Archive for John Frankenheimer

filming and films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2019 by dcairns

I admit it, Mark Cousins’ collection of films & filming is better than mine.

August, 1970, Charles Walters on shooting SUMMER STOCK with Judy Garland: “I remember, at one point, I was on the boom and we were moving in for a giant close-up. Judy looked up with those great liquid eyes of hers and it was the most fantastic shot in the world. ‘Cut,’ I yelled, “Will somebody please hand me a towel, I’ve just come.’ Now that might be thought indelicate, but Judy loved that sort of foolishness. It really turned her on.”

May, 1969, Francis Ford Coppola on co-writing IS PARIS BURNING? (before Gore Vidal’s involvement): “Ray Stark said I could go to Paris and have a vacation with my wife because the writer then working on it was a man who was very ill, dying in fact. And these are the honest-to-God words used, my job was to assist that man and ‘if the pencil fell out of his hand, I was to pick it up.'”

July 1959, Shelley Winters on George Stevens: “George photographs what goes on in the air between people.”

October 1964, Sidney Lumet: “But in the early television days we were doing cuts as fast as a finger could move. John Frankenheimer, who was my AD, can bear me out: there was one sequence on a live show where John had 64 cues to give in a one-minute period. It was 23 cuts in a one-minute period, which is just about as fast as a switcher’s fingers can move, and John had three cues for each camera cut.”

June, 1970: Costa-Gavras on Z, which has a score by Mikis Theodorakis: “Theodorakis was already in prison, but I had some records of his which we adapted for the film soundtrack. […] We have just one short piece of original music for the picture. It is the scene with Jacques Perrin and the guy at the restaurant, where he is giving him the passport and the addresses, you can hear Theodorakis singing in the background. This piece was recorded on a miniature tape-recorder and smuggled out with his instructions on using it in the film.”

April, 1979, Philip Kaufman on the Dolby sound mix of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS: “And when we were doing the mix at Zoetrope, I just kept saying, ‘Pods eat birds. Just keep the birds down.’ I didn’t want the feeling that nature goes on while man is having his problems, because there is some suggestion in the film that everything is being transformed, that nothing is real anymore, that we are gradually going to lose. And that’s the sense of claustrophobia that I wanted to create. I mean the soundtrack is stylised and overdone and there are sounds that are bleeding in from the very beginning, that when you see it again you’ll recognize as either chimes or alien noises. […] Dolby was very excited by what we did with sound. Not just rolling stuff in its surroundings, but selectively beginning to creep sounds into the scenes. You know, we spent a lot of time determining what channel to place sounds. It’s a very expensive soundtrack, and Ben Burtt, who worked on STAR WARS did a lot of the sound effects and special sound effects.”

Nicholas Meyer: “They’re always looking for what is commercial, which I think proves how idiotic most people in the movie business are. Obviously there’s no such thing as commercial until something has made 50 million dollars. And since it is impossible to tell beforehand, it seems to me a waste of energy and you should concentrate on something which they never ask themselves, which is, ‘Do I like it?'”

And: “I came home one day and saw Martin Luther King standing on the balcony of the hotel and getting shot. I sat on my bed and was truly appalled by what I was seeing. And they took him to the hospital, and people were screaming, and there was blood, and suddenly all of this was interrupted by someone who says, ‘Miami for 25 dollars less.’ It’s preposterous, it’s George Orwell time. It scares the shit out of me. Television scares the shit out of me. […] It’s in your house. It’s this unblinking eye with its inexhaustible font of passivity, and it should be banned. No one should be allowed to have one. We should all go to the movies the way God intended.”



Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2019 by dcairns

FACT: Steve McQueen liked to have his middle name written on the walls of his sets.

This is from LE MANS, directed by Lee H. Katzin, the man who brought you THE PHYNX, for which you were not sufficiently grateful in my view.

Part of the reason I hate all sporting activity is that it’s noisy, horribly noisy. If the sound of the activity itself isn’t upsetting, the audience steps in and screams its collective nut off to make up for it. Name me a sport that’s pleasant to listen to. I have misophonia, so bear that in mind when you make your terrible suggestions.So you might imagine I’m not keen on racing car action, but in fact I can tolerate it well enough in a fim because films have sound design. They’re not just random awfulness, despite everything Michael Bay can prove to the contrary. So I could put up with the roaring in LE MANS — about seven-eighths of the film is VVVVVVVRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!! — and I even kind of appreciated the lack of plot, subplot, character development, sympathy, philosophy and sex. After all, John Frankenheimer’s GRAND PRIX, which is equally impressive visually — all those low angles of tarmac skudding by millimetres from our eyes — attempted to have all those elements, and they were boring. LE MANS would probably like you to call it existentialist, since McQueen barely speaks and it’s all about his life-and-death struggle with his gears and the road, but what it is, really, is underdeveloped. But it does offer an array of very good documentary footage into which the meagre story has been inserted with some skill.

The main speechifying bit is when Elga Andersen suggests to McQ that when men risk their lives, they ought to have a very important reason, an unanswerably good argument to which he responds with pure screenwriter bullshit. Move on quickly. There’s some fine visual direction and cutting. Two spectacular crashes at what we could jestingly call the second act curtain illustrate this well. In one, a minor “character” comes a cropper, his car buckling like so much wet cardboard, settling into a tattered heap from which he emerges, jerkily. Katzin and one or more of his five editors have started snipping frames, so that the inevitable slomo jolts back and forth to normal speed, giving the staggering motorist a broken, spasmodic gait — at all makes his progress away from the wreck, which we expect to explode at any instant — seem painfully protracted, and indeed just plain painful.

Moments later, McQueen also crashes, slamming into the barriers, which warp fantastically as the car crumples and splits, finally coming to rest, a twitching McQueen visible through the shattered windscreen (big ugly zoom). And then the action replays — in McQueen’s mind, we assume — and we get the whole thing again from new angles and with more slomo, step-printing until the persistence of vision almost breaks down. Fiona was MOST impressed here — clearly, the action is a traumatic flashback, and she interpreted the exterior views as representing the kind of dissociation, distancing, that some have reported experiencing during accidents.The end credits worried me by thanking one of the drivers for his “sacrifice” — I assumed the poor bastard had died, and thought this was a rather tactless way of describing something that wasn’t, one presumes, voluntary. In fact he “only” lost part of his leg. The lower part, I hope. If it’s the upper part there’s usually not much they can do.

I still wouldn’t call it a sacrifice. “We would like to thank XXX for his horrible mishap” would seem more accurate.

Motor racing, you see, is a very bad thing. Don’t do it. You only have a limited number of legs to sacrifice.


Rubber Biscuit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2018 by dcairns

Was discussing something with Anne Billson on Twitter. Those shots where either a character moves on a dolly independently of the camera —


Belle in Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, gliding eerily down a corridor of wafting curtains.

This ghost in William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL — Cocteau maybe invented the trope and Castle maybe introduced it to Hollywood.

The implacable revenant in Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, who never makes the mistake of moving like a normal living person. She teleports from room to room like Droopy (“I do this to him all through the picture.”), sits up in bed without the use of arms, rising like a drawbridge, then finally wheels forward through a rainbow of artfully gelled lighting, arms already in position for a spot of strangling…

Kathleen Freeman as the Penguin in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Landis’s parodic use of the supernatural glide is striking because the trope was scarcely in common use at the time. It wasn’t like the trombone shot/exponential zoom in his THRILLER video, where the gimmick was maybe on its way to becoming overexposed and thus ripe for parody. The nun on wheels (at the very end of the long clip above) feels like it could have been played absolutely straight in a real horror movie.

(I like to think they intended to hire Kathleen Byron as a scary nun but asked Freeman by mistake. But I know this is not true.)

Also, those shots where the camera moves WITH the actor, as if the actor were on wheels or the camera were attached, or both. There are two variations on this (well, two main ones) ~

At the opening of SECONDS, John Frankenheimer and James Wong Howe mount their camera on an actor via some kind of rigid harness, getting a whole range of eerie effects whereby the world lurches about, a drunken handheld nightmare, while the foreground shoulder or slice of face remains rock steady.

Another example of the same thing: Scorsese fastens on to Harvey Keitel for (appropriately) a drunk scene in MEAN STREETS, to the tune of Rubber Biscuit. Scorsese has also attached his lens to a boxer’s forearm to deliver a fist’s-eye view of a punch in RAGING BULL (blink and you’ll miss it) and to Willem Dafoe’s crucifix as it’s raised in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Interestingly, mounting the camera on a car is normal film language (although this still feels unusual) but latching on to any other moving object is still a novelty.

The other variation ~

Spike Lee is the main proponent of this one — camera and actor are moving in unison, but it’s a steady tracking shot, as if the actor is standing on the same dolly the camera moves on (and he is). Lee seems to do this in every film, and, distressingly, sometimes he seems to be doing it just to prove it’s him. His signature shot.

I used this one in my short film CLARIMONDE, back in the nineties — so Lee may have been the influence. I wanted a dreamlike effect and to show a character moving without free will. We didn’t actually have a proper dolly, just a tripod with castors, so I got my lead actor, Colin McLaren, to balance his feet on the castors and grip the top of the tripod so we could wheel him across the studio floor. I still like the result.

This whole slew of techniques seems to be without a name, unless I’ve missed something. I propose calling it the Rubber Biscuit Shot, even though Scorsese didn’t invent it and Spike Lee could probably stake a better claim to ownership. I just think Rubber Biscuit Shot sounds absolutely right for the weird, dislocating effect.