Archive for Graham Greene

Static

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2016 by dcairns

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Another day, another bad John Frankenheimer movie. But he directs the shit out of all of them, I have to say — total commitment.

YEAR OF THE GUN. A film about Italy’s Red Brigade, made from an American perspective with a British screenwriter and producer seems an odd proposition, especially in 1991. The film is set in 1978 but is petrified of seeming like a period movie — the seventies didn’t come back into style until the late nineties so there are lots of students with short hair in this. The only obvious attempt at evoking period is to have the protags take shelter in a cinema showing STAR WARS — composer Bill Conti, he of the cheesy synths, attempts a tinny paraphrase of John Williams in the lobby, which is hilarious.

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The British input may account for the hero’s lack of heroism — harking back to Graham Greene, we like our American heroes baffled and impotent. But Holly Martins in THE THIRD MAN is also funny and sweet. Here we have Andrew McCarthy, whose character isn’t dumb like Holly, but isn’t endearing either. McCarthy doesn’t burn with screen charisma, and looks like a baby potato, but may be underrated as an actor — he does extremely good outrage. He just doesn’t pull us in, and the script gives us no reason to care  — we have to wait for Sharon Stone to turn up, which takes ages, and then things do get a bit more exciting. Seeing this, I wonder she didn’t really get noticed earlier. Frankenheimer responds to her ferocity.

No dutch tilts in this one, but some extreme deep focus and wide angle lenses and slomo and a lot of sweeping camera moves. None of which redeems the lacklustre and unfocused narrative — I don’t think the script is underdeveloped, I suspect it’s been overcooked with too many notes and rewrites. The sex scenes are awful — Frankenheimer applies himself with gusto, but they have no plot role to serve, they’re like the potter’s wheel interludes on old TV, only with tits.

Frankenheimer movies either end with violence — like, BANG! bad guy dead The End — or they end with television. Like a man obsessed, Frankenheimer couldn’t help returning to his first medium, which he had been forced out of by James T Aubrey. This one has Dick Cavett turn up at the end to interview the protagonists, a pointless and distracting bit of gimmickry, accompanied by Frankenheimer’s favourite device, the frame-within-a-drame TV set…

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Close in on TV screen. Static. Everything always comes back to white noise with Frankenheimer — the roar of emptiness.

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Casanova in Greeneland

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2014 by dcairns

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I’ve been looking at Mankiewicz, Joseph L, as the New York Film Fest is doing a retrospective and I was asked to write something for The Forgotten, which you can read about on Thursday. As part of my viewing, I was startled to discover that Fellini stole the opening of CASANOVA from Mankiewicz’s THE QUIET AMERICAN.

TQA is a Graham Greene adaptation set in Viet Nam, photographed by Robert Krasker (THE THIRD MAN) in inky b&w, whereas CASANOVA is a carnivalesque biography of the Italian libertine, poet, diarist and spy, so the two would seem pretty far apart. But both begin with celebrations, and what Mankiewicz and his team make of Chinese New Year in Saigon seems to have strongly influenced Fellini’s take on the Venice Carnival. Obviously, both events have certain elements in common — Mankiewicz centres his scene on a canal (he loved Venice, and filmed there), and there are masks and fireworks and bells and singing and chanting. It’s not surprising that the Fellini scene would contain all those features.

And it is POSSIBLE that the way veteran editor William Hornbeck fragments Mankiewicz’s scene, with near-subliminal flash-cuts of firecrackers exploding against the night sky, suggested itself to Fellini and his editor, Ruggiero Mastroianni independently. And the jumbled, jangled soundtrack, so very reminiscent, certainly owes something to what these celebrations naturally sound like, though Fellini’s is more elaborately layered and stylised.

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But when a Chinese dragon’s head fell from a bridge and floated down the canal, I felt a distinct deja vu. The image of Venus rising from the waters like Martin Sheen in APOCALYPSE NOW has a precedent in Fellini’s work — the top half of a vast statue’s head is carried through the streets in a moment in SATYRICON, so it was a partial image in the maestro’s mind already. But I think the combination of similarities is fairly overwhelming — nothing is proven, you understand, but direct influence seems to me more likely than not.

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And I’m still surprised — Mankiewicz influencing Fellini?

Pinky on Parade

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on September 17, 2011 by dcairns

Lionel “Pinky” Atwill displays his enantiodromic approach to acting.

Interest in Thorold Dickinson seems to be on a continual rise, which is a good thing in my book. Now we have his first feature as solo director available, THE HIGH COMMAND. Produced  by Fanfare Films, a fly-by-night outfit who ceased trading after their single movie, it’s a military mystery/courtroom drama starring Lionel “Pinky” Atwill as a general with a shady past, Lucie Mannheim (THE 39 STEPS) as the rich wife of pathologically jealous Steven Geray, and a young, skinny James Mason as a dashing officer who romances her. It all comes to a head when a sleazy British military doctor is murdered, and the events take place in a West African colony on the Gold Coast.

Despite a meagre budget, Dickinson insisted on grabbing some authentic location shots, and he folds them into the studio stuff with cunning, if transparent artifice. His background as an editor reveals itself with jokey use of sound and snazzy transitions, and if the plot is a somewhat contrived affair (last-minute re-writes were required to appease the censor, who objected to anything showing British officers in a bad light), it’s consistently entertaining.

Otto (PEEPING TOM) Heller’s cinematography produces some striking moments, and even the sequence where documentary shots of a firelit native ceremony is intercut with studio closeups of the Brit stars is reasonable effective. The trouble is, of course, that the location material has unavoidable rough edges, which nobody would dream of replicating in the studio material, so a certain clash of styles is inevitable. One appreciates the effort, though, and Dickinson’s foreign travel opened his eyes to the realities of colonial life, which fed into the film’s lightly satiric attitude.

In particular, Graham Greene’s review singled out a scene where a colossal gust of wind blasts through the colonial club while the national anthem is being played, and nobody can close a window or suppress a billowing tablecloth as everybody’s too bust standing to attention. My Dad reports than in the ‘forties, during his film-going youth, the national anthem was played at the end of every programme at the local Odeon, and there’d be a stampede by the audience to get out before it started, otherwise you’d be stuck standing to attention for the full six verses. It’s fascinating: everybody knew it would be disrespectful not to stand, but it was considered perfectly respectful to elbow your way out of the auditorium at high speed to avoid standing.

These Britons are crazy.

Buy THE HIGH COMMAND here: The High Command [DVD]