Archive for Donald Sutherland

One and a Half

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2018 by dcairns

Paul Mazursky could never figure out why his second feature as director, ALEX IN WONDERLAND, was so unpopular. True, it has good things in it. But it has no reason to exist. There’s a kind of hubris to Mazursky, an erratic minor talent (not a knock: I LOVE erratic minor talents, we need more of them), in essentially remaking Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF from the viewpoint of a Hollywood filmmaker with one hit under his belt. Just as he’d later remake JULES ET JIM as WILLIE AND PHIL and BOUDOU SAVED FROM DROWNING as DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS. And isn’t HARRY AND TONTO kind of a spin on UMBERTO D?

AIW seems to be composed almost entirely of gratuitous non-scenes, people hanging out and not progressing anything. Whereas OTTO E MEZZO has this looming set and this looming start date, the urgent knowledge that Guido MUST make a film, even if the film has deserted him. In ALEX, Donald Sutherland wanders about being weirdly surly and doesn’t agree to make anything. Mazursky himself plays a scene which lets us look inside MGM circa 1969/70, which is fascinating to me, but the scene itself has no real dramatic motor or satiric bite. Time and again he surrounds Sutherland with grotesques and weirdos and Sutherland still comes out of the scene seeming like HE’S the one being satirised. It’s strange, whenever I’ve seen Sutherland as a hippy, he’s been the most passive-aggressive and obnoxious guy onscreen. And yet Mazursky loved him. Was it mutual?

Fellini turns up — the result of the most assiduous wooing by Mazursky. He wanted the maestro in his film just to prove that he wasn’t ACCIDENTALLY remaking 8 1/2. And that is literally all the scene does.

Ellen Burstyn plays the director’s wife and reportedly modelled her perf on Betsy Mazursky. Which is worrying, because the marital conversations are all fraught, with Sutherland snippy and Burstyn frowning, confused and browbeaten. And yet Mazursky managed to stay married to the same woman from his early days of obscurity, past his huge first hit, and beyond this, his huge first flop, and on to eventual death decades later. That has to be a successful marriage, and by Hollywood standards a wondrous one. If you die married, it was a success, right?

Mazursky set out to shoot dream sequences as pastiches of other directors’ work, but they all seem like Fellini to me. One, with Jeanne Moreau and a fairy coach, might be Jacques Demy, but confusingly she’s singing tunes from JULES ET JIM.

I have a photo of myself with Jeanne Moreau and it’s a lot like this: she doesn’t look as good as you’d like, and I look really fatuously pleased with myself.

The big Vietnam fantasy is pretty impressive, and could have made a simple point well: by restaging Nam on Hollywood Boulevard, the film could be asking “How would YOU like it?” But Mazursky throws in Sutherland grieving his murdered (in fantasy only) family — a rehearsal for his DON’T LOOK NOW angst-face — men in tuxes dancing on burning cars, some random guy seemingly raping some woman — the camera crane with a Sutherland doppelgänger directing the whole thing — pedestrians going past as if nothing were happening — a gaggle of Hare Krishnas — and Hooray for Hollywood on the soundtrack, and then Jeanne Moreau passes through, still singing…

Mazursky has made the small blunder of thinking her can do what Fellini does (even CANDY has a passable Fellini pastiche) but the far greater mistake of thinking he understands HOW and WHY Fellini does what he does. Which nobody understands.

Still — we get some nice images…

      

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: Wirework

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2018 by dcairns

1910’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (Otis Turner) is a very sound example of those earlies that almost seem to be built around their intertitles. The system is simple: reduce a famous book everyone sort-of knows to about eight sentences. Insert shots illustrating those sentences in between thee titles. Film done!

Dorothy is blown to Oz along with a cow and a donkey and a scarecrow (he’s not an Oz native in this version, so we’ll have no mucking about with dreams at the end). The animals are men in costumes — I’m assuming they’d be men, in which case the cow is also a drag act. The loose-limbed Scarecrow is pure Ray Bolger, a welcome link forward to what we all feel is the authentic OZ film of ’39.

On touchdown, most of the characters are shown already in situ, just sort of ACTING as if they’ve been dropped by a cyclone, but the Scarecrow drops from a great height, falls gently to earth, then rolls over several times before getting his bearings. This worried me, rather. I’ll explain.

When Mark Cousins interviewed Donald Sutherland, the Great Man talked about doing his rope-dangling but in the church in DON’T LOOK NOW by himself because “The stunt-man, at the last minute, didn’t want to do it for some reason.” (If it were me, I’d be very curious about the reason.) Years later, Sutherland was complimented on his bravery by another stuntman. “Oh, it was quite safe, I had a Kirby wire on.” “Yes, but you were going LIKE THAT,” [rotates finger to indicate spinning] “Yes?” “Well, when you go LIKE THAT [rotates finger] on a Kirby wire, the Kirby wire BREAKS.”

So I hope that scarecrow didn’t do too many takes.

Anyway, turns out Dorothy is played by a tiny, nine-year-old Bebe Daniels and the Scarecrow is future director Robert Z. Leonard. He would have been on the MGM lot when they were filming the ’39 version! He could have said, “Remember, play him LOOSE-LIMBED!” I’m fantasising — Ray Bolger never in his life needed THAT bit of advice.

Oh, Momba the Witch (Winifred Greenwood) also enters by wire, and it’s a real coup de cinema, as she soars over the heads of a throng of Ozites, who scatter as she lands, centre-screen and resplendent. Glinda the Good (Olive Cox) pops from the undergrowth on a wire that just elevates her a few inches off the ground for a moment, but gives her rise a fluid, effortless grace. Amazing what you can do with wires. When you consider the actors who have done their most popular work on wires (Chow-Yun Fat, the entire cast of THE MATRIX) it’s surprising we don’t attach all our actors to wires all the time. We might not choose to yank Tom Hanks twenty feet in the air to emphasise a dramatic moment in THE POST, but the facilities would be on hand if we did.

The Lion is a man in a costume, but he wears a great big lion head, so he doesn’t have Bert Lahr’s expressiveness. (You know that W.C. Fields nearly played the Wizard? He went so far as to annotate his script with additional dialogue. The best line read, “Remarkable! He even smells like a lion.” The friend who told me this added, “It would have been a whole. Different. Movie.”)

The Tin Woodsman, looking just like Jack Haley, is surrounded by a bleak landscape of massive deforestation. Leave him rusty! Seeing him referred to as The Woodsman got me thinking about David Lynch, a big fan of the Victor Fleming version. And bang on cue, a winged frog shows up! Coincidence? I think not!

Momba’s house has an evil face. I wondered if, like Baba Yaga’s domicile, it could get up and walk. But it doesn’t bother.

Momba’s fatal dowsing doesn’t make her shrink through the floor, she just fades away, like Graf Orlok in NOSFERATU.

The Great Oz himself is Hobart Bosworth, who would direct what may have been America’s first feature film, THE SEA WOLF, a few years later. It’s lost now, swept away on the great cyclone Time.

Blue Donald, Green Donald

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 12, 2017 by dcairns

Donald Sutherland being blue in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Philip Kaufman, great).

Donald Sutherland being green in A MAN, A WOMAN AND A BANK (Noel Black, blah).

It isn’t easy, being green.

Why does Donald Sutherland change colour? Is it the proximity of Brooke Adams in both films?

And what happened to Brooke Adams? I look her up and find she’s working steadily, and not in trashy stuff either, which is nice, but odd, since I haven’t seen her in a film since 1985.

I love Kaufman’s BODY SNATCHERS. I wrote an essay with a mini-Kaufman interview for the Arrow Blu-ray. There’s something really sweet about how Donald’s carrying a torch for Brooke in the early scenes. And their relationship is the best thing in AMAWAAB, a strangely aimless caper movie disfigured by a cheesy score. But it also has Paul Mazursky with his ovine appearance concealing a lot of neurotic jitter — a wuss in sheep’s clothing.

That expression doesn’t make sense, by the way: sheep don’t have clothing.