Archive for Charles Drazin

Histories and Legacies

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2017 by dcairns

Me and Richard Lester. Photo by Sheldon Hall, complete with psychedelic projections. Thanks, Sheldon!

The image above was taken at the symposium British Cinema in the 1960s: Histories and Legacies at the BFI Southbank on Thursday. This was Part 2 of the conference I presented at last week. It was lovely to see Richard again, and meet Neil Sinyard, who literally wrote the book on him, and to acquire the latest edition of said book at a hefty academic discount, and hear more of his stories of his early career. Many of these appear in Andrew Yule’s book The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, but Richard tells them better.

Academic conferences are strange things — rather jolly, though. I couldn’t believe the obscurity of some of the stuff under discussion. In York, there had been a paper based on research into the completion bond guarantor’s notes on  Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. In London, there were entries on the Children’s Film Foundation, the production design of IF…., censorship and colour in Hammer films (centering on that naughty studio’s practice of submitting b&w prints of colour films, to disguise the gore) and trade advertisements for Eastmancolor. I was in hog heaven, glorying in the utter abstruseness of this info. I also learned about a few films I hadn’t seen (or, in the case of TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING, even heard of). And I made some new friends.

Also: a stunning 35mm screening of PETULIA.

My idea of academia before attending the conference.

Sandy Lieberson and David Puttnam were interviewed on Wednesday, and Rita Tushingham on Thursday. So it wasn’t all about the obscure byways of the business. Some of the papers were critical analyses, Charles Drazin using Lindsay Anderson’s relationship with his former headmaster as a lens through which to re-examine IF….’s politics. Others were historical, based on archival digging or interviews. There were a trio of presentations based around the public’s memories of cinema-going at the time, looking at sexual attitudes (and behaviour in the dark of the auditorium), responses to the fantasy of Swinging London, and the difficulties of getting to a screen if you lived in the countryside. There was lots on Ken Loach (KES and POOR COW) but I was even happy to hear about that.

My only criticism would be the lack of analysis of the visual, of the craft of filmmaking. There was some of this, and there were a good number of papers which dealt with areas far removed from the art of framing, cutting, mixing, in which technique wasn’t relevant. But in some of the actual discussion of movies, the “close analysis” was confined to the story and dialogue, with the cinematic approach completely ignored. I suppose it’s inevitable when the people looking at films are word people. Richard Lester got in a gentle crack about academia when he said that he had expected that A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, once it had fulfilled its ephemeral pop-culture purpose in 1964, would only be of interest “in, well, frankly, rooms like this.”

(Of course, my paper was on a screenwriter, so I give myself a free pass on this issue.)

My idea of academia after attending the conference.

I’d go again! My odd situation is that, as a teaching fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m not officially expected to do what they call “research,” although I only just found this out. For years, they’ve been asking me to tell me all about my research activities, and I’ve obliged, but none of my filmmaking or criticism really counts as academic research. Can I even claim expenses for my trip? I don’t know. If I can, I’d go to lots of these things! To me, it was just like a science fiction convention, only without the cosplay, and more fun.

 

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Sidearm snookery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by dcairns

Did a class on editing — with the general purpose of getting students excited about the possibilities. And in the interests of making economical, environmentally-friendly use of my brain, I’ll recycle some of the thoughts here.

THE THIRD MAN offered an opportunity to examine a classic moment — Harry Lime’s first appearance — for defects and merits and weirdnesses — we noted the lack of sync on much of what Joseph Cotten says, including an extreme longshot where his arm movements as he yells to the figure in the doorway are noticeably unrelated to the words he utters. Remarkably, one can spot a sync problem even from a great distance when the lips themselves are not perceptible. A recent screening of THE SMALL BACK ROOM caused me to notice how often this kind of thing crops up in old movies. Even though the films were made for screening ONLY on big cinema screens, they were edited on little moviolas and sync wasn’t always looked after except in close shots. I’m all in favour of bodging things to get the best dramatic effect, but most of the sloppiness here didn’t seem essential to the scene, and would no doubt have been tidied away in a modern film. Unless the film is DIE HARD 4, which has the most appalling shooting and cutting of dialogue I’ve ever seen in a studio release.

But of more interest is what Orson Welles called “hanky panky and sidearm snookery” — magic trickster illusionism and time/space abuse, carried out for clear dramatic effect and narrative clarity. Apart from the fact that THE THIR MAN constructs its own dream Vienna out of ecstatic fragments, folding streets together like the architects of INCEPTION, and retouching geography by transplanting fake statuary to decorate bare foregrounds (a truck full of plaster fountains and cherubs shadowed the unit assiduously), there’s the vigorous bending of the laws of physics in this scene —

Cotten shouts at the figure in the doorway (played by assistant director Guy Hamilton, later of GOLDFINGER fame) —

An awakened neighbour starts yelling. Their window lights up —

And a few frames later, the light hits the face of the figure in the doorway, now revealed to be Orson Welles…

Well, light is quite slow, isn’t it? 299,792,458 m/s. Takes a good while to get from one place to another. If a window lit up, it would take a moment before the rays hit the face of a man standing in the street…

Not really, of course. A forgivable, indeed commendable, distortion of the laws of the universe allows us to clearly recognize both the source of the light and its effect. If we’d missed the few frames before the light struck Orson’s beamish countenance, or the moment where he lit up like a luminous balloon, we’d miss the magic.

Arguably naughtier still is the next trick. Cotten expresses appropriate surprise at his friend’s resurrection, a modest tracking shot enlarges Orson’s smirk, then Cotten starts across the street towards his friend. A vehicle, passing from out of nowhere, interrupts his progress, and by the time he reaches the doorway, which proves to be bricked up, Welles has vanished into the night, satchelfoot reverberations of slapping feet and an elongated shadow pointing to the direction of his flight.

The passing truck is intended to allow time for Welles to make a realistic getaway, and Carol Reed cuts in a deliberately confusing manner to another lopsided angle as it cuts across our path. So we believe that OW had the chance to slip away. But studying the sequence, it’s clear that the doorway where our quarry is lurking is never out of sight, so there is absolutely NO WAY he could slip away without being clocked. A less nervy director might have cut to a close shot favouring Cotten as he reels back from the oncoming truck, allowing a second or so for the doorway to be offscreen, which would make Welles’s getaway accountable. But Reed’s version is preferable, I think, since it TRICKS us into thinking we’ve seen something just about possible, while preserving the FEEL of a ghostly manifestation, incorporating, disincorporating, teleporting. Phantasmal and fantastic.

UK ~

The Third Man [DVD] [1949]

The Third Man (Studio Canal Collection) [Blu-ray] [1949]

In Search of the Third Man

USA ~

The Third Man (StudioCanal Collection) [Blu-ray]

In Search of The Third Man (Limelight)

Things I read off the screen in MONSIEUR RIPOIS

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2010 by dcairns

After a one week hiatus to allow for Cannes film fest activities, The Forgotten is back over at The Daily Notebook. Our subject is MONSIEUR RIPOIS, whose 1950s London setting allowed for plenty of intriguing signage for me to note when I wasn’t staring in disbelief at the beauty of Natasha Parry and Gerard Philipe. One particular image, a TV shop called Drazin’s, caused me to contact author Charles Drazin (In Search of The Third Man) on Facebook to ask if he was by any chance related to the proprietor. He was! The store was run by his grandfather, who ironically didn’t like films at all.

Neat poster! That could almost be Alec Guinness.