Archive for Bunuel

Thinking like a screenwriter

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

I found the following text in a file on my work computer. I must have written it for a class but I don’t remember.

Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere says, “My job is to help the director figure out why he wanted to make the film.”

In fact, we could say that the preparation of a script – and the making of a film – is a process of finding out what attracted us to the idea in the first place. The theme is revealed (we hope) as the film slowly becomes the best possible version of itself (we hope). This will only happen if we’re curious.

We have to be alert to possibilities. In a good film or story, every element is working very hard. If you have a scene in a pool hall, you have to use the tables, the cues, the balls, the lights, otherwise the setting isn’t working hard for you. You probably have to use ideas of competition, of games, of skill, of cause and effect. These elements are automatically present and cannot be ignored. Some of them are objects but some of them are more abstract and thematic. They are all offering you clues about the ideal form of the scene, and the film.

We have to ask, “Why is this story happening here, and why now?”

We have to ask, “What is the universal significance of this story?”

Nothing is purely about one thing. The pool hall isn’t just a pool hall.

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Mail Anxiety

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2018 by dcairns

There’s this really interesting dream sequence in THE MARRYING KIND. Your basic anxiety dream, easy to interpret. Disgruntled postal worker Aldo Ray swept some loose ball bearings out of sight at work rather than clearing them up properly, and he’s worried they’ll cause an accident. Under the influence of too many cocktails, he feels his bed turn into a post office conveyor belt bearing him from his bedroom to the post office, which turns out to be an adjoining space —

   

That’s the best bit. The many ball-bearings that come scooting out to meet him are cute, but Cukor’s use of a single shot to travel from reality into dream, and the evocation of that weird spacial dislocation unique to the dream state (see also, Welles’ THE TRIAL, where the back entrance of the artist’s garret opens onto the law court offices; “That seems to surprise you,” lisps the artist, staring glassily).

It’s almost as good as the bed that becomes a car in Pierre Etaix’s LE GRAND AMOUR. Though our dreams typically see us leaving our bedrooms far behind with no hint of how way found ourselves elsewhere, movie dreams seem to benefit from keeping the idea of the bedroom in play — hence all those movies where the hero is in his pajamas to create surrealistic contrast with whatever scenario he finds himself wrestling with, and hence also Polanski’s use of bedroom sounds — breathing, the alarm clock’s tinny tick — to accompany his own uncanny dream sequences.

“If I ever had to do hell in a film,” Cukor told Gavin Lambert, “– no, not quite hell, let’s say purgatory — the New York post office would be the perfect setting.”

Cukor didn’t get to do many dreams, alas. He wasn’t likely to get many films noir, being a prestigious as he was, and the other genre associated with dreams, the musical, just didn’t lead him that way, unless you count his brief involvement with THE WIZARD OF OZ. A DOUBLE LIFE is his other hallucinatory one.

I really like that THE MARRYING KIND is a realistic comedy with a dream sequence. People in realist movies so seldom dream, and yet in ACTUAL reality, we all dream a lot. That’s why I like LOS OLVIDADOS better than anything by Ken Loach, even though it’s more depressing. Bunuel’s poor people still dream, though their dreams, as shown, are even more upsetting that Aldo Ray’s ball bearings.

Oh, maybe worth making a comparison to another Columbia picture —

   

Stan By Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2017 by dcairns

ME AND MY PAL begins with Oliver Hardy saying “This is the happiest day of my life!” so we know it’s going to end in total ruination. Sure enough, if you jump forward to the end, you’ll see this ~

The film contains a great example of the boys using pure surprise, even if the rest of it has a kind of heart-sinking inevitability.

Ollie: Don’t you realise I’m about to become a big oil magnate?

Stan looks a bit confused.

Ollie: You know what a magnate is, don’t you?

Stan: “Sure. A thing that eats cheese.”

Here, the dialogue furiously signals one kind of misconception — we happily expect that Stan is thinking of the word “magnet” and will simply describe one. We don’t really need the joke to be any better than that. But Stan’s mind has taken him somewhere else altogether — perhaps he’s thinking of a mouse. (But “a thing that eats cheese” is a very poor description of a mouse. It would work just as well as a description of this writer.) So he’s confused magnate with magnet and magnet with mouse. This is a brilliantly abstract joke, because the nature of the confusion isn’t definitely clear. We really don’t know what’s on Stan’s mind. It’s a meaningless punchline that works only because (1) it’s dumb and (2) it’s not the punchline we’d expected.

MY AND MY PAL is like Laurel & Hardy via Buñuel. In fact, we know Buñuel was in Hollywood in the early thirties, supervising Spanish-language versions of American films, and we know the boys made several foreign-language versions of their movies (to French, German and Spanish audiences perhaps it made perfect sense that the two numbskulls spoke terrible, phonetic French, German and Spanish). Couldn’t we just suppose that Don Luis collaborated anonymously with Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, to their mutual enrichment?

Ollie is preparing for his wedding to the daughter of his boss, Peter Cucumber (James Finlayson). But Stan brings a jigsaw puzzle to the house as a wedding present and both men become engrossed in it. The taxi driver called to transport the groom gets sucked in too, as does the cop come to complain about the abandoned cab, and some guy delivering a telegram. Finlayson’s violent intervention succeeds in breaking up the puzzle party, but turns it into a full-scale riot. All is lost.

It’s a great example of the use of slowness — the trouble develops gradually, and considerable fun is wrung from Ollie not being able to believe that Stan is better at jigsaws than he is. Stan, though dumb, has a gift for it. We can all remember feeling this kind of resentment, I think — when we were little kids. So unfair.

The story unfolds like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, a slide into madness and anarchy from simple and civilized beginnings. A final, gratuitously cruel twist of the knife is delivered via that forgotten telegram, since it’s apparently not enough that Ollie has missed out on an advantageous marriage, lost his job, and had all his furniture smashed to bits. These things have to be done thoroughly.

One slight regret: Ollie’s angry switching-off of the wireless prevents us hearing Stan’s opinion of technocracy. I found I very much wanted to hear that.