Archive for Bunuel

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.

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A rhinoceros at each end

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by dcairns

That’s the structure of HATARI! A bunch of scenes with a rhinoceros at each end. In between, we have a bit of animal action, then a fade-out, a scene at the bar or piano, fade-out. It’s a test-case of Hawks’ ideas about the dispensibility of plot.

I would dispute that HATARI! is a good movie. I think it shows Hawks become lazy and overconfident, or at any rate somehow not gathering the narrative elements, situations, actors and dialogue he needs to work the miracles he could pull off earlier. He talked later about having wanted to pair John Wayne with Clark Gable and, failing that, feeling that there was no other leading man strong enough to make an interesting dynamic with the Duke. So he dispensed with interesting dynamics altogether.

Oh, nobody likes to talk about the film’s complete disinterest in Africans, or the fact that the characters are CATCHING WILD ANIMALS FOR CIRCUSES. So I’m not going to either, but I would feel rotten if I didn’t at least flag it up. It’s akin to the way the horrific deforestation in COME AND GET IT becomes just a colourful backdrop for Hawksian hi-jinks, where in the source novel it had been part of some kind of ecological message. Hawks’ disinterest in making points is part of what makes him such a relaxed and beautiful artist, but… well, let’s just say I’m kind of glad he never made his Vietnam war film.

As RIO BRAVO got remade as EL DORADO (RIO LOBO is sometimes claimed as another remake but the resemblance is slight — mainly I noticed the inadequacy rather than the similarity), HATARI! can be seen as another version of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, with the setting and central job changed. The difference is that OAHW (apart from being better in every way) has fatalities all over the place, a real sense of danger. The outcome seems uncertain, and the romance keeps boiling away, clearly heading somewhere. The outcome is uncertain in HATARI! too but none of the possibilities seems that interesting, and in spite of the film being called, literally, DANGER!, there’s not much sense of jeopardy, although he does his usual trick of arranging an accident in scene one — Bruce Cabot gets gored by a rhino (Africa’s revenge for KONG) to show how risky this activity is. But then we’re allowed to forget about the risks for long stretches, while the romance constantly seems ready to resolve itself peaceably. If they’d acknowledged the glaring age difference between Wayne and Elsa Martinelli, that might actually have helped.

Let’s look at the earlier Hawks “hang-out movies.”

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT is the loosest — I can never remember the plot. It’sera film of moments. The ending resolves nothing I can recall, but is an outstanding moment. But the movie is full of strong dramatic situations, ever if they’re strung together in a slightly haphazard way. It works like magic.

RIO BRAVO has a really terrific central set-up that glues it together. With a strong spine, it can grow all kinds of wavy limbs and branch off in different directions and treat its plot with discourtesy, but it needs that jailhouse seige.

The other major Hawks films mostly don’t even try to be that loose.

HATARI! never tries to be other than likely likable, and I’m not sure that’s a category you can aim for. Aim higher, and if you land there, be content, you’re in good company. And speaking of company ~

We have John Wayne, now too old to be a compelling romantic lead, at least with a slip of a girl like Elsa Martinelli. And other than being strapped to the front of a jeep like a drawling hood ornament, he doesn’t have anything else to do. The last sound of the film is him, throwing up his hands and going “Aaawww…” He speaks for me.

Supposedly a photojournalist, but Elsa stops taking pictures after one scene. She’s beautiful (if rather thin, here), charming, chic, but not quite the Hawksian woman the film would need (but it would need better SITUATIONS for such a character to shine in). I like her a lot but wish the film had something for her to do despite photogenically washing elephants and hyenas.

Good Hawksian lobework from the man Kruger.

I’m intrigued by Hardy Kruger and Gerard Blain, who seem to be enacting the gay dynamic of Monty Clift and John Ireland in RED RIVER, alternately sparring and flirting, with the addition of some unconvincing chasing after the same gal as alibi for the Unresolvable (due to Breen Office) Sexual Tension. I could write pages on Hardy as a fantastic, unconventional movie star of the period, and he comes closest of the supporting players to sparking some fire here, but none of the mini-conflicts thrown into the air land anywhere fertile, so he’s surrounded by wilted scenes and relationship. Early on, Hawks films him tugging his earlobe, a classic Bogart gesture. So I reckon Hawks liked him.

Red Buttons is an acquired taste, like polystyrene. I don’t mind him too much. I guess he has the Roscoe Karns part, and doesn’t overact as much as RK would’ve, but sure tries. He’s fine. The scene where he drunkenly keeps trying to get Wayne to re-describe how a rocket went off is pretty damn funny.

In interviews, screenwriter Leigh Brackett sounded pretty frustrated with the way Hawks kept resorting to old tricks. There’s some good business early on here with Bruce Cabot needing a transfusion and Blain turning up and squaring off with Kruger, and then turning out to have the blood type they need. It’s tight, amusing and PLOTTED. It makes me wonder if Hawks didn’t start out with a rigorous script and then progressively drop it in favour of woolly stuff spitballed on the set. We know he shot twice as much animal stuff as he could use, and hoped to maybe get another film out of it one day.

Is this Hawks’ Bunuel movie? It has a close-up of an ostrich, like THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, and a scene played out twice, with identical blocking and dialogue, like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL. Bunuel never did a scene with a leopard in the bathroom, but he woulda if he’d thought of it.

It’s impossible to dislike a movie that spends so much time filming Martinelli walk about with baby elephants (a benefit of the story’s bagginess), and has Henry Mancini’s jaunty “Baby Elephant Walk” theme, but it’s certainly possible to be frustrated by it.

Hearing Angela Allen’s stories from the location shooting of THE AFRICAN QUEEN and ROOTS OF HEAVEN, as I was luck enough to do a month ago, I kind of wish Hawks had made a movie about THAT. A film crew at least has a schedule.

A Handbag?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by dcairns

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Valerie Hobson, unlucky in love — at 17, she married Henry Frankenstein, and at 38 she married John Profumo and became a classic Tory wife, standing fragrantly by her man as he became embroiled in a sex scandal that brought the government down. In between, she played the wife of James Robertson Justice in VOICE OF MERRILL, which we watched in a moment of weakness. (Network UK provide an invaluable service to cinephilia by releasing all these duff movies and TV shows. Some are actually good.)

JRJ brings the only entertainment to be had in VOM, playing an irascible playwright with a heart condition, a sort of Waldo Lydecker acid wit specialist. But the sight of his heart pills clues us in to the fact that he’s likely to fade out before the movie does, and we’re left with the insipid leads and some workaday investigating officers. Valerie may be fragrant and decorous, but she’s never exactly interesting unless the script works hard to make her so — even playing an adulteress, she’s a little dull.

What I wanted to talk about is the opening murder scene. Director John Gilling, who made a name for himself later at Hammer but had been around for ages, writing for Tod Slaughter and Arthur Lucan (and Bela Lugosi), begins and ends the sequence on two rather curious notes. First, we follow a pair of shoes, stalking the streets of nocturnal London — a time-honoured cliché that’s unlikely to raise eyebrows in itself. Yet it goes on so long it becomes hilarious, starting to resemble some avant-garde experiment in audience endurance. Next, a sultry secretary is shot and in the affray a vase of flowers is toppled. Gilling pans from the tabletop with the spreading puddle of water, to where the water is now drip-dripping to the floor. And ends the scene with a closeup of the water dripping into the victim’s handbag.

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What’s this about? I know purses make excellent sexual symbols, qua MARNIE, but this is just bizarre. If it’s intended to be sexual, it’s WAY too explicit. Then there’s a discomfort about seeing the leather splashed with non-drinking water. The trope of the mobile camera, scanning a crime scene like an investigator, is another time-honoured cliché, but tradition has it that we must end on an element redolent with significance. There’s no clue to the handbag. The water doesn’t make it any more important.

Had Gilling begun the scene AFTER the murder, the handbag might have made an excellent opener. I recall Eisenstein writing in The Short Fiction Scenario that a murder scene might begin with a shot of a shoe on the floor. The audience asks “Hello! Why is there a shoe on the floor?” and they are intrigued, ensnared. Well, they wouldn’t ask that in our flat, where Fiona, the Imelda Marcos of Leith, has covered the entire floor with shoes. Rather than stepping over them, it is easier to step into them, and cross the room slipping into a different pump with every step. No wonder I couldn’t find my bank card when I dropped it.

“Hello! Why is water dripping into a handbag?” we would have asked, a useful question which the scene could have answered by panning UP to the spilled vase, and then onto the corpse. Instead of asking this, we ask a lot of useless questions with no answers, most of them concerning Gilling’s grasp of visual storytelling.

Of course, if we want to give Gilling credit for being a second Bunuel, the wet handbag might have a defense. Think of the mucky stick in GRAN CASINO. “The effect was marvelous,” wrote Don Luis.