). Kathleen refutes it. “Why would I bother to get undressed?” she asks, not unreasonably. Powell had a reputation for being ruthless. Or as our friend, his assistant Lawrie, once simply put it, “A bastard!” Lots of people might have wanted to kill him. One can imagine a whole line of naked assassins waiting to take a pop at him. (Go on, have a go. You can cast it according to your personal preferences and sexual orientation)

Anyway, I digress. Take a look at these screen grabs. They represent the many faces of Kathleen Byron:

Those lips...

Those eyes...

SULTRY

Crazy Kubrick Stare

DEMONIC

Nun But the Lonely Heart

MENTAL

The Killer Nun

and HOMICIDAL

AND THAT’S JUST IN THE ONE FILM!

David here: legendary nonagenarian camera wizard Jack Cardiff reports that he treated the church with red light and green shadows in order to create a psychological disturbance, “as in certain of the paintings of Van Gogh.” He fought with Technicolor to use a diffusion filters for the foggy dawn scene, and Lawrie reported rising very early and going to film a real sunrise. Everybody oohed and aahed at the rushes, but Powell declared the material NG. “It’s too pretty — nobody’ll believe it. We’ll have to do it in the studio!”

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