Archive for Gene Kelly

Vex and Silence

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2022 by dcairns

OK, so Gillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities delivered two stunningly bad takes on Lovecraft yesterday, all sound and fury, signifying more sound and fury. Within minutes I could tell each one was going to be leaden. Pickman’s Model buried the story in irrelevant self-mutilations and was among Lovecraft’s least filmable works anyway — even Nyarlathotep would do better as basis for a scenario — since it’s about unbelievably horrible paintings. Imagine – some poor commercial artist had to try to produce paintings so repulsive they warp the mind of the onlooker.

Now, admittedly, Albert Lewin’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY managed to come up with a rotting portrait equal to Wilde’s conception, or near enough. But what Lovecraft seems to be requiring is beyond even that.

While Pickman’s Model falls into all the inadequacies the story’s nameless narrator credited himself with, in his strained attempts to mimic Pickman’s morbid style, and adds grotesquely amplified squelching sounds in a last-ditch effort to gross us out, Dreams in the Witch House starts out at peak volume and proceeds further and further over the top as it goes on. Actually, it starts with the Shostakovich waltz from EYES WIDE SHUT, thereby proving that the filmmakers have no interest in being original.

Altogether more agreeable to me is DAUGHTER OF HORROR, the film playing in the movie theatre in THE BLOB (version originale) and its director-approved first cut, DEMENTIA. John Parker’s not-quite-a-feature (well, I guess it’s around the same runtime as SHERLOCK JR…)

DEMENTIA is completely wordless, apart from the printed text of the credits. DAUGHTER OF HORROR had a hammy voiceover added, spoken by Ed McMahon, thereby subtract (in part) the film’s USP. The narration just makes everything more obvious, and the story of a man-killing sex worker already has a somewhat rote symbolism to it. The imagery and George Antheil’s score (with vocals by Marni Nixon) provide all the exposition we need.

As a wordless film I thought it sort of less interesting than Ray Milland’s THE SAFECRACKER Russell Rouse’s THE THIEF. In DEMENTIA, we see people talking but we don’t hear them — the suggestion is we’re never close enough. In the Rouse film, nobody talks to him and he’s party to no conversations, and the sense of loneliness created is quite striking. DEMENTIA could have done with that. But the absence of dialogue takes it closer to dream, which is the goal.

Possibly the only movie whose origin lies in a dream recounted by the director’s secretary — John Parker went on to cast Adrienne Barrett in the movie, which seems only fair: It’s your nightmare, now live it.

You could group the film with oddities like ERASERHEAD, SPIDER BABY, CARNIVAL OF SOULS, NIGHT TIDE. Outsider art that’s horror-movie adjacent without quite committing itself — more disturbing because less definable. If the opening scenes, where Barrett walks through a skid row hellscape of varying forms of male oppression towards women, have some of the hectoring obviousness of a commercial, it’s nonetheless all strikingly shot: Parker is determined not to allow a flat or ordinary image into his movie. It’s all expressionist gloom and cartoony forced angles, with continuity and naturalistic behaviour alike sacrificed to the jazzy morbidity.

Packing visual pleasure into every frame, the film nevertheless feels like one of those nightmares where you’re running without making progress — the 56 minutes never seems to end, until of course it does. But that seems entirely appropriate, even if it’s not a sensation you could call enjoyable. When a sleazy guy throws a dress at Barrett and all at once she’s wearing it, we seem to have entered the visual language of, not the horror film or noir (the Venice, California locations prefigure TOUCH OF EVIL) but the musical, and the film’s unending vibe aligns with those distended Gene Kelly ballet sequences which threaten to overflow the movies they’re part of.

The ensuing nightclub scene made me think of SIMON OF THE DESERT, that other underweight surrealist fever dream, and its new York conclusion — are they dancing the Radioactive Flesh? And is that Shelly Berman? It is!

SIMON is it — the perfect double feature pairing for DEMENTIA. When the money ran out, Bunuel’s producer considered showing SIMON with Renoir’s PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE. No. (Great though the Renoir is.) This is the one. Am I too late with that blinding insight?

Godliness not Gorillas

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Theatre, weather with tags , , , , , on August 9, 2019 by dcairns

INHERIT THE WIND shows director Stanley Kramer at his best and worst. He’s Mr. Inextricable.

There are some lovely jam-packed compositions, and the elegantly designed title sequence is framed like a proto-Leone western. Welles seems to be in the mix of influences. Exciting to think that Welles may have fed into Leone, indirectly or directly.

There’s one really tasty transition —

Even some of Kramer’s more hamfisted bits of commentary have an impressive shamelessness, like his use of the “justice is blind” motif. But I like the one above best. Since we have a director who can’t stop editorializing, who won’t let story and performances speak for themselves even when they’re very broadly didactic, a moment like the above is helpful precisely because I don’t know exactly what it means. The praying priest’s hands are associated with hellfire because he’s a bigot, I guess. But it’s a little unclear, and a lack of clarity in this hectoring film is like a breath of cool air in a heatwave.

But there’s the problem: neither Kramer nor his scenarists can let the story tell itself, they have to toss in their own marginalia, using, for instance, performance — Fredric March telegraphs blustering foolishness with every hufflepuff — was Erskine Sanford unavailable? Or using Gene Kelly to interject little put-downs in case the creationists managed to sound momentarily coherent or respectable, and then having March huff and puff in response to them.

So, March scowls and beams from under a bald cap and Tracy outacts him at every turn with his elaborate performance of the state of relaxedness. Best perf might be Harry Morgan, purely because he’s not embodying one characteristic. The judge her plays is kind of a heavy in this story, but evidently they didn’t feel comfortable having him be fully corrupt, so he plays it sort of on the fence. Ambiguity in a Kramer film!

It’s a really gripping situation, and we can forgive some of the dramatist’s distortions, though perhaps not his stealing his best lines from the true story and then changing the names to protect… who? Himself?

Sociopolitically, nothing has really changed, has it?

INHERIT THE WIND stars Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde; Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde; Don Lockwood; Darrin Stephens; Col. Potter; General Aldo; Buster McGee; and Elizabeth Tudor.

Rashomon Amour

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona was VERY taken with Kay Kendall’s drunk scene in LES GIRLS. I was too, but also taken aback. We’ve all learned, supposedly, to be more sensitive and thus to be a touch affronted at Hollywood’s flip treatment of alcoholism. But I find I’m rarely that bothered by Arthur Housman doing his detailed dipso routine in Laurel & Hardy films. Kendall playing a solitary drinker who gets riotously blotto a la Judith Hearne is a bit stronger. But she does play it magnificently.

Lots to enjoy in this one, even if George Cukor could never be bothered staging his own musical numbers: here he passes them to Jack Cole, so they’re in safe hands.

It’s all a meditation on the nature of truth and the elusiveness of reality, conducted by MGM. Like RASHOMON with better songs. Although not many of the numbers are that memorable — the set design makes the biggest splash when Gene Kelly pastiches Brando in THE WILD ONE.

 

It’s Kelly’s last real Hollywood musical leading man role, and already he’s somewhat sidelined: you might think making him the object of desire for three glamorous women (Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and the more obscure Taina Elg, who is actually very good despite the Scrabble-score name — “She’s got a great LOOK!” diagnosed Fiona — some credit belongs to Orry Kelly here). The narrative emerges via three competing testimonies in a libel case, which ought by rights to be delivered by les girls, but Kelly still had enough clout to elbow Gaynor out the way and deliver the denouement himself.

A sexy masterstroke by the naughty Orry — backless dresses that manage to make perfectly decent leggings look as rude as bare bottoms ~

The story is by Vera Caspary of LAURA fame, who must deserve some of the credit for the waspish dialogue. Brandishing a placard at us declaring WHAT IS TRUTH?, the  movie can seem at times too impressed with its own cleverness — a religious sandwich-board would be unlikely to quote Pontius Pilate, methinks — but it’s tastefully lavish, oddball and hugely entertaining, which is what we wanted over the festive period.

Last Christmas Fiona had acute depression, anxiety, horrible medication side-effects, and we both had flu and chronic insomnia and the cat was dying. This year Fiona only broke her ankle slightly so it can be considered a great improvement.