Archive for Daisy Kenyon

Bare-ass in the Park

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2015 by dcairns

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I’m slowly polishing off the Otto Preminger filmography. Chris Fujiwara’s career study names SUCH GOOD FRIENDS, scripted by a pseudonymous Elaine May, as the best of the late-period Premingers, and I have to agree. As he says, following a rocky opening, the film “starts to work,” though its tone is so weird it can be hard to be sure at times. If DAISY KENYON is a miraculous film for its era, avoiding telegraphing its views of its characters to a staggering degree — Preminger is often praised for his impartiality — SUCH GOOD FRIENDS takes things to an extreme only possible in the seventies. Tonal markers are absent, so that vicious humour can alternate with sincere emotion, but you’re not even sure the humour is humour, the emotion emotion.

Things sure do start rocky, though. Glenn Kenny pinpointed the most jarring and repulsive moments, which climax with sixty-four-year-old Burgess Meredith’s nude scene. Unlike Glenn, I won’t reproduce a frame-grab of that moment. But this is Fiona’s reaction  ~

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Fiona points out that Meredith was hanging out with John C. Lilly and was kind of a counter-culture guy, so letting it all hang out, or most of it, was probably a political statement for him. But Nobody Wants To See That, Burgess. Not even if you were TWENTY-four.

More damaging, for me, was a throwaway line by Dyan Cannon’s lead character, dealing with an inefficient (black) maid: “Jesus, why did they abolish slavery?” Making the audience despise your main character in the first five minutes of your movie seems unwise, unless there’s a definite strategy at work. Not all of us are as impartial as you, Otto.

Another uncomfortable moment: Cannon narrowly avoids being slammed by a speeding yellow cab, a fate which actually befell the director a few years later, resulting in brain damage similar in effect to Alzheimers. Eerie.

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As ever with Otto, shooting was NOT FUN. Cannon got a bollocking from Otto for laughing during a sad scene — but with an insensitivity not foreign to his nature, he was missing the fact that the laugh was IN CHARACTER. Cannon does hysterical laughter in THE LAST OF SHEILA after narrowly escaping death. As Fiona says, the quirky and unexpected moment is Cannon’s stock-in-trade. It’s what you hire her for. Maybe it’s Otto’s method at work, but her best moments in this one are portrayals of dazed shock and depression.

Lots of funny lines — a foot specialist at Elizabeth Arden’s (Fiona was thrilled to see the inside of the real place) droning on, “The trouble with most women is they don’t realize the foot is part of the body.” A few funny situations and a lot of impressively ghastly ones. “Please don’t let anything sexual happen with James Coco,” prayed Fiona, and right on cue it does, and Preminger, in prolonged takes, milks agonizing suspense from the humiliated fatty’s desperate attempts to conceal his corset from his surprise paramour as she undresses him.

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Is the movie mean? A lot of people seem to think so. I kind of felt it was compassionate on some deep level. All these people are running around being petty and sharp-witted and jagged and unfaithful. The death arrives and blows a hole in this vanity fair and shows what’s important. And then the film ends, because there isn’t really room in these crowded frames for what’s really important. But we get the point.

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Fallen on her feet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2008 by dcairns

Dangerous Curves 

I just read this fine piece on DAISY KENYON by Zach Gallagher Campbell, Dan Sallitt and Damien Bona, and then this nice review by Glenn Erickson, which alleges that Preminger’s 1945 noir FALLEN ANGEL, embodying his long-take, fluid style, has only ten shots in its first fifteen minutes. I was actually surprised, because I know the opening fairly well, I’ve studied it and taught it, but I’ve never counted the shots. It had seemed to me that while Preminger does sometimes go for pretty long takes, what’s most impressive is the way he makes the shots WORK HARD for him, with the camera moving for several different reasons at once. I don’t think the sheer bravado of his his shot duration compares to Ophuls’ monster sequence-shots, but the shots are complex and intricate in other ways. So I was tempted to go back to the scene, not to check the shot-count was correct, because I’m sure it is, but to analyse more closely how and why Preminger moves the camera, something which had distracted me from the actual length of the takes.

I think there are FIVE MAIN REASONS for a director to move the camera in narrative cinema. When I’m working with Scott Ward, a fine cinematographer, we often talk about the camera’s MOTIVATION for moving, in exactly the same way you’d discuss an actor’s motivation for doing something. A director might want to achieve a particular visual effect, but unless a lucid motivation can be devised for the actor or the camera’s action, the result will be phony. So, the FIVE MOTIVATIONS are:

1) Following a moving subject. This seems like the most basic and crude reason of all for camera movement, but it can be tackled in the most subtle and curious ways. It also includes moments where the camera might move COUNTER to the subject, but still in reaction to its movement. When Mifune backs away from his turncoat army in THRONE OF BLOOD, the camera moves FORWARD, following a parallel line but in the opposite direction. A shot that had been looking past Mifune at his men, taking in his POV, is now flipped so that we’re looking AT Mifune from an angle approximating the POV of his men — the camera has changed sides, and now Mifune’s REALLY in trouble.

Miffed

Tosh

2) Giving us the POV of a moving character. Again, this seems simple enough, but it’s the essence of much of Hitchcock’s direction, forcing us into the character’s position (but for another view, see Mr. Sallitt again). Taking this to the kind of extreme that Hitchcock rather disapproved of, we get DePalma’s endless subjective stalkercam shots. I’d love to see BDP confronted with Hitchcock’s pooh-poohing of this kind of technique in the Hitchcock-Truffaut interview book. No doubt he’d have an answer, but I’d like to hear what it is.

Days of CABIRIA

3) Exploring space. Most common in establishing shots, this use of the moving camera allows the audience to explore the scene in three dimensions. As a scene develops, narrative concerns often force this type of action to a halt, so that the audience can focus more on developing plot points. I’ve always had a suspicion that the Italian cinema has more of an investment in this kind of movement than any other, beginning with CABIRIA and the like, where the camera movement was a necessary device to allow the viewer to take in the size of the sets. Griffith adapted this for the tracking elevator shots of INTOLERANCE — crudely put, the shot’s purpose is to show of the scenery, but this has dramatic values too.

4) Telling the story. The camera can become authorial, prowling around IN SEARCH OF CLUES, as in the opening of REAR WINDOW. Hitchcock’s camera here becomes a curious observer, a character in its own right, gliding from object to object, gathering information that helps to bring us up to speed with the in media res narrative.

5) What am I forgetting? There’s always one… ah yes, the psychological tracking shot. A character thinks, and the camera moves towards them (usually), and their thought seems to acquire real importance. An early example of this might be Jannings reading his letter of dismissal in THE LAST LAUGH. The first Hollywood instance I can think of is in HAND ACROSS THE TABLE. Fred MacMurray smokes pensively and broods, and Mitchell Leisen pushes the camera towards him. Nothing is motivating this camera movement save THOUGHT ITSELF.

There are all sorts of other purposes behind camera movement, but I think of these as side-benefits. They may be incredibly important (adding excitement and animation, increasing audience identification) but they are not sufficient in themselves to actually get the camera moving. As Aki Kaurismaki once facetiously said, the camera’s a big heavy thing, and if you’ve been drinking the night before it’s going to take quite a lot of effort to get that thing moving. Also, I think a director who swings the camera about JUST to “create excitement” is likely to be a dumb filmmaker. See Michael Bay.

So, by way of that massive discursion, we return to the opening of FALLEN ANGEL.

The Driver

The Passenger

The Face of Another

SHOT 1. As the titles end, we find ourselves on a bus, looking at the driver’s back. Noticing something behind us, the driver parks the bus and gets up, passing the camera, which pans after him and follows him down the aisle (Motivation 1). The driver and camera both stop standing over Dana Andrews. The driver then shakes Andrews awake and tells him his ticket “ran out at the last stop”, at which point Preminger restarts the camera movement to get closer to Andrews and let us see his face (Motivation 4). This not only “establishes” the protagonist’s face, it also imparts some special significance to him. It’s some kind of a “hero shot”, you could say. Andrews then stands, forcing the camera back Motivation 1 again) and leaves frame, having retrieved his coat and bag from the luggage rack.

The Big Bus

The first cut:

Bus Stop

The big Street

SHOT 2 shows Andrews leaving the bus, and it’s a real beauty. Starting wide and high, we start to close in on Dana, fine fellow that he is, as the bus drives off screen right — that is the sideways bus movement triggers a forwards camera movement, towards Andrews, a weird abstract combination of Motivation 1 and 3 and 4 with maybe even a touch of 5 (I did say Preminger was fluid). Worse yet for my neat distinctions, Andrews, having paused for another heroic photo op, turns and heads off, and now we’re following him in a clear case of Motivation 1, until we reach the town signpost and he pauses to look at it — the camera has now framed Andrews and the sign, in something that could be read as Motivation 2 (POV) at one remove, or Motivation 4 (the authorial move, feeding us geographical info), but which was clearly just Motivation 1 at the time we were actually moving.

Our Town

SHOT 3. Dissolve to a seaside diner.

 On the Beach

Secret beyond the Door

Andrews walks into shot, forcing a pan, and we start tracking after him, nearing the door of the establishment. Opening the door, Dana gives us a nicely framed little scene at the counter, and we pick up a line of dialogue from proprietor Pop (Percy Kilbride). The frame has transformed into a sort of over-the-shoulder view, which is cut off as Andrews carries on inside and closes the door in our face, forcing a cut.

Juke Box

Intervista

SHOT 4. So far the film has been nothing but sequence shots, each scene a single take, but now comes a very complex scene of narrative set-up, character introductions and interaction, so the cutting hots up, understandably. The first shot of the scene shows Andrews finishing the shutting of the door, and follows him to the counter where we get another, closer OTS shot on the discussion between Pop and Charles Bickford’s detective. Here we learn there’s a missing person report being filed.

The Old Man and the Sea

SHOT 5. The first stationary shot of the film — Looking past Bickford and his cop pal at Pop. It establishes Pop’s appearance more clearly, and allows us to momentarily forget Dana, who has been set up as witness to all this but can now by sidelined.

Le Cop

Bruce LaBruce

SHOT 6 is a reverse favouring Bickford, but it swiftly develops beyond that. The cop exits and we pan with him to the door, where we find ugly old Bruce Cabot, seen in passing as Andrews entered, who now walks to the counter, necessitating a pan back the way we came. This is all Motivation 1, but it’s made satisfying and complex by the way we lose one subject and find another in a nicely choreographed fashion. Now we’re back on Bickford, who gets some dialogue that establishes him as something of a blowhard, then Cabot walks off, necessitating a Motivation 1 pan, which discovers Andrews again — the Motivation 1 has served the purpose of an authorial move, only more discretely. Andrews orders coffee.

Still the same damn shot!

And this

(Pause while Cairns goes and makes some too.)

Mmm, coffee.

Now, that shot on Andrews (still the versatile shot 6) becomes an over-the-shoulder when Pop steps in to take his order, which then allows us to cut to –

SHOT 7, a reverse on Pop, over Dana A’s shoulder (note: this is a different set-up to the previous Pop-shot, which was at the other end of the counter). Now we get a hairy moment — as Pop obligingly walks off to fix coffee and a burger for Andrews, his movement is meant to pull the camera off to one side to end up on a shot looking past Andrews at Bickford. I’m not 100% certain if this is Motivation 1 or Motivation 2, as Andrews shifts his attention to Bickford at the same time. It’s a nice move, but the ambiguity isn’t too helpful: maybe it would have been better to let Pop walk off then have Andrews’ shifting in his chair motivate the reframing?

Poppy

Cash on Demand

Jingle! Someone’s at the door.

Enter the Linda

High Heels

SHOT 8 and Holy Wow! It’s Linda “What I got don’t need beads” Darnell. A beautiful entrance, and then we follow her to a seat, the camera pivoting around Andrews’ back to keep her in view as she removes her feet. Linda is the former missing person, now the returning prodigal, with sore feet. Cut to:

Charley

Fists in the Pocket

SHOT 9. Preminger’s desire to make each shot complex and multi-functional becomes almost EXCESSIVE — rather than just have Bickford enter Darnell’s frame, he cuts to a medium-closeup expressive of lust and authority, pulling away from Bickford as he advances right at us, and slipping round the side into a sleazy two-shot. Just as we can’t bear looking at this a second longer, Pop’s voice is heard OS, motivating a cut to —

Coffee and Cigarettes

Three Men and a Little Lady

Good Burger

SHOT 10. Pop practically drops his tray when he sees Linda, ruining a perfectly good medium close shot almost immediately but pulling us into a really useful group shot that situates Andrews as outsider/observer. Linda steals his burger. Preminger reframes slightly after Bickford leaves, almost unnoticed (his sexual menace ignored by the contemptuous L Darnell) and D Andrews swaps seats to get his damn coffee. Then Andrews swivels on his bar-stool to frankly eavesdrop, and Preminger eases in on Linda as she stuffs her face with processed meat (Mmm, processed meat), a camera movement that simulates Andrews’ narrowing focus of attention (Motivation 2 crossed with 5, kind of). When Andrews gets up, the shot pulls back again, a straightforward Motivation 1 reframing. When Linda forces Andrews to break his last banknote paying for the coffee (this is where her unpleasantness of a character assumes strangely ALLURING proportions) the camera pulls back a tiny bit with NO MOTIVATION AT ALL, save a sort of abstract Motivation 1 response to  Pop’s exit, and we don’t seem to mind a bit, discovering only at the end of the move that this pull-back allows Pop to be seen as he works the cash register in the background.

Cafe Metropole

Dana exits.

Appearing in only three shots, Linda Darnell has neatly pocketed the whole movie, which will struggle to stay on its feet when she departs around the two-thirds mark. Meanwhile, Preminger has shown how comfortable he is moving the camera with more than one motivation, frequently creating subtle dramatic emphases while appearing simply to be following characters around…

Oh, I buzzed forward to the ten-minute mark, and I find Mr. Erickson’s shot-count slightly off — there are eighteen shots up to then by my reckoning, not counting the credits sequence which eats up the first of those ten minutes. But the general point is quite correct: Otto milks his shots until they squeak.

Otto parts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 15, 2008 by dcairns

It looks like it’s going to be Otto Preminger Weekend here at Shadowplay. And really, FOR NO REASON.

Freeze!

Having enjoyed DAISY KENYON so much, I’m reminded that I have ANGEL FACE waiting to be watched, which I should really have plunged into right after seeing FALLEN ANGEL a few years back and realising I was an Ottophile. I have numerous late-period Ottos as well, but those that are off-air recordings tend to be cropped to 16X9 and I find that Preminger’s work is damaged by cropping to an extent greater than almost anybody else’s — even Leone’s. So I might not take in much of the late stuff, although I have a decent DVD of BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING, so far my favourite late Preminger (and my favourite Olivier performance by a country mile). The disc does have that inexplicable quirk of presenting the Saul Bass title sequence shrunk down into a tiny box, but I could probably do with seeing that film again so maybe I’ll get around to it.

I’ve recently found FOREVER AMBER and A ROYAL SCANDAL more interesting (at least visually) than their reputations suggest, so should have something to say about those two. And the early curio DANGER: LOVE AT WORK deserves an airing.

A word from the Otteur himself:

Otto is NOT the most interesting interviewee, at least when he’s talking seriously… possibly because the very interesting stylistic stuff in his films is exactly what he doesn’t want to get into discussing, or because, as he suggests, it comes from some part of his brain he doesn’t have conscious access to.