Archive for Casino Royale

Silas Hathaway peaks early

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 14, 2021 by dcairns


Chuck Jones’ baby brother was an aspiring actor, or anyhow his mother had aspirations for him — when the tot was rejected for a part, Chuck wondered about what it must be like to be a failure as a baby. In the case of Silas Hathaway, cast as the baby version of Jackie Coogan, his biggest success was as a baby. What must it have been like to live an ordinary life after that, unable to even remember your big moment? I guess it must have been… ordinary.

Chaplin’s technique of following pathos with laughter is established early. After the touching moment when Charlie, realising he has no choice but to look after this foundling, smiles happily and carries the little bundle of joy and faeces off, and we cut to Edna, mourning her situation, there’s an excellent gag when Charlie has to pass the infant off as his own. “What’s its name?” asks a slum woman. He disappears briefly into a doorway and emerges a few seconds later, having obviously checked something. “John.”

It’s a wonderfully delicate nob joke. Of course, Jackie Coogan is never, ever referred to as John. He’s The Kid. But he’s not even called that, he has attained the same sort of nameless universal identity as The Little Fellow (I call him Charlie only for convenience).

Let’s dispel the canard that Chaplin was indifferent to his sets. Charlie’s garret is a terrific creation by Charles D. Hall.

He tries to entertain the bawling babby by shaking various meat products at him, but his sausage does not rattle. The baby is upset, as the last baby Chaplin worked with did, back in HIS TRYSTING PLACE in 1914. Maybe he just affects them that way.

I was wondering when this would happen — Edna rushes back to where she left her baby, but it’s gone. A necessary character development, rather than a plot point, since we already know. But Edna is now a woman who CONSIDERED abandoning her baby, but didn’t ultimately choose to, just as Charlie didn’t ultimately choose to drop the little bugger down an open drain. Edna discovers the baby gone just as the chauffeur of the mansion finds the car gone. She swoons, and the last we see if the lady of the house inspecting her prone form through a lorgnette with what one hopes is vaguely kindness…

Back at Chez Charlie, which has been transformed to suit Baby Silas’ specifications. A bed is hammocked from the rafters, with a teapot on a string as baby bottle. Baby Silas was induced to suckle from the spout — I guess if the contents of the pot are tasty, it comes naturally. I don’t know how much time has passed but this is quite an agile and well-developed baby.

Linen is being scissored up to make nappies, suggesting the installation is still a recent event. Shuggling the hammock, Charlie comes away with a wet hand (which he wipes on his bedclothes, the beast) — for once, a urine joke that isn’t immediately alibied as being spilt milk or something. The lavatorial approach continues, as he shears the seat out of a wicker chair. He’s not planning to torture Daniel Craig, so only one other purpose suggests itself, made more explicit still when the disfigured seat is placed over a dented spitoon. That which receives spit will also serve for… other things.

This is about as scatological as a silent comedy is likely to get, though there’s one delirious French short from the early days of the century in which a musical hall bumpkin defecates in a phone booth. Saw it at the Paris Cinematheque museum and laughed myself ill.

FADE-OUT. Time passes. I shall return.

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.

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:



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

Nobody wants to see THAT!