Archive for Franju

It Takes a Village, and other lessons children teach us

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2018 by dcairns

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED may have a rotten remake but it has an excellent sequel. (Remake it now, and you can digitally recolour the kids’ hair instead of relying on wigs, and you can have one boy and one girl play all the kids, so they’re identical as in the book. DO IT.)

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964) is niftily directed by Anton M. Leader (AKA Tony Leader) and it’s the busy TV director’s only feature save for THE COCKEYED COWBOYS OF CALLICO COUNTY, a 1970 Dan Blocker vehicle (???). I reckon Tony should have quit while he was ahead. But he does fine work here, continuing the dutch tilts and low angles of the first film and adding more modernistic touches too. Those eerie/cheap stills of the kids with glowing eyes in the first film are echoed by the title sequence, a series of ever-enlarging freeze-frames that look to have been taken from a crash zoom, so there’s weird blurring around our eldritch kid.

When the kids traipse through a deserted London, they’re in very, very subtle slomo. I’m reminded of Franju’s LA PREMIERE NUIT.

“Children are a doorway into the supernatural,” said Mario Bava. “Children don’t think as grownups do — they are mad, in fact,” wrote Richard Hughes.

I had somehow convinced myself that sci-fi writer Anthony Boucher had a hand in the writing of this, but his only screen credit is William Castle’s excellent MACABRE, and this is the work of John Briley — and indeed it brings together numerous of the motifs of a screenplay of his previously celebrated here, THE MEDUSA TOUCH. Psychic powers and a climax at a floodlit London church… Briley’s other main credits are earnest Attenborough snooze-fests. I wish he’d done more clever pulp fantasy.

Five genius children are born, but scattered around the world this time. A UN IQ test detects them and they’re brought together in London, where they become even more powerful. This is clearly a development of the alien invasion from the first film, but nobody ever refers to that case… I guess that would just pad out the exposition. But investigators seem able to intuit developments before they happen (“Does Rashid ever make you do things?”) so maybe they’re acquainted with the rulebook from the previous movie. No wigs this time — I think the black and brown and Chinese kids wouldn’t have looked credible in blonde Beatles ‘dos, so I support this choice.

I guess I get why some people don’t care for this film — no Martin Stephens, and a plot that’s imperfectly developed — but I love it. It has a great Quatermass/Doctor Who opposition of humane scientist to nasty government/military, and the two leads are terrific. Ian Hendry and Alan Badel may not be stars of the George Sanders magnitude, but like the spooky kids, put them together and their power is magnified. The dry, melancholic Hendry, occasionally erupting into what his pal calls “a Welsh tirade” — the sardonic, fruity Badel, who just can’t help make everything a sneer. One bachelor, living with another — somewhere between Holmes & Watson and Tony Hancock & Sid James. “There should be a whole series with these guys,” declared Fiona, something I think every time I see this, which isn’t often enough.

Also featuring Professor Dippet, Thumbelina, the shrink from PEEPING TOM and Oliver Cromwell. And Bessie Love, beginning the strange, psychotronic third act of her career (VAMPYRES *and* THE HUNGER!)

Because we’re in London in 1964 in b&w, everything looks like REPULSION — one pictures Hendry changing coats so he can pursue dirty weekends with Yvonne Furneaux between set-ups. Davis Boulton shot it, fresh from THE HAUNTING. Evidently he couldn’t get the defective Cinemascope wide angle lenses that make that movie so distinctive (they had to sign all sorts of papers promising not to sue if the distortion was TOO extreme) but he does fine work. His subsequent career is unaccountably appalling.

Ron Goodwin does the music again, really the only direct link to the original film.

The script, though flawed, has some killer lines and some fascinating developments. The children barely speak, their few vocal moments strikingly well-chosen. Barbara Ferris, the sympathetic aunt of the English boy, speaks for them, possessed, her high, clipped voice sounding remarkably like little Martin Stephens’ in the first film.

An eleventh-hour plot twist reveals that the kids’ cells are human, but from a million years in the future (how can they tell?). This is very interesting, and kind of goes nowhere, but it does make this a precursor of both LA JETEE and THE TERMINATOR. We’ve established that random mutations (or “biological sports,” to use the film’s quaint terminology) couldn’t account for six prodigies occurring at once. So evidently these kids were implanted in the womb back in time, through some process we can only guess at and for some purpose that never becomes clear. A third movie is obviously called for.

When Badel expresses his disgust with espionage cad Alfred Burke, it comes out as “What would you lot do if the whole world made friends — had a bloody love affair?” “Oh, I shouldn’t worry,” smirks Burke. “You know how love affairs go.”

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Study War No More

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by dcairns

My favourite documentaries are those by Georges Franju and Alain Resnais, and I wonder if the one influenced the other?

Resnais’ epic TOUT LES MEMOIRES DU MONDE, about the National Library of France, seen as a giant hive-mind, a paper brain, a prison for ideas, has a visual splendour that anticipates the prowling camera of MARIENBAD. The use of moving camera, broken by sudden and percussive static shots, seems to have a lot in common with Franju’s HOTEL DES INVALIDES, which I’ve just managed to see.

Both films profile a building/institution in Paris, and deploy omniscient narration and the aforementioned camera style. In addition, both have strident and aggressive scores, which makes more obvious sense in the case of Franju’s portrayal of a military museum and nursing home for disabled veterans. The discordant, martial sound of Resnais’ library is a feature students often point to with puzzlement when I share the movie with them. I think it works marvelously with the epic tone the movie takes, in which impressive statistics are piled upon outrageously enormous and heavy metaphors. It’s a film which deploys sheer bigness as an idea.

The Franju is shorter and maybe less ambitious, but still poetic and thought-provoking. As with LES SANG DES BETES, knowing that he’s got some strong stuff to come, the director seems to delight in beginning in as dull a fashion as possible, profiling the building’s exterior from every angle, and following the flights of pigeons overhead (Franju does love his birdlife). The crippled and disfigured former soldiers will come later, but they’re used sparingly and, I think, respectfully.

A choir of young voices greets us after we’ve toured the museum and church (slogan: “Heaven lies in the shadow of swords.”) “What’s that?” asks a girl as a column of schoolchildren are marched past.”

Her boyfriend replies, “It’s just the children, drilling.”

Grunge

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2010 by dcairns

Werewolf in mid-transformation.

The grotty, post-dubbed, low-res seediness of WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMITORY and ATOM AGE VAMPIRE kind of wear on you. Both films started out continental (German and Italian) and with classier titles: LYCANTHROPUS and SEDDOK. I like SEDDOK enormously as a title, for the same inexplicable reason I like Michael Powell’s quota quickie RYNOX — nonsense words with a manly sound to them!

In fact, according to the IMDb, what Denis Gifford calls SEDDOK was released as SEDDOK, L’EREDE DI SATANA. It’s a knock-off of Franju’s rather more poetic EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which was revamped in Spain by Jesus Franco as THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF. In the low rent Italian version, a go-go dancer suffers facial mutilation in an unconvincing car accident and agrees to experimental treatment by a couple of obviously dodgy medicos. Soon, everyone is lap-dissolving into scabby, unkempt “vampires.”

(If Freda could make THE HORRIBLE DR HITCHCOCK and Franco coughed out THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF, what other titles remain unused? THE FRANGIBLE DR FRANKENSTEIN? THE TERRIBLE DR TERWILLIKER?)

This is a product of the post-war years when Italian horror was briefly science-fictional, following the atomic and space-age concerns of American movies. Soon, the Gothic would assert itself, a surprising development for that place and era, only to be largely superseded by the cod-psychological mayhem of the giallo.

Poor Sergio Fantoni! From Visconti’s SENSO to SEDDOK.

Both these films look like they might have modest virtues (even if LYCANTHROPUS deploys an unpromising whodunnit approach to werewolfery) — SEDDOK in particular has plenty of interesting, expressive camera angles — shots which really tell the story, and shots which are just decoratively beautiful or atmospheric. And the killer’s raincoat made me think of DON’T LOOK NOW. But the poor quality public domain copies, dubbed and probably rescored, do the films no favours. Maybe I’d revisit them if better editions appeared.

Chalk off another two titles in my quest to See Reptilicus and Die!