Archive for Dylan Thomas

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue…”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by dcairns

Lloyd Bridges in THIRD PARTY RISK.

A very middling thriller: two-fisted lyricist Lloyd is distracted from recording Spanish folk tunes by a plot involving compromising showgirl letters, industrial secrets, and Finlay Currie as the world’s least convincing Hungarian. The whole thing is goofily enjoyable like an episode of The Saint accidentally inflated to feature length. Ferdy Mayne and Roger Delgado add swarthiness and suavity.

Director Daniel Birt seems quite bored with it all, adding to my half-baked theory about British cinema — there were periods, notably the late forties and mid-sixties, when the quality produced by the best filmmakers was so high, it raised the overall standard. Moderately gifted directors couldn’t help but be inspired by the startling stuff around them, and raised their game accordingly. Birt’s films in 1948 (the climactic year of that boom), co-written by Dylan Thomas, are almost startlingly good. THE THREE WEIRD SISTERS (his first film, Nova Pilbeam’s last) and NO ROOM AT THE INN have Gothic panache and very modern flourishes, as well as controversial church-bashing and subversive morbidity, but just six years later he’s directing with one eye on oblivion. What happened to him, or rather, what happened to British filmmaking?

The question is raised over at The Daily Notebook in this week’s The Forgotten.

Edinburgh, 1828…

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by dcairns

Thanks to actor Ricky Callan for posting this one of YeTube (the Scottish YouTube).

I really wanted the credit “book and lyrics” on this one but somehow didn’t get it. Makeup FX supremo Stephen (SLEUTH) Murphy conceived the idea for a musical about Edinburgh’s best-loved mass-murderers (they didn’t really rob graves, they found it easier to manufacture their own corpses) and I volunteered to write it with alacrity.

The first voice you hear is that of Ronnie Corbett, the little Nazi in the original CASINO ROYALE, who lives outside Edinburgh. I’m afraid we wrote a less vulgar version of the script in order to secure his services, which he gave out of the goodness of his heart. Once we’d recorded his VO we stuck all the swearing back in.

Ricky Callan plays William Hare, with Sandy Nelson (Mel Gibson’s brother in BRAVEHEART!) as William Burke. Stephen Murphy directed, handled most of the producing, oversaw the special makeup requirements, and wrote the score.

It’s all shot on location except for Burke and Hare’s rooming house, a little set built in Edinburgh College of Art’s boxy wee TV studio. And the front door of same, which is a miniature (as becomes clear when it’s destroyed — we shot the destruction in slow motion but not slow enough).

Apart from my writing services, I appear as an extra in the hanging scene (far left at 7:57, wearing a wig and pulling a funny face) and did a fair bit of editing on it. Editing dance is tough, especially when you have no coverage (not incompetence, just a limited budget) and everything must be cut to the music, and the choreography is differently timed from one shot to the next.

Another problem was a camera malfunction during the hanging scene — the sound had no firm synchronisation with the picture. So I synched (or “sunk”, as we say) the middle of each shot. As the shot starts, it’s slightly out-of-whack, but just as the audience starts to notice, it goes back into step with the image. Then it starts to drift out, but just as the audience becomes aware of it, we cut to the next shot. Genius.

That was a strange day. Pretty much the start of the shoot, the biggest scene (building a gallows outside St Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh’s High Street, with buses going by in the back of out-takes) and as we set up the news came in of the school shooting in Dunblane. Some anonymous asshole member of the public saw fit to castigate us for our bad taste in filming a death scene on this terrible day,as if we’d planned the events to coincide.

Other locations: the graveyard at the start (I thought it was important to show B&H failing as resurrectionists, even though there’s no evidence they ever tried it, but most people associate them with grave-robbing) is Greyfriar’s Churchyard, resting place of William Topaz McGonagall (the world’s worst poet) and the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby. It can also be seen right at the start of Robert Wise and Val Lewton’s THE BODY SNATCHER, in a travelogue shot swiftly followed by a studio mock-up.

The dark alleyway is Advocate’s Close, I think. While scouting all the narrow side-streets off the Royal Mile, we found the more spacious close that serves as our main street scene. It had very few modern features to hide, and was a cul-de-sac which we could completely take over.

Stephen and Mhairi, his producer, managed to get some fairly posh place to serve as Dr. Knox’s house, and a disused bar which could easily be rendered 19th century — in fact, since the modern fixtures had been stripped out, that’s basically what it was.

Morag McKinnon, director of forthcoming feature ROUNDING UP DONKEYS, cameos as Bess the prossie. As soon as she heard there was a character of that name, she wanted to play it. I seem to recall writing a series of completely foul couplets before settling on the relatively innocuous ones used. It was worth it to make people laugh. Stephen wanted to have naked corpses on slabs, to “enhance the production values,” so Morag was induced to denude. Both Stephen and I regretted it in the end, since the combination of nudity, death, and rude humour maybe touches on the uncomfortable.

Here’s one of my pal Simon Fraser’s drawings for the end creds, which deserves to be enjoyed at fuller resolution than YeTube can supply:

Simon is a successful comic book artist and illustrator of high-class lesbian pornography.

And here’s the actual death-mask of William Burke:

Whatever you think of our little playlet, (sharp-eyed observers may spot swipes from homages to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher and Dylan Thomas’s The Doctor and the Devils) I can assure you that our version really is one of the most historically accurate accounts of the B&H affair, with only the omission of the killers’ wives, and the precise circumstances of their arrest, being somewhat at odds with exact verisimilitude.

Oh, and the singing.

Moreau does Mirbeau

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2008 by dcairns

Jeanne of the angels

So, before I head off for an actual meeting with an actual exec producer, some semi-baked thoughts on Bunuel’s DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, adapted from Octave Mirbeau’s novel, which I re-saw as part of the Jeanne Moreau retrospective. Actually, I was arguably seeing it for the first time, since my V.H.S. experience was not wide-screen. Bunuel can’t have made many ‘Scope films, but he seems perfectly at home in the wide format. And is there anything more beautiful than black-and-white wide-screen? Maybe it’s just the rarity, since wide-screen came into existence parallel with the dying days of black-and-white so there are relatively few films made in both (although THE BAT WHISPERS is an almost-unique 1930s wide-screen experiment, and the occasional film like THE ELEPHANT MAN has united monochrome and ‘Scope).

I always enjoy this film up until the ending, but this time I was determined to get something positive from the ending as well. I failed. I always get sucked into seeing the film as a detective thriller, which it definitely functions as from the time of the murder onwards — a country house detective thriller, in fact. Of course, the real point is the satirical dissection of French society, and this is terrifically enjoyable. Bunuel’s houseful are all enjoyably strange, and while many people wouldn’t regard the film as surreal at all, there are aberrant moments like the secret chemistry lab belonging to the mistress of the house, where she presumably “minces among bad vats and jeroboams, spinneys of murdering herbs, and prepares to compound [...] a venomous porridge” for her husband. Michel Piccoli (with hair! on his head!) is the husband, a pitch-perfect portrait of baffled idiot virility, a surging pillar of testosterone reduced to the infantile by his hormonal geyser.

Neighbors

Moreau is part bitch-goddess, part warm and humane heroine, depending on who she’s dealing with. She seems to live by a version of Raymond Durgnat’s Proletarian Ten Commandments – “Thou shalt not strive too hard, or jump through more hoops than you have to. Thou shalt not offer to take another person’s place, or help out unless you’re not paid to do it … blood transfusions aren’t paid for. Thou shalt not expect good treatment. Thou shalt always look for the catch, for what the other person gets out of it. Thou shalt contemplate defeat, but not change yourself to avoid it. Thou must become accustomed to always being out-talked and made to look a fool and put in the wrong … but Thou shall not be moved … Oh, and don’t be downhearted.” And she becomes the detective heroine, which is exciting.

Eve

Except — and I can’t really call this a spoiler, but look away if you’re worried — she doesn’t catch the killer. The film seems explicitly to identify him at the moment the crime is committed, but since the horrific act itself is literally unshowable, his guilt isn’t 100% certain. At a certain point, one begins to doubt if Moreau has set her sights on the right man, and a conventional thriller would have allowed us to jump ahead and suspect Piccoli, only to produce a third, surprise suspect as the guilty party, someone we had dismissed. This being Bunuel, I would then expect some turnaround that leaves the guilty unpunished and the innocent “getting it in the neck”, to use Joe Orton’s description. The ending we get produces no such twists, allowing a happy ending for the killer but transferring the political subtext from the background, where it has been simmering away very effectively, to the foreground, where it seems rather crude and programmatic. The crash of thunder at the end seems particularly unfortunate, especially as Bunuel’s mastery of surprising sound juxtapositions has been very much in evidence: a screeching flock of unseen schoolchildren, a loud passing train where no train can be seen, and sounds that recur, linking apparently unconnected scenes.

I thought of Bunuel and Carriere’s script for THE MONK, eventually filmed by other hands, which likewise avoids the ending dictated by genre but is actually less startling than the “conventional” punishment meted out in Matthew Lewis’ gloriously excessive Gothic novel. Maybe it’s possible to be too clever with these things. I guess the all-round happiness of the ending — with the fascists on the march — comes closest to THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ, which has an absurdly upbeat ending I’m very fond of.

If Jean-Claude Carriere’s script-work with Bunuel, on their first collaboration, doesn’t quite satisfy me, his performance as the village priest is hysterical. I wanted more of him. I wanted him to have his own series of films, dispensing awful, cynical advise to his parishioners in exchange for funds for repairing the church roof. He seems about to advise the mistress of the house on how to satisfy her husband without the painful and abhorrent business of penetration, when the alarm is raised and he’s reduced to uselessly attempting to kick down an oaken door (“Damn it!”) – the lady’s father has dropped dead in his locked bedroom while fetishizing a pair of patent-leather shoes, demonstrating that John Carradine’s advice to his sons — “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing” — is not always so easy to follow.

The Island of Dr Moreau

When a character says “I’ve got my reasons,” I was of course reminded of Renoir. So I must watch his version of DIARY, which stars Paulette Goddard and is knocking about the house somewhere. Otherwise this is like a kinky GOSFORD PARK — no bad thing.

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