Archive for Donald Sutherland

Battle Dress

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

In my experience, it’s quite hard to watch Nic Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW *without* spotting some new and fascinating detail. Certainly I had noticed that in the openings sequence the little girl is playing with a military doll — it looks like an Action Man but it has one of those drawstrings used for talking dolls, which I’m not sure the Action Man ever had, and bizarrely the male doll has a posh female voice. I’d also noticed that, in a bit of grotesque black humour, the doll says “Fall in” shortly before little Christine fatally does just that, in the pond.

What I’d missed is that Christine has dressed the male figure in an ankle-length dress, made I think of shiny textured plastic. With a sort of brick pattern on it. Maybe because her dad’s an architect. So we can extrapolate a whole backstory — Christine has latched onto her big brother’s toy, and made it her own. For some reason the doll spoke to her, as it were, but needed to be rendered feminine. But it’s not likely that she was able to operate on it and alter its voice-box, replacing it with a female robo-larynx — after all, her approximation of a dress is pretty crude. But maybe the voice is heard by us as female because that’s how she imagines it?

There is odd, undeclared subjective stuff going on in this sequence — Christine’s father, John (Donald Sutherland) gets a paranormal vision of Christine drowning before he can rationally be aware of it, a point most viewers (well, me, anyway) miss on first viewing. It also just occurred to me that it’s rather cruel that his second sight doesn’t give him the tip-off in time for him to do anything about it.

But no — I’m wrong again. The first reaction shot from Sutherland, indicating that something — we know not what, asides from his hair, but it’s a presentiment — is going on in his long, permed head, occurs well ahead of the accident. If Baxter had been able to act upon his impulse, to acknowledge the possibility of his psychic foresight, the tragedy might have been averted, just as it might have been at the end of the film.

Incidentally, Julie Christie is smiling at the movie’s conclusion. She asked Roeg, sensibly enough, why Laura Baxter would be smiling at her husband’s funeral. “Because it’ll be too sad, otherwise,” Roeg told her. Which is a silly version of the real answer, which is that Laura has faith, and so neither Christine nor John is really dead.

(It’s a very good film about the painful gulf existing between those who have faith and those who don’t, and it ultimately seems to take the side of the former group — well, maybe not “take the side” — but the movie seems to think they’re correct — and I wouldn’t agree with that, myself — but the movie has compassion for both types of person, which is nice.)

Fellini Vs. Casanova

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2020 by dcairns

Thrilled to publish David Ehrenstein’s appreciation of FELLINI CASANOVA. I should note that I don’t yet have the Blu-ray, so my frame-grabs from the “Hollywood Classics” DVD are a touch hideous.

FELLINI CASANOVA

By David Ehrenstein

Across the course of his peerless career Federico Fellini has produced films both sweet and sour. The “Felliniesque” is cinema at its most bizarre and most moving — often simultaneously as in his primary masterpieces 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. But sometimes they’re strikingly separate entities. Consider Fellini Casanova — just released as a beautifully produced Kino Lorber blu-ray, replete with a highly informative commentary track by critic Nick Pinkerton.

        Coming right on the heels of Amarcord — arguably the warmest and most convivial of all his works, this meditation on  the life and character of a man whose very name is synoymous with seduction is as cold as the ice featured in its finale. There the anti-hero is seen waltzing on ice skates on a frozen lake with the love of his life — not a woman but a meticulously crafted automaton. Beneath the smooth enamel mask of a face is an actual actress, Leda Lojodice, who goes through her paces so perfectly it’s barely possible to regard her as “real.” This matches Casanova himself as embodied by Donald Sutherland in a performance which, while expert, is a world away from the romantic anti-heroes so memorably embodied by Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s most famous films. Even Terence Stamp in the maestro’s other English-language work Toby Dammit (1968) is more simpatico.

        Outfitted with a prosthetic nose and chin Sutherland is the image of Giacomo Casanova. And Fellini Casanova is nothing but image, rather than individual. The project came to him as a “film de commande” of sorts in the Dino Di Laurentiis, the original producer (he left the project before pre-production got underway and was replaced by Alberto Grimaldi) thought a Fellini film about Casanova would fit perfectly into the then-current trend of sexually semi-explicit “art films” made by such greats as Nagisa Oshima and Pier Paolo Pasolini. But while Fellini’ films have been filled with beautiful women for Marcello to make love to (Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Barbara Steele and Nico to name just a few) he wasn’t playing the lead here. Sutherland operates from an emotional remove as Casanova — and so does Fellini.

        As Pinkerton explicats as he got into the project Fellini discovered that the “great lover” was someone he didn’t really like. While the youthful anti-heroes of Fellini Satyricon (1970) romped with all and sundry with great elan, Sutherland’s Casanova copulates as if he were drilling into concrete to lay a new pipe for Con Edison. While Margaret Clementi, Tina Aumont and Olympia Carlisi are more than lovely Fellini seems as  removed from them as his anti-hero. Perhaps this proceeds from the problems the film faced when a great number of reels were stolen from the lab during production and had to be reshot. The thieves were fascist thugs looking for Pasolini’s Salo, then in production as well. They thought it was going to expose their current activities. Instead it was a flashback to the Mussolini period. Fellini portrayed that time as curiously convivial in Amarcord. Perhaps Fellini Casanova would have had a lighter tone had this theft not taken place, necessitating his cancelling of a sequence that would have featured Barbara Steele. But what we have is far from cinematically unsatisfying. It’s a  full frontal attack on machismo and male vanity in every form. Fellini may not be able to feel for Casanova as a man but he does feel for the spectators, male and female, who long for this mythical figure of romance as a kind of “role model” however imperfect.

After this Fellini’s City of Women reunites him with Mastroianni and takes up the subject of feminism — a movement Fellini freely admits he cannot comprehend. He loved women and celebrated them throughout his career, but his love isn’t always reciprocal. And in this Fellini may have been closer to Casanova than he suspected. The films that follow, And the Ship Sails On, Ginger and Fred and Intervista are exercises in nostalgia and his last the sadly neglected The Voice of the Moon an exploration of the fantasy life of a”village idiot’ with a perfectly cst Roberto Benigni. It’s quite warm. But those of us who love Fellini may well prefer Casanova’s frozen cold “Replicant” pas de deux.

The Clumsy Waiter

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2020 by dcairns

In canceled John Landis’ KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE Donald Sutherland has a surprising cameo — Landis evidently cultivated the star assiduously while assisting on KELLY’S HEROES (and got him again for ANIMAL HOUSE) — as “the clumsy waiter,” a bit that involves cutting to him falling down a lot in waiter garb, as part of a mock trailer for a disaster movie starring George Lazenby… these few moments of crude slapstick may hint at something deeper which would, if viewed from the right angle, unlock the mysteries of cinema.

Sutherland was fresh from Fellini’s CASANOVA and Bertolucci’s 1900. In Mark Cousins’ Scene By Scene interview — I think the best in that series — he tells an amazing story about the latter. In 1900 he plays a fascist who’s literally called Attila and who shows you how bad he is by murdering a cat with his head.

The story’s at about 22:42. The reason this is the best episode is that it’s the only time the central conceit of showing scenes to filmmakers actually results in staggeringly interesting reaction shots. Some of Donald’s expressions in this interview count as among the best of his career.

Bertolucci set the scene, explaining that he would tie a (real) cat to a post, then charge a cunningly substituted fake one headfirst, crushing a bag of blood concealed within. Donald wasn’t exactly keen on smashing into a wooden post with his head, which he needs for acting with, but agreed to do it ONCE.

THUD.

The bag of blood failed to burst. “The actor didn’t hit the cat correctly,” was what Sutherland recalled them saying. OK, one more time.

Some FX genius got the idea of placing two thumbtacks against the baggie, so that it would be pierced by any solid impact.

THUD. SPLASH.

“There. OK?” “No. Not okay.” He has two thumbtacks sticking out of his forehead. He also has concussion.

So he does twenty takes or something crazy until Bertolucci is satisfied. That evening in the bar he’s trying to explain to Gerard Depardieu what he had to do that day and he decides to SHOW them what he had to do. He charges a pillar, trips, crashes into what turns out to be a mirror, and ends up with half his ear hanging off.

The point of this story, besides the striking nature of the events themselves, would seem to be the plight of the actor, but Sutherland plants a seed of doubt in our minds about his physical prowess, and one maybe wonders if the KENTUCKY FRIED skit was inspired by a certain gaucheness in his movements?

Moving on.

Next story comes from John Baxter’s Fellini biography, not his best work, but he describes Sutherland wrapping on his last day on the project. They’re filming in a field. As he’s walking away, wearing a blanket or cloak or something, he does a big wave at Fellini, using the robe for a flourish. It catches the wind, and he’s pulled off-balance and falls in the mud.

He gets up, makes the gesture again, and falls in the mud again.

Moving on again.

This is from Philip Kaufman’s audio commentary on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Kaufman is filming the climax in a big greenhouse with Sutherland way up in the roof beams, clambering about.

A friend drops in. “Is that Donald Sutherland way up there?”

Kaufman confirms that it is.

“What the hell? Don’t you know he’s the clumsiest man alive?

I love Donald Sutherland and I will gladly accept any stories you have about Donald Sutherland falling over.