Archive for John Carpenter

The Sunday Intertitle: Imposture Exercises

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2021 by dcairns

THE ADVENTURER marks the end of Chaplin’s amazing run at Mutual. It also marks the end of his collaboration with his Goliath, Eric Campbell, and of Campbell’s life.

Nobody got hurt making these films, Chaplin reports, except Chaplin himself, who received a cut requiring stitches after a mishap with the bendy streetlight on EASY STREET. Offscreen, it was another matter. Campbell’s wife died suddenly of a heart attack. His teenage daughter was struck by a car and seriously injured. All within a couple of months. His drinking got out of hand. He met a girl at a party and married her five days later. Within two months, she sued for divorce. Driving home drunk from a cast party after making THE ADVENTURER, Campbell crashed and was killed. He was thirty-seven. There were two other women in the car, whose fates seem to be generally not recorded.

The “gentle giant” monicker is often used to describe Campbell. Even his last wife, seemingly a gold-digger, alleged profanity and drunkenness in the divorce, rather than violence. But I’m a bit cross with him for throwing his life away and depriving his daughter of a father and maybe getting other people killed too. But the man was grieving — in a very Hollywood way.

The movie opens with Charlie on the lam — a good start. It mirrors the prison release at the start of POLICE, and sets up the character’s rootlessness in a fresh way. He’d return to the idea in THE PILGRIM. Although, despite said rootlessness, Charlie emerges from the ground like a stripey tuber. Fiona’s interpretation was that he’d burrowed out of prison, whereas I figure he’s escaped by some unspecified means and buried himself in the sand to elude his pursuers. Of course he emerges looking down the barrel of Frank J. Coleman’s shotgun. If there is a gun barrel around, Charlie will find himself looking down it.

Actually, Charlie most resembles a crab at this moment, a pair of ragged claws and a head, the same bits he’s reduced to in the dance of the bread rolls (THE GOLD RUSH). He tries to rebury himself but that just underscores the impossibility of him having completely buried himself in the first place. In a nice gag, he flees, leaving a good hole in the sand for Colemanto fall into.

Then he scampers up a steep incline with the aid of a little wirework. Coleman doesn’t have a wire so the hefty circus clown struggles to follow, while Charlie watches from the cliff edge, clapping politely at the perspiring prison guard’s efforts. And another guard creeps up behind him…

There follows one of those slow-burn discoveries… Jackie Coogan does roughly the same thing with a looming kop in THE KID. The initial discovery is tactile. Then the brain puts together, from the initial touch, the potential outlines of an antagonist, confirmed by some exploratory groping. One doesn’t want to use the eyes yet because it would be too alarming to see the fellow, and it would mean he could see YOU.

Diving through the guard’s legs, Charlie knocks him off the cliff by butting him on the butt with his butt. Off course he slides down the sandy face and crashes into Coleman.

This is a bravura sequence of fleeing, ducking, diving, butting. Many variations on a limited set of moves. The reason for the lack of on-set injuries, Chaplin says, is that they rehearsed everything like a dance. And like a dance, the comedy is made up of recurring movements. Charlie engages so well with kids because he’s childlike himself, usually dwarfed by his opponents and armed only with cheek, and because of this repetition-with-variations. Little kids especially love repetition.

All this was shot on the Sierra Madre coast, a favourite location of John Carpenter — see also THE FOG, for instance. The next sequence was shot last, as Chaplin needed a bridging scene to join together the two main parts of his film.

Charlie escapes the guards, for now, by diving into the sea. They pursue with a handy boat but a huge wave immediately slaps them all underwater.

Cut to Venice, California, per the IMDb. A location familiar to Chaplin from the Tramp’s first appearance, but we’re now on a pier rather than at a race track, where Eric Campbell is pitching woo to Edna Purviance. She is invited to admire his bicep. But suddenly Edna’s mother is drowning! One of those long, drawn-out drownings which invites the participation of a rescuer. Eric stalls and blusters. Edna heroically but not so brightly dives in herself, and commences to drown also.

A collapsing railing now precipitates heavyweights Campbell and Henry Bergman, as a pipe-puffing stoic, into the drink. Now everyone is drowning, except the buoyant Bergman, who simply relaxes in the water, exhaling clouds of improbable tobacco smoke.

Fortuitously, Charlie happens along. “I don’t mind coincidence,” he said of his unlikely plotting, “but I despise convenience.” Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad creator, put it less epigrammatically when he said that wild coincidences are fine as long as they make things worse. Problems must be solved with engenuity equal to the craziness of the original coincidence, not with more coincidence. It has to be said, this moment is pretty convenient. Charlie has stolen a bathing costume so he doesn’t attract suspicion. He swims up to Edna’s mum but, like a particular fisherman, rejects her in favour of Edna. Charlie’s diving and life-saving technique is quite poor, but he gets the job done. Then he must go back for mom (Marta Golden from WORK and A WOMAN). Finally Eric is hauled to the pier by his elaborate Middle Earthian beard. Henry B. is left contentedly bobbing on the brine.

There’s a magnificently mean gag where Charlie lifts one end of Big Eric’s stretcher and unintentionally tips him back into the ocean. Very Simpsons, somehow. It follows the lesson Chaplin has learned that his nastiest mistreatment of other characters should be purely accidental, brought about by the Little Fellow’s fundamental fecklessness, with the only malice being behind the camera and in the audience.

The documentary series Unknown Chaplin shows an outtake where Eric’s mountainous belly causes him to get stuck under the fence, rather than sliding smoothly to sea like a liner.

Eric, in a feat of perfidy beyond even his usual infamous behaviour, callously kicks his rescuer, Charlie, off the pier ladder and leaves him to perish. He even shakes a fist at the waterlogged wretch, adding insult to fatal injury.

There now follows a kind of guest appearance. The opulent Locomobile into which the half-drowned parties are loaded is Chaplin’s own, recently-purchased limo driven, and it’s driven by Toraichi Kono his Japanese chauffeur, who now rescues Charlie. This is his only appearance in a film, because his wife objected to this low-grade kind of activity. But Tom Harrington, Chaplin’s valet, can be seen at the end of THE IMMIGRANT as the snooty clerk at the marriage bureau, and later in SUNNYSIDE.

Charlie is now conveyed to Edna’s rich parents’ house. He’s able to claim that his clothes are all “on his yacht”. Exhausted by his ordeal he awakens in a guest bedroom, where his stripey pajamas and the bars of the bedstead suggest to him at first that he’s back in the clink. A really nice touch.

Now, since this film, like several Chaplin two-reelers, falls neatly into two halves, and since I have some editing to do, I’m going to continue this tomorrow. Hope to see you then.

The Return of the Depressed

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 27, 2021 by dcairns

I had forgotten there was a film called THE BOOGEYMAN made by Ulli Lommel but a recent project brought it to mind. And quite recently we had watched THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES and thought it very poor, so hey! Let’s pop it in the Panasonic and say rude things.

I thought the fact that TTOW couldn’t even decide what period it was meant to be set in was a sign that Ulli was an idiot, but now I was hearing that his movies fit into the delirious late-seventies/early-eighties batshit horror cycle of non-Cartesian, as Argento would say, thrillers. Maybe he was an eccentric genius masquerading as an idiot in order to move among his people? We had to find out. The critic’s job, as I see it, is to wilfully misinterpret obvious deficits as cunning flourishes, and I don’t intend to be outdone on that score.

Audacious: the movie begins with thirty seconds of blank screen with Carpenteresque electro-burblings. And then there’s a gel-tinted riff on HALLOWEEN with a kitchen-knife-wielding sprog. But it mixes things up, it’s not a straight rip-off. Where Carpenter has a POV shot that doesn’t make much sense — little Michael keeps looking up at his own hand while he’s raising it to stab — this one has a weird tracking shot in which the lad with the dagger seems curiously tall, and on wheels, and is holding his knife in front of him in a strange way. Serve him right if he tripped and did himself a mischief.

I don’t exactly award bonus points for the scenes of child bondage, but it does suggest a filmmaker who’s not scared of being offensive and horrible.

The film jumps ahead and the two kids (yeah there’s another one) have grown up and one of them is Suzanna Love, Mrs Lommel and the film’s co-writer. Lommel gets extra points by just casually showing another small kid playing on the brim of a well like a fool. Throwaway nervousness.

Lommel has seen HALLOWEEN and THE EXORCIST and some Argento but also, it seems, OF MICE AND MEN — the hulking mute barnstrangles a slattern. The movie moves in lurches, slow and then jumping forward. Here’s John Carradine! As a reassuring shrink. And quite an understated perf, by his barnstorming standards. He could dial it down if you asked him.

Eyebags you could transport mice in.

It’s kind of nice that Love’s character is seemingly crazy but everyone else is far more nuts. Her husband is awful. She freaks out and smashes a mirror after seeing the film’s first victim in it (stocking-masked child-binder) and her man meticulously reconstructs the shards just to be a dick.

But it’s too late — breaking the mirror unleashes everything the mirror has seen! Which inevitably leads to people being killed by their own windows and bathroom cabinets. None of which is scary but some of which is icky or at least surprising. “Boogeyman!” shouts little Timmy, for no reason, before the window descends on his scrawny neck like a guillotine blade.

As far as cheap FX go, I dig the shard of glass glowing red on the carpet, and the levitating pitchfork which rises through frame (held by a crewmember below frame then passed to another above frame). And Ulli is an adherent of the put-scary-music-on-everything school, which is surprisingly effective. Music by Tim Krog (sole credits: this and BOOGEY MAN II. Is Tim is an Ulli preudonym?).

End credits say “Written, produced and directed by Ulli Lommel” but then “Screenplay by Ulli Lommel, David Herschel & Suzanna Love” which is confusing. And maybe a little boastful.

Well, I’m happy I saw it. Love is an interesting presence, un-starry and naturalistic. But I think if you’re going to make an irrational weirdie, you need to have more genuinely startling incidents — since logic does not constrain you, there’s no excuse not to go really nutzoid. TBM only gets partway.

Autumnal

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2019 by dcairns

These two title sequences are how you get into Autumn. Listen and watch and you will be resigned to it.

I have melancholic mixed feelings about James Horner’s music for SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES — it was imposed by DisneyCorp against director Jack Clayton’s wishes, after Georges Delerue’s original, beautiful score was rejected. I really like Horner’s derivative, evocative, hammy theme tune, though. But I’d love a restored director’s cut. They say Disney never throws anything away…

Michael Kamen’s opening theme for THE DEAD ZONE may be the best thing he did in his two-short career. I guess it’s the first of Cronenberg’s snazzy title sequences — he’s had them ever since, and then his films settle down to being visually quite flat, which works because usually there will be some startling imagery, and if the camera is just resting its chin in its hand in an apathetic way, that can be quite effective.

OK, you can have this one too: