Archive for Ivan Passer

Nights at the Villa Deodati #1: Byron & Shelley’s Bogus Journey

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona was so entranced by the sight of Eric Stoltz, as Percy Shelley, emitting a flawless English accent while splashing about naked in a stream, that it may have taken her slightly longer than usual to notice that HAUNTED SUMMER is a very dull piece of work. Usually she gets bored before me.

I hated popped this one in the Panasonic after enjoying Ivan Passer’s SILVER BEARS (I also recommend his Czech debut, INTIMATE LIGHTING), but was dimly aware that this Cannon production did not enjoy a stellar reputation. The script by Lewis John Carlino (SECONDS) is literate and clearly the result of extensive research (source novel: Anne Edwards), but crucially lacks drama. Things only very occasionally get remotely tense, for instance when Shelley is induced to smoke opium in a scary cave, with Byron inciting him into a bad trip in which he is terrified by a transmogrified Mary — but the best the movie can manage for a hallucination here is Alice Krige in sudden lipstick, filmed off a wibbly-wobbly reflector. And then any anxiety produced is dissipated by a soft focus sex scene. A later love scene is shot through drifting muslin, the kind of “tastefulness” which quickly seems extremely tacky.

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We DO get a vision of a monster, and rather sweetly the filmmakers have made him resemble Charles Ogle as the monster in the Edison FRANKENSTEIN.

Those perfect English accents are part of the problem. Apart from Krige, who talks posh naturally so far as I know, the movie showcases cut-glass vocalisations by Laura Dern (as Claire Clairmont), Philip Anglim (Bad Lord Byron) and a tiny, barely-formed Alex Winter as Dr. Polidori, looking like an Oompa Loompa with jaundice. They’re all quite good — nobody dives into the strangulated manner of Keanu Reeves in B.S.’s DRACULA — but the cast’s inability to talk in their own tones does create a slight feeling of airlessness. I wonder if Passer shouldn’t have followed his Czech mate Milos Forman’s lead in AMADEUS and let the Americans talk American? This nagging doubt is confirmed if you tune out the chatter and just look at the relaxed faces: these are all terrific actors, able to bring an unwonted naturalism to the period setting.

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The great Giuseppe Rotunno shot this, but I would have to see a better copy to know if he was having an off-day or if he’s simply fallen prey to pan-and-scan and a washed-out transfer — unlike the other 80s visits to Villa Deodata, this movie seems to offer nothing resembling a strong, cinematic image. It also soft-pedals the whole point of the story — the origins of Frankenstein — leaving out the ghost story competition completely. If you didn’t know that Mary Shelley would conceive the idea for her masterwork during this sojourn by the lake, you wouldn’t guess it from the movie. How not to win the audience over: leave out the one historical fact they know, and the thing they’re already interested in.

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Thematically, the film could be about the end of the sixties, rather than 1816. Byron refers to his friends as “children of the revolution,” conjuring Marc Bolan rather than George Gordon Byron, and the progress from light to dark could represent the corruption of idealism. If so, the film would have seemed more dated in 1988 than it does now. All the late-80s slew of films dealing with this literary vacation come up against the same problem — apart from the conception of Frankenstein, an internal event difficult to capture on film, not much is known to have happened at the Villa Deodati, despite the explosive mix of people. The various filmmakers involved — Passer & Carlino, Gonzalo Suarez, Ken Russell & Stephen Volk, and Roger Corman & F.X. Feeney, all have their own strategies for tackling this problem. I might as well tell you now: none of them could quite solve it.

Read on…

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A High Silk Hat and a Silver Caine

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2016 by dcairns

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SILVER BEARS is one of a crowd of Michael Caine movies from the seventies which, it turns out, deserve to be better known. PULP is, in my view, great, and PEEPER comes close, but is let down by a weak last act. The fact that the climax, with supreme, toe-curling unfortunateness, involves Natalie Wood fighting in a lifeboat, may explain why the film isn’t more often revived.

SILVER BEARS is just very enjoyable. Caine plays a finance expert for the mob who conceives the idea of casino owner Martin Balsam buying his own Swiss bank to store his loot in (as if Swiss banks were notoriously picky about their customers — see also THE HOLCROFT COVENANT for Caine’s continuing PR campaign on behalf of Switzerland’s financial institutions). Caine buys the bank but finds he’s been conned, then gets offered a chance to come in on a silver mine in Iraq, which is right where the Bible says there should be a silver mine…

Ivan Passer directs with deadpan modesty. CUTTER AND BONE is the US film of his with the best reputation, but I prefer BORN TO LOSE, a defiantly uningratiating movie about junkies with George Segal. Like the best US seventies stuff it has a Twilight of the Gods melancholic downfall built in — somebody was bound to make something like JAWS and STAR WARS eventually, and as soon as they did films like this were bound to stop being made. It’s a movie that has no interest in explaining to us why we should care about its lead character. It knows we don’t even care about his real-life counterparts, so what will induce us to get interested in a fictional version? Doesn’t matter. He’s a human being. We SHOULD care. A brief early appearance by DeNiro, unusually cast as a cop, also enlivens.

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SILVER BEARS is positively jolly by comparison, and it has an even more impressive cast — Caine and Balsam are supported by a host of co-stars, most of them on their last legs as box office phenomena — Cybill Shepherd, Louis Jourdan, David Warner, Stephan Audran, Tommy Smothers, plus Charles Gray, Joss Ackland and a fleeting Nigel Patrick. And Jay Leno, for God’s sake, who turns out to be a very funny actor. Maybe he just didn’t want to go on playing idiots and low-lifes.

Caine is very funny (“He’s not a fag, he’s just English,” explains Balsam), caught midway between the Adonis of the sixties and the puffy-eyed, blotchy Caine of pay cheque fame. Fiona felt Louis Jourdan stole the show, though. And David Warner looks like this ~

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A big hand for Bernard Gribble’s editing, which enhances the comedy with slow-burn reaction shots. Jourdan steals the show, but it’s one of Shepherd’s good jobs too, and Caine is very funny. There’s a great bit of exposition delivered while marching at high speed through a stately home, led by Gray (one of the stately homos of England, as Quentin Crisp would have it). Good bit with Jourdan and Audran slapping each other — a dicey moment to get laughs with, but she sells it by looking more shocked when she slaps him than when he slaps her. Her surprised face looks like the outrage alien at the end of the Star Trek end credits.

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Peter Stone, who scripted CHARADE, has some good short circuits stored up for getting out of predictable situations in unpredictable ways. When Cybill realizes Caine slept with her to get info on her husband’s bank, she only pretends to be furious for the sake of appearances, for as she immediately explains, she realizes that he did her three times in one night, which was far more than necessary to learn what he needed to know. It’s a lightweight movie but it has enough inventions like that to keep me charmed.

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Equine Symmetry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2009 by dcairns

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From A BORING AFTERNOON, a short by Ivan Passer, made for the Czech new wave compendium film PEARLS FROM THE DEEP, but omitted from the final cut. Such a beautiful image I had to share it.

Passer has had a wobbly career since the ’60s and INTIMATE LIGHTING. His mate Milos Forman would get him meetings with studio honchos, and Passer would turn up drunk and insult them. Still, I’m thinking I should check out some of his later work and see what’s what.