Archive for Eddie Constantine

Sudden Unexpected Baby Syndrome

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2014 by dcairns

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…or S.U.B.S. for short. Fiona coined this phrase to describe the way the killer babies kept popping up in Larry Cohen’s IT’S ALIVE II: IT LIVES AGAIN and ISLAND OF THE ALIVE. We had rented the first film in the series on VHS from the late lamented Alphabet Video in Bruntsfield, years and years ago, and been impressed by (1) leading man John P. Ryan, who brings far more commitment and credibility than the monster baby movie would seem to deserve, and (2) Bernard Herrmann’s score, which seems to come from a different, better era/film.

Cohen has a tendency to cast well and then not give his actors time to get it right, but at least he does pick out good people. Ryan returns in the second film, where Frederic Forrest and Kathleen Lloyd take over the leading parts — talented actors, as you’d know if you saw them elsewhere, but struggling with the material and tending to over-hype the emotions — too many scenes feel like promising rehearsals.

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Une Etrange Aventure de…

We also get, improbably, Eddie Constantine as a porridge-faced obstetrician, Cohen fave James Dixon, the only actor in all three films, as a cop with Donald Trump hair, and veteran John Marley, who is completely authoritative and nails every moment he’s given — thereby making everything else seem even more unbelievable.

The mutant rugrat is no better in film two than it was in film one — Rick Baker famously complained that Cohen sprang the project on him with no prep time, promised to not show the creature (an immobile sculpture) except for “flashes,” and then kept inventing new shots to showcase it. He also apparently suggested making a baby costume for his cat, which Baker balked at, so Cohen suggested using a chicken. “But chickens have two legs. Babies crawl on all fours.” “OK, two chickens! And maybe they’d fight!” (This story may have grown in the telling.)

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Sidenote — on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, they apparently experimented with putting an orangutan on rollerskates to simulate an alien visitor. It didn’t come off. Undeterred, George Lucas attempted to cast a monkey as Yoda, but couldn’t quite get the effect he wanted and settled for a shit muppet. Only the makers of the original Battlestar Galactica seem to have gone all the way and put a chimp in a weird Honey Monster/bondage costume to impersonate some cyborg space pet.

At this stage, I would be unsurprised to learn that E.T. was planned as a marmot on stilts, or that Orangey the cat from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’s was set to be the original Chewbacca. But I have no definite information as to these theories which I have just made up.

Star Wars Yoda monkey

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In the end, there’s the sculpture, plus a mask and glove for closeups, and the keeping-the-monster-unseen strategy, stretched as far as it can go, comes off as cheap rather than Lewtonesque.

The second film attempts to “surpass” the first by throwing in a couple more killer sprogs, but the original is still dead so the title should really be SOME MORE ITS ARE ALIVE or IT DIES AGAIN or something. Cohen’s other saving grace is his politics, which sadly don’t get that much of an airing here. The third film goes a little further but flounders in a welter of bad effects work and bad story ideas ~

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The casting coups this time are Karen Black (not in it that much) and Michael Moriarty, who seems curiously miscast in the role of an actor. As a no-hope lounge singer in Q – THE WINGED SERPENT, I thought he was great value. I reminded Fiona that his piano-bar noodlings formed a major part of the soundtrack of that flying lizard police procedural, and she was startled at the memory. It was such a bold choice. “I wonder if he’ll sing this time?” And moments later, aboard a yacht bound for the ISLAND OF THE ALIVE, he launches into a rousing rendition of The Skye Boat Song, in Scots brogue, no less, which goes on for an uncomfortably long time and is very, very funny.

Elsewhere, things are dreadful: a bunch of the babies grow into adult-sized monsters within five years, but still have giant baby heads because I guess a redesign was going to be too expensive. Karen Black narrowly escapes gang rape by punk rockers (a very real social problem in Florida in 1987, I’m sure). Moriarty has a run in with the Cuban secret service. A bizarre post-nuclear family happy ending is contrived that makes no sense — we are supposed to feel hopeful as our heroes, who are international celebrities, flee the authorities with a mutant baby in a hot car.

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The biggest problem, for me, is that Cohen is really terrible at filming stuff — his coverage is erratic and often actually incomplete, missing shots he can’t do without to achieve coherent continuity. At other times he uses more shots than he needs, and they’re almost never the RIGHT shots. Even the few stop motion shots in the third film are oddly selected, very brief and usually showing the baby from behind, so we can admire its muscular latex buttocks but get little sense of threat, unless we’re meant to be scared it’ll do a toxic poo. Which is something a serious mutant baby movie would have to tackle, come to think of it.

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Spy Game

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2013 by dcairns

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A little in memoriam piece on Jesus Franco at The Forgotten today.

I confess to mixed feelings about Snr Franco. At times, I’ve thought him the worst director in the world. He certainly didn’t do what most directors commonly thought of as good do. But he did do things nobody else would. Who else would begin a movie with shots of fetuses in jars, accompanied by upbeat lounge music? And for no reason?

The movie under discussion today stars Eddie Constantine as secret agent Al Pereira, and by coincidence I just realized that Pereira returns as lead character in Franco’s last film, made just last year, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES. Like that awful Dr Orloff, Franco’s characters weren’t confined to one film, and his films cannibalized popular culture too: in VAMPYROS LESBOS, Dennis Price plays Dr Seward from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a role played by Paul Muller in Franco’s COUNT DRACULA, but then Price returns as Frankenstein in two later films, which feature Alberto Dalbes as a character named Dr. Seward.

Franco, in other words, was a postmodernist — his films have permeable boundaries, with characters, situations and even footage slip-sliding from one to another, and into and out of other films and media. NIGHT OF THE ASSASSINS claims, in its opening credits, to be based on “The Cat and the Canary by Edgar Allan Poe,” which is remarkable since that play was authored by John Willard, some time after Poe’s death. Franco may not have been personally responsible for that illiterate bit of hucksterism, but in a way it’s apt, suggesting the pop culture melting pot his films simmered in.

This all lends some accuracy to Tim Lucas’s statement that “you can’t see one Franco film until you’ve seen them all.”

In today’s offering, Constantine is shown an array of gadgets by his spymasters and remarks, “You must have seen a lot of James Bond movies.”

“More than you can imagine,” comes the reply.

“Why do they always shoot Kennedy?”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 28, 2008 by dcairns

Whew! The Film Fest is drawing to a close. My last film of the official fest was Agnes Varda’s LIONS LOVE, screened as part of the Shirley Clarke retrospective because Shirley’s in it, along with Warhol star Viva, her two ugly boyfriends, producer Max Raab (magnificently, sculpturally ugly), Peter Bogdanovich (walking by and hiding his face) and Eddie Constantine (trying to play a love scene with Viva but finding it impossible in view of her lack of professionalism, retires, defeated).

Shirley Clarke.

It was kind of great and kind of… not great at all. Clarke is an engaging presence but the tale of her (fictitious) attempt to make a Hollywood movie didn’t catch fire as the movie had no real existence. The self-indulgent mucking about by the menage a trois was often quite entertaining, and sometimes just annoying. Viva looks like a Pre-Raphaelite painting but her untrained screech of a voice has a marked tendency to grate. Varda’s borrowings from Chytilová’s DAISIES are very nice, but sometimes look tacked-on. The thing has an immense time-capsule value, as everything Clarke touched seems to, but there are times when Varda’s policy of simply shooting the T.V. news of the R.F.K. assassination for minutes on end makes one feel that she ought, in all decency, have offered a co-directing credit to the news team.

Shirley’s green top is HORRIBLE (such a difficult colour to wear) but her shades and “L.A. outfit” are kind of stupendous.

Best postmodernist deconstructionist moment — as Shirley considers suicide, she suddenly breaks character and protests that she would never kill herself over a film, “I don’t care if I never make a film again!” and only cares about her daughter, Wendy. Varda dons the terrible green top in order to demonstrate how simple it is to take some pills, washed down with Dr. Pepper, and Shirley relents and goes through the motions for her. How much is faked? Some? All?

Clarke’s feelings about the shoot were mixed. In Michael Auder’s CHRONICLES: FAMILY DIARIES I, screened as part of the retrospective, Clarke can be heard, barely, reminiscing about the experience: “Anyone can tell she’s a dyke, she just doesn’t want… loved Jacques romantically… they were not talking about the film in order to save their marriage… I told her, you have to score some drugs for Viva, it’s called being nice to your star..”

As the great Roscoe Lee Brown listens sympathetically.