Archive for Christopher Lee

We’re gonna need a bigger goat

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2018 by dcairns

A blogathon! How NICE! The main page is here.

Fiona first saw THE DEVIL RIDES OUT — “From the classic novel by Dennis Wheatley — on TV, while high on magic mushrooms, an experience she does not recommend. When the Duc de Richleau commands “Don’t look at his eyes!” she became entranced, hypnotised, staring at the eyes and trying to work out what was so special about them. “He’s right! They’re TERRIBLE!” she concluded, and never took mushrooms again. The other main effect of the shrooms was that nothing about the story seemed comprehensible, which might be a good thing — Dennis Wheatley’s novels are pretty basic and stodgy in terms of story, character, prose and dialogue. A dash of psychoactive substance might be just what they need.

Mind you, Hammer’s other Wheatley adaptation of 1968, THE LOST CONTINENT, based on the novel Uncharted Seas, caused my friend Danny to think he WAS on drugs, even though he wasn’t. It is completely bananas, and Wheatley’s peculiar Sargasso Sea fantasy is adapted by Hammer boss’s son Michael Carreras, who couldn’t write, didn’t know one end of a story from another, had no concept of structure… (I hate producers who give themselves writing gigs nobody else would ever hire them for.)

DEVIL is adapted by Richard Matheson, an altogether more skilled writer — and ACTUAL writer — who had recently been writing Poe films for Corman. Hammer didn’t have a terribly proactive approach to scooping up outside talent — they should have jumped at Barbara Steele, lured over Vincent Price, recruited Michael Reeves, and acquired better writers than Jimmy Sangster. When they did hire J.G. Ballard, they spelled his name wrong. But they did well to pick up Matheson, and the ever-reliable Terence Fisher.

Though maybe a more eccentric director would have worked here, for the film’s slightly psychedelic sequences. Fisher can be rather stolid, prosaic, and so can some of his actors here. In fact, Fisher does marvelous work here with scenes of waiting and suggestion, but is let down badly by the special effects and make-up and, to a lesser extent, the fight arrangements.

BUT — like Fiona, I knew this film from TV and VHS and seeing it again in the right aspect ratio and a sharper image really made it come alive.

Here’s a limerick — I should have saved it for Limerwrecks, where my doggerel usually appears, but I didn’t think of it.

The Devil Rides Out — best beware

He revels without any care

At midnight black masses

He fiddles with lassies

Disheveled and sprouting with hair.

Despite it being 1968, these are the only bare breasts displayed.

Onto the film! Christopher Lee was very keen on this one, and happy to be playing a hero — a sort of Sherlock Holmes of the supernatural, another of Hammer’s rather harsh authority figures — they idea seems to be, we’re supposed to find Van Helsing and De Richleau unsympathetic, cold and scary, but still prefer them to the licentious evil of the netherworld, which can only be safely enjoyed in movies.

In postmodern terms, the film stars Saruman, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Captain Miles Gloriosus and Prime Minister Jim Hacker.

It’s a very linear, this-follows-that kind of narrative — when the characters branch off in separate directions, we typically stay with only one set, eschewing intercutting. Lee’s Richleau meets up with friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene, but dubbed by Patrick Allen) and they set off to investigate why their friend Simon (Patrick Mower) has dropped out of circulation. Stopping by at Simon’s newly-acquired big country house, they find a gathering — supposedly an “astronomical society” — “My God!” exclaims Greene, using Allen’s voice — apparently it’s the presence of black and asian people in their native garb that shocks him so.

Lee quickly deduces that Mower has fallen into the hands of satanists, just as he would in INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED. Mower is a pushover: anything in a ceremonial robe. In this case, the cult leader is one Mocata, played with fruity relish by Charles Gray, aka The Criminologist from ROCKY HORROR. Also drawn into the madness is young Tanith, Nike Arrighi, who seems dubbed but isn’t. Maybe she had to loop her lines to match Greene/Allen’s post-synched dialogue. (Incidentally, I can’t see why Green had to be dubbed: his voice and delivery was fine in other films — he was an opera singer, in fact.)

Later on, Nike Arrighi’s voice will issue from another character’s mouth, making this a film ABOUT dubbing…

What follows is a fairly relentless series of set-pieces: two hypnotisings, some psychic attacks and summonings, a black mass (starring the Goat of Mendes) and assorted conjurations. The simpler these are, the better they tend to work. The black guy who materialises in the middle of a room, staring and grinning, is scary because he doesn’t move (also: don’t look at his eyes) ~

The Angel of Death, however, is pretty disappointing, with his horse with bat-wings pasted on. Fisher tries to make the thing dramatic by having the horse rear up in close-up, and then some idiot looped the film to make the action repeat. Slow-motion and long-shot and losing the stupid wings would have worked a lot better. Just exploit the uncanny/surreal set-up of a horse indoors: you lose that by going in close. A shame, because the whole magic circle bit was atmospheric, with the camera edging round the chalk outline, causing candles to float through frame. And Lee is marvelously authoritative.

Christopher Neame, in charge of the second unit, reports in his memoir that the Angel of Death’s horse’s wings had a tendency to fall off whenever it reared up. I think the Great God (or Devil) of Cinema was trying to tell him something.

But the melodrama of Lee’s exposition and Gray’s bully-boy sneering is so effective that the main objection to the story — that Richleau has an amulet of incantation for every occasion, and so real menace is absent, a lack disguised by Richleau simply not telling us what he’s got planned — doesn’t occur to one, or didn’t occur to me, until after the film is over. At which point it’s too late to jump into the screen and cry, “Hang on! This is a stitch-up!” The magic spell has already been performed. Time and space have been altered.

Lost in time… and lost in space… and meaning…

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Scantily Vlad

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2018 by dcairns

Part Three of my (excited)  commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, a dreamlike incursion into the kaleidoscopic mental tombola of this great filmmaker. With added comments from Fiona the Great and Powerful.

 

Clearly Jonathan Harker should have noticed, if not alone from the hairdo and the strange red robe, that there was something amiss with this guy, that there was something very mysterious in terms of the world he was entering.

Uncle Francis puts his finger on it — one reason Keanu seems dopey in this movie, prompting a lot of audience members to be (naively) surprised that the BILL AND TED star is a really bright guy, is that his Jonathan Harker has to be unbelievable obtuse and unobservant. Of course, all Coppola’s tricks with shadows are fun to do, just as Bela Lugosi walking through a spiderweb is fun, but it destroys our ability to empathise with the supposedly “normal” character.

Martin Scorsese talked about how strong and alarming it was to have Christopher Lee just stride into his closeup and chummily declare, “I am Dracula,” as one might say “Yep, that’s me!” As he put it, “…unlike Bela Lugosi, with whom you knew you were in trouble.” So I think it might be worth sacrificing some of the fun in order to gain some credibility. Despite Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski’s bizarre appearance in the two NOSFERATUs, the use of solid, real locations does add a certain mundanity that’s useful for contrast and also to anchor the phantasy.

I think maybe some of this stuff would work if it was just barely GLIMPSED, so that Harker might be justifiedly saying to himself, “Did I just see that?” and the audience would be chanting “Yes you did!” but at least they’d be able to understand his restrained, uneasy behaviour. And Keanu would have something to play.

he was reputed to be an expert meme

I think Francis means “mime.” But if we just exchanged the meanings of those words we could have some interesting conversations, so maybe he’s right.

Coppola tells us that Eiko Ishioka designed not just the costume but the hair, the whole look. From his making-of diary I recall him wanting minimal sets and to have the costumes really stand in for the sets, but he wasn’t given the freedom to go QUITE that far. Here, he tells her that he fired the first designer.

when you do things like that you’re always on the verge of the ridiculous.

He knows it! Stop mocking him.

Wait! “Reinfeild”? What the hey…?

Ah, that’s my missing Persian print! I can’t find that print. I know I loaned it to the movies to be able to do this scene and of my entire Richard Burton collection of Arabian Nights, that book is missing.

Aw! But I can attest that, while movie companies usually look after props well, unless Kurt Russell is about, it’s when the director brings props in, those are the things that vanish. Still, now we know that Coppola has a vast collection of ancient Persian porn.

While this is being discussed, we meet Sadie Frost via some very non-Victorian dialogue, and then her three suitors, Withnail, the Dread Pirate Roberts, and the Rocketeer.

They were such an enthusiastic young group of people. They all came to Napa I remember for a week or so of rehearsal and I staged also some wacky adventures for them to go on to bond. I remember that the three suitors, I ordered a hot air balloon so that they could go ballooning

In his diary (published in the late-lamented Projections) Coppola complained that there was a lack of commitment from the younger actors, but maybe he didn’t mean these ones. Fiona and I saw Richard E. Grant talk about his film career and he was a bit cheeky about Coppola’s rehearsal techniques. I don’t think he mentioned the balloon, but he said they were all sent to the zoo to study the animals. And I think Sadie Frost did use this a bit for her one good scene here (as a vampire).

Antony Hopkins: “Gary needed help with his character and he wasn’t getting it from the director.”

Oldman to Coppola: “Look, the film’s called DRACULA, isn’t it?”

I’m heartbroken that when they show this movie on TV they cut these sequences out, maybe they’re too weird

Wait, they cut Tom Waits out on TV? Because you can’t show bug-eating estate agents on TV?

Apparently Waits/Renfield/Reinfeild’s weird Freddie Kruger finger-fretwork is “so he won’t hurt himself.”

Here, Coppola makes the mistake of starting a sentence with no conclusion, or point, in mind, and has to speak very slowly, hoping something will come up:

Of course, he is under the care of Richard E. Grant’s character, Dr. Seward, his behaviour is… notably being studied as for… what evidence it can… ultimately then contribute… to the strange things that begin to happen… in London… with the shadow of the oncoming of Count Dracula.

Fiona: “I think you’re being incredibly mean towards a man who’s bipolar.”

And it’s true, we all get lost in our own sentences sometimes. This blog may stand as a record of that.

Reinfeild/Renfield/Waits says that the master is coming to make him immortal, Seward/Grant yells “HOW?” in a very untherapeutic way, and the man who wrote the words “He got twenty years for lovin’ her / From some Oklahoma governor” unceremoniously throws himself on the man who delivered the sentence, in a BBC documentary about The Arabian Nights, “I’m going back in time, to Egypt.” Fiona bursts out laughing. “This is a very funny film.”

This was a live-action effect. Here you see there’s a mirror and you don’t see Dracula reflected in the mirror but you do see his hand, and that was hard to do and I don’t remember how we did it.

Great. Well, Fiona suggests that’s Keanu peeping through a wee window while his stand-in stands in the foreground looking at him.

The photographer of the film was Michael Ballhaus, and he was a fine gentleman, I think during much of the filming he was very confused [laughs] as to what the overall concept of this film was.

No comment.

…all of it is from the Bram Stoker book, and lines, and [laughs] there, the robe goes out the door and the shadow goes after to follow it, I haven’t seen this for a while, but it’s full of, a treasure box of strange effects.

He’s not wrong.

Coppola tells us that you could go two ways with this, theatrical and stylised, or realistic and documentarian, since whatever happens you need to make it different from the various well-known earlier versions. This was possibly the more striking choice on paper, since you could argue that adaptations had been shading towards the more real… but then you have to factor in Frank Langella’s DISCO DRACULA, whose idea of Swooning Romance anticipates some aspects of the Coppola. Given Coppola’s great success in a sort-of realist vein with the GODFATHER films, I just wonder what he could have done with that.

“Monica’s so hot she can make your crucifix melt,” says Fiona, and then, “I had another of my Monica Bellucci dreams.”

Even though, in this case, the girls had all agreed that there would be nudity in their contracts, when they came on stage they were all covered up. And then I would say, “Hey, Roman, tell them to take off their clothes,” and Roman said, “I’m not gonna tell them to take off their clothes.” He said to the assistant director, “Okay, tell them to take off their clothes,” and nobody wanted to tell them to take off their clothes, and that’s usually what it’s like, but I agree that those scenes are not comfortable for anyone, and when I see the DRACULA material of the smoochy scene there with them all kissing and stuff, I was just dying, I was so uncomfortable.

The smoochy scene. I love Uncle Francis.

I remember when we shot this I was careful to do it in a way that exposed the baby to the little bit of handling as possible.

What this would USUALLY mean — and I have no knowledge of this incident or Uncle Francis’s child safety record generally — but what this would usually mean in terms of film shoots is that they just got on with getting their shots until maybe somebody said, “Hey, possibly we should try not to expose the baby to so much handling, you know, just the little bit of handling as possible,” and the director would say “We’re nearly done,” and years later would remember how careful he was. But I’m not saying that’s what happened here.

I always thought I would love to see that baby again, I held her in my hands and thought that, Oh I’d love to see you in future years, it reminds me I should find out who that baby was so I can go bring her a present or something.

Here I am, Uncle Francis! Just cash is fine.

Thing Roddy Said During half of Dracula Prince of Darkness

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona’s brother Roddy is in hospital again. His rare chromosomal disorder, Williams Syndrome, is associated with elastin problems, which can cause difficulties with breathing (intercostal muscles need elastin), heart and bowels, and he’s having trouble with all three, plus he keeps giving himself infections. An inveterate fiddler, he also won’t keep his drip or his breathing tubes in, but another problem is that he’s loving the attention and could easily become completely institutionalised, having enjoyed a fair bit of independence for years. From his point of view, lying in a hospital bed and just being brought everything he needs is a pretty good lifestyle, and you can’t explain to him that it’ll shorten his life, because the cause and effect are too far apart for him to see.

Still, when I visited him in hospital he was in good spirits, if sleepy, watching DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Fiona. He looked very shrunken in the big hospital bed — I guess most people do, they look like newborns, all small and wrinkly. He’s gotten considerable muscle wastage by refusing to get up even to go to the loo or have a shower, even though he’s quite capable. He has his malfunctioning heart set on being bedridden. Everything has shrunk except his ears, which hang gloomily from the sides of his rumpled head like great crenellated pancakes, elephantine, drooping forward under their own weight as if cupped by the hands of gravity. The rest of him is frail and insubstantial. Formerly bulbous, he’s now like a stick figure draped in an outsized balloon skin which someone has half-heartedly attempted to fill with jelly.

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I’d watched this Hammer hokum with Roddy before, but it was interesting to see him engage in an elaborate pretense of having no idea what was going to happen next. I guess we all do this when rewatching a film — somehow we’re wrapped up in the moment-by-moment drama despite knowing what’s coming.

“Where’s he going now?”

At one point Roddy actually placed himself in a character’s shoes to voice his thoughts, as he understood them: “What’s happening to me?” I’d never seen Roddy do that. He’s not what you’d call deeply empathetic. I remember a frustrating conversation during ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, in which Roddy couldn’t understand that a policeman didn’t know that Lon Chaney is the Wolfman. “But Lon Chaney IS the Wolfman!” “Yes, but this guy doesn’t KNOW that.” “I’m SURE Lon Chaney is the Wolfman.” “Yes, he IS, but this guy doesn’t know that.” “I’m SURE he’s the Wolfman.” It’s startling to realize that, while Roddy has the verbal skills of an adult, he has the theory of mind of a two-year-old. He can’t comprehend that other people don’t all know the same information as him. Later he blew up at Fiona for suggesting he shave — “Shave, shave, shave, you’re always on me to shave.” Fiona hadn’t mentioned it before, but someone else had, unbeknownst to her.

“What are you writing, David?” Roddy had noticed me taking notes. “You’re a swine,” said Fiona, slightly aghast at my obvious intention to get a quick blog post out of her possibly expiring brother. “Aye, he is,” said Roddy, happy to agree without knowing why. So I’m a swine.

“Where’s he going now?”

“Uh oh, here he comes!”

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Francis Matthews attempts to ward off Dracula with a sword. “How does Dracula feel about swords?” I ask Roddy, and he mimed the action of a tall vampire snapping a sword in half, seconds before Christopher Lee grabbed the blade and broke it in twain. So, it’s all new to Roddy, unfolding as if for the first time, the question of where people are going an urgent mystery, but at the same time he remembers it all from last time.

Thorley Walters turns up as a Renfield substitute, merrily and madly singing to himself. “Dum diddly dum diddly dum.” Roddy joins in.

“He has been known to erupt,” says kick-ass monk Andrew Keir. “Like you,” says Fiona, to Roddy. “That wasn’t me,” he protests.

We learn that vampires can only enter a building if invited. I ask Roddy what he would say if Dracula appeared at the door.

“I’d say, Come in, Dracula.”

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Barbara Shelley, newly vampirised and looking much better for it, is just about to appear at the window in an echo of Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (and a foreshadowing of Salem’s Lot) when Roddy says, unexpectedly, “Uh-oh. This is the bit I did like. When she comes to the window.” Rare for him to step out of the time frame and admit he knows what’s coming.

And then, minutes later, he had fallen asleep.