Archive for Chinatown

Squeak

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2017 by dcairns

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CHINATOWN. Jack Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes arrives at a swank mansion.

As he approaches the door, he hears something.

Evidently it’s coming from the limo. It is a squeaking sound.

Jack/Jake approaches the front door and rings the bell. A Chinese butler answers it, takes his card, and shuts the door in his face. While Jack awaits the manservant’s return, his attention is again caught by that damned squeaking. He looks back at the limo.

And now a chauffeur appears from behind the car, wiping it with a piece of chamois leather. Squeak squeak squeak.

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This always gets a great laugh. It intrigues me. I laughed too. But why? There is a mysterious sound. Then we find out the ordinary explanation. And for some reason that’s funny. It also seems apt in this film: there is  mystery, even in an apparently mundane setting. And we learn the solution. A microcosm for the whole film?

ERASERHEAD. Jack Nance as Henry Spencer visits his girlfriend at the parents’ house. For some time the conversation has to compete with an inexplicable squeaking noise.

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Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

Henry eventually looks in the direction of the sound.

On the floor, a bitch is nursing a litter of pups.

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This is also weirdly funny. Lynch being who he is gets more discomfort out of the protracted and surreal noise, and the explanation when it comes still has a slightly icky biological feel: the anxiety of procreation, a major theme of the film. But we should not take any comfort from the fact that Lynch, like Polanski, eventually explains away this mystery. He can’t be relied upon to do so. The gag works better as an example of Henry’s curious and fatal passivity. This totally bizarre noise is whining away, and it takes him like a minute to muster the elementary curiosity to look for the source.

Poor Henry.

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Warren Beatty’s Quest For A Comedy Partner Begins

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2014 by dcairns

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It’s a quest which would culminate in ISHTAR, which I still haven’t seen. I expect to maybe like ISHTAR.

But I did not care for THE FORTUNE, directed by the other half of the Nichols-May team, Mike Nichols, which pairs Beatty with Jack Nicholson. This thirties farce feels like an attempt to do a PAPER MOON, and Beatty’s comic stuffiness seems very Ryan O’Neal. Nicholson is dipping his toe in the waters of overacting for the first time. As is Stockard Channing, and the results are loud, shrill, and protracted. I’m sure there are people for whom the movie is hilarious, but they seem to be in a minority. We spent our time wondering what caused these people to choose to do this film. It’s hard to imagine it being funnier on paper, and in fact the pleasure we got was entirely from John Alonzo’s cinematography and Dick and Anthea Sylbert’s design, both of which recall CHINATOWN. Which is a somewhat better movie.

Screenwriter Carole Eastman was a friend of Jack Nicholson and wrote FIVE EASY PIECES, so I guess that explains him. And I imagine he would have Nichols and Beatty’s phone numbers on his rolodex. And so, a disaster is born. But a handsome one. We particularly enjoyed Warren’s 3D necktie.

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Turning to Biskind for the gossip, as usual, we find a story that Beatty used THE FORTUNE, regarded as a safe investment by its studio, to get the more tricky SHAMPOO made — with ironic results when the former flopped and the latter was a breakout hit. (I don’t really like either, but should give SHAMPOO another chance.) He claims Beatty bought the script for some vast sum, which Beatty denies… and he mentions Nicholson’s friendship with Eastman but doesn’t suggest that may have been a deciding factor in getting the thing made. He also says the script was too long and had no third act (all too apparent in the finished movie) — Nichols, concerned about his budget overages on CATCH 22 and DAY OF THE DOLPHIN took a machete to it and “cut out all the funny stuff” according to Polly Platt, at one point scheduled to design the movie. Doesn’t sound like something the talented Nichols would do, but the movie certainly has very little funny stuff, so if it was present to begin with, somebody must have cut it.

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This shot may explain where Beatty got the idea that he should play DICK TRACY.

Maybe if the film had been made in some other era, the theme of two men plotting to murder an innocent heiress for her money might have been acceptable, if unsympathetic — in the forties or fifties we’d know everything would turn out OK. In the seventies, all bets are off, which is part of what makes that decade’s cinema so exciting, but it means we can’t trust the filmmakers to end this film in a non-misogynistic, socially acceptable way. I mean, we’ve seen MASH and THE GETAWAY and STRAW DOGS and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER at this point so anything is possible. The ending isn’t horrible like that, but it’s certainly peculiar, unresolved and kind of disturbing: a big shrug to rank alongside another seventies take on Old Hollywood, Elia Kazan a,nd Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s THE LAST TYCOON, which solves the source novel’s unfinished structure by just… stopping in mid-air.

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Riding the Rails

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by dcairns

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I was amused by this in-joke in Hal Ashby’s BOUND FOR GLORY. Charles Mulvehill is the film’s associate producer (“An associate producer is anyone who will associate with a producer,” – Billy Wilder) and production manager. The churchman who has acquired his name is explaining to hobo Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) why he isn’t about to corrupt him by giving him a free meal out of charity. It might stave off malnutrition, true, but what would it do to his self-respect.

The horrible, smug priest isn’t the only ersatz Mulvehill. The big detective who pins Jack Nicholson down while Roman Polanski performs impromptu rhinoplasty on him is called Claude Mulvihill. Screenwriter Robert Towne knew CM from their collaboration on THE LAST DETAIL.

One has to wonder what it is about Mr. Mulvehill that inspires such backhanded tributes? I think the jibes are probably intended with affection, and anyhow we can say that CM got his own back for the character assassination by feeding info to Peter Biskind for his big gossip book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (or Hollywood Babylon Revisited, as I call it).

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BOUND FOR GLORY is quite a piece of work — if Biskind’s book had a positive effect, it was in spearheading a reappraisal of Ashby, and yet his biggest production still seems like the most neglected of his seventies films. It has epic cinematography by Haskell Wexler, with special effects by Albert Whitlock: new wave photography yoked to an epic theme, matte painted landscapes and Melinda Dillon all make this a kind of prequel to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

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And that’s a very endearing performance from David Carradine, who otherwise rather wasted his career doing trash — even after KILL BILL he plunged straight back into barrel-scrapers for the remainder of his days. Maybe because Tarantino didn’t actually give him any good writing on that one — his stuff felt lazy, derivative and wanky to me — but part of me suspects that Carradine actually liked doing filler, maybe because the expectations were lower? He’s wonderful here, anyhow.