Archive for John Landis

The Clumsy Waiter

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2020 by dcairns

In canceled John Landis’ KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE Donald Sutherland has a surprising cameo — Landis evidently cultivated the star assiduously while assisting on KELLY’S HEROES (and got him again for ANIMAL HOUSE) — as “the clumsy waiter,” a bit that involves cutting to him falling down a lot in waiter garb, as part of a mock trailer for a disaster movie starring George Lazenby… these few moments of crude slapstick may hint at something deeper which would, if viewed from the right angle, unlock the mysteries of cinema.

Sutherland was fresh from Fellini’s CASANOVA and Bertolucci’s 1900. In Mark Cousins’ Scene By Scene interview — I think the best in that series — he tells an amazing story about the latter. In 1900 he plays a fascist who’s literally called Attila and who shows you how bad he is by murdering a cat with his head.

The story’s at about 22:42. The reason this is the best episode is that it’s the only time the central conceit of showing scenes to filmmakers actually results in staggeringly interesting reaction shots. Some of Donald’s expressions in this interview count as among the best of his career.

Bertolucci set the scene, explaining that he would tie a (real) cat to a post, then charge a cunningly substituted fake one headfirst, crushing a bag of blood concealed within. Donald wasn’t exactly keen on smashing into a wooden post with his head, which he needs for acting with, but agreed to do it ONCE.

THUD.

The bag of blood failed to burst. “The actor didn’t hit the cat correctly,” was what Sutherland recalled them saying. OK, one more time.

Some FX genius got the idea of placing two thumbtacks against the baggie, so that it would be pierced by any solid impact.

THUD. SPLASH.

“There. OK?” “No. Not okay.” He has two thumbtacks sticking out of his forehead. He also has concussion.

So he does twenty takes or something crazy until Bertolucci is satisfied. That evening in the bar he’s trying to explain to Gerard Depardieu what he had to do that day and he decides to SHOW them what he had to do. He charges a pillar, trips, crashes into what turns out to be a mirror, and ends up with half his ear hanging off.

The point of this story, besides the striking nature of the events themselves, would seem to be the plight of the actor, but Sutherland plants a seed of doubt in our minds about his physical prowess, and one maybe wonders if the KENTUCKY FRIED skit was inspired by a certain gaucheness in his movements?

Moving on.

Next story comes from John Baxter’s Fellini biography, not his best work, but he describes Sutherland wrapping on his last day on the project. They’re filming in a field. As he’s walking away, wearing a blanket or cloak or something, he does a big wave at Fellini, using the robe for a flourish. It catches the wind, and he’s pulled off-balance and falls in the mud.

He gets up, makes the gesture again, and falls in the mud again.

Moving on again.

This is from Philip Kaufman’s audio commentary on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Kaufman is filming the climax in a big greenhouse with Sutherland way up in the roof beams, clambering about.

A friend drops in. “Is that Donald Sutherland way up there?”

Kaufman confirms that it is.

“What the hell? Don’t you know he’s the clumsiest man alive?

I love Donald Sutherland and I will gladly accept any stories you have about Donald Sutherland falling over.

Mixed Emotions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 28, 2020 by dcairns

I wanted to like Brian DePalma’s DOMINO, like a lot of people I think (some DID like it), but I couldn’t. It is NOT a good movie, imho. And I don’t even know why I wanted to like it, since I don’t think of BDP as a particularly nice character who deserves more success. But, since I’d bought a cheap secondhand copy and was watching it, I would have liked it to be entertaining. And he’s made some good movies — we can all disagree about which ones, which in a way is even better — so one would like to see a modern film with the vibe of (for me) SISTERS, OBSESSION, THE UNTOUCHABLES or even one of the really unpleasant ones, just for a change.

This Euro-pudding, which BDP did not write, may occupy the sort of place in the DePalma oeuvre that BURKE & HARE does for John Landis. “Want to come to some drab country and film this crappy script?” “Sure, I’m free this week!”

I exaggerate. Denmark is probably much nicer than Scotland, where I live. And they made REPTILICUS, which Scotland SHOULD have made.

What you get is the mannerisms of the director without any of the pleasure. BURKE & HARE has director cameos by Costa-Gavras and Michael Winner, and virtually no laughs (Paul Whitehouse squeezed a reluctant guffaw from us by main force). DOMINO has would-be Hitchcockian set-pieces and Pino Donaggio aping Bernard Herrmann on the soundtrack and a creepy interest in hi-tech voyeurism (ISIS execution videos, this time).

Fiona: “Thanks a lot, Brian, I’ve spent the last few years AVOIDING that kind of imagery.”

I point out that it’s an incredibly lame reenactment since the movie doesn’t show the head coming off. The whole point of snuff movies is presumably the “frenzy of the visible,” showing the moment of death in horrible close-up. Everything to do with tech in the film is unconvincing, including the heroine’s phone photos of her holidays with boyfriend “Lars Hansen”:

The movie ends with YouTube exploding. Extremely poor.

Someone on Twitter did point out that the subplot, in which a vengeful Arab character is recruited by Guy Pearce’s dastardly CIA man to bring down a terror cell, and he kills his way through the organisation, driven by rage, would make a much better movie than the main plot. Possibly, but not the way it’s done here. What’s certain is that the two storylines don’t help each other, they just diffuse focus.

Oh, and it begins with two cops, and one of them is older and has a nice, disabled wife. He’s going to get killed, I thought. And then I thought, a reasonably good twist would be to kill the young leading-man type guy, the guy whose girl sleeps in a modesty pouch for some reason. It might not make up for the crushing sense of predictability being experienced in the first place, but it would be a good surprise.

Also, the hero goes on duty and forgets his gun. And then his partner is killed and the bad guy escapes for reasons that actually have nothing to do with the forgotten gun.

Mostly this looks like a TV cop show. But they make some better TV cop shows in Europe.

I’ll say this, it’s a movie that’s ineffective and bad at least in surprising, incomprehensible ways. Why is it called DOMINO when there was a movie of that title fourteen years ago which did not do well and is usually remembered unfavourably? (I genuinely don’t know why this one is called DOMINO, in the sense of, what does it have to do with dominoes? It would only resemble dominoes if you had to knock over each piece with lethal force and they never, ever set off a chain reaction.)

 

Exhumed ex-humans

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2019 by dcairns

The credits of CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD aka LA NUIT DES VAMPIRES aka DER FLUCH DER GRUNEN AUGEN aka BLUTRAUSCH DER VAMPIRE  (1964/5) feature the guy with the greatest Halloween nickname ever, as his real name: Stane Sever.

It’s a West German-Yugoslavian co-production. Alone amid the Eastern block countries, protected by Tito, Yugoslavia made some fun cheesy horror movies in the sixties. Michael Reeves made his first film there, THE SHE-BEAST. This one, however, is directed by Akos V. Ratony, aka Akos Rathonyi, who was nearing the end of his thirty-year career.

Intrepid, boozy, sex-mad detective Adrian Hoven (later a PRODUCER of Euro-horrors) is sent to investigate a series of mystery deaths near a “famous grotto,” each fatality accompanied by a power cut. A story David Lynch might enjoy.

His car conks out just as he arrives at the inn — electromagnetic pulse? or something more sinister, but stupider? Amusingly, when power is restored the next day, the radio is still playing the same tune. That’s how it works, apparently: the radio will pick up where it left off, but maybe play slightly faster until it catches up with the current live broadcast. Either that or Radio Belgrade only has one record to play.

We meet a tavern keeper, a cavern creeper, a wise woman, an unwise woman, a professor who can make his big black candles flame up by breathing on them, like WC Fields, and a deaf mute who’s “harmless, really,” but keeps attacking people — plus he plays the accordion. Not that I’m holding that against him, but it seems inconsistent with his deafness. I suppose he can enjoy the vibrations though. Maybe that’s also why he keeps attacking people. He enjoys the vibrations from his fists thudding into them. While it was, in a way, refreshing to find a hard-of-hearing character portrayed in this unusual way, I felt the other characters were wrong to constantly refer to him as deaf. The thing about this guy isn’t that he’s deaf, or mute, or maybe slow-witted or whatever. The thing about him is that he’s a surly, violent arsehole. The dialogue should not be, “Don’t mind him, he’s deaf,” but rather “Don’t mind him, he’s a violent, surly arsehole. Or maybe do mind him, and give him the occasional punch in the breadbasket.”

There’s also a black manservant working at the local castle (John Kitzmiller from DR. NO). While he’s portrayed as superstitious re vampires, this is perhaps forgivable as he’s RIGHT. More interesting is the fact that the villagers are superstitious of HIM, because of his race, and they’re NOT right. Despite working for the mad scientist vampire troglodyte, he’s thoroughly decent.

I became convinced that at least one, maybe two of the dubbed voices were the same as one of the detectives in Orson Welles’ THE TRIAL. Well, those scenes were seemingly shot in Yugoslavia… but would they have been dubbed there? It seemed unlikely. But I couldn’t shake it. Maybe it was the cavernous echo, and that constipated quality dubbing actors all seem to have because they’re trying to voice three or four different characters. (Welles did a lot of the voices in THE TRIAL himself, and I’d always assumed he was doing that detective. With accompanying strain in voice.)

Really, really shoddy script — we never find out why there are power failures, though we do helpfully cut to the power station at the end where they’re puzzled, too. But old Akos seems to be having fun with a few spooky shots and clever transitions, and his native land has coughed up some good locations.

Am reminded that John Landis conceived AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF OF LONDON after witness a body being buried at a crossroads at midnight on location in Yugoslavia while he was working on KELLY’S HEROES. He later shifted the location to Yorkshire, because they both begin with a Y, I guess.

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD stars Professor Henri Vollmer; Jo le Suedois; Dr. Mabuse; Quarrel; and Stane Sever.