Archive for Bruce Robinson

Sothern Fried

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2018 by dcairns

Alert! Time for me to explore the works of Pat Jackson (if you’re nasty).

Jackson was a graduate of the GPO Film Unit, the UK postal service’s own film production arm, which also employed the great Cavalcanti, the obnoxious-sounding Harry Watt, and made the famous NIGHT MAIL. He then had a distinguished sojourn at the Crown Film Unit making war docs alongside Humphrey Jennings. He made his feature debut at MGM (as “Patrick Jackson” because “Pat” isn’t distinguished enough for a classy joint like MGM) with SHADOW ON THE WALL, a disjointed psychodrama starring Congo Maisie, Monte Beragon, Fanny Trellis Skeffington at aged 2, Gavin Elster (yay!), Sheriff Al Chambers and Nancy frickin’ Reagan.

Ann Sothern for once plays a villain, managing to incorporate some sympathy into a twisted character, and some subtlety into an intense, melodramatic story. But the film seems unable to decide WHO it’s about. We start on a wide of a lovely house, which is revealed to be an elaborate dollhouse, the first of many in the story. Andre Previn’s music veers from playfully childlike to sinister, then manages to dissonantly suggest both tones at once. We meet little Gigi Perreau, and then her dad, Zachary Scott, and discover through his eyes that his young wife (Kristine Miller, very glam indeed) is cheating on him with Tom Helmore.

While we’re pondering whether one should marry Monte Beragon and cheat with Gavin Elster, or vice versa, murder rears its antiseptic Hollywood head: Helmore was engaged to Miller’s sister, Ann Sothern, and she shoots her scheming sibling dead shortly after Miller’s stunned Scott by striking him on the nose with a hand mirror. When he awakens, he’s been neatly fitted up for murder, and will spend most of rest of the movie on death row, waiting. What nobody realises is that his little daughter witnessed the murder, but is in a state of shock and can’t tell anyone.

We now divide our narrative mainly between Nancy Davis/Reagan, a therapist trying to cure little Gigi, and Sothern, who’s trying to kill her. Much of Sothern’s business is internal, though, as she agonizes about her fear of being caught, culminating in a hilarious hallucination at the hairdressers —

 

There are some other nicer directorial touches. Jackson uses simple wide shots effectively, isolating our child non-protagonist (Gigi has no active goal, so she’s basically a nut for Nancy to crack). There are two major child jeopardy situations, one in which Gigi and a playpal debate which of them is to drink a glass of chocolate milk which Sothern has poisoned. The script milks (sorry!) this a good bit, but Jackson doesn’t do much with it. Probably a mercy.

But then Sothern tries to drown the moppet in the hospital’s hydrotherapy room, and all stops are pulled out, heaped up and set fire to. Looong lurking shot in the corridor, waiting, waiting, while infanticide is attempted behind closed doors. Merciless. Let’s remember that Truffaut said that jeopardising the life of a child in a drama was virtually an abuse of cinematic power (he did it in SMALL CHANGE, but he had reasons and had thought about it). Bruce Robinson, writing IN DREAMS for Neil Jordan, had felt unable to threaten a child’s life, despite the fact that he was writing a thriller about a child killer. This posed a problem. “It took me three months to solve it. It took Neil Jordan three minutes to fuck it up.”

Jackson had no such compunctions, it seems: he’d be back threatening children in cop drama THE GENTLE TOUCH a few films later.

I suspect Jackson didn’t find MGM a comfortable home — at any rate, he was soon back in the UK and back to being Pat. More on him soon.

 

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Film Directors with Everything Off: La Bruce

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2013 by dcairns

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Bruce Robinson goes porno in KLEINHOFF HOTEL.

“I’ve never seen it. It was basically high-class pornography. A Baader Meinhoff terrorist on the run — me — checks into a hotel to kill himself. Meanwhile, for whatever reason, this beautiful French woman in the next room is watching this man through a crack in the adjoining door, and she decides that she wants to fuck him. [Italian accent] ‘Try and get an erection, Bruce.’ I’m like, ‘Fuck off! Get an erection, with fifty people standing here?’ One lunchtime one of the prop men comes up to me with a box that looks like it contains duelling pistols, and there are all these fake dicks in there and he wants me to strap one on. I thought, ‘Christ almighty! I’ve been to drama school! No!’ It was a very rude film. Lots of ridiculous sex scenes that were the most unusual things I’ve ever done.”

From Smoking in Bed, Conversations with Bruce Robinson, edited by Alistair Owen.

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Yeah, the film really isn’t very good. Robinson already had his writing career up and running, though, so this was virtually his swan song to acting.

On to nobler things, such as Universal horror limericks! We’ve been chronicling the adventures of the SON OF FRANKENSTEIN in rhyming form over at Limerwrecks, and my contributions are here and here , while I sing the praises of Joseph H Lewis’s THE BIG COMBO here , here, and especially right here (continuing the oral theme from above).

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Eightth

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by dcairns

It’s that time again — my unproduced screenplay befouls your screens with its rotten words and crumbling punctuation marks. It was comedy writer Graham Linehan who advised me that grotesque overwriting, of the kind you’ll see below, isn’t necessarily helpful in selling a script. If the thing is funny, the argument goes, the most straightforward text is your best bet for conveying that. I was probably unduly influenced by Bruce Robinson’s published script for WITHNAIL AND I, which opens with a brilliant and entirely unfilmable literary joke (“Dostoevsky once said that Hell might be nothing more than a room with a chair. In this room, there are several chairs.”)

True Crime was a fun character to write, like Mr Netherbow but even more linguistically unhinged. Just as Mr N gets a lot of Shakespeare, TC touches upon William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience with his cry of “Weep weep!”

If’s final appearance in this installment is certainly inspired by Lon Chaney’s colorful cape-swirling on a rooftop in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, while his entry via the French windows is Christopher Lee related: the impossible redness of Lee’s cape’s lining burned itself into my brain at an impressionable age. Now read on —

INT. BARBER SHOP – EVENING

An electric razor BUZZES menacingly.

Howie gets a haircut for his date. He reads the paper as he’s groomed – a headline cries FISHMONGER DERAILED.

NEWSCASTER (O.S.)

Police are treating the opera as suspicious. In other news, a basilisk was found nailed to a church door in Leith today –

INT. POLICE STATION – NIGHT

NEWSCASTER (O.S.)

– prompting calls for a crackdown on mythical –

Turner marches in. PC. THROWER lowers his Conan Doyle.

THROWER

Message for you, Inspector.

(consults note pad)

“Meet me under Sherlock Holmes if you want to know about… If.”

TURNER

Who’s it from?

THROWER

Didn’t say. Just gave me the message and sort of… swirled off, Sir.

TURNER

Description?

THROWER

He didn’t give one.

Surrounded by assholes. Turner sighs impatiently.

TURNER

YOU give one, then.

THROWER

About six foot, raincoat, smelled of shite.

Turner hurries out and Thrower returns to THE VALLEY OF FEAR.

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

A STATUE of Sherlock Holmes peruses the busy intersection.

Turner strides up to Holmes, walks around him.

Upon returning to his starting point, he finds a raincoated man, TRUE CRIME, fists in pockets, huddled against the gusting wind.

Turner regards the man, uncertain, sniffs, becomes sure.

TURNER

You wanted to see me?

A bleary eye regards him.

TRUE CRIME

Call me True Crime. My real name was… erased. I’d like to tell you my story, but there are… blanks.

TURNER

Tell me what you can.

TRUE CRIME

I was born. Or so I presume. I became a writer the way other people become fat, from greed and laziness. I couldn’t make things up so I set them down. Facts.

INT. TRUE CRIME’S STUDY – NIGHT

Quaint and dusty volumes akimbo before him, True Crime types, cigarette on lip. He’s less grizzled and filthy now.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

The facts of the case. I inhabited the True Crime section of every book shop. I told the stories of the Old Masters of crime; Gaston Mulberry, the cat poisoner of Paris, Lubert Frill, the great shark thief, and Mabeline O’Silver, rapist of the ice rinks.

Crime flicks through a dirty great book of assaults and stops, cigarette springing erect in his maw.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

Then one night I fell upon the skewer of history that was to be my unhaving. If! The very word sends paroxysms through my thigh. Mr. If, the Diabolo of the Senses, the deranged guru of sin and oblivion. The fist of Fate was up me and I didn’t know it from Adam’s.

An engraving of a shadowy phantom adorns the leaf before him. He fingers the page sensuously.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

But of course! It’s never been done! A really true history of the billion wrongs of evil old If! The Tangerine Outrage! The Exploding River! The Strange Affair of the Hissing Nunnery. And the Curious Case of the Sunrise Who Swallowed February. At last – a factual and scholarly study of the infamous loon – and who better to commit it to printing than this myself?

French windows burst open.

A shadowy figure.

A cow moos.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

“Shame on you, sister!” declaimed the spectre rampant. Ooh, he was angry. “You have crimed against my non-existence, rendered realer my phantasmal nothingness, and for that you shall moan!”

True Crime’s typewriter bursts into flames.

Mr. If strides at him, engulfing the frame in

DARKNESS

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

Turner and True Crime face each other.

TRUE CRIME

I’d called him back, all inadvertent, from some imaginary hinterworld, and upset his nothingness like a child with bricks. He told me I’d nevermore inscribe, that my every gesture henceforth would remove facts from the world. Through bravery or stupid, I doubted his mouth. The penalty was big.

INT. TRUE CRIME’S STUDY – niGHT

True Crime stands on a precipitous pile of wobbly hardbacks, a noose round his neck, looped over a beam and clasped in the jaws of a floppy-eared RABBIT on the floor.

True Crime tries hard to keep his balance.

TRUE CRIME (V.O.)

“For a hundred years I was myth and folderol,” he hinted. “And then you have to pin me to the notice board of reality with your research and typing. Tush on you, sir!”

The sound of True Crime’s narration slowly blends into that of Mr If’s own voice.

MR. IF

I romped delightful in the naked meadows of limbo, till this brute world hauled me from ecstatic nothingness and stood me goosepimpling in a line-up with tinned spam and flatirons, the unfeeling objects of mere reality. But I shall wreak my nastiness upon all that is concrete! Death to the actual! All hail the untrue! Hoppla!

From nowhere he CRACKS a ringmaster’s bullwhip at the oblivious bunny.

True Crime sweats and teeters.

If stamps his feet, shrieks, and cajoles.

MR. IF

Here, bunny wunny wunny.

Heaving a sigh, he abandons the rabbit and kicks the books from under True Crime.

The author drops to the floor. The rabbit, still clutching the rope, is yanked into the air. Releasing the rope, it shoots across the study, breaking a window on exit.

Crime looks up, terrified, from a collapsed pile of books as If sweeps up to him.

MR. IF

So…you still defy me?

TRUE CRIME

It’s not true… I don’t –

If produces, from nowhere, a conjuror’s WAND.

MR. IF

Prepare to be dishevelled!

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

True Crime IS rather dishevelled.

TURNER

So he…dishevelled you? Mussed you up a bit, I expect?

TRUE CRIME

THIS, he did… and THIS!

True Crime withdraws his forelimbs from his raincoat.

Instead of hands he has big ERASERS. Turner is appalled.

TRUE CRIME

Pencil erasers for hands. Robbed of limb, gift and ribbon, I rove the world, rubbing at nothing. Unable even to wipe mine own arse. Pity me, most wretched of creatures! Weep weep, weep weep!

He scurries off into the darkness leaving the inspector mopping his brow, vexed, perplexed and perspiring.

Watching from above is Mr. If. He clings to the Holmes statue, his cape billowing. He slaps a dunce’s cap on Sherlock and pounces off like a jungle cat or big nancy.

A great BOOFT of lightening hurts the sky.

And it is TO BE CONTINUED…