Archive for Flicker

Last Train

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by dcairns


UNSTOPPABLE, Tony Scott’s last film prior to his unexplained jumping from a bridge — his brother was supposed to be the depressive one — is pitched somewhere in the quieter end of his frenetic, acid-coloured, shakycam style, meaning that fans of DOMINO probably don’t find it interesting enough and I can just about bear it (the way I tolerated CRIMSON TIDE and DEJA VU, which were both enjoyable stories). It’s also uncharacteristically benign, with only one death — which is at least intended to have some emotional impact — and no out-and-out villains. There’s a mild anti-corporate stance although everybody ends up not making too much of a fuss because they want to get on in life. It’s not very rock’n’roll. But it’s inoffensive — and I often find Scott’s films shockingly unpleasant and inhumane.


It was Fiona who spotted the orange dot just ahead of the train — a woodland critter which kind of FLOWS across the tracks like a sheet of newspaper in a babbling brook — “They must have been SO EXCITED when they caught that!”

There’s a runaway train full of toxic chemicals and this time Jon Voight ISN’T at the wheel quoting Nietszche, if you remember RUNAWAY TRAIN — worse, no one’s at the wheel, and only Captain Kirk and Malcolm X can stop this mile-long juggernaut from destroying Stanton. Part of the film’s overall sweetness is that it trusts its audience to care about a town of less than a million inhabitants. Why, in ARMAGEDDON Michael Bay had to obliterate Paris just to show he meant business.

Working class heroes are welcome, Denzel Washington’s laid-back charisma compensates for Pine’s callowness, and incidentally DW gets to show why he’d be impossible to defeat or fluster in an argument — the film could’ve as well been called UNFLAPPABLE.


Scott’s credit comes over an unfortunate image.

I remain agnostic about Scott’s imagery — I did feel a bit claustrophobic from all the colour-manipulation going on, which boosted the orange-and-teal nightmare from which American cinema has yet, it seems, to awaken, into something even more hallucinatory and queasy, which I guess is better than just using it normally without thinking. I grew to loathe Scott’s tobacco filters, so this is at least something else. Maybe that’s his redeeming cinematic trait — amping up worthless techniques until they become interesting through sheer excess — no longer fit for the banal purpose they were designed for, they suggest some ungraspably alien higher intent. Scott, I feel, would have been the ideal man to make SUB SUB, the imaginary rock ‘n’ roll post-apocalyptic caveman movie described in Theodore Roszak’s cinematic conspiracy novel Flicker — a film so  virulently “cinematic” that it could sterilize mankind. Is that a respectful thing to say about a recently death-plunged filmmaker? Possibly not, but it seems the right kind of compliment for his kind of cinema.


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on November 27, 2013 by dcairns


Stunning images courtesy of Paul Clipson. Paul was introduced to me by Daniel Kasman of MUBI’s The Notebook. Paul was coming to Edinburgh to visit his mum and Daniel thought we’d get along. I ended up arranging for Paul to show his films at Edinburgh College of Art and a good crowd of students showed up to get their eyes drunk on his dazzling visuals.


Paul is a projectionist in San Francisco and with his spare cash he’s an experimental filmmaker, buying up Super-8 while it’s still out there and compiling elegantly layered movies of light and colour and movement.

Paul explained that much of his aesthetic is informed by what his camera can and can’t do. It allows him to wind the film back to do double, or triple, or infinituple exposures. But it only allows him to wind back a short way. Also, the films are edited entirely with film splicing, the traditional way, so there’s no opportunity to add longer dissolves or correct anything in post. All Paul does is select, prune, arrange.


The films are shown at longer events with live music played alongside the movies but without regard to their content — the musicians typically look at their keyboards so the ways in which the films interact with the “soundtrack” are entirely coincidental, but often startling. For our show, Paul had shorter versions of his films with pre-prepared accompaniment played out of his laptop.


The film’s are visually intoxicating — by crash-zooming on city lights and multi-layering via many exposures, Paul has created his own Stargate sequence a la 2001. He’s also got an effect going I’ve never seen anywhere else — by having various layers of foreground action passing between us and our nominal subject (for instance, a girl running in a forest with trees at different distances between us and her, momentarily occluding our view) and double exposing and cutting FAST, Paul can get a sequence to the point where our grasp of film language disintegrates — we can no longer tell if, at any moment, we are seeing a single image, a double exposure, a continuous shot, or a series of edits. It’s not that it all becomes a blur — each frame seems super-bright and clear, firing into our brains like a bullet — instead, the mass fragmentation results in a higher unity (a Höheren Einheit, if you will), where all the shots and layers fuse together in one.


Afterwards, the conversation briefly turned to Theodore Roszak’s cinematic conspiracy novel Flicker, and it only struck me later that if anybody ever manages to film that tome (and many, including Gilliam, have tried), Paul is the one person who could adequately visualize the occult film techniques employed within its pages…

Intertitle of the Week: Let ‘x’ equal ‘x’

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2009 by dcairns


Despite my Duvivier advocacy, I hadn’t heard a thing about LE MYSTERE DE LA TOUR EIFFEL until it turned up as a download and I grabbed it. What a treat! Duvivier in playful mode, pastiching Feulliade and Lang in a serial-style caper involving impersonations, disguises, abductions, escapes, secret societies and Siamese twins? What could be better to get me in the mood for the MoMA retrospective (this movie isn’t screening in it — such are the riches in the Duvivier canon, a whole month isn’t enough time to programme them all).

Plot — apart from the Ku Klux Eiffel, a secret society operating out of a sinister castle and the Eiffel Tower — there’s this Siamese Twin dance act, not actual Siamese, or conjoined, or twins, or in fact related, but look-a-likes who dance side by side. When one of them comes into an inheritance (1957 million francs, a tidy sum) the other impersonates him and claims it. But his dastardly act does not go unpunished, as his windfall attracts the attention of the KKE, who start persecuting him, even in his sleep ~


The impostor hatches a devilish plan, hiring the true heir to impersonate him for eight days, assuming that in this time the Klan will kill him. To make their job easier, he warns the true heir that, while he is carrying out his masquerade, he may be subjected to practical jokes by a few friends. Now, like Bill Murray in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE, our hapless hero is primed to laugh in the face of danger, simply because he doesn’t recognise it. Also, he’s in the unusual position of impersonating a man impersonating himself. He’s posing as himself and he doesn’t even know it.


What follows is great fun, although there’s nothing to compete with the insane early sequence in which radio broadcasts of popular music from the Eiffel Tower are interrupted by coded signals from the KKE, an effect Duvivier attempts to represent in visual form, with frenetic cutting and strobing intertitles. The castle HQ, with gratuitous labyrinth, throne-room and futurist laboratory, is an impressive Evil Empire, and from there we rush pell-mell to the great tower itself, for a gobsmacking final running battle amid the girders, shot without benefit of special effects. Not for the nervous ~





The shuttling back and forth between Paris and the mountainous castle makes me think of THE DA VINCI CODE, another tale of secret societies, and this Cathar connection also brought to mind Theodore Roszak’s paranoid cine-fantasy novel Flicker. And when the same symbols from the KKE’s coded message started flashing up on the screen around the reel changes, it made me think of Roszak’s concept of the underfilm, subliminal messages woven into the warp and woof of the celluloid to sterilize mankind and bring about eschaton.


And it all somehow ties in, in my mind, with Duvivier’s death at the wheel of his car, 40 years after making this film.


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