Archive for Guy de Maupassant

Small Strangenesses

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2021 by dcairns

I’ve been a fairly poor viewer of Pordenone’s offerings this week — I mainly missed THE MAN FROM KANGAROO (1920, above), directed by Wilfred Lucas and starring stuntman-star Snowy Baker. I caught ten minutes, enough to appreciate the charm of the Australian scenery and the “art titles” adorning nearly every title card.

I did see the shorts programme, which was diverting but not exceptional — SOAP BUBBLES (Giovanni Vitrotti, 1911) used delightful special effects to tell a very pat story with an obvious moral, but the trick effects, whereby real bubbles blown by a nasty child froze in mid-air and transformed into crystal balls offering portals to his future, were marvelous.

A MODERN CINDERELLA (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1913) was valuable chiefly for its behind-the-scenes footage of the Italian silent film industry, but I’ve seen such material before (eg in MACISTE, 1915) so this was a little bit of a snooze. However, I was sleepy so I can’t really say I gave it a fair try.

Far better was THE SPIDER AND THE FLY, an inventive Italian stop-motion animation with brief live-action prologue. The fly, wings plucked off by a wanton boy, flees the spider in a Keystonesque foot chase, erecting cunning traps for his pursuer — a bit of bug’s life role-reversal. The film had two flaws, both of which added to its appeal — the ravages of time had melted parts of the image into those delirious vortices and decalcomaniacal spacewarps familiar from DECASIA, and the animator’s had appeared, for a single frame, caught in the act of repositioning one of his tiny actors. He could presumably have cut this glitch out without to much trouble, but has perhaps left it as a bit of wabi-sabi or a kind of signature — a manual walk-on, Hitchcockian finger-cameo. Poignant, since the filmmaker’s name is unknown to us.

BIGORNO SMOKES OPIUM (Roméo Bosetti), its title a stark accusation, was a broadly overplayed comedy in which the grotesque clown hero is gifted an opium pipe by an explorer relative, and hallucinates a Melesian sex fantasy. The best parts of this were (a) the transition from real to unreal, in which the innumerable clutterings of the bourgeoise home dance and skate around the room at high speed, as in that short story by Maupassant (Who Knows?) or the actual Berlin hallucinations of David Bowie and (b) the return to reality, where Bigorno (real name René Lantini), in a frenzy of panic, manages to smash every single piece impedimenta in the hideously crowded room. That was actually funny. Elsewhere, the aggressive overplaying positively alarms and the thing is about as funny as the MARAT/SADE. Of course I appreciated this.

Bigorno made thirty-seven-odd shorts in three years, then presumably died of overacting.

I was looking forward to THE BLACK LILY GANG (1913), a bit of sub-Feuillade malarkey with a secret criminal society who wear domino masks to meet in their secret lair, then promptly unmask after the complex hidden doorway is closed… but their crimes are rather banal — letting the air out of a count’s tyres and stealing his jewels. There’s an impersonation (wig and false beard) and a deadly chamber that fills with water, so the building blocks of a good Fu Manchu type shocker are in place, with the stalwart Inspector Sereni supplying the copoganda. But despite the attractive locations, this cloak-and-dagger caper, appropriately anonymous, never quite caught my enthusiasm.

Frame grabs for this one stolen from here.

Show Me Nothing

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on February 8, 2021 by dcairns

LE HORLA (1966) is a pretty fine short film adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s unique psychic parasite story, probably the first psychic parasite story ever written, unless you know otherwise.

I’ve never seen anything else by Jean-Daniel Pollet but he seems interesting. Great colours in this and Laurent Terzieff is a perfect embodiment of Maupassant’s neurasthenic protagonist. He’s not as eerily skinny in this one so his beauty is more conventional than in later features. Since the original story is in the form of diary entries, Pollet has Terzieff record his impressions into a tape machine, which is a simple but effective way of rendering the thoughts perceptible.

One criticism I would make concerns an early moment where Terzieff’s character is walking in the woods and hears a noise. He turns, but there’s nothing there. The camera stalking him from behind works well, and it then catches his reaction when he turns. But we never see what he’s looking at.

Well, there’s nothing there, so why shoot it?

I would argue that we need to SEE that there’s nothing there. We need to see the nothing. That empty space will be charged with mystery and menace. And when we cut back to Terzieff, his baffled expression with be charged with additional anxiety.

It’s Hitchcock: we feel what the character feels because we SEE what they see and also how they REACT. I’d argue that a really good actor could react to the presence of something in such an evocative way that we barely need to see the something, but no actor is good enough to react to nothing without us benefitting from seeing the nothing.

Weak direction is over-literal, shows us just the actors talking. Strong direction shows us what is dramatic and meaningful, and the performances become more effective when they’re only about 70% of what we see.

Pollet does actually show us lots of unpeopled scenes in this film, so I take my hat off to his empty rowboat.

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.