Archive for Carol Reed

Lessons

Posted in FILM with tags , , on January 7, 2016 by dcairns

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Official Northleach Horror mugs (I’m in the middle) by art department Elias. Photo also by Elias.

You want to have a millisecond to pause just before shooting something, when you can think about if there’s some simple way to enhance it and bring it to life. Carol Reed paused before shooting the end shot of THE THIRD MAN, and as a result send two men up ladders with bags of dead leaves to sprinkle through the frame. That decision makes the shot. It often seems that you don’t have that millisecond to spare, but probably you do.

Always do a retake if you’re genuinely doubtful. Time spent filming is ultimately more valuable than time spent not filming, though of course set-up time is what makes everything else filming. But all that you’re left with afterwards is the precious seconds when the camera was rolling.

If you’re set up in such a way that you can see something you didn’t intend to shoot yet, shoot it. It’s free.

If what you are shooting makes no sense at all to an outsider, but perfect sense through the camera lens, then you are doing cinema, and you should continue.

Film is a Battlefield

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2016 by dcairns

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Enjoyed very much the TV play We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story, in which the origins of the beloved sitcom Dad’s Army are explored. John Sessions absolutely CHANNELS the spirit of the late Arthur Lowe, with sterling lookalike and soundalike work from Ralph Riach as dour Scotsman John Laurie, a Shadowplay favourite, Shane Ritchie as Bill Pertwee, and Roy Hudd as Ray Flanagan, the thirties comedy star who sang the theme tune.

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NOT so successful, though fascinating as a piece of casting, is Julian Sands as John Le Mesurier. Le Mez was almost a special effect as much as an actor, a persona so unique and indefinable as to possibly defy impersonation. Sands’ best work in my view was THE KILLING FIELDS, where the man he was playing stuck around on set out of sheer vanity to see himself played by an actor, providing a handy reference point for the star into the bargain. Here, he doesn’t have the real man to refer to, and who among us can imagine Le Mez NOT acting? I’d like to think he was exactly the same in civilian life, but I have no idea.

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Another Dad’s Army star is Arnold Ridley, author of The Ghost Train, the theatrical comedy warhorse filmed multiple times, as silent, talkie, British, German, Hungarian, Romanian and Japanese. “I’d like to have your royalties,” someone says to him in We’re All Doomed! “So would I,” says Arnold, ruefully.

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This led me to look at THE WAY AHEAD, Carol Reed’s celebrated propaganda flick, written by Eric Ambler & Peter Ustinov (who also appears, along with most of British equity). The movie formed the basis for satirical treatments in HOW I WON THE WAR, CARRY ON SERGEANT and Dad’s Army itself, and in fact William Hartnell plays the sergeant-major in this and in the CARRY ON, with Laurie as a dour Scotsman in this and Dad’s Army. The Dad’s Army end credits, showing the aged cast trooping across a battlefield in a series of tracking shots, seems to deliberately reprise the climax of Reed’s film.

When Powell & Pressburger made propaganda, their essential eccentricity always led them madly off-message and resulted in art rather than message-mongering. Reed’s film is more disciplined, therefore less artistic, and even though Ustinov hated the idiocy he was surrounded with in the armed forces, his script does an excellent job of celebrating the way the bickering, petty civilian raw material is shaped into a disciplined fighting unit by loveable David Niven and gruff-but-also-loveable Hartnell.

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Sudden Trevor Howard!

There are only a few actual SHOTS in the first half, with a good deal of effective but perfunctory coverage, but at sea there’s a dramatic sequence, all staged full-scale, in which Reed finds that a sinking ship provides the ideal justification for his patented Deutsch tilts.

Raymond Durgnat, our most imaginative critic, proposed that the true meaning of the climax, in which the heroes advance through concealing swathes of smoke, was this: “It can be read as saying, They’re all dead. Reed’s brief was to warn us, This is going to be worse than we can imagine.” The final shot, showing the old guard smiling at news in the papers, seems to quash this gloomy notion and compel us to presume the attack was a success, but those moments in the billowing whiteness do have an eerie uncertainty to them which defies the triumphal music.

 

Squint

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2014 by dcairns

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Enjoyed OUR MAN IN HAVANA, which has some glorious writing and playing and looks absolutely gorgeous, yet oddly the weak point is Carol Reed’s direction — not a very weak point, since in fact much of it is excellent. But he’s devised a system for tilting the camera within a shot, disguised during a track or pan, so we start out even, balanced, and end up canted, askew. This development of his THIRD MAN style oddly does not integrate the dutch angles into the action more smoothly — it makes them pop out more. THE THIRD MAN manages to make its flamboyant visual style seem pretty natural, partly just by using squint angles so often they almost outnumber the straight ones — also, the vast majority of them are POV shots or are positioned like POVs. OMIH manages to make the diagonals work in widescreen, but it doesn’t manage to make them feel logical in the same way.

Reed also reuses a shot of Alec Guinness firing a gun during a climactic scene, in a way that makes no spatial sense and creates a distracting confusion. I don’t know what happened there.

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Production designer Syd Cain smuggles his name onto this Buck Rogers type newspaper strip (click to enlarge).

But Reed does regularly serve up delicious performance moments and has assembled a rather astonishingly far-flung cast who gel beautifully, in defiance of all sense: Guinness, Noel Coward, Ralph Richardson all seem like they would fit naturally in the same film. But then you have to add Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O’Hara (waitaminute…), John Le Mesurier, Rachel Roberts, Gregoire Aslan, Ferdy Maine… Reed manages to gather Obi Wan Kenobi, the King of Brobdignag and Count Von Krolock together in the same men’s room. The moment where Coward invites Guinness to visit the gents with him, for purposes of espionage, is a bit of an eye-popper.

Overall, though, the film impresses because its surface lustre and drolery combine with a tight plot with a strong theme — the theme that everybody running society is principly concerned with a series of arse-covering exercises, and they are honoured not for results produced but for successful buttock concealment. On top of that, largely through Burl Ives’ magnificent characterisation, the film has access to an emotional depth not usually associated with satire. Its range is as wide as it could ever be.

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More dutch tilts shortly!

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