Archive for I Know Where I’m Going!

Dial “H” for Hubbard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2013 by dcairns

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To Filmhouse to catch the last 3D screening of DIAL “M” FOR MURDER. I’d seen the film before, and written it up for Hitchcock Year, and seen it again in 3D on video with Japanese subtitles and red-green glasses which mess up the colour cinematography, but this was my first ever big screen 3D screening. Most satisfactory.

John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard is the chief source of pleasure, with Anthony Dawson’s vulpine assassin a strong runner-up (curiously, both men have more famous name-sakes).

Hitch’s restrained use of the stereoscopic process to chart the dimensions of a room is beautiful, but I also found myself enjoying the worst aspects of the film — the grainy London location shots. Warners refused to pay for Hitchcock to shoot 3D in London, so the street scenes and dock scene were filmed flat. Hitchcock sticks a few foreground objects in to try to add a bit of depth, but the fantastically grainy rear-projection is distracting, and in at least one place surreal —

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Robert Cummings, the Butcher of Strasbourg, approaches his friends’ flat in a taxi — the view through the windscreen shows a flat street scene gradually enlarging — no sense of it getting closer, it just looks like it’s being blown up. We’re inside a 3D taxi driving up a flat street. It’s quite boggling. It’s like this London cab has it’s one zoom lens at the front. That’d be quite a good scam: you get in, pay for your journey, and instead of taking you there, they just zoom in. Then you pay up, get out, and find you’re still where you started from. Only then does the cab roar off, taking your money before you can protest. I’m surprised they haven;t attempted to rip the tourists off that way.

Since Hitch and the 3D camera and his stars never went to London, I got very interested in a scene late on where Grace Kelly is driven up to her flat, gets out the car, and approaches the door. How could this be achieved without Grace going to London?

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Close, skeptical viewing provides the answer. The woman getting out the car is NOT Grace, but a reasonably similar stand-in. Hitchcock follows the dictum laid down by Michael Powell, who had to shoot many of Roger Livesey’s scenes in I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! with a double. Don’t have your lookalike skulk around behind a cape like that dentist pretending to be Bela Lugosi in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Simply have the phony stride boldly up to the camera in full view. The audience is expecting to see an expensive movie star, and that’s just what they will see if you give them no reason to doubt it.

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Hitch then cuts quickly to Chief Inspector Hubbard watching from the window. When he cuts back, the stand-in is gone and Grace Kelly is there, standing in a Hollywood studio in front of the rear-projection screen showing a London street (and which formerly also showed her double). Deuced clever, these movie johnnies.

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The Chills #3: “Look out!”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2008 by dcairns

Some scenes make you feel like your brain has been extracted, and carved into a crude trumpet, and some Jazz Angel is blowing the most beautiful celestial music through its neural passages. It is then that we speak of The Chills.

Roger Livesey goes to heaven.

Regular Shadowplayer Alex Livingstone nominates this classic sequence from Powell & Pressburger’s A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (AMOLAD for short), which ably shows off Pressburger’s superb story construction (one thing Powell definitely needed help with), Roger Livesey’s authoritative-but-loveable performance, Jack Cardiff;s cinematography (with Christopher Challis shooting second unit on the bike crash) and oh, many many other things. Alex wrote:

i nominate the bit in a matter of life and death where roger livesey crashes his motorcycle and dies, only to turn up in heaven and save the day. i can’t watch it without my breathing getting disrupted – i always wind up gasping and a bit wet-eyed, as if i’ve stuck my head into a supermarket freezer and inhaled really hard

on a more puerile note, when marius goring meets roger livesey for the first time he makes a little noise of agreement like someone honking a clown’s nose

Into each film some rain must fall, and I would regretfully note that Bob Arden’s scene in the ambulance with Kim Hunter is maybe one of only two ropey performances in P&P’s oeuvre — but hey, he’s in good company, the other is Laurence Olivier in FORTY-NINTH PARALLEL as a French-Canadian trapper with what sounds like a Pakistani accent. It’s a cameo that makes P&P fan David Mamet thank God that Olivier was prevented from starring in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (because Winston Churchill didn’t approve of the script).

Bob

Arden was later thrilled to be cast in MR ARKADIN by no less than Orson Welles (according to my friend Lawrie Knight, a drinking buddy of Arden’s), then less than thrilled when the film took years to open in the UK, and even less than less than thrilled when his own performance in it was singled out for unflattering comment. But Arden is arguably effective in that role: for whatever reason, Welles seemes to have aimed to make Arden’s character as unappealing as possible, and he exploits all Arden’s worst qualities, both physical and performaive, to do it.

Arden never became a star, but he earned a regular living playing Americans in British films for the rest of his days.

Blimp-to-be

Roger Livesey is terrific in THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, but really he owes Powell his place in cinema. Nobody else would cast him at first — extraordinarily, they didn’t like his voice.

Lawrie didn’t really have warm memories of Livesey. When they met, Lawrie was a junior assistant on AMOLAD and Livesey asked him what he’d done in the war. When Lawrie said he was in the air force, Livesey ‘sort of made a face, and said “That explains it.”‘

Lawrie never knew what was behind this hostility, but I just found out. Good old Wikipedia:

At the outbreak of World War II, Livesey and Jeans were among the first volunteers to entertain the troops before he volunteered for flying duties in the R.A.F. He was turned down as too old, so he went to work in an aircraft factory at Desford aerodrome near Leicester to “do his bit for the war effort”.

The rejection must have rankled! Poor Roger. But that failure to attain active service is what made him available to star in COLONEL BLIMP, and thence to IKWIG and AMOLAD. And thence to immortality.

After all, what do you want?

More suggestions for pulse-pounding, spine-tingling moments of cinematic greatness will be cheerfully received.

Euphoria #34: IKWIG!

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by dcairns

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Apologies to a couple of people who’ve suggested clips for our ongoing Cinema Euphoria project but haven’t had them show up yet, but — have you noticed? — we have a bit of a theme going on this week.

Yes, it has turned into a week of Scottish Euphoria (two words that seldom go together). Starting with THE WICKER MAN and carrying on through GREGORY’S GIRL and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH — not itself a Scottish film in any way, but an excuse for some anecdotes from assistant director Lawrie Knight, who was born and died here in Edinburgh. I’m not sure how I can shoehorn THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS into this theme, but with enough ingenuity anything should be possible.

So today we continue in a similar vein with a prize extract from I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!, another film from the Powell-Pressburger team.

IKWIG, as we shall henceforth be calling it, takes place largely on a fictional version of the island of Mull, and still attracts tourists to that part of the world. Perhaps not quite as many as LOCAL HERO, but a few. (Curiously, both movies feature iconic public telephone boxes.) Here we find Wendy Hiller on her way to marry Consolidated Chemical Industries, before fate intervenes, proving that while we may THINK we know where we’re going, the forces of the universe are always capable of radically altering our plans.

The folk song that gives IKWIG its title, and which plays in this scene, may be strangely familiar even to non-aficionados of traditional song, especially if they are fans of Nicholas Ray. Ray’s debut feature, THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, uses the same theme in its opening titles, testament to the folk-music advice of Ray’s friend Woody Guthrie, who assisted, uncredited, with the selection of music.

Oh yes! The clip was suggested by filmmaker and writer Mary Gordon, who wrote:

I also love the bonkers dream scene from I know where i’m going when the train seems to travel amongst tartan-covered breasts – or am i just making that up? And just generally in that film having a female character who is frankly unlikeable and not scared to be unlikeable…

We then debated whether the tartan breasts were in fact breasts or just Lollobrigidian hills, and I put it to all of you that one of them has a tunnel in it, ergo it’s a HILL.

Agree about the heroine, she’s tough and cold and very very stubborn BUT there’s still something positive there. I think Powell and Pressburger were very skilled and imaginative about finding sympathy for even quite monstrous characters: I adore Wendy in this film, as I adore Lermontov and Sister Ruth and Mark Lewis in Powell’s PEEPING TOM. Maybe Wendy Hiller is appealing here because she breaks all the rules about how women are supposed to behave in romantic movies, and that makes her refreshing company. Screenwriters take note: movie characters are different from real people in that what they mainly should be is surprising and stimulating. I don’t generally choose real-life friends for their ability to give me conniptions, but I certainly don’t want to spend my movie-viewing time with a lot of placid, lovely people. I need brazen nutters!

IKWIG was our friend Lawrie’s favourite Powell and Pressburger film, even though he didn’t work on it. I think he liked its relative modesty, compared to the overheated, un-British intensity of BLACK NARCISSUS and THE RED SHOES. I think, also, that he managed to convince himself that those classics he worked on were really not so very great — and he maintained this illusion until any time he caught a glimpse of one, and then he would be blown away all over again by how undeniably staggeringly gorgeous they are.