Archive for Hellraiser

Always On Sunday

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by dcairns

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY — the title was almost literally true in those days, since the factory smoke seeded the clouds during the week, and on the one day when the factories didn’t belch their fumes skywards, the clouds would take the opportunity to drop their watery payload.

Rain predominates in Robert Hamer’s post-war British noir, a genuinely oppressive and glum film, typifying the Ealing fondness for “network narratives” (David Bordwell’s useful phrase) branching out from families or neighbourhoods or institutions. Here, a group of honest and dishonest citizens in Bethnal Green, in the East End of London, go about their business, breaking hearts and by-laws, while housewife Googie Withers shelters her ex-lover, John McCallum who’s just escaped from Dartmoor Prison.

When we learn that McCallum’s been given “the cat” — his back is a lattice of scares from the prison whipping — I believed it, having learned that this appalling punishment was still being practiced in postwar Britain after raising doubts about Burt Lancaster’s flogging in KISS THE BLOOD OF MY HANDS. But I think I would have believed it anyway — Hamer’s movie reeks with authenticity, unlike Norman Foster’s slick comic-book thriller. Despite a reliance on studio work, the movie convincingly evokes East End life, with a surprising emphasis on Jewishness and a reasonable authenticity of dialect all round. Of course, the cockney’s have all had V-chips installed so they can’t swear, but I always get a kick out of characters saying “Sweet Fanny Adams” in Ealing movies. The expression may need some explaining for non-Brits. The etymology of the phrase is pretty convoluted, but my favourite reading of it sees it as word substitution code for “sweet fuck-all.” So its frequent use represents a triumph over the British Board of Film Censors.

Here’s Hamer’s fellow Ealing director Alexander Mackendrick, quoted from On Film-Making ~

“Though common in television, group stories seem to have died as a form of cinema these days.” (Well, they’re back now.) “They used to be much more common, and if I have a prejudice against them, it is probably because the English studio at which I got some early training was addicted to the kind of stories that had multiple protagonists (the Ealing comedies PASSPORT TO PIMLICO and WHISKY GALORE! for example).

“I have never been sure why writers and directors of that era were so happy with this formula. I think they believed it provided the opportunity for not only more variety of characters but also a lively pacing that could be achieved by intercutting the progression of the subplots. After one film of this kind I began to dislike the structure because I felt it weakened the drive of the narrative rather than strengthened it. All of the characters essentially became cameo roles that couldn’t be developed in any depth, and the multiplicity of minor tensions was apt to reduce the tension of the main theme.”

Now, it seems to me, we have enough successful, artistically interesting examples of the network narrative to see Mackendrick’s objection as signposting a potential pitfall rather than a necessary weakness of the form. And IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY stands as perhaps Ealing’s finest achievement with this manner of storytelling, centered upon the Withers storyline but spreading out to take in the adventures of her different family members, various east End characters, and the detective trailing McCallum (Jack Warner, Ealing’s favourite copper).

Flashback to a blonde Googie, echoing her early screen appearances (see THE LADY VANISHES).

When I looked at the movie years ago, I found its persistent gloom oppressive, stifling and itchy, which it is, but that’s the brilliance of the filmmaking. Hamer manages to make his widespread narratives all as claustrophobic as the adventure of the escaped convict in the tiny two-up-two-down house. I was also struck by the mysterious resemblance the film bears to Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER: in both films, the mother secretes her fugitive lover within the marital home, betraying her husband and clashing with her (step)daughter. The main difference is the substitution of Doug Bradley’s Pinhead for Jack Warner’s detective, and the fact that the lover in HELLRAISER has no skin. I wonder if Hamer’s film was an influence on Barker. It’s a powerful storyline, which seems capable of shifting through yet more genres: it has one foot in bedroom farce (“Quick, in here!”) already.

Hamer, who two years later would triumph with that greatest of black comedies, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, largely shuns humour here, defying Ealing’s usual chirpy manner and sinking us in meanness and corruption. There is a persistent strain of pessimism in British film of this period, perhaps stemming from our disappointment with the “land fit for heroes” we’d been promised in the war. This acerbic strain was gradually extirpated by the bureaucrats running the film business in the fifties, but would make a savage return with greater realism in the sixties.

The movie’s climax, a chase at the railway yard, magnificently lit by Douglas Slocombe, is marred by a couple of rather inexplicable model shots, but is nevertheless tense and expressionistic and dynamic — the crime story really does seem like the best way to make realism palatable to a wide audience as entertainment.

IAROS is based on a novel by Arthur LaBern, whose Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square was filmed much later, by Alfred Hitchcock, as FRENZY. In that movie, realism is no longer the keynote…

Ealing Studios DVD Collection – Champagne Charlie/The Maggie/It Always Rains On Sunday/Whisky Galore

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Legs Wide Shut

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2008 by dcairns

The uncensored version contains what seems to me a near-impossibility: performing oral sex while wearing a full-face mask. Don’t try this at home!

Thanks to the ever-great DVDBeaver for these images*. I was always very very amused by the idea that the U.S. release of Kubrick’s dirty swan song EYES WIDE SHUT had been censored, by having additional figures inserted into key shots to block our view of the orgiastic activities taking place at Sidney Pollack’s Bilderburg-like exclusive shagging palace. It sounded so goofy!

(It should be noted that the U.K. version was also censored, but in this case the issue was with the soundtrack, which contained sacred Islamic texts chanted over the scenes of illicit rumpy-pumpy. The score was re-jigged to defuse religious wrath.)

Now at last I’ve seen frame comparisons of both versions. Pretty funny stuff. Fiona was particularly amused by the nude blonde sitting, her head resting on her masked and cowled beau’s shoulder, as they watch the hot boy-girl action. So sweet.

Why did the scenes have to be occluded in this way? Kubrick apparently researched the U.S. censorship system as best he could, to find out what was acceptable, but still found himself looking down the barrel of an X Certificate when he presented his film to the industry bluestockings. The principle in question was one of buttock-thrusts, and he should really have researched further, because Alan Parker had come up against the same problem with ANGEL HEART. The M.P.A.A. had strongly objected to the sight of Mickey Rourke’s heaving buttocks, arguing that more than three consecutive thrusts of the buttocks in one shot constituted obscenity. Parker, ever the street-fighting man, protested and won, but the principle that obscenity has a numerical value measured in pelvic thrusts obviously remained on the sexy statute books.

(The M.P.A.A. being the odd organisation it is, did not object to the blood pouring down the walls of the room, over Rourke and his paramour, Cosby Show graduate Lisa Bonet. In Britain, the censors for a long time maintained that any conjunction of blood and breasts was liable to act as a Rape Trigger, turning male audience members into slavering beasts. They squabbled with Michael Winner over his prurient remake of THE WICKED LADY, in which Faye Dunaway bullwhips a topless Marina Sirtis, and again, a stroppy Brit managed to overcome a censorship decision just by making a big fuss over it, aided by respected industry figures like Lindsay Anderson coming to the defense of his, er, art. Maybe Kubrick should have done the same. Happy ending — at least Marina S., who has to get nude in every one of her WICKED LADY scenes, had Star Trek: The Next Generation to look forward to.)

From Parker to Barker: the other person who could have helped Kubes out would be Clive Barker. When making his first feature, Barker had run up against a narrative problem. Clare Higgins’ character in the film is besotted with a particular lover, so much so that she raises him from the dead in order to continue enjoying his affections. At a certain point in rehearsal, it became clear to Barker and his cast that it would be necessary to spell out what, exactly, this kinky couple were into. Eventually, Higgins said, “*I* think she’s into spanking.” Barker clapped his hands together: “Great.” They shot a scene.

Barker’s American producer called the next day. “We’ve just seen yesterday’s footage. Sensational. We can’t use any of it.” Turns out there was an absolute Thou Shalt Not Spank commandment in force. Barker was frustrated: “You’ve got to come clean and tell me what the rules are, then. I can’t go on guesswork.” It turned out that there WERE rules, despite the M.P.A.A.’s insistence that each case was judged on its merits. Censors don’t like to make their rules known because it makes them look silly. Splitting pubic hairs is not an occupation with a lot of dignity. It’s similar to the way that executive producers and funding bodies often don’t like to admit that they’re looking for particular kinds of material, since it implies that they’re not creative and flexible.

Anyhow, Barker was DELIGHTED with his new set of rules. “It did wonders for my sex life,” he attested. “I now knew the exact moment when I was crossing over into obscenity.”

That fourth thrust is the one that does it, folks. Try to climax before then, to stay out of trouble.

The kinkiest touch — one girl holding the other’s wrists — is also hidden. Fiona points out that the same couple is back in this shot, having presumably darted through a side exit, scooted ahead of Tom Cruise, and assumed their seats moments before his arrival. “People in masks are not to be trusted.” ~ Fessick the Giant in THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Anyway, Stan’s difficulties with this sequence illustrate again my ground-breaking thesis re Kubrick.

*DVDBeaver is a terrific DVD review site. Not porn.