Archive for Casino Royale

Edinburgh, 1828…

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by dcairns

Thanks to actor Ricky Callan for posting this one of YeTube (the Scottish YouTube).

I really wanted the credit “book and lyrics” on this one but somehow didn’t get it. Makeup FX supremo Stephen (SLEUTH) Murphy conceived the idea for a musical about Edinburgh’s best-loved mass-murderers (they didn’t really rob graves, they found it easier to manufacture their own corpses) and I volunteered to write it with alacrity.

The first voice you hear is that of Ronnie Corbett, the little Nazi in the original CASINO ROYALE, who lives outside Edinburgh. I’m afraid we wrote a less vulgar version of the script in order to secure his services, which he gave out of the goodness of his heart. Once we’d recorded his VO we stuck all the swearing back in.

Ricky Callan plays William Hare, with Sandy Nelson (Mel Gibson’s brother in BRAVEHEART!) as William Burke. Stephen Murphy directed, handled most of the producing, oversaw the special makeup requirements, and wrote the score.

It’s all shot on location except for Burke and Hare’s rooming house, a little set built in Edinburgh College of Art’s boxy wee TV studio. And the front door of same, which is a miniature (as becomes clear when it’s destroyed — we shot the destruction in slow motion but not slow enough).

Apart from my writing services, I appear as an extra in the hanging scene (far left at 7:57, wearing a wig and pulling a funny face) and did a fair bit of editing on it. Editing dance is tough, especially when you have no coverage (not incompetence, just a limited budget) and everything must be cut to the music, and the choreography is differently timed from one shot to the next.

Another problem was a camera malfunction during the hanging scene — the sound had no firm synchronisation with the picture. So I synched (or “sunk”, as we say) the middle of each shot. As the shot starts, it’s slightly out-of-whack, but just as the audience starts to notice, it goes back into step with the image. Then it starts to drift out, but just as the audience becomes aware of it, we cut to the next shot. Genius.

That was a strange day. Pretty much the start of the shoot, the biggest scene (building a gallows outside St Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh’s High Street, with buses going by in the back of out-takes) and as we set up the news came in of the school shooting in Dunblane. Some anonymous asshole member of the public saw fit to castigate us for our bad taste in filming a death scene on this terrible day,as if we’d planned the events to coincide.

Other locations: the graveyard at the start (I thought it was important to show B&H failing as resurrectionists, even though there’s no evidence they ever tried it, but most people associate them with grave-robbing) is Greyfriar’s Churchyard, resting place of William Topaz McGonagall (the world’s worst poet) and the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby. It can also be seen right at the start of Robert Wise and Val Lewton’s THE BODY SNATCHER, in a travelogue shot swiftly followed by a studio mock-up.

The dark alleyway is Advocate’s Close, I think. While scouting all the narrow side-streets off the Royal Mile, we found the more spacious close that serves as our main street scene. It had very few modern features to hide, and was a cul-de-sac which we could completely take over.

Stephen and Mhairi, his producer, managed to get some fairly posh place to serve as Dr. Knox’s house, and a disused bar which could easily be rendered 19th century — in fact, since the modern fixtures had been stripped out, that’s basically what it was.

Morag McKinnon, director of forthcoming feature ROUNDING UP DONKEYS, cameos as Bess the prossie. As soon as she heard there was a character of that name, she wanted to play it. I seem to recall writing a series of completely foul couplets before settling on the relatively innocuous ones used. It was worth it to make people laugh. Stephen wanted to have naked corpses on slabs, to “enhance the production values,” so Morag was induced to denude. Both Stephen and I regretted it in the end, since the combination of nudity, death, and rude humour maybe touches on the uncomfortable.

Here’s one of my pal Simon Fraser’s drawings for the end creds, which deserves to be enjoyed at fuller resolution than YeTube can supply:

Simon is a successful comic book artist and illustrator of high-class lesbian pornography.

And here’s the actual death-mask of William Burke:

Whatever you think of our little playlet, (sharp-eyed observers may spot swipes from homages to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher and Dylan Thomas’s The Doctor and the Devils) I can assure you that our version really is one of the most historically accurate accounts of the B&H affair, with only the omission of the killers’ wives, and the precise circumstances of their arrest, being somewhat at odds with exact verisimilitude.

Oh, and the singing.

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A Chairy Tale

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 25, 2008 by dcairns

Weirdly, both movies in my last lighthouse-based Fever Dream Double Feature contain studies in wrecked cane furniture:

THE PHANTOM LIGHT.

SHIT! THE OCTOPUS.

Here we see High Herbert’s arse being afflicted with a CASINO ROYALE-style bottom-torturing mechanism.

Nobody wants to see THAT!

All About “Eve”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2008 by dcairns

“It’s Losey’s film maudit,” explained David Wingrove to a skeptic after the film fest screening of EVE (1962). “It’ll have to get in line!” I said. If I’d set it within an hour of David’s statement this might have qualified as repartee. Anyhow, I do think the film is probably more highly regarded than BOOM and SECRET CEREMONY, though both of those have devoted sexy weird admirers.

“A cheap, tawdry melodrama,” is how Jeanne Moreau described the producers’ cut, in which the notorious Hakim Brothers sheared about an hour off the film’s running time. Given that the film is adapted from a James Hadley Chase novel, I bet that’s exactly what they were hoping for. Given that the piece is replete with adultery, fraud, lavish parties, gambling, the movie biz, suicide, and Jeanne Moreau savaging Stanley Baker with a whip, if it attains the status of cheap, tawdry and melodramatic, shouldn’t we regard that as a sign of success?

“Not conceited, just accurate,” is how Stanley Baker assesses his high opinion of his ability to please women. It’s such a dazzling display of sexual arrogance that, coupled with his frequent appearances in a dinner jacket, I found myself imagining Baker as James Bond. Sex, crime, exotic locations, sadism, drinking and gambling, it’s all there. EVE’s wild Michel Legrand jazz score is even more dynamic than the Bond theme. With the scenes in Venice, the specific Bond story would be CASINO ROYALE, the one where 007 is bested by a woman.

“All women, six to sixty,”he remarks later, explaining to his rich wife-to-be (the beautiful Lisi) his tendency to stray. That seems like the kind of statement most of us would have to follow with “I mean, er, that didn’t come out right, uh…” but Baker lets it stand. It’s a movie that boldly jettisons conventional notions of audience sympathy — Baker and Moreau are both fascinating monsters, and while Lisi is theoretically sympathetic, there isn’t enough of her in the film for that to matter and anyway her character pales next to the arrogant yet insecure Baker and the heartless Moreau.

When James Villiers’ agent-turned-wife wonders about only getting ten per cent of a man, he retorts happily, “That’s all there is.” Certainly her gaydar must be faulty for her to have stumbled into such a love match. Everything that comes out of the great Villiers’ mouth in this film is pure gold. He’s the comedy relief amid the angst and humiliation, the one character who is never fazed by anything. But let’s get this straight — Stanley Baker has written a book about a lusty Welsh coal miner? And they got JAMES VILLIERS to write the screenplay? With a part for VIRNA LISI? I’m having trouble picturing the resulting movie, which wisely the filmmakers withhold from us. Although I guess the result might have looked a little like EVE.

“I wonder if they’ll bump into Marcello and Anita from LA DOLCE VITA,” whispered David, as Stanley and Jeanne roamed Rome after dark. Later, Stan rides a funeral barge on the Venetian Grand Canal and I wondered if he’d pass Julie Christie going the other way. Perhaps because the cities are so ancient, the film seems unusually haunted by other movies, past and present. Also by guest stars — Peggy Guggenheim, Vittorio De Sica and Losey himself waft by.

“Moreau at her most forcefully, ferally seductive — her frequent disrobings, dramatic departures and solitary sulks, all appropriately backed by a repeated Billie Holliday motif,” says Edinburgh Film Fest director Hannah McGill in the programme, and it’s true. We can tell she’s fickle because she has one cat for her Rome apartment and another in Venice. Shocking. Some — but certainly not all — of La Moreau’s unmotivated cruelty may be down to the film being so hacked about. This “definitive restoration” is still missing some scenes described by Losey, so it’s actually NOBODY’S preferred cut, just the longest version anybody’s been able to assemble, with occasional burnt-in subtitles in Swedish or Finnish attesting to the print’s scattered origins.

“God made Adam from a woman’s rib,” sings Tony Middleton on the soundtrack, lyrics written by Losey with screenwriter Evan Jones (MODESTY BLAISE). This may just be Losey’s jazziest movie of all, what with the incessant Billie Holliday refrain (the people in this film may be rich, but they apparently only own the same two records each). I’m starting to wonder if a sloey movie can truly EXIST without jazz. It certainly seems like a factor whose importance has been underrated in his work.

“It’s a failed art movie,” says John Waters of BOOM, and when an art movie fails, it fails by failing to be art. Is EVE art? Is this shot art? —

It’s beautiful, it made me gasp and grin, and it’s also rather crude and vulgar, particularly in a film named after the lady in the Masaccio on the left. Can art be lurid and overripe? Can a cheap, tawdry melodrama be art? I sure hope so.

EVE was screened in Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Jeanne Moreau retrospective.