Archive for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

BANG BANG

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by dcairns

“The filthiest man I ever met!”

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This was my late friend, assistant director Lawrie Knight’s recollection of Ken Hughes, who once sub-let a flat from Lawrie, and had to be turned out after complaints from the landlady about his rowdy and disgusting ways. Infuriatingly, I know no more about this.

Hughes, best remembered as director of children’s perennial CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, began his career with a lot of little thrillers, and as a BANG BANG fan I always wanted to see some of these. Turns out several can be downloaded and there are collectors of obscure UK stuff who have accumulated others. So I got my sweaty mits on CONFESSION and, even more excitingly, THE ATOMIC MAN.

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“This film is f*cked,” protested Fiona, pronouncing the asterisk very distinctly, at first sight of the fuzzy copy of CONFESSION, and refused to watch it. I persevered, partly through an interest in Sydney Chaplin. Son of the rather more famous Charles, Syd always appears as a passionate and interesting witness in documentaries about his dad’s life, so I was intrigued to see if he had the same impact as a screen actor. Not quite, sadly. Maybe he had to grow into his talent, and by the time he had, the heat had gone out of his acting career. As a youngster, Sydney was a strikingly handsome fellow, like a beefier version of Chaplin Snr, but his looks had faded a little by the time he appeared in Hughes 1955 crime thriller, as a crook who tries to kill the priest who heard the confession of a man he killed… it’s complicated, but at any rate he doesn’t have sufficient faith in the sanctity of the confessional.

It’s not a strong film, alas. The climax, with a convincingly gruesome death plummet (you hardly ever see bodies actually hit the ground in these things, which always frustrated me as a bloodthirsty kid, but Hughes plays faitr and includes the final earthly impact) is pretty good, as our baddie is blasted from the belfry by swinging bells — killed by God! And the first killing, set to the screeching of a nearby train, is pretty dynamic and effective. But too much of the film is just our man ambling around, not feeling particularly guilty as far as we can see, and not taking any dramatic action, nefarious of otherwise, to resolve his problems.

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Reviewers liken the movie to Hitchcock’s I CONFESS, and say that the narrative problem is a tricky one — how to spin a compelling drama out of the priest’s conundrum? But Hitchcock makes that problem work just fine (I’m sure it works even better for Catholics) — his real problem is with a priest as hero. No romance, really. No humour, much. Hughes, who scripted his own movie, uses the priest as a minor plot device, and isn’t really exercised by the same issue, but fails to come up with a compelling dramatic problem to replace the priest’s. He doesn’t even seem to have really decided who his main character is. Clearly it ought to be former Hollywood bad boy Sydney, but Hughes seems reluctant to make an out-and-out villain his hero. A shame.

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THE ATOMIC MAN has a lot more momentum and panache and silliness. Set in a Britain bursting with Americans, including a loutish Gene Nelson (“Delaney”) and a peevish Faith Domergue (“Lebowski”), it details the enigma of a man hauled from the Thames with a bullet in his back, whose presence causes photos to fog and who resurrects after pronounced dead. Is it Jesus? No, Jesus was not atomic. This guy is atomic.

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They try to x-ray him, but he ends up x-raying them, or something.

Wait, if he can’t be photographed, how come we can see him in this film?

My enjoyment was marred slightly by this copy being even more f*cked than CONFESSION. It looks like the print, which is scratchy and embossed at several points with a giant apostrophe –

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– has been projected onto choppy water and then video-taped by an ancient camera whose tube has been scorched repeatedly by Arthur C. Clarke’s laser. It’s like watching a movie from inside Fritz Lang’s lung.

Never mind that, is it good?

Better say diverting. But there’s one hugely enjoyable conceit — our atomic fellow has been mentally blasted 7 seconds into the future: though his body remains in the here and now, his mind is there and then, which means he tends to answer questions before they’re asked. This blows rather a big hole in the concept of free will if you ask me, which I notice you’re not. If he answers your question, doesn’t that mean you’re now compelled to ask it?

A similar space-time infarction seems to be taking place when, in the midst of all this sci-fi espionage (fat Brazilian spymaster, plastic surgeon, impostor, project to transmute base metals), Barry and Domergue are interrupted mid-muse by the spectre of Charles Hawtrey, CARRY ON-film regular, giving exactly the same comic performance of dirty-minded gay schoolboy that he would give in countless low comedies for Rank. He bursts through a door and snaps “‘ello ‘ello, what’s going on ‘ere, I wouldn’t be surprised!” and his appearance smacks so much of refugee-from-another-film syndrome that it’s doubly surprising when anyone else actually acknowledges his presence. One had assumed he was the result of a printing error at the lab.

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When the explanation for the time-shift comes along, it’s insanely protracted, hideously convoluted, and utterly nonsensical. Starting from the semi-sensible springboard idea of the character having been clinically dead for 7 seconds, the neuro-psychologist mouthpiece character delivering the expos soon finds himself on very thin ice, and shortly thereafter at the bottom of a wintry pond of pseudo-science and 14-carot baloney. But I found it enjoyable.

Alec C. Snowden, who produced and fronted for Joseph Losey on what I call THE INTIMATE FINGER, produced this one as well. Good!

This has been a Fever Dream Double Feature.

Quote of the Day: Upping the ante-rooms

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2008 by dcairns

Legendary production designer Ken Adam discusses designing the Marquess of Queensbury’s reception room for THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE, after the budget had run out:

“Well, it was hard because a) the money had run out and b) I didn’t have time to do research about what Queensbury’s castle in Scotland looked like. So what I decided to do was a complete stylisation using all the classical elements of the St. James’s Theatre and the Café Royal. The only new design element was a very tall, slender French window with a circular top at the end of the set. Then I used Georgian doors from the St James’s and I painted the whole floor like Siena marble. I had a very good painter and it was beautifully done. Then I had the idea of treating the set in two colours only — terracotta for the walls, and everything else in black — because it was after the funeral. I talked the director, Ken Hughes, into dressing all tyhe actors in black. And the whole set was built in a forced perspective. It was the first time that I got recognition for my work from the critics and others: Luchino Visconti was President of the Moscow Film Festival in 1961 and he gave me first prize for best design.”

a) Adam often seems to have done his best work in desperate circumstances. The strongest, strangest set in DR. NO, the first of the many Bond films he designed, is the bare room with the round skylight — Dr. No’s ante-room. It was built for £450 as an afterthought, and it supplies the just note of stylisation that later Bond films built from.

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b) Ken Hughes is an underrated filmmaker and I must do more about him. I’m hoping the forthcoming BBC series on British B-movies will show some of his cheapies. I find his bloated extravaganzas like CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and CROMWELL rather endearing, but I have a feeling his best work might lie in his low-budget crime thriller output. I haven’t even managed to see the bigger-budget extensions of that, JOE MACBETH and THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE.

c) My friend Lawrie once loaned a flat to Hughes and got complaints from the landlady about some kind of unspeakable parties… Lawrie called Hughes “the dirtiest man i ever met.” All simply too, too intriguing!

d) The quote up top comes from Ken Adam The Art of Production Design by the esteemed Professor Sir Christopher Frayling. I know that’s the correct way to give him his titles, but I have a sneaking preference for “Sir Christopher Professor Frayling” and I have a feeling that if I ever meet the poor man that’s what I’ll call him, whether I intend to our not.

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Ken Adam.

Euphoria #4: When Nature Calls

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2007 by dcairns

While I wait for David Ehrenstein’s euphoric nomination to appear on Youtube, I’m jumping ahead to present my partner Fiona Watson’s feelgood film footage. She considered a variety of candidates, many of which Mr. Ehrenstein would approve of, I’m sure: Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor’s rendition of Moses Supposes from SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN; Anne Miller dancing to Too Darn Hot in KISS ME KATE or Prehistoric Man in ON THE TOWN; the Marx Brothers going to war in DUCK SOUP (the scene that cures Woody Allen of depression in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS). It’s interesting how musical numbers tend to dominate the field of Cinema Euphoria. Maybe that’s why, in these troublous times, the musical is making a comeback, albeit frequently in a half-arsed fashion (Fiona: “Watching MOULIN ROUGE is like having your eyes pinned open, like the Ludovico Treatment, while someone throws glitter in them, for two hours”).

Anyhow, I was carefully monitoring Fiona’s joy-levels as she watched the clips, and the clear winner was this one:

You probably all know it, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless. Bear in mind, this isn’t about the best cinema, merely the most bliss-inducing, and that’s clearly not the same thing — but this is still a magnificent sequence. The animation of the apes is impressive, they have real weight and substance and meat on their bones, and real bones too. Unlike Jessica Rabbit they aren’t unstructured plastic excrescences, and unlike the Little Mermaid their features don’t float, unmoored, on their faces, like flotsam.

Then there’s the song. The Sherman Brothers had a few years of being able to do no wrong, with fantastic work in THE JUNGLE BOOK, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and MARY POPPINS. Go listen if you don’t believe me. “Me Ole Bamboo” from CCBB is the song all of Scotland will be dancing to tonight.

Fiona and I both groove equally to the scat singing and the more coherent, yet still non sequiteur-ish interjections like “Take me home, daddy!” That always cracks me up. And the words “Not yet Balloo!” have an iconic resonance in our household.

What’s also cool is that when Fiona first saw this, as a tiny tot, she didn’t like it, was seriously freaked out by it, in fact. “I don’t like the monkey! Why are his arms so long?” she cried as she was manoevred from the auditorium. It’s one of the nice things about growing up, we can appreciate the appeal of a singing oran-outan without experiencing the primal terror than initially accompanies his every movement.

And if that’s not something to feel euphoric about, I don’t know what is.

(Euphoria #3 should be along sometime early in the new year)