Archive for Jean Cocteau

Director’s Cut

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by dcairns

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When I first heard about Lucio Fulci’s CAT IN THE BRAIN it was something to do with it having been banned in Britain, which always makes things sound enticing. The description suggested that the movie, in which Fulci plays himself, a director of horror movies undergoing a breakdown in which he’s losing the ability to distinguish between fact and bloody fiction, used highlights from many of Fulci’s previous movies in order to ramp up the gore quotient. This sounded both cheap and nasty, but also oddly meta. It sounded like the last gasp of the giallo, and it was pretty close to being Fulci’s last film (but the tireless Dr. F. managed a couple more, and was set to make WAX MASK when he died).

But the movie doesn’t actually cannibalize the Fulci back catalogue for its gratuitous bloodletting — to give credit where it’s due, pretty much all the unnecessary bloodletting has been staged especially for this movie. Still, by casting himself as stocky, nervous leading man, Fulci is attempting some kind of career summation, making this his TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS, only with considerably more arterial spurt (when Cocteau gets a spear through his nice V-neck sweater, there’s no leakage of the Blood of a Poet).

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Much of the time, Fulci seems to be playing Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME game — “If violent movies made us violent, THIS is what the world would be like.” But Fulci is not smart like Cronenberg. It’s interesting that he was a doctor, because (a) “Dr. Fulci will see you now” is not reassuring and (b) his films are routinely preposterous about psychology, behaviour, basic cause and effect — they seem to have made by an idiot who’s good with the camera. Now, you can be smart enough to get a degree and still be an idiot when it comes to creating believable characters. Fulci seems to be one of those smart-dumb guys. I don’t accept that the people in his films are ridiculous because he doesn’t care — if you’re able to appreciate good characterisation at all, it would just KILL you to write such crappy dialogue and action for the people in your movie.

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I really hate this asshole.

The neurotic Fulci on-camera seeks the help of a shrink, who hypnotises him and sets about framing him for some murders he’s committing, just because. So this is an unusual giallo where we know the killer but we don’t quite know how serious our director’s derangement is. Now, Fulci was a comedy director before he got into horror, and maybe the stupid, ugly way he portrays the world has something to do with the lowbrow world of Italian sex comedy (I haven’t much of this genre, but I’m imagining it to be a bit like British sex comedy but with slightly more attractive photography and girls — Edwige Fenech trumps Sue Lloyd — in other worlds, depressing). All the women seem to have stepped out of bad pornos. Fulci sexualises them without bothering to cast particularly attractive girls, get performances out of them, or photograph them in a flattering way.

Some earlier Fulci gialli might muster a passable misogyny defense by virtue of their all-pervasive misanthropy, something the genre seems to thrive on (I would love a good theory as to why this element seems so central). Here, the violence towards women, not so much gleeful as laborious and plodding (“Don’t enjoy it anymore. Bad for me,” narrates Fulci, talking about smoking but probably meaning cinema), served up to us with a disapproving scowl, seems to have no meaning at all.

We’re left with the stocky, ill-at-ease director (more dyspeptic than psychotic) trudging from bloodbath to bloodbath, depressed by his own films and this metafictional take on them, and enthused only by his white Mercedes, which he films parking at Cinecitta with great care and attention, for what feels like minutes on end. I think he must have been very fond of that car.

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The ending is almost quite good. But as Fulci, saved from madness, evil hypnotists, the long arm of the law, and movie-making, sails off into the sunset, he still doesn’t look very happy.

 

 

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Secret Cinema

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2015 by dcairns

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As you might have noticed, we don’t tend to do lists here at Shadowplay. I have, at various times in my life, enjoyed making lists, but now the internet is flooded with them, so I will only do lists if they can be complete rubbish, like this one.

So, what follows is a list of the most secret films ever made, films that have never made it onto their respective auteurs’ filmographies.

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1) Alfred Hitchcock’s STOLEN. Alfred Hitchcock’s career officially contains two missing films, the unfinished NUMBER 13 and THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, completed but lost. But some time in the sixties, Hitchcock conceived a complex, self-referential movie called STOLEN, which was designed to be stolen and never recovered. Hitchcock scripted and shot a complete feature film which then went missing without a trace. The empty film cans were later retrieved, but with no trace of the footage. It has been suggested that, as a kind of perfect crime, Hitch actually shot the movie without film in the camera, and thus STOLEN never actually existed. At any rate, he planned a major publicity drive, inviting audiences to buy tickets and see a blank screen glowing white where the movie would have been had it not been nicked (using a slogan adapted from THE BIRDS: “Stolen Isn’t Coming”), but Universal bosses nixed the scheme and the whole thing was hushed up.

2) Alejandro Jodorowsky’s NUDE. After he lost the rights to Frank Herbert’s DUNE and saw Dino de Laurentiis make a dog’s dinner out of it, the famously eccentric Jodorowsky attempted to make his own version without copyright by rearranging all the letters. DUNE became NUDE and the rest of the story was similarly rearranged, making NUDE officially the first filmed anagram. The adventures of Sir Lead Taupe on the planet Ark-Sari, where he battles the evil Bonar Nan-Honker and rides on a colossal Norm’s-wad, NUDE also lived up to its title by being made without a costume designer, or even costumes. To further save money, Jodorowsky adapted an idea from his earlier plans, in which Salvador Dali as the emperor was to have been played party by a life-sized statue (because Dali would only agree to a few days’ filming). Going one better, Jodorowsky cast his film entirely with statues. In reality, the extremely limited budget only ran to one naked statue, which the director modified from shot to shot with a series of wigs, false beards and false breasts. The film, basically a series of shots of statues with anagramized dialogue dubbed on, was immediately slapped with an injunction by Dino De Laurentiis and was never screened. Jodorowsky subsequently denied ever making it. But he totally did.

3) THE BAWDY ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Remember when Peter Jackson was going to make the second part of the TINTIN saga begun by Spielberg? But then nobody went to see the Spielberg film because the mo-cap characters looked like corpse-puppets? Well, in fact, Jackson shot his film back-to-back with Spielberg and it has been awaiting release ever since. Owing to the disappointing response to the corpse-puppet version, however, Jackson has been working furiously to make the footage acceptable to the public. First, he toyed with releasing the film straight, without animation, just as a series of scenes of Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis in gimp-suits, studded with measles, cavorting in front of greenscreens. TINTIN DOES DOGVILLE was the working title of this version. Then Jackson considered a return to his low-comedy roots, adding a lot of sex and violence. In this cut, the Thompson Twins would form an incestuous relationship, Captain Haddock would turn out to be a female transvestite, and Snowy… but it is better not to know. Fans will learn the truth when the film finally sees the light of day as the fourth part of THE HOBBIT trilogy.

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4) Andy Warhol’s UNTITLED. Not its real title. The true title is . Not a full stop, just a space. Like this one: . Not the colon, not the full stop, the bit in between. This has ensured that even when film historians remember to include   on Warhol’s filmography, nobody notices it. The film itself is just sixty minutes of Candy Darling’s left nipple.

5) FILM MAUDIT. Jean Cocteau, having invented this useful term, then had to use it as a title for a film he made about swanning around Picasso’s villa, taking lots of opium, and annoying Picasso in his trunks. The film lived up to its name when it vanished in a puff of smoke after coming into contact with a drunken Robert Shaw.

6) UNSEEN FILM. This 1997 curiosity was cobbled together by director Raul Ruiz from out-takes of several of his earlier films and part of an incomplete Jesus Franco women-in-prison romp. Threatened lawsuits by several cast members (or their executors) were only forestalled when Ruiz screened the film for a drunken Robert Shaw.

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7) NIDAKRA .RM This unofficial version of Welles’ MR. ARKADIN was never released, but some claim it to be the director’s preferred cut. Unhappy with his makeup, which mainly consisted of two false beards, one stuck to the top of his head, Welles toyed with the idea of threading the film backwards so it projected in reverse and upside down. He had always favoured achronological narrative structures, and viewed in this inverted manner the beard sprouting from his scalp didn’t look so bad. The film itself was just a perfectly ordinary print of one or other cut of the film, so that even letting Robert Shaw near it didn’t ultimately do it any harm.

8 1/2) Fellini’s NINE AND A HALF. We all know that EIGHT AND A HALF was Fellini’s eight-and-a-halfth film, but what of his nine-and-a-halfth? This was a misguided experiment inspired by the maestro’s exploration of LSD. JULIETTE OF THE SPIRITS may have been influenced by Fellini’s hallucinogenic experiment, but the untitled follow-up was actually made DURING an LSD trip. Reversing his usual practice, Fellini did not have his actors speak numbers and then dub on dialogue: ha had them speak a carefully prepared script and then dubbed on numbers. Producer Dino de Laurentiis had previously had a scene from NIGHTS OF CABIRIA stolen from the lab to prevent Fellini from using it, but on this occasion he had the entire film stolen and claimed it on the insurance. Rumours abound that Adrian Lyne later claimed the film simply by adding the word “WEEKS” on the end and redubbing it. And adding tits. Others claim that a remorseful Fellini begged Robert Shaw to borrow the negative, usually a safe way of destroying something, but that several reels may have survived despite Shaw setting fire to the cans, his house, and his legs.

The Forgotten has been on hiatus for Cannes, but will return to The Notebook next week.

Iron Men

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2015 by dcairns

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One of my purchases from the beloved Mercer Street Books of New York was a volume called Merely Colossal by Arthur Mayer, subtitled The Story of the Movies from the Long Chase to the Chaise Longue, a humorous account of the author’s career in movie promotion, exhibition, distribution, etc. It looked like the kind of book you might never see twice, so I couldn’t let it go, even though at $9.95 it was more expensive than most of my purchases.

Mayer talks about his days running a film import company, distributing THE NEW GULLIVER, a Soviet animation which had been banned in the USSR for perceived counter-revolutionary tendencies: the powers that be were still willing to allow it to be shown in America, since that would bring in a little cash and the audience would be pre-corrupted. I noted this because one of my prouder accomplishments in life is having helped to get a copy of this movie to Ray Harryhausen, who remembered seeing it in the 30s, and whose career it had helped inspire (although the lion’s share of the credit must go to KING KONG, of course).

Mayer also mentions making a tidy profit on ROME: OPEN CITY, since audiences assumed that the title must refer to an openness to decadence and debauchery, whereas René Clément’s “documentary” BATAILLE DU RAIL flopped. This reminded me that I hadn’t seen the 1946 wartime drama, a kind of French answer to neo-realism, so I popped it in my Maidston supermarket-brand blu-ray player and pressed PLAY…

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It isn’t a documentary, of course — Clément uses actors, and everything is staged and scripted, but in the days when all documentaries were assumed to require reconstruction and staging, I can see how it could be taken as a kind of verité: it’s location shot, based on fact, and has a rough texture to it that smacks of authenticity.

In reality, the purpose is somewhat propagandistic — Clément’s tales of the Occupation all traffick in “the myth of Resistance,” implying that the whole of France was involved in actively resisting the Nazi occupiers, with the exception of a few quislings and collabos, regarded with contempt by all right-thinking Frenchies. In fact, as Melville pointed out, at the start of the Occupation there were only a few hundred in the Resistance, and the impulse to get along was at least as prevalent as the tendency to defy.

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But anti-German sabotage on the railway lines, often an inside job, was a big enough deal that Jean Renoir’s THIS LAND IS MINE!, made in Hollywood, references it. Clément’s film concentrates solely on this area, suggesting that the Germans were consistently thwarted by crafty railwaymen (which raises awkward questions about how the mass deportation of Jews could be carried out).

If the comforting myth, intended to soothe a nation humiliated by defeat and collaboration, is not 100% convincing, the atmosphere and environment of Clément’s film certainly is. Black and whte cinematography is so good for capturing texture, and the clanking, hissing machinery captured by Henri Alekan’s camera here has a fierce power, anticipating the steam-driven nightmares of early Lynch. Clément had assisted on Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, and it’s amazing to think of Alekan lensing two such contrasting shows in a single year.

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Clément’s approach does share with Cocteau an infusion of poetry — he isn’t really a social realist elsewhere in his career, and this “documentary” is enlivened by an imaginative eye which can penetrate character. As one rebellious engineer stands in line to be executed, Clément shows the last sights he’ll see, infusing each image — a spider on the brickwork, black clouds billowing from funnels — with an ecstatic intensity.

Up Against the Wall from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Fans of Frankenheimer’s THE TRAIN (and I’m one) will also be impressed by the industrial-scale destruction of rolling stock, with Clément’s insurrectionists gleefully trashing fifty-foot cranes and transport trains loaded with armoured tanks. All of this is arranged with sneaking subversion — maybe the railway men made such ideal resistance fighters because employees of large corporations are always looking for ways to get on over on their faceless employers anyway. War just offers an excuse to do it on a massive scale. The surreptitiousness of the sabotage reminds me of my school days — looking for ways to game the system without getting caught, or ways of annoying the enemy without them being able to say for sure you’re doing it on purpose.

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And at the end of the colossal derailment, the most French thing imaginable: through the cascading debris, an accordion saunters down the hillside, a wheezing slinky of defiance.