Archive for Eyes Wide Shut

An Odyssey in Bits: Moonwatchers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2019 by dcairns

Fadeout on Rossiter/Smyslov. Fadeup on chunky moonhopper on its way to Earth’s satellite. Fadeup also The Blue Danube again, just to piss off Quincy Jones. Because we’ve already heard it, and because we don’t have a spinning wheel-shaped space station this time, the reprise feels like a lesser sequence, but it has some really lovely shots. The inside of this craft has a great sixties/seventies leisure centre look… it actually feels a bit like the ABC Cinema where I saw 2001 in the seventies. Heywood R. Floyd is asleep AGAIN, there are more cute stewardesses, and a mouth-watering selection of vegetable drinks. The stewardess gets to demonstrate the power of grip shoes by walking up a curved wall in a tubular corridor until she’s upside down. I wonder if they ought to have filled the drinks trays with helium to make them look weightless in her hands. I mean, they look light, but not like they would float off, even though Heywood’s does.

The stewardesses are studying self defense.Zero gravity toilet gag! For those who are interested, or even concerned, the full instructions can be read here.

Randy Cook points out the similarity between the moonbase’s dock and the selenites’ solar power panels in THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, released not long previously, which shared some crew, notably effects man Les Bowie.  Kubrick wasted a good bit of his time on earth worrying about whether the TV show Space 1999 was infringing his copyright — “The title is just two years removed from our own!” But you can’t copyright a title, Stanley. However, he might have potentially sued Gerry Anderson and his team for ripping off the look of Moonbase Alpha from his Clavius base. Pick your battles.

Kubrick also remarked that older viewers seem to be depressingly word-based in their thinking — several picked up on the characters’ discussion of “Clavius” and imagined that H.R. Floyd was on his way to a planet called Clavius. He knew that most audiences wouldn’t know that was a place on the lunar surface, but assumed they’d figure it out when they got there. When he asked kids how they knew his destination was instead the moon, they all replied, “Because I SAW it.”If you want reasonably compelling proof that Kubrick didn’t fake the moon landings — and I’m only speaking to those of you who want it, I can’t be bothered with anyone who NEEDS it — consider how everyone on the moon walks about as if the gravity were earth-normal. No galumphing sideways meerkat loping for Heywood R. Floyd, thank you very much. And nobody’s wearing grip shoes. We might guess that Kubrick is supposing some kind of goofy artificial gravity in the Clavius briefing room, but Arthur Clarke would surely have nixed such unscientific nonsense. And when we see the astronauts outside at the excavation site, they’re STILL walking perfectly normally, as if strolling around Borehamwood on a May morning. It seems nobody concerned with the production predicted the effects of the low lunar gravity, or else they dismissed it as too finicky to deal with (subtle slow motion might have been an option, reverting to normal speed when Floyd and his colleagues talk, keeping them stationary for dialogue or looping in normal-speed lines…)Further proof that S.K. the perfectionist wasn’t perfect: (1) the stills photographer in the briefing room has a hideous, Great McGinty-style suit; (2) big-ass continuity error on Floyd’s posture as he addresses the assembled bods.A beautiful lunar cruise in another lovely craft, with Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna for company — the micropolyphony (don’t know what it means) of the unaccompanied choir gives an eerie, celestial (or selenite) tone which anticipates the appearance of alien artifact #2. We couldn’t have stood another iteration of The Blue Danube, so Kubrick transposes the eerie emotions of the upcoming scene over this more neutral one. As ever, those effects that don’t quite convince are the ones that look like still photographs on a rostrum camera set-up, but they’re beautiful anyway.More unappetizing space food, and more monotonous space dialogue. Floyd, the world’s blandest man, has a tendency to parrot back whatever anyone offers him, sometimes repurposing their words a little, and the others do the same to him. His dialogue isn’t chicken, but it tastes the same anyway.

“What a wonderful surprise to meet you here.”

“You’re looking wonderful.”

“I appreciate the way you’ve handled this thing…”

“Well, the way we look at it, our job’s to do this thing the way you want it done…”

It’s not quite Tom Cruise’s baffled echolalia in EYES WIDE SHUT, where he repeats every damn sentence spoken to him, but it’s an early clue to the new direction.

The original script, or one of them (here) suggests more dialogue, in particular stating clearly that the recently unearthed (or unmooned?) monolith may be solar-powered (because it’s black, therefore absorbs light) but has not actually seen daylight for millions of years, and has not yet been shone on by the sun since they cleared the moondust off it. So that the low angle “eclipse” shot that accompanies the painful high-pitched whine — the Jupiter signal, we must presume — shows the sun actually triggering the hitherto inert device.A lot of Kubrick’s dialogue slashes have the effect of making the action more ambiguous or mysterious, which is clearly both deliberate and, I would argue, good. In this case, the repeated angle with the sun cresting the monolith suggests an almost astrological event, which I’m sure would horrify Arthur C.C. Of course, the fact that the astronauts apparently HEAR the Jupiter signal from the monolith, through the vacuum of space, doesn’t make literal sense, but as we don’t know quite what kind of signal it IS, I guess we can’t rule out the possibility.

Might have been funny if the stills photographer at the excavation was wearing a loud plaid spacesuit.

Just when the whine becomes too irritating to bear, we cut to ~

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Scottie Ferguson Investigates

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2018 by dcairns

To Edinburgh Filmhouse, to investigate Park Circus’s release of Universal’s new 4K restoration of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, a dazzling sight. Not only does the painstaking work turn back the clock on the wear and tear the film suffered before its previous restoration, but it undoes some of the less thoughtful decisions of that controversial face-lift — gone are the shockingly modern-sounding, ricochet-heavy gunshots from the opening chase scene, replaced with more period-appropriate BLAM-BLAM FX I don’t know if they’re the ones Hitchcock originally used (whereas the Robert A. Harris/James C. Katz job junked all the original FX and added all-new foley, this one was reportedly able to salvage about half the original footsteps, doors, guns, etc).

When Hitch walks by with his horn, and Scottie (James Stewart) turns in at the entrance to visit his shady friend, you can actually read the headlines on the news-stand here. I don’t have the film on Blu-Ray, nor do I own a massive TV or projector, but I’m uncertain anyone ever saw these before. There’s a story along the lines of COMPANY DIRECTOR AND SECRETARY FOUND MURDERED. The secretary might be Marion Crane, from Hitchcock’s next again feature, I guess. The company boss might be Brenda Blaney, director of the marital agency in FRENZY. Fanciful, I know. But the headline sounds a note of warning right before Scottie meets Elster, and the warning includes a company director, a woman, and murder.

That’s the kind of thing that’s so on-the-nose it SHOULD be small, otherwise you get the hilarious LUCKY TO BE ALIVE headline in EYES WIDE SHUT, the dumbest thing I’ve ever read off the screen.

A little over halfway through the film, when Scottie is reduced to wandering the streets (like sad, mad Carlotta in the story), he keeps thinking he sees the departed Madeleine. And he does: even in this giant longshot, in 4K you can see that it’s genuinely Kim Novak coming out of the building and chatting to the doorman. But, after a brief reaction shot of Scottie, the figure appears subtly different — Novak has been replaced by Lee Patrick (associated with another San Francisco detective — she was Sam Spade’s secretary, the estimable Effie, in THE MALTESE FALCON). On my DVD I can kind of see this, but I could never be sure.

(I’m told that the tiny Novak in this shot, hovering above the hedgerow on the right, is also quite identifiable if you have the 2014 Blu-Ray and a biggish screen.)

This substitution trick was first played by Hitch in SABOTAGE, when Sylvia Sidney thinks she sees her slain little brother in the street — cutting quickly, Hitch first shows the boy we know, then replaces him with a stranger. A heartbreaking and uncanny moment in a film Hitch was never really satisfied with. So he replays the effect, multiple times, here.

VERTIGO is constantly mirroring itself — replaying scenes from earlier. Scottie revisits the places he associates with Madeleine, and each time he thinks he sees her, and Hitch pulls the same gag. Returning to Ernie’s, where he first saw Madeleine, he sees her again, and it’s definitely Novak. One reaction-shot later, and she’s been switched for a pod person.

Only in the gallery scene does Hitchcock resist the temptation to slip a Novak in: the young woman studying the Portrait of Carlotta remains stubbornly herself.

But, obedient to the Rule of Three, Hitch has another spectral walk-on by Novak later, AFTER Scottie has met up with Judy, who really is (sort-of) Madeleine ~

Fiona: “Her arms are MASSIVE.” (Not criticising, just impressed.)

Back at Ernie’s, Scottie looks past Judy and sees Madeleine — two Kim Novaks in the same shot. The fact that Hitchcock routinely uses rear projection stops this effects shot seeming that out of the ordinary. But though Scottie clearly registers surprise, I’m not sure I’d ever seen what was surprising him before. If I had, I’d forgotten it, and seeing the film so much sharper made me feel I was seeing it anew. Madeleine, in that familiar grey suit, enters Ernie’s (in the distance, to the left of Judy)

There’s a reaction shot of Scottie — he notices Judy has noticed him looking — and he furtively looks at his plate. Judy looks over her shoulder, and in Scottie’s POV we see that her doppelganger has been replaced by the shiny-faced intruder from the previous Ernie’s manifestation.

So, Scottie, having found Judy, is still satisfied. His subconscious is still seeking Madeleine as she was. And he knows these visions are hallucinatory, he knows he’s still crazy, but he knows he has to act sane and not admit to them…

Maybe I never caught this moment because I was too fascinated by the sight of Novak eating.

And then he starts the creepy makeover thing with Judy. And this time, I formulated a new theory (or so I thought) about what he’s up to. I call it the second murder plot.

You see, according to this theory, Scottie is not just trying to make Judy look just like Madeleine so he can have sex with her and pretend Madeleine’s alive. That’s part of it, the part he can admit to himself but not to her. But I think there’s another scheme, that he can’t even consciously recognize.

In the first half of the film, Scottie, a natural sceptic (a Scot, like the hero of MARY ROSE, Hitch’s unmade ghost story), has become convinced that the dead can possess the living. And the way this happens is when the living first become obsessed by the dead. When Madeleine wears Carlotta’s jewellery, gazes at her portrait, styles her hair with that vertiginous whorl, visits Carlotta’s home and her grave, she gradually gives herself up to Carlotta’s spirit.

So it would make sense that, styling Judy after Madeleine, Scottie is preparing a new body for Madeleine’s spirit to inhabit. Judy, who doesn’t matter to him, can be replaced by the departed loved one, an inversion of Elster’s replacing wife Madeleine with lover Judy (everything in VERTIGO seems to get replaced, repeated, mirror-flipped at some point).

It’s a frightful scheme, perhaps worse than Elster’s. But maybe we’d all do it, if we thought it could work.

NB: Novak is brilliant as Judy. If we study her performance as she walks through the green fog effect, we can see that she’s definitely still Judy as she emerges.

Counter-arguments: if this interpretation is wrong, it’s because of two things. One (1), there isn’t an obvious moment where we can see Scottie hatching this plan. It’s more like a series of increments, with Scottie fixating on Judy’s clothes, then her hair, etc. I would normally expect Hitchcock to crystallise the moment the scheme comes into focus, but here it kind of doesn’t, because Scottie never admits it to himself. Two (2), after the big motel room special effects love scene, Scottie seems content to be with Judy, even though she’s still talking like Judy, evidently hasn’t been taken over by Madeleine’s spirit. He seems content with his makeover. But something hallucinatory/supernatural happened to him in that green fog. Like he thinks Madeleine took over just for the sex (Judy was smart enough to keep her mouth shut) and he can get her back anytime.

And now that I reread my piece from Hitchcock Year, I find that I was onto Scottie’s scheme back then, and that it’s spelled out in the novel. I forget many things. But this one was worth rediscovering and spending some more time on, I think.

 

Lubitsch’s Final Touch

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2017 by dcairns

Ernst Lubitsch had a sensational end run, with TO BE OR NOT TO BE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT and the less celebrated but easily equal CLUNY BROWN. Before those three is the less stellar THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING, but then you have THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and NINOTCHKA. The only blots on this celluloid landscape are the Preminger intrusions, A ROYAL SCANDAL, produced and heavily supervised by Lubitsch, and THAT LADY IN ERMINE which Lubitsch began but died before finishing, with Otto Preminger stepping in to complete, uncredited.

A ROYAL SCANDAL isn’t all that bad, and it does have a wonderful moment where William Eythe (of Who the hell is William Eythe? fame) steps out of a tight two-shot with Tallulah Bankhead, paces the room, distracted, and is then surprised to have himself wind up back in a tight two-shot with Tallulah Bankhead, who has nipped round the back of the camera, unseen, and positioned herself in his path. A witty, self-conscious and wonderfully silly use of screen space.

THAT LADY IN ERMINE doesn’t have the benefit of a live Lubitsch to watch over its late production and post-production, and so it’s a lot more uneven. Still, it’s not exactly terrible. Preminger’s broad, ham-fisted approach to comedy (see SKIDOO and Vincent Price’s delicious line, “Otto had the sense of humour of a guillotine,”) pushes through the smooth understatement of Samson Rafaelson’s script, to create a giddy sense of goofiness that doesn’t feel under anybody’s control.

Hard to know if that script would have played markedly better under Lubitsch’s baton, because there’s a prevailing sense of derangement. The movie is a kind of operetta, with a few songs (by Frederick Hollander, so not bad, but not his best) and a Ruritanian setting. So it’s harkening back to Ernst’s early 30s Chevalier productions at Paramount. But, as they say, something new has been added, or several somethings.

First, Technicolor™! While it’s true that the colour in HEAVEN CAN WAIT is a little ugly and adds an unwanted heaviness to the proceedings (20th Century Fox tended to pump up the chroma to almost Goldwynesque levels of vulgar intensity), it really can’t harm such a surefooted and charming work, any more than the sexism and the contortions to get around the censor can. Here, with less ideal circumstances, the colour does hurt, even though it’s cinematographer Leon Shamroy’s trademark golden honey light and cobalt blue shadows, which I usually like. ladled over fairytale kingdoms and dream sequences and Hungarians, it gets a tad gooey.

Then there’s the cast. Lubistch had a genius for getting adept light comedy perfs out of unlikely thesps. Preminger didn’t. Lubitsch knew he could coast along on the sheer surprise of Gary Cooper being funny, and Jack Benny being dramatic (and funny). Here we have Betty Grable, who’s sometimes funny, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who can play anything, but can’t BE a husky Hungarian warlord. Preminger has good fun with his fatuousness, which Lubitsch might have tamped down. Further down the list, Reginald Gardner returns from CLUNY BROWN as milquetoast cuckold #1, and Cesar Romero plays milquetoast cuckold #2 a little uncertainly, as if he’s not quite sure why his character’s meant to be funny. His presence along with Grable’s recalls Preston Sturges’ THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND, another late film, the following year, where “Butch” is even more miscast. Fox films had this problem a lot, it seems to me — the contract players got shoehorned into movies they weren’t suited to. Walter Abel is a skilled farceur, and some of the weird innuendo is pleasing — there’s a sense of a sado-masochistic thing going on between Abel and Fairbanks, his superior officer, which is amusing. Plus, gratuitous Harry Davenport.

Betty sings, several times, a song with the lyric “What I’ll do to that wild Hungarian,” and Lubitsch seems very pleased indeed with his double entendre and with his use of the word “Hungarian” as a kind of all-purpose punchline. Or maybe it’s Preminger’s cackles we seem to hear.

A few gruesome cartoony sound effects showcase Otto’s leering comedy style, but mostly the problem is a subtler one of feeling, a sense that nothing is quite right. The story involves not only the fantasy of musical numbers and mythical realms, but paintings coming to life at midnight and a long flashback and a couple of long dream sequences. Double voodoo, and triple voodoo. And the feeling, as with yet another, but far better Sturges late film, UNFAITHFULY YOURS, that if so much of the movie is dream sequences, what’s left for us to take away rom it? (I never felt this really answered the question of what’s wrong with the often-brilliant UNFAITHFULLY, but it was Sturges’ own pet theory.)

Still, as a vaguely Christmassy (at the end) romance about marriage and dreams and fidelity, maybe you could double-bill it with EYES WIDE SHUT (also completed after it’s auteur’s demise, though at least shooting was finished) for a nice festive Fever-Dream Double Feature?