Archive for Jeanne Moreau

Under Steam

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2013 by dcairns

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Back on my Frankenheimer kick — THE TRAIN was one I had fond memories of, but it turns out I’d only seen the last half hour of this two-hour epic. During that section, it’s basically DIE HARD, with the injured but unstoppable Burt Lancaster single-handedly taking on a train full of Nazis with stolen “degenerate” art, the plunder of France.

The earlier parts of the film feature –

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Bad dubbing: with a strange old-time prospector voice emerging from the baggy wreckage of Michel Simon’s huge landslide of a face, and weirdly New York accent issuing from Albert Remy, I wondered if this was a misguided attempt at consistency — since Burt is playing a Frenchman, maybe they wanted all the French characters to sound American. But then a character shows up with a strong French accent, and blows that out of the water. (Also, Paul Scofield assumes a German accent to play a German, while some of the bit players around him actually SPEAK German). Jeanne Moreau sounds like herself, but with her accent dialed down to zero — is she dubbed by a soundalike or by herself with an accent coach hovering over her head wielding a bat?

Gritty textures: most of the best war movies are black and white, and this one makes beauty out of dirt and oil and metal and leather, in a way that would have been impossible with colour. And desaturated hues as in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN do not cut it. In fact, with its clanking, thrumming hissing soundtrack and loving detailing of the textures of machinery and grime, THE TRAIN is like the ERASERHEAD of WWII pictures, except –

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It’s GIGANTIC — they blow shit up on a massive scale, they crash real life-size steam trains, and they imperil human life in the most terrifying ways, Burt does his own stunts, and poor Remy has to uncouple a carriage from a moving train, and one actor has to stand by while a train comes off its track and nosedives into the gravel inches away.

The DIE HARD connection also calls to mind THE GENERAL, another one man army epic, but Frankenheimer’s aesthetic, which combines mockumentary energy with Wellesian Dutch tilts and propulsive tracking shots, aims at conspicuous production values and a relishing of expense that’s alien to Keaton, who serves up spectacle deadpan.

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The pyrotechnics and suspense are augmented by traces of a genuine theme — Scofield’s murderous Nazi actually appreciates the art he’s stealing, not as loot, cultural capital of “the Glory of France,” but as art. And he’s willing to kill for it. Against this is set Lancaster, whose humanist principles are seen as mere animal instinct by the German — he has no comprehension of what’s in these crates he’s required to risk his life for.

The story is told, I think by a screenwriter, of Frankenheimer talking Burt through the psychology of a scene in great detail, only for Burt to say “Ah, what the hell, I’ll just give it the grin.” It’s a story that seems to sum up Burt’s highly physical, movie-star charisma approach to acting — but Burt never actually grins in this film.

He’s very good, if stylised, jabbing and slashing with those huge meaty hands, the actor as athlete.

Movie features a cut from Dr Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss) to Dr Orloff (Howard Vernon).

Frankenheimer’s ending — incorporating quick cuts of objects littering the ground, objects the story has revolved around — is reprised in many of his films, from THE HOLCROFT COVENANT to RONIN to his last movie, REINDEER GAMES (where the objects are dead Santas, if memory serves).

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THE TRAIN is a smart dumb movie, of the kind one wishes were made more often today. If we can’t have smart, we could at least have this.

Abby Normal (A Woman Under the Influence)

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2012 by dcairns

ABBY should of course have been called THE BLAXORCIST, but the difference between this and William “King Dick” Marshall’s other horror franchise is that BLACULA derives from a 19th century novel, safely out of copyright (with only the cape borrowed from Bela Lugosi) whereas ABBY derives from a major Warners release. Warners sued and ABBY was taken out of cinemas — though DVDs now circulate, they’re derived from a badly “pinked” 16mm print — nobody knows where the original negative and release prints may be…

William Girdler, writer-director, also made the ridiculous but fun THE MANITOU, memorable for Tony Curtis’s voluminous man-boobs pressing through his see-through shirt. ABBY offers no comparably disturbing images, but does share the fascination with tribal religions. Blatty’s EXORCIST cheekily suggests that Mesopotamian deity Pazuzu is moonlighting as a biblical demon, implying that perhaps ALL the gods and prophets of mankind’s faiths are really just demons in a Catholic universe (Buddha’s not laughing with you, he’s laughing AT you), ABBY centres on Eshu, a god from the Yoruba religion who is allowed his own phenomenological reality. And although the mischievous (to put it mildly) Eshu is ultimately vanquished by a priest, he’s not exorcised by the Catholic ceremony designed for that purpose, but by methods appropriate to the Yoruba religion. So in that sense, ABBY is less conservative than the bigger film.

Girdler tends to exaggerate the effects of the Friedkin film, though, so he has more “subliminal” flashes of weird faces (Dick Smith make-up tests in the original film, exaggerated versions of Carol Speed’s make-up in this one), while paring away ambiguities — the “Why Iraq?” stuff in the first film is replaced by more or less clearly motivated Nigerian scenes in this one. He also makes his victim of possession an adult, which removes some problems (could you legally make Friedkin’s film today?) and creates others.

Subliminal image alert!

On the one hand, having a preacher’s wife possessed by a sex demon could open avenues for grotesque satire (Milo Manara’s porno comic Click! filmed by Jean-Louis Richard [who married Jeanne Moreau, who also married... William Friedkin] gestures vaguely in that direction, with its free hand), but the film is very respectful towards religion, so sex has to be viewed as a horror. Eruptions of untamed libido must be stopped. Admittedly, Speed’s aggressive lust when she’s under Eshu’s influence, she’s pretty unladylike. But the conservatism that’s so unexpectedly prominent in the supernatural blaxploitation genre comes to the fore here.

But so does something else. Friedkin’s cleverest move was perhaps his casting of Mercedes McCambridge as the Voice — years of cigarettes and whisky and being Mercedes McCambridge had given her a throaty, rasping, gargly sound with only a trace of the female. Girdler simply gets a man to do it, and so Abby becomes a hairy-browed sexual predator with a man’s voice. Why do all William Marshall movies end up in a homoerotic Hades of pushmepullyou conflicted response?

ABBY has very committed performances from its ensemble, though Juanita Moore (not only of IMITATION OF LIFE, but Marshall’s co-star in LYDIA BAILEY) doesn’t get enough to do. Her one big moment is an outraged frenzy that anybody should suggest that her vicious nymphomaniac daughter might benefit from the attentions of a psychiatrist. Apparently she’s “good” and “God-fearing” and so she couldn’t possibly be mentally ill. That’s a pretty interesting (ie wrongheaded and dangerous) line of thought, though the movie is perhaps using it simply to avoid a bunch of boring analyst scenes. Instead we get colossal steel slabs of Chrysler maneuvering around Louisville at night.

Marshall is somewhat constrained by playing a man of the cloth, but his wry humour does come out, especially during the climax when he taunts Eshu, using some of his old Blacula condescension — I wasn’t sure whether he’s saying the demon is NOT Eshu in order to annoy it, or because he’s genuinely figured that out. But apparently this is stuff that Marshall added to the script himself, and it’s the best writing in the movie.

The whole climax takes place, in a departure from the source material, in a ghastly orange nightclub, made even more oppressive by the pinkness of the print. This is what the seventies WAS, people. We had brown and orange and that was it. The rest of the spectrum was embargoed until Prince came along. This colourless, windowless, airless, low-ceilinged lounge space is unquestionably the most frightening element of ABBY, and it’s worth watching to get there. Interestingly, since THE HUNGER, vampires have been associated with nightclubs — usually crap movie ones that are years out of date. They’re never frightening, even though a night club is my real-life idea of Hell. But ABBY’s tangerine leisure spaceship is genuinely a horrible, horrible place, where you can feel your soles sticking to the carpet from all the spilled drinks. Don’t watch alone.

The Edinburgh Dialogues #2: Hannah McGill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2011 by dcairns

Number two in my series of conversations with former directors of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. These unsung heroes, toiling in the service of cinephilia, don’t often get the attention they deserve. What we’re attempting here is a look back, clear-eyed and free of nostalgia, but with affection where appropriate, and a look forward, boldly and imaginatively.

Hannah McGill ran the EIFF from 2007 to 2010, putting on retrospectives on such filmmakers as Shirley Clarke, Anita Loos, Jeanne Moreau, and also After the Wave, an estimable event celebrating those filmmakers who followed the British New Wave of the sixties — this series appealed to me so much I wrote about it here, here and here.

Hannah supervised the fest’s move from its August slot in the midst of the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival, and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, to a June position where it stands virtually alone on the stage — audiences rose the year of the move, aided by an influx of cash for events and publicity.

I asked Hannah most of the same questions I asked Mark Cousins, knowing full well I’d get entertainingly different answers –

1) Favourite/oddest moments of being Festival director.

Hannah: This will be a bit random because there are many, many scattered moments.

Meeting John Waters and Bela Tarr, and introducing them to each other – that was cool.

Laughing so much interviewing Judd Apatow onstage that I stopped being able to speak.

Telling award-winners that they’d won was always absolutely lovely, as was the awards ceremony itself.

Being stopped by strangers who wanted to gush about something they’d seen and loved.

Full houses for our Jeanne Moreau retrospective. All our retrospectives, in fact – that was a special thing because it took so much research and hunting down of prints; it was so satisfying to get it up onscreen.

Seeing the red carpet at the Festival Theatre in 2010 – the beauteous culmination of much labour and stress.

Introducing the Under the Radar strand and meeting extraordinary filmmakers through it like Rona Mark, Zach Clark and Martin Radich.

Cinematographers: Seamus McGarvey, Chris Doyle, Roger Deakins, Antony Dod Mantle.

Happy late nights in the Filmhouse bar when I should have been well asleep.

Roger Corman, Ken Russell, Clair Denis, the Quay brothers. People who were just utterly charming and sweet, like Sir Patrick Stewart, and people who were hilarious, like Stellan Skarsgaard.

I shall not list individual films, for we shall be here all day and also I may cry. 

2) Worst aspect of the job.

Hannah: Unpredictability, of everything. 

Also: it can feel thankless, because everyone wants different things from it, and people tend to have very strong, angry opinions about it – which are often unencumbered by knowledge of how festivals and the film industry work. There’s this received wisdom peddled by the Scottish press that the film festival ought to be Cannes, and by not being Cannes, evidently isn’t trying hard enough.

Well, Cannes has roughly a 30 million euro budget; happens alongside the world’s most massive film market; and doesn’t admit ordinary paying public. (And actually, when you’re there, is kind of a massive stressful faff a lot of the time). Building Cannes to the stature that it has in industry terms took many decades of massive investment.

So kneejerk, ill-informed criticism of that nature was always galling. As was the ‘can’t win’ factor – in the same year, you get picked at for having not enough celebrities and too many celebrities; not enough obscure art films and too many obscure art films. There’s a weird resistance to the idea that the point of a festival is variation and range. The audience seem to get that rather more than the press, who are always looking for a quick editorial line – and in Scotland, usually want to find a negative one. Often, you’re being slated for things that are just part of the reality of any film festival: variable screening facilities; films of different styles and quality; some films that are there for primarily commercial reasons; films that prove unavailable; guests that cancel. The standard you’re being held to – an uninterrupted flow of undiscovered, commercially appealing, artistically flawless works, all ready for release at the same time, supported by celebrity casts who are eternally available and pay for their own plane tickets out of the sheer love of film! – is a fantasy.

You do have to rise above press quibbles, but I think there are serious consequences: the fact of the festival being so picked on for what it’s not, rather than celebrated for what it is, has had an effect on its sales and its standing. Last year a London journalist criticised the festival for having too many big commercial films. This year, the same journalist declared it a failure again, because…? No big commercial films. I bit a hole in my newspaper. (Except I didn’t, because I was reading it online, for free, the better to hasten the demise of print journalism. Ha ha ha.)

3) What would you recommend to improve the festival next year?

Hannah: I recommend that it be run by a consortium of Scottish arts reporters: they know how to make it PERFECT. No. Not really.

Just an empowered artistic director, with a full year to prepare a programme, and realistic ambitions clearly conveyed by the messaging. An acceptance, confidently embraced and properly expressed, that the financial climate and the changing film distribution world mean that the festival IS going to alter and evolve, and not turn into a multi-million pound extravaganza overnight, or go back to exactly how it was in 2003 or 1985 or 1972. 

4) The move to June.

Some facts re June as there is a lot of disinformation abounding out there: the move had been discussed for years (was in fact first proposed by M Cousins in the 90s).

The Board and management decided to pursue it in 2008, on the basis that Edinburgh was utterly overloaded in August (it is); that the tourist intake to the city weren’t coming to the film festival, whereas local and rest-of-Scotland audiences were staying away due to general August fatigue (also true); that hotels and transport and venue space were all jam-packed and overpriced (they are); and that the festival had no space to grow and establish itself as a significant international film event as long as it was seen as an adjunct of the other fests (I habitually used to get asked ‘do you programme all that theatre as well?’!!).

Arts pages were also completely overstretched, and the film fest didn’t get the coverage it merited. Also from a programming pov, August was crap. Blockbusters taking up multiplex space, whole of Europe on holiday, MUCH too close to the London film festival.

We canvassed distributors and the bulk of them thought it was a great idea. And that was why we decided to try moving.

Sorry to witter on, but I am sick of the press talking as if it happened for no good reason!! 

In addition: I can see why there are arguments for moving back, because people are sentimental about the August date, and Edinburgh’s exciting then. Also, the move to June by Sheffield, and Sundance doing a July event In London in 2012, are both new pressures on June. But the reasons we moved still stand. And next year, aren’t there some Olympics in August? Would you want to be going up against that??

Well, I hate sport, so I’d welcome a distraction while all that jumping around is going on, but I can see it might have an adverse affect on attendance…

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