Archive for David Goodis

Page Seventeen III: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2022 by dcairns

The sea lost nothing of the swallowing identity of its great outer mass of waters in the emphatic, individual character of each particular wave. Each wave, as it rolled in upon the high-pebbled beach, was an epitome of the whole body of the sea, and carried with it all the vast mysterious quality of the earth’s ancient antagonist.

“And I’m Newton Channing. Ever hear of Newton Channing? Does the name mean anything?”

“I wish it were so,” said Mr Escot; “but to me the very reverse appears to be the fact. The progress of knowledge is not general: it is confined to a chosen few of every age. How far these are better than their neighbours, we may examine by and bye. The mass of mankind is composed of beasts of burden, mere clods, and tools of their superiors. By enlarging and complicating your machines, you degrade, not exalt, the human animals you employ to direct them. When the boatswain of a seventy-four pipes all hands to the main tack, and flourishes his rope’s end over the shoulders of the poor fellows who are tugging at the ropes, do you perceive so dignified, so gratifying a picture, as Ulysses exhorting his dear friends, his ΕΡΙΗΡΕΣ ’ΕΤΑΙΡΟΙ, to ply their oars with energy? You will say, Ulysses was a fabulous character. But the economy of his vessel is drawn from nature. Every man on board has a character and a will of his own. He talks to them, argues with them, convinces them; and they obey him, because they love him, and know the reason of his orders. Now, as I have said before, all singleness of character is lost. We divide men into herds like cattle: an individual man, if you strip him of all that is extraneous to himself, is the most wretched and contemptible creature on the face of the earth. The sciences advance. True. A few years of study puts a modern mathematician in possession of more than Newton knew, and leaves him at leisure to add new discoveries of his own. Agreed. But does this make him a Newton? Does it put him in possession of that range of intellect, that grasp of mind, from which the discoveries of Newton sprang? It is mental power that I look for: if you can demonstrate the increase of that, I will give up the field. Energy—independence—individuality—disinterested virtue—active benevolence—self-oblivion—universal philanthropy—these are the qualities I desire to find, and of which I contend that every succeeding age produces fewer examples. I repeat it; there is scarcely such a thing to be found as a single individual man; a few classes compose the whole frame of society, and when you know one of a class you know the whole of it. Give me the wild man of the woods; the original, unthinking, unscientific, unlogical savage: in him there is at least some good; but, in a civilised, sophisticated, cold-blooded, mechanical, calculating slave of Mammon and the world, there is none—absolutely none. Sir, if I fall into a river, an unsophisticated man will jump in and bring me out; but a philosopher will look on with the utmost calmness, and consider me in the light of a projectile, and, making a calculation of the degree of force with which I have impinged the surface, the resistance of the fluid, the velocity of the current, and the depth of the water in that particular place, he will ascertain with the greatest nicety in what part of the mud at the bottom I may probably be found, at any given distance of time from the moment of my first immersion.”

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little: but some day the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,
That broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind
Till it is hushed and smooth! O unconfined
Restraint! imprisoned liberty! great key
To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
Fountains grotesque, new trees, bespangled caves,
Echoing grottoes, full of tumbling waves
And moonlight; aye, to all the mazy world
Of silvery enchantment.

He had been working for what seemed to him about a quarter of an hour, when he was informed that New York wanted him on the telephone again. And presently, across three thousand miles of land and water, there floated to his ears the musical voice of a young girl.

On March 7th, 1741, with the holds already stinking of scurvy, Anson sailed the Centurion through the Straits Le Maire, from the Atlantic into the Pacific Ocean. As he rounded the tip of Cape Horn, a storm blew up from the west. It shredded the sails and pitched the ship so violently that the men who lost their holds were dashed to death. The storm abated from time to time only to gather its strength, and punished the Centurion for fifty-eight days without mercy. The winds carried rain, sleet, and snow. And scurvy all the while whittled away at the crew, killing six to ten men every day.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens on vaguely nautical or aquatic themes.

Weymouth Sands by John Cowper Powys; The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis; Headlong Hall by Thomas Love Peacock; The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, from Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos edited by August Derleth;; Endymion by John Keats quoted in The Poetic Mind by Dr. Frederick Clarke Prescott; Big Money by P.G. Wodehouse; Longitude by Dava Sobel.

Asynchronous

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by dcairns

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PICKLED HERRING

I remembered that DARK PASSAGE had a lot of bravura subjective camera stuff at the start, and some unlikely coincidences, but time had erased all other details, so I thought I’d watch it again.

Vince Parry (Humphrey Bogart, a few stand-ins, and a photograph of some other guy) escapes from San Quentin, smuggled in a barrel like the Marx Bros. in MONKEY BUSINESS. When the barrel falls off the wagon, we get the first POV shot, rolling downhill, then an artful POV of the barrel-bottom itself as Parry staggers off. Then we’re into the cool stuff, striking subjective shots as our hero climbs over a fence, thumbs a ride, gets in the car, with cleverly hidden cuts: at one point a pan takes us from a real car on a real road to a studio effects shot (it seems to be a matte rather than the usual process shot — I don’t know why this should be).

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Parry, wanted for murdering Mrs. Parry (he’s innocent, of course) gets plastic surgery which makes him look like Humphrey Bogart — the only time in history anyone has done this. An hour in, Bogie takes the bandages off, so the slower audience members finally realise the reason for all that concealment. Rather than deal with the estrangement of the leading actor being subbed halfway through the film — which is always a problem — Daves has withheld his star from our gaze for most of the movie.

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During the in-between bit, we can see Bogart but he’s swathed in Invisible Man bandages. Oddly, they make him look like Eddie Cantor.

I would like a movie where Humphrey and Eddie play brothers, please.

The reason I forgot most of the movie is that the plot stuff isn’t that interesting, once you get past the weird directorial devices, but you have Bogie & Bacall, and Agnes Moorehead, and a good smarmy turn by ex-Our Gang actor Clifton Young as a gloating blackmailer. Very peculiar to have interest in a film decline when Humphrey Bogart comes in. But he does get to say, to Young, “Tell me, or I’ll shoot it out of you!”

From a novel by eccentric noir/pulp specialist David Goodis, a favourite of the French (SHOOT THE PIANIST, MOON IN THE GUTTER), the film delivers plenty of bizarre stylistic touches, apart from yesterday’s trumpet massacre. Bogie keeps meeting people who randomly want to help him and believe him to be innocent. A friendly cabbie leads him to the rather disreputable-looking plastic surgery who messes his face up. This leads to a groovy ’40s-style expressionistic nightmare sequence ~

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The fascinating thing is the way so many of Daves’ techniques separate Bogart’s face from his body. Or other peoples’ faces from their bodies. The location stuff at the start evidently created sound problems — the camera tends to pan off people before we hear their voices. Of course, the gigantic sound kit of the period couldn’t even fit in a car, so the driving scenes had to be done mute. Bogart has a VO to help us through his POV scenes, but when the actor steps onto the screen for real, wrapped up like the mummy, he is unable to speak because of his operation, and the VO doesn’t come back. Daves even shoots part of a conversation over coffee and candlelight through a window during a rainstorm, so Bacall’s dialogue is unheard.

Maybe because our hero loses his birth-face partway through the story, this separation of face and vocals seems appropriate, somehow meaningful…

An odd thing: with his face and name changed, nobody recognizes Parry, despite his having the most recognizable voice in Hollywood…

Tourneur Classic Movies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2014 by dcairns

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Two Jacques Tourneur movies came out in 1957, both superb, which is remarkable because he’d had quite an up-and-down career, mostly.

NIGHTFALL, from a David Goodis novel, has some classic noir illogicality, adding to its waking nightmare feel. It also has one of the genuinely sweet heroes, played by raspy-voiced tough guy Aldo Ray — Anne Bancroft also plays a nice person, and the tension between their sweet characters and their respective edges (Ray carries an inherent roughness, Bancroft a brittle and bitter flavour) is magnificent.

Fiona suggested that the above ironic foreshadowing would make a nice tie-in with the snowy footprints (with its case full of money, blackly comic psycho duo, and snowy scenery, the film seems an influence on FARGO) and hence with the earthier prints in Tourneur’s other triumph of ’57.

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Unfortunately, the footprints only register in motion — Tourneur’s camera tracks alongside the invisible demon as it advances implacably, leaving smouldering holes in the forest loam, but said holes are too indistinct to get a good image of. I settle for this ~

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I’m tempted to make a fan edit of NIGHT OF THE DEMON with the big demon removed, but of course I have no specific instructions from the director about how to do this. Tourneur said that the black panther that attacks Dana Andrews should have been edited down to flashes — in the finished film, you can clearly see the thing is a product of taxidermy rather than diabolism — and the demon likewise. Effecting such changes would wreak havoc on Muir Matheson’s scarifying score, and would amount to a fair bit of work which I’m not technically qualified to do. But it could be GREAT —

At present, Andrews’ skeptical scientist is a slightly annoying clod, which is often the case with skeptics in films of fantasy (in THEM!, the use of an irritating skeptic was a cunning choice to deliberately make the audience WANT to see this pompous ass proved wrong). This would be less true if it weren’t for the demon showing up, larger than life and grinning like a muppet, in the opening sequence — we know Andrews is wrong from the start. We NEED a little doubt to make the story play properly. The fact that in spite of the producer’s ham-fisted interference, the film is a classic, is testimony to the skills of Tourneur and his team.

When I spoke to star Peggy Cummins last week, she said “It’s an absolute icon, isn’t it? In England and America. I don’t know how it’s regarded in your country, Scotland…” I assured her that it was a Halloween favourite. Seek it out this season!

I’ve been making a video essay about Tourneur. More on this soon.