Archive for Dirty Work

Dirty States

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2020 by dcairns

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In ALTERED STATES, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ken Russell, Dr. Edward Jessup (a name suggesting both Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde) enters a tank of water, doped up on weird Peruvian broth, and emerges as an ape.

In DIRTY WORK, directed by lemme see Lloyd French whoever he might be, Professor Noodle (a name suggesting that which he he is off) fills a tank with weird broth,  possibly Peruvian for all I know, and tries to entice his butler to bathe in them. But before this can happen, Oliver Hardy (for this is a Laurel & Hardy short) falls in and emerges as an ape.

The name of Professor Noodle’s butler is… JESSUP.

The Jessup connection strikes me as significant, given the fact that ALTERED STATES in so many respects is a remake of DIRTY WORK, only with less chimney sweep slapstick. Chayefsky undoubtedly would have seen the L&H film, so he had that in his brain and the whole premise of his script is that nothing is ever lost, all that information is still inside us.

Jessup is frequently pictured STANDING ON THE THRESHOLD.

I’m not aware that Ken Russell was a particular fan of the boys but that’s OK because what’s exciting about the film is what was so displeasing to Chayefsky — Russell’s audio-visual attack comes from a very different direction from Chayefsky’s philosophical science fiction story. Russell’s influences are, in the main, Fritz Lang silents, Busby Berkeley musicals, and bits of Welles and Fellini.

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Here, he’s also merrily sourcing stock footage from Oxford Scientific Films and Fox’s DANTE’S INFERNO and I’m not sure what-all else. Anyone know what the massed ranks of crucifixions are from? I checked SPARTACUS but nope. A shot of twin chargers at a gallop suggested the hallucination from the ’40s JEKYLL where the horses turn into Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, but it’s not from there — but maybe the shot was SUGGESTED by that sequence, whose surrealism and sonic assault do suggest Russell’s visions and John Corrigliano’s brilliant, bruising score.

Intelligent design by Richard MacDonald: the squawk box Jessup communicates through when he’s in the tank is shaped sorta like the tank. And has a funny face!

Fiona: “I would KILL to see this on the big screen!”

Me: “It’s one of the tragedies of this life that if you kill someone, you are in fact LESS likely to get to see ALTERED STATES on the big screen.”

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“I have nothing to say!”

The Sunday Intertitle: Dropping Bricks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 8, 2017 by dcairns

Having posted about Stan Laurel as “Ferdinand Flamingo” last week, it seems only right to mention his star turn as Ferdinand Finkleberry in DO DETECTIVES THINK?, a Laurel & Hardy movie I seem doomed to return to perpetually. Interesting that Ferdie is types as being slightly less awful at detection than his partner, played by Ollie. A dubious ranking.

Interesting also that the name Ferdinand was used twice, as if Stan or the title-writer felt it was specially apposite. In the talkies, of course, and even in many of the silents starting in 1928, Stan goes by his own name, as does Ollie — as the partnership brought out the platonic ideal versions of the actors’ comic personalities, hiding under pseudonyms came to seem like an obstruction. I’m not sure why Ferdinand was ever considered right for Stan, though. To me it suggests flamboyance, which you might get in an early Laurel vehicle if he’s parodying Valentino or someone, but by the time of this film, that wasn’t even a memory.

While I’m counting Ferdinands, indulge me as I count bricks also. Some backstory. L&H were on TV a whole lot when I was a kid. Then they went away — some kind of rights dispute. Some years into this fallow period, a program of shorts was screened at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens. My best friend and I attended this open-air showing on a whim, and sat in light drizzle watching DIRTY WORK and laughing so hard it felt life-endangering. (We had a similar rediscovery when we saw a selection of Looney Tunes at the Filmhouse, presented by Chuck Jones. A transfiguring experience.)

One thing that really killed me was the seemingly endless succession of bricks falling on Ollie’s head — a bit of durational comedy that got funnier the more over-extended it got. So on this latest viewing I decided to count the bricks.

To my amazement, the initial, seemingly eternal cycle of falling masonry comprises only four bricks, bouncing sharply off Ollie’s cranium in as many seconds. And yet, to the unsuspecting and susceptible viewer, this seems to last an unbelievable age, with more and bigger laughs crammed into those moments than you can recall expelling in your previous existence on earth.

After the sequence of four bricks at regular intervals, Ollie believes the assault is over and — extremely foolishly — looks up. And receives a fifth brick in the face. Then he gives Stan a slow-burn look of resentment. He picks up a brick and — a very Ollie gesture — dusts it off, preparatory to raising it in a threatening manner. At which point God punishes him with a sixth brick. When Stan, also foolishly, ventures closer, Ollie gives him a vicious crack on the shin with that brick he was holding, and is punished again with a veritable downpour of brickwork, a whole chimney’s worth, impossible to count.

I’m still astounded, though, that what I remember as about twenty bricks was a mere six. Good work, boys.