Archive for Call of the Wild

So Quiet on the Canine Front

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2015 by dcairns

Can’t discuss this one without spoilers, so watch out.

WHITE GOD, from Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó is a very impressive dog’s dinner of a film, channeling various influences through some powerful scenes and into a peculiar, visionary but confused parable. An abandoned dog is trained for illegal fights, then escapes and leads its fellow canine oppressed in a revolution on the streets of Budapest.

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The first major influence, name-checked in the title, is Sam Fuller’s allegorical fright film WHITE DOG. Taken literally, that’s a film which doesn’t make sense — we’re asked to accept the retraining of a racial attack dog as a metaphor for racism in general. If the dog can be trained not to attack black people, maybe there’s hope for humans. Of course, it doesn’t follow, in any literal, logical way — Fuller is dealing with metaphor, but doing it via his usual high-impact, tabloid all-caps cigar-chomping way, so that some viewers don’t impute the film with the intelligence to be allegorical. A mistake — it knows what it’s doing.

Despite coming with a dedication to Miklos Jancso, WHITE GOD doesn’t quite inspire the same confidence, partly because it also owes a vast, unacknowledged debt to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. But while the Hollywood blockbuster has a miracle breakthrough in genetics as plot device, so that the simian revolution, no less an allegory than WHITE GOD’s, can also make sense in science fiction terms, the Hungarian quasi-remake goes from a plausible first half, in which Hagen the beloved mongrel pet undergoes a believable transition to brutalized killer with filed fangs, its second half, showing him suddenly become undisputed alpha male of a whole dog home and leading them to escape and practically take over the city, is quite unbelievable in rational terms, and unprepared-for except by an opening sequence which I think most viewers assume is a dream. When we see the city deserted save for this vast wolfpack, we think “Well, that’s an arresting image, but no way that’s actually going to happen in this film.” But then it DOES — and for no reason.

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In other words, the early part of the story, which has echoes of AU HASARD, BALTHASAR and CALL OF THE WILD, is more effective because more believable. It’s quite emotional and features amazing dog acting and dog wrangling. The humans are all a bit one-note, though the tough, uningratiating performance of Hagen’s 14-year-old owner, Zsófia Psotta, is admirable. A title at the start states that everything terrible is a thing that needs love — but the filmmaker doesn’t seem to have applied that charity to his human characters, so many of whom are uncomplicated shits, whose bloody death at the jaws of revengeful mutts seem intended to invite our applause.

But all sections of the film are achieved with some visual skill, including the epic scenes of uncivil unrest. The large-scale dog action is jaw-dropping, and the dogs are always credible, apart from a  few shots of them running rampant in the streets where they don’t seem interested enough in their potential human victims. They’re just jolly dogs, running about on a spree.

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The film has one more swipe up its sleeve, achieved with some grace and skill. Zsófia plays her trumpet to Hagen early in the story to calm him, so when the dog army converges on her dad’s place of work at the end (for unexplainable reasons: as John Sayles once put it, these monsters all have some kind of mysterious radar that leads them to their equivalent of Tokyo), she soothes the horde with music, which hath charms to etc. Lots of shots of dogs emoting. Someone wonders whether to call the authorities. No, says dad. Give them a little longer.

Is he aware that he’s quoting the last lines of PATHS OF GLORY? Mundruczó is certainly aware that he’s quoting the last scene, almost shot for shot. Remaking a WWI movie with dogs is not a new idea, however. Take it away, DOGVILLE SHORTS ~

So Quiet on the Canine Front – The Dogville Shorts (1931) from ahorseshorse on Vimeo.

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Film Stocking Fillers

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2011 by dcairns

A wild west Christmas tree from LES PETROLEUSES.

I hate lists, generally — too much film writing is based on the list structure, and at this time of year, “best of” lists proliferate horribly. But if I’m honest, the reason I never participate in them is I can never remember whether I saw something in the last year or the year previous. Or the year before that.

However, the idea of a list of neglected Christmas movies did seem potentially worthwhile — if you have access to nay of the below, or they turn up on TV, they might plug an otherwise unproductive gap in your schedule as you lie replete with turkey and pudding, or might even unite homicidal family members in yuletide bliss for ninety minutes. Anyhow, they’re all films I like, and many of them can be explored further on this site or elsewhere — links will be provided.

REMEMBER THE NIGHT — the first Christmas edition of The Forgotten focussed on this lovely genre-twisting 1939 charmer from screenwriter Preston Sturges and director Mitchell Leisen. What begins as a contrived screwball comedy, with assistant DA Fred MacMurray saddled with jewel thief Barbara Stanwyck over the holidays, dips a toe into rustic tragedy, settles into bucolic sentiment, then takes a side-swerve into near-tragedy. While Sturges typically pulled tonal shifts out of a seemingly bottomless hat and shuffled them like playing cards, here the film sticks to each emotion long enough to settle, which makes the mood swings all the more surprising, but also effective. And it captures some of the authentic family experience — good and bad.

L’ASSASSINAT DU PERE NOEL — not as iconoclastic as it sounds. Christian-Jacque directs this snow-bound murder mystery, with Harry Baur as a definitive Santa. The opening titles, where he lumbers, Frankenstein-like, out of darkness, sets a disquieting tone otherwise eschewed in favour of the peculiar cosiness a good whodunnit so often generates. An air of magic fringes on Cocteau territory, the feelgood fuzziness of the ending is accompanied by the funniest wrap-up to a mystery I ever saw.

LYDIA — Julien Duvivier’s not-exactly-remake of his own CARNET DU BAL doesn’t come on strong as a Xmas flick, but there’s enough studio-bound sleigh-ride romance to make it qualify. You may NEED to shed those tears, this time of year — otherwise you’ll be lugging them around in your ducts like ballast for another twelve months. No movie with Merle Oberon and three suitors sitting around with great wads of latex all over their heads should have any claim on our emotions, but this one does.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG — I like it when the Christmas spirit ambushes you, leaping from behind an Esso station and slugging you across the skull with a sack of presents when you’re least expecting it. And said spirit includes a fair share of melancholy, right? Of course, not every film with snow at the end is a Xmas film — I wouldn’t make that claim for FAHRENHEIT 451, although come to think of it, that red fire engine is kind of festive.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE — the concentration is on New Year’s, an even more tragic and melancholy time than Xmas, but this still counts. The Sjostrom version is a true classic, but the Duvivier remake deserves more love too — it has Louis Jouvet, and amazing constructed snowscapes, and the same morbid, redemptive storyline: it’s a little like Scrooge, only he has to die.

Stuff I saw on TV as a kid which I haven’t revisited recently enough — Chuck Jones’ A Cricket in Times Square and its sequels, the Harry Alan Towers production of CALL OF THE WILD (with an epic, emotive Mario Nascimbene score), and the Richard Williams animation of A Christmas Carol.

Your own suggestions, please!

Towers of London

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2009 by dcairns

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A disrespectful obit.

Regular Shadowplayer Paul Duane alerts me to the demise of noted B-movie god and sleazemeister Harry Alan Towers, whose low-budget Penny Dreadful-type Fu Manchu films excited my childish imagination when I was about, oh, thirty-eight. Also when I was eight.

I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe HAT was such an enterprising, globe-trotting producer, that he made literally dozens of films while officially wanted in the US for violating the Mann act (transporting women across a state line for “immoral purposes”). This had something to do with sex slaves for UN delegates, if I’m correct. (Sorry to bring this up in an obit, but seriously, how could I not?) And wasn’t the matter quietly dropped when Harry argued that among his clients was JFK? Some immoral purposes are more respectable than others.

My late friend Lawrie Knight had a HAT story, and once again, it’s not really the kind of thing one should recount in an obituary, so I’m going to recount it. HAT took Lawrie out to dinner, with Richard Attenborough. Towers was no doubt trying to impress Dickie, perhaps in the run-up to starring him in some sixties low-grade spectacular, but the waiter arrived at the end of the meal and told HAT that his mother had called, and said not to accept any more of his cheques, because she wouldn’t be paying his restaurant bills anymore. Embarrassing.

Still, the positive side of HAT was that he wouldn’t let that kind of thing stop him. Jesus Franco said that the man could raise some money in Paris or somewhere, fly to Brazil or South Africa to make a movie with it, and type the screenplay on the flight over. He also said HAT was great because he never interfered, you never saw him during the shoot. The trouble was, you never saw the money either.

HAT said of Franco, “I seem to attract these weird characters. I saw one of Franco’s films a few years back and he was STILL doing that thing of pointlessly zooming in and out.”

In fact, there’s something to be said for Franco as a filmmaker, but I’m not going to say it here. I will say that HAT’s production of CALL OF THE WILD is worth seeing for Chuck Heston, Mario Nascimbene’s haunting score, and the ending, which follows Jack London more closely than is usual. I suspect Towers, who specialized in public-domain classic novel adaptations, saw no reason to tamper with his sources, since tampering takes time, and time is money. His COUNT DRACULA is far closer to Stoker than the Hammer movie, which I imagine is how he snared Sir Christopher Lee’s services. (The movie is also much worse than the Hammer version, but it did give us Pere Portabella’s mesmerizing CUADECUC-VAMPIR.)

In whatever branch of the celluloid inferno Mr. Towers now finds himself, I hope they’re making him comfortable. I imagine he’s already written an exploitation adaptation of Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY on his way down there. As long as he doesn’t get into trouble transporting women from the eighth to the ninth circle for immoral purposes, I’m sure he’ll be quite at home.