Archive for David Lean

Cheating

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2021 by dcairns

BITTER VICTORY, directed by Nicholas Ray, is really outstanding — it must have seemed even more striking in 1957, since it shows one British officer contriving in the death of another. It’s the same year as BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, which attempts to reduce warfare to “Madness!” but it goes much further, in that the real conflict is between two “brother officers” over a woman. In the event, the lush, colourful jungle movie made millions and won Oscars, and the dry, barren desert movie in b&w was mutilated differently for every territory and virtually vanished without trace.

But I want to talk about one cut. Godard, one of the few critics to praise Ray’s film, singled out the brio of the cutting in the early scene where the three principles meet. It’s a fine example of psychological editing, three medium close-ups interwoven in such a way that we think we’re following the words but it’s really thoughts and glances that motivate the changes.

But the sequence (really a couple of sequences) has one strikingly awry cut, when Richard Burton stands to leave. If you note the distance between Ruth Roman and Curd Jurgens, it goes from a cranny to a chasm all at once. It’s also an eyeline cross, since Jurgens and Burton, looking at one another, seem to be somehow looking in the same direction. Maybe that’s what stops Ray from getting away with it.

Because it’s not really a mistake, it’s what we in the business (or with a bare toehold in it, like me) call a cheat. Ray has rearranged the seating to make pleasing compositions. In theory, if the shots are pleasing and our eyes are drawn to the right parts of the frame, the disjuncture is erased and we simply see the drama. Unfortunately, the shots are arranged so that the Roman-Burton eyeline matches, but the cut happens when Burton is looking at Jurgens. So we’re being subliminally nudged to feel that something’s not quite right, and then there’s a strong chance we notice NOTHING IS RIGHT.

It’s a moment of uncertainty/discomfort, is all.

Here’s a whopping cheat from THE LADYKILLERS —

Astonishingly, this one works. Clearly, the gang of men are in two groups of two with a yawning abyss between them, and Guinness is separated in depth, and then suddenly they’re in a single line of four. The only consistent factors are Guinness’ distance from the others and his relationship to the door, and the ordering of the other goons, from left to right in shot one, and right to left in the reverse.

But Guinness in the foreground of shot two completely absorbs the viewer’s attention, and then Katy Johnson walks into what was virtually her POV, and that also distracts us. The two compositions are extremely pleasing and dramatic, the big point being made is that Katy’s position in the centre of frame/the lions’ den makes her seem vulnerable.

Director Alexander Mackendrick hasn’t finished screwing with us. After Guinness crosses frame in the second shot, he gives us a shot-reverse on Johnson and Guinness, decorating the background of each with two gang members apiece. This creates the visual impression that the guys are still standing in a line, but in fact each group must have shuffled several paces in order to appear in each frame, and the gap between them must now be an ocean. But onscreen it seems logical and continuous.

It’s worth remembering that Mackendrick was under the influence of the German expressionists, who would sometimes (according to Edgar Ulmer) build multiple sets for a single scene, each designed to look their best in one camera angle. Mackendrick is doing the same with human bodies, restructuring the whole set-up from shot to shot for optimum effect. Most filmmakers do this to a limited extent, except the multiple camera guys.

I just had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Ray, and we talked about the imperfections in her late husband’s films, and how Truffaut defended them by saying Ray got moments of emotional truth out of seeming chaos that other, more “professional” filmmakers never touched. “Do you know about wabi-sabi?” she asked.

BITTER VICTORY stars Mark Antony; Wernher von Braun; Anne Morton; Fantômas (voice, uncredited); Sir Andrew Ffoulkes; Professor Dippet; Col. Rice, Moon Landing Crew (uncredited); Scaramanga; Hercules; Lucky Dave’s Clumsy Barman. (uncredited); Windy; and Volumnius.

THE LADYKILLERS stars Obi-Wan Kenobi; Mr. Todhunter; Chief Insp. Charles Dreyfus; Inspector Jacques Clouseau; Morgan Femm; PC George Dixon; Miss Pyman; Bildad; Francis Bigger; Hengist Pod; Six-Eyes Wiener; Herod; Miss Evesham; Wally Briggs;

Sub Standard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 21, 2021 by dcairns

ABOVE US THE WAVES ought to be terrifying — I can’t think of anything much more unpleasant than working in a midget submarine. Ralph Thomas, unfortunately, isn’t a great director. He’s what’s usually called “efficient,” meaning lacking in imagination, but he’s not that efficient really at all.

Things are so primitive the men have to get into their diving suits THROUGH THE NECK-HOLE

John Mills is the officer trying to get the go-ahead for the mission, using these untested subs. He impresses admiral James Robertson Justice by proving his subs can sneak through security to plant a dummy mine on Justice’s own ship. But the men involved are taken ill afterwards…

The script, by Robin EYE OF THE DEVIL Estridge, doesn’t make it clear what’s wrong with the men. I’m assuming it’s “the bends” but I don’t see any advantage in muddling this. Anyhow, just after Mills gets this bad news, he gives the men the good news — Justice is impressed and the mission is on.

Incredibly, Thomas doesn’t show the reaction of the sick men. Of course, we don’t know what he was up against — losing the light, maybe. But I’d argue that if he only had time to cover this passage in one way, he’s chosen the wrong angle to focus on, favouring the guy giving out information rather than the guys reacting to it. Of course he had a star to keep happy… but a generally affable one, by all accounts. Mills had been happy for David Lean to play a love scene on his and Brenda de Banzie’s backs in HOBSON’S CHOICE.

Actually, looking at it again, there’s a shot favouring the afflicted men, so it wasn’t a problem of time. It’s been decided that they’re to be unconscious. But I think that’s a mistake. Since the decision has been made to announce that the men are going to be OK in this very scene, rather than get any suspense out of their condition, the emotion should come from them being somewhat conscious and reacting happily to the good news. A scriptwriting issue rather than being Thomas’s fault as director. The script does play as a lot of information being doled out, for much of the runtime. The kind of business where a man with a pointer points at a map or plan and says “…here, here and here.”

AUTW does pick up tremendously towards the climax, though. Faking up the close-quarters stuff inside the subs forces Thomas to get atmospheric, and the tense situations go well with his “efficient” approach.

ABOVE US THE WAVES stars Willie Mossop; James Ignatius Rooney; Donald Nordley; Lord Scrumptious; Martin Teckman; Reldresal; Sorren; Zoltan Karpathy; Richard Wagner; General Gogol; Chairman J. Bruce Ismay; and Heironymous Merkin.

Laughton eats cake

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2021 by dcairns

… while hungover. In HOBSON’S CHOICE.

Even funnier than him smoking his first cigarette in THIS LAND IS MINE. You can see why David Lean liked him — even though the grumpy director — “Actors can be rather a bore” — and the tricky actor would seem like a match made in hell, on paper. Lean even wanted to cast Laughton in the Guinness part in KWAI, imagining that with a bit of a diet Laughton could play a starving POW. Eventually he realised that if Laughton could will himself to look thin for a part, he would have already done so for real life.

Laughton’s drunk scene — chasing reflections of the moon in the puddles of a cobbled street — is rightly celebrated, and hits some moments of weirdness comparable to THE SMALL BACK ROOM’s giant whisky bottle. Especially when Laughton falls down a hatch in the street, an effect achieved with rear projection, I think, and Laughton moving in extreme slomo, with the length of the drop expressionistically exaggerated.

And then there’s the “liver attack” — a would-be comic version of the DTs that Fiona declared to be the most terrifying scene Lean ever filmed. Number one in a crowded field, if you think about it.

I actually put the film on to convince Fiona of John Mills’ brilliance as an actor, a mission which was successful, but here I am talking about Laughton of course because it’s easier to do. Follow-up post?