Archive for John Carradine

Vlad to meet you, hope you guessed my name

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2018 by dcairns

Good morning, I’m Francis Ford Coppola and I’m speaking to you from the Bohemian community of North Beach, and I’m going to talk to you a little bit today about my connection to Dracula.

Not really, of course! I’m not Francis Ford Coppola, I’m not actually speaking to you from North Beach (never been, no idea how Bohemian it is), and I have no actual connection to Dracula. But I was thrilled to see that the DVD of Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA has a feature on the menu labeled Watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA With Francis Coppola. Nothing could thrill me more that to watch this beautiful, silly film, in the company of its director, though I suppose I’m slightly afraid that he’ll call me a whore to help my motivation, as he did to Winona Ryder. But I can take it!

How is this visionary illusion created? First, by an apparition of the Great Man in a violently pink shirt, appearing before us as if from the tomb. He talks at you from the screen, as if he can really see you. He knows it’s morning!

At 1:19 we get Uncle Francis’s first factual error when he says that John Carradine plays Dracula in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. But kudos for being bold enough to admit that Carradine was his favourite screen Dracula. That’s just insane. But already BSD is making more sense to me.

So join with me on this adventure, I will tell you some of my thoughts concerning why I made it in the way I did

How I Did It by Victor Frankenstein

and hopefully share those experiences with you.

Then he goes away and the film plays, but his disembodied voice continues to eerily comment on the action, as if he were sitting beside you in the darkened auditorium, ruining his own movie. Oh no, if he calls me a whore in this setting I’m not sure I could handle it. I confess, I mainly wanted to join Uncle Francis on this adventure to see how long it would take him to say something funny, and he already has before the commentary even started.

Did you know that in the original Columbia Pictures logo it was Irene Dunne that was photographed standing there holding the torch?

WOW! Literally the first line, spoken over the logo, is a factual error! Though it’s nice to get an Irene Dunne reference into a Dracula film. THE AWFUL TOOTH? And I guess an Evelyn Venables reference wouldn’t have the same cachet.

Uncle Francis launches into a history lesson at this point. I don’t know as much as he does about this time and place — the backstory of Vlad Tepes — but I’m going to assume he’s making one Irene Dunne-type mistake every eight seconds, if that’s OK with you.

I love the imagery in this sequence, though it’s slightly uneven — maybe TOO MUCH BEAUTY? But hats off to the shadow puppetry. Bold. Taps foot waiting for Uncle F. to say something I can fact-check.

This prologue was pretty much created after the fact by my son Roman

Okay, that’s nice to know. Hats off to Roman and filmmaker/VFX artist/titles guy Gary Gutierrez.

Sudden sound change and Uncle Francie launches into a sentence that sounds like a continuation of a missing thought —

So when the young actress Winona Ryder

Glad he’s explaining who she is.

came to see me and the purpose of our discussion was really about the fact of how she had dropped out of working on GODFATHER III, you know

I think Winona may have had an ulterior motive in arranging that meeting.

Winona was supposed to play the young daughter of the GODFATHER III story and when she came she didn’t feel well and she basically withdrew from the film leaving me in a tough spot for GODFATHER III.

But I’m not bitter. I’m definitely not going to call her a whore.

Much later we talked about it and I didn’t want to have a grudge against a young person so I tried to be nice to her and say “Yes I understand what happened,”

I’m a bad person for finding all this funny. I in no sense foresee this relationship turning sour owing to Francis’s subconscious rage at the young whore actor Winona Ryder.

and she said, “Well, good, because I have this script of DRACULA, would you consider doing it?” and of course that was a magic word to me

Maybe the trouble with this sequence — and the film as a whole (or one of them) — is that it’s full of beautiful shots that don’t necessarily cut together, and these shots are quite extreme — they all feel like CLIMAXES — and they break into much more conventional coverage and create an odd, stop-start effect, rather like me with the pause button transcribing Uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s words of wisdom.

I agreed to do it, it was really sort of putting my life back together after some of the big financial setbacks that I had had, which was what led me to make the third GODFATHER and the DRACULA picture and kind of stabilise my life at that time when it had been pretty rocky.

This works particularly well as a commentary while a visibly inebriated Gary Oldman is pledging his soul to the Devil and drinking from a golden goblet of stigmata-juice. I’m running out of hats to take off but this astonishing frankness deserves a fresh head-baring.

Still on the prologue and costume designer/genius Eiko Ishioka gets a mention. After the young actress Winona Ryder and son Roman, but still, prominently up there, which is good. Now it’s late, and I have an edit tomorrow, so I’m going to have to say

TO BE CONTINUED

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Got a light?

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on July 18, 2017 by dcairns

This is the water and this is the well…

Drink full and descend…

The horse is the white of the eye…

And dark within.

Words from Twin Peaks, images from OF HUMAN HEARTS.

OFH has lots of good scenes and good actors — Beulah Bondi, Walter Huston, James Stewart and Charles Coburn, but alas it’s all building up to a deeply bogus scene with a deeply bogus Abe Lincoln, played John Carradine from under a terrifying waxy residue applied by Jack Dawn and/or Josef Norin. It’s totally inflexible apart from the crease at his upper lip that lets him talk. They’d have been better off with an animatronic version, even though animatronics in them days would have meant building a face the size of King Kong’s mechanical mask and having Mickey Rooney run around inside it pulling levers.

Twin Peaks, meanwhile, is slowing down time. And not just with daring choices of pacing, like three minute shots lingering on a floor being swept or two people looking at a third person smoke a cigarette. The weekly dosage is making my weeks seem longer, due to the suspense. Seven days suddenly feels like seven days again.

Although, I’m not sure I’d recommend watching episode eight alone in a foreign hotel with apparently no other guests. Good thing I’m a tough SOB. Fear is a stranger to me. A grubby, bearded stranger with fingers that can shatter bone.

Heydrich Heydrich heydrich Heydrich

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2017 by dcairns

“Stop the film!”

HHhH is an excellent novel by Laurent Binet, telling the story of the rise and assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by two Czechoslovak patriots parachuted back into their homeland by the Brits. What makes the novel distinctive, and almost not a novel at all, is (a) the author’s fidelity to all the known facts, and his commentary on this fidelity — his refusal to imagine ANYTHING, or at any rate his disgusted self-denunciation whenever he does, part of (b) his constant commentary on his own process, and his reluctance even to accept dialogue quoted by sources when it sounds implausible. In such cases, he can offer a fictional version that strikes him as more likely, but he still has to denounce himself for making stuff up. In a way, it allows the author to be attractively modest — in the face of the heroic acts of the Czech and the Slovak, who knowingly sacrificed their lives out of certainty that their cause was just, Binet offers his own uncertainty, self-doubt, vacillation.

So we started watching the recent movie ANTHROPOID, which takes a piece of this story — just the mission, starting from the moment the heroes drop from the skies — and serves it up as a grim-faced and desaturated spectacle. It’s certainly because I’d just read Binet’s book, but I was intolerant of the movie’s mucking about with historical fact. Right after landing, our humourless, characterless heroes (a far cry from the rather jaunty, romantic figures Binet gleans from the historical record) run into a traitor and have to kill him to escape betrayal. In fact, the agents were discovered by a gamekeeper, who helped them. So the movie has gained an action sequence, albeit a very familiar one, presented in a shaky, muddy way by director Sean Ellis, but has lost a moving scene of an ordinary man risking his life for a noble cause, which is the kind of scene war movies used to live on.

I felt, personally, that the filmmakers had departed from the facts in order to offer something LESS INTERESTING.

Likewise, the presentation of Kubis and Gabcik, played by Christian Grey and the Scarecrow, as emotionless killing machines seemed like a less effective choice than Binet’s. The movie has a far shorter emotional distance to cover if the characters are already miserable, implacable, devoid of light and shade. They’re going to be spending quite a lot of the film staring death in the face. Will we notice any difference in their mood?

Incidentally, when they jumped from the British plane, the real Kubis & Gabcik landed, Binet tells us, in a graveyard. Ellis and co-writer Anthony Frewin eschew this. perhaps for fear of seeming to indulge in symbolism. But it really happened! It would be an interesting challenge to include this WITHOUT making it look symbolic. But, to be fair, I have no idea how this could be achieved.

When the film forgets to do wobbly sepiatone, it occasionally delivers beautiful shots, and the action scenes are pretty effective, but it has no humour and no gradation of tone. The task of creating characters defeats the screenwriters. A “poetic” touch at the end is brave, but seemed unearned, hokey and basically disastrous to Fiona & I.

Binet’s researches uncovered previous novels and films about these incidents. He’s impressed by John Carradine’s perf as Heydrich in Sirk’s HITLER’S MADMAN, which I wrote about here. A good B-picture ruined by the infusion of MGM class, was my harsh verdict, but I agree about JC. Beginning with the assassination, the film concentrates on the extermination of Lidice in retaliation. The movie’s biggest distortion of history is to stage the assassination at Lidice and not in Prague — surely the location of the incident was one of the few things known for certain at the time? But the filmmakers, it seems, couldn’t follow the Nazis’ logic — why was this random village chosen? So they had to invent a reason, when in reality there was none.

The most artistic responses to the incident in film are Humphrey Jennings amazing THE SILENT VILLAGE, which imagines the fate of Lidice befalling a Welsh mining village — aiming to de-exoticise the tragedy, to literally bring it home to British viewers; and Fritz Lang’s HANGMEN ALSO DIE!, a wholly fictitious account of the assassination and its aftermath. Binot is very forgiving of Sirk and Lang (and their writers, including “Bert” Brecht), allowing that the true facts weren’t known at the time and filmmakers had to just make stuff up — the good filmmakers did this thrillingly.

HANGMEN deserves a wholly entry on its fantastic rogue’s gallery of gloating Nazi pigs.  It’s a masterpiece. Binot rightly credits some of this to Brecht’s excellent, made-up story. It particular, it has a fruity and vile Heydrich played by Hans Heinrich von Twardowski (CALIGARI, CASABLANCA) in a joke shop nose. I don’t think anyone’s ever seriously alleged that Heydrich was gay (it was getting engaged to two different women at once that got him drummed out of the navy, leading to him joining the Nazi party), but that seems to be how Twardowski is playing him. Heydrich DID have a very high voice, according to Binot, but nobody’s ever played him that way. It might seem silly. Probably the only way to pull it off would be to hire an actor already known for having a high voice, so it didn’t seem so much like an artistic choice — because there’s no way to make it clear to the audience that you’re being factual here.

Another Heydrich perf Binot admires is Kenneth Branagh’s in the 2001 TV play Conspiracy. Branagh plays to his strengths — his Heydrich is warm and matey, a little overbearing with it, but he comes on like everyone’s chum, making opposition difficult by his air of affable reasonableness. As Binot says, there aren’t really any accounts of Heydrich that stress chumminess as one of his qualities, but the effect is very disturbing. The whole show is terrific — Loring Mandel’s script mostly sticks to things the actual Nazi high command said on the record at Wannsee, plotting the Final Solution, and in the unrecorded conversations between bouts at the conference table he draws heavily on other conversations they are known to have had. And there’s none of the wretched “As you know…” style of exposition we’ve grown sadly used to in British drama.

(STARTED watching MY WEEK WITH MARILYN with friends. The cackhanded exposition was so pervasive and dumb (Fiona says the film gets better later) that I coined the phrase “As you know, I’m your father,” and after a few real examples of this kind of writing we almost convinced ourselves that it was an actual piece of dialogue. I’m not sure I want to blame Adrian Hodges, the credited writer, because this is exactly the sort of thing execs the Weinstein Bros would insist on being included. They honestly believe the purpose of having characters is to explain things to the audience.)

Binot seems to have missed OPERATION: DAYBREAK (why the colon?), directed by Lewis Gilbert and adapted by Ronald Harwood (THE PIANIST) from the novel by Alan Burgess, which he does know about. The film is pretty factual, it seems to me, though aesthetically quite dull, apart from the odd choice of David Hentschel’s synth score. It has a fine Heydrich, Anton Differing (he of the combustible behind) — at last, an actor with a big enough nose! I remember the film itself being a little boring, which is odd given the authentic life-or-death stakes involved.

And now there’s a film of HHhH (you wait ages for a Heydrich and then two come along at once), which I guess, following my practice of capitalising film titles, I will have to call HHHH. An awkward title either way. (Binot writes that if the book we’re holding isn’t called Operation Anthropoid, we’ll know his publisher won the argument.) The acronym stands for the German version of the phrase Heydrich Is Himmler’s Brain (which is the small H?), and not for Heydrich Heydrich heydrich Heydrich, as I may have inadvertently given you the impression. This was a popular “meme” in the Czech Protectorate, before they knew what memes were. I guess it’s precisely the fact of Heydrich being Himmler’s brain that made it such a damn good idea to kill him.

The film will have to live up to the book’s high standards of accuracy, though frankly it CAN’T — it will have to invent conversations and present them without apology or comment (I’ll be impressed as hell if it attempts anything as pomo or self-critical as the book — it just won’t). It seems to have a pretty good Heydrich in Aussie Jason Clarke, although oddly he’s doing it with an English accent and all the others are putting on German accents. Playing characters who in reality would be speaking a different language, and doing them with a mild accent, always struck me as silly. Although here we have Stephen Graham looking like a VERY good match for Himmler, and I guess if he’d played it with his native Liverpool accent, that would have been unacceptable. Though not to me, because I delight in marvellous variety.

(Graham is a smashing actor and a master of accents. He plays cockney in the recent series Taboo. Tom Hardy is playing the lead role as a very good impersonation of Oliver Reed — only Keith Allen has done it better. So Stephen Graham comes on as the late Bob Hoskins, not to be put down. The more Hardy bats his eyelashes and whispers in a threatening growl, the more expansive and waannafow Graham becomes. You may not recollect that Hoskins pronounced “wonderful” as “waannafow,” but take it from me, he did. It was part of what made him so waannafow.)

Have I missed any good Heydrichs? What are your favourite performances of members of the Nazi command, if you have any? Oh, I know… Goebbels is always good value. But let’s look BEYOND GOEBBELS…