Archive for Heavenly Creatures

“Go towards the Ladd Company!”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2011 by dcairns

Image from Peter Jackson’s THE LOVELY BONES. Joke from this previous post.

Interesting that two antipodean fantasy filmmakers serve up such strikingly similar images. I think part of the reason may be that artificial landscapes have a tendency to creep towards symmetry in a way that real ones rarely do.

I confess to mixed feelings about this one. Conventional wisdom labelled it a misfire, and much of it certainly is. In Jackson’s oeuvre, it’s closest to HEAVENLY CREATURES, my favourite of his films, but the fantastical imagery doesn’t have the sinister, psychotic undercurrents of that picture, which means that, beautiful as it is, it leans a little towards kitsch. I define kitsch here as  “a child’s idea of the sublime”. Which, it could be argued, is what Jackson is presenting: the teenage girl’s personal afterlife, painted as she might imagine it. But it feels like too much loveliness, not enough bone.

Glenn Kenny’s review here hits some of the criticisms I’d have made had he not done so first, and so well. But he does defend the film from comparisons with Vincent Ward’s WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. I can see the similarity, not just because it’s another Kiwi fantasist, but because I get a slightly icky feeling from both, but at least Jackson’s afterlife isn’t made of oil paint, and doesn’t contain an 80s pop video version of Hell. And the more surreal elements, like giant ships in bottles shattering against the shoreline, at least justify the use of CGI as something other than an attempt to improve on nature.

Both films do, however, feature gloriously lovely autumnal suburban scenes, shared also with Alex Proyas’s KNOWING. Now, I love ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS as much as the next Sirkian, but it seems to me that if you’re going to actually feature Heaven in your movie, or a sort of antechamber of Heaven (Jackson) or a Heaven Planet (Proyas), you might want to give the real world scenes a tad more grit, just to make an effective contrast. I’m saying this, and I hate grit, normally.

Jackson has always been devoted to creating his own worlds, something I kind of identify with. There’s no essential reason why BRAIN DEAD is set in the fifties, and there’s no reason why THE LOVELY BONES is set in the seventies — it’s an excuse to take a step away from reality and give everything a distinctive look, but here it seems to remove us a step too far from the everyday, especially since Jackson’s dealing with an era he’s barely old enough to remember, in a  country he’s never lived in, reconstructed on the other side of the world.

There are a couple of great scenes — a suspense sequence where the heroine’s little sister searches the killer’s house is genuinely nerve-twisting… the discovery of a series of murder victims manages to combine the eerily beautiful with the creepy and tragic, in the only scene that really manages to hit more than one Big Emotion at a time. Here we see something that’s actually new to Jackson’s filmmaking: his early films gave full rein to his irreverent sense of humour, along with which no other mood can really coexist. HEAVENLY CREATURES deployed some of the same melodramatic flourishes the RINGS trilogy would exploit, allowing them to mix with the small-scale real-life story in a genuinely surprising way, but it’s still one emotion at a time.  Then the RINGS films pulled the humour in completely, since irreverence was judged fatal to Tolkein. Jackson knew he needed some kind of humour, and his attempts to get it were among the epics’ less effective moments. The most complex moments came from Gollum, whose schizoid nature makes him the most rounded character in the books, and someone who does carry a certain tonal variety around in his very essence. The adventure of KONG embraces two principle modes, the snappy thirties manly stuff and the Naomi Watts ape stuff, which intersect freely and never seem to clash.

But the story of THE LOVELY BONES combines so many feelings and tones that the movie really needs more scenes like the above, or it risks disintegrating into a bag of extracts from different films. The worst of these films is the one that stars Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon, a gaudy Odd Couple comedy routine that comes crashing into the bereavement like a pitch invasion from Jackson’s BRAIN DEAD. Remember the scene in BLAZING SADDLES when a top hat & tails musical number is brought to a standstill by a saloon brawl overflowing from the next sound stage? It’s kind of like that.

But I did like Stanley Tucci, whose makeup eerily resembles that of Nic Cage in KICK ASS, a strange crepe mustache being the centrepiece. I recall reading that Oliver Reed, that noted perfectionist, always grew his own facial hair because fake beards don’t move with your face. Tucci’s facial fungus DOES move with his face, with the sensitivity and synchronization of a great dance partner, but it’s somehow all the more unconvincing for it. Weird. But Tucci’s is the most Jacksonian perf, capturing the fervid melodrama that lifts HEAVENLY CREATURES out of the true crime genre and into something more peculiar.

I found myself wondering if maybe it’s the character who’s wearing a wig and a false ‘tache, and wondered what kind of man would DO that, when he knows he’s going to be interviewed by the police? He’s the Groucho Marx of serial killers. Never mind why he excavates an insane crime grotto under a cornfield, kills his victim, collapses the cavern, but removes the body to his home, something which makes no criminological sense whatever (but would be more reasonable in a contemporary setting where he might be worried about DNA evidence) — that’s from the novel, as are a lot of the narrative infelicities — such madness is thrown into sharp perspective by the little piece of fuzzy felt clinging to Tucci’s upper lip, seeming to shriek “You’ll never catch me! I’m far too clever for you! Why, you can’t even detect my bogus Mr Potato Head moustache!”

Now THAT’S depravity for you.

The Mythomaniac

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by dcairns

So, a sometime correspondent self-combusts, and we must ask “Why?” Some of the speculation surrounding the death of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre has viewed him as a delightful eccentric, which is a little odd since his chosen exit seems to have been calculated to assassinate his neighbours, and since in 2001 he was charged with a horrifying, yet deeply bizarre, assault on a neighbour, strapping her to a chair, shaving her head, and spray-painting her black from head to toe.

As if this weren’t weird enough, it chimes oddly with FGM’s sole novel, The Woman Between the Worlds, where the hero, a tattooist, is approached by an invisible woman demanding he tattoo her all over to render her visible. It’s all… very strange.

Here’s the second email I received from the late “Froggy” MacIntyre. Alas, I don’t seem to have preserved any more, and I think there were others. Author’s interjections/annonations in grey.

Ahoy, Dave:

In case any of you didn’t know, calling a David “Dave” without being invited to do so is bad form.

Eily Malyon was distinctly Victorian in appearance. Very small and thin, with very sharp hatchet-faced features. A wide range of English and Scottish accents, less successful with Yank accents. In terms of character type, much like Margaret Hamilton but far more distinctive in appearance. Her best roles were as the scheming aunt in ‘On Borrowed Time’ and the wife of butler John Carradine (and sister of the escaped convict) in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.

She was perfectly cast as the Victorian orphanage-mistress in ‘Jane Eyre’. She bullied Shirley Temple in ‘A Little Princess’. She briefly appeared (with no lines) as the nurse in ‘Dracula’s Daughter’. She was the priests’ housekeeper in ‘Going My Way’. She was the prim librarian (chastising Teresa Wright for coming to the library at closing time) in ‘Shadow of a Doubt’. She was the owner of the laundry, tormenting Maureen O’Sullivan in ‘Devil Doll’. She was the dairymaid who shared a touching moment with Garbo in ‘Camille’, the nun who aided Fredric March in ‘Les Miserables’. She had a very brief appearance (head and voice only, body never seen) in ‘Confessions of a Nazi Spy’, instantly memorable as a Scotswoman loyal to the Reich. She was an hotelier, sceptical of Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray in ‘Beyond Suspicion’. She played weeping bullied wives in ‘The Wet Parade’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. She was the minister’s dutiful wife in ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’. She appeared in the opening scene of ‘I Married a Witch’, circa 1690, wearing Pilgrim garb as a woman named Tabitha … who looked very hag-like indeed, yet who was NOT the witch in this movie. If memory serves, I believe Eily Malyon was in ‘She-Wolf of London’, sharing scenes with Sara Haden: not a good idea, this, as she and Haden were similar in type and physical appearance.

We were talking about our favourite character actresses and I wasn’t sure, at the time, who Malyon was.

In REAL life, Sara Allgood was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the cult that featured so prominently in my novel ‘The Woman Between the Worlds’. She was a member of the London chapter, alongside Yeats, Machen, Crowley and Florence Farr. Noted for her fine speaking voice, it often fell to Allgood to read out the texts during their rituals. Allgood worked with Hitchcock but she had a very low opinion of him as a director. Begorrah!

Una O’Connor. Oh, dear. I despise that shriek of hers. Still, I would like to have seen the Broadway production of J B Priestley’s play ‘The Linden Tree’, in which O’Connor played the housekeeper of an elderly professor. The professor was played by Boris Karloff. When Priestley learnt that Karloff had been cast, he objected on the grounds that audiences would think it was a play about an axe-murderer. After reading Karloff’s favourable notices, Priestley apologised.

I quoted Richard Lester’s statement that Ralph Richardson said he always started off with the walk, a baffling assertion, since all RR’s characters walk the same way. I still believe Lester was telling the truth, and Ralph was probably indulging a flight of whimsy.

Ralph Richardson ‘always started with the walk’? Erm, I think you’re thinking of Alec Guinness.

Which reminds me: it’s been a while since I’ve seen ‘Heavenly Creatures’ but I guess you’re correct that I’ve got the two girls swapped.

This was in regard to the question of which actress played the woman who grew up to be crime writer Anne Perry. FGM said he’d often used the argument that “write what you know” is a fallacy, since murder mysteries are not written by murderers, and he resented Perry for blowing a hole in this argument.

I like to pretend that any given director’s film oeuvre all takes place in the same universe. This explains why, during the murder scene in Peter Jackson’s ‘Heavenly Creatures’, you can see Gollum lurking in the shrubbery.

I mentioned Olivia DeHavilland’s claim that she had a special scent made to symbolize each character she played. Wearing the perfume would instantly get her “into character.” I presumed she wore two different scents to play twins in THE DARK MIRROR.

The DeHavilland story about her scents is a new one to me. I admire her for her bravery in bucking the studio system’s repressive contract suspensions. A lot of big-name actors (including Bogart) gave lip service to her cause, but didn’t have the guts to stand with her.

I still don’t know how they did the twin sequences in ‘The Dark Mirror’. The usual lurk for a double exposure is to mask one side of the frame whilst filming the other, then switch. Apparently DeHavilland filmed all of her twin scenes in one take, with another actress on-camera playing the second twin, facing the camera … and then, afterwards, DeHavilland’s head (facing the camera) was superimposed over this woman’s head in the print lab. I don’t understand how this was done. Unless the other woman was a microcephalic, surely her own head would stick out in places where DeHavilland’s head was narrower.

I suggested that this story originated from DeHavilland, who had not fully understood the technical processes involved. From her point of view, she had acted both roles against another actress, and then somehow replaced her, but the exact mechanism escaped her grasp.

I’m surprised, looking back, that all this didn’t lead FGM to repeat his claim of having a twin brother, for which there is no evidence…

‘The Corsican Brothers’, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jnr as twins, features one astonishing fight scene in which the brothers circle each other in the same shot, with no discernible cut nor masking. When I saw this, circa 1974, I resolved that if I ever met Fairbanks I would ask him how it was done. I *did* meet him years later, but quite forgot to ask this question.

I’m now determined to check this out.

In ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’, Mary Pickford played the title role (a small boy) AND his mother, both onscreen at the same go. For decades, I kept hearing that the double-exposure sequences in this film were so incredibly sophisticated that to this day nobody knows how they were done … most notably a scene in which the boy jumps into his mother’s arms. When I finally saw this movie, I found the special effects very crude by modern standards. I quite accept that they were advanced for the time. In the arm-jumping scene, the boy is clearly a double with his back to the camera.

Did DeHavilland have any input into the creation of her scents, or did she just trust someone to create a scent appropriate to the character?

My favourite detail in the novel ‘Camille’ never got into the movie: the prostitute wore a white camellia corsage every day … except three days each month, when she wore a red camellia. I can’t imagine what this symbolises. (Not half!)

The musical ‘Annie’ (by John Huston, of all people) and the Rodgers&Hart bio ‘Words and Music’ both contain the same bizarre anachronism: both feature a scene in which the main characters go to a cinema and watch ‘Camille’. In both cases, this scene takes place BEFORE ‘Camille’ was filmed! In the case of ‘Words and Music’, ‘Camille’ is actually re-edited as a SILENT film so that Richard Rodgers can see it in the 1920s. Feel free to run this past your friend Wingrove Melville, or whatever alias he’s using.

I forgot to do so.

I knew about Patrick MacNee’s lezzy mum and her ‘wife’: they dressed him in a kilt and kept his hair long, and told him he’d make an excellent girl, but they didn’t quite go so far as putting him into girls’ clothes. I hadn’t known about Peter Cushing being given that treatment, nor Wyler. Ernest Hemingway and his older sister had a mother who delighted in treating them as same-sex twins: sometimes dressing both as girls, sometimes as boys. (Joan Crawford adopted two unrelated girls, and insisted on raising them as twins.) Another boy raised as a girl was Charles Beaumont, author of ‘Twilight Zone’ scripts. In fact, this wasn’t his real name; I suspect he took this name from Charles Beaumont, Chevalier d’Eon, real-life cross-dresser and namesake of Britain’s Beaumont Society.

The oddest such case known to me is that of the father of Walter D Edmonds, a best-selling Yank novelist of the 1930s, several of whose novels were filmed. Edmonds’s paternal grandmother decided to enrol her son (Edmonds’s father) in the school she had attended. Unfortunately, it was an all-girl school. She was afraid her son would be conspicuous as the only boy in an all-girl school, so her ‘solution’ was to send him to school dressed like all the other students: in the schoolgirl uniform! Apparently he didn’t mind this but he *did* mind the ordeal of walking to and from school, jeered by the local boys (one of whom broke his nose with a stone).

The reason why the above cases lodge in my memory is because I too spent part of my boyhood as a girl. I was one of the ‘child migrants’ who were forcibly expatriated from postwar Britain to Australia; in my case, I was sent to a ‘work farm’ in Queensland, and used as slave labour by Anglican priests and their matrons. When I was 11 years old I escaped, and the local authorities went to considerable trouble to find me. I was fortunate to receive some protection from an expat Scotswoman: a former gynaecological nurse who — shades of the recent ‘Vera Drake — had been struck off the register for doing abortions. (Illegal at the time, circa 1959.) She had performed an abortion on a teenage girl who had died on the table, and had been quietly disposed of, with no death certificate issued. The authorities were looking for me, so the ex-nurse hid me in plain sight by disguising me as a girl and equipping me with the dead girl’s identity for a few weeks until the search went cold … she also had me make a few public appearances as the dead girl, so that this girl’s disappearance could not be traced to her visit to the nurse’s address. After a few weeks, and a relocation of several hundred miles, it was safe for me to reclaim my male identity. A good job it was, too, as I was not very passable as a girl. I know for a fact that at least one person rumbled me. In all, I likely spent far less time in skirts than Hemingway did.

All of which brings me full circle to Eily Malyon. I shan’t divulge the name of the nurse who saved me, but physically and vocally she was a dead ringer for Eily Malyon. (I think they may have been related.) To this day, whenever I see Malyon onscreen, I have to fight off a momentary belief that I’m seeing the woman whom I knew. But I am indeed genuinely impressed with Eily Malyon as an actress, and I believe that I would still hold her talents in high regard without this coincidence.

Up until WW1, it was fairly common to raise boys in skirts, but this was for practical reasons: it made them less likely to climb trees and get up to other dangerous stunts, and it made it easier to change their nappies. The first stage on the path to manhood was the ritual of the ‘breeching’, in which a boy was deemed sufficiently mature to give up his skirts in favour of trousers… usually short ones.

I’ve encountered a couple of remote seacoast villages in the Hebrides and Orkneys in which the boys were raised in skirts, allegedly so that the sea (being animist and sentient) would mistake them for girls (less valued) and not carry them off on a wave.

I mentioned the young William Wyler’s stunt of driving his motorcycle off a diving board at parties.

Wyler rode his OWN motorcycle into swimming pools? I should think this would cost him considerable money. When Wyler directed the Ben-Hur remake, the studio publicity made much of the fact that he had been assistant director on the original. Wyler modestly pointed out that his duties as ‘assistant director’ were largely a matter of crowd control. From what little I know of him, he was a genuinely modest man in an industry run by egomaniacs.

I’m gobsmacked by what you tell me about Wyler’s daughter being abducted by a paedo, and more gobsmacked that she wasn’t harmed. Did the bastard have a pang of conscience and let her go, or was she rescued before he could do anything? This reminds me of how Forrest Ackerman’s wife Wendayne (translator of ‘Perry Rhodan’) was assaulted by two Italian thugs on a Vespa. Those damned things are illegal but the Eyeties don’t care.

A touch of racism here. MacIntyre was a rabid right-winger. In fact, I believe Wyler’s poor daughter was harmed, in the sense of being molested, but not otherwise physically injured. In a fashion which seems almost impossible to credit now, everybody simply got on with their lives and didn’t make a big fuss about it. Glad to have her back alive.

The movie ‘Hammett’ (filmed in London) features a scene in which he stops at a newsagent’s kiosk in San Francisco which carries an advert for the News of the World.

One of Hammett’s novels (I forget which) mentions a case about a man named Flitcraft. I believe that this was an actual case that Hammett worked on for Pinkerton, although the name Flitcraft was probably made up. Flitcraft was a respectable family man, went to his job every day, went home every night. No scandal. One day he left for work and simply never showed up. No corpse found, no ransom note. Detectives encounter such cases; usually the guy had a double life for a long time, involving a mistress, and spent months or years crafting a second identity for himself before scarpering. But the Flitcraft case showed no such pattern. Eventually, Flitcraft was located hundreds of miles away, living a very undistinguished life under a new name. Here’s what happened. One his way to work, he passed a building site. A steel beam fell off the site and struck the pavement quite near where he was standing. A sherd of concrete struck his face, shocking him more than actually injuring him. But for the vagary of a few inches, he would have been killed instantly. The emotional shock of this ‘death’ was so powerful that, purely on the spur of the moment, Flitcraft effectively ‘died’ and started over as somebody else, with no prior preparation. I find this very spooky.

The Flitcraft case is alluded to in The Maltese Falcon.

A similar case (which I’ve mentioned on IMDb) is that of 1930s comedian Paul McCullough, who was in a horrible auto accident: he emerged unscathed, but became firmly convinced he had died. A few days later, he was in a car that stopped outside a barbershop in which the barber was stropping one of those Sweeney Todd razors. McCullough rushed in, grabbed the razor and slit his own throat. Shockingly, he took a considerable time to die of this.

Cornell Woolrich. For some reason, I keep thinking he wrote ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’. It was Dahl, of course. I think Woolrich wrote the one about the kidnapped boy who is hidden in plain sight at a fairgrounds. The kidnapper drugs him, sews him into a chimpanzee skin, and leaves him asleep in a monkey cage.

I’ve only ever seen the Victorian cylinder case in one article (not story) by ES Gardner. He may have made it up, but it doesn’t sound like his yarns.

This is Erle Stanley Gardner, but I have quite forgotten what the Victorian cylinder case WAS.

I’ve heard of William Roughead but never read him.

I referenced Groucho’s line, a reported outtake from his game show You Bet Your Life, in response to a man with many kids who claimed to love his wife: “I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth occasionally.”

That Groucho line is an urban legend. It never happened. Groucho DID sometimes unloose a wisecrack with such alacrity and acerbity that even he was shocked, but this one didn’t happen. Of similar provenance are two others that (never) occurred on the Stateside chat-show compered by Johnny Carson. Allegedly, an actress strode onto his set, carrying a moggie. She then sat down with the moggie in her lap and asked Carson: ‘Would you like to pet my pussy?’ to which he ostensibly replied: ‘Move the cat and I will’. No way an actress would voluntarily appear on a live show with an animal that might upstage her, and no way Carson would have approved it if she had. The other dodgy one: allegedly Carson interviewed the wife of a pro golfer, and asked if her husband had any good-luck rituals. She replied that, before a big match, she kissed her husband’s balls … prompting Carson to rejoin: ‘I bet that makes his putter stand up.’ Why would Carson interview the wife of a celebrity, rather than the celebrity himself?

I can think of several explanations: maybe the woman was famous in her own right? Maybe the incident took place in private life, not on TV? Either way, neither story is very funny.

The ‘League of [Extraordinary] Gentlemen’ comic books featured a young woman as the leader of the 19th-century League: very 21st-century PC, you know. (I well and truly dislike period pieces in which the characters have a modern-day ethos.) The film version of ‘League of Gentlemen’ made Connery the boss. This was intended as a ‘lad’ flick, and the lads don’t want to see a movie where a lassie gives the orders.

Straight on till mourning,

Froggy MacIntyre

The part of my discussion with MacIntyre which isn’t preserved, but which I remember, is his expressed resentment at the actress Margaret Sullivan’s suicide. She became depressed after losing her hearing, and MacIntrye claimed that his former wife had coped so bravely with her own deafness, that he was made angry thinking of Sullivan yielding to despair. All tragically ironic since “Froggy” apparently took his own life.

Startlingly, FGM has a letter published in this month’s Fortean Times: as was his wont, he uses the opportunity of a FT article to drop in some piece of obscure lore, and then link this to a plug for one of bis publications. A boost from beyond.

Super Mario

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2010 by dcairns

Familiar to me mainly by reputation and from his appearance as a clay character in Peter Jackson’s HEAVENLY CREATURES, Mario Lanza made a late attempt at a comeback for Anthony Mann with SERENADE, loosely based on a novel by James M Cain. It’s quite an odd piece of work.

The early, rags-to-riches stuff lacks pep, and Lanza at this stage makes an unconvincing boyish youth. He plays an aspiring opera singer taken under the wing of society vampire Joan Fontaine (always satisfying in wicked mode). We meet her as she’s dumping a prizefighter, and she duly walks out on poor Mario as he makes his debut in Otello — rather than inspiring him to greater heights of conviction in the role, her absence causes him to wobble out of the theatre altogether, mid-performance. Finding her apartment empty, Mario learns she’s absconded with an up-and-coming sculptor, and claws her face off

(About two minutes in.)

When it comes to playing fraught human wreckage, Mario is unexpectedly adept, and we can forget his age now as he convincingly gives us a singer who has lost his voice, his self-belief and his reason to live. Resuscitated down Mexico way by the love of beautiful Sarita Montiel, he attempts to climb back to the top, but Fontaine is waiting for him.

The small crowd of screenwriters employed on this seem to have pulled off miracles of bowdlerisation, transforming Fontaine’s character from a gay man to a predatory society dame, and Montiel’s from a prostitute to a matador’s daughter. Montiel’s characterisation of Fontaine as “degenerate” seems like a hangover from the source book.

Homosexuality, ejected from the servant’s entrance, crashes through every window and floods down the chimney. Vincent Price plays Fontaine’s campy pal with sneering relish (but he’s actually kind of nice, underneath it all), and he gets absolutely all the good lines. The heroine who straightens Mario out (a touch inconclusively, as in the book) likes to drag up in her dead dad’s toreador duds, and assumes bullfighter stance to threaten her rival with a sword at a swank New York cocktail party (I never seem to get invited to parties like that). The silliness is augmented by other melodramatic contrivances — it seemed capricious of God to send a thunderbolt to make Mario and Sara stay together, only to send a bus to knock her down a few days later…

Cigar-smoking Sara Montiel likes to claim she was the love of Lanza’s life, though she was married to Mann… Rather than firming up A.M.’s rep for heterosexuality, this union may undermine it: “If he were Spanish, marrying Sara Montiel would be like marrying Judy Garland,” observes David Wingrove, Shadowplay informant.

Mann seems much more excited by the psychological mayhem and tense confrontations of the second half, although his enthusiasm comes and goes. Lanza fans will appreciate the large quantity of loud singing laid on for our enjoyment, and I appreciated it too whenever it synched with a valid plot motivation, which admittedly was about 75% of the time. With its two-part structure, use of San Francisco as a major location, broken-down hero, and hispanic influence, the movie seems at times like a faint pre-echo of VERTIGO, a film still waiting to be born at this point.

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