Archive for Incident at Loch Ness

Fitz and Starts

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2017 by dcairns

I got lucky and blundered upon a copy of Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless in a charity shop. £2. Possibly £2 wasted, since I bought his earlier book Of Walking in Ice and never read it properly. In that one, Herzog walks from, I think Paris to Berlin, or something like that. curiously enough, he apparently doesn’t meet anyone along the way, so has plenty of time to think. Conquest of the Useless seems more interesting, though.

I didn’t know the book existed and yet I’d SEEN it. Let me explain, lest I be suspected of indulgence in symbolism. In MY BEST FIEND, the movie Herzog made about his (dysfunctional) working relationship with Klaus Kinski, he mentions a memoir he wrote while shooting FITZCARRALDO (or, as my film school tutor called it, MAD KLAUS GOES UP THE RIVER AGAIN). We are shown the book, and it’s tiny, with little crabbed runic writing injected into it, the kind of script used for writing the Lord’s Prayer on a grain of rice. “You had that published, didn’t you?” asks Claudia Cardinale. “No. Afterwards I was afraid to read it,” says Werner, mournfully.

 

But apparently a few years back, Werner got over his decades of fear and the book WAS published, and now I stood in a charity shop holding a far heftier version of it than the one I’d seen onscreen. I weigh the book, and my options. £2 isn’t very much, but it would be £2 wasted if I’m never going to read it. Which Herzog am I going to get?

The Herzog we meet in BURDEN OF DREAMS, the FITZCARRALDO making-of doc by the late Les Blank, is a man I don’t care for too much. Told that the mechanism for dragging a boat up a hill is prone to failure, and if it fails it might kill a lot of workers, he proceeds anyway. His laments about the jungle, “Even the birds, I don’t think they sing, I think they shriek in terror,” strike me as adolescent. This man, I feel, might have saved himself the trouble of towing a ship up a hill, at risk of human life, and merely painted his bedroom black.

To be fair, the guy does look like he’s suffering whatever they call Post-Traumatic Stress when the trauma’s not actually over yet.

But the Herzog we meet in MY BEST FIEND is a revelation — the film is hilarious. It’s not obvious whether Werner is in on the joke, but that’s a film I can quote long stretches from, in my shaky but recognisable Herzog imitation (go sibilant, extend your Fs and Ss, and do weird things with vowels: if in doubt, use the OW sound anywhere you like). This film is like my SPINAL TAP. “He screamed and ranted in the bathroom for six hours straight. The sink and toilet were smashed up so fine you could strain them through a tennis racket. The police came… but they left him in peace.”

Then Herzog appeared in Zack Penn’s INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS, a mockumentary, and a good one (also the only good Loch Ness Monster unless you count THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) and it seemed he did indeed know he was being funny. He had discovered his comic persona, the way Harold Lloyd did when he put on glasses or Chaplin did when he assembled the tramp costume or Ricky Gervaise did when some helpful fellow told him he was a c*nt.

I open Conquest of the Useless at Random and read ~

Across from the wretched Pucallpa airport is a bar with a beautiful monkey, black, with limbs that go on forever. He looks very intelligent and would make the ideal companion for Fitz. A drunk spat at the monkey and almost hit him from behind. The monkey inspected and sniffed with great interest at this globule from the depths of an unhealthy lung, as it lay on the ground, greenish-yellow and steaming. It looked as though the monkey wanted to eat the spit, or at least taste it. I said silently to him, Leave it, leave it alone, and he let it be.

The police came, but they left him in peace. Laughing delightedly, I buy the book, though I remain worried about that monkey, remembering the poor little chap from the end of AGUIRRE (and the poor little Indians nearly killed hauling that ship up an incline).

Monkey has typical reaction to co-starring with Mad Klaus.

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PLOSH

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2016 by dcairns

ness

ROBOT DISCOVERS LOCH NESS MONSTER shrilled the press. I’m old enough to remember when LOCH NESS MONSTER DISCOVERS ROBOT would have been a less startling headline.

What had happened, of course, is that an exploratory underwater robot had stumbled upon a sunken prop from Billy Wilder’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, a favourite film of mine (and others of my generation: Mark Gatiss,  Jonathan Coe, who discovered it on TV as kids). Nessie-ologist and famed beard guy Adrian Shine (“I liked his beard” — Werner Herzog in INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS) explained that the monster had been built with two humps, as in legendary sightings, but Billy Wilder took against the humps and ordered them removed, despite concerns being voiced as to how this alteration would affect the creatures flotation. The faux-plesiosaur subsequently capsized and has lodged on the lake bed ever since.

I was a bit skeptical about this, since Shine was using lots of words like “apparently” and “it is suggested,” but Wilder was always one to say he couldn’t judge a scene visually until it was projected — PLOSH DoP Christopher Challis was astonished at this great filmmakers refusal to look through the camera. “He just said he wouldn’t know until he saw it on the screen. If he didn’t like what he saw we’d do it again. Extraordinary. But look at the films he’s made.” So he might have signed off on a humpy dinosaur and then changed his mind when he saw the rushes.

And then there’s THIS —

Sherlock Nessie 3

A shot of a clearly reduced-scale Nessie, its face matching the one in the movie, being towed by a boat. So this version of the creature was built for establishing shots on location. The one seen most prominently in the film is a full-sized head and neck clearly photographed in a studio tank — this is the image most of the newspapers used to illustrate their story, misleading their readers into imagining some thirty-foot colossus embedded in the silt and the loch’s bottom.

Sherlock Nessie

Anyway, all this reminds me that my producer’s favourite film is THE APARTMENT, which I introduced to him, and then I lent him PLOSH, and I still haven’t got it back from the bastard.

Team Building Exercise

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by dcairns

I couldn’t not like AVENGERS ASSEMBLE in the end, because where else can you see Jenny Agutter attempt to nuke Manhattan? She hasn’t wielded power like that since WALKABOUT.

And there are other enjoyable guest spots besides her 30 seconds of screen time: Harry Dean Stanton, Jerzy Skolimowski, Powers Boothe. Oh yeah. You heard right. Powers Boothe.

Of the main cast, Robert Downey Jnr has the most star wattage, and continues to have fun with the Howard Hughes goes rock ‘n’ roll aspect of Iron Man. Scarlett Johansson is most like a comic book character, in a good way, and is intriguingly understated in everything she does, whether it’s swearing in Russian, walloping elderly Polish film directors, or jiggling. And Mark Ruffalo is THE BEST. “Always have a secret from the audience” — this guy has a hulk-full. Tom Hiddleston: very enjoyable. Chris Evans provides the heart, which turns out to be crucial in what could merely be a glib, loud entertainment.

Oh, and there’s that Thor guy.

Was sort of glad we chickened out and saw this one flat, because the sheer duration/volume gave me a pounding headache, but I still enjoyed myself. The writers of X-MEN and X-MEN II join forces in the ultimate team-up! And it works, because not only are the quips of a higher than average standard, they’re wonderfully character-specific. The nicest one-liner might be Captain America, refugee from the ’40s, being pleased to actually get a cultural reference (to THE WIZARD OF OZ). But there are lots of good moments. A sequence where the Hulk violently interrupts Loki’s monologuing reminded me of a favourite moment from Alan Moore’s early Captain Britain strip, back in the day.

(Cap has a villain down on the ground, and menaces him with a huge boulder. The villain starts taunting Cap, saying he hasn’t got the guts to make good on his threat. The reader turns the page and WHUMP – Cap makes good on his threat. Refreshing, since it cuts through a time-honoured comic book cliché, where the villain always manages to turn the hero’s merciful nature to his advantage, and the hero always falls for it. We’re willing to forgive the whole murder thing in sheer relief at sidestepping tedium.)

The film is weaker on plot than it is on dialogue, action of (admittedly comic-book) character. The heroes obey comic book law by getting into petulant fist-fights with each other, which is fine, and there’s a lot of gamma-irradiated dick-measuring going on, but at the moment they manage to figure out the Hulk’s role in the villains’ masterplan, they really should have acted more rapidly to get him out of harm’s way. There are a few things like that.

But as blockbusters go, this does actually bust blocks — I know the dream of post-9:11 sensitivity to images of burning cities is long dead, but I was still slightly surprised that this movie’s willingness to, you know, GO THERE: although this is an urban apocalypse with no visible civilian casualties. That’s problematic, in a way: the airbrushing out of human death.

I was reminded of Grant Morrison’s comics, which are the only superhero stuff I tend to read nowadays. He would have had more interesting aliens though. And I recommend his book, Supergods, to those interested in this phenomenon. His thesis, that superheroes are breaking out of the comics and into every other medium, preparatory to actually becoming real, does seem borne out by a lot of developments. Clearly, the movies are in thrall to the costumed crime-fighter right now. Only a couple of Hulks and a Green Lantern have tanked, the rest have basically hit the button, box office-wise. Judging by the new BATMAN trailer, Christopher Nolan is continuing to take his series closer to hyped-up realism. When his trilogy ends, a further reboot is supposedly already in the works. SPIDERMAN is coming back after just ten years. And KICK-ASS was the first modern, “realist” superhero movie.

I read an interview with Morrison last year where the interlocutor, attempting both levity and sanity, pointed out that the superhero look, shorts and tights, was still not popular. But he was wrong: admittedly, it’s only girls wearing them for now, but I see girls in tights or leggings with denim shorts on top ALL THE TIME.

Cue Twilight Zone theme.

And cue Fred MacMurray as a superhero —

(Freudian dream from Mitchell Leisen’s NO TIME FOR LOVE)

And cue the superhero, Captain Marvel, who was actually based on Fred —

Buy:

Incident at Loch Ness

Zak Penn’s film never got the audience it deserved. Herzog vs Nessie!

Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero

They’re coming! And when they do, you want to be Jimmy Olsen (Superman’s Pal!) not Lex Luthor.