Archive for John Lennon

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Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2021 by dcairns

PAY DAY, continued…

The actual pay day bit of PAY DAY isn’t so hot. Charlie thinks he’s been underpaid, because he can’t count. Seems weird that we’re in 1922 and Chaplin is still getting his character wrong. We don’t think of Charlie as stupid. We presume him to be uneducated, but this business doesn’t seem to suit him, and anyway it doesn’t lead to anything funny.

Yay, Phyllis Allen! A woman who must have been a very good sport, given the way Chaplin always casts her. This is a one-minute, one-facial-expression by the Great Bone Face, playing Charlie’s shrewish wife. This is a rare case where Charlie’s hankering after Edna is actually adulterous, though we don’t know what at the time. The whole gag here is Charlie, out in full view, plotting how he can keep back the housekeeping money from his wife, who is watching every moment,ready to pounce and abstract the cash from him.

The Charlie of PAY DAY is a much more wretched figure than usual. The film can be seen as a fairly vicious condemnation of the working man under capitalism: he doesn’t organise his labour, he’s too busy indulging in the pitiable vices society allows him. The bitterness for once suits Chaplin’s biography, as the son of a man who drank himself to death. Charlie’s left enough drinking money to get thoroughly soused, and we iris out on him and his cronies setting the world to rights at closing time. And what cronies! John Rand, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin, Loyal Underwood, Al Ernest Garcia, and Syd. Is this Charlie’s last film as a drunkard? It has some of the best drunk action.

The coat! Charlie manages to get one arm into his overcoat but the other one goes into Henry B.’s overcoat, and Henry plods off, basically wearing Charlie. Next is a great bit with the cane. The cane is fantastically useful as a prop, as we well know by now. We can relate it to the jester’s bladder and stick if we like. This gag actually requires Charlie to LOSE his cane, so the gag had better be a good one if it’s to be worth it. It is, and it is.

Seeing Bergman struggle with his umbrella, Charlie helps. But what he hands back is his cane, and Henry, too pissed to notice, stands in the rain holding this futile object. As if this weren’t enough, Charlie is now wearing both of their coats. Henry’s miserable condition is funny enough for Chaplin to cut back to him, twice, just standing there like a putz.

This all reminds me somewhat of GOOD NIGHT, NURSE!, the Arbuckle-Keaton short best remembered for Buster’s blood-spattered appearance as a prototype of William Burroughs’Dr. Benway (thanks to Dan Sallitt, I think it was, for that comparison). But it begins with a full reel of a thoroughly guttered Fatty standing, just barely, in a torrential downpour. Impressively abject stuff. It doesn’t seem that likely that Chaplin would consciously imitate it… but then, he did steal the dance of the bread rolls from Arbuckle…

Charlie now has trouble with streetcars.The first one to show up is immediately swarmed by undercranked commuters, buzzing like flies, a rare instance of Chaplin using extreme accelerated motion. It’s like Nosferatu packing his coffin.

Meeting Henry again, Charlie regains his cane (of course, how could I have doubted this?) but loses both overcoats in his haste to catch the streetcar. This is all impressive night-for-night shooting — and unless Chaplin somehow diverted a streetcar into his studio, it seems like he’s intercutting his studio street with a real one, quite seamlessly.

David Robinson notes that PAY DAY was a comparatively brisk shoot, with no major hold-ups save a break when Chaplin caught cold around Christmas. A fairly clear plan, a rarity for Chaplin, enabled him to shoot the second half of the film first. I guess the plot of this one is so simple — basically work, drink, go home — the structure didn’t present any difficulties, and the business of coming up with business was something that came comparatively easy to the authentic comedy genius.

The last streetcar is so fantastically overcrowded it looks like someone pasted it with glue and flung men at it. Charlie loses his grip on it, tearing off another passenger’s trousers, after paying his fare. Here, Rollie Totheroh’s lighting is less successful — the tram is illuminated as if by a moving spotlight. I guess it could be the headlights of a car following close behind. And I guess no other solution would have been available unless you were going to light a whole street for night shooting.

Charlie, drunker than we would have thought, or can believe, rushes into a lunch wagon and grabs a hanging sausage, thinking himself in a streetcar holding a hand strap. Brilliantly, it’s Syd’s lunch wagon from A DOG’S LIFE, though Syd has modified his makeup from that film. Maybe this is the brother of the chap from ADL. I feel the gag, which is magnificent, is weakened a little by coming after some very vigorous athletic business from Charlie which makes me think he can’t be as drunk as he seems here.

Good bit where he tries to light the sausage.

Leaving his brother at the lunch wagon, Charlie meets… his brother, playing someone else. The shuffling of players is as bold as that in a Monty Python film (where it feels quite natural — it’s the OBSCURE OBJECT trick played over and over again).

Back at the Chaplin residence, Phyllis Allen is not quite “nursing her wrath to keep in warm,” in Robert Burns’ immortal phrase, but she’s asleep with a rolling pin ready in her hand, so she can wake up berating. A title tells us it’s five a.m. Charlie has been wandering lost, presumably, for hours, unless closing time was a lot later in the 1920s. Actually, since the Volstead Act had been in effect for two years, the whole thing may be an anachronism — but if we assume Charlie and his mates were at a speakeasy, closing time probably doesn’t apply so he might have left at, say, 4 a.m. On the other other hand, speakeasies probably didn’t encourage customers to gather, swaying, on the street outside. Let’s just agree this is Chaplin’s version of Los Angeles-London, where the pubs still open.

Not such a great backdrop. Quite detailed, but I think what lets it down is the way the building we see is square-on with the window, which is perfectly possible, even likely, but increases our sense of looking at a painted flat, and the large, featureless expanse of ground at the bottom. Charles D. Hall usually did better than this.

Inside Charlie’s flat is a far superior window view, though it seems to contradict everything about the previous one. Strictly speaking, the views of these two adjacent windows should be nearly identical. And, in fact, Hall seems to have painted over View #1, adding the roof corner to the foreground which vastly improves the sense of perspective and the compositional interest. The lighting also really helps this one.

The table laden with cats is a great, rather abstract gag. I like the fellow on the left who thinks he’s in an Ozu film. The cat infestation has cleaned up Charlie’s supper, but fortunately he’s come home with a huge sausage. Thus nature balances itself.

A tiny cat steals the massive sausage. I suspect a long balloon may have been substituted, otherwise the feat would be impossible. One is put in mind of those ants carrying burdens far heavier than themselves.

Charlie oiling his boots so they won’t squeak is an excellent gag, very him. In a sound film he could have fun deciding whether the oil works.

A cartoon gag — the alarm clock shakes as it rings. My first thought was that this was a necessary exaggeration, but it really isn’t — the bell atop the alarm clock is quite capable of showing us that it’sgone off. So Chaplin wanted the exaggeration — but it’s an unusual move for him.

The next gag — Charlie,undressing for bed, immediately goes into reverse so that he seems to be dressing FROM bed, gaslighting his wife into believing he’s been home for hours, was good enough for Steve Martin to nick it in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, I believe. And I think Martin’s version might be better, because of the fluidity of the movement: Charlie oversells the idea of his being flustered, improvising desperately. I guess that’s his thing, whereas Keaton could do things like a man in a dream.

The threat of Phyllis is once again used for dramatic/comedic irony/poignancy, as she lurks behind Charlie, full aware of his latest imposture. Like John Lennon in Norwegian Wood, he “crawls off to sleep in the bath,” but like himself in ONE A.M. and A NIGHT OUT and CAUGHT IN THE RAIN, he finds the tub full of water. The movie, like those pervious ones, could have ended there, but Chaplin finds a flurry of variants — he turns on the hot tap so he can have a nice warm sleep, Phyllis catches him so he pretends he’s bathing, fleeing the scene he retrieves his last penny from under the doormat but she’s watching him, yet again. He ends on a furious closeup of Phyllis, gesticulating with a milk bottle, and the superimposed THE END is surely a more modern addition.

Woodery Pokery*

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2014 by dcairns

HELP!

*Woodery pokery = John Gielgud’s term for playwright Charles Wood’s verbal gymnastics.

HELP! had an unusual genesis. The Beatles had contracted to make three films, and the roaring success of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT made it inevitable that United Artists would take them up on the option.  Director Richard Lester has described how the film was defined by what it couldn’t be – it couldn’t revisit the Beatles working lives, because that had been done, and it couldn’t tackle their off-duty lives because those were x-rated. As it is, it’s surprising that we get to see the boys smoke (tobacco) and order (but not drink) “two lagers and lime and two lagers and lime.”

And also Lester felt the band were not ready to play anything other than themselves (D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers were mooted, but would have to wait until Lester was ready himself). There was not only the question of acting skill, there was the fact that these four men were famous AS THEMSELVES, and any Beatles movie was going to have them playing their hits, so how convincing would any impersonation of fictional characters be?

So the solution was unavoidable – the Beatles, playing cartoon versions of themselves, deposited in a fantasy plot in which they can be buffeted about. French writer Marc Behm sold the team on a storyline where Ringo, established in the first film as the most vulnerable Beatle, can’t take the pressure of fame and hires a stranger to kill him. He regrets it the next day, but teere’s no way to call the hitman off. This was agreed as the storyline, and then Jean-Paul Belmondo starred in LES TRIBULATIONS D’UN CHINOI EN CHINE with exactly the same story. Lester didn’t know until I told him that the plot stems from Jules Verne, and that Behm was thus offering them stolen goods.

Nevertheless, Behm got the job of coming up with a fresh plot, and the one he created, in which Ringo is pursued by an Indian death cult who want his ring, in perfectly serviceable. Since Behm couldn’t write scouse, Charles Wood, who had just adapted THE KNACK with Lester, got the job of taking the story to screenplay form.

“It was just an assignment,” Wood is quoted as saying in Andrew Yule’s patchy Lester bio, The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, “I don’t think I did a particularly good job.”

I beg to differ: a very good job, and a very odd job too. One could wish it had a bit more resolution – even with almost nothing to resolve, it needs some comeuppance for baddies Leo McKern and Victor Spinetti, I feel. The “character arc” bit, in which Ringo is required to show courage, is slightly underdone – it reads fine in the published script, but doesn’t quite catch fire onscreen. Maybe because the Beatles made the film under the influence of wacky baccy, and so their performances aren’t quite as enthusiastic as before. Lester resorted to saying their lines ahead of them and getting them to copy his phrasing, just to get them through a take. Lennon claimed the best bits were all on the cutting room floor, with him and his mates falling about in hysterics.

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Ringo is kind of a great bad actor, or non-actor, or un-actor, entertaining in his failure to seem like he’s mentally present in a scene, but one of my fave exchanges in the script is utterly nailed by him. The team are speculating about how the unwanted ring can be detached from Ringo’s pinkie.

“The fire brigade got my head out of some railings once.”

“Did you want them to?”

“No. I used to leave it there when I wasn’t using it for school. You can see a lot of the world from railings.”

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The last sentence is delivered with just the perfect sort of faraway wisdom, with Richard Starkey OBE staring into the middle distance. I think Ringo succeeds so well here because he has the attractive quality of a child, unaware of saying something funny.

The script is full of abstract non-jokes – either Lester and Wood trusted the young audience to get them – to laugh at a non-joke you have to be smart enough to process the material and instantly realize that there’s nothing hidden there that you’re not getting – or they didn’t care, knowing that the audience would turn up for the Beatles alone and be happy as long as they got to look at them and hear them play, so why not just entertain yourself and the smartest person in the room? At any rate, it’s a wonderfully nonsensical thing, more Reeves & Mortimer than Monty Python, exulting in language. The weakest bits are the straight puns (“It’s the brain drain. His brain’s draining.) which aren’t in the original script anyway, or not in the form they wound up in. I prefer the odd constructions like “Jeweller, you’ve failed, jeweller.”

Anyway, Lester’s visuals are dazzling, but the words deserve appreciation too.

My latest film is a video essay for the Criterion Blu-Ray of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Pre-order it here: A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD)

 

Things I Read Off the Screen in “The Shining”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by dcairns

To Edinburgh Filmhouse (last week) to see ROOM 237: BEING AN INQUIRY INTO THE SHINING IN 9 PARTS. Rodney Ascher’s essay film is a perpetual joy, cunningly assembled from (sometimes manipulated) bit of Kubrick movies and other (tangentially) related films. Six obsessives describe their theories about the “true” meaning of Kubrick’s horrorshow, which range from “secret, encoded study of the Holocaust” to “secret, encoded meditation on the genocide of the American Indians” to “secret, encoded confession to a role in faking the Apollo moon landing footage.” Despite the eccentricity of some of the claims, the evidence the offscreen voices cite is really there, and most of it seems to be there on purpose to signify something. My only problem was, “If THE SHINING is ‘really’ about the moon landings, why does it have all this stuff about the Holocaust? And if it’s ‘really’ about the Holocaust, why does it have all this stuff about the Indians?”

Each of the film-analysts is focussing very selectively, and each of them is somewhat guilty of the intentional fallacy, assuming they can read Kubrick’s intent, although one does helpfully acknowledge this fallacy and admit that what Kubrick may have intended is unknowable to critics and doesn’t, ultimately, matter.

While one commentator was talking about the partially occluded Indian heads on the cans of Calumet baking soda in this scene, I started scanning the other containers in the b/g to see if I could find anything else of interest. I did!

PIMENTO PIECES. SLICED PEACHES. TOMATO KETCHUP.

All these references to “pieces” and “slices” are deliciously pointed, considering that Jack is working up to trying to dismember his family (which we already know because of the example of caretaker Grady before him). And that is likely the reason the Indian heads are all chopped up by the composition — think also of the spectral party guest with the split head — and rogue English accent. In fact, why are the 1920s flashback/visions populated with Englishmen (Grady himself is the very British Philip Stone)? Only Lloyd the bartender is a red-blooded American. Since Kubrick is shooting in England but dragging Albion up as Colorado, it seems odd that he should so nakedly display the falsity of the premise — but it’s in keeping with the various ways in which the insistently real, textured banality of the hotel set is made to behave in an unreal, Escher-like way, folding in on itself with dream geography so that little Danny can cycle round a corner and find himself one story up.

One interesting lacuna not addressed by any of the commenters, but noted by the mighty Michel Ciment in his Kubrick book, is that Grady the waiter/caretaker has two names to go with his two jobs: we’re told about a Charles Grady, but then he gives his name as Delbert Grady. Why? Maybe it’s part of duality (“You know, the Jungian thing?”) — two names, two jobs, two daughters…

The most obvious things to read in THE SHINING are the titles, in a typical Kubrick sans-serif font, but with a glowing, modern look that suggests sci-fi rather than Gothic (which is apt: the film’s denial of dark shadows miffed Pauline Kael). And then there’s the intertitles, which start explicatory and wind up pretty confusing, another random element hurled in to throw us off-balance — they more closely resemble the title cards of early Bunuel, which make perfectly sensible statements like “Sixteen years ago” and “In Spring,” yet become darkly funny and absurd because of the context they’re spliced into.

Then there’s Jack’s novel, which some poor bastard had to type up — it matters that this doesn’t look photocopied, every page is different, complete with typos — “All work and no play makes Jack a dull bot.” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull bog.” “All work and no play makes Jack adult boy.”

Students of the life of John Barrymore will recognize where Stephen King got the inspiration for this freaky revelation. It also reminds me of a plot point from Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme, which sadly never made it into Robert Fuest’s tasty film. One of the novel’s MacGuffins is a book written by the American astronaut who spent the longest time in space. When finally obtained, the voluminous manuscript turns out to consist of the single word “ha” repeated a great many times.

“That madman business” — Shelley Duvall is reading The Catcher in the Rye, favourite reading material of crazed loners. Also, the book, favoured by John Lennon’s killer (and later by Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassin) takes its title from a Mondegreen, the lead character’s misapprehension of a song lyric. Stephen King took the title for The Shining from the lyric “And we all shine on” from the John Lennon song Instant Karma.

In the background of the Torrance kitchen we can see a bottle of Joy. The fact that advertisers chose to name a cleaning product “joy” displays baldly the sheer blistering contempt they held for housewives.

Off to the Overlook!

The KEEP THIS AREA CLEAN sign is darkly amusing, in context.

PLEASE PUT CUPS AND OTHER GARBAGE IN THE BINS PROVIDED

Oddly aggressive tone to this notice, don’t you think? Why is my cup garbage?

During this scene, where the chair behind Jack playfully vanishes and returns between reverse angles, the scrapbook in front of Jack also executes a neat unseen page-turn, although it maintains perfect continuity during the vanishing chair sequence — which is intriguing, because if we try to explain the missing chair by suggesting one of those shots was a pick-up, filmed weeks later, it’s hardly likely that the scrapbook continuity would match so perfectly. The scrapbook calmly bides its time until a wide shot gives it the opportunity to flip on a page or two.

The scrapbook is significant — Jack is researching the Overlook’s past, and when he meets Grady he recognizes him from his picture. I think there’s more of this in the book, whereas at least in the UK edit it’s unlikely anybody would notice the book and understand what it was there for.

NEWSWATCH. 10 GLENN RINKER. WPLG Miami.

Kubrick filmed this shot with the newly developed “ScatCam.”

Weirdly, the show is announced as “Newswatch 10” but the title just says “Newswatch.” Then anchorman Glenn Rinker is introduced, and the caption says “10 Glenn Rinker” which is just weird. It does actually seem like a moronic mistake, as if the captions guy had a scrap of paper with “Newswatch 10 Glenn Rinker” scrawled on it and he decided to break it up in the wrong place. Although it may be a veiled reference to Professor Ten Brinken from Hanns Heinz Ewers’ horror classic Alraune (filmed twice with Brigitte Helm).

The shorter UK edit (prepared by Kubrick himself after the American release) omits all the cartoons viewed by Danny, but we still have numerous cartoon characters in the form of stickers (with the vanishing Dopey), the Bugs Bunny-derived nicknamed “Doc,” and the presence of Scatman Crothers — but everybody is too polite to say “Weren’t you Hong Kong Fooey”?

In ROOM 237, much is made of Kubrick’s slow dissolves, particularly an early crossfade from hotel exterior to interior in which a stepladder echoes the point of the hotel’s roof. I agree that this is deliberate, and I think it may also be a tribute to Max Ophuls, who tracks past a stepladder in a hotel lobby at the start of THE RECKLESS MOMENT (another stepladder pops up earlier in Ophuls’ DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO — I think he liked stepladders). Kubrick admired Ophuls and dedicated a shot in PATHS OF GLORY to the German director, on the day he learned of his death.

Fiona pointed out that in a later dissolve, Jack on his writing “throne” seems to acquire a matching “crown,” actually a light fitting bleeding through from the incoming scene. Again, this seems deliberate.

Kubrick insists, here and in EYES WIDE SHUT, that it is possible to perform oral sex through a full-face mask. “How much sex did Kubrick have?” pondered Fiona. Still, this is an impressive early appearance by “furries,” those creepy sex fetishists who get off on dressing up like cartoon animals. But it’s not the earliest!

This is SUPERBITCH, aka SI PUO ESSERE PIU BASTARDI DELL’ISPETTORE CLIFF? with Stephanie Beacham as a high-class escort giving the five-star treatment to a rich perv. I guess the furry fetish probably originated with fancy dress parties — alcohol, dancing, dressing up, can sex be far away? Then again, for some the connection may stem from early sexual fantasies being formed in childhood, while surrounded by cute imagery of talking chipmunks.

BTW, sorry my SHINING stills are 4:3. That’s the format Kubrick insisted on when his films first had their DVD release. Perfectionist, my ass!

“I don’t particularly like writing on the screen.” ~ Stanley Kubrick.