Archive for Guy de Maupassant

Shining Through

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2017 by dcairns

The nice people at Park Circus gave us free tickets to see THE SHINING at the plush Vue Omni, so we HAD to go. Years since we saw it on the big screen, maybe decades. I think Kubrick would have liked to cleanness of the digital projection, so that his film looks ageless and pristine. He wouldn’t have liked the way the exit sign spilt light onto the screen. I know they have to have them, but a bit of masking could at least keep the eerie green glow from seeping onto the picture.

But otherwise this was excellent. I don’t know whether Kubrick would have liked the short documentary — WORK & PLAY — it has some terrific interviews and behind-the-scenes images I’d never seen before, so *I* liked it, but even I wondered if I wanted to precede the viewing of the movie with images revealing how, for instance, the sky behind the vast Overlook exterior set is a big blue backing. I suddenly felt the little ridge of rocks here was a bit unconvincing, when it had never bothered me before.

The doc also seems to have digitally messed about with its film clips, making the blacks crunchier. The film had never looked like this to me before, and I hoped that wasn’t what the screening would look like. Not that it was bad, but it was a striking change. But the screening was fine — the colours looked like they’d always looked. So I don’t know what was going on in the doc. But Stanley wouldn’t have approved.

I went in wondering if I’d see anything new in the film, or find anything to say about it.  Maybe I’d USED UP Kubrick’s horrorshow in some way? No such thing. From the very start, the bigger images let my eye swoop off into the Rocky Mountains, the landscapes drawing me in and exerting a lot more power than they ever did on TV.

Critics at the time complained that Jack Nicholson was too weird at the beginning, which I guess is true. It forces him to go more over the top later. But it’s clearly Kubrick’s intention that every scene in his horror movie should be strange and disturbing — look what he’s doing with the music. I think the most problematic scene may be the car journey.

Jack is doing a number of things here that contribute to the creepiness of Jack Torrence, husband, father and writer. One of them is clearly fine: he’s concentrating on the road. Actors in driving scenes often pay too little heed to what’s in front of them, straining to establish eye contact with their costars. Jack’s fixed gaze makes him seem less warm and paternal, but on the other hand less likely to kill everyone by plunging into a ravine. Then he also plays the early part of the scene a bit annoyed, a driving dad being pestered by questions. That’s a way of making the scene human and not just a bunch of information, but I’m not sure it’s needed. And then there’s his wicked grin, a favourite part of the Jack arsenal which got to be overused pretty soon.

But all of these elements might have seemed borderline natural if not for the ominous electronic drone Kubes lays over the whole scene — either Rachel Elkin or Wendy Carlos, I guess. If one could somehow remove it, we might get something more like a charming family discussion. Of cannibalism.

Amazing noises here!

Nicholson’s performance has come in for a lot of stick. Personally, I enjoy it, and I think that’s the point. Let’s look at Kubrick’s process ~

PRIZZI’S HONOR was made just five years after THE SHINING and its director, John Huston, said that most of the takes in it were take one, and this was mainly due to Jack, who was always prepared and always good right off the bat. But in THE SHINING, Kubrick shot dozens of takes of everything. Partly this is just OCD, or else an anxiety that if he stops trying, he might miss the greatness that was awaiting him just one take, or a hundred takes, down the line. Partly a curiosity about what will happen to the actors’ performances after so many repetitions. In Nicholson’s case, he seems to have resorted to lots of crazy stunt acting, jut to keep himself entertained. And clearly Kubrick liked the extreme stuff and used as much of it as possible.

The result may be “a style of acting beyond naturalism” as Nicholson called it, or it may be, that as Clive James remarked, “the style of acting beyond naturalism is called ham.” But it’s very DETAILED ham. Some of it is just face-pulling, but I like the drunk stuff, particularly the deeply stupid look of cunning Nicholson adopts when being told something by his ghost buddies. You know when you make some innocuous remark to a drunk person and they try to look WISE, as if you’ve said something really fucking profound? I don’t know what’s behind that kind of an act, but Jack does it beautifully.

Then there are the shots where he just looks like a dirty old woman.

Co-writer (and Dashiell Hammett biographer) Diane Johnson noted that Kubrick was particularly good at writing dialogue for Mr. Torrence. Controlling Dad. And I would say that the film is actually really good at documenting shitty male behaviour and attitudes. A friend of mine even found himself using a line from it when arguing with his girlfriend, years ago. He was horrified. I was kind of uncomfortable this time when I recognized elements of my own grumpier behaviour. Not the crazed axe-murdering, I stress.

 

I’ve been using my old fullscreen DVD for framegrabs because it’s the only director-approved version, hilariously enough. Kubes was a late adopter of widescreen versions. Admittedly, the boxy Academy ratio framing is kind of cute. But the wider image gives more dynamism to camera movement (enhanced peripheral vision) so Danny’s wild ride is much more exciting wide (and big). The CAMERA WALK sign struck me as an amusing description of the Steadicam shot itself.

I always wondered how they did the maze shot from above — which feels like Jack’s POV as he looks at the model maze — and then I learned that they just shipped their fake maze to the forecourt of a huge tower block and shot down in it from the roof. Amazing! And it explains why the overhead view doesn’t have the grassy verges or the park benches, and why the ground is cement white rather than gravel grey. Kubes was certainly bold to cut directly from one to the other, though…

 

And there’s more vanishing furniture in this movie, of course. When David Bowie was recording in his Berlin period, he was cracking up a bit and imagined the furniture was moving around the room. That struck me as creepy. And there’s a story by crazy Frenchman Guy de Maupassant about discovering that furniture is always doing this, when we’re not looking.

So, was this deliberate? It’s the first time we’d seen the film since seeing ROOM 237 where this very strange continuity error is pointed out. Having never noticed it before, now of course we can’t help but spot it. And the effect is in fact quite eerie, particularly since you can’t believe it’s a mistake Kubrick would allow. So he must have wanted it, right?

Jan Harlan, in saying that ROOM 237 is all nonsense, would seem to be saying that the above is simply a mistake. But can we believe Kubrick never noticed it, or was too lazy to reshoot it, or had a resistance to reshooting things? So this, and probably some of the cutting discontinuities of Overlook space, must be part of his plan to imbue the hotel with malign animation. Right?

Lloyd the barman is out of his gourd in THE BOY AND THE PIRATES.

Is Jack getting drunk on spirit liquor? Ghost booze? Lloyd the barman pours him a drink but neither Lloyd nor the glass are present when Wendy charges in. At any rate, he sure starts looking seedy and there are scenes where Torrence seems drunk on whatever ectoplasmic brew Lloyd is serving up.

It’s funny when Jack goes to investigate the crazy lady in the bathroom. He goes in, tense, scared. And then he finds a crazy lady in the bathroom. But she’s naked and hot, so he’s happy! A really stupid smirk creeps onto his grizzled visage, like he’s a three stooge or something. “Ah-hur-hur, the crazy lady who tried to strangle my son is nekkid!” So, Jack is dumb. And he never does any actual caretaking. And I kind of doubt that book of his is going to be a big seller, either.

Maybe Stephen King doesn’t like the movie because he already created a character who was a really unflattering portrait of himself at a certain time in his life. And then Kubrick made the guy even worse. Kind of a personal insult, though unintended I’m sure.

The missing scene — Jack leaves Room 237 in absolute panic. But when he gets back to Wendy, he’s all calm and has a cover story prepared. I’m really curious what happened to him on the way back. Fiona thinks he just cooled down and reasoned that as he doesn’t want to leave the hotel, ever, he’d better make a convincing case that nothing is up. I think it would take another intervention by the hotel — maybe a few nerve-settling drinks from Lloyd — to get Jack this rational and steady, and to set him on this course.

You know, I guess it IS a great party, at that.

Kubrick seems to have had an unshakeable faith that people wearing full-face masks can perform oral sex. We see this again in the orgy scenes of EYES WIDE SHUT. But Stanley, Sterling Hayden may have been able to do it while wearing a clown mask in THE KILLING, but that was a rubber mask. Flexible mouth-hole is key. And the ape-men in 2001 had hinged jaws. Nothing they demonstrated really counts here. You’re just wrong. Perfectionist my ass.

The two bits that scare Fiona are Jack getting a wee skelf on his hand — it’s small-scale enough to relatable — and Scatman Crothers arriving at the hotel and walking into an unlucky fate. She felt that, being a psychic, he really ought to have sussed the situation out better than to just wander in shouting “Hello?” I was wondering how much the scene owes to Martin Balsam’s demise in PSYCHO. In terms of shots, nothing. It’s just a similar kind of scene. It’s a change from the book which I think is thoroughly defensible. We like Scatman/Halloran, so his death hurts, but that’s the kind of death horror movies should have. The film would be really depressing if Danny or Wendy died, but poor Scatman is that unfortunate combination of likable and disposable.

Plus, I think if he just showed up and rescued Wendy and Danny, it would be kind of dull.

Oh, poor Shelley Duvall is really good, isn’t she? Kubrick seems to have decided he doesn’t want the audience to be very sympathetic to her — so we side with her, but we’re not encouraged to feel real warmth. Danny is lovely. We like him. Kubrick seems to have decided that any woman who stayed with Jack must be a dope, and even though she looks after the hotel, saves her son’s life, and her only mistake is sticking with Jack who hurt Danny once by accident and used to drink too much, he doesn’t let us feel too much in the way of admiration.

In my book, Wendy is a heroic character. And it’s not a bad idea to emphasise her weakness, since it makes her victory all the more heroic. But you sense Kubrick’s withdrawal, his distance from her. Whereas we know he likes little Danny, who is smart, brave, resourceful, curious…

The film played beautifully, I thought. I was never anticipating the next scenes, bored with the one in front of me, despite having seen it many times. Fiona doesn’t think it’s scary, apart from those two bits, but then she doesn’t think it’s a horror film, either. I’m not sure what she means by that. I think it’s a Kubrick horror movie…

After the screening, Fiona saw a fellow audience member doing a really good impression of Shelley’s distressed run. Respect.

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Five Little Dancing Fingers

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Getting in the mood for Halloween. It had been years since I saw THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS — I remembered it being slightly disappointing, and Fiona didn’t remember it at all. The heart sinks slightly at Curt Siodmak’s script credit, yet his scenario isn’t in any way laughable. It does have dull stretches, though. Director Robert Florey seems to come awake in fits, thrusting wildly canted angles or serried rows of faces at us, then falling back into soporific busywork. But from the time of the first death, the good scenes start to slowly outnumber the dull ones, and there’s always Peter Lorre…

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It’s surprisingly brutal for its time, with the severed hand scuttling about like it owns the place, flashing its stump brazenly. There’s a wet, meaty back view complete with wrist bones, apparently painted trompe-l’oeil fashion on the hand actor’s wrist, while the rest of his arm is blacked out. Apart from the various stranglings, it’s the hand who suffers most of the violence, crucified and burned by the neurasthenic Lorre (playing a character called Hillary, a mild-mannered name that doesn’t seem to quite suit him).

The source novel surely owes a debt to Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Hand, which likewise plays with the idea of a disembodied hand strangling victims from beyond the grave, only to offer a not-quite-reassuring rational explanation. But we can go further back and credit the inspiration to Algernon Swinburne — when Maupassant saved the poet from drowning, he rewarded his rescuer with an ashtray made from a human hand. As you do. I have to presume that the young writer, sat at his desk, Gauloise in hand, casting around for inspiration, seized upon the first interesting thing to catch his eye. A good thing for French literature he didn’t alight upon his waste-paper basket made from a human arse, or his paperweight made from a fossilised spleen. In fact, Maupassant’s study was decorated with the disassembled parts of an entire human being, gifted to him by Swinburne. Possibly they were the parts of Swinburne himself. But astute readers will have realized I stopped telling the truth here some time ago, though they may be surprised to learn how late in the paragraph the fantasy takes over.

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A very good bit — Lorre hears scuttling, and the previous astrology books on his shelves start to nudge outwards in a creeping series — the hand is crawling behind them! Swiping the volumes to the floor, Lorre searches out the stray extremity, and Florey tracks along INSIDE the bookshelf, behind the books, until the wriggling thing is discovered, cornered, and Lorre smiles with genuine pleasure at catching it. He then hammers a nail through it, seals it in the safe, and reports to Robert Alda, “I locked it up.” But Fiona misheard this, owing to Lorre’s thick accent, as “I looked it up,” and imagined that he had somehow tracked it down on the bookshelf under H for Hand, or possibly B for Beast. It’s a nice idea — why has there not been a remake to exploit this possibility? One thinks, of course, of the very good “A Farewell to Arms” gag in EVIL DEAD II…

The Prussians are Coming!

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by dcairns

MADEMOISELLE FIFI, with Simone Simon.

Guy de Maupassant is a fave of mine, although I’ve only read his short stories, not his novels. Among these morally complex, twisted works, are a few atypically simplistic propaganda-type pieces dealing with the Franco-Prussian war, one of which, Mademoiselle Fifi, became half of a fine Val Lewton/Robert Wise drama at RKO. The other half of that movie was based on the considerably more complex Boule de Suif, in which the Prussians may be brutes and tyrants but the French are self-centred snobs and hypocrites. Lewton skillfully uses the simple story to counteract some of the anti-propagandistic aspects of the complex one, so as to wind up with a film that could be released in wartime without drawing accusations of giving succour to the enemy.

This week’s edition of the Forgotten, over at the Daily Notebook, looks at PYSHKA, the last silent movie made in the USSR, and a much more faithful, hard-line version of Boule de Suif. I suspect you’ll find the images there most bracing.

PYSHKA.

Three facts about Guy de Maupassant which I carry in my mind:

One day while swimming he saved the poet Swinburne from drowning. As a reward, Swinburne gave him an ashtray made from a human hand, and this formed the inspiration for Maupassant’s first published story, The Hand, a creepy and hilarious thunderstorming mystery.

Maupassant liked to paint fake syphilis sores on his erection and chase his mistress round the room with it. What a card!

Contracting the disease for real, GdM wound up dying, blind and insane in the asylum. Towards the end, he was convinced there were diamonds in his urine.

Asides from the films cited above, the movie most alive to the spirit of Maupassant is perhaps Ophuls’ LE PLAISIR. Interesting how the marvelous overcast skies of PYSKHA (that amazing combo of heavy clouds and bright sunshine blasting in from the horizon line) followed Ophuls around and crept into his last shot.

LE PLAISIR, with Simone Simon again.

If the weather had been different that day, all cinema would be changed. For me, anyway.

UK: Le Plaisir [DVD]

US: Le Plaisir

Max Ophuls Collection: Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948), Earrings Of Madame De.. (1953) + Le Plaisir (1952)