Archive for Gone With the Wind

Ed Sullivan’s Travels

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-10h26m10s457

I don’t know if George Sidney needs to be elevated up a few notches among the cognoscenti, but he definitely deserves to be better known in general. his problem may be that his good bits — brazen, stunning musical cinema — are often contained in the same flawed films as his bad bits, but his good bits are transcendent.

Andrew Sarris lobs more backhanded compliments at Sidney in The American Cinema than you can shake Ann-Margret at, from the heading “lightly likable” to the specific putdowns (“has ruined more good musicals with more gusto than any director in history” and “There is a point at which brassiness, vulgarity, and downright badness become virtues”) which are very funny, but don’t do justice to the creativity and dynamism Sidney brings to his work.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-10h21m12s407

BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), adapted from a Broadway show and reaching the screen rather too late to be topical about Elvis entering the army (five years previously), isn’t particularly clued up about the rock ‘n’ roll it attempts to satirize, but its gigantic parodies of pop culture still left us gaping at the screen like the first night audience of Springtime for Hitler.

The film stars Dick Van Dyke (his first movie), Janet Leigh and Ann-Margret, with Paul Lynde as secret weapon. Jesse Pearson plays Conrad Birdie, the Elvisalike, with roughly the same appeal Alberto Sordi brought to THE WHITE SHEIK — hard to spoof sex appeal when you’re mainly repulsive, but credit is deserved for courage and shamelessness.

First jaw-dropper: Pearson causes all the girls in a small Ohio town to faint, and Sidney cranes up a mile high, blasphemously parodying the giant pull-back of Confederate wounded in GONE WITH THE WIND.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-10h27m33s862

Second jaw-dropper: Lynde, who overplays like a starving actor seeing scenery for the first time in a year, is transfixed by the thought of appearing on television with Ed Sullivan (“My favourite human!”) and has a Grouchoesque Strange Interlude, wandering into the foreground and provoking a ripple-dissolve by sheer overintensity, leading to a musical dream sequence in which he and his family, attired as a heavenly choir, sing “Ed Sullivan” ad nauseam and Lynde’s face becomes progressively more purple, like Luca Brasi getting strangled in THE GODFATHER.

Third jaw-dropper: when Lynde refuses to let his daughter kiss the rock star, Mrs. Lynde worries about the kid losing face. “If he stays here, that won’t be all she -” begins Lynde, before choking off in an excess of emotion. The censorship of the word “loses” actually makes this mildly smutty joke seem about six times more obscene.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-10h26m01s455

Fourth jaw-dropper: Janet Leigh, frustrated by her mother-obsessed fiancé’s failure to propose, crashes a meeting of some random fraternal society (dressed like The Sons of the Desert) and basically rapes most of them under a table. Or so it would seem: hard to know how else we’re meant to interpret it, as one shriner after another is yanked out of frame below the furniture as if beset by Bruce the Shark.

I think Van Dyke basically inventing super-powered Benzedrine and giving it to a tortoise who then jet-propels from the room probably counts too.

Elsewhere, there are less startling pleasures: “Put on a Happy Face” and “I’ve Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do” are the most recognizable numbers. Maureen Stapleton plays Dick’s domineering mom, improbably enough — she was exactly his age, joining a select club with Jesse Royce Landis, whose character in NORTH BY NORTHWEST must have given birth to Cary Grant just as she was leaving the womb herself, like a kind of Russian doll, or a variant on that cartoon of three fish swallowing one another.

Sidney loses out on the chance to be a less sexist Frank Tashlin by staging a long, not-too-funny sequence where the conductor of the Russian ballet is slipped a capsule of Van Dyke’s speed, and proceeds to lead the production at 400% velocity. The anti-Americanism is funny, but this stuff is neither a sufficiently robust response to Kruschev, nor a questioning of the Cold War. It just dilutes the acerbic gusto (that word again) of the rest — but the prolonged, Hitchcockian build-up to the slapstick IS pretty funny, so outrageously does Sidney extend the wait.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-10h32m04s624

Oh, and there’s Ed Sullivan himself, who always looked to me like a version of Richard Nixon with third-degree burns, and it turns out the low-resolution TV picture was flattering him.

vlcsnap-2017-02-20-10h25m19s178

Janet Leigh reprises her bra routine from PSYCHO, and Ann-Margret is alternately cute and terrifying (when her lips retract, yikes!), ending the picture by rattling her tits right at the camera. I think female viewers, or gay male viewers (at a musical?? surely not!) are slightly short-changed in the pulchritude department, since DVD is one of those hetero actors who projects no particular sexuality — he’s straight without ever seeming to want to do anything about it. I guess that’s a useful quality, since he has to be able to share screen time with “teenage” Ann-Margret without looking like he’s going to rip his shirt off and run amongst her.

Decisions, decisions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2013 by dcairns

Sternberg

“Directing a film,” said Buck Henry, “is like being pecked to death by ducks.” What he meant, if I dare parse the Great Man’s thought processes, is that the film director is beset from pre-dawn to magic hour and beyond with QUESTIONS, brought by actors, crew, executives (sometimes these are in the form of ORDERS, but directors prefer to see them as questions). What these questioners want from the director is DECISIONS. Film-making is decision-making. It’s more important to make a decision of some kind than it is to make a correct decision, which explains several entire careers.

Here are some decisions that could have gone another way.

1) Peter Mayhew, the tall hospital porter, was not originally cast as Chewbacca in STAR WARS. Kenny Baker was the first actor to play the part, because producer Gary Kurtz wanted to save money on fur. But in rehearsals,the diminutive Baker struggled to project the correct air of ursine authority. It didn’t seem likely that this four foot teddy bear could rip anybody’s arms out of their sockets. Even another teddy bear’s. It was too late to recruit fresh actors, so Lucas searched his cast for another suitable player, and immediately found the perfect man: Alec Guinness. But Guinness refused to play a role which would render him completely unrecognizable (“This frigging beard is bad enough,”) and replace all his dialogue with gargling grunts, so finally Mayhew got the role. He’d been finding the R2-D2 costume rather cramped anyway.

2) THE THIRD MAN was originally planned to take place on a sinking ship. “I was aiming for something akin to what Ronnie Neame eventually did with THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE,” said Carol Reed. “It was the perfect excuse for all those tilted camera angles.” When producer Alexander Korda insisted the film take place in Vienna, which is inland, to take advantage of some shares he had bought in a ferris wheel, Reed was initially despondent. But, by taking the metaphorical view that post-war Europe was itself a kind of sinking ship, he adapted his existing storyboard to the new locations without changing anything except metal walls for stone. He eventually admitted the change had been a positive one, and Cotten and Welles’ famous scene played better in the Volksprater than it would have in a dumb-waiter.

3) Much has been written about the colossal talent search to cast Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, but it is less generally known that an almost equally huge hunt was staged to cast the part of Mammy. Everyone had agreed that Hattie McDaniel was the only actress who could play the role, but McDaniel had just signed with RKO to play a crime-fighting cook in a series of B-pictures. Having failed to find another performer with McDaniel’s subtlety of expression, the unit turned to production designer William Cameron Menzies to solve their problem. Menzies drew up blueprints for a mechanical mammy. “I was aiming for something a little like what Rob Bottin would make in TOTAL RECALL,” said Menzies, implausibly referencing a film made thirty-three years after his death. “You know, the fat lady costume that Arnie Schwartzenegger wears to get through customs?”

“I was going to put little Billy Barty in a mechanical Mammy. The long skirts would eliminate the need for legs: he would cycle away in there and thus operate a concealed tricycle. There would be a series of buttons he could push to make the eyes roll. We had a problem with the arms: Billy, being used to short arms, would wave them about too much, which was potentially dangerous. One time, Thomas Mitchell nearly lost an eye. Finally, we had the arms worked on wires by puppeteers.”

In the end, film history records that McDaniels’ culinary detective series was mysteriously cancelled, leaving her free to play Mammy after all. But there are persistent rumours that Menzies’ racially stereotyped robot appears in some shots. It has even been suggested than McDaniel won the Oscar for a role actually played by a dwarf-propelled replicant. The relevant pages of the David O. Selznick papers have been sealed by court order until 2039.

repulsion-coming-out-of-the-wall

4) When Roman Polanski was preparing REPULSION, he very much wanted to get Catherine Deneuve for the role of Carol, the Belgian manicurist who goes mad. So he included the strange detail of the soft walls, knowing well that she was currently living in a house made of silly putty. Women love rearranging the furniture, don’t they? (I’m generalizing, of course — but all women do this.) Deneuve had worked it out so she could actually tear down entire walls and rebuild them in fresh, blobby shapes. It used to drive David Bailey mad.

My Theory #2: Kubrick = Hammer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-15h53m56s119

Part Two of my Big Theory. Part One concerns the influence of Universal horror movies on Orson Welles. Part Two is the influence of Hammer Horror on Stanley Kubrick.

(Welles and Kubrick, two fans of the wide-angle lens, belong together because of Welles’ description of the young SK as “a giant” — later, Welles seems to fall silent on the subject of the Bronx genius, and as an arch-humanist it seems possible he went off Kubes’ work sometime after LOLITA…)

I’m not sure how this will hold up, but let’s assess the evidence. Firstly, casting —

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-15h38m28s28

Kubrick’s first British-shot picture, LOLITA, features only one major player with Hammer associations, Marianne Stone (above), reaching a career high with her interpretation of Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov). Her involvement with Hammer films was off-and-on, and she also played in many British horror movies from other studios.

Hammer films before LOLITA: SPACEWAYS, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, QUATERMASS II,

Non-genre Hammer films before LOLITA: HELL IS A CITY

Non-Hammer horror films: CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, JACK THE RIPPER, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE.

Hammer films after LOLITA: PARANOIAC, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, HYSTERIA, COUNTESS DRACULA, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense. Non-Hammer horrors: WITCHCRAFT, DEVILS OF DARKNESS, THE NIGHT CALLER, CARRY ON SCREAMING, BERSERK, TWISTED NERVE, INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?, TOWER OF EVIL, THE CREEPING FLESH, VAULT OF HORROR, CRAZE (one of many contenders for Freddie Francis’s worst film).

That’s not going to convince anybody that Stone’s Hammer work or horror movies was what brought her to Kubrick’s attention.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-15h41m25s31

But the scene where Humbert Humbert takes his wife and step-daughter to the drive-in to see CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN might make an impression on doubters. This is the only Kubrick film to feature Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

But DR STRANGELOVE doesn’t feature anybody with major Hammer credentials, except Shane Rimmer, whose Hammer work, major though it was, was all in the future. In 2001, we have William Sylvester, who had been in GORGO, DEVIL DOLL and DEVILS OF DARKNESS, but he’s plainly been cast because he’s an American in England. But Leonard Rossiter was in THE WITCHES.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-15h54m16s68

It’s with CLOCKWORK ORANGE that Kubrick embraces the trashier side of British culture. Most significantly, we see Alex (Malcolm McDowell) fantasizing about being Count Dracula, with long plastic fangs and red red kroovy dripping from his lips. This second overt Hammer reference clinches the Kubrick fascination for the Studio That Dripped Blood, and check the cast list —

I contend that Patrick Magee wasn’t cast for his Beckett experience, but for DEMENTIA 13, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE SKULL and DIE, MONSTER, DIE! admittedly not Hammer productions but generically bang-on. Also for his unparalleled ability to form himself into  a series of living Messerschmidt Heads, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE FIEND, ASYLUM, DEMONS OF THE MIND and — AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS were still to come — followed by BARRY LYNDON.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-16h08m00s122

Scottish actress Adrienne Corri had a long genre back catalogue, and her future would feature even more entries. To begin with we have DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (again), THE HELLFIRE CLUB, THE VIKING QUEEN and MOON ZERO TWO (both Hammer). Right after working for Kubrick, she made VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and later MADHOUSE. Despite Renoir’s THE RIVER, horror movies will probably always be what she’s known for (along with being stripped to her socks for Kubrick’s dubious delectation).

Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris made BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB the same year as CLOCKWORK ORANGE so we probably can’t count that. Dave Prowse had already done HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN and would soon shoot VAMPIRE CIRCUS and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. And some space thing. Steven Berkoff had done THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, KONGA and SLAVE GIRLS, and would return in BARRY LYNDON.

The girls: Katya Wyeth, from the film’s final shot, came fresh from TWINS OF EVIL and HANDS OF THE RIPPER (in the important role of 1st Pub Whore). Virginia Wetherell had done CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR and DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE. Shirley Jaffe was fresh from TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. Vivienne Maya chalked up LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL — her best role is as the flashback girlfriend in A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE.

Of course, I admit the difficulty of casting a dolly-bird in 1971 who had NOT been in a Hammer horror or two. But now we come to BARRY LYNDON.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-15h34m21s137

The casting of Andre Morell strikes me as highly significant — Morell isn’t as tightly bound to Hammer in the public consciousness as Cushing and Lee, or Michael Ripper, but he should be. He was Quatermass on TV (an indirect link) and Watson to Cushing’s Holmes; THE SHADOW OF THE CAT, SHE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, VENGEANCE OF SHE, and a number on non-horror Hammers including the terrific CASH ON DEMAND. Plus non-Hammer horrors like BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-15h28m50s140

Frank Middlemass had come from FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Ferdy Mayne will be best remembered as Polanski’s Count Von Krolock, but also chalked up THE VAMPIRE LOVERS.

THE SHINING refers to Hammer only in its genre, but a comparison with THE EXORCIST is revealing, Kubrick having attempted to make a megablockbuster throughout his late career by patterning his films on the biggest box office smashes of history. But each of these films goes through the Kubrick funhouse looking-glass and emerges as something no sane person would expect to rake in the receipts — BARRY LYNDON purloins the child’s death from GONE WITH THE WIND, THE SHINING aims for THE EXORCIST and winds up in MARIENBAD country, and A.I. wants to be E.T. but can’t help its mechanical nature, like little Haley Joel Osment and the late Stankey K. himself.

vlcsnap-2013-09-24-16h12m23s191

FULL METAL JACKET is too American and too young to borrow Hammer actors, and by the time of EYES WIDE SHUT most of them were dead. However, with its quasi-Satanic shagging party, the movie seems to be channeling sixties and seventies horrors, particularly Corman’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (and maybe CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR? And if there were a film called STENCH OF THE SCARLET PENCIL I’m sure that would have been an influence too).

Taking My Big Theory to its logical conclusion, we would have to say that Welles follows the path of Whale by telling moral tales in which nevertheless the truest, deepest sympathy is with the monsters; Kubrick follows the Sangster and Fisher route by portraying a world in which the oppressive patriarchy, though corrupt and inhuman, is the nearest thing to a safe side to be on…