Archive for Crash

Utopia

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2022 by dcairns

It’s appropriate, I think, that David Cronenberg got Greek money to shoot CRIMES OF THE FUTURE in Greece, because it may be his first utopian science fiction film.

It might not seem that way, but consider: it’s a world where infection and pain have been all but eliminated. Also, people seem to spend all their time making and consuming art. The few people we meet who have vaguely regular jobs seem to be living the dream: the tireless bureaucrats running the National Organ Registry set the place up themselves so they could work there; the sexy grease monkeys from LifeFormWare love their work; the cop has a sense of mission.

“…with all our earthly problems solved and with bigger ones worth the solving,” says Squadron Leader Peter D. Carter in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, and this seems to be the heaven Cronenberg offers us. No mention is made of longevity or immortality, but he might as well have thrown that in too, since his characters are all in a search to give meaning to their lives, now that the usual problems of late capitalism and biology seem to have been removed.

Also, perhaps for budgetary reasons, there are no cars: motorhead Cronenberg might not consider that utopian, but I do.

The film feels quite NAKED LUNCH-y, but I think XISTENZ is the best comparison: there are factions in ideological conflict over questions of authenticity, but instead of Phildickian Big Question #1 (What is reality?) this is more about Phildickian Big Question #2 (What is a human being?). Evolution seems to be getting out of hand… is this a good thing or a bad thing? Though a performance art piece is titled Body is Reality, the film doesn’t play the VIDEODROME/NL game of leading us into hallucination without warning. Or at least I don’t think so.

CRASH is another comparison: again, factions, individuals and couples pursuing some kind of meaning through quite extreme activities

The film looks terrific: Cronenberg’s period films have always benefitted from the added panache imparted by the past. This uncertain future has its own aesthetic: retro tech is in fashion; biomechanical gadgets are everywhere. Rather than the glassy and inhuman Canadian architecture he started out celebrating, here Cronenberg has beautiful crumbling Greek buildings, acid-lit and ominous.

I have quibbles. The internal logic is at times flakey — Viggo Mortensen’s art involves regular surgical interventions, but his body starts out free of scars. This is a distracting puzzle that doesn’t help anything and could, one feels, have been inexpensively dealt with. Is the biomechanical chair supposed to be so shonky? The design is nice, but its awkward lurching doesn’t seem to perform any service for the poor occupants, especially while they’re eating. The motivations of one lot of assassins seemed vague to me, their place in the overall narrative unresolved.

On the other hand, this is perhaps Cronenberg’s most visually beautiful film: his new collaborators, like cinematographer Douglas Koch and costume designer Mayou Trikerioti, seem to tread nimbly in the footsteps of Peter Suschitzky and Denise Cronenberg, and composer Howard Shore and production designer Carol Spier are back to provide direct continuity with the past.

I’m undecided about the ending. It struck me as anticlimactic — we’d been waiting for an IMAGE to top all before it, and Cronenberg instead focuses on performance. It’s a lovely performance, though. A second viewing may clear my doubts away. At any rate, it’s a proper Cronenberg film, arriving when it had looked like we weren’t going to get any more of those. Now do RED CARS.

Auld Acquaintance

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2021 by dcairns

One last jaunt into Echo Lake Park, AKA the violently inclined idiot’s Forest of Arden.

Charlie is married to Phyllis Allen, Keystone’s own Marie-Dressler-Alike. It’s a seaside postcard marriage, the big, domineering woman and the henpecked little man. Phyllis has the sniffles, and Charlie, rather than being sympathetic, is mocking her for our benefit: he does a trombone mime, and pretends to blow his nose on her knitting.

Wikipedia informs us that the character names this time are Mr. and Mrs. Sniffels — possibly a Sydney Chaplin interpolation, as he rewrote the text and recut the action in much of his brother’s Keystone output at a later date.

Meanwhile (there are several meanwhiles in this) MABEL, we are told, ADMIRES HER HUSBAND AMBROSE. An extraordinary statement. Ambrose, of course, is Mack Swain, and there’s admittedly plenty of him to admire. Wires have not become crossed yet, but the mere introduction of wiring to a Keystone short promises that this will happen. 1914 audiences would be chuckling in anticipation.

A motor car enters frame. Mack & Mabel are enchanted by the gasoline-driven chariot. Their faces light up with religious awe. OK, so Chaplin needed to introduce an auto, and had to find a way to make it interesting (ignoring Sidney Pollack’s dictum, for the good reason that it hadn’t yet been formulated — Pollack wouldn’t be born for twenty years yet — “Let the boring crap BE boring crap”) so he has his lovers ooh and ahh at the mundane jalopy as if it were Hitler flying in at the start of TRIUMPH OF THE WILL. Instead, its someone called Joe Bordeaux and his crate promptly breaks down. Ambrose gets distracted trying to help, and Mabel is left alone…

A meting between Charlie and Mabel is now anticipated, but Chaplin pulls a fast one, instead he introduces a whole new character, “Mary, the flirt” per Wikipedia, played by the fetching Cecile Arnold. On seeing her, Charlie/Mr. Sniffels immediately distances himself from his slumbering spouse. Adultery, or anyhow a flirtery, is on the cards.

“It’s the story of a girl who is searching… searching… SEARCHING!” as Jerry Lewis will say in HOLLYWOOD OR BUST. Can Charlie help? HE WOULD BE DELIGHTED!

Scanning the area for whatever MacGuffin Cecile is hunting, Charlie’s eyes alight on her bottom as she bends to examine the lawn. A quick display of beaming innocence is produced when she catches him at it.

Charlie prowls after Cecile, leaving the snoozing Phyllis. It’s a little strange that he’s dressed as a tramp in this one, since his wife is clearly not indigent. Indignant, yes. But Charlie’s costume is now firmly established. It’s taken most of a year.

The plot is now thickened in a startling fashion as Glen Cavender abruptly appears, dragged up as some kind of dagger-wielding Turk in a fez. Cecile is with him, apparently. He stabs Charlie Sniffels in the arse, and that’s that dealt with. Charlie makes his unheard excuses and leaves.

Fleeing the dread Turk, Charlie now discovers Mabel, still waiting alone as Ambrose struggles to crank the stalled automobile, his capacious buttocks thrusting rhythmically upwards in a grotesque parody of the sexual act. Can someone recut Cronenberg’s CRASH, Guy Grand style, so that the characters are watching this on TV?

Chaplin is now composing in depth in a way that greatly enhances the visual interest.

The late John Belushi contrived to meet his wife by hitting her on the arm with an oar. Here, Sniffels, having tidied himself up a bit (a rare moment of near-pathos), thwacks Mabel across the rump with his cane — it’s up to us to decide if it’s deliberate — and then apologises. An introduction is made. Well, it’s one way of doing it.

Picking an imaginary thread from Mabel’s shoulder, Charlie demonstrates how pantomime may be used to further the gentlemanly art of bothering women. And gets a slap in the face. Things are going great.

Charlie inadvertently — it seems — hooks Mabel’s hem and lifts her skirt to expose a shapely ankle. In response to her outrage, he sternly spanks the crook of his cane, a fresh image, startling in its implications.

Mabel is outraged by all this. Charlie keeps trying to get fresh, and gets another slap. His character really is a repulsive little sex pest at this point. Ambrose has given up trying to crank that jalopy and comes to defend his wife’s honour. Except he’s too busy “getting acquainted” with Charlie — a new friend! — to listen to his wife’s complaints. So he leaves them together and returns to his solo cranking activities, a contented cuckold. He gets the car going and is offered a lift, leaving Mabel with the creepy little guy in the derby. This is getting kind of distressing.

Edgar Kennedy gets a laugh! Mabel called “Help!” and Edgar the brushy-moustached kop BOUNDS into shot. Not her shot — he’s just one shot to the right.

It’s funny because it feels like he’s just been waiting, coiled, in an unseen third shot just to the right of the one he springs into.

Then, defying the Kuleshovian imaginary geography that has us expecting him to cross into Mabel’s frame from screen right, he emerges in the background behind Charlie (more depth staging) so we can have British pantomime “He’s behind you!” poignancy/dramatic irony. Chaplin, the master of suspense.

Mabel now relaxes, encourages Charlie to incriminate himself, as Kennedy hovers menacingly behind him with truncheon erect and wagging. Charlie is overjoyed by Mabel’s new smiling responses. His quaint blandishments have borne sexy fruit. They always yield in the end! Very good slow burn response to the truncheon and then its owner. Kennedy is not only a slow-burner himself, but the cause of slow-burning in others.

They’re off! Konstable Kennedy pursues Charlie like an eager dog, lolloping round the bushes… Charlie indulges in some purely-for-fun buttock-piercing with a pin, even though this gains him nothing. But when a foe presents his backside, you have to either boot it or jab it with something sharp. Them’s the rules.

The chase circles dizzyingly around Mabel, with Charlie pausing to raise his derby — he is, after all, a gentleman, albeit a sleazy one —

This plot needs added astringency, so Ambrose dismounts the jalopy a mere shot away from Phyllis, now awake and back to her knitting. He drops his kerchief at her feet, accidentally. But now this is a tricky situation. Phyllis assumes this was a deliberate act, designed to allow him to check out her ankles. Embarrassing. And so much psychology going on in a plain americain wide shot. These wraiths of 106 years ago are still thinking thoughts and beaming them into our eyeballs as if we were all there, in the shade of a Los Angeles recreation area, two pandemics ago.

Ambrose inexplicably exacerbates his blunder by sitting down next to Phyllis, while a random dog photobombs the cast.

Evading the Kop, Charlie backs into the Turk, who then takes a mis-aimed blow to the fez from Kennedy’s truncheon.

All men are sexual nuisances, part 2: Mack is now pinching Phyllis’s cheek and capering on in nonconsensual fashion. The difference between Phyllis and Mabel is that when Phyllis hauls off and slaps you, you stay slapped. Now she’s yelling for a cop and Mack is reduced to a pitiful, whining schoolboy begging her not to get him in trouble.

Eyeline trouble. With all these tangled plot threads, it’s not too surprising when Kennedy exits Mack’s frame screen left and then arrives in Phyllis’s frame left, a feat requiring either a single-frame spin by the character or by the viewer’s brain. Still, Phyllis is able to sic Kennedy on Swain, and now both he and Charlie are fugitives from erotic justice.

Ambrose collides with the Turk, who again receives an accidental thwack from Kennedy. It’s called a night stick because it makes you see stars. Kennedy, realising he’s concussed a Turk by mistake, wallops him again on purpose just for being foreign.

Mabel meets Phyllis, and the #MeToo movement is born.

The Charlie blunders upon the scene and, after some more suspense, is presented to Phyliis’s new bosom buddy. Shock! Charlie goes weak at the knees. Then, luckily for him, some footage goes missing and when we rejoin the scene, Phyllis has been abstracted by Melesian jump-cut. Charlie runs off, and Mabel is alone at last.

Kennedy is still chasing Ambrose and thumping the poor Turk, if that’s what he is. Charlie has rejoined his wife and inexplicably (and disappointingly) escaped dismemberment at her hands. But now Kennedy has located Charlie. More dramatic irony type panto suspense — Chaplin’s favourite device here, along with the in-depth framing he’s discovered.

The runing about is getting repetitive but when Mabel introduces Ambrose to Phyllis, reprising the earlier meet-uncute that got Charlie in hot water, the device works nicely, building on our anticipation. And hopefully there won’t be any lost frames this time so we’ll see what happens. Not than much, actually. And we’re back to running and cowering in bushes. It’s looking like Mabel might go off with the big woman, as she just had in TILLIE’S PUCTURED ROMANCE, for sapphic consolation. Will Charlie and Ambrose do likewise? But first, Kennedy’s kosh at last finds its mark, clobbering each cranium, and the creeps are collared.

But before the can be konfined in klink, their wronged women plead piteously on their behalf. Kennedy is confused by the discovery that the woman molested by masher #1 is married to masher #2 who is married to the woman molested by masher #1. His brain is going in circles. He storms off to beat the shit out of Henry McCoy, who was there at the start as leading man in Chaplin’s MAKING A LIVING and is here again, bothering another lovely in another part of the park. THWACK! Ouch!

Realizing their lucky escape, the foursome congratulate one another (?) and the thing more of less stops. An above-average park romp that does show Chaplin developing some new visual ideas.

All Action

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2020 by dcairns

Ben Wheatley’s FREE FIRE (2016) and Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s LET THE CORPSES TAN (2017) could be lumped together as part of a stillborn European cinema movement — the all-action movie. Critics have often — inaccurately — complained that Hollywood action movies are just continuous violence uninterrupted by plot. They do strive to give that impression, but are more likely to be following the 80s Joel Silver/Simpson & Bruckheimer format of an action sequence every ten minutes, and the cause-and-effect narrative motivation is usually very strong. Part of the reason they often feel so simplistic in story terms is that they have a this-follows-that structure, like a treasure hunt, or a guys-on-a-mission thing, and use the three-act structure religiously.

So the idea of taking literally what critics complain about is kind of an interesting one. What would it feel like if everything was an action set-piece. In theory, very intense, but in theory also, you could still tells a complex story and have interesting characters — because as writer David Gerrold once attested, you CAN and SHOULD use action as a CONTINUATION of plot and character, not as a SUBSTITUTE.

Movies usually managed the PLOT part — I remember being struck by an elaborate chase/battle in the piece of crap AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, which left the characters and situation back where they started, so that the whole thing could have been removed without affecting the story one jot. The feeling was unfamiliar, because even the lamest action movies don’t usually make this elementary blunder. Even if the action sequence consists of Character A trying some stunt to resolve their difficulties, and the stunt doesn’t work, and they end up stuck with the same difficulties, some form of story progress will have been made, even if it’s only the discover of “Well, THAT stunt didn’t work.”

David Cronenberg, asked whether his CRASH was not just a series of sex scenes with no story or character, said he didn’t see why story and character couldn’t be developed by a series of sex scenes. The same should certainly be true of violent scenes.

Where most action movies do go wrong is in character development. Everybody becomes an unstoppable killing machine once the conflict kicks off. There is no plausible reason why Benny, the barroom piano player in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, should turn out to be such a skilled gunman (“able to kill four men with three bullets,” as Alex Cox may have put it — I don’t recall the exact figures) other than that Peckinpah is indulging in self-parody. Making different characters differently effective at violence is an obvious tool that’s underused — generally the leading lady is the only one allowed to be frightened or weak, leading Schwartzenegger to proclaim that women are kind of a drag in action cinema. But check out how ALIENS manages to characterize, at least in comic-book terms, a whole bunch of different characters in what is effectively a single protracted dramatic/action situation. And most of them are military folks, and they’re STILL varied.

So, LET THE CORPSES TAN is the one we watched, part of my exploration of Jean-Patrick Manchette. So far I’ve read one of his novels (Fatale), one set of comic-book adaptations (by Jacques Tardi) and seen two movies, the other being Yves Boisset’s FOLLE A TUER. He’s a writer whose work can best be described as “propulsive” and he seems like a good match for this approach.

The film isn’t actually all shooty-gun stuff, but it manages to feel like a single runaway panic attack of mayhem, hallucinations and virtuoso set-pieces. It would be fair to say it never lets up. Fiona, feeling a bit sleepy, disengaged from the “plot” entirely and just let it flow over her — maybe enjoying it more as a result. I was impressed by the style, then let down by the ending. It might seem axiomatic that if your movie is all climax, when it finally stops it will feel anticlimactic, inconclusive, but I could imagine all sorts of solutions that would have made it more satisfactory, chief among them the classic Hollywood trick of setting up a puzzle piece, letting the audience get distracted into forgetting it, and then paying it off at the end when they’re not expecting it. That doesn’t happen here.

The filmmakers have colossal panache and there are techniques here which border on the unique (every filmmaker should see it), and the whole thing looks terrific. But it seems that even with a book to base it on, they’re not great at story. It’s hard to care about anything in this psychedelic charnel-house. It’s good to see Elina Lowensohn again, and her character’s indifference to the chaos around her is intriguing, but we wait in vain for her attitude to change — since change of attitude is a defining trait of characterisation in stories. (Hollywood, with its redemption narratives, insists of wholesale character reform, but I think the minimum of development we’re entitled to is a change of APPROACH by each character.)

The danger of a movie that’s continuous movement is that it could all become paradoxically static. LET THE CORPSES TAN slams into that obstacle at 100mph, and the fact that the impact doesn’t slow it down is part of the problem.