Archive for Catch 22

Reflective Value

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on January 8, 2019 by dcairns

I got a second-hand copy of King Vidor on Film-Making for Christmas. Really, the only two helpful books by filmmakers are the Lumet and Mackendrick ones, though Roger Corman has invaluable insights too. Vidor’s volume is quirky and entertaining, but its value is more anecdotal than educative, and though there are some really good nuggets and first principles, it doesn’t really give you the overview of the whole process it aims for.

But it does have Vidor explaining the process of front-projection, which was introduced years after his retirement and this shows he was keeping up with developments. In light of my discussion of 2001’s opening scenes, I thought it might be worth reproducing here. Of course, I can’t swear that all the details Vidor gives are correct because I’m less technical than him. Footnotes are mine.

“A recent development of the process background shot is done with front projection instead of the usual rear projection. It seems strange that a picture could be projected onto a background screen with actors in front of it and yet not have the background projection scene show on the performers’ faces or bodies. Interestingly enough the discovery of this possibility grew out of the development of an automobile bumper-sticker and a material that would deflect heat from fire-engines.

“The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (the 3-M people responsible for much sound-recording tape development and a wide variety of cellophane sticker tapes) had developed a material with such a high reflective value that it seemed to increase the intensity of light projected onto it. Hence it was put to use, as an attention getter on the rear bumpers of automobiles. Then Sherman Fairchild, who developed and built the first automatic camera for the United States Signal Corps, became interested in the material. He collaborated with a Hollywood technician named William Hansard, who had been experimenting with the material because of its adaptability for use in background motion picture photography.

“In the Fairchild-Hansard technique, the lens of the projection machine is placed as near the lens of the camera as possible. Because the extremely high reflective quality of the background screen, the intensity of the projection lamp can be very weak, so weak in fact that the projected image is not perceptible upon the faces or clothes* of the actors. To the eye, the background image seems too faint to photograph and yet when one looks through the camera lens the image appears with startling brilliancy.

“The screen material is made up of one million beads to the square inch and is fifteen hundred times more reflective than the actors**, or objects in the set which absorb the projected image rather than returning it to be recorded by the camera. This extremely high reflective value of the background screen makes possible a sharp focus and rich color registration on the negative film.

“The process was first used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and Mike Nichols’ CATCH 22.”

*or ape costumes.

**unless you have a very sweaty Rod Steiger.

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Mom?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2018 by dcairns

So, I read Joseph Heller’s autobiography, Now and Then. I’m a big Catch-22 fan but never got into his other novels. When someone told Heller he’d never written anything as good as his first novel, he’s said to have replied, “Yes, but neither has anyone else.” But I do really like No Laughing Matter, Heller’s other memoir, co-written with Speed Vogel, which deals with his year struggling with Guillane-Barré syndrome, a nasty but thankfully temporary neurological complaint, with the two writers taking alternate chapters, which leads to a great bit where Vogel announces his friend’s tragic death and Heller bounces back in the next chapter with “I certainly did not die, and I don’t know why Speed insists on telling everyone I did.” (Later, Heller did die, which either spoils the joke or adds a fresh punchline depending on your level of morbid humour.)

Anyway, the autobio is good, but I was mainly interested in reading about the events which influenced Catch-22. An unexpected one occurs before Heller even gets overseas. He was working in flight training when his mother fell and injured herself. He got leave to go visit her ~

Entering the hospital in Brooklyn some five days later by myself some five days later I had no idea what I would find. For reasons I don’t understand and never expect to, I had constructed the bizarre scenario that I might not recognize my mother and feared that my failure to do so might sink her into deep despair. A couple of dozen beds in the women’s ward of Coney Island Hospital stood before me. Facing the entrance when I stepped in was a bed holding a white-haired woman of about my mother’s age whose attention I captured instantly. She rose on an elbow to observe me more intently. I stared right back with the tentative beginnings of a smile. Her gaze remained fixed on me and I started across to her. I hugged her gently while kissing her once or twice and sat down. I was appalled that she didn’t seem to recognize me or respond appropriately to my name. This was worse than I had imagined. It required a few more awkward minutes of uncomfortable talk for both of us to realize we had never set eyes on each other before. I glanced about wretchedly. At the far end of the ward I then clearly spied my mother, practically levitating out of her bed, plaster cast and all, and waving wildly in furious and frustrated exasperation to attract my attention. She looked exactly as I remembered, and she told me yet again that I had a twisted mind.

Lots of interest there. I’m struck by the fact that when I’m waiting for someone, and they’re late (I’m usually early, and I’ve always had the misfortune to socialise with people who are usually late), I cast around and seem to see them in every stranger. But then, when the real person turns up, I KNOW it’s them. Recognition is a frail, fallible thing, until suddenly it’s not. Heller had seen his mother every day of his life, then suddenly he’d been removed from her, and found he didn’t have a reliable image he could call to mind.

He goes on to say ~

After reading this, anyone who has recently read Catch-22 for the third or fourth time might be struck by the parallel between the account of my mother I’ve just given and an episode in the novel in which Yossarian is visited in a hospital bed by a family of tearful strangers, but I don’t remember that I consciously had the former in mind when I was devising the latter.

And the scene made it into Mike Nichols and Buck Henry’s movie adaptation, so there you go, a movie connection. I wish they’d found time for the soldier who sees everything twice, and Yossarian’s psychiatrist, but then the movie would be three hours long.

I think the scene in the novel isn’t about the vagaries of recognition in the same way. The family, who have lost a real son, embark on a sort of role-play where Yossarian stands in for their son/brother who died before they could see him. The mother seems to believe that Yossarian is her dying son, and dad keeps correcting her, until she says, “What does it matter, he’s dying, isn’t he?” (Yossarian is not, in fact, dying, or no more than the rest of us.) So it’s about knowing self-deception and rites of passage. Saying goodbye. Maybe it doesn’t matter who you say it to.

The Madness of War

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by dcairns

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An entry in Movies Silently’s super-blogathon, the Snoopathon. Subject: ESPIONAGE!

There’s an eye-opening bit in Sam Fuller’s epic war memoir, THE BIG RED ONE, where Lee Marvin’s soldiers raid a Nazi base in a Belgian insane asylum. Amid the skirmish, dazed inmates carry on eating, oblivious to the firestorm around them — an unlikely concept, given that mad people (and people with learning difficulties, who are also included in this fictitious Walloon-y bin) would be likely to be MORE upset by submachine-guns blazing away over the dinner table than even such as I. Then one inmate snatches up a gun from a fallen soldier and gleefully wastes a couple of his fellow patients, crying, “I am like you! I am sane!” And we recognize, hopefully, that Fuller has one foot planted firmly in the terrain of allegory, and is Making a Point. In a scenario where some people are peacefully eating dinner and some are shooting each other, who is crazy? And if the killers are the sane ones, how else should one prove one’s sanity?

(My dad once replaced the wiring in a mental hospital, and met a chap on his way out who had been issued a Certificate of Sanity to help him find work. My dad felt vaguely jealous. HE doesn’t have a Certificate of Sanity.)

The other most obvious films about madness and war which come to mind are CATCH 22, which is TOO obvious to discuss here, and KING OF HEARTS, which some people like but I find twee. Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold are both lovely, but the film seeks to set war (bad) and madness (lovely) as opposites, and has to lie through its teeth to do so. Or maybe it’s just total ignorance bout mental illness, I don’t know. The point is related to Fuller’s — mad people don’t make wars — but it’s not really true, as CATCH 22 can demonstrate.

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So I had worries about Raymond Bernard’s UN AMIE VIENDRA CE SOIR… (A FRIEND WILL COME TONIGHT…) would tackle its subject, an insane asylum in the dying days of Nazi-occupied France. But, since I knew Bernard’s work from his Pathe-Natan super-productions CROIX DES BOIS and LES MISERABLES, I shouldn’t have worried. The only weaknesses in this 1946 movie are that, coming right after the war, it portrays its German characters in broadly stereotyped terms, and contains a little too much triumphal material on the heroes of the Resistance. Both those stances are broadly true and respectable, but rather simple and uninteresting dramatically — but one can see why the French would have needed to hear them in ’46.

The film’s strengths are in its unsentimental portrayal of the mad, and the crafty plotting which sees a number of imposters planted amid the staff, inmates and neighbours of the asylum. There’s a Jewish fugitive, a British parachutist, a couple of Resistance fighters, a German spy, and one Resistance leader whose true identity is known only by… but that would be telling.

The actors who may or may not be playing those roles include the great Michel Simon, in the guise of a sweet-natured innocent with Boudou beard, who rejects the existence of evil and has declared himself President of his own republic of one, and romantic Madeleine Sologne, embarking on a tentative romance with a Swiss doctor, Paul Bernard (a favourite of Jean Gremillon). Oh, and Howard Vernon, whose experience in covert shenanigans here would doubtless stand him in good stead for his future collaborations with Jesus Franco.

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The treatment of madness allows for some humour, but I think that’s permissible — the movie is quite clear that mental illness is not a delightful escape from reality, but often a torment and something which makes the sufferer unable to function socially. The treatment of war is a touch bloodless, except in the startling references to Nazi death camps and the campaign of sterilisation and extermination, preceding the war, carried out in the name of eugenics and exciting no major opposition from outside Germany, which rid the world of those whose physical and mental disabilities had them classified as “life unfit for life.”

Both the spying and deceit, and the insanity, are great excuses for Bernard to deliver up his trademark Dutch tilts, a staple of his filmmaking since at least the early 30s (LES MIS is full of them). I haven’t seen THE CHESS PLAYER (1927) so I dunno if he was leaning to the side even then, but I know it intercuts a piano recital with military activity — something repeated here.

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The movie, which I think is a great one, may also be suggesting that the strife of war will send France itself, and possibly its director in person, mad. Raymond Bernard was Jewish, and had spent the war in hiding, in fear for his life, while his father, the writer Tristan Bernard, was interned at the camp at Drancy, which ruined his health and led to his death just after this film was released.

Eclipse Series 4: Raymond Bernard (Wooden Crosses / Les Miserables) (The Criterion Collection)