Archive for Face/Off

“You’ve only gorn an’ done it.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2008 by dcairns

KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS is the finest title ever conceived by human typewriter, I insist.

If you don’t believe me, try coming up with another variant on the VERB / BODILY FLUID / PORTION OF ANATOMY schema that isn’t utterly gross or ludicrous. The least offensive one I can manage is BLOW THE SICK OFF MY SHOULDER.

So director Norman Foster and the film’s gaggle of writers (one for nearly each word of the title) are clearly onto something. Although I think they miss a trick by not having any of the characters in the film actually SAY THE TITLE. Whenever anybody SAYS THE TITLE in a film, either Fiona or I, if we’re watching at home, generally cry, “He SAID THE TITLE!”

(I think it dates back to an anecdote about FACE / OFF. Nick Cassavetes was improvising in a scene with Nicholas Cage, and Cage said “I wanna take his face… off.” Cassavetes freaked. “He said the title!” he thought to himself. “I can’t let him get away with that! I’m gonna say the title too!” So he comes back with, “You wanna take his face…off?” and then they go on like that for like an hour until John Woo gets tired and has them start shooting at stuff. Or something.)

Anyhow, there’s a bit where Burt Lancaster, playing a war-troubled yank adrift in Hollywood’s version of London, punches an artificial fertiliser salesman by the name of Widgery and then, fleeing the scene with Joan Fontaine, punches a copper. Well, what could be simpler than to have big Burt, when hauled before the judge, plead, “But your honour, I didn’t mean to hit him, I was just trying to get him to KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS.” It could work.

But Burt, being less imaginative perhaps than myself, an award-winning filmmaker, doesn’t come up with any convincing excuses of this kind, and is sentenced to a flogging. At this point we wondered about the film’s jurisprudential accuracy. Did they practice flogging in post-war Britain? I mean, as a legal sentence? I Googled the words “History of English flogging” but the stuff that came up wasn’t really very educational, so I’ll forget the research and go with my gut instinct: no they bloody didn’t. Somebody just wanted to shoot a gothic s&m scene with Burt. Which is fine.

For all its fogbound atmos, the film struck me as quite French in a way, rather than being American or British — it has the doomed romantic feeling of the pre-war poetic realists, very close to film noir already. It can’t quite end as perfectly as it might because it’s trapped between the commercial dislike of unhappy endings (nearly ALL great noirs have unhappy endings, and it was a very popular genre, so why does anybody worry?) and the Production Code’s insistence that crime must not pay. So it has to contrive a vaguely unsatisfactory hopeful ending, in other words it hedges its bets all over the place.

But it’s a pleasure to watch Norman Foster’s stuff, with its Wellesian dutch tilts (Foster directed JOURNEY INTO FEAR with Welles at R.K.O.) and chiaroscuro flourishes. Foster is a considerable noirist in his own right — his MR. MOTO films are glossy, shadowy and hugely fun, and he would carry his canted angles with him right onto the ’60s Batman show. The film is as lopsided as those angles, with an odd structure and shaky character motivation at times, but it’s affecting because Big Burt is such a lovable lunk, Joan Fontaine always does nervous and troubled extremely well, and despite what nearly everybody has said about this film, I think actually make a great onscreen couple. My theory — IMDb reviewers notice that something isn’t working in this film — it’s the script! — and ascribe the fault to the unusual screen pairing. But that pairing is one of the film’s strengths. This is exactly why asking your audience for advice can be dangerous. They’re pretty brilliant at feeling when something’s wrong, but they’re not trained at identifying what it is. I, of course, being an award-winning film-maker, get it every time. That’s probably why I’m unemployed.

Anyway, the French poetic realist thing — Robert Newton, playing a black marketeer called Harry, is not a bit like Harry Lime, but as he insinuates himself into the protags’ lives and practically insists they murder him, just by being so damn evil all the time, he is very much like classic murderee Jules Berry in LE JOUR SE LEVE, I think. “You were born to be murdered,” Trevor Howard tells Joseph Cotton in THE THIRD MAN, and it’s true of Newton in a different way. He pushes his luck, see. You can’t leer like that while Joan Fontaine’s around and not expect Burt Lancaster to completely kill you.

Wait a minute, here’s one:


Yes. I’d definitely watch that.

The Chills #6: Release the hounds

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2008 by dcairns

Major spoiler alert: This is THE END OF THE MOVIE!


Taken me AGES to get to this one, but it’s a goody! Matthew McConkey says:

Another Francophile suggestion from me, but this time an ending rather than opening: The final scene of EYES WITHOUT A FACE.

Without having some other examples of Chills to refer to I might have missed the point a little, but the first thing I thought of was chills as in a “chiller film”. Then I re-read the words “beauty” and “otherness” in your description and realised I’d misinterpreted you. But to me horror + beauty + otherness = the end of Eyes Without A Face.

Franju pretty much was the champion in exploring that ambiguity by combining “horror chills” with “beauty chills” and the serenity of Christiane stopping to release the birds amid the carnage going on always manages to raise the hairs on my neck and send a shiver down my spine.

That’s a textbook example of The Chills right there. Georges Franju’s surgical romance played at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1959, where women screamed and strong men fainted. “Now I understand why Scotsmen wear skirts,” remarked the director.

Nevertheless Franju, who had previously investigated bloody slaughter in the poetic documentary LE SANG DES BETES, served up more bodily mutilation than audiences were used to seeing at the time, and in a manner that was both clinical and beautiful. Too methodically slow to really function as a thriller, the film defies categorisation, except that which Franju himself offered:

“It’s an anguish film. It’s a quieter mood than horror, something more subjacent, more internal, more penetrating. It’s horror in homeopathic doses.”

The Face on the Cutting Room Floor

Hugely influential, the film kickstarted Jesus Franco’s career, with THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF starting a series featuring Howard Vernon’s mad plastic surgeon, and other face transplant sagas like FACE / OFF following in due course.

I was even mixed up with one myself, a feature script written by my partner Fiona, MIRROR MIRROR, which attracted European Script Fund money but then never got made, partly I think because people couldn’t understand the principle that, like Franju’s classic, it was a fairy tale.