Archive for Figures in a Landscape

Histories and Legacies

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2017 by dcairns

Me and Richard Lester. Photo by Sheldon Hall, complete with psychedelic projections. Thanks, Sheldon!

The image above was taken at the symposium British Cinema in the 1960s: Histories and Legacies at the BFI Southbank on Thursday. This was Part 2 of the conference I presented at last week. It was lovely to see Richard again, and meet Neil Sinyard, who literally wrote the book on him, and to acquire the latest edition of said book at a hefty academic discount, and hear more of his stories of his early career. Many of these appear in Andrew Yule’s book The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, but Richard tells them better.

Academic conferences are strange things — rather jolly, though. I couldn’t believe the obscurity of some of the stuff under discussion. In York, there had been a paper based on research into the completion bond guarantor’s notes on  Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. In London, there were entries on the Children’s Film Foundation, the production design of IF…., censorship and colour in Hammer films (centering on that naughty studio’s practice of submitting b&w prints of colour films, to disguise the gore) and trade advertisements for Eastmancolor. I was in hog heaven, glorying in the utter abstruseness of this info. I also learned about a few films I hadn’t seen (or, in the case of TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING, even heard of). And I made some new friends.

Also: a stunning 35mm screening of PETULIA.

My idea of academia before attending the conference.

Sandy Lieberson and David Puttnam were interviewed on Wednesday, and Rita Tushingham on Thursday. So it wasn’t all about the obscure byways of the business. Some of the papers were critical analyses, Charles Drazin using Lindsay Anderson’s relationship with his former headmaster as a lens through which to re-examine IF….’s politics. Others were historical, based on archival digging or interviews. There were a trio of presentations based around the public’s memories of cinema-going at the time, looking at sexual attitudes (and behaviour in the dark of the auditorium), responses to the fantasy of Swinging London, and the difficulties of getting to a screen if you lived in the countryside. There was lots on Ken Loach (KES and POOR COW) but I was even happy to hear about that.

My only criticism would be the lack of analysis of the visual, of the craft of filmmaking. There was some of this, and there were a good number of papers which dealt with areas far removed from the art of framing, cutting, mixing, in which technique wasn’t relevant. But in some of the actual discussion of movies, the “close analysis” was confined to the story and dialogue, with the cinematic approach completely ignored. I suppose it’s inevitable when the people looking at films are word people. Richard Lester got in a gentle crack about academia when he said that he had expected that A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, once it had fulfilled its ephemeral pop-culture purpose in 1964, would only be of interest “in, well, frankly, rooms like this.”

(Of course, my paper was on a screenwriter, so I give myself a free pass on this issue.)

My idea of academia after attending the conference.

I’d go again! My odd situation is that, as a teaching fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m not officially expected to do what they call “research,” although I only just found this out. For years, they’ve been asking me to tell me all about my research activities, and I’ve obliged, but none of my filmmaking or criticism really counts as academic research. Can I even claim expenses for my trip? I don’t know. If I can, I’d go to lots of these things! To me, it was just like a science fiction convention, only without the cosplay, and more fun.


Quote of the Day: My bloody head

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 14, 2008 by dcairns



After being harried at close quarters by a sinister C.I.A.-style black helicopter, Robert Shaw is obsessed by thoughts of DECAPITATION:

“I didn’t know he could do that. I didn’t know anybody could. He could have taken my head off. I could have been running around like a bloody chicken with my head bouncing up on the ground in front of me!”

The Helicopter Spies


“I might have tripped over it.”


“My head. Could have scored a bloody goal with it. I’d like to kick my bloody head right up into his perspex.” 


The film is stunningly photographed (three D.O.P.s, including the great Alekan), well acted of course (only Shaw and Malcolm McDowell have speaking parts) and has the kind of weird theatrical dialogue Losey liked, this time written by Shaw himself — Shaw was a successful but far from prolific playwright.

Comparisons with Jansco seem apt: abstract political cruelty in a vast landscape. It’s also a bit like the action movie Pinter never wrote. And while Losey doesn’t go in for Jansco-esque sequence shots, he does use longer takes than are standard in a two-fisted tale. Particularly stunning are the headlong plunges from the helicopter’s POV, filmed with a wide-angle lens that makes the scenery rush at us like a bunch of riotous golems and ents. This means that Objects in Camera are Closer than they Appear, which is a terrifying thought when you see how close they APPEAR. The scene of Shaw’s up-close persecution by the chopper is staggering, unheard-of: Losey appears to have a desire to push stunt-work to extremes, as the carriage crash at the end of THE GYPSY AND THE GENTLEMAN also suggests. Here it’s Shaw himself for at least most of the action, getting his as kicked by a large piece of flying machinery that has the ability to mince him up good if it changes angle at the wrong time.

It wouldn’t be me!

The Flyer