Archive for Charlotte Gainsbourg

Leading Parts

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2010 by dcairns

Drawing by Roland Topor.

After weeks of time-consuming research into the bins round the back of the leading movie studios, Shadowplay can present this exclusive look into the untold stories behind the body parts of the stars. This mission was inspired by a discussion with Mike McCarthy, filmmaker (CIGARETTE GIRL) and comic book artist, whose strip cartoon heroine Cadavra is assembled from pieces of dead movie stars. “Does she have Jayne Mansfield’s head?” I asked, immediately. “No, she has the Black Dahlia’s head,” answered Mike, looking at me as if I were crazy. I had a melancholy intuition into why Mike isn’t a millionaire. Clearly, Mansfield’s head, subject of an entirely legendary decapitation, makes a better head for Cadavra than the Black Dahlia’s. The BD, AKA Elizabeth Short, wasn’t a famous movie star, having done only one screen test, and she was sawn in half, not decapitated. Mike seemed to me to be messing about with his own premise. Still, it’s his premise.

CIGARETTE GIRL.

Considering body parts of the stars in isolation from the stars themselves is something of an obsession of mine: I’ve previously documented the post-cinematic career of Nicole Kidman’s nose, waxed lyrical on the possibilities of Stefania Sandrelli’s chin, and worried as to the possible whereabouts of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s clitoris.

With all respect to Mike, here is an alternate history of the Hollywood body part, the pitfalls and pleasures, tinsel and truncations of the life of limbs in Silver Screen City.

Laughton and his hump pictured together.

1) Charles Laughton’s hump.

Laughton and his hump formed their profitable double act in 1939 for THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and were a big hit with audiences. The Hump wanted to carry on their partnership into a series of movies — RICHARD III, JEAN DE FLORETTE, but Laughton became jealous of the attention the Hump was receiving and chose to go it alone. The Hump signed a five-year deal with MGM, but his first solo feature, I WANT YOU, BACK, was not a success, and most of his supporting role in ZIEGFELD GIRL ended up on the cutting room floor. The Hump drifted into work as a background artist, appearing as a series of hillocks and tuffets in outdoors movies of the forties, and also picked up a salary doubling for Mickey Rooney, but his days of stardom were behind him.

2) Rod Steiger’s stunt ass.

Rod Steiger’s nude scene in AL CAPONE was eventually deleted from most prints on humanitarian grounds, but the story of its inception is a remarkable one. From the beginning, Steiger and director Richard Wilson were agreed that a stand-in posterior would be needed to give Capone’s character the authority he needed. Supporting player Harley Thomsett was hired, after extensive auditioning, but his casting presented a problem. Blacklisted for his outspoken leftist views, Thomsett could not officially be hired by the studio, so he had to arrange for a friend, Buck Gough, to front for his rear. This meant that although Thomsett was the official body double, Gough was the world’s first and only body triple.

3) Orson Welles’s nose collection.

Welles has always been celebrated for his versatility, a large part of that came from his tendency to appear in a new nose with each appearance. “My own nose is nothing,” Welles would say. Each new snout would be hand-crafted by studio artists to the actor’s exacting specifications, and at the end of filming would go into Welles’ private collection. Each nose therein had its own display case and its own name, although the names did not correspond to the names of the characters the noses were designed for. Sheriff Hank Quinlan’s bloated drunkard’s schnozz, for instance, was named Sandra, for instance. The aquiline hooter worn in his television King Lear, made by cutting the corner from a shoebox,  went by the nickname Sloane Jnr. On social evenings, Welles would perform magic tricks with the noses, making them vanish, or performing a variation on the old shell game, using three noses and a garden pea.

O’Brien exercises his oral skills.

4) Pat O’Brien’s tongue

While cross-eyed Ben Turpin had his trademark strabismus insured against any unforeseen normalizing, and Betty Grable’s legs were insured for a million dollars lest shrinkage or snapping jeopardize her standing as the forces’ sweetheart, less has been written of Pat O’Brien’s tongue. This is no doubt because people don’t like to read about Pat O’Brien’s tongue. Pat O’Brien’s tongue was heavily insured against a variety of complaints including allergic reaction, hypothyroidism, acromegaly, tuberculous infiltration and tertiary syphilis. All these conditions can cause thickening of the tongue, which O’Brien feared would limit his ability to talk very rapidly, a skill to which he attributed, perhaps with some accuracy, his entire success in pictures. Less kind friends suggested that, if O’Brien was worried about his livelihood, he should forget about his stupid tongue and take out life insurance on James Cagney.

A rare image of Beyoncé with her parasitic twin, Bernard (note the face on her torso, also the third arm.

5) Beyoncé Knowles’ parasitic twin.

I have previously discussed the open secret of Beyoncé’s conjoined twin Bernard, a sentient parcel of flesh and tooth positioned to the right of the singing star’s spleen. At last it can be revealed — Bernard is actually the singer. That’s the boy whose voice you heard and loved tonight. He’s the real star of the picture. Bernard Knowles! Beyoncé just lipsynchs and moves her hips in a distracting manner.

6) Angelina Jolie’s high-heeled feet.

Movie fans got to see these medical curiosities just once, in Robert Zemeckis’ experimental exercise in conflicted response and random shouting, BEOWULF. In other movies, Angelina simply blackens the bony extrusions projecting stiletto-like from her feet, and pretends they are shoes. Or she uses a skilled foot double, Harold Chan, famed for his ladylike feet. Or she deploys modern CGI effects to paint out her unusual appendages. Ironically, Zemeckis pioneered digital effects to remove Gary Sinise’s legs in FORREST GUMP — using the same technology subsequently used to remove Sinise from the cinema screen altogether — but opted to go the other way with Jolie’s freakish feet. The lizardlike tail she sports in his three-dimensional flickbook is fake, however — Jolie’s own tail was considered too fluffy and unthreatening for the character.

Note camouflaged background, with Chandler’s tusks painted to blend in.

7) Jeff Chandler’s jaw.

Hunky he-man Chandler carried with him a dark secret — a rare anomaly known as a herniated jawbone, which cause coral-like encrustations of bone to project from either side of his face, like ivory handlebars. The manly star refused to have these tusks sawn off by the studio doctor, saying he found them beneficial to his love life (documents pertaining to this have been sealed for fifty years, so will have to wait for details). The skull-extensions could easily be airbrushed from publicity snaps, but for actual motion pictures, the problem was harder. Chandler suggested that he might stop making films altogether, and maintain his star presence entirely in still photographic form. In 1953, Photoplay magazine gave away Jeff Chandler masks on sticks, which audiences could hold aloft before the movie screen, transforming any character in any film into a Jeff doppelgänger, but the fad was shortlived. Eventually, traveling mattes were used to optically remove the appearance of antlers from Jeff’s jowls, and in shots where the actor appeared against blue sky, his jaw-bones were painted a matching hue to blend in. This explains the preponderance of low angle shots in his movies.

Dentally disturbed.

8) Peter Lorre’s teeth.

The Lorre teeth underwent a startling transformation a few years after the star’s arrival in Hollywood. As long as the German actor confined his appearances to Japanese or otherwise deformed characters, his mouth, an exploding cemetery of enamel fingers, was judged satisfactory. But when leading man roles beckoned, the gnashers needed fixing. After a grueling month-long series of operations, one entire extraneous tooth was removed, whittled down, and transformed into the actor William Lundigan, while the rest were realigned and hewn into humanoid appearance. A strange psychological aftereffect of this reconstruction is worth remarking upon — for years afterwards, Lorre was convinced that he had been fitted with the teeth of Nelson Eddy, and would battle a powerful urge to feast upon human flesh.

That leg.

9) Peter Weller’s leg.

To prepare for his role in ROBOCOP, the notoriously dedicated actor installed parts from a VHS toploader deck into his thigh. With the power cable trailing out amid a slew of gristle and loose skin, Weller would place a water pistol in the tape compartment and practice his quick draw. Sadly, the wound became infected and Weller risked becoming a real-life cyborg with an artificial limb, but he was spared that indignity because none of this happened.

Henry Travers with Jimmy Stewart — note the tell-tale bulge.

10) Henry Travers’ wings.

A heartwarming story to end on. When Frank Capra was casting the role of Clarence, the trainee angel in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, he was naturally intrigued by reports of a winged actor in Tinseltown. Henry Travers was eventually traced via his agent, Irving “Septic” Bazaar, and proved to be ideal for the part. Not only was a he a skilled actor with an air of sweetness and innocent wisdom, he also sprouted two voluminous, white-feathered wings from his shoulder blades. Capra realized he could strap the wings down with bandages, as had been done on WIZARD OF OZ with Judy Garland’s 33″ breasts. And at the end of the film, when Clarence gets his wings, they could be aloud to burst forth and fill the screen with their radiance, an effect not possible for Judy in 1939. Alas, the whiteness of the wings was simply too glaring to be photographed in studio conditions, and Capra reluctantly abandoned the idea. But he always maintained that it was all worth it, since the quest for an actor with feathers had led him to the perfect choice for the role. “Jesus Christ, that fucker could act,” the director reminisced fondly.

Out Where the Buses Don’t Run

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2009 by dcairns

(Please consider this your Intertitle of the Week, since I haven’t seen any silent movies this week, and anyway the film does feature intertitular chapter headings, saying things like CHAOS REIGNS and PAIN. I don’t have frame grabs of them though.)

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Well, I let you down. Enjoying my ass off with Roger Corman’s crimson-soaked social commentary flick BLOODY MAMA, I missed the Anthony Dod Mantle interview conducted by Seamus McGarvey (one master cinematographer interrogated by another) so I’m still none the wiser about the current location of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s prosthetic clitoris. I had dreams of uniting it with Nicole Kidman’s leftover nose from THE HOURS (now in McGarvey’s possession). Eventually, we could have assembled an entire artificial woman (“That should be really interesting!”) We could call her Kate Bosworth.

But I did see Mantle’s latest film as DP, Lars Von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, and took part in the Q&A afterwards.

The movie begins with stars Willem Dafoe and Gainsbourg coupling in the shower, extreme closeups of their body doubles’ genitals interlocking as water droplets fall in mega-slo-mo and Handel plays on the soundtrack. The love scene morphs into suspense as their little son heads for the window, and the whole sequence resembles a TV advertisement crossed with a Brian DePalma set-piece. “Parts of it are extremely beautiful, but it’s beauty on the level of kitsch,” critic Jonathan Romney had told us. Yet I might give Lars the benefit of the doubt here: as we find out later, all is not well in this family, and this is not the story of happy normality shattered by tragedy, it’s more like the tragedy unlocks a pre-existing malaise. So using the imagery of commercials seems like an interesting way to suggest a false surface. The nature of the malaise, unfortunately, remains completely obscure and incoherent.

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As the film goes on, the opening b&w stylisation is replaced by another version of LVT’s dogme-esque “trashed aesthetic,” with harsh cutting and handheld movement, interrupted by more lush and lyrical landscape scenes. Therapist Dafoe tries to cure his wife’s grief, and if you can overlook the banal and idiotic dialogue (I know it’s not Lars’ first language, but he really needs help from a native-speaker) this first half is a reasonably dignified and interesting study of grieving and therapy and love. The fact that Dafoe has completely submerged any grief of his own sews some seeds of anxiety, and certainly at some level the film is an attack on psychotherapy, which is something the neurotic LVT actually knows about.

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Retreating to their cabin in “Eden,” (although dedicated to Tarkovsky, the film might as well own up to the influence of Sam Raimi’s first two EVIL DEADS as well) this modern day Adam and Eve work through the early stages of grief, anger, and pain — and then the movie takes off into horror-trash carnage. Dafoe finds his wife’s psycho-gallery, where she’s stuck dripping images of witchhunts to the wall, and Gainsbourg abruptly gets medieval on his cock, battering that helpless organ until it shoots blood, then drilling a hole in his leg and bolting a large whetstone to it. Poor Willem spends the rest of the movie dragging a Flintstones wheel around on his shin. It’s all very MISERY, with a bit of HOSTEL’s hardcore horror.

The torture porn vibe is augmented when Charlotte snips off her clit in graphic closeup (reviewers always mention the rusty shears, but I didn’t actually spot any rust and I wonder where they’re getting that from). Lars cuts to a startled deer.

Willem makes good his escape, dragging his stone shin, and Charlotte freaks out. “Where are you? You bastard!” she shrieks, about eighteen times. I think I’m the only one who laughed at the deer, but a few of us are laughing now. Charlotte is too posh to swear convincingly, and there’s something absurd about her resenting hubbie for running, or rather crawling, away.

Willem hides in a foxhole where he digs up a crow, of all things, which caws at him, repeatedly (Lars is always big on repetition), threatening to give him away. Willem punches the crow. Several times. It keeps cawing. He keeps punching. It stops cawing. Then it starts again. He punches it some more. This goes on for, I don’t want to exaggerate and I don’t have accurate timings, but I want to say about two minutes.

I think there’s something inherently comic about a man punching an animal. A small animal is arguably funnier than a large one. And I’ve tried, but I can’t think of an actor/animal combination that’s devoid of comic potential. Ed Asner thumping a llama would be amusing. Ashton Kutcher bitch-slapping a gerbil would be hilarious. Sam Neill karate-chopping an anteater would at least raise a smile.

Now I did ask — I did ask — the cinematographer if any of this was meant to be funny. Mantle swears it isn’t. Lars was suffering from depression before and during the shoot — here I sympathise, that illness is a horror — and was not his usual cheeky self. Perhaps that meant he was ill-equipped to judge if something might be a bit ridiculous. Mantle more or less accused me of using humour to disengage from the film, and while I don’t think I did that as a conscious or unconscious tactic, I have seen that happen and I don’t totally discount the possibility.

In EXCALIBUR, director John Boorman seems willfully blind to the fact that Monty Python had only recently done their own version of Arthurian lore, and that his film often resembled the pre-existing spoof. And he doesn’t seem to care that some of his costumes, notably Helen Mirren’s Flash Gordon breast-plate and Nicol Williams’ tinfoil skullcap, have a kitsch quality that invites amusement. There’s actually something commendable about a filmmaker pursuing their own particular brand of beauty and not caring if anybody laughs. It’s courageous.

I do think there may be a point where that becomes folly, and that if we allow humour to have a role in our lives at all, there are some occasions when the only response possible is laughter. If a filmmaker presses those buttons unintentionally, he or she is making a mistake, however brave.

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That’s probably secondary to the major problem, which is the film’s shrill, empty-headed incoherence. There’s some debate about grief, therapy, and misogyny, but none of it goes anywhere. LVT has spoken of using his dreams in the film, and purposely avoiding story logic, plot and resolution, but the trouble is what we have is an unsatisfactory narrative rather than a non-narrative experimental film. Bergman’s PERSONA might hint at what’s being aimed at here, and Altman’s THREE WOMEN similarly took its cue from the director’s dreams, but wisely neither of those films tries to put forward some kind of didactic point, which LVT certainly seems to be trying for here. Long stretches of the film are NOT dreamlike, intense audio-visual experiences. Long stretches are talkie chamber piece in which characters fire ill-thought-out philosophies at each other. If it were a parade of visuals aiming for abstract poetry, the movie might be OK.

The charge of misogyny is being flung about, but one of gynophobia is more germane. Von Trier doesn’t necessarily hate women, but Dod Mantle admits he doesn’t understand them, and probably fears them. “I don’t think women or their sexuality is evil,” says Lars in the press notes, “But it is frightening.” To which I ask, to whom? The answer’s obvious, but the problem is not that Lars is projecting his anxieties outwards upon the world, nature and women, and then making art out of that pathetic fallacy. The problem is that he doesn’t realise that’s what he’s doing, as that sentence makes clear. His anxieties are childish and irrational, which doesn’t automatically make them uninteresting, but he’s holding them aloft as if they were great insights. In other words, he’s a fool.

Antony Dod’s Mantel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 26, 2009 by dcairns

antichrist_willemdafoe_charlottegainsbourg

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (THE HOURS) is interviewing colleague Anthony Dod Mantle tomorrow at Edinburgh Film Festival. I already have a question worked out.

As reported in this very organ, McGarvey has Nicole Kidman’s nose on his mantelpiece. She gave him the prosthetic proboscis at the end of THE HOURS, since the thing was such a nightmare for him to light.

My question, for Mr Mantle: who’s got Charlotte Gainsbourg’s clitoris?

Please don’t tell me it was swept up with the cigarette butts at the end of the day.

Incidentally, I don’t mind if anybody else puts their hand up first and asks this. It just means that when/if they come round to me, I’d say “That was my question too,” which might also raise a chuckle. And we need to laugh, in these troublous times, what with films like ANTICHRIST out there.

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