Archive for Jodie Foster

Through the ceiling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 11, 2018 by dcairns

Last of my short series on moments in TAXI DRIVER.

After the big shoot-out/massacre, Travis slouches onto the couch with a gaping hole in his neck and greets the first responders by putting a blood-dripping finger to his head and miming blowing his brains out —

 

— and Scorsese retreats to directly overhead, looking down through a slit cut in the floor or the rooms above (the building was condemned, fortunately), tracking away from Travis, across the mayhem left around him, and out the door.

We get surprising and unfamiliar views of a ceiling lamp and a doorway from above. I showed this to a friend one-time who was unimpressed, feeling that since these angles are eccentrically removed from anything we ever experience in life, they were tricksy and essentially ineffective. I disagree with this demand for Fordian austerity, for the following reasons —

It’s fun to see things from unusual angles! Admittedly, “fun” might be a peculiar sensation to be experiencing in this scene of horror, but visual pleasure complicates the emotions and makes the horror sing out.

It feels like an OOBE — an Out Of Body Experience, as if Travis’s consciousness has left his body and is drifting away. Now, that’s not literally what’s happening — unless it is, and the rest of the film is a dream Travis entertains himself with after death, which isn’t likely to be anybody’s FIRST interpretation of what’s going on in those strange scenes. But the feeling of projecting out of the body remains, and seems to be the main thing motivating the camera movement, at first, anyway. It turns into an exploratory move as the scene develops, retracing Travis’s bloody path into the building.

(Fiona points out that you don’t have to be dying to have an OOBE — you can just be so dissociated it just happens. Trauma — like having a chunk blown out of your neck – cn do it. And Travis is already having trouble staying in the moment, as seen in that shot where his POV descends into a glass of Alka-Seltzer.)

You could also relate it to a Hitchcockian God’s-eye-view, a frequent Scorsese trope — these overhead views are present when Travis first gets his job, recur in the boxing ring in RAGING BULL, return in force in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and are back in unheard-of abundance in SILENCE, suggesting that they do have something to do with religious feeling, the idea of a superior, observing force, superior even to us in the audience.

Tonally, the sequence is a kind of numbed lull, a respite from the trauma even while the brain matter is still oozing down the walls. So withdrawing from the scene, which we’ve been almost subjectively involved in, makes sense. Scorsese has found the most distant way possible of filming the action in this relatively confined space.

One other thing adds a kind of resonance. In the following sequence, as the camera continues drifting about Travis’s apartment, picking up items pinned to the walls, we see a newspaper report on the shooting incident, in which an artist has mapped out the scene with an overhead view exactly like Scorsese’s tracking shot, only stationary. They could be storyboard, or production designer’s plans.

The next clipping on the wall, btw, is the obligatory Catherine & Charles Scorsese cameo, as we see a still of Marty’s parents — playing Jodie Foster’s parents — watching the news. (The IMDb cat list, “verified as complete,” doesn’t tell us who voices Foster’s dad in this scene’s narration. I don’t think it’s Mr. S.)

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The Two Tiers

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , on September 20, 2013 by dcairns

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Neil Blomkamp’s ELYSIUM has the same strengths and weaknesses as his DISTRICT 9, which at least shows he doesn’t absolutely need Peter Jackson sitting on his shoulder to pull off a scifi splatterfest that yokes interesting ideas to the mayhem. I’m not aware of another FX movie this season that preaches in favour of universal health care, nor one with such a tasty design sense — GRAVITY is a more beautiful film by far, and UNDER THE SKIN a more peculiar one, but if you’ve been starved of strong bloody mayhem since Verhoeven departed Hollywood, as I feel I have, this movie will certainly give you your dismemberment fix.

The basic premise of a divided society has been a staple of SF movies since METROPOLIS, and conceptually all Blomkamp adds is that, rather that sinking the proles beneath the Earth, he elevates the elite to a space station. And ties the results to modern American life as Romero did in LAND OF THE DEAD. He also equips the 1% with domestic med-bays which are able to heal virtually any injury short of death. This technology is apparently free, which begs the question why the top dogs guard it so jealously — one of a number of logical flaws which you have to overlook in order to enjoy Matt Damon’s grand guignol suffering, the Peckinpah wet-dream carnage, or the lovely and often original production design.

There’s also Blomkamp’s trademark shakicam, which at times gives the impression that he’s rested his lens on a washing machine as it hits the spin cycle. This inevitably costs him coherence, and there’s a crucial bit of business involving a grenade during the final hero-villain scrap which just isn’t discernible at all. You can figure out afterwards what happened, but having to re-frame and re-edit on the filmmaker’s behalf does take you out of the movie. Not many things take me out of a movie short of an armed escort, but that does.

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The sheer excess of poor Damon’s brutalizing made me wonder if I wasn’t seeing another kind of Verhoeven homage — the Killer Christ Figure (Robocop walks on water at the end of ROBOCOP — in order to stab a guy in the throat). The metallic exoskeleton he’s bolted into is like an articulated crucifix, and his other injuries include, if I recall correctly, not one but two stabs to the side, and an internal crown of thorns in the form of a direct-to-the-brain data upload of poisonously encrypted information. I don’t know what the biblical equivalent of the radiation overdose is, but we do know the Messiah gave off some kind of energy when he was reborn, because how else do we explain his bloody wrappings turning into photographic paper and capturing his image? And don’t give me all that Renaissance forgery bit.

But to return to the Passion of Max Da Costa — I dig how the orangey shanty-town sprawl of LA represents the have-nots, while the have’s live in a star-shaped space station whose interior looks like Beverly Hills. The metaphor is pretty clear, and if the film is not about Earth VS Space but about a divided America, then it’s presumably about Obamacare?

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I do think it’s a shame that the wideshot of the skyscrapers, fantasticated with platforms and extensions added on willy-nilly to deal with SOYLENT GREEN levels of overpopulation, never reappear after the establishing sequence — what a great setting for an action sequence those could be, with characters parkouring through the vertical barrio and leaping from tower to tower like Rick Baker in the DeLaurentiis KONG.

Fiona wanted to know what Jodie Foster was trying to do with her accent. I don’t rightly know. I think it’s a waste of the unrivaled naturalism she displayed as a kid, to see her so mannered and self-conscious, but I don’t know if it was a deliberate effect she was going for. Fiona also felt it was a shame that bad guy Sharlto Copley, who gives a very zestful performance, didn’t have a single line that wasn’t a crusty cliché. She’s not wrong. That we still enjoyed the film must be because enough interesting ideas and images survived the journey through Blomkamp’s mental mixmaster — if he could trust himself to slow down a little bit, we’d really have something.

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Shots of Scots 1: You Naztee Spy

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2009 by dcairns

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That’s Alec Craig on the left, a stock Scot-for-hire in Hollywood films of the late ’30s and 40’s. I think I first noticed him in Mitchell Leisen’s KITTY, a film unusually blessed with Celtic types. On the right is sly ladycorpse Eily Malyon, who played various sinister domestics and cadaverous matriarchs during the same period. Here she’s a Scottish nazi, and she seems to have acquired her accent by mimicking Alec’s — she’s very convincing, despite being a native Londoner.

The film is —

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— from Warner Brothers, and after a riproaring catchpenny title like that it thrilled me to find the first scene taking place in my own fatherland, where Mrs McLaughlin (Malyon) is acting as a postal forwarding address for espionage-related correspondence. Further thrills are supplied by the movie’s place in history: released in 1939, it provoked an international incident with its unabashedly anti-Nazi rhetoric (although it’s not anti-German, being directed by Anatole Litvak and padded with provisos to make it clear that this evil is political rather than national or racial). CONFESSIONS  nearly propelled America into the war two years early, and thus tends to disprove the still-prevalent fallacy that studio bosses chose to ignore the threat of fascism in Europe.

The film is one of those hard-hitting, torn-from-the-headlines Warners dramas, complete with a stentorian narrator, or maybe ANNOUNCER would be a better word, and it exploits the Hollywood convention of hitting you, hard, with the same information in a number of ways, just in case you’re very very stupid ~

Dissolve to a sign reading “Fort Wentworth 2nd Army Corps Base Hospital”, then to a clerk at a phone, beneath a sign reading “Dispensary, sick calls”.

Announcer: “A few days later, the sick-clerk at Fort Wentworth Station Hospital receives a call.”

Sick-clerk: “Hello, Fort Wentworth Station Hospital, sick-clerk speaking.”

Despite such thick-eared, thick-headed moments, there are many pleasures on offer — George Sanders as an arrogant Gestapo creep, his head shaved to a tuft, making him look halfway between a Japanese baby and a deformed novelty potato — Lya Lys from L’AGE D’OR, who’s always welcome in a Hollywood film, just for the bizarre resonance she brings (this was probably her best Ho’wood role) — Eddie G Robinson as a prototype of the Nazi-hunter he plays in Welles’ THE STRANGER — Paul Lukas, sleazy as the philandering Bund demagogue — best of all, handsome Francis Lederer as the main spy, an underachieving, egotistical fantasist motivated only by self-aggrandizement, a brilliant study in narcissism.

Francis went on to be Jodie Foster’s drama coach when she was a kid. Hooray for him!

The title CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY may tempt some of you to picture Robin Askwith in an S.S. uniform.

DO NOT.