Archive for Haunted Summer

Vlad Songs Say So Much

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2018 by dcairns

Welcome to the final installment of THE VLAD TAPES, my commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. I was several installments into this before it struck me that BSD was the first movie I saw at the cinema with Fiona. It wasn’t a date — there was a producer present — but it was the start of something. And the first time I saw Fiona wearing glasses. And at the end of the movie she said, “Now, we can’t discuss it until we’re outside,” which I thought very disciplined. Normally, now, Fiona launches into the post-match analysis as the credits are starting their rise, so I think maybe she was just showing off.

We begin with an elaborate explanation of the ongoing plot from Uncle Francis, which I’ll omit.

This is, you know, a glass shot, or some old-fashioned studio effect.

It would be nice if he was sure which.

I forget even now watching what we had built and what we added… I think my mind was going at this point.

And when did that start, exactly?

You know it was a lot of stuff to shoot in a relatively short time frame… this is for sure a glass shot, the road is real and then the rest is painted.

I guess with the passage of time, it’s less easy to tell when the film is being deliberately retro and when it’s just using the standard techniques of 1992. Plenty of films still used glass shots then, I think. But the lack of overt CGI certainly works against it dating.

And it’s snowing at Castle Sitting Down Dracula! They should show this movie every Christmas.

You begin to wonder why all movies look alike, and it’s because the solutions to problems are done a certain way and when you’re making a movie you have that stunt guy and he says “You fall off a horse this way,” and that’s the way they fall off the horse in every movie… I mean, good reason, it’s probably the safe way…

Wait, what are we saying, again? The real geniuses devise more painful and dangerous ways to fall off horses. That’s probably about right, I guess.

but it’s sort of an undertow when you make an industrial film, which this is, to do it the same way they’re used to doing it…

OK, yes, I get you. And it’s true. But to break through that you do need to offer a better way, don’t you?

If you have a photographer and you ask him to do something stupid or unconventional, he’s worried […] what his peers are gonna say, is he gonna be laughed at, at the Photographers’ Ball when they all get together…

Is there a Photographer’s Ball? Was Ballhaus scared of what they’d all say at the ball? I love this idea. I love the image of a shamed Ballhaus, his peers all laughing down their viewfinders at him, waving their light meters scornfully.

My daughter Sophia does it another way, she’s a tiny woman, she’s not a, she’s a very petite woman, very sweet and gentle, but she’s just hard as nails underneath, so she’ll just say “I don’t want to do it that way.”

Whereas Francis would kick holes in doors. We live in less romantic times.

Van Helsing uses a Gurkha knife to decapitate the brides of Dracula:

So much for the three Brides of Dracula, you cut off their heads and they’re finished.

True. But you needn’t feel so superior about it.

I feel a bit sorry for the brides. They seem to be conscious, but unable to move because it’s daylight, and here comes this gallumphing taff actor to decapitate them. Horrible! Think of it from their point of view and it’s the scariest scene in the picture.

Animated POV again —

That was to show that Mina had the pixilated vision so she didn’t need the binoculars.

Are you implying she’s squiffled or something?

It is remarkable that this chase has the variety it has, because it’s all shot in the same place.

Chases don’t work so well in the studio. What Uncle Francis is really saying is that this is pretty good considering it’s the wrong way of doing it.

But actually, it’s really quite accomplished. It’s the fight that comes next that’s kind of messy.

These blue rings of fire I do believe were done on an optical printer

Francis feels the in-camera tricks have a more organic feel. Possibly true. I like how they’re the same rings — positively the same rings — as seen when Mephistopheles appears in Murnau’s FAUST and the false Maria is brought to life in METROPOLIS.

Much of these shots are done by Roman because there were so many shots to get, a slew of them […] we were like a two-man team doing these things.

The epic battle just seems like a lot of thrashing about. The occasional wide shots, like this one, aren’t terribly impressive. It’s very much a sequence made by the cutter, using a lot of just-adequate material, and it never gets very involving or exciting, despite the music and the race-the-sunset concept.

Keanu seems slightly more on top of his accent at last. Like he’s delivering the lines, not the other way around.

And for the large, large, large part, all these lines are out of the book.

If Keanu Reeves swapped parts with Alex Winter as the author of The Vampyre in HAUNTED SUMMER, which film would get better and which would get worse? I think they might be about the same. Still GREAT.

And then, alas, there’s a series of morphs taking Gary through his previous incarnations, though he skips the big friendly dog and the green fart stage. Remember how excited everybody got about morphing for about five minutes? (David Lynch, on why he didn’t use morphs in LOST HIGHWAY: “It just seems like everyone and his uncle’s doin’ it.”) Lap dissolves would have been more in keeping with Roman Coppola’s old-school approach to the other effects, maybe with a slight, subtle morphing assistance. It’s the one jarringly fashionable effect.

I remember I showed it to my friend George Lucas, and he looked it and he said, “I think she should cut off his head,” and I said, “Well, that’s pretty disgusting,” he says, “Yeah, well, that’s the greatest act she could give him, to give him the peace and the moment of once again being taken to God’s breast can only be given to him by cutting off his head,” and I said, “Yeah, I hadn’t quite thought of it that way,” and I did it. […] George had thought that to REALLY be sure that he’d never be a vampire again… I thought it was pretty CLEAR… I did it the sparks went in, the thing went through his heart, like a stake through the heart, George says “She should cut off his head, that’s the greatest act of love she could do,” I said “Okay! If they don’t get it with the stake through the heart, we’ll cut off his head. Pretty startling thing to do.”

“I don’t think he should have listened to George,” says Fiona.

I point out that they had to decapitate all the other vampires. Van Helsing was very clear about that.

“I suppose so. You can’t have a special rule just for Gary Oldman, much as you would like to.”

Still, given all that’s happened since, maybe a good general rule would be, “Never listen to George Lucas.”

I guess Gary got to keep the head, but did they also give him the nipple from earlier?

Which actor of our times is closest to being able to assemble a full silicone Frankenstein monster of himself from all the bits he’s had done in different movies?

And such is the end. They go off to heaven as lovers always do. Paola and Francesca, Dracula and Elisabeta

Bert and Ernie.

Although waitaminute, Mina’s not dead, so can the woman she’s the reincarnation of be going off to heaven with Gary? Seems a tricky one. It’s kind of like the polygamy we have to assume exists in Heaven for all the people who were widowed and remarried and then died…

and on and on, the end.

Yes.

The credits are rolling but Francis shows no signs of stopping.

My idea was to make it with young people and to make it more romantic and in fact SEXY, the Brides of Dracula and the various scenes with Sadie and then combining eroticism when Mina begins to be infected by the blood of the vampire, she gets to be sort of provocatively sexy, and in fact she was pretty sexy in that scene with Anthony Hopkins, you know, she brings him down to her level and almost exalts [sic] in the fact that she has him stoked up.

Well, it is Bram STOKER’S — oh wait, I already made that joke.

So it was supposed to be a more sexy version. I don’t feel it’s so scary a version. Maybe a little bit.

Yes.

It’s my take on Jim Hart’s script, which I guess is all a director can do.

Short of getting a better writer.

I was able to achieve a final — hopefully final! — freedom from the film industry as an industry. As I continue now, as I speak to you, it’s 2006 and I am just recently sixty-seven years old, or as I like to call it, fifty-seventeen, and I decided to do what I always felt I wanted to do, which is to be an amateur

Which is lovely. And then he compares himself to Borodin, because Borodin was a doctor in his professional life and a composer on the side, and Tchaikovsky, because, well it kind of breaks down there. Maybe Francis likes hot baths.

I hope you have enjoyed these thoughts

“Oh we certainly have!” says Fiona.

Thank you so much.

You’re very welcome INDEED.

It’s not over until the thin Aberdonian lady sings, so here’s Annie Lennox. Remember not to start discussing the movie until she’s done.

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Nights at the Villa Deodati #2: Phantasmagoria

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2016 by dcairns

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I saw GOTHIC at the Cameo Cinema on its first release in 1986. I went alone. I watched alone — I don’t remember another soul being there, though I suppose there must have been somebody else in the audience. If Messrs. Golan & Globus had witnessed that matinée, they might have thought twice about bankrolling Ivan Passer’s HAUNTED SUMMER, which violated the law discovered by his fellow Czech filmmaker Milos Forman on VALMONT: “Never make a movie that somebody else has just made.”

In HAUNTED SUMMER, screenwriter Lewis John Carlino “solved” the problem of the fact that nothing much is known to have actually happened during the summer when Mary Shelley hatched the idea for Frankenstein by writing a historically faithful script in which nothing much happens. In GOTHIC, Stephen Volk, a writer who has shown an admirable devotion to the fantastique throughout his distinguished career, tackles the same problem in a number of ways —

  1. He folds into the story the characters’ backstories, so that dramatic events from their pasts can inform the action. Byron’s incestuous love for his sister and, crucially, the death of Mary’s first baby, are introduced via dialogue, some of it a bit awkwardly expository, and then can be played out in the ensuing psychodrama. Whatever the merits of the execution, the idea is a masterstroke, creating a human drama behind the authorial act which is our prime reason for being here — it’s unbelievable that the other movies on the subject neglect to do this.
  2. He also incorporates glimpses of the characters’ tragic futures, seen in psychedelic visions. This is also much more satisfying than HAUNTED SUMMER’s wrap-up, where a flurry of tragic deaths is dispensed with in a few titles at the end, leaving the odd impression that we’ve been watching the wrong scenes from the protagonists’ lives.
  3. By plunging the audience into the drug-induced paranoia of a frenzied laudanum party, Volk concocts a supernatural plotline in which a kind of séance seemingly unleashes all manner of hellspawn. I don’t think this is fully developed in narrative terms, perhaps because the barely-glimpsed monster is given short shrift compared to all the onscreen psychotronics, but it certainly gives rise to lots of good images.

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Russell was returning to British cinema after an interesting American adventure which self-destructed with the barely-released CRIMES OF PASSION, from which the MPPAA cut around 40 mins (“They cut everything to do with art,” observed Ken.) I now look rather affectionately upon this penultimate phase of his career — I still can’t get on with the home video works that followed it, but I’ll speak up on behalf of LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, SALOME’S LAST DANCE, and GOTHIC. Not so keen on THE RAINBOW, alas.

Russell was also giving interviews in which he extolled the virtues of the fast forward, saying he’d enjoyed RUMBLE FISH but that he’d watched it at double speed, which improved it. GOTHIC feels a bit like the script is on fast-forward, as if Russell couldn’t wait to get to the leaches and severed heads, and couldn’t be bothered allowing any of the characters to start breathing as human beings. A talented cast, plus Julian Sands, are left gasping for air with unformed lungs like poor Mary’s premature baby. They are ~

  1. The late, lamented Natasha Richardson. Her decision to give Mary a Scottish accent is surprising — Mary spent maybe a year and a half in Scotland, max. But alone among the cast she establishes a baseline of credibility — she doesn’t get space to develop it, but she’s always believable, even when required to disgorge implausible amounts of exposition.
  2. Julian Sands. Sands is good in some stuff. Not here. His Percy Bysshe Shelley alternates between acting as if he’s SHOUTING, while speaking at normal volume, and drawing the edges of his mouth as far back as possible, like a monkey in a wind tunnel, or a man attempting to eat a Wagon Wheel biscuit in one go. He’s supposed to become hysterical, but he’s already hysterical, and in the wrong sense of the word. Bysshe Bash Bosh.
  3. Gabriel Byrne. Naturally Byronic, but unimpressive stripped to the waist, incipient moobs aquiver. Suffers a bit from having Every Famous Thing Byron Ever Said as dialogue. Next to Sands he sounds like a genius though.
  4. Timothy Spall. Knows he’s in a Ken Russell film, so is playing it like Murray Melvin in THE DEVILS, but an MM who has been mysteriously inflated with methane.
  5. Myriam Cyr. The least-known one, and the most memorable, with her huge eyeballs. One of a harem of Russell lovelies who only made one indelible impression (Alita Naughton, Imogen Millais-Scott). Her sparse other credits include FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND and FRANKENSTEIN AND ME. The woman’s clearly obsessed.

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Every version of this story seems to feature one surprise unknown. In HAUNTED SUMMER it was Philip Anglim, whom we’d never seen before. At his first closeup, Fiona cruelly and hilariously remarked “No.” She was already smitten with Stoltz as Shelley. Later she admitted Anglim was pretty damn good. The best of the Byronic batch, actually.

“You’re not allowed to criticise the score,” said Fiona, a Thomas Dolby fan from way back. After five minutes, she was criticising it, or at any rate saying “The score is a disaster.” When the movie is prematurely hysterical, the score is a particular problem. Russell has lost his patience as a filmmaker, and patience is a form of courage — believing you can make the audience wait for something. So the movie isn’t scary, despite throwing everything at us. It’s frequently freaky, though.

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The last act is where it all kicks in and starts working. Since the visual stuff works better than the talking headcases, it would be easy to give Russell all the credit, but he was careful to praise Volk’s script for the fact that it served up delicious images, more valuable than words. So Russell’s hectic tempo is responsible for some of the apparent writing flaws, and Volk’s visceral writing deserves some of the credit for the film’s feast of imagery. Mary Shelley in a timewarp, glimpsing the future, encapsulates the premise of FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND in five minutes better than that movie manages in its whole runtime.

My favourite images —

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Ken recreates his beloved Busby Berkeley’s Lullaby of Broadway sequence, only with a skull instead of Wini Shaw.

A bit of T & eye. Not frightening. But bizarre. (see top)

A simple closeup, utterly beautiful and more haunting than anything else we’ve seen.

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To Russell, the cardinal sin was to bore, and on that basis, GOTHIC wins the Battle of the Byrons. But read on…

Nights at the Villa Deodati #1: Byron & Shelley’s Bogus Journey

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona was so entranced by the sight of Eric Stoltz, as Percy Shelley, emitting a flawless English accent while splashing about naked in a stream, that it may have taken her slightly longer than usual to notice that HAUNTED SUMMER is a very dull piece of work. Usually she gets bored before me.

I hated popped this one in the Panasonic after enjoying Ivan Passer’s SILVER BEARS (I also recommend his Czech debut, INTIMATE LIGHTING), but was dimly aware that this Cannon production did not enjoy a stellar reputation. The script by Lewis John Carlino (SECONDS) is literate and clearly the result of extensive research (source novel: Anne Edwards), but crucially lacks drama. Things only very occasionally get remotely tense, for instance when Shelley is induced to smoke opium in a scary cave, with Byron inciting him into a bad trip in which he is terrified by a transmogrified Mary — but the best the movie can manage for a hallucination here is Alice Krige in sudden lipstick, filmed off a wibbly-wobbly reflector. And then any anxiety produced is dissipated by a soft focus sex scene. A later love scene is shot through drifting muslin, the kind of “tastefulness” which quickly seems extremely tacky.

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We DO get a vision of a monster, and rather sweetly the filmmakers have made him resemble Charles Ogle as the monster in the Edison FRANKENSTEIN.

Those perfect English accents are part of the problem. Apart from Krige, who talks posh naturally so far as I know, the movie showcases cut-glass vocalisations by Laura Dern (as Claire Clairmont), Philip Anglim (Bad Lord Byron) and a tiny, barely-formed Alex Winter as Dr. Polidori, looking like an Oompa Loompa with jaundice. They’re all quite good — nobody dives into the strangulated manner of Keanu Reeves in B.S.’s DRACULA — but the cast’s inability to talk in their own tones does create a slight feeling of airlessness. I wonder if Passer shouldn’t have followed his Czech mate Milos Forman’s lead in AMADEUS and let the Americans talk American? This nagging doubt is confirmed if you tune out the chatter and just look at the relaxed faces: these are all terrific actors, able to bring an unwonted naturalism to the period setting.

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The great Giuseppe Rotunno shot this, but I would have to see a better copy to know if he was having an off-day or if he’s simply fallen prey to pan-and-scan and a washed-out transfer — unlike the other 80s visits to Villa Deodata, this movie seems to offer nothing resembling a strong, cinematic image. It also soft-pedals the whole point of the story — the origins of Frankenstein — leaving out the ghost story competition completely. If you didn’t know that Mary Shelley would conceive the idea for her masterwork during this sojourn by the lake, you wouldn’t guess it from the movie. How not to win the audience over: leave out the one historical fact they know, and the thing they’re already interested in.

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Thematically, the film could be about the end of the sixties, rather than 1816. Byron refers to his friends as “children of the revolution,” conjuring Marc Bolan rather than George Gordon Byron, and the progress from light to dark could represent the corruption of idealism. If so, the film would have seemed more dated in 1988 than it does now. All the late-80s slew of films dealing with this literary vacation come up against the same problem — apart from the conception of Frankenstein, an internal event difficult to capture on film, not much is known to have happened at the Villa Deodati, despite the explosive mix of people. The various filmmakers involved — Passer & Carlino, Gonzalo Suarez, Ken Russell & Stephen Volk, and Roger Corman & F.X. Feeney, all have their own strategies for tackling this problem. I might as well tell you now: none of them could quite solve it.

Read on…