Archive for David Lynch

They are brothers.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2021 by dcairns

Hello everyone. Mrs Shadowplay here, with a review that should have come out four months ago when Edgar Wright’s THE SPARKS BROTHERS was first released in the UK. But then I kept procrastinating, and procrastinating and procrastinating until it was nearly Halloween. Best get on with it then.

Finally, in the year of our lord, 2021, during a heatwave, Sparks receive received their due after 50+ years of producing innovative, unique pop music. And it’s all due to director Edgar Wright’s fanboy enthusiasm. I can only congratulate him on his good taste. Reading this opening, you’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘This is going to be an entirely biased review isn’t it?’ And I can only reply (telepathically) with a whole-hearted, ‘Yes it is.’

Ever since the Mael Brothers caused a playground sensation with their first mind-bending appearance, or should I say ‘manifestation’, on Top Of The Pops in 1974 with the extraordinary This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us, I’ve been transfixed by their art pop antics. They may have reinvented themselves many times over but they are still essentially Sparks; uncompromising and eternal.

Just to prove that Sparks’ music really is imperishable, I showed this legendary televisual incarnation to a friend in his early twenties and his written response was, ‘Oh my, that track ROCKS!’

I think my young friend would have been shocked if I’d then gone on to tell him that they were kept off the No 1 slot by The Rubettes’ Sugar Baby Love. “I wonder where The Rubettes are now?” muses Russell ‘Cutie-Pie’ Mael. Don’t by fooled by their sweetly oddball demenour, these guys have teeth and claws. Ladies and Gentlemen, here are Sparks’ mortal enemy, The Rubettes. It was falsettos at dawn but ultimately history has proved our boys the winners. (Although maybe I woudn’t have minded so much if it was Mud’s Tiger Feet. I will now defenestrate myself out of shame)

So, who are they? “We are brothers,” they helpfully inform us. They say some more stuff but their mystique remains. “What use is a two hour twenty minute documentary on a band that doesn’t completely penetrate their appeal?” I hear you ask (I wish these entirely fictionalised voices asking me questions would leave me alone). Well, that’s kind of the point of Sparks and the reason that they’ve survived the vicissitudes of time.

“How the hell did THAT come out of the cornfields of Kansas?” said someone who’s name I can’t recall at the moment. He was refering to the unique, luminous Louise Brooks.

A random screengrab of Louise Brooks for you all to enjoy.

The same could be said of Sparks. How the hell did Ron and Russell Mael come out of the sand and surf of California? They seem so European in every way. It’s no surprise that’s where their main fan base has been, most significantly, the UK, where they were dubbed “the best British band ever to come out of America.”

What on earth were these, these…THINGS? They were more like cartoon characters than real people. It’s fitting that Wright frequently resorts to animation to tell the unfolding saga of ther lives. They’re also a bit like superheroes. Ron has the power to stare down the barrel of a lense with such focused intensity that he can levitate objects located on the other side of the screen, and Russell has the supernatural facility to mess with the molecular structure of the human body with the spooky range of his voice. In other words, Sparks can make you float in the air while changing you into a werewolf…If that’s your idea of a good time.

The hyperactive visual style of Wright fits them like a glove. In fact I’d go as far as saying that I can’t think of a better director to wrestle them into a documentary format. The film’s been criticised by some for being too long, but how on earth are you going to do a whistle-stop tour of the life and times of the Mael brothers and not have it run at nearly two and half hours? Yes, it does sometimes feel like a ticking-off of each album in their discography. Yes, you do wonder why Mike Myers and Patton Oswalt are talking heads in it just because they’re fans, but these are such minor quibbles they’re barely worth thinking about.

One slower section really made me sit up, take notice, and unexpectedly moved me. Christi Haydon, a talented designer and performer, who had worked with Sparks in the mid 1990s, bursts into tears when talking about their wilderness years after their film project, Mai The Psychic Girl folded. They were suddenly faced with possible extinction. I use the word ‘extinction’ because Sparks really are like a living, breathing, singing being unto death. Haydon’s response seems entirely genuine and it’s a shocking counterpoint to the joyride that’s gone before.

But Sparks are unstoppable. They were back in 1994 with Gratuitous Sax And Senseless Violins. Many people believed them to be a brand new band, and they were placed in the unusual position of being accused of ripping off the very groups they helped inspire in the first place. I’d be looking at The Pet Shop Boys, then swiftly looking away again and going on my merry way. I’d stop and have a long, friendly chat with Erasure because Vince Clarke and Andy Bell are more than happy to acknowledge Sparks’ influence on them.

This video, directed by Sophie Muller, showcases their interest in film (they each took separate film courses at UCLA). Their music often has bombast and cinematic scope.

And they kept on, writing the opera The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman (2009), in which the Swedish auteur is corrupted by Hollywood, based on their own abortive film experience with Mai The Psychic Girl, until chance encounters led to collaborations with Franz Ferdinand in 2015 (collaboration being something which allegedly doesn’t work) —

and Leos Carax in 2021.

ANNETTE is an opera about a deeply flawed, probably insane male stand-up comic and his strange, singing prodigy of a daughter. This time the Maels are on screenwriting duty (shared with Carax). One of my favourite lines, said just before a huge stadium event involving said prodigy, goes, “Nerves are to be expected. She is, of course, a baby.”

This gives me satisfying David Lynch vibes but is also typically Sparksian, with its elements of absurdist humour and revealing psychological insight. In fact there are many commonalities between The Sparks Brothers and Lynch. Both are American Avant-Garde artists whose roots are firmly planted in Europe. Both, despite being passionately non-conformist, have attained popular acclaim.

Another thing in Sparks’ favour is that they knew how to hit back against mediocrity, with cutting wit, at silly, short sighted decisions by programmers and recording companies. Remember how I told you they had teeth and claws, back in the mists of time of this article? Well, here are some examples of Sparks sharpening them:

During the late 80s, Sparks released a single, but the record company wouldn’t shell out for a video to promote it, so when appearing on a breakfast tv show, Sparks leaped into action with their own form of civil disobedience. This involved them fashioning a tv set out of cardboard and putting Russell’s head inside it to sing the song. This is highly reminiscent of Frank Thornton as The BBC in Richard Lester’s bleakly surreal masterpiece, THE BED SITTING ROOM.

Sparks briefly owned The BBC in 1994.

Luckily, they had allies: Jonathan Ross had Sparks on his show to perform Dick Around after the BBC had banned it from radio air play. The letter of complaint they wrote utilising the phrase ‘dick around’ as many times as humanly possible is wickedly clever and funny. Then again, I may have imagined this response. When I went looking for it online I couldn’t find it anywhere. What I DID find were perfectly reasonable grievances about the Beeb Beeb Ceeb’s decision. Has Ron been using his super powers to implant false memories into my brain? *looks around uneasily*

Again in the 80’s, their record company were at a loss as to what to do with them. They suggested they write “music that you can dance to.” This was the result.

I could hug them. I really could. But I’m afraid of Ron’s uncanny brain powers.

What’s been particularly enlightening and pleasing is reading reviews of this documentary by younger people (I’m 55 so shoot me!). The word ‘inspiration’ keeps coming up over and over again. Sparks never gave up. They never compromised. They were always completely themselves. They evolved but still retained their essential ‘Sparksness.’ They’re a perpetual motion machine animated by music and we should all be very, very grateful.

Gentleman (Edgar Wright), and Lady (Nira Parks), I thank you. It’s been a long time coming. I was grinning like an idiot behind my mask the whole time.

…and on the second day…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2020 by dcairns

Started to feel I wasn’t getting the most out of the online Il Cinema Ritrovato. This may in part have been because I wasn’t watching any films. But you see, I have a DVD of THE GRAPES OF WRATH so watching it streaming didn’t make sense to me, even though it’s well overdue a watch. So I’ve been looking at shorts, documentaries, interviews, masterclasses…

By some odd quirk the festival is streaming an interview with Dario Argento and a session on the restoration of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, but not the film itself. For that you have to be in Bologna. The Argento interview was unsatisfactory from almost every point of view — a camera in Bologna filmed an auditorium with a screen on which you could see the Maestro and his interviewer, fuzzily projected, neither one of them being present, while a simultaneous translation talked over both of them. So we couldn’t really see Dario or hear him, and we got the gist of his words but he didn’t seem to have anything exciting to say.

His film, however, is very exciting, even in the unrestored version I have access to. I can’t think why I always assumed it was inferior to THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS and BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, it’s a worthy companion. The plot is completely barmy, full of unexplained lunatic touches, as when a blackmailing housemaid, waiting in a park for her victim, flees into an ever-narrowing cobwebbing passage. I admit I’m not personally familiar with Turin’s parks and recreation areas, but I have a hunch the shaggy DA is stretching verisimilitude here, as on a medieval rack.

We liked the idea of the gay private detective (Jean-Pierre Marielle), but of course he’s played in a wildly stereotypical, swishy way — yet this was still progressive at the time, by the admittedly demented standards of the Italian genre cinema. He’s allowed to make a brief plea for tolerance, to solve the case, and to win pathos. And the killer has a traumatic backstory which imparts a little sympathy, perhaps more than the “hero” gets — the sullen-faced Michael Brandon is quite good, though, managing to maintain a core of credibility in the midst of some of Argento’s more head-scratching dialogue and characterisation.

The main thing, though, is that Argento has an extravagant visual idea to explore in nearly every scene, and they’re mostly cunning rather than just sucky. There’s something wonderfully eerie about the hero’s darkened apartment with the trees outside brightly floodlit and sussurating in a phantasmal fashion. This lad has promise.

*

An interview of the Taviani Bros under a tree did not elevate me, especially when long swathes of it were just the Bros staring blankly into camera as Gideon Bachman attempted to formulate a protrated thought.

My chum Craig McCall delivered a detailed exposition on dye-transfer Technicolor written by Robert Hoffman, which worked better than Dario’s appearance because Craig was actually in the room.

A session on the restoration of A BOUT DE SOUFFLE and THE ELEPHANT MAN offered little for non-pixel-pushers, but it was good to hear that David Lynch insisted on his HDR restoration being performed with a cinema screen as reference.

And then at last there was a PROPER film doc, Cyril Leuthy’s MELVILLE, LE DERNIER SAMOURAI, which weirdly discounts BOB LE FLAMBEUR and LES ENFANTS TERRIBLE entirely and claims LE DOULOS as Melville’s first thriller, but is otherwise rivetting. It gets by with only sparse clips from the films, but just enough, and with a terrific wealth of archive footage of the man himself, and good new interviews with family members, Volker Schloendorff and Taylor Hackford. The stars are curiously absent, but the whole thing has a nice jazzy, nocturnal feel very suited to JPM’s cinema, and among the memories are striking moments — JPM screaming at Lino Ventura, captured on 1/4inch audio tape, and Delon, interviewed shortly after (a) falling out with Melville and (b) Melville’s death, talking about how they need to have a break before working together again. With extraordinary facial expressions, cognitive dissonance pulling the muscles this way and that — he KNOWS the man is dead, but he’s still considering working with him again after a suitable interval…

“You can’t love cinema without being a child,” says one of the assorted Grumbachs. Dario would agree, I think.

FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET stars Dempsey; Margareta Nikolajevna; renowned curator Jacques Saunier; La regina di Napoli; Mme Quentin; Fanny Hill; and Bambino, the left hand of the Devil!

Faerie

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , on August 19, 2020 by dcairns

Fiona hadn’t seen HARVEY since she was a child, when it frightened her. As an adult, she made the perfect viewing companion. “He’s REAL? I’d forgotten he was REAL!”

Stewart and the title character.

It’s a very enjoyable, beautifully cast and very well directed production (Henry Koster always includes space in his compositions for the unseen H), using some of the Broadway actors but not star Frank Fay. Jimmy Stewart is arguably too young but it hardly matters. There’s an interesting and perhaps unanswerable question about how aware Ellwood P. Dowd is about what’s going on around him and how much his answers flummox his interrogators. I think the role COULD be played with Dowd totally UNaware that his responses to questions derail the minds of those around him. Stewart plays it as if some of these lines are deliberate jokes or deflections. Ellwood has chosen to be pleasant rather than smart but maybe he’s still a little smart too?

I don’t much care for remakes but remaking this with David Lynch would make a lot of sense. Stewart felt he was too young and could have done a better job later in life. There are a lot of possible choices in every line, including how drunk Ellwood is — Stewart plays him at the same undefined level of inebriation throughout.

Interesting to ponder what Frank Fay must have been like in the stage version. Fay is a weird, unsettling presence onscreen — maybe partly because of his sexuality — there always seem to be whole herds of elephants in the room, let alone bunnies — also he’s not photogenic, his smile beams unease — you can’t be sure if he’s uneasy or you are — I presume he worked in the role on stage because the audience had the benefit of being further away from him. His timing is excellent and his way of dithering about a line while still, eventually, nailing it, makes for an obvious point of connection with Stewart.

Harvey the Pooka is a creature of Celtic myth and Fay’s name, as well as the creature’s affinity for “crackpots and rumpots” suggests he’d be the right type to meet one.

HARVEY stars ‘Buttons’ a clown; Abby Brewster; Eva Muir; Coach Trout; Prof. Thurgood Elson; Prof. Norman Holsworth; Emory Wages; Ann McKnight; Capt. Cobb: Aramis; Daniel Boone; Mrs Sabatini; Cueball; and Phroso the Clown.