Archive for Ed Wood

Ingmar Bergman on the Lavatory

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2019 by dcairns

Finally started delving into our big Bergman Blu-ray box set. Since June is here and the temperature has promptly plunged, we slid SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT into the Maidstone and enjoyed visiting an idyllic movie I hadn’t seen since I was 19 (in BBC2’s Film Club)and which Fiona had never experienced.

It really works, this one, proving that Bergman COULD do comedy. Unlike ALL THESE WOMEN and THE DEVIL’S EYE, it never tries too hard, in fact it seems to forget about being funny for half an hour at a time. But the broad comedy (the flatulent jalopy, for instance, and everything involving Jarl Kulle (below), also star of the other two Bergman romps) seems to fit quite comfortably within the dramatic sections.

There’s also a nice extra — appallingly shot and edited, but nice nonetheless — in which old Ingmar talks a little about the project. He learned of its Cannes success while reading the newspaper while on the toilet, he says — a stirring image — “Swedish Film Has Cannes Success,” he reads, and thinks “That’s nice.” Then he learns it’s HIS film, which he didn’t even know was playing. So he borrows some money from Bibi Andersson, his girlfriend and star (top) and scoots down there. I like to picture him with toilet paper on his shoe, but you don’t have to.

It’s the beginning of Bergman the auteur who can make any film he wants (within budgetary limits, I guess). He says, a bit disingenuously I fear, that in a way he’s sad that this success meant he could no longer enjoy the guidance of smart producers. A likely story!

I do love Gunnar Fischer’s photography, in its way as nice as Nykvist’s. Though I wish they’d had a graded filter or something to hand so their day-for-night could be more solid. It’s not so much that the “nuit Americain” is unconvincing — it usually is — it’s that they don’t even seem to be attempting it. The Bergman-Ed Wood Jr. crossover is achieved, and in Bergman’s best early film…

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Everybody’s Acrylic

Posted in FILM, Painting, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2015 by dcairns

bigeyesss

I liked BIG EYES but not as much as Fiona or as much as I expected to. It’s definitely an improvement on the awful ALICE IN WONDERLAND de-imagining, which caused me to skip out on DARK SHADOWS altogether. And it fits squarely into the oeuvre of screenwriters Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, maybe the only writing team in America whose authorship trumps whoever’s directing. I mean, it’s recognizably a Burton movie, even without Helena Bonham-Carter, but it has more in common with MAN ON THE MOON or even AUTO-FOCUS (which they produced but didn’t write) than it does with SWEENEY TODD or the de-imagining of PLANET OF THE APES.

Adapting true stories of crazy people to the screen presents all kinds of problems — generally, it seems to help if the people are likable and have some kind of self-insight — Edward D. Wood Jnr. as written by this team, maybe have been delusional about his own talent, but he’s a clear-eyed American optimist in every other way (the real Wood, I would guess from reading and viewing, was more arrogant, sneaky and tortured than the fictional version). I guess it’s the reverse of fiction, where you try to figure out what yhe character would do — here, you know what they did but you have to discover or invent the WHY, then express it. The Keanes, at the centre of BIG EYES, present interesting difficulties.

Walter, played with ever-more-manic grin (and some hysterical chimp-like physical touches) by Christoph Waltz, lives in such a cloud of deceit that it’s hard to know how much self-insight he’s capable of. At times, he seems to know in his heart of hearts that he’s a fraud, but being an artist is so central to his conceit of himself that he can only survive without this fantasy for seconds at a time, before diving gratefully back into his goldfish bowl of delusion. Waltz plays this to the hilt, never much bothering to suggest the plausibility which would make someone fall for Walter’s stories or his charm.

BIG EYES

This choice, perfectly defensible in itself, puts more pressure on Amy Adams, who plays a woman who, despite walking out on one (unseen) husband at the film’s opening, allows herself to be dominated and steered for most of the movie. People in co-dependant relationships are tricky to dramatise, because in fiction as in life it’s easy to get frustrated with them for making bad choices, for being gullible, for being doormats. The movie does its best to stress Margaret Keane’s strengths, but that makes the story’s plausibility even shakier than history left it (knowing something is true doesn’t stop it being hard to believe at times). And since Margaret is still alive, and cooperated with the filmmakers, and shouldn’t be trashed after all she’s been through, there’s some particularly delicate footwork when she trades the domination of her crazy husband for the domination of the Jehovah’s Witness movement (after a flirtation with numerology).

Adams is a talented, versatile player, but holding the film together with such a passive character seemed a strain for her, or for the film. We go with her when she’s suckered in by Walter/Waltz, since the script cunningly conceals much of the truth about his background, so we’re quite prepared to accept him as a struggling minor landscape artist, like Hitler. Showing how he just sort of falls into claiming credit for her paintings doesn’t just soften his character a little, it makes it easier for us to accept her forgiving him and going along with it.

But actors like to feel positive about the people they’re playing — admirable qualities can be found even in an utter villain — and apparently being nice isn’t enough to make Margaret Keane worthy of Adams — she tries to make her smart, and strong, which I think Keane may be now with maturity and hindsight, but probably wasn’t at the time of these events. (Having her kick over a bottle of white spirits as her hubbie, gone full Jack Torrance, is shoving lit matches through the letterbox, doesn’t help convince us of her resourcefulness.)

My other problem is with the script, which has come in for near-universal praise, but which I felt was a bit talky, ploddy and expository. True, there’s nothing as bald and artless as the “As you know, I’m your father” type dialogue in HITCHCOCK and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, but a whole lot of scenes not involving our main characters, and a whole lot of characters without any meat on their bones, have to be invented to move the events along and explain them. And we have scenes that are just characters watching TV so we can meet Terence Stamp and see Perry Mason “for dramatic purposes” as Foreign Man puts it during the opening titles of MAN ON THE MOON. This eagerness to explain everything maybe helps the average viewer cope with the unexplainable actions of the protagonists, which is what is interesting about them, but to me they felt mechanical, like the unnecessary VO and the one-note cartoonery of Jon Polito and Jason Schwartzman (Krysten Ritter pulls this off best). Although speaking personally, I was cheered to see a movie in which an art critic gets to be bad-ass. Burton obviously likes Margaret Keane’s terrible paintings the same way he likes Ed Wood’s terrible films (I prefer Wood to Keane, myself), but it was important to have SOMEONE in the film who can make the necessary point that just because Keane’s paintings are sincere, doesn’t make them any good.

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Real artists NEVER look at what they’re doing.

Side-note — I have a pet hate in movies, which is the unconvincing painter/artist. It’s great in NEW YORK STORIES when we see Nick Nolte getting slathered in coloured goop the way real painters do, but he has it easy, playing an abstract impressionist. Most actors seem terrified to make a mark on paper or canvas, and we see them scratching away at a line in tiny increments, when any competent draughtsman would have swept the pencil across the paper in a single unbroken arc. In RENOIR we see huge closeups of Michel Bouquet’s hand, elaborately made-up with a callous the size a second thumb, but what he’s actually doing with his pencil and brush is farcical. The shot doesn’t require him to do anything we can assess as good or bad, he just needs to MAKE A DISCERNIBLE MARK, and he’s evidently scared stiff of doing so. (What happens to most kids that makes them stop drawing as they learn to read? And become humiliated by the very notion of sketching?)

As Margaret Keane, Adams has a key scene which is all about her executing a painting under the watchful eyes of an audience, so it’s a shame this couldn’t have been handled more convincingly. (James Cameron hand-doubling for Leo in TITANIC works fine, except he draws like a 90s storyboard artist, all Jack Kirby cheekbones, and not like anybody ever drew in the period the movie’s set in — different eras have different bad habits.) Still, to some extent her incompetence can be explained as in keeping with the character’s lack of skill, and she’s slightly more convincing with a brush than a pencil. Though the whole thing makes me wonder if Burton ever really drew those cartoons of his. Maybe it was Lisa Marie?

I see the Keanes as a classic folie a deux. He couldn’t have perpetrated his fraud without her incredible compliance, and nor could his business acumen, such as it was, have found an outlet with the Unique Selling Point of her bulbous-eyed waifs. His own work, if it ever was his, had nothing to distinguish it. But since her paintings are not GOOD, we have to allow him his share of the credit for popularizing them.

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As with Ed Wood, the amount of narrative and talk does slightly limit Burton’s ability to be the visual stylist he’s known as, but at least it gets him away from stripes and curls and the film’s settings are gorgeous: the painterly depiction of period San Francisco is a constant delight (proving, as I trust the Wachowskis would concede, that San Francisco makes a better San Francisco onscreen than Glasgow does). The night scenes at the Keane’s lavish modern home are sumptuously coloured, evoking both three-strip Technicolor and Mario Bava, but landing in their own sweet, supersaturated spot. But only in the hallucinatory visit to a supermarket where Margaret’s subjects come to life and haunt her, does the film really come alive as pure cinema — a proper sequence! I wanted that bit to last three times as long.

Kane Caught in Love Nest with “Octopus”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2011 by dcairns

The IMDb credits for makeup wiz Maurice Seiderman are full of intrigue, even if they seem like they’re probably only a representative smattering of his career as a whole. Anybody who goes from CITIZEN KANE to BRIDE OF THE MONSTER definitely incites my curiosity.

I discussed this matter with regular Shadowplayer/renaissance man Randy Cook, and while we agreed that probably Seiderman’s contribution to Ed Wood’s spastic classic was the design of Tor Johnson’s “Lobo” makeup (“Too bad Pauline Kael didn’t see that, she could’ve claimed it inspired the old age makeup for KANE”), Randy did throw out the amusing suggestion that maybe the common denominator is the octopus.

You remember the octopus, right?

(1) As featured in Burton’s ED WOOD (“Just thrash around, make it look like it’s killin’ ya,”), the plastic cephalopod mollusc plays a climactic part in BRIDE.

(2) And in KANE, there’s a prosthetic beastie puppeteered towards the camera during the News on the March newsreel sequence.

Me: “Was that a fake octopus?”

Randy (laughing): “Oh yeah.”

He’s right. The shot flashes by so quickly I’d never honestly registered it as bogus, although it did seem like the octo was moving rather oddly. Which is because it’s on wires, duh.

Fiona: “Why does Kane have an octopus anyway? Where does he keep it?”

Me: “Special apartment. The Wet Room. A love nest!”

After all, you can’t have a Pleasure Dome without octopi, can you?

I would be ashamed of my lousy faking of the newspaper shot at the top os this post, were it not for this image in CITIZEN KANE itself, which deploys 1940s PhotoShop technology (ie scissors and glue) to populate the grounds of Xanadu. Apparently this is a pastiche of yellow press “composographs”, the faked pictures which Boss Geddes complains about to Kane. Does anyone recognise Charlie and Susie’s fellow lollers?

The News on the March sequence, which we’re told was cut by RKO’s own newsreel department, because, as Welles said, “They have their own crazy way of doing things,” uses lots of stock footage and stock music, mingled with select shots of specially-contrived fakery, using undercranking and scratches on the film to blend them in. The IMDb has a helpful guide to music sources here. I was surprised to spot the News on the March main theme in NURSE EDITH CAVELL, as I wrote here. But it’d be nice to get a listing for the stock shots — I’m curious to know the provenance of that octopus: obviously a pre-1941 RKO movie. SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON? ISLE OF DESTINY?

Anyhow —

[a] Seiderman almost certainly applied the joke-shop scars to the Swedish wrestler (Tor didn’t really NEED makeup to play a monster) and

[b] Probably did NOT invent the soft contact lens, as he apparently claimed, but did have something to do with developing part of the process, maybe. He seems to have been something of a mythomaniac (no wonder Welles liked him), and this claim found its way into his obituaries and eventually into Shadowplay. The lies men tell live on after them. Seiderman’s unreliable narrator status is going to make it even harder to arrive at a definitive list of his credits… any info will be gratefully received. Any entertaining lies… likewise.

Seiderman.


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UK:  Citizen Kane [DVD] [1942]

The Making of “Citizen Kane”

Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook (Casebooks in Criticism)

US: The Making of Citizen Kane, Revised edition

Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook (Casebooks in Criticism)