Archive for John Frankenheimer

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.

Cars

Posted in FILM, Sport, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2014 by dcairns

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As a kid I remember seeing some clip from the documentary show Whicker’s World — I can’t remember in what context — and I was shocked — SHOCKED! — to see the late James Garner of Rockford Files fame being aggressive on a film set. Years later I watch John Frankenheimer’s GRAND PRIX and then the extra feature documentary on the disc and there’s the same clip, and Garner’s disgruntlitude is entirely understandable — he’s just spent half an hour freezing his ass off in the sea while a Monacan shopkeeper holds the production to ransom to get more money for the inconvenience of the street being closed.

Nevertheless, I understand why Garner’s demeanour discomfited me so — I think it was my first real clue that movie and TV personalities weren’t always the same in real life as onscreen. Nobody has a bad word to say about Garner, of course, and like I say, what the clip shows is that he was a three-dimensional human being with an occasional, justifiable temper. He wasn’t Jim Rockford, whose response to the most diabolical situations was to become querulously reasonable. Then he’d leave the scene of the crime undisturbed and make an anonymous tip-off call to the cops.

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GRAND PRIX is an impressive logistical feat, and not such an impressive film — the classic bloated Sunday teatime movie of my childhood in front of the box. Lots of drab scenes — the Yves Montand/Eva Marie Saint romance was especially turgid — the Garner/Jessica Walter one is pretty interesting by comparison, at least in places — they’re attracted but don’t actually like one another very much. Toshiro Mifune is wasted in the English language.

The action is super-impressive though, and Saul Bass’s montages are often beautiful. Frankenheimer created a sort of sizzle reel out of his early Monte Carlo footage and got Enzo Ferrari onboard with that. You can see why.

Also — Frankenheimer’s camera car was driven by champion Phil Hill, who would’ve been  the main character in David Cronenberg’s Formula One movie RED CARS if that had ever gotten off the ground. Everyone in the doc reckons that 1966, when JF made his movie, was the last time such a film could’ve been made, because after that the sponsorship interests plus the whole event got too big. Ron Howard’s recent movie solves that with CGI. But the main thing the Frankenheimer movie has in its favour is our knowledge that everything we see is physically real. An amazing helicopter shot that snakes along with the winding street below as the ant-like racers speed along would become essentially meaningless if animated. There’s a kind of unwritten law about what kind of things are worth faking. It would be interesting to try to work out what the rules are…

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Frankenheimer, interviewed by Alan Whicker in the sixties and by the doc-makers in the early noughties, is curiously attractive — volcanic levels of ebullience and a simmering fury that ripples the surface of even the calmest conversation. The sheer speed of his responses suggests that Jerry Lewis quality of being about to snap your head off at any moment. And yet, like I say, somehow appealing. A macho dinosaur.

UK: Grand Prix (1966) – Official Warner Blu-Line HD Region B Bluray (2.2:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)

US: Grand Prix (Two-Disc Special Edition)

It’s Turkey Time

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2013 by dcairns

The Late Show Blogathon is, and is not, over! We’re in extra time, where I run late-filmed-posts I couldn’t cram into the official week, and maybe a few guest blogs will still turn up. It’s the after-party, and it doesn’t stop until we say so!

The Blogathon master-post is no longer pinned to the top of the blog (using science), but it’s here. It links to every single post, here and elsewhere, that appeared in the blogathon. Or you can use the Late Show tag on the right of the main page to see all the posts from all four years of the blogathon. Some good stuff there! I’ll attempt to take stock and say something summative about this year’s jamboree soon.

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REINDEER GAMES was called DECEPTION in the UK because they’d figured out that their original title confused people. It always sounded like a thriller to me, but Fiona reckons that name only would work for a comedy. But it kind of IS a comedy. Anyway, I was browsing a charity shop and saw a Polish DVD of this going for £1 so of course I bought it…

John Frankenheimer’s last theatrical feature stars Ben Affleck and was made for Dimension Films — there are a few hints of the kind of obsessive quest to hammer plot points home that distinguishes the Weinstein aesthetic — “Did you get it? DID YOU?” Frankenheimer’s late career renaissance — I think he saw it in those terms — is an odd beast. You have THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU which is fabulously terrible in ever-changing ways, like looking into a kaleidoscope of shit. I love it dearly. Then you have RONIN which allows Frankenheimer to exercise his action movie chops in a film literally about nothing — chasing a suitcase, the most abstract MacGuffin imaginable. Then somebody decided to make it literal and boring and dub on a radio voice saying it was all about state secrets vital to the Northern Ireland peace process, which struck me as ridiculous and offensive, as if any cause could make all the cold-blooded mayhem we’ve just enjoyed in any way justifiable.

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And then REINDEER GAMES, a Christmas-set wrong man heist movie tarnished by a clever-clever ending that’s really stupid-stupid, but which is a pretty agreeable time-waster and a summation of Frankenheimer’s cynical, empty, hardbitten and hardboiled worldview. There’s even a great Frankenheimer substitute in it, Dennis Farina’s blunt, world-weary casino manager, a washed-up pro with no patience for politicking, last seen riddled with bullets in the ruins of his trashed gambling den. “I can’t go back to Vegas,” is his recurrent lament. There’s a melancholy under Frankenheimer’s post-sixties nihilism, and however happily the stories turn out, what you remember is a dying fall.

Lots of Christmas imagery, starting with a bunch of dead Santas reddening the snow. This preps one for a bracing, nasty take on the festive season, but there’s a big mushy ending being cued up by Bob Weinstein somewhere in a back room at Dimension, so watch out! It’s a horrible betrayal of the film’s noir attitude. The movie works better when it’s contrasting the tough thriller angle with corny Xmas pop songs, and has Affleck singing The Little Drummer Boy to himself. I think he should have his own lyrics.

I have no gift to bring

Parump-a-pum-pum

Can barely lift this chin

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Fun bad guys, less-skeezy variants on the gang in 52 PICK-UP — here we have Gary Sinise and Danny Trejo, who has “become a serious pain in the ass” since he “went to night school.” Charlize Theron sporting one of her early-career bad hairdos (see also THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) — maybe it’s necessary to make us believe she might be the kind of woman who writes romantic letters to convicts.

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Here’s the plot set-up — Affleck and James Frain are due for release from prison. Frain can’t wait to meet his sexy penpal, but he gets shivved before the big day. Affleck comes out and recognizes Charlize from Frain’s photos and kind of feels sorry for her, waiting in the snow for the convict who’s never going to come. And also, she’s rather attractive (she has a hat on so he can’t see the hairdo). So he pretends he’s the deceased Frain…

I would submit that, for all the film’s flaws, anybody who likes stories would kind of have to stick around after this point to see what’s going to happen…

Here’s one of Frankenheimer’s even-later works — an eight minute car commercial from the screenwriter of SE7EN, Andrew Kevin Walker. It’s rather fine.

Wait, there’s a director’s cut? Now I’ll have to see that — maybe next year.  Reindeer Games (The Director’s Cut) [Blu-ray]

More Blogathon!

Chandler Swain revisits Losey’s STEAMING. Here.

Scout Tafoya’s second blogathon post explored the last film to end them all, PP Pasolini’s positively final SALO, as well as taking in the last essay films of Lindsay Anderson and Dusan Makavejev. It’s quite a feast, if you can get past Signor Pasolini’s unappetizing entreesHere.

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