Archive for City of Pirates

Across the Third Dimension

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by dcairns

Above — from CITY OF PIRATES — why Raul Ruiz must and should make a 3D movie.

My sole objection to 3D at the moment is that it’s the domain of big blockbusters (including some very good ones, like TOY STORY 3 and CORALINE), predominantly kids’ films, with a few cheapo horrors thrown in. And of course I’ll have no truck with any movie retrofitted for the process. When a smaller film does get made, like Joe Dante’s THE HOLE, the scarcity of screens that can accommodate the third dimension results in a long wait for the movie to appear.

“A waste of a perfectly good dimension” is Roger Ebert’s witty dismissal of the medium, but that doesn’t really make sense: since the fifties, the dimension of depth has been essentially lying fallow, save for the efforts of sculptors and architects. Admit it: your life has become flat, two-dimensional, like a western set in an old movie. Turn you around and we’d see the clapboard backing and wooden props holding you up. Like the denizens of Flatland, you walk only in straight lines, and when you meet somebody coming the other way, you try to climb over them. This is the cause of all the turmoil in the world.


Ruiz, as a native of Chile who’s had to spend decades abroad due to the political ructions in his homeland, is all too aware of this, which must surely be why he’s tried to force a third dimension into his non-stereoscopic productions, poking the audience in the eye by composition alone. Wake up and smell the third dimension! There’s space there for EVERYBODY!


The Dimensional Fallacy

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2009 by dcairns


In this scene, both celebrated and reviled, in FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (Paul Morrissey/Antonio Margheriti), a character falls disemboweled upon a grating and his liver-and-lights spill gaily forth to dangle loosely inches before the audience’s delighted faces.

Which reminds me of a conversation I overheard between Edinburgh Film Festival director Jim Hickey and Martin Scorsese (it was easy to overhear them: they had microphones and I had a ticket) in which Scorsese was talking about the mad number of set-ups he had to shoot in one afternoon for the barroom brawl in MEAN STREETS —

“Which reminds me of Edgar Ulmer, who held the record for that — until that other guy you were telling me about, Raul Ruiz, who did what? Sixty in a day? Yeah, and one of those was from inside somebody’s mouth.* Which reminds me, the best inside-a-mouth shot I saw recently was in JAWS 3, a shark eating its victim filmed from inside the shark’s mouth — in 3D! A new low in taste!”


Which makes me ponder what the wildest abuse of 3D could be? I think the maddest thing I’ve seen that way is in THE MAZE, directed by William Cameron Menzies. Menzies is an odd chap — a genius as a production designer and a producer of some terrific films, but something seems to happen to him when he directs. I mean, I like INVADERS FROM MARS, but it has a curious naivety.

There’s a quote by Cocteau where he speculates that the story of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was probably based on fact, “some deformed figure in a Scottish castle who took a wife…” and Menzies’ THE MAZE almost takes him at his word. A group of characters gather in a Scottish castle, where one member of the McTeam family, Sir Roger, is kept shut upstairs, suffering some terrible affliction. The first nice bit of 3D occurs right at the start when a minor character enters and starts talking to camera, slowly walking closer and closer to us, coming out of the screen, all the while fixing us with a haunted stare… “Get away from me!” I screamed. Well, I didn’t scream. I maybe thought.


At the end, we learn the nature of the unfortunate swain’s problem. You see, the fetus in the womb goes through a process of evolution, passing through all the previous stages of mankind’s development from the lower species (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) — a popular idea in the 50s, though not a particularly true one. Poor Sir Roger’s problem is that he’s suffered a particularly intense form of retardation**, and has become stuck in the amphibian phase of evolution. He is a giant frog (and yet somehow he earned himself a knighthood? Impressive).


So, at the climax of the film, Sir Roger the frog, in despair at his hopeless condition, hurls himself from the highest turret in the castle, falling directly into the lens. Wow.


*Not till years later did I learn that the Ulmer film was THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN (a snooze to sit through compared to its more ambitious sister-film, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER) and the Ruiz was CITY OF PIRATES.

**And here’s why we don’t like the word retarded. Its origin is the discredited belief that people with learning difficulties are “retarded” back to an earlier phase of human evolution, immediately prior to the crowning glory that is the white person. So people with Downs syndrome were theorized to have been retarded at an oriental phase (hence that other archaic and unwelcome expression, “Mongoloid”) and other forms of learning difficulty were associated with other “inferior races.” Here endeth the lesson: don’t let me catch you using that word.