Archive for Inferno

Blind Tuesday: The butcher’s so frightening I gotta wear shades

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 14, 2022 by dcairns

Remember when I used to write about thrillers featuring blind characters on Tuesdays? But I never got around to WAIT UNTIL DARK. Maybe this time.

Well, Dario Argento has made something called DARK GLASSES or maybe, ridiculously, BLACK GLASSES (OCCHIALI NERI). It has all the bad qualities of an Argento film from any period and maybe some moments reminiscent of his good ones.

As in any Argento film, good or bad, people are stupid, and our sex worker heroine starts the film by staring into an eclipse. When she’s blinded by a brain injury incurred that night at the hands (or van) of a serial killer, we’re apt to feel she was seeing on borrowed time anyway. (I’ve belatedly realised filmmakers deliberately have their characters behave stupidly because it makes the audience feel tense. Don’t go downstairs! They’re often willing to sacrifice sympathy and credibility for this useful stupidity anxiety.)

The car crash that blinded her has also orphaned a little Chinese boy who becomes her carer, recalling the cute relationship at the heart of CAT O’ NINE TAILS (good Argento). Asia Argento plays an employee of the blind person’s mobility service, who wears a T-shirt saying she’s an instructor of the blind person’s mobility service. I think everyone in this film should wear a T-shirt saying what they are. It’s the only way the dopey cops are likely to identify the killer.

Argento seems pretty clear in interviews that he doesn’t want to repeat his glory days, and if fans can’t learn to enjoy his new tunes, that’s their hard luck. But he CONSTANTLY repeats his glory days, he just does it without the style. This one has a faux-Goblin score and some coloured lighting. And one or two inventive situations — there’s a ludicrous random water-snake attack that reminded me of INFERNO’s river-rats, and quite a promising bit where the heroine has a rifle and needs the kid to aim it. But nothing is made of this — no shot aiming along the barrel as it pans wildly to and fro, the minimum required trick. Took me ten seconds to think of it.

What sometimes happens to older directors is they increasingly reject cheap tricks, but have nothing to replace them with. In a film like this, cheap tricks are what we pay to see.

Alas! A whole lot of funding bodies threw in presumably tiny amounts of money to let Dario make another film. I would be glad for him, but he doesn’t seem to be having any fun with it.

Cuckoo Croak

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2021 by dcairns

THE CUCKOO MURDER CASE: an Ub Iwerks short starring Flip the Frog. Great spooky house atmos and I love the picture of the dopey cat on the wall. Lots of cute anthropomorphic gags. EVERYTHING is alive here: the murder victim is the cuckoo from a cuckoo clock, who gets perforated by a gunshot. The entry and exit wounds are circular holes running right through the bird, making him seem wooden, which he is. But still alive, and then dead.

He has a washing line and a plant pot on the side of his clock.

The clock has a literal face which reacts to events. The hands prod the cuckoo to make him perform (before he’s shot) and then call the cops using a phone which is also alive and sentient.

The clock “dials” 2479 by peeling the numbers off his face and dropping them into the receiver. I wonder when the emergency number in the US changed to 911? 2479 is a terrible choice.

Interestingly, the clock can’t speak, but makes various clock noises while moving his lips.

Flip is another vaguely minstrel-like character with black head and white mouth area — but these features, common to Mickey Mouse, Oswald the Rabbit, Bimbo the Dog, are arguably just a way to make a figure read well in simple b&w drawn form. Only Bosko was openly intended as a racial caricature.

Flip is a detective in this one. His cop car lives in a kennel and its bark is a car horn honk. It’s not exactly logical, but once it’s established, Iwerks can carry on just as if it were. When he stretches the car/dog’s tongue out and twists it, using it as a crank to start the motor, that’s kind of strange. But we are riffing on connections between canine and auto anatomy, so it holds up, just about. Though I don’t think it’s an accepted way of starting your dog.

By some similar reasoning, the squad car’s siren is a cat, activated by turning its tail like a handle to make it caterwaul. When the car passes through a puddle, the cat becomes clogged, so the tail now becomes a pump which can blast the water out of its mouth. It would be handy if we could do that to Momo when he wants to throw up, so we could make it happen in the right place. He always goes looking for the most expensive and soilable item in the floordrobe to spill his catguts into.

Iwerks is having so much fun with the notion of characters motoring through a storm that he pretty much forgets about his plot. The journey is a good place for repeating action on loops, a favourite technique of the 30s (see also Fleischer toons) because it allows for recycling of cels. Plus a lot of the comedy comes from creating a musical tempo, plus you can build laughter by doing the same gag a few times. If it’s funny once, maybe it’ll be funny again.

When the rain gets too heavy, Flip detaches the mouse figurine hood ornament, which didn’t exist in any previous shot, and attaches it to his windscreen. Since the mouse is an actual live mouse, it now works as a windshield wiper. Actually, I’m kind of embarrassed about the amount of work the word “since” is doing in that sentence. In an Iwerks cartoon, there isn’t really any since.

Even the house is alive, flashing its windows at Flip like the Palmer house at the end of Twin Peaks season 3. The illuminated eyes and mouth scare Flip away — the hero’s quest refused — but the wind keeps blowing him back.

Like Gary Oldman’s shadow in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, or Peter Pan’s, Flip’s shadow starts getting ahead of him — and there’s that dopey cat again. Or maybe an ancestor of the previous dopey cat. When the cuckoo clock’s pendulum strikes him (why? the clock invited him here) like the hazardous wall clock in Chaplin’s ONE A.M., Flip trashes a suit of armour in retaliation and reveals a third, identical portrait. This is like Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER.

Not unlike other spooky house thrillers of the time, e.g. Benjamin Christensen’s amazing, hallucinatory SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, the exploration of the haunted house is just one damn thing after another: rather than building up a coherent mystery with puzzles to solve, suspects advancing and retreating, it’s just a whole morass of crazy occurrences. In the BC film — and in Gance’s amazing AU SECOURS! with Max Linder, and probably in Benjamin Christensen’s other spooky house films, now lost save for their Vitaphone soundtracks — we just accumulate madness until a single global explanation accounts for all of it in one swell foop.

The title suggests the Philo Vance films William Powell was doing at the time, but the sensation-film angle is much closer to Leni-Christensen.

With the eerie hooded figure, seen from behind, this may have been inspired by another of those old shockers, Roy Del Ruth’s THE TERROR, now missing presumed lost. In which case, this is the closest thing to seeing it, apart from the few stills in circulation and the contemporary reviews, which suggest it was really something.

Even by cartoon standards, the ending of this one is unsatisfactory. But interesting. Flip flees the hooded killer, who is apparently Death Himself — shades of Argento’s INFERNO — running down a corridor with the camera rushing after him, and dives into a dark void — and that’s it. As if we ran out of background and foreground at the same time.

The Soho Dialogues

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2021 by dcairns

Something different — Fiona and I bounce around thoughts on Edgar Wright’s LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, avoiding major spoilers — but if you want to go in clean and blind, you still might want to bookmark this for afterwards.

DC: So, we both enjoyed LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, though you loved it more than I did. It was certainly nice to see a filmmaker enjoying himself so much — several of my worries about the project proved quite unfounded. To start on a high note — I loved the dance where the two lead actresses keep substituting for one another, in a long take which uses framing and blocking rather than visible special effects to make the changes. Edgar Wright COULD have been using CGI to enhance the trick, but the beauty of it was that it wasn’t visible. Rather like the mirror tricks in our recent viewing, THE HALFWAY HOUSE. I enjoy special effects but in-camera stuff has it’s own thrill.

FW: At the end I wanted to stand up and applaud, but then I had an emotional connection to it that you didn’t. I empathised with Eloise so deeply that I was dragged in, almost unwillingly at first, into the narrative.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is such a tour de force of filmmaking. I didn’t frighten me, apart from one superb jump scare, I was just vibing on the emotions and the extremely clever steals from other movies. I struck up a conversation with a couple in their twenties who’d been seated behind us and I was really surprised when the guy admitted to being scared shitless by it. We, being old hands, had to explain that most of what we’d just witnessed was a wickedly clever homage to other films, so it was more of a hugely enjoyable box-ticking exercise for us. I really like that cinephiles and non-cinephiles can appreciate it together for different reasons.

DC: Agree that the story and dialogue do a great job of setting up the character and making us feel for her, by giving her such an implacably hostile environment, personified by the awful Jocasta. I have a slight question about why that evil woman scenario is the right way to set up a story about toxic masculinity and the patriarchy in sixties media, which seems to have been the foundation of Wright’s interest in the material. But that’s maybe one example of why it’s often best to ignore what the filmmaker says about their work. But it makes me wonder if the two writers were on the same page. There’s a tantalising story told by Wright that he had wanted to make all the sixties sequences musical numbers, and Krysty Wilson-Cairns talked him out of that. The idea being they could get more emotion in if there was dialogue, which strikes me as a failure to understand musicals. I kind of wish he’d made that version, because as stylish as the film is, that could have been truly remarkable.

FW: When you think about something like THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, you don’t have to give up emotion at the expense of the genre. I’d love to see Wright’s original conception of this movie. However, I also loved what Wilson-Cairns brought to the piece, so I feel a bit torn. I still felt like I was caught up in a maelstrom of film and being flung about hither and thither by its makers. Normally I don’t like feeling out of control, but this was just so deliciously delirious. When we got home, I started declaiming Wright as one of those rare British directors who take flamboyance to the next level. I was putting him in the same pantheon as Ken Russell, Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock. You, very wisely, pointed out that they were originals, so I came to the conclusion that Wright is more like a supremely talented magpie, exuberantly stealing ideas out of other filmmakers nests. 

Shall we talk about the ‘colour’ problem?

DC: Well, in term of the film’s colour palette there’s no problem, just a luscious blend of Bava, Argento, Clouzot’s pop-art phase and Hitchcock’s tests for the unmade KALEIDOSCOPE-FRENZY. 

In terms of race and representation, yes, we each picked up on different things. I found it strange that there are no gay characters in either the sixties section (Soho, polari, a vibrant queer culture) or the modern section (a fashion college). Homosexuality seems not to exist, even as a concept, so that Eloise never even wonders if the sympathetic John (Michael Ajao), who’s a fashion student who’s interested in her as a person, not a lust object, might be gay. There may have been something I missed, but if so it was very minor.

FW: I pointed out that I was surprised there seemed to be no people of colour in 1960s Soho, which was incomprehensible to me. Also, Eloise’s boyfriend, John (Michael Ajao) seemed almost tokenistic in his representation.

DC: That’s very weird, as you see all races even in British films of that milieu made at the time. The customers in the particular nightclubs depicted may well have been overwhelmingly white, but you have black performers in BEAT GIRL and JUNGLE STREET, and Burt Kwouk turns up on the Soho Streets in both EXPRESSO BONGO, eating fast food, and DEEP END, selling fast food. And then there’s FLAME IN THE STREETS and SAPPHIRE.

Wright’s movies have been pretty damn white — BABY DRIVER is the only one with a major Black character, but it was shot in Atlanta, where you might expect to see more than one. So, in a film that wants to cast a critical eye over the entertainment industry’s exploitation of women, is there no room for any other kind of representation? It’s great to see Ajao featured, but he has to stand in for the entirety of a multiethnic metropolis here.

FW: HA HA HA. I’ve just re-watched the trailer and they’ve put Psycho ‘stabs’ into Land Of 1000 Dances by Wilson Pickett the Walker Bros! Genius.

Shall we talk about the use of music? You seem to know more about the inspiration behind, and the making of, the film than I do, because I went in completely ‘blind.’ As we’re still writing about it, I’m really struggling not to look at other people’s reviews because I want my response to be pure and untainted. So far, I’m winning, but I’m teetering on the brink.

DC: I went in as blind as the trailer leaves you, but it was all interesting enough to make me want to read up on it. Wright has an impressive list of influences.

Since he’s adept at using music that’s quite on-the-nose, but never being clumsy in a Zemeckis way (e.g. the use of the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society in HOT FUZZ) I was waiting for a couple of songs to turn up: the Pogues’ beautiful A Rainy Night in Soho (produced by Elvis Costello) and Pulp’s Bar Italia (Soho is “where all the broken people go”) but the concentration on sixties tunes, even in the modern sections, ruled that out I guess. He’s said he liked the idea of using songs that have well-known cover versions, reintroducing the originals people might not have heard. What did you think of the use of songs and score?

FW: Oh God! She’s so adorable.

 Maybe we should talk about the performances and how great they are. And also how neither of the leads are English but they do flawless Cornish and London accents respectively.

DC: Almost nobody in this film is using their own accent: McKenzie and Rita Tushingham are being Cornish, Taylor-Joy is doing London, Matt Smith does Cockney. Only Ajao, Terrence Stamp and Pauline McGlynn are talking naturally, but you’d never know it because everyone’s so good.

FW: Anyway, back to the soundtrack. I loved it. It’s given as much importance as the visuals. The result is overwhelming, but in the best possible way. Triple threat Anya Taylor-Joy actually did cover versions for the movie.

Was just watching the Anya Taylor-Joy video and picked up ANOTHER cinematic reference. Last night, as our Halloween treat, we watched DEAD OF NIGHT. There are shots in LNIS that reminded me of Robert Hamer’s Haunted Mirror section from that movie. 

DC: Which goes back to your enjoyment of non-digital effects in LNIS. DEAD OF NIGHT and THE HALFWAY HOUSE are jam-packed with practical effects that are still incredibly impressive to this day.

FW: I guess Wright wanted to keep an element of “old-fashioned” filmmaking in his period-infused movie. There’s also superb editing going on, courtesy of Paul Machliss, who worked on Wright’s BABY DRIVER, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD and THE WORLD’S END.

I was fascinated when you told me the cinematographer was Chung-hoon Chung, who’s probably known best for OLD BOY. When the Oscar noms are handed out, expect to see his name. He’s done an absolutely spectacular job on LNIS.

Production designer Marcus Rowland, another Wright regular, also deserves a nod.

DC: One missed opportunity in the film — there’s a sequence where Matt Smith’s bad guy bites Sandie and it’s Eloise who receives the hickey, so we learn that her link to the sixties is actually physical as well as audio-visual. What happens to Sandie happens to her. But this never recurs. Which seems like a missed opportunity (1) to develop and clarify the rules of the game and (2) to add jeopardy. There is actually another scene where Eloise experiences Sandie being injured, but this time she does NOT share the injury. Inconsistent, and weaker dramatically than it would be if they’d kept that idea going. (If you die in a dream you die in real life.)

FW: Yes. They had a marvellous opportunity to enlarge on that material and inject some real jeopardy. That loose end might have been caused by two writers coming together who hadn’t worked as a unit before, but surely someone else reading it could have pointed out that are real-life consequences to the events in Eloise’s dream world. You mentioned before that they might not have been on the same page, and this certainly seems to reinforce that idea.

Inspired by this, I started thinking about what I might have done with the material as a writer, based on my own experiences. As a child, growing up in an abusive household, I had such horrifying nightmares that I would dig my nails into the palms of my hands until they drew blood to stop myself from falling asleep. I think that once Eloise discovered that these wonderful, inspirational dreams had taken a very dark turn and were actually having an effect on her own body, she would do anything to stay awake – Do what I did. Drink gallons of coffee. ANYTHING to stop it. This would cause severe sleep deprivation in the ‘real’ world. Sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations. But she wouldn’t have any control over her autonomic nervous system, so she would fall asleep anyway, in the design studio, on the underground, anywhere in fact, leaving her in a constant state of terror. She would still want to solve the mystery, but this would be balanced with her need to stay safe and not get sucked into a potentially fatal situation in the dreams.

DC: I’m very glad that Diana Rigg got a decent role at the end of her life: the oldsters in HOT FUZZ were very welcome but it looks in retrospect a bit uncomfortable to have Simon Pegg kicking them in the head, when they were all so close to the end. Rigg’s role is juicy and doesn’t have the same kind of discomfort.

What else can we say? It embraces giallo style without indulging in giallo-style misogyny. I know Farran Smith prefers to use the word “sexist” when it’s adequate, but sometimes only the M word will do. The stuff that allows the film to escape misogynist sadism is the psychological and parapsychological angle, which tries to introduce fear unrelated to physical violence. And the #MeToo theme makes it imperative that leering sexism and sadism be avoided, and it mostly is. But the giallo is also a genre of crazy plot twists, and maybe overmechanistic plots have a tendency to pull filmmakers back to stereotypes and retrograde attitudes. I’m not sure why that should be, unless we accept Daniel Riccuto’s “narrative is evil” theorem. Which might be right. Or, at least, it might be right that when a creator is trying to follow what feels like the right narrative line, they’ll be unconsciously guided by hidden prejudices. At any rate, the need to make things turn out neatly turns a film about female victimization into something about female predation. Wright and Wilson-Cairns do inject some surprising tender beats into the climax which are commendable, but it’s almost like someone trying their damnedest to subvert a genre they really love and not quite admitting whether what they want to make is an anti-giallo. And then it’s weird to do all that and then serve up a female hate-figure like Jocasta.

FW: I completely agree. It’s an admirable attempt to do something different with a traditionally misogynistic genre. At the end I wanted to stand up and cheer. I’d been picked up and carried off by a cinematic twister, just like Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ, another film about alternate realities. It’s a tornado of film, throwing you about all over the place as you descend into the eye of the storm, then depositing you in a field, miraculously unharmed. And LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is not just about alternate realities. We’ve got time travel and the supernatural in the form of Stone Tape theory. It’s an exhilarating mix. I also connected to it emotionally in a way I wasn’t expecting.  I think I said, “Whoa! What a ride!”

But that ending. Are we supposed to feel pleased about what Eloise sees in the mirror, or disturbed that the image is still there? It adds an interesting element of unease.

MY VERDICT – Flawed but brilliant.

DC: I don’t have a fixed opinion — it seems quite likely I’ll love it or hate it more next time I see it, so I’ll record an open verdict on this unusual venture. More films like it would definitely improve the national cinema’s hit-rate, even if it took a few tries.