Archive for George Stevens

Deathwatch UK

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2022 by dcairns

This is very distracting. We’ve all seen the front door of 10 Downing Street multiple times recently, so we know it’s not of the revolving variety. But the occupants of the building sure behave as if it were. Perhaps there’s an ejector seat behind the PM’s desk? Liz Truss is now gone after a mere six weeks in the job, the shortest premiership in British history, making Boris Johnson look like Thatcher or Blair. The previous record-holder had to drop dead to get out of the position.

Still, Truss was at least consistent in her inconsistency — having U-turned on every promise made, she departs a day after quoting Labour spin-doctor Peter Mandelson’s famous and derided “I’m a fighter, not a quitter.” Her time in office shorter than the leadership contest that put her there.

Apparently there are a set of rules about how you get to be pm, but having put the matter to a party-wide vote last time, this time they’re going to elect the leader with just m.p.s voting, since the party as a whole has apparently gone insane. It seems like a conclusive defeat for government by fantasy wish-fulfillment. But maybe not. Where politics is concerned, my motto is, “Things can always get worse.” I just realised it’s an inversion of New Labour’s slogan/theme song “Things Can Only Get Better.” Should have noticed that.

(Since I typed that five minutes ago, I’m hearing that the party membership WILL be voting. I should join.)

It’s distracted me, this chaos, from finishing the monographs I’ve accidentally started writing on THE GREAT DICTATOR and ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE. And the one I’m reading on SHANE, the BFI Classics edition by Edward Countryman & Evonne von Heussen-Countryman (BFI Film Classics). it’s quite enjoyable and I’m learning things, but I’m surprised by what it leaves out. No mention of the wirework yanking Elisha Cook Jr out of frame when he’s shot, a movie first. No mention of the exaggerated shatter glass sounds during the bar fight. Discussion of the amplified gun shots and echo effects is welcome, and there’s some medium-close analysis here and there, counting shots and minutes devoted to specific sequences.

I was confused by the line “On the first day of filming Stevens managed to get eighteen takes with nine set-ups […] That sounds like two takes per set-up, a very low average, and not what one would expect from the meticulous Stevens. I would like to see set-ups listed first, and then a clear statement about the average number of takes, although in fact the number of takes isn’t very important to the point being discussed, which is GS’s rate of progress. Nine set-ups is not TOO bad for a day interrupted by bad weather, though given the way Stevens liked to cover his action from every possible angle and distance, his crew may have already started wondering if the job would ever be finished.

My mum, going from memory, actually came up with something the book leaves out, the other day. She liked Van Heflin more than Alan Ladd, and she noted that when the two men are chopping wood, Ladd is shirtless and oiled with sweat, and Heflin’s torso is sheather by the upper half of his long johns. To handicap him, to give Laddie the erotic advantage. She thought that was unfair.

But I’m enjoying the book — Stevens, a fascinating figure, doesn’t get written about much — oh, I see that my man Neil Sinyard did a book on him in 2019. I should get that. Maybe you should too?

My Two Centurions

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2021 by dcairns

There didn’t seem to be any reason for it to happen, but while discussing 55 DAYS AT PEKING with Shadowplayer Randall William Cook yesterday, I flashed on the quite unrelated idea that George Stevens should have cast his old chums Laurel & Hardy in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.

After all, everyone else was in it. The boys had to have felt left out. And they wouldn’t have been any more absurdly distracting than John Wayne.

We started imagining dialogue: “Well, Stanlius, this is another great story you’ve gotten me into.”

Randy topped that: “Truly, this man was the son of God.” “He certainly was.”

I imagined Ollie stepping on a nail. Randy supplied the line: “OOOH HOO HOOO!”

Max Von Sydow looks down compassionately.

Then I realized that Stevens would never have cast Stan and Max in the same film owing to the danger of audience confusion.

It was only this morning that I realized that Ollie died in 1957 and TGSET was made in 1965. But anything’s possible if you have imagination. Use out-takes from THE BOHEMIAN GIRL? The costumes are close enough. I mean, if the audience is bothered by the sudden switch to academy ratio and black and white and the appearance of a dead comedian in the wrong clothes, I think it’s fair to say you’ve already lost them.

(In fairness to Stevens, he DID cast Ed Wynn in a dramatic role, and the guy’s good, too. I kind of like TGSET as an experimental film: the tableau style is really radical. It’s kind of boring to watch, but so are a lot of experimental films if you’re looking for the wrong things in them.)

filming and films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2019 by dcairns

I admit it, Mark Cousins’ collection of films & filming is better than mine.

August, 1970, Charles Walters on shooting SUMMER STOCK with Judy Garland: “I remember, at one point, I was on the boom and we were moving in for a giant close-up. Judy looked up with those great liquid eyes of hers and it was the most fantastic shot in the world. ‘Cut,’ I yelled, “Will somebody please hand me a towel, I’ve just come.’ Now that might be thought indelicate, but Judy loved that sort of foolishness. It really turned her on.”

May, 1969, Francis Ford Coppola on co-writing IS PARIS BURNING? (before Gore Vidal’s involvement): “Ray Stark said I could go to Paris and have a vacation with my wife because the writer then working on it was a man who was very ill, dying in fact. And these are the honest-to-God words used, my job was to assist that man and ‘if the pencil fell out of his hand, I was to pick it up.'”

July 1959, Shelley Winters on George Stevens: “George photographs what goes on in the air between people.”

October 1964, Sidney Lumet: “But in the early television days we were doing cuts as fast as a finger could move. John Frankenheimer, who was my AD, can bear me out: there was one sequence on a live show where John had 64 cues to give in a one-minute period. It was 23 cuts in a one-minute period, which is just about as fast as a switcher’s fingers can move, and John had three cues for each camera cut.”

June, 1970: Costa-Gavras on Z, which has a score by Mikis Theodorakis: “Theodorakis was already in prison, but I had some records of his which we adapted for the film soundtrack. […] We have just one short piece of original music for the picture. It is the scene with Jacques Perrin and the guy at the restaurant, where he is giving him the passport and the addresses, you can hear Theodorakis singing in the background. This piece was recorded on a miniature tape-recorder and smuggled out with his instructions on using it in the film.”

April, 1979, Philip Kaufman on the Dolby sound mix of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS: “And when we were doing the mix at Zoetrope, I just kept saying, ‘Pods eat birds. Just keep the birds down.’ I didn’t want the feeling that nature goes on while man is having his problems, because there is some suggestion in the film that everything is being transformed, that nothing is real anymore, that we are gradually going to lose. And that’s the sense of claustrophobia that I wanted to create. I mean the soundtrack is stylised and overdone and there are sounds that are bleeding in from the very beginning, that when you see it again you’ll recognize as either chimes or alien noises. […] Dolby was very excited by what we did with sound. Not just rolling stuff in its surroundings, but selectively beginning to creep sounds into the scenes. You know, we spent a lot of time determining what channel to place sounds. It’s a very expensive soundtrack, and Ben Burtt, who worked on STAR WARS did a lot of the sound effects and special sound effects.”

Nicholas Meyer: “They’re always looking for what is commercial, which I think proves how idiotic most people in the movie business are. Obviously there’s no such thing as commercial until something has made 50 million dollars. And since it is impossible to tell beforehand, it seems to me a waste of energy and you should concentrate on something which they never ask themselves, which is, ‘Do I like it?'”

And: “I came home one day and saw Martin Luther King standing on the balcony of the hotel and getting shot. I sat on my bed and was truly appalled by what I was seeing. And they took him to the hospital, and people were screaming, and there was blood, and suddenly all of this was interrupted by someone who says, ‘Miami for 25 dollars less.’ It’s preposterous, it’s George Orwell time. It scares the shit out of me. Television scares the shit out of me. […] It’s in your house. It’s this unblinking eye with its inexhaustible font of passivity, and it should be banned. No one should be allowed to have one. We should all go to the movies the way God intended.”