Archive for John Hurt

Nights at the Villa Deodati #4: Pull Every Remaining Lever

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h50m37s44

Whenever I have a favourite line in a movie, it always turns out not to be in the movie at all. The intertitle “Heat! Sudden, intense heat!” which I swear I read when PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Lon Chaney version) showed at Edinburgh Film Fest, with accompaniment by Carl Davis, does not appear in any copy of the film I’ve seen since. This is disappointing. I’m afraid to see THE ASPHYX again in case Robert Stephens doesn’t actually utter the words “Was the smudge trying to warn Clive of danger?” which I have always regarded as the apogee of mankind’s poetic achievement. Mind you, it would be pretty good if it turned out I was responsible for it myself.

And so to Roger Corman’s FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, in which John Hurt does not actually say, as my brain told me he did, “Pull all remaining levers!” Instead, Raul Julia says “Pull every remaining lever!” which I feel is not quite as good.

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h49m47s54

ROGER CORMAN’S F.U., as we must abbreviate it, is the mighty Roger Corman’s last directorial outing to date — it apparently came about when a studio did some audience testing and found that a lot of people would go and see something called ROGER CORMAN’S FRANKENSTEIN. So they approached the Great Man and asked him if he would care to make a film with that title. “As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t,” he replied, with his characteristic old-school graciousness. But then somehow Brian Aldiss’s novel came into his possession and he saw a way to make things interesting, and so the film got made because of a title that tested well, and ended up with a different title.

(I wonder what other titles they tested? ROGER CORMAN’S FRANKENSTEIN seems really specific. Did they also tally the scores for GEORGE ROMERO’S MADAME BOVARY, PETER WEIR’S MABINOGION, HANS JURGEN SYBERBERG’S JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH?)

Aldiss, who also wrote the story that became the Spielberg-Kubrick A.I., seems to have intended his novel as a philosophical essay wrapped inside a sci-fi yarn, following on from his influential study of the genre, The Billion-Year Spree, in which he put forward a compelling case for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the first true science fiction novel (as well as “the best book ever written by a teenager”). So, he folds Shelley’s life into the world of her creations, which perhaps made more sense on the page than it does in the movie — without a continual narration, John Hurt’s time-travelling scientist can’t share with us whether or not he’s puzzled by the fact that Frankenstein and his creature appear to be simultaneously characters in a novel and a real person (Raul Julia! Nick Brimble?). This makes Hurt a hard character to relate to — he has nobody really to talk to, although in fact his computerized car, who doesn’t have a name but whom I will call Lady Knight Rider, might have made a handy outlet for exposition.

It’s also kind of hard to relate to him as he’s building a super-weapon, although he seems to be aiming for sympathy when he says he wanted to invent a weapon that wouldn’t destroy the world. I’m not sure that proviso qualifies you for the Nobel Peace Prize, John.

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h44m09s254

Corman wrote the script with F.X. Feeney (should’ve hired a proper writer, not a critic — oh wait, that would rule me out) but seems curiously disengaged from the whole experience. His Damascene moment on VON RICHTHOFEN AND BROWN, nineteen years earlier, in which he realised with a shock that he would far rather go to the beach than go to the set and complete another day’s filming, doesn’t seem to have worn off. The actors seem left to their own devices (or maybe confused by unfocussed direction?) and the filming is perfectly competent but never shows any excitement. The score by Carl Davis — see how this piece is folding in on itself like a time vortex?) — flattens things out further. Davis is a great silent accompanist, but seems unable to capture the mood of a scene, or opts for the least dramatic possible mood. The score might sound quite powerful in isolation, but laid over the film it seems to nullify.

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h54m21s235

Nick Brimble is a really dreadful monster (on the wrong sense of the word “dreadful”), in a fairly dreadful makeup (those big extra thumbs! Did Frankenstein put his hands on the wrong wrists? The discs in his head!). His first line is “GIVE ME WHAT I WANT!”, a great piece of what I would call muffled exposition, in which a line sounds like it’s inserted for the audience’s benefit rather than something a character would say, but still doesn’t tell us anything helpful. The talented Nick Dudman did the makeup, but I’d say he’s tried to incorporate too many ideas. And half of them are very terrible ideas.

As for the Byron/Shelley menage, the movie doesn’t bother with Dr Polidori or Claire Clairmont (though GOTHIC’s C.C., Myriam Cyr, appears as a futuristic scientist), but gives us Jason Patric as Byron, Michael Hutchence as Shelley, and Bridget Fonda as Mary. Patric might have gotten away with his arch manner, but Hutchence has evidently decided that High Camp is the way forward for romantic poets, and assumes an unhelpful effete manner. These fops have nothing to do anyway, and neither in any real sense does Fonda, but she at least has a bit more screen time. She sounds rather American, as do half the bit players (the good ones — the Brits shipped in to the Italian locations are dreadful), but like the yanks in HAUNTED SUMMER she does have that zesty, unselfconscious quality that one admires in American acting.

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h42m07s51

VAGINA BOREALIS

At the one hour mark, a Bride is created, using technology borrowed from BACK TO THE FUTURE — Hurt hooks Lady Knight Rider, who has Delorean style slide-up doors, to a Special Apparatus and waits for lightning to strike a church tower. All it needs is a bit of Huey Lewis. Somehow Hurt blasts the whole building into the future using a laser (Lady Knight Rider turns out to have a built-in laser) and the characters start killing each other for no reason.

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h48m53s53

I would welcome a movie in which Raul Julia’s Disco Frankenstein meets Frank Langella’s Disco Dracula.

When I first saw this, there was a bit where Hurt expresses uncertainty about when this latest time warp has brought him, and I got very excited. Of course, I thought, they’ve been zapped into primordial times and the monster and his mate will become Adam and Eve, breeding and perhaps mating with neanderthals and thus father the human race! Frankenstein created us all! And himself! John Hurt: temporal ourobouros! FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND.

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h52m08s196

But no: it’s a wintry apocalyptic future. Hurt and the monster have a big fight in a bunker full of lasers, the monster rips his own arm off and hits Hurt with it, Hurt sticks a pipe in him, and then lasers him to death. Then he gets a Fu Manchu-style post-mortem monologue in which he mysteriously claims to be unbound. Hurt heads off for a frozen futuristic city, suggestive of LOGAN’S RUN or QUINTET or, come to think of it, A.I. No epic philosophical issues are implied at all. No learning. No hugging.

I would like Roger Corman to make something else, because I don’t really think his final F.U. is good enough. If he makes something else, I would like him to star in it himself, and just tell stories, in his wonderful purring voice, about his amazing career and the amazing people he’s known. It can be a very, very long film, if he likes.

vlcsnap-2016-02-17-10h52m35s220

Advertisements

Spent Bullet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 3, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-12-02-16h50m31s230

Sam Peckinpah’s THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND doesn’t strike me as a  particularly good film, and credited screenwriter Alan Sharp didn’t think much of it either. It was one of these much-rewritten movies where nobody can really be sure afterwards who was responsible for what, and it’s based on a Ludlum novel anyway so what can we expect? And it’s a Peckinpah espionage movie which puts it in the same ballpark as THE KILLER ELITE, only more tired.

But as I recall, Sharp’s description of what went down on the movie was pretty illuminating — according to him, the film’s producers accorded Bloody Sam every respect and privilege, desperate to make him happy on what could clearly be his last film (he directed it on a drip) and to break the cycle of lousy relationships he’d had with the suits throughout his career. Sam treated them mercilessly.

And so, in post-production, the producers did what nearly every previous Peckinpah producer did — they shut him out of the cutting room and released a version which satisfied them, ignoring his bitter ranting. They did at least preview his unfinished cut — audiences were confused by the opening, which was seriously incomplete, so they decided to proceed with their own version. This is a shame, because a Peckinpah edit, no matter what the director’s raddled state, is automatically going to be superior to an edit by an army of eight execs. Because some kind of guiding cinematic sensibility is needed, rather than committee groupthink.

vlcsnap-2013-12-02-16h51m45s197

Fortunately for us, if we obtain the special edition DVD, the bonus disc contains a director’s cut, mastered on low-res video tape and rescued from a bin. Despite the poor image quality and the rough video versions of optical effects (Sam did love his cheesy opticals, bless his infarcted, drug-addled, misogynistic heart), it makes for interesting viewing.

At the film’s opening, we see hidden camera footage of a sexy tryst between Dr Who (John Hurt) and a naked lady (women in this film are either naked or dead: this one is soon both). While Hurt is out of the room (I presume washing his balls) and the lady is toying languidly with her nipples as ladies always do when men aren’t around, assassins burst in and inject a lethal overdose up her nose. It’s possible that somebody explains why later. What struck the Monthly Film Bulletin critic at the time was that this whole scene is covered from multiple angles, suggesting that not only did CIA head Burt Lancaster have spy-cams planted all over the room, panning and zooming at will, but that he also had Roger Spottiswode or Monte Hellman or somebody in a darkened room vision-mixing this footage live so Burt could always be seeing the best angle on his private espionage snuff film, with faster cutting for dramatic effect in the more exciting moments. It doesn’t really contribute towards an air of verisimilitude.

“Nasty piece of film, Stennings,” says Lancaster, in the film’s most self-aware line, just as the title naming the nasty filmmaker responsible appears (as is usual with Peckinpah, his name appears looong after everybody else’s credit has gone, as if some kind of quarantine was required to keep the rest of the cast and crew from being infected by his beady-eyed mania.

vlcsnap-2013-12-02-16h43m15s208

What we get in the director’s cut is layers of wooziness — shimmering ripple effects as if we’re sliding in and out of a movie dream sequence or flashback (I still can’t believe those eggy ripple-dissolves to flashback in THE WILD BUNCH, like the nouvelle vague never happened). I can’t see any possible reason for this effect. The DVD claims it was intended to show the John Hurt character’s warped point of view, but he spends most of the scene in the shower so it’s not his point of view anyway. But it does throw the question of verisimilitude out the window, leaking from blood capsules and squib damage as it plunges to earth.

The Peckinpah version then segue’s back into the edit we know — Lancaster has just watched the murder on tape, but it’s not implied that the events had been covered from multiple angles. So we can already see that whatever the problems with Peckinpah’s vision (and here I would cite the Lalo Schiffrin soft porn sax accompaniment high on the list), it at least made more sense than what eventually made it to cinemas.

In theory, the fuzzy video version could be used to restore Peckinpah’s intended approach — but that would depend on the original negative rushes having been preserved, which is unlikely. And it would depend on somebody with the money giving a rat’s ass, which is less likely still. I’d settle for a definitive cut of PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, whose restoration suffered from a common malaise — a restoration team convinced they knew better than the original director. But at least that DVD also contains two alternative cuts showing what they had to work with.

THIS is Peckinpah’s actual last movie ~

And his last day on set, I think, was shooting second unit of a truck crash for his old mentor Don Siegel, on what proved to be Siegel’s own final film, the Bette Middler comedy JINXED! Desperate to re-establish his professional reputation, Peckinpah organized detailed storyboards and shot everything with lightning efficiency. The pyrotechnics department provided him with a blaze of glory in name only.

 The Osterman Weekend – Commemorative 2 disc edition [1983] [DVD]
The Osterman Weekend (Two-Disc)

Culp De-Programmer

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2012 by dcairns

SPECTRE — a failed TV pilot devised by Gene Roddenberry. Download it! Slap it in the Panasonic! Watch it!

Stars Robert Culp — my new hero! as Gene Roddenberry William Sebastian, a stylishly dressed criminologist and expert in paranormal abnormality, who, assisted by Dr Ham Hamilton — who I kept thinking was played by Bradford Dillman, but is actually the murderer Gig Young — “He looks nothing like Bradford Dillman. Why did I think it was Bradford Dillman?” “You just wanted it to be,” claims Fiona. “I deny the accusation!” — this sentence has really lost its way. Back up. Start again.

Our two decrepit intrepid heroes journey to London, England, to investigate a case of possible satanic possession at a stately home newly outfitted as mod shagging palace by incumbent Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villiers). Just as in SOME GIRLS DO, Villiers is surrounded by dolly birds, although whether in this film they have had their heads hollowed out and filled with radio-controlled microchips is never stated — but going by their behaviour, I’d say the answer is YES, and Roddenberry has the remote.

Gig’s bedchamber — and waterbed — is invaded at night by Allo Allo‘s Vicki Michelle, plus a dominatrix and a schoolgirl, but that’s just the beginning of the diabolism in store! The problem is figuring out which of the Cyon scions is possessed of the Devil — Villiers (who definitely is), Ann Bell, who might be, and John Hurt, who probably definitely is. “I remember being very disappointed in him for doing this,” says Fiona. Whereas I don’t remember it at all. If I did, I’d like to think I wouldn’t be watching it now. Fiona has no such excuse, other than wanting something cheery after running PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD.

John Hurt tries out for the role of a Klingon.

James Villiers turns into a cat.

Tits! Obvious cutaways of tits to try and sell this as an X-rated horror movie abroad. Clive Donner directed this — I’m starting to think he was never very good, you know. His camera swoops in, leering, in like a dirty eagle, every nipple a merit badge.

Jenny Runacre smiles slyly in the background, which you’d think would be enough, and Culp is pretty delightful, channeling Shatner’s heavy pauses. Gordon Jackson is on hand, as ever.

“You hear a lot about Bradford Dillman,” I observe, “but you never hear about his brother, Rochdale.”

Culp is such a Roddenberry substitute, he even has Majel Barrett (Mrs R) as housekeeper. And the voodoo curse on him, manifesting as chest pains and a blob of mortician’s wax on his manly abdomen, is presumably a thinly-veiled fictionalisation of the heart condition that slew the Star Trek creator.

Why Gene Roddenberry wrote science fiction: his first wife was named Eileen Rexroat. It was inevitable.

More Wiki —

“Star Trek theme music composer Alexander Courage long harbored resentment of Roddenberry’s attachment of lyrics to his composition. By union rules, this resulted in the two men splitting the music royalties payable whenever an episode of Star Trek aired, which otherwise would have gone to Courage in full. (The lyrics were never used on the show, but were performed by Nichelle Nichols on her 1991 album, “Out of this World.”)”

The only Star Trek lyrics I ever heard require to be sung with a Scottish accent —

Star Trek! It’s a funny tune!

It goes UP and then it goes doon!

AND! just when you think you’ve got it mastered,

It flies off like a crazy bastard!

I think perhaps those are not canonical.

As someone who grew up with a lot of terrible, boring, generic American TV (Petrocelli, The Fall Guy, Fantasy Island, Kojak, Dallas) I kind of wish Spectre had been commissioned. It’s not boring. It’s terrible and ridiculous, but not boring. If it had run, there might have been some good episodes, but even if they were all dreadful, they would have been more diverting than all the lawyer and cop and doctor shows, and with Culp and his polo neck, they’d have been more fun than Kolchak, too.

In some dreamy alternate reality, this series ran for decades. David Duchovny eventually took over from Culp.