Archive for Brigadoon

Send in the Clans

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2016 by dcairns

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Or, 2,000 McManiacs.

It was inevitable that, on my journey through Vincente Minnelli’s cinema — which is extremely rich and there’s more of it than you think — I would have to face BRIGADOON, a movie which seems to give Scots some trouble. In the same way as you’re unlikely to find anyone in Ireland with uncomplicated admiration for THE QUIET MAN. I guess that film is MORE embarrassing because Ford claimed Irishness, yet produced a gruesome slice of what is known as paddywhackery. The tartan tat of BRIGADOON is entirely the work of outsiders — Lerner & Lowe don’t sound too Scottish, neither does Minnelli, and it’s amusing to go through the cast list and check off the birthplaces of the actors. Elaine Stewart and Hugh Laing SOUND Scottish, but they’re from New Jersey and Barbados respectively. Other “highlanders” hail from Lancashire, Wales and Northern Ireland — it’s like they wanted a sampling of every distinctive accent they could find without ever touching upon the authentic.

Quite sensible, perhaps — anything authentic in this studio confection could prove fatal. Cyd Charisse sets the style, adopting a weird vowel (not necessarily the RIGHT weird vowel, but an alternative from her usual pronunciation) roughly every third word. It’s hilarious for five minutes, then we got used to it. I imagine it’s pretty amusing to most Brits, less obvious to Americans. Australians, Kiwis and Canadians probably see through it.

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(Cultural appropriation is GOOD, as a rule, and I feel flattered that Broadway and Hollywood found Scotland worthy of ingesting. It’s even more flattering in something like BRAVE where they made sure to get the accents right — or, if not right, at least Scottish [there are a score of distinct regional variations within this one tiny country]. BRAVE is pure BRIGADOON, but get the right voices and nobody here is embarrassed — I saw the film introduced by Alex Salmond.)

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What has to be admitted is the grandeur of the fakery — not the vocal stuff, but the scenery and photography. Every exterior is backed with heather-covered miniature hills. I prayed for Cyd, just once, to take the wrong turning and run up the mountain path so that the forced perspective would make a giantess of her within steps, before she smacked into the louring sky. It’s all really impressive, false in just the right way — except the two wide shots of the village, which for some reason look cheap and crappy. You’d think they’d be really important shots to get right, but because they don’t feature actors and dancing they seem to have been handed to the trainee.

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Shot in Anscocolor! I thought that was only used as a cheap alternative to Technicolor, but I think Minnelli must have liked the earth tones. It has a rich but sort of muted quality compared to most MGM musicals, and is probably the best preserved-example of the short-lived process.

The whole premise makes precious little sense — and the idea of the minister praying his village into a time-warp brings the church into it in a way that feels unnecessary. There ARE Scottish myths about lost time and waking up a hundred years later, but they’re decidedly not Christian — they concern the fairy folk, and have a lot in common with the “lost time” reported by UFO abductees.

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Subtextually, the story deals with a man petrified of marriage who is offered a magical alternative (not involving priests) in a subculture off the map — I can sort of see how Minnelli might have been intrigued. As with BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE there could be a gay subtext here. (At the Freed Unit? Surely not!)

What stops the film consistently reaching the heights of the best of Minnelli (or Lerner & Lowe) is the religiose solemnity permeating the Highland scenes — that’s why the most impressive stuff breaks free of this. When Hugh Laing, who hates everybody in his village, entirely justifiably seeing it as a hellish prison (all that weaving!) seeks to leave, thereby bringing out a local apocalypse, things get really exciting. It’s hard not to sympathise with the man hunted by a Frankensteinian mob with flaming firebrands. It also calls to mind similar torchlight parades in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and TEA AND SYMPATHY. Minnelli’s idyllic little communities sometimes have something scary lurking underneath.

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Van Johnson: “I just shot a guy, and now I seem to have GUNS ON MY MIND.”

And then the best stuff of all is New York, envisioned as an overcrowded inferno (OK, maybe not a concept requiring vast resources of imagination), the background gabble turned up to 11 to the point where you really start to get a headache trying to hear the foreground dialogue. Minnelli became a huge success due to his ability to deliver musical uplift with high style and inhuman cinematic elegance, but his left-handed technique, which would have doomed him to minor cult status if it were all he had, is a mastery of acute discomfort, putting the audience through several different kinds of ringer, pulling in several different directions at once, (See THE LONG, LONG TRAILER if you don’t believe me!) This extra string to his bow makes me admire him even more, if that were possible.

Fever Dream Double-Features

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2008 by dcairns

New York City Ghost 

I’ve previously sung the praises of the New-York Ghost, a fine and free periodical to which I occasionally contribute my word sculptures. This week saw the annual film special explode all over us like John Cassavetes at the end of THE FURY, under the guest editorship of B. Kite, but cheeky gremlins prevented the appearance of this fine material by Christoph Hubert. I’ve never met the man, but Hubert is known to Mr. Kite as “The Austrian Cairns,” and fears have been expressed that if we should ever come face to face Space-Time would implode, or something. My doppelganger’s suppressed meisterwerk is here appended for your amazement and edification, and to encourage y’all to check out the Ghost.

FEVER-DREAM DOUBLE FEATURES

Head of the Family

As befits the year, I’ve seen lots of great works from all corners of film history (most mindblowing masterwork almost unheard of – Niemandsland, from 1931, by Victor Trivas, who as The Head, a quickly ordered, and weakly dubbed, cheap DVD of his last film Die Nackte und der Satan proved, is overripe for rediscovery). But three times the movie experience was so outstanding it instantly conjured an out-of-mind conjunction with other films. These were my fever-dream double features of the year:

Cuba

Cuban Story (Victor Pahlen, 1959) – also known as The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution, a haphazard, poverty-row kind-of-documentary on the fall of Batista, kind of narrated by „firsthand witness” Errol Flynn (who was around to shoot an introduction, but obviously not to dub his alleged voice-over, which sounds slightly British – and radiates an intriguing sense of erosion of authenticity onto the entire enterprise). Screams for a double bill with its ideological and aesthetic opposite: Mikhail Kalatazov’s excessive Soy Cuba.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Brigadoon (Vincente Minnelli, 1954) – especially after the Peter Jackson juggernaut it was nice to discover they once did make intriguing films about the little people, plus this is clearly the ultimate expression of Minnelli’s aesthetic credo, gaudy studio schizophrenia and all. What is most unexpected about it, though, is when it turns out good ol’ Luis Bunuel clearly just stole its nightmarish New York nightclub finale for his Simon of the Desert. Makes for instructive comparison.

Pervertigo

Mondo Topless (Russ Meyer, 1966). First five minutes are a (literally, thanks to Mr. Auteur) screaming tour of San Francisco, jumping on any sexual pun possible. Then Russ gives us a crazed series of girl shaking booty with even more crazed voice-over (both by him and the subjects), plus shots of transistor radios to diegetically justify the music. A masterpiece already, then, not least because of Meyer’s montage mannerisms, which are always at least as inspired as anything by his contempo Godard. But (despite a few detours to Europe, thank you readily available archive material) as an exploration of San Francisco this is even better – as good as contemporary maverick filmmaker James Benning’s experimental studies of the American landscape, but more lively. And, I swear, it includes that shot of the bay and the bridge, so a pairing with Vertigo should make this the apex of obsessive double features. Better yet, make it a fever trauma triple feature and screen Mondo Topless once before and after the Hitchcock for more intense (in every sense) scrutiny, after all it’s only half as long.

— Christoph Huber

If C.H. doesn’t mind, I’d like to run with the Fever Dream Double Feature idea in future, and welcome submissions from Shadowplayers everywhere.