Archive for Carlo Rambaldi

Crom Does Not Pay

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2018 by dcairns

Richard Fleischer’s long and often distinguished career came to — should we say “ignominious”? — yes, we have to say “ignominious” — an ignominious end in the eighties, a decade in which he made six films, none of them projects he would likely have accepted earlier in his career, and none of which he could transubstantiate into silk purses, though he brought a bit of style to them here and there. It’s the sad spectacle of a Hollywood pro who’s run out of time — as late as the seventies, though not exactly a fashionable talent, Fleischer had been able to make amazing films like 10 RILLINGTON PLACE and interesting ones like MANDINGO and SOYLENT GREEN, alongside some bona fide disasters like ASHANTI. If Fleischer’s eighties films largely suck, it’s because they relate to Fleischer’s seventies films roughly the way Hollywood eighties films relate to Hollywood seventies films. Both decades produced some genius work and a lot of trash… but I like seventies trash better.

I saw the start of RED SONJA on TV once, and was struck by the sight of Arnie riding up to Brigit Nielsen and intoning the line, “Your sister’s dying,” with the matter-of-fact tone he might have better applied to a line like “Those are nice shoes,” or “I’d like some toast.” I mentally bookmarked the movie as one that might be amusing to watch, because apparently Arnie hadn’t yet reached the minimum level of acting competence he’s displayed ever since.

Later, I caught the last hour of the movie on TV and found it unendurably dull. There’s a little bit of nice design but a lot of it is just idiots in fancy dress in a nondescript wood, or desert, or somewhere.

“PLEASE can I use my litter tray?”

But I’d never, until now, seen CONAN THE DESTROYER, depite having seen the original CONAN at the cinema when I was too young to gain legal admission. Without any particular expectations, I delved in, dragging Fiona with me. Our lack of expectations were spectacularly fulfilled. It’s a 99% nothing film — with enjoyably ridiculous costumes, good production design (in a wholly appropriate fantasy art calendar style) and lousy performances  — it stars a bodybuilder, a model-turned-singer and a basketball player. The basketball player gets more lines than Jeff Corey and Ferdy Mayne put together, and is taller than Jeff Corey and Ferdy Mayne put together.

 

But it’s photographed by Jack Cardiff. It’s a very late film for him too, but he does bring out the visual possibilities. There’s even a bit where our heroes ride through an aisle of giant statues and Olivia D’Abo looks up at one of them and we get a POV shot tracking past it, and one MIGHT be reminded of David Niven on the stairway to heaven in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH…

Carlo Rambaldi, fresh from ET, is on hand to concoct a rubbery demon for the climax. It’s a relatively late credit for him, too. It turns out putting bat wings on Andre the Giant is not a good design concept.

“PLEASE can I use my litter tray?”

Fiona was (a) repelled by Tracey Walter’s attempt to do a Peter Lorre type sidekick (everything that aims at humour fails dismally in this film) and (b) offended by the exploitation of Grace Jones as an exotic spectacle in spiky leather, bare-assed, with a ponytail on her costume, yet. It wasn’t attached to a butt-plug, at least, but may as well have been, almost. I pointed out that Arnie is treated somewhat as a fetish object too, but had to admit that he managed to cover his actual ass for most of the film, and doesn’t wear a tail.

Exoticism is racism’s sexy sister.

In the eighties, Jack Cardiff did Michael Winner’s THE WICKED LADY, and RAMBO (“And the photography in that film is the exception,” declared Nestor Almendros in my presence). So this isn’t the worst.

“Please can I use –” OK I’ll stop now.

Fleischer went on to make RED SONJA (don’t see it) and then MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY, which is sort of like IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD only without the A-list stars. I really, really dislike IAMMMMW, but that’s just me. I understand it has admirers, which is fine. Allah delights in marvelous variety. But it turns out, surprisingly enough, that removing the stars from it doesn’t lead to a greatly improved experience. Even making it half as long, which I would expect to make it twice as good, doesn’t really work here.

In IAMMMMW, a crook expires in front of a disparate group of Americans, informing them, with his dying breath, of the existence of a hidden treasure, and providing them a cruptic clue as to its location. The three credited writers of MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY have come up with a cunning variation on this plot device: in MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY, a crook expires in front of a disparate group of Americans, informing them, with his dying breath, of the existence of a hidden treasure, and providing them a cryptic clue as to its location. I don’t know how these screenwriters come up with these ideas. Unless perhaps they dig up the corpse of William Rose and beat its brains in until an idea falls out, mouldy and crumbling on the lawn, whereupon they fall upon it and devour it like ravening coprophages.

It’s not entirely true that the film doesn’t have stars. It doesn’t have Spencer Tracy, true. But it does have Eddie Deezen. Who actually belongs in knockabout farce a helluva lot more than Spencer ever did, especially at his time of life. It also has Tom Bosely (in surely the hardest half day’s work he ever did) and Rich Hall, who is quite well-known in the UK due to his many BBC appearances. It’s downright weird seeing him YOUNG. He doesn’t actually seem young, he just seems like they filled him with air, or gravy or something. And Kevin Pollak is in it, doing impressions, maybe to make up for the lack of celebrity cameos. I guess some of the other people are more famous in America or something (the opposite of the Rich Hall Effect) but nothing they get to do in this movie made me want to look into it. It’s slightly weird, disturbing almost, seeing a movie with a big stunt budget (Vic Armstrong, transferring from CONAN) but with unknowns in major roles. Like a Hollywood pic invaded by pod people.

I am proud and happy to say that I’m friends with Eddie Deezen on Facebook, so I asked him for his memories of this movie. It wasn’t one of his favourites, it’s fair to say, but he didn’t want to badmouth anybody. Fleischer hadn’t made a comedy since 1949, and his “lighter” work since then had included stuff like DOCTOR DOLITTLE, the famous soufflé that crashed through the floorboards of Twentieth Century Fox. There are more laughs in 10 RILLINGTON PLACE than in DOCTOR DOLITTLE.

But when I asked Mr. Deezen about Jack Cardiff, it was like turning on a warm tap of loveliness: “JACK CARDIFF, THE CAMERAMAN, WAS A LOVELY, KIND AND WONDERFUL GUY. I WELL RECALL HAVING LUNCH WITH JACK ONE DAY. I OPENED UP TO HIM, WE TALKED, AND I TOLD HIM ABOUT MY LIFE, MY CHILDHOOD. HE WAS KIND, WARM AND EMPATHETIC. JACK WAS POSSIBLY MY ALL TIME FAVORITE CINEMATOGRAPHER. LOVED HIM.”

(Eddie types the way he acts, all-caps all the time. Which I love, by the way.)

Deezen’s happy memories are wholly consistent with every impression of Cardiff I ever got elsewhere, including when Fiona and I saw him at Edinburgh Film Festival.

Cardiff gets to shoot a lot of spectacular Arizona scenery in this one, so the film is, like CONAN, a lot better to look at than to listen to. Though these actors, unlike the CONAN ensemble, can really put a funny line over, so there is some amusement. It just ignores Howard Hawks’ advise about not annoying the audience: the writers throw in lots of gags and unwisecracks, some dubbed in while the actors’ backs are turned, and there’s not much quality control: on my first short film, I had some terrible attempts at funny lines, because I thought quantity would make up for lack of quality, and who knows, maybe someone would laugh at this line ever though it didn’t make ME laugh. I soon learned better. Fleischer maybe never knew that or maybe he forgot.

I did kind of like the b&w detective’s office: a chance for Fleischer to nod to his early noir work, and for Cardiff to do some b&w, something he missed out on in the forties because he was trained in Technicolor early on and became the go-to guy, for obvious reasons.

And Fleischer WAS good at widescreen.

CONAN THE DESTROYER stars Jack Slater, May Day, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Ursa, Sheriff Ray Bledsoe, Count Von Krolock and Fezzik.

MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY stars Herbie Kazlminsky, Franjean, Howard Cunningham, Otis Lee Crenshaw, J. Paul Getty, Andy Warhol and Cupid.

One more Late Show link to post, but I’m saving that for tomorrow…

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Kong Dies At The End

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2014 by dcairns

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A more accurate title for John Guillermin and Dino de Laurentiis’s KING KONG LIVES! would be KING KONG DIES AGAIN! since that is what happens. I feel no particular guilt at this fairly colossal spoiler, since KKL is not only very terrible, it’s also unusually boring for a terrible film. The action is repetitive — Kong rescues his mate at the end of Act I, then again at the end of Act II — and very generic. The characters are flat — so flat that James Cameron could recycle the hardass military guy in AVATAR, put him in 3D, and he was still so flat he could slide under doors like an envelope.

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“You’ve heard of the Green Berets? We’re the Raspberry Berets.”

Director John Guillermin does achieve one of the most memorable moments of his career — which includes some genuinely interesting, and well-made, films — during the sequence where Kong receives an artificial heart the size of a Fiat 500. Beginning with the hairy monarch lying comatose in a lab is not such an awful idea, if you have to begin such a venture at all (and clearly you don’t, so DON’T) — it allows Carlo Rambaldi to create another forty-foot mechanical ape, one which doesn’t have to do anything, but which human actors can interact with, thus convincing the audience that the gorilla really is as big as he’s supposed to be (a conviction shattered as soon as he gets up and starts ambling around miniature landscapes, but it was nice while it lasted). BUT — not content with staging a scene in which the $7, 000,000 artificial heart (this bionic Kong has to go one million better than Steve Austin) is winched over to the rather restive patient (should he really be tossing his head about like that if anesthetized?) — not content with generating bogus suspense by have the crane nearly break and drop the expensive, heavy organ straight through the slumbering monster’s abdomen — not content with showing us one of those inflating rubgy football things used in anesthesis, and having it be normal size when surely it ought to be a veritable Hindenberg — Guillermin throws in a shot taken from inside Kong, looking out of his thoracic cavity towards the assembled medical team and the descending cyber-pump.

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“A new low in taste,” was the phrase used gleefully by Martin Scorsese to describe the shot of a shark’s prey being consumed, taken from inside the shark’s mouth, in JAWS 3 — in 3D. But can that truly compete with a view from an ape’s thoracic cavity? I see now why Guillermin hasn’t made another film since — how to top this? Perhaps by filming out of Dracula’s arse as he breaks wind while stooping to bite a victim.

Fiona: “Why do they want to save Kong’s life after the mass destruction he caused in the last film?”

Me: “They like him.”

The more interesting aspects of the film’s deep badness are the points where it transcends the moronic and achieves solid stupidity. A stupidity you could walk about on; stupidity that could safely take a man’s weight.

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A kind of madness of stupidity, a mania of the dumb, seizes some filmmakers in the process of telling a genre story. The makers of this movie knew perfectly well that Kong, having fallen off the World Trade Center, couldn’t be alive, wouldn’t be helped by a robot heart, or by a blood transfusion from a giant female gorilla who doesn’t necessarily have the same blood type anyway, and that he wouldn’t have been able to walk even with such curative treatment after spending ten years in a coma. They knew that it isn’t full moon every night, yet it is in this movie, even though the action covers months. They also knew, one hopes, the simple biological fact that animals need to eat, yet “Lady Kong” goes on hunger strike when she’s locked in a missile silo by the army, and when Linda Hamilton asks “How long has she been like this?” she is told “Three or four months.” Yet not only does Lady Kong not die of starvation, she is able to give birth to a child at the end of it all.

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When the Son of Kong is eventually born, he is played by another actor in an ape suit, who is cradled in the animatronic Kong hand built by Carlo Rambaldi. So the Kongs, the fifty-foot ape couple, have a child who is only about six feet tall, if that, and who is as active and agile as an adult (and isn’t covered in icky amniotic fluid and blood.

Linda Hamilton sighs a lot and shakes her head to let us know she’s not happy with the way things are going, most of the time, and who can blame her?

Apart from the various stupidities, the film only really startles one awake when something particularly vile happens, as when Kong snaps a man in two; or some distressing attempt at humour is made, as when he pick a baseball cap from between his teeth after eating a man. And the whole Kong family still keep grinning, having learned nothing from the first go-round.

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Boldly, Lady Kong is played by a man, making this a rather forward-looking same-sex marriage, or at any rate civil partnership.

It’s Worse When You Smile

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by dcairns

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I’LL JUST GIVE IT THE GRIN

You know what’s a better film than you might think? Frank Mangold’s Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz vehicle KNIGHT AND DAY (not to be confused with NIGHT AND DAY in which Cary Grant plays a gay man as a straight man — it’s totally different, honest!) The movie wouldn’t be that good if it was just a romcom or just an action film, but it succeeds at both by combining them, and Cruise is amazingly well used — he plays a rogue spy who has either been framed for crimes against the state or else is batshit insane. Obviously, it will turn out that the Cruiser knows the whereabouts of all his marbles, but for the first half, the movie is an amazing amount of fun, playing the actors’ usual tropes and tricks — intense staring, manic grinning, furious running with pistoning little karate-chop arms — as simultaneously evidence of his movie-star heroism and a suggestion that he might be an incredibly dangerous maniac. The film sags a little at the end, mainly because it’s decided to let us know he’s OK, so half the joke is gone.

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THE APE-TH WONDER OF THE WORLD

You know what’s a worse film than you might think? The 1976 KING KONG. I know, you probably already suspect it’s terrible, and you may even have seen it, in which case you KNOW it’s terrible, but it is not actually possible for any mere mortal to know how terrible this film is. It’s awfulness cannot be contained in a human mind. You would need the skull of a forty-foot ape to encapsulate the wretchedness of the whole enterprise.

The positive aspects can be summed up rapidly. Hawaii looks nice. Although Jessica Lange mainly makes you feel embarrassed, the movie did sort of launch her career. Jeff Bridges demonstrates his awesomeness by managing to avoid ever appearing awful or awkward, in a movie where even Charles Grodin stumbles at times. But mostly Grodin is good too.

I guess Dino de Laurentiis had some kind of a great business mind, because he correctly deduced that the public would not pay to see a man in a gorilla suit, so a great juggernaut of ballyhoo was foisted upon the moviegoing public to convinced them that a 40 foot mechanical ape was going to maraud across the Panavision screen. It worked — I remember the queue round the block  at the Odeon, Clerk Street. I also remember thinking, “That looks a lot like a man in a suit,” and then, as Kong is exhibited in New York, “THAT looks like an unconvincing 40-foot mechanical ape.” As indeed it was.

The ape suit stuff is designed and acted by Rick Baker, and is probably as good a gorilla costume as audiences had seen. I would believe, if the film made it worth my while, that I was looking at some kind of man-ape. I just wouldn’t believe he was forty feet high. The foliage blowing in the wind behind him is blatantly miniature. He doesn’t move with the slomo heft of Godzilla (even though the big G is even more hilariously a man in a costume.) There’s an over-the-shoulder shot where his shoulder is transparent (an example of verfremdungseffekt that Brecht never thought off).

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IT ISN’T BESTIALITY IF HE MAKES THE FIRST MOVE

Baker’s performance is good, though he hasn’t quite worked out a convincing alternative to the authentic silverback’s knuckle-walking. Sometimes Kong seems to be merely out for a stroll. And there’s too much smiling. Willis H. O’Brien’s masterful Kong didn’t go in for smirking. Admittedly. the big mechanical head in the ’33 film was grinning maniacally, rather like Tom Cruise. But I never liked that head.

The smiling is all directed at Jessica Lange, who is worth smiling at, but that means this falls under the heading of sexy smiling, which I don’t want to see on a gorilla. Certainly not that close up. I feel as if I now know what it is like to have sex with Rick Baker, and this is not knowledge I have ever sought. Not consciously.

In some scenes, Jessica Lange is quite good, good enough to make us think she might be very good if her director was looking out for her, at all. Publicity genius de Laurentiis sold her as a completely untrained model, because everybody hates looking at trained actors, especially in films. Here’s the untrained model speaking about her work in The Creation of King Kong by Bruce Bahrenburg (the film was too epic for a mere “Making of”) ~

“How do you play to a huge ape who is romantically attached to you? I had to do some substitution and personalisation.”

Yep, no signs of training there.

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Unfortunately for Lange, she is required to act batshit apeshit  insane half the time, writhing orgasmically as Kong blows on her to dry her off after she’s showered in a waterfall. Because warm air is sexy, always, and apparently nobody in this movie has a sense of smell, or maybe gorilla breath really is deliciously aphrodisiac. I have seen a zoo gorilla cram its mouth with fresh shit to scare off some annoying kids, so I am totally prepared to believe that gorilla breath makes women horny. It stands to reason.

Then there’s the undressing scene, which plays like curiosity, mainly, in the original. even if Max Steiner did scribble the title “Stinkfinger” on the sheet music for this scene (isn’t that a Frank Zappa composition?). Here it’s full-on rape-ape mode, with Rick Baker grinning as meaningfully as he knows how, mind bent upon the anatomically impossible. John Guillermin was always a director who would go a good bit out of his way to get some tits into his film. My old friend Lawrie knew him, and knew of his casting couch inclinations. I once read a Radio Times review of Guillermin’s EL CONDOR out loud to Lawrie: “Nasty, slick and superficial.” “That’s John!” he cried in delight. Like meeting an old friend.

Guillermin DID have considerable visual talent, seen in RAPTURE (1965) particularly, and I have a suspicion he was badly let down by his ape unit here. Lots of eye-level shots and long-shots which seem designed to make Rick Baker look smaller than he really is rather than, as Guillermin probably hoped, a bit taller.

If enthusiastic bumbler Carlo Rambaldi couldn’t manage a convincing giant ape, and he couldn’t, he and Glen Robinson did cobble together a pretty good pair of mechanical hands. I guess the opportunity of nudging Jessica Lange’s mammaries with a massive pneumatic digit brought out the best in them. It’s not an opportunity likely to come your way twice in a lifetime.

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MONKEYS AT TYPEWRITERS

Supposedly, a team comprising Bob Fosse, Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon were at once point going to direct and write this monstrosity. Since the film shows every sign of being cursed, I don’t think that would have saved it, but Lorenzo Semple’s screenplay is pretty stinky. He kind of solves the question of “How could they ship Kong back to America?” with the oil tanker, but that still leaves the question of how they winched him aboard, and that question comes more sharply into focus with the surrounding mysteries cleared up. In the 2005 version, the whole issue is elided during intermission, which my friend Sam Dale objected to. “But isn’t that the case, basically, in the original?” I asked. “Yes, but the original goes like a train,” he countered. With pre-code pace, the audience has less time to ponder, and the movie is more like an unexpectedly genius potboiler, rather than a wildly implausible simian version of Heart of Darkness.

Since the Dino KONG is a super-epic, it can’t afford to get zippy at any point, so everything is gone over in great detail and at great length, although this doesn’t help it make sense. “I remember as a little girl,” said Fiona, “I was quite confused about her attitude to Kong.” In the original, Fay Wray is quite simply scared of the big guy. Admittedly, it always seemed that more could be done with this relationship. Entirely thanks to Willis H. O’Brien’s artistry, Kong had become a sympathetic character, chewing people’s heads off, smushing them into the dirt, and dropping them from skyscrapers, but essentially virtuous. An unscripted warmth of feeling was created between the audience and the ape (particularly in the moment where he hurts his finger, a beat missing here).

In the Peter Jackson arse-marathon, the relationship is tastefully desexualized, so that Kong becomes a big devoted pet, and on that level it’s extremely moving, thanks to great work from Naomi Watts and excellent animation (sorry, Andy Serkis, that’s not you up there). The seventies attempt ramps up the pre-code smut factor to an uncomfortable level. In 1933, Kong barely enjoyed a moment’s peace with Fay Wray without some Cretaceous interloper barging in, which was again useful to stop the audience wondering about stuff that shouldn’t be on normal people’s minds anyway. Here, there’s only a giant rubber snake, showing up at the exact optimum moment to serve as a Freudian symbol.

Of all Semple’s changes, the one most offensive to a schoolboy viewer is the deletion of all the dinosaurs, clear evidence that the film did not love its audience and did not have the technical confidence possessed of the filmmakers of forty-some years earlier. But the stupidest one is probably the ship’s crew setting a trap for Kong but then bolting the door of the big gate to prevent him reaching it. “Are you sure he can break through this thing?” somebody thinks to ask. “Just bolt it halfway.” is the compromise choice. I guess they figured leaving it open would MAKE THE GORILLA SUSPICIOUS.

One thing I kind of approve of, even though it’s also kind of awful, is the very seventies unhappy ending. After the Peckinpah bloodbath with Kong turned into a pink plush toy by his own spurting gore, Jessica doesn’t even get folded into the big strong arms of Jeff Bridges as consolation. He rather inexplicably hangs back, apparently feeling that this ordeal has turned her into a star, which is what she always wanted, and so she doesn’t need him, even though she is obviously distraught and does need him. It’s some kind of NETWORK type dark satire thing and was certainly incomprehensible to me as a kid, and seems unclear now. Maybe she should have grabbed a microphone and said “I’m Mrs. Norman Maine,” or “Mrs Norman Kong,” or something.

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GRODIN TO THE MAX

Poor Charles Grodin — in his lovely memoir he talks movingly about his childhood love of KING KONG and how he really didn’t want to be a bad guy in the movie. He particularly didn’t want to be the guy who gets killed by Kong and the audience cheers. They shot a scene where Kong seems to step on him but in fact just crushes his stetson. Audiences hated it. So they recut it to make it look — rather unconvincingly — as if Kong had indeed trodden on Grodin. But then they include a shot, a few seconds later, where Grodin, minus his stetson, appears to be fleeing alongside Jess & Jeff. That is what I believe is known as a continuity error.

They also cut out Grodin’s best bit of acting. Mostly in the film he impresses just with how unlike Charles Grodin he is. He has a moustache which obscures the distinctively curled upper lip (almost but not quite a sneer — just a look of “I can’t believe this,” always incipient if not actually manifest) and a sort of spray-on skull cap of hair like an Action Man doll. And he’s playing a loud jerk, which is not his usual mode. But when he sees Kong for the first time, he reacts in a way which is absolutely the essence of Grodinism, without in any way stepping out of character. It’s extremely funny, and because it’s so comic, even though it is completely truthful and should therefore be completely believable, it is kind of wrong for the film, so they cut it.

They were right to cut it. On the other hand, if they had left it in it would have been better than everything else in the film.

Charles Grodin’s best acting from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Anyhow, in The Creation of King Kong, there is a fair bit about Grodin complaining that his trailer isn’t as big as Jessica’s trailer or Jeff’s trailer — for a publicity book, it makes the surprising choice of making nearly all the principles look bad at one time or another. The seventies was a different era.

Buy KONGS —
King Kong (1976)
King Kong [Blu-ray]
King Kong