Archive for Fred Gwynne

The Look 3: McDowell Toasts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2016 by dcairns


Since Donald Benson helpfully mentioned the starchild/space baby’s look to camera in the final shot of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, (comments section, here) I’m following on with the opening shot of Kubrick’s next film, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which seems to answer that cool gaze.

I like it when films join up like that. Just think, if Kubrick had made NAPOLEON in 1970 as originally planned, this wouldn’t have happened, or not so neatly.

The film’s aren’t as directly successive, but it’s kind of neat the way Fred Gwynne finds some chewing gum stuck under his balcony railing in Bertolucci’s LA LUNA — Marlon Brando’s last act in  LAST TANGO IN PARIS was to stick his gum under Maria Schneider’s railing (and no, that’s not a euphemism for something beastly).

But back to this look. As Kubrick’s camera withdraws from closeup, via a zoom and a dolly back, Malcolm raises his glass to the audience. The next day, after seeing the rushes, Kubes rushed up to him and congratulated him on that detail. He hadn’t noticed. Despite the fact that he was operating the camera himself.

This isn’t as bizarre as it sounds. A camera operator, during a moving shot, tends to concentrate on the edges of the frame more than the subject, checking the composition is working and that no unwelcome boom mic or tracks or, god forbid, crewmembers, have come into shot. This is why Harrison Ford was displeased to find Ridley Scott handholding the camera in BLADE RUNNER — he knew the director wouldn’t be watching his performance. (But Richard Lester speaks of his great pleasure at precisely the act of watching a great performance being delivered into the lens, while operating — but Lester would tend to operate on the wide shot, which wouldn’t require him to adjust so much for movement, leaving most of his great brain free to watch and assess the acting.)


In fairness, the “toast” is a little tiny micro-pause as the glass rises to the lips. Still, Kubrick’s failure to see what his leading man was doing in the centre of his opening shot could be seen as another welcome dent in the myth of Kubrickian perfection. I’m campaigning to have Kubrick’s reputation altered from obsessive perfectionist to amiable bumbler.



Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 2, 2007 by dcairns


Spoiler alert:

At the end of LAST TANGO IN PARIS, Marlon Brando expires on a balcony, just like Toshiro Mifune at the end of DRUNKEN ANGEL (two spoilers per sentence!) Before life departs his frame, Brando rather suavely takes the gum from his mouth and affixes it to the underside of the metal railing.

Two Bertolucci films later, in LA LUNA, the mighty Fred Gwynne (how much nicer film history would be if HE had played all Brando’s roles!) Stands likewise on a balcony and finds Brando’s gum. “Damn kids,” he mutters.

It’s maybe the only cute thing in either film, and I like to picture this gum stretching from Paris to New York, from 1972 to 1979, from Marlon Brando.

Gratuitous spoiler: Fred tells his wife he’s had a strange, disquieting dream, but shrugs it off and says he’ll tell her later. Then he leaves the house and drops dead at the wheel of his car. Pretty cool.

Footnote: I once spellchecked Bertolucci’s name on a very old computer and it suggested BARNYARD BERTOLUCCI. I like this name and I always think of it.

Footfootnote: Making THE LAST EMPEROR, Peter O’Toole always called him BERT.

Marlon Brando as Sheriff Calder in THE CHASE