Archive for Fellini

The Dream of Wonderland of Long Ago

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2015 by dcairns

Delighted to have a contribution from Tim Hayes, the first entry to this blogathon to celebrate a composer, if I’m not mistaken. The composer in question being Basil Poledouris — if you know him, you love him, if you don’t know him, read the piece, you may find you have known him all along.

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Coral Browne, stunning in DREAMCHILD (1985). It was to be her last role, and it is suitably valedictory. “The grim reaper wears a smile for me.” Written by Dennis Potter, whose work always had a quality of aching nostalgia, even when he was young, and whose masterpiece may be not a TV play, series or film, but his beautiful final interview.

DREAMCHILD is about facing death, which means facing your life and reflecting on it. As a vehicle for this, Potter chose Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the model for Alice in Wonderland, who made a trip to America aged 80 to be honoured by Columbia University. Potter equips her with a young companion Nicola Cowper, and a pushy American newspaperman (a ludicrously young Peter Gallagher). And, brilliantly, he mixes scenes from Lewis Carroll with memories of Charles Dodgson, the stuttering don who loved Alice and immortalized her, movingly played by Ian Holm (about twenty years too old for the part, but who cares when the performance is this good?).

I was lucky enough to see this on its (minimal, transitory) first release, with a Q&A with director Gavin Millar, a scholarly fellow who had made many BBC documentaries. One particularly good one on Fellini explains the presence of a rippling fabric sea in Wonderland, for the grotesque, menacing Gryphon and soggy Mock Turtle to exchange unpleasantries in front of.

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The wonderland creatures, even the Hatter, are all played by animatronic creations from Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop. With its comparatively miniscule budget, DREAMCHILD could never have afforded these lavish practical effects, but Henson & Co decided to treat the film as r&d for the forthcoming LABYRINTH, so Millar got himself a bargain. The idea is to make the familiar fairytale figures threatening and disturbing, as the aged Alice has a bad conscience and is menaced by memories she doesn’t want to face. The Gryphon is voiced with Scots aggression by Fulton Mackay, who had plenty of experiences sitting on beaches in LOCAL HERO, the Turtle by Alan Bennett, and the March Hare by my idol Ken Campbell (who also appears as a radio sound effects man).

These sequences, and the transitions between them, are enhanced greatly by Stanley Myers’ sonorous score, which throbs and scrapes and elevates everything it touches with a high seriousness.

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There are a few problems. The budget seems strained in places. Millar admitted that it was very hard to find stock footage of 30s New York in colour. I say that if stock footage is your answer, you may be asking the wrong question. Since the stock shots cannot be integrated with the actors, it can only serve as establishing shots, and “establishing shots are a waste of time,” as Brian DePalma once sagely grumbled. I can see why the movie might have looked too small and too internal without wide shots in the pretend New York (British locations and sets, reasonably effective). Getting a cameraman to the real New York and filming UP might have helped. Stylisation might have solved everything, but I can see why Millar wanted a contrast between the “real” and “fantasy” elements of the story.

Millar also confessed that the love story in the film struck him as its weakest element, and I agree. Part of this has to do with Gallagher, who seems quite capable of playing a fast-talking newspaperman of the period (Millar cited HIS GIRL FRIDAY as the model for this stuff), but who hasn’t been driven on or given his head, and who is surrounded by actors who need time to think, so the pace never reaches a third of what it should be.

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Quibbles over — when the movie is in the past, it seems rich and lavish, and likewise the Wonderland scenes. Whenever it focuses on Coral Browne, it is a majestic success. And it has a secret weapon in Amelia Shankley as Little Alice, an incredible Personality Kid who can seemingly do anything, and is a match for Ian Holm in their scenes together. Millar remarked that the kids were amazingly good at looping dialogue, but really they’re amazing at everything. Shankley is immediately my favourite screen Alice, helped by the fact that she’s doing a different job than the others, playing the real girl rather than the fictional version (Potter’s character has more dimensions than Carroll’s) and by the fact that she’s close to the right age, unlike everyone else, ever. And since she has shorter, darker hair than the Tenniel illustration, she looks like the real girl and she’s free from comparisons with any other movie Alice anyway.

Millar’s excellent work with his cast is augmented by the disconcerting way he shuffles material — no doubt suggested at least by Potter, who delighted in flashbacks, dreams, daydreams — he brought the Fellini 8 1/2 approach to British television. It’s one big Kuleshov effect — elderly Alice looks, and the Charles Dodgson of seventy years ago looks back. Time shatters and the mirror fragments reflect a cluster of disconnected moments.

Browne was right to bow out here. There are distressingly few good roles for older actresses, and the chances of another part this rich coming along would be slim. With her big, wide, wide-apart eyes, she resembles at times an animatronic effect herself, but the life she projects is real, the lines on her face sculpted by time, not a modeller’s tools. I would wish for her a death as gracious as the one seemingly awaiting Alice, but it was not to be. Her death from cancer was protracted and undignified.

As a small recompense, she was granted immortality.

Secret Cinema

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2015 by dcairns

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As you might have noticed, we don’t tend to do lists here at Shadowplay. I have, at various times in my life, enjoyed making lists, but now the internet is flooded with them, so I will only do lists if they can be complete rubbish, like this one.

So, what follows is a list of the most secret films ever made, films that have never made it onto their respective auteurs’ filmographies.

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1) Alfred Hitchcock’s STOLEN. Alfred Hitchcock’s career officially contains two missing films, the unfinished NUMBER 13 and THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, completed but lost. But some time in the sixties, Hitchcock conceived a complex, self-referential movie called STOLEN, which was designed to be stolen and never recovered. Hitchcock scripted and shot a complete feature film which then went missing without a trace. The empty film cans were later retrieved, but with no trace of the footage. It has been suggested that, as a kind of perfect crime, Hitch actually shot the movie without film in the camera, and thus STOLEN never actually existed. At any rate, he planned a major publicity drive, inviting audiences to buy tickets and see a blank screen glowing white where the movie would have been had it not been nicked (using a slogan adapted from THE BIRDS: “Stolen Isn’t Coming”), but Universal bosses nixed the scheme and the whole thing was hushed up.

2) Alejandro Jodorowsky’s NUDE. After he lost the rights to Frank Herbert’s DUNE and saw Dino de Laurentiis make a dog’s dinner out of it, the famously eccentric Jodorowsky attempted to make his own version without copyright by rearranging all the letters. DUNE became NUDE and the rest of the story was similarly rearranged, making NUDE officially the first filmed anagram. The adventures of Sir Lead Taupe on the planet Ark-Sari, where he battles the evil Bonar Nan-Honker and rides on a colossal Norm’s-wad, NUDE also lived up to its title by being made without a costume designer, or even costumes. To further save money, Jodorowsky adapted an idea from his earlier plans, in which Salvador Dali as the emperor was to have been played party by a life-sized statue (because Dali would only agree to a few days’ filming). Going one better, Jodorowsky cast his film entirely with statues. In reality, the extremely limited budget only ran to one naked statue, which the director modified from shot to shot with a series of wigs, false beards and false breasts. The film, basically a series of shots of statues with anagramized dialogue dubbed on, was immediately slapped with an injunction by Dino De Laurentiis and was never screened. Jodorowsky subsequently denied ever making it. But he totally did.

3) THE BAWDY ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Remember when Peter Jackson was going to make the second part of the TINTIN saga begun by Spielberg? But then nobody went to see the Spielberg film because the mo-cap characters looked like corpse-puppets? Well, in fact, Jackson shot his film back-to-back with Spielberg and it has been awaiting release ever since. Owing to the disappointing response to the corpse-puppet version, however, Jackson has been working furiously to make the footage acceptable to the public. First, he toyed with releasing the film straight, without animation, just as a series of scenes of Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis in gimp-suits, studded with measles, cavorting in front of greenscreens. TINTIN DOES DOGVILLE was the working title of this version. Then Jackson considered a return to his low-comedy roots, adding a lot of sex and violence. In this cut, the Thompson Twins would form an incestuous relationship, Captain Haddock would turn out to be a female transvestite, and Snowy… but it is better not to know. Fans will learn the truth when the film finally sees the light of day as the fourth part of THE HOBBIT trilogy.

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4) Andy Warhol’s UNTITLED. Not its real title. The true title is . Not a full stop, just a space. Like this one: . Not the colon, not the full stop, the bit in between. This has ensured that even when film historians remember to include   on Warhol’s filmography, nobody notices it. The film itself is just sixty minutes of Candy Darling’s left nipple.

5) FILM MAUDIT. Jean Cocteau, having invented this useful term, then had to use it as a title for a film he made about swanning around Picasso’s villa, taking lots of opium, and annoying Picasso in his trunks. The film lived up to its name when it vanished in a puff of smoke after coming into contact with a drunken Robert Shaw.

6) UNSEEN FILM. This 1997 curiosity was cobbled together by director Raul Ruiz from out-takes of several of his earlier films and part of an incomplete Jesus Franco women-in-prison romp. Threatened lawsuits by several cast members (or their executors) were only forestalled when Ruiz screened the film for a drunken Robert Shaw.

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7) NIDAKRA .RM This unofficial version of Welles’ MR. ARKADIN was never released, but some claim it to be the director’s preferred cut. Unhappy with his makeup, which mainly consisted of two false beards, one stuck to the top of his head, Welles toyed with the idea of threading the film backwards so it projected in reverse and upside down. He had always favoured achronological narrative structures, and viewed in this inverted manner the beard sprouting from his scalp didn’t look so bad. The film itself was just a perfectly ordinary print of one or other cut of the film, so that even letting Robert Shaw near it didn’t ultimately do it any harm.

8 1/2) Fellini’s NINE AND A HALF. We all know that EIGHT AND A HALF was Fellini’s eight-and-a-halfth film, but what of his nine-and-a-halfth? This was a misguided experiment inspired by the maestro’s exploration of LSD. JULIETTE OF THE SPIRITS may have been influenced by Fellini’s hallucinogenic experiment, but the untitled follow-up was actually made DURING an LSD trip. Reversing his usual practice, Fellini did not have his actors speak numbers and then dub on dialogue: ha had them speak a carefully prepared script and then dubbed on numbers. Producer Dino de Laurentiis had previously had a scene from NIGHTS OF CABIRIA stolen from the lab to prevent Fellini from using it, but on this occasion he had the entire film stolen and claimed it on the insurance. Rumours abound that Adrian Lyne later claimed the film simply by adding the word “WEEKS” on the end and redubbing it. And adding tits. Others claim that a remorseful Fellini begged Robert Shaw to borrow the negative, usually a safe way of destroying something, but that several reels may have survived despite Shaw setting fire to the cans, his house, and his legs.

The Forgotten has been on hiatus for Cannes, but will return to The Notebook next week.

Handbag Bowls

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2014 by dcairns

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In LA NOTTE, Antonioni’s existential urban ennui driftalong dream of directionless decadence and the isolation of togetherness, Monica Vitti, making an “extraordinary appearance” (though as the director’s wife, it’s not so much extraordinary as inevitable), invents a fun new game, sliding her handbag across a checkerboard floor, the object being to land on the last square. It’s not quite the only fun anyone has in the movie, but it feels like it, perhaps because Antonioni has invented the best excuse for cleavage shots in screen history.

As another disaffected, casual, despairing party guest, Vitti still manages to be more alive and productive than the principles (tellingly, the most vivacious guy is the friend who’s dying), with her tape-recorded observations, made purely for self-expression, but even she ends up drained by the vampiric energy-void of Mastroianni and Moreau. Also, she represents such vivacity and allure that Mastroianni, drawn zombie-moth like towards her, never seems to lose sympathy despite the fact that he’s trying, in a listless way, to cheat on his miserable wife. I was on his side.

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The excellent bit with the stuffed cat.

But I was on Moreau’s side too — she’s much more appealing than him. It seems surprising to see Moreau cast as nothing but a wife, and a passionless one too. It helps that she smiles quite a bit — but a gentle smile, none of her usual edge. JULES ET JIM located that smile as belonging to an ancient statue: the smile of the sphinx. I have no idea how thoughtful the real Marcello was — I have my doubts — but he makes a just-credible intellectual here. But it’s Moreau who more strongly  suggests hidden depths.

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Her flaneur sequences, wandering a Milan that’s gradually being corroded into another international Tativille, were the bits that hooked me, evoking as they do the mysterious intensity of L’ECLISSE’s final, protagonist-free street corner hang-out zone (analysed here).

Hard to imagine how the film’s celebration/suicidal despair at the clean angles of modern architecture would have played when all this was actually new. Despite an opening shot that pointedly contrasts old and new structures, LA NOTTE doesn’t generally offer a Tati-style dialectic on differing ages of design, it essentially takes up discrete vantage points amid those glossy, glassy planes and bides its time. And it’s bravely devoid of a sense of humour, even if Marcello does sprout a set of glittering deely-boppers for an instant.

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The final party, endless party, all jazz and dark angles, strikes me as more successful than anything in LA DOLCE VITA — it doesn’t seem to have dated, and in eschewing the cartoonist’s eye for tabloid-friendly excess, it captures public aloneness, isolation in a crowd, melancholy pleasures amid revelry, solitary pensiveness and also portrays a party I’d actually kind of like to go to, even if I would just find a quiet corner and read.

UK Blu: LA NOTTE [THE NIGHT] (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray)

UK DVD: La Notte [Masters of Cinema] [1961] [DVD]

US Blu: La Notte (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

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