Archive for Cabaret

Mata Hardly

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

Yes. Yes. DARLING LILI is very interesting. I didn’t feel any of the bits worked, exactly, but they were interesting bits.

It’s kind of fascinating that in 1968, when they were planning this film, they thought Julie Andrews would be good casting as a German spy. Or they thought that would be a good change of pace for her, anyway. And within her range. And it might be, but then you’d have to do something with the idea.

We don’t at any point in the film consider WHY Lili Smith is a spy — we’re told she’s half-German, and that’s it. She also has a devoted German spymaster, Jeremy Kemp (very good perf: obviously he’s in love with her). But there’s nothing else. As far as we can tell, she doesn’t ever question it.

Lance Percival rehearses Blake Edwards’ bit from his special Oscar acceptance.

(But what I viewed is the 2hr 16 min director’s cut available to me, not the 190 min roadshow version. The version I saw needs MORE shortening to move efficiently — but maybe if you added back at least some of the footage Edwards himself deleted, it would attain virtues more important than efficiency.)

It’s commonplace for these kind of stories, going back at least as far as DISHONORED, to feature characters throwing aside patriotism in the name of love, but we have no idea if Lili is patriotic about Germany while she’s going around singing patriotic songs about England as part of her cover. So does her apparent change of heart mean anything?

But the other side of the conflict, the love story, is equally undercooked. Rock Hudson shows up with a gypsy band to take Julie for a picnic at 3 a.m., which is quite dashing. But then we never hear them talk. What do they have in common? Can we watch this relationship develop and get a sense of when the lady spy’s performance of romance starts to shade into the real thing? Never happens. Instead there’s a long farce scene of her mercilessly prickteasing him and trying to provoke him into giving away military secrets. While, in a node to past Blake Edwards, not one but two Incompetent French Detectives bumble about on the roof in the pouring rain. Nice to see Jacques Marin, who seems to be turning up in everything I watch this year, and Andre Maranne (so good as Herbert Lom’s assistant in the later PANTHER films), but when you have TWO I.F.D.s as a team, maybe some of Clouseau’s desperate inner tension is lost (pace Sellers, he KNOWS he’s an idiot, but he’s trying all the time to stop everyone else noticing — and because he’s an idiot, he never gives up, even when it should be obvious that the gig is up).

The funny thing in this film is the perpetually squiffy Lance Percival as T.C. Carstairs. Rock Hudson at one point says his name is Twombly-Crouch, but then he never says it again and my dream of hearing Rock Hudson repeatedly say Twombly-Crouch is cruelly shattered. Percival gets the best dialogue — a perfect Wodehousian pastiche of blithering idiocy fighting its way through ferocious affability and a haze of alcohol. An entire film about Twombly-Crouch would be nice and now I have to see more Percival, I’ve neglected him. I don’t think I even noticed he’d died in 2015.

Remarkable how Edwards, at various points in his life an alcoholic, a pill-popper, a compulsive philanderer, is just as gleeful in his drunk jokes as his nervous breakdown jokes and his physical pain jokes.

I was a bit surprised to see Julie Andrews do a striptease here. I knew that S.O.B. was heavily inspired by this production but I still wasn’t expecting a flash frame of Mary Poppins’ left nipple. I put it to you that nobody expects that, ever. Except possible Blake Edwards, but even then I wouldn’t speak with certainty.

Maybe the edgier bit is Andrews WATCHING a striptease. Very intently.

Edwards certainly liked spending money! Although he didn’t want to film in Europe owing to weather considerations. But it seems like Ireland was the only place to shoot WWI planes, and not many places look like Paris. Although, owing to rioting French students, a lot of this was shot in Brussels. Doubtful if studio sets would have been cheaper.

Anyway, the massive scale of the production, with Edwards’ typically elegant filming style, results in every scene packing a lot of lustre. There are very good bits. But because the characters are basically puppets and nothing is at stake — the outcome of the war never felt urgent or important to me — this is another war where nobody gets hurt — no story momentum is built up. And whenever a problem appears — how can Julie spy on Rock for both sides at once? — it’s dropped while we get a song, an aviation sequence, and perhaps a reprise. (It’s not clear why the Incompetent French Detectives never consider that Julie might be the female enemy spy confidante of Rock they’re seeking. Well, they ARE I.F.D.s, I guess.)

Apart from being a German agent who betrays her lover to get secrets from him, Julie’s character also frames him and an entirely innocent stripper for treason, which you would expect would get them shot. To save them, when she has a change of heart, she flees to Switzerland, which it’s argued MIGHT save Rock, though this sounded ropey to me. Then there’s an action sequence involving planes and a train, which seemed wrong from the start, since again Rock and Julie are not free to interact — he’s up there and she’s down here. Well, I say “here,” I mean on the way to Swistzerland.

It’s not even a proper musical, in a way. The numbers are all performed on stage, when actually bursting into song in the middle of a scene might help this movie maintain its souffle-like attitude of floating above the mire of war. And might help bind the songs to the action. In CABARET, which makes the same exact approach seem brilliant and innovative, the songs seem to comment on the action and are perfectly placed in the story. Here, they always feel like interruptions, except for maybe the saucy song which makes a key character point and may be one of the rare instances on record of nudity being essential to the plot.

This film just missed being the perfect thing to have on a marquee in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Robert Evans was too busy messing about with it so it didn’t come out until the following year. But if you want to watch the death of Old Hollywood (“Even the way it died is beautiful” ~ David Lynch), here it is. Even though the talents involved were not old and would go on to do lots more — this KIND of film was finished.

Class

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2013 by dcairns

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I’m jumping on a plane to Venice today, en route to Pordenone. So as a stop-gap measure, here’s the list of screenings I’ve set for students at Edinburgh College of Art where I work. They’ve already had THE GENERAL, M and CRISS CROSS.

The screenings start off in chronological order but then meander. The choices are not so much to fill in vital areas of film history — impossible to do with so few! — but to hint at the development of the medium while pointing to clues useful to our students’ work. Things like POV and subjective emotional effects, use of time, movement, props and their relationship to character and story, seducing the audience to go on a journey…

My blurbs are on the basic side, written in half an hour…

TUESDAY 15TH OCTOBER
RASHOMON
(Akira Kurosawa)
The film that introduced Japanese cinema to the west. A dizzying exploration of truth and lies. Several people have witnessed a murder, but at trial their accounts differ so radically that nobody can make sense of what really happened. Kurosawa turns this premise into a hypnotic, sometimes shocking, always beautiful study of our problematic relationship to truth.

THURSDAY 24TH OCTOBER
WILD STRAWBERRIES
(Ingmar Bergman)
An old man nearing death goes on a journey into his past. Bergman’s poetic film uses cinema to explore time and memory as a key to character. The aging actor/director Victor Sjostrom, in his last role, is extraordinary.

THURSDAY 31ST OCTOBER
SECONDS
(John Frankenheimer)
A man is approached by a mysterious company who offer him a new life. A new face, a new identity, a chance to start again. Second helpings. Both melancholy and stylistically dazzling, the film unites the influences of Hollywood, television, and European arthouse to paint a haunting portrait of longing and failure that will incidentally terrify you.

THURSDAY 7TH NOVEMBER
DON’T LOOK NOW…
(Nicolas Roeg)
Visually beautiful, romantic, frightening. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are grieving parents in wintry Venice, haunted by visions of their dead child and embroiled in a deeper, darker mystery. Roeg practically reinvented film cutting with his allusive, mosaic-like approach, fragmenting time and space.

cabaret2

THURSDAY 14TH NOVEMBER
CABARET
(Bob Fosse)
Not always considered in the context of New Hollywood cinema (Scorsese, Coppola etc), but he definitely belongs there, the choreographer-turned-director Fosse proved himself with this divinely decadent exploration of Berlin night-life in the years just before the rise of Hitler. A musical which is also sinister, sexy, scary, political and unsettling.

THURSDAY 21ST NOVEMBER
A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE
(Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
Documentary and fiction crash together in such a way that you can’t tell them apart. Director Makhmalbaf decides to make a film about the policeman he stabbed during the Iranian revolution. He hires the policeman to play himself. What will a fictional recreation of a real event reveal?

THURSDAY 28TH NOVEMBER
SHORT FILMS PROGRAMME
Classic and obscure short fiction films selected to broaden or even explode your thinking about story, performance, photography, design, editing…

THURSDAY 5TH DECEMBER
THE SUITOR
Pierre Etaix stands somewhere between Jaques Tati and Woody Allen, delivering visuals gags around romantic situations. Playing almost like a series of short films, The Suitor follows Pierre’s misadventures as he doggedly tries to find romance, without understanding really what it is. For his use of framing, props and the language of film, Etaix is a master to learn from.

THURSDAY 12TH DECEMBER
THE CONFORMIST
(Bernardo Bertolucci)
Simply one of the most exhilarating pieces of filmmaking ever, this political thriller is also a dark psychological drama and a joyous romp through cinematic technique. Clerici wants to please Italy’s fascist rulers because he needs to feel he belongs – he’s worried about an event in his youth which may mark him as different. The state sends him to Paris to assassinate his old teacher, to prove his loyalty. Since he’s getting married, he brings his new wife along – it’ll make a nice honeymoon…

THURSDAY 19TH DECEMBER
L’ASSASSINAT DU PERE NOEL (THE MURDER OF SANTA CLAUS)
(Christian-Jaque)
A delightful mystery which serves up the true spirit of Christmas: murder, suspicion, insanity and malaise. But all wrapped up at the end in a way that’s charming and funny and surprisingly heart-warming. Amazing to think this confection was first served up during the Nazi occupation.

Up until the last minute the list included COME AND SEE, an amazing film which I think students would get a lot out of… but I began to fear that the schedule was getting to be too much of a wrist-slitter. I don’t find any of these films depressing, but some light and shade is useful.

“I am not a mung seed.”

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2008 by dcairns

A Scottish Kenneth Williams?

A treat for you! DIARY OF A MADMAN is a half-hour short directed by Morag McKinnon back in the ’90s, written by and starring Colin McLaren, based on the story by Nikolai Gogol. Morag, assisted by Travis Reeves has planted the thing on YouTube in three bite-sized morsels, to be enjoyed by all.

I edited the film! I don’t recall there being that much work involved in that — the long-take style employed meant that 90% of the work was done when I’d removed the clapperboards. But I had a good time with the sound effects, which I roughed in before Bronek Korda and Derek Livesey at BBC Scotland mixed things and thinned it down and took out all the distracting stuff I’d tried. Looking at it now the editing seems the weakest thing about it. As it goes on there are fewer match cuts and it gets better and better. My choice of when to dissolve or fade looks alarmingly random though.

The Scotsman newspaper rightly praised the film as a minimalist masterpiece and bemoaned the fact that the talents emerging from Edinburgh College of Art’s film department weren’t finding the financial support to create a new wave of Scottish cinema. That might be finally changing, with former E.C.A. students like Travis, Morag, Martin Radich and Sarah Gavron all making feature films recently. The idea that it takes the U.K. film industry ten years to spot new talent isn’t too encouraging, but at least it’s happening.

Madman McLaren, seen here in full flow, has scripted Morag’s forthcoming tragi-comic feature ROUNDING UP DONKEYS. Although almost pathologically sane, to quote Herzog, Colin has a rare handle on insanity in his writing that’s reminiscent of Spike Milligan. Here he deftly interweaves original gags with Gogol material. You can’t see the join!

I’m sorry that Colin hasn’t done more acting of late — I think Morag would like to tempt him back, but I don’t blame him from withdrawing — he did a bunch of student films, which must have been a bit tiresome at times, but he also had several theatrical triumphs, playing Hamlet, the M.C. in Cabaret and creating a theatrical version of MADMAN in which Morag appeared.

Colin’s work here is even more impressive here given that he had a cold during the three nights of filming. And swinging those shoes round his neck nearly sawed his head off.

I’m impressed all over by Kenneth Simpson’s 16mm photography. I recall we had one shot that was out of focus, which we ditched — the only out-take! I think it featured the conclusion of the Fat Patsy “sub-plot”. The rear projection worked great, and the long take at the end now seems… rather brave!

Apologies if the inter-titles are hard to read — they are on 16mm too!

“I’m not right glad the now.”

More Gogol madness soon!