Archive for Charles G Finney

Page Seventeen III: Beyond Thunderdome

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2022 by dcairns

The exit came up on his right, and for a moment he considered driving right past it, continuing on to Chamberlain or Lewiston, stopping for lunch, and then turning around and going back. But back where? Home? That was a laugh. If there was a home, it had been here. Even if it had only been four years, it was his.

It was about eight o’clock, very dark and very cold. Except for the faint creaking of the cooling engine and the rustle of the breeze in some nearby trees, there wasn’t a sound to be heard. Ahead, the road in the headlights curved away to the right. I got out the map and tried to find out where I was.

A penetrating drizzle had been leaking through the low cloud since I had joined the A3 at Kingston Vale about 6.45 a.m. Window display men were junking polystyrene Xmas trees and ordering gambolling lambs. On their way to work people were sneaking a look at shop windows to see how much their relatives had paid for the presents they had received.

Speaking of getting killed, let me clarify that Pinto wagons were not the models that notoriously burst into flames upon impact, even a low-speed impact. Those were the Pinto sedans. It took nearly thirty people dying in Pinto fires and over one hundred lawsuits before Ford acknowledged the car’s poorly designed fuel tank and rear end. On the rare occasion I took a girl out on a date, I hastened to assure her that my Pinto was “not the exploding kind.” Usually, my date had no clue about the rash of fatal rear-end Pinto collisions, and my reassurance had the opposite effect of casting an anxious pall over the evening.

But I must relate what a wonderful country it was into which we were now arrived. Were we not assured that all the world is the Lord’s, we might be tempted to think such a wild region the kingdom of the Evil One.

Dirty Car Art by Scott Wade

We got off the Alley and took the 858 into downtown Naples and out to the beach, turned right, and drove along hotel row until we came to the Eden Beach. I drove the long curve of sleek asphalt past the portico and on over into their parking area. A man tending the plantings stopped and stared slack-jawed at the Rolls pickup. It has that effect. The conversion was done clumsily during the Great Depression. Four fat women in shorts were on the big putting green, grimly improving their game. Through big-leafed tropic growth I could see the blue slosh of the swimming pool,and I heard somebody bodysmack into it off the rumbling board. I saw a slice of Gulf horizon, complete with schooner. We went up three broad white steps and through a revolving door into the cool shadows of the lobby. A very pretty lady behind the reception desk smiled at us, frowned at her watch, picked up a phone, punched out two numbers, then spoke in a low voice.

‘Please, mister, can you tell us what kind of a snake that is in the wagon? Is it something they caught here in Arizona? We’re just out from the East, you know, and don’t know all the animals here yet.’

Seven paragraphs from seven page seventeens from seven books I apparently own — this time, with a motoring/travelling theme.

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King; The Army of the Shadows by Eric Ambler, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Sinister Spies; Horse Under Water by Len Deighton; But What I Really Want to Do is Direct: Lessons from a Life Behind the Camera by Ken Kwapis; The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter by Ambrose Bierce; Free Fall in Crimson by John D. MacDonald; The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney.

Carnival of Latex

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2012 by dcairns

The red balloon.

7 FACES OF DR. LAO, an uncategorizable western fantasy from George THE TIME MACHINE Pal, achieves some of the grand, poetic, mysterious beauty it aims for, despite inexplicably looking like an episode of Star Trek much of the time — low-horizon prairie cyclorama sets alternating with overfilmed scrubland locales.

(Fellini claimed he felt surprise at seeing the Trevi Fountain still standing after he’d filmed it: like all sets, it should have been torn down after serving its purpose. And the camera is known to steal souls. By that logic, Bronson Canyon ought to have been erased by now, swept away by the camera pans restlessly caressing its boulders.)

I’m inclined to blame the cinematographer, Robert J. Bronner, an experienced MGM pro who did fine work on musicals like IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER and SILK STOCKINGS, but he employs the same bright, colourful look here — everybody else involved seems well aware that this is not, despite advertising to the contrary, a kids’ film*. What it needs are shadows, both to enhance mystery and to hide the cheapness of the sets. Few films would have benefitted more from black & white.

Pan pipes.

Or from Orson Welles behind the camera. George Pal is no Welles, but I don’t want to be harsh about him, because he got this made, and he occasionally pulls out just the right shots — as in the mad spinning of the Pan sequence. Sweaty, gasping Barbara Eden emotes hotly as the camera burls round her, and her POV is an incessant pan, following Pan, whose goat-legged prance is wonderfully antic and teasing but wouldn’t amount to anything were it not for the brazen eroticism of her performance…

I dream of Eden.

Whew. That’s one of the centrepiece good scenes, the others being the incredible, brutal demolition of a fading widow by the fortune-teller Appollonius, and the Giant Serpent’s take-down of bad guy Arthur O’Connell is equally harsh and memorable.

This is the original of what became Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (and then Stephen King’s It) but Charles G. Finney’s book (titled The Circus of Dr Lao) is sharper and weirder, since Lao’s circus is neither straightforwardly benign nor malign, it inhabits a Willie Wonka Wonderland of rather cruel magic working in the service of … what? Humanity? Or Dr Lao’s private amusement? Charles Beaumont, that excellent scribe of Twilight Zones and Corman Poes, softens Lao considerably and gives him a more linear mission statement, but traces of the original remain. In the most intriguing adaptations, not all the nails are knocked flat.

Pal’s performers are rather excellent. Eden does the buttoned-down librarian act rather well, but really throws herself into the unbuttoning. The Pan scene is about eroticism in a way that seems distinctly unusual, not just for a kid’s film, but for any mainstream Hollywood product. Sex is generally part of something else, love interest or plot point, to give it plausible deniability: this is about lust and frustration and how good/bad frustration feels.

THAT’S why I think of  Star Trek — the snowman could be the Salt Vampire’s twin!

Of course, Tony Randall is “the whole show.” With a series of excellent William Tuttle makeups (WT won an Oscar for this before the make-up Oscar actually existed) he plays Lao first as a crudely stereotyped “old Chinaman,” then with a standard American accent, suggesting that Lao is actually taking the mickey out of his listeners’ expectations, then with a series of disparate and mostly quite terrible accents — his Scottish one starts out sort of identifiable, at least, before morphing into (I think) Irish and (I think) Welsh. Rotten accents aside, it’s a terrific perf, or series of perfs: his abominable snowman is just a man in a suit; his Medusa is a memorable drag act, but basically just a single facial expression, Joan Crawford green lips parted in wickedness; but the sombre Apollonius, insinuating serpent (voice-work for a combined glove puppet and stop-motion creation), dithering Merlin and Lao are all exceptional characterisations. And we get a glimpse of the real T.R. too —

Holy crap, just realized that the shallow widow is Lee Patrick, Effie from THE MALTESE FALCON. (Somebody should write a series of detective novels about Effie. Well, they shouldn’t, but I’m surprised they haven’t.) We also get John Qualen, Miser Stevens from THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, doing one of his Yumping Yiminy turns.

Leigh Harline’s Chinese-Western score is very nice, and he finds, at last, a good use for the bagpipe: it makes the perfect sound to simulate the Loch Ness Monster inflating from minnow to plesiosaur — a combination of mass air-pumping, alien drone and screeching horror. Harline also scored Disney’s SNOW WHITE.

Nessie, animated by legend Jim Danforth, is a splendid creature, even if the optical work enabling her to interact with Royal Dano (who’s also in SOMETHING WICKED, oddly) and Tony Randall is distinctly sub-par, resulting not only in shimmering matte lines, but wild fluctuations of colour. Seems like rear projection would have worked better, but I don’t know if this problem was always apparent, or was caused by the film aging. Perhaps somebody out there can tell me? The other animation, on the Great Serpent, is remarkable for how smoothly integrated it is — most of the time, the serpent is a glove puppet, but for particularly tricky bits, like catching a cigar in his mouth, sucking it in and reversing it, he’s stop-motion.

And then there’s THIS psychedelic weird-out —

Young minds were warped… but then, that’s what they’re there for.

***

*It totally enthralled me as a kid, but that was because of its adult feeling, the sense of being let in on secrets normally forbidden to kids. Jan Svankmajer is very much opposed to the whole idea of films for children, feeling that they stifle imagination and infantilise us. His dream of an all-adult cinema is impossible, commercially, of course: the poor parents need something they can safely dump kids in front of without the momentary expectation of screeching trauma at the stuffed rabbit with the real tongue. What I’d settle for is kid-friendly films with adult themes — NOT a few adult in-jokes thrown in to divert the moms and dads, but actual issues dealt with in exactly as subtle and intelligent a way as we’d expect in good mature films. “But the kids won’t understand!” Yet kids cope with reality, on a day to day basis, without understanding that, either.

Let Lao explain it —

“The whole world is a circus if you know how to look at it. The way the sun goes down when you’re tired, comes up when you want to be on the move. That’s real magic. The way a leaf grows. The song of the birds. The way the desert looks at night, with the moon embracing it. Oh, my boy, that’s… that’s circus enough for anyone. Every time you watch a rainbow and feel wonder in your heart. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand. Every time you stop and think, “I’m alive, and being alive is fantastic!” Every time such a thing happens, you’re part of the Circus of Dr. Lao.”

Kid: “I don’t understand.”

Lao: Neither do I. “