Archive for Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Mondo Kane #5: Chairman of the Board

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-10-25-22h49m08s59 Whereas George Coulouris’ makeups predicted how he would age with uncanny accuracy, Everett Sloane just shaved his head and that was it. Not a flattering discovery for an actor in his thirties to make. But he gets the benefit of the baldness by being able to expressively wrinkle his scalp all the way up to the crown of his head, unlike Joseph Cotten, whose bald cap cracked every time he raised an eyebrow.

CITIZEN KANE’s middle two interviews/flashback frames are its warmest, with both Everett Sloane and Joseph Cotten playing rather lovely old men. Sloane as Bernstein is affability itself, plus he gets the great monologue about the girl in the white dress, Welles’ favourite thing in the picture, and a piece he was quite happy to credit to its author, Herman Mankiewicz. It’s tempting to assume that Welles at twenty-five didn’t have the life experience to come up with something like that, but it would be a mistake to generalize. All we can be fairly sure of is that Mankiewicz at forty-three DID. That nostalgic and philosophical speech lulls us into liking Bernstein, even though as he’s Kane’s toady we should see him as guilty along with the boss-man of all Kane’s cultural crimes.

Indeed, the flashbacks where we see Kane taking over The Inquirer portray Kane, Cotten and Sloane’s characters as horrible brats, gleefully tormenting the aged editor. Erskine Sanford’s overdone huffing and puffing is arguably a necessary bit of comic distance to stop us empathizing too strongly with the victim of the scenes (just as Kubrick encouraged his supporting players into grotesque mugging in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, thus leaving Malcolm McDowell as the only person on-screen we could identify with, despite his abhorrent actions). Interestingly, in the manic TOO MUCH JOHNSON, just rediscovered, Sanford’s performance is one of the quietest. vlcsnap-2013-10-25-22h51m33s223

Oh, and there’s a very daring cut around the camera axis when Kane and Leland enter the Inquirer office, as Leland swings around a pillar — our eye, drawn to the movement, is able to keep us oriented as the angle suddenly jumps across the line.

The second scene, with Sanford’s office transformed into Welles’ dining room, is the bit where Pauline Kael said that Welles had “obviously” been caught by surprise by the camera in mid-snack and good-naturedly kept the footage in the film. As Peter Bogdanovich observed, this does indeed betray an appalling ignorance of how films are made, and a basic inability to observe — the shot is a minute long, near enough, with several carefully timed reframings as Sanford blusters around the little room. Thinking that a camera crew can do all that on the hoof is a bit like thinking the actors are just making up their own dialogue, and the story, wearing what they like. Kind of makes me glad Kael didn’t usually watch movies more than once, because her observations sure don’t get any more astute when, as presumably she did for her Raising Kane piece, she makes repeat viewings.

The question of how much critics need to know about the actual practice of film-making is, I guess, open to debate. But the trouble with Raising Kane is that it comes on like a piece of film history, even though Kael hadn’t researched it the way any historian would, by talking to all the principles — notoriously, she didn’t speak to Welles, even though he had given the publishers the rights to the script and so was presumably contactable. Kael writing film history is like Wilhelm Reich investigating orgone and cloudbusting — taking an approach which seemed adequate to one discipline and applying it to another where it has no place (Reich, like Freud, makes up shit about how the mind works and calls it science — everyone is duly impressed, until he starts saying why the sky is blue based on the same imaginary evidence ). Anyhow, this is all old stuff, but I think Raising Kane should be dug up and kicked every so often as a warning to others. Kael is perfectly entitled to be wrong or “wrong” about RAGING BULL, that is the domain of the critic, but her guesswork and opinion masquerading as research is indefensible.

Back to the film.

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Bernstein, though we love him, is a little shit here.

This time round I’m struck with the ambiguity of Cotten’s performance as he asks to keep the original of Kane’s Declaration of Principles. This could get grotesquely over-earnest as he supposes the piece of paper might become another Constitution, another Declaration if Independence, but he also allows a slight mocking tone to come in, consistent with his status as best pal. Best pals are never over-earnest.

Of course, Leland will eventually throw the D of P back in Kane’s face to shame him as a hypocrite, and is it too much to imagine he already suspects he might have to do this? As with Prince Hal in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, maybe the future betrayer already knows on some level that he will betray, in the name of a greater cause. And Cotten’s choice of his own principles over his friendship with his best buddy IS something Welles would presumably regard as a betrayal, given his regular pronouncements on the primacy of friendship (see the second Georgian toast in MR ARKADIN, and remember also that Welles realized, while giving an interview, that he couldn’t wholly sympathize with Joseph Calleia as Menzies betraying Hank Quinlan, despite the pressing moral reasons for doing so).

Check out Kane’s appalling handwriting — as with the “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper” note, it’s a childish scrawl akin to the gnomic pictograms of Graf Orlok’s correspondence in NOSFERATU. I would assume that Kane cultivated that illiterate scratching to annoy Mr. Thatcher.

Most of the flashback sequences in KANE start light and end dark, and Bernstein’s remembrances begin with everything larks — staying up all night to remake the front page four, no five times, seems consistent with Welles’ tireless work in the theatre, as he generously attributes his own virtues and vices to the character he’s playing. It’s of course a gross mistake to conflate Welles and Kane, who is designed as a kind of anti-Welles, but it’s also a mistake to regard them as completely separate. Kane is a stick Welles through out into space, which boomeranged back.

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Circulation war! And one of the first of Welles’ artsy reflection shots (good ones in AMBERSONS and TOUCH OF EVIL — further evidence that this is all happening inside the snowglobe) — but wait, Bernstein in his office talking to Thompson casts a nifty image in his shiny desktop.

Snazzy photo-transition and we’re into the musical number — yes, the musical number!  (Why didn’t Herrmann do a musical? JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH originally had songs, it’s true, but Herrmann didn’t get to write them, and so they were un-good and so they were cut from the film…) And here Leland worries that the Chronicle’s staff will change Kane, as if he were such an admirable figure to begin with. Well, sure, he’s been crusading against slum landlords, but he’s also been crusading against poor Mr. Silverstein whose wife has “probably” been murdered.

Note the plethora of cartoonish-extreme camera angles — Welles invents MTV. KANE’s long-take technique is flexible enough to be dropped at a moment’s notice, and Welles can bring a Russian montage influence to bear with the same insouciance and the same monumentality he applies to sequence shots. Fiona spends this scene in hysterics at Welles’ “dancing.” We need a compilation clip of this, Oliver Reed in BEAT GIRL and Ed Harris in CREEPSHOW. The anti-Astaires.

Bernstein is very much the court jester / fawning toady here. And it’s arguable that Leland’s later description of Kane as a man who believes in nothing save himself, is more true of Bernstein. But Bernstein doesn’t even believe in himself — he’s nailed his colours to Kane’s mast. And yet I think we like Bernstein more than we like Kane. Kane buys the world’s biggest diamond for his bride-to-be, neatly anticipating Burton & Taylor.

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Kane’s bashful scene — did Welles ever play bashfulness on the screen ever again? There’s that blushing Aw-shucks that Hank Quinlan assumes when his detective’s intuition is praised, but that’s a political pose rather than a sincere emotion. (Quinlan is, among many other things, a great Texas down-home-style bullshitting politician in the tradition of George W. Bush.) Certain aspects of Welles’ performance have drawn too much attention, arguably (his old-age performance perhaps relies too much on Karloffian lumbering) and little moments like this not enough, It’s a beautiful study in an authority figure suddenly way outside his comfort zone and forced to admit humanity.

We leave Bernstein’s memories with a clear romantic cliffhanger, to be taken up again shortly… Back to the framing story, and now it’s dark. The rainstorm arranged outside the window is over, the sky has blackened, and the miniature cityscape is all lit up like fairyland.

Check out the imperceptibly slow creep back from the two figures standing under Kane’s gargantuan portrait. The slow diminution of Mr. Bernstein has something to do with death.

“Just old age. It’s the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don’t look forward to being cured of.”

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Primal Screens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2012 by dcairns

After realizing that I remember, dimly, a bit of the first film I was ever taken to see, I asked to hear about your first cinema experiences, via Facebook. Anybody who didn’t get in on that, feel free to add them in comments. I’m sure we can prove SOMETHING.

THEORY: no matter how traumatic or dull the first cinema experience — we tend to go back.

Moby Longinotto star wars couldn’t read the words at the beginning so my little girlfriend read it for me, I was 5 I think.

Brian Robinson A double bill of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. My dad gave me the choice of that or Grizzly Adams: The Movie. There was no contest. It was weird seeing cartoons on the big screen like that, with the sound so big and booming but I loved it. And the Cyclops chasing chasing Torin Thatcher on the island, “Help me! Help me!” was seared into my mind forever.

I should add I was almost 6 and I think it was the Odeon, Clerk St.

Stevie Hannan Hi David,remember vividly(and I was only four) being taken to see Mary Poppins by my mum at the old ‘Strand’ cinema in Alexandria.I though it was wonderful. So much so that I pleaded with my gran to take me the following evening.She gave in, and a lifelong love affair with films (and Julie Andrews!)had begun.

Diane Henderson Gone With the Wind, but I was very, very young and fell asleep. My first wide- awake cinema experience was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was so small I had to be sat on the arm of my chair to see over the head of the bloke in front.

Nigel R. Smith ‎7 years old as a birthday (not mine) party ‘treat’, we were shoo-ed into Tommy Steele appallathon Half A Sixpence at the Caley cinema. Really put me off ever going to a cinema again – until the following year my dad insisted we see Where Eagles Dare in the same place.

Niall Greig Fulton Mine was Norman McLaren’s 1952 short Neighbours, in an afternoon screening at the Calton Studios.

Chuck Zigman I was four years old, and it was a double feature of the feature animation “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” (1969) and “Scrooge” (1970) with Albert Finney. In the graveyard, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come removes his hood, revealing a skull. I had nightmares for three years after that!

Samuel John Dale When I was two or three my parents took me to see Condorman at the Odeon Chelmsford. As we left the cinema, they realised I was developing conjunctivitis. Condorman will do that to your eyes.

Dan Sallitt I remember going to the drive-in with my father (my mother came along sometimes, but I think my father was choosing the films) when I was four or five to see HERCULES and HERCULES UNCHAINED, and international monster films GORGO (directed by Renoir’s art director Lourié, I just learned) and REPTILICUS. Funny – I just saw HERCULES leading lady Sylva Koscina two days ago in Sautet’s excellent L’ARME À GAUCHE, but I totally forgot that she and I had so much history.

Ali Catterall Aged five, to see the Sound of Music – can’t remember where. I do recall a tremendous mounting excitement in the days leading up to the screening, mainly concerning Julie Andrews. Was she American? (For five year-olds in 1975, Americans were completely exotic and alluring, so much so that we used to claim American parentage in the school playground, for instant credibility.) Was she a New Zealander, like mum? Really, just who was this amazing Julie Andrews we were about to see? But in the dark of the cinema, it wasn’t Andrews I fell for, but Charmian Carr. “Mummy” I gravely whispered, as a rain-soaked Liesl snuck in through the window, “she is more beautiful than Snow White…”

Marvellous Mary Quite alarming going to see Disney’s Snow White in downtown Johannesburg . I lived in a small village in South Africa. So the expereince is all wrapped up with being alarmed at being in such a large auditorium (something the size of the Odeon on Clerk St) and seeing skyscrapers at the same time.

Nicola Balkind I remember Beethoven with my grandma when I was probably about 5. She snored the whole way through it.

Larry Frascella My parents were movie-mad so I’m sure I was one of those crying babies in the theater. But as far as reachable memory goes, from a very early age, way back there in the Italian section of the Bronx, my father would take me to the movies on school nights, which was pretty much unheard of. (Made me very cool at school.) I can’t recall the very first film but it was probably THE MYSTERIANS.

Randall William Cook My mom took me when I was two years old to LILI, in 1953. I have a strong memory of sitting in a dark room, looking up at a window where a puppet show was going on: I thought I was experiencing something real. I remembered nothing else, or so I thought. It was shown in a L.A. revival theatre (the Tiffany?) when I was thirty, and I checked it out. One after another, the film’s images brought back a succession of long buried emotional impressions. That two-year-old had been paying attention, after all. And the damn title song has always given me an emotional working-over.

Chris Dooks Aged six or seven, I was taken to see Jaws at The Regent Cinema, Redcar – I think I was snuck in. It scared the shit out of me, but also because The Regent is literally over the beach and you can hear the water crashing underneath the seats. It is also very damp. Other memories were going to see Convoy there with my dad and brother at an equally young age and I remember having my eyes covered up over a sex scene. In the same cinema now aged 18 I went to see the Exorcist at a re-run late night showing and fell asleep during the first ten minutes as I had six pints of beer in me.

Kristin Thompson On my third birthday my parents gave me a party and took the group to PETER PAN, my first film. The only thing I remember about it is the duel between Peter and Hook at the end. But far more interesting is my mother’s earliest cinema memory. She told me she had been taken at the age of five to a film that impressed her very much. She didn’t remember the title. All she could remember was a woman floating on a lake, supported by reeds. Imagine your earliest memory being SUNRISE on its first run!

Dan Sallitt Randall: in his entry on Charles Walters in THE AMERICAN CINEMA, Andrew Sarris wrote, “The late H. L. Mencken used to boast that he had never seen a movie, but toward the end of his life, this irascible cynic was induced to see LILI, and he loved it!”

Guy Budziak Television. In the late Fifties/early Sixties Universal allowed their classic horror films to be shown on TV late Friday nights as SHOCK THEATER. I was five, and my parents let me stay up past my bedtime to watch THE MUMMY with Karloff. The flashback in the pool of water, where you go back in time and see him buried alive, and the slaves are speared and buried with him. That was the scene that captivated me. I was hooked.

Dan MacRae Probably about 4 years old – taken to the Classic Cinema at the bottom of Renfield Street in Glasgow to see Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Screamed and cried for a while at the arrival of the dinosaurs and felt a horrific sense of desolation when (spoiler alert!) the villain killed the duckling at the end.

Fiona Watson I have two. One is being taken to the Regal Cinema in Broughty Ferry to see Pinochio in a group as part of someone elses Birthday treat, and thinking that the ice-cream woman was GIVING AWAY the frozen goodies. I became quite irritable when I discovered this wasn’t the case. The first, and probably earliest (I think, aged 4 or 5) was being hauled out of The Jungle Book at some now long defunct cinema in Dundee after being traumatised by the appearance of King Louis the orangutan. I started sobbing in terror, loudly. “His arms are too long!” I shrieked as I was dragged intothe lobby. Ironic given my present fascination with primates.

I think it was the ‘skipping with his arms’ thing that did it.

Randall William Cook ‎@Fiona: King Louis arms too long=childhood trauma. King Louis singing like Louis Prima= no big deal.

Fiona Watson I ADORE that sequence now. It’s brilliant!

Chris Schneider My memory, none-too-detailed, is of being taken to a a downtown fancy-schmancy showing of the Disney SLEEPING BEAUTY … and of having some young male malcontents drop a water balloon on my mother and me.

Fiona Watson That’s horrible Chris! I hope they were duly admonished and thrown off the premises.

Chris Schneider Thanks for your sympathy. Perhaps they were sedated and surrounded by a forest’s worth of nettles.

Travis Reeves Mine is very much like Marvellous Mary’s: also Disney’s Snow White at age 5, in downtown Melbourne. Living in sprawling suburbia some ten miles away, Melbourne was a distant hazy Emerald City to us. To actually be there, and in the grandeur of an old cinema was amazing. My twin, Helen, cried at Snow White in her glass coffin. I didn’t, but remember being very sad.

Later, aged about 10, we would be taken to see Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle on successive Saturdays at a tiny independent cinema in Melbourne by our father. As I remember it, the cinema was downstairs, or under the road, and sat maybe 50. I can’t help thinking, years later, that it must have been a porno theatre at some point in its history.

Marvellous Mary I think I too would be aged about 5 or possibly 6 – on the other hand we did have an great uncle who was a real life Willy Wonka who did own the sweetie factory! Other memories include going to Filmhouse from the pend at the backwhen there was ONLY cinema 2 and watching Coalminers Daugher aged 11 or so!

Jim Hickey I was six years old when I saw The Robe on its initial release. So my first film was in Cinemascope with sound that seemed really loud. I loved the rich colours and the costumes and it felt like things were happening for real. We had no television then, of course. I have fond memories of Jay Robinson’s performance as Caligula. And it was a thrill to encounter him soon afterwards in the film’s sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. Seeing the films again some years later I think it was probably Robinson who made me believe I could be an actor. And then I discovered Laurence Olivier.

Simon Fraser I believe that my first film was “Blackbeard’s Ghost” starring Peter Ustinov ( a favourite of my mother’s ) It’s dated 1968 but I’m sure I saw it in 1974 in Halifax Canada. My second movie at the cinema was more interesting, again Halifax but this time it was Moustapha Akkad’s ‘The Message’ about the life of the prophet Mohammed. I believe that there were serious protests about this at the time , people died. It made an impression on me, though I remember little of the film itself.

Jim Hickey The other films that I clearly remember seeing around that time were Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen, Edmund Purdom in The Student Prince and Burt Lancaster in His Majesty O’Keefe – films no-one talks/writes about now, but from which some elements have stayed with me. But I don’t think I want to re-visit them as there are plenty of great films that I still have to see!

Roz Kidd Peter Pan at The old Calais on Lothian Road – was so awestruck that I hung out my window that evening and yelled for Peter Pan to come and teach me to fly!

David Fiore it was definitely Star Wars (during its original release), at the sadly-long gone York Theatre on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal… I was 3. I remember freaking out a little bit during the trash compactor scene, but apparently I managed to keep my cool enough to prevent any ugly incidents with other patrons.

Gareth McFeely My first movie memory is going to see The Cat From Outer Space at the pictures in Fermoy (Ireland), probably in late 1978, when I was almost five. We were back there visiting friends after a move away, and I went off to the pictures with mostly older children. We sat in the front row upstairs in what seemed to me like a vast movie palace, which was of course almost certainly a fleapit (it closed years ago; I’ve no idea what it was called). We watched a film about park rangers and friendly bears (I think; it seemed like a kind of documentary to me), and then enjoyed the main feature. I recollect enjoying the experience but later had terrors at bedtime — something to do with that darned cat — and my hosts had to drive me 15 miles to where my parents were staying.

Then Fiona got in on it and invited her friends —

Kay Goodall My first film was Bambi but I don’t really remember it. The first one I remember was the first I chose to go to, which was The Last Snows Of Spring. It was with my best friend; going by the IMDB date we must have been in primary school; and I sobbed without stopping for the entire final hour. It was a very successful day out.

Fiona Watson I remember the trailer for The Last Snows Of Spring, because that film seemed to be on permanent trail throughout my childhood. Never saw it. Wasn’t up my street at all.

Kay Goodall Yes it mystifies me now.

Mishker McKay At age 4 or 5 it’s The Aristocats for me….I loved Thomas O’Malley. I remember having the 7″ record of the title tune and ‘O’Malley, the Alley Cat’.I also have a memory which may be earlier, of a movie scene where a monkey ends up stranded in a bathroom filling with bubbles; I was distraught! I remember bawling my eyes out as I was convinced it was going to die. It might have been a live action Disney film; any idea which?

Fiona Watson Is it THIS Cliff?

Mishker McKay OMG!!!!!!!! After all these years!!!!!!!!!!!! I was TERRIFIED and it’s all coming back to me now!!!!!!!

Thanks Fiona!!! x

Lorna Hewitt The Jungle book, must have been aged about 4 or 5 as well. Just mesmerised with the music and the jungle and the pretty girl. Was living in Brazil at the time so probably felt it was kinda my back yard. Hah. (Although it’s based in India). That’s earliest, but bestist and the rights of passage film for me was Grease aged 12. Didn’t know what half of it meant (‘wise to the rise in your levi’s’ and ‘bun in the oven’??), just knew I fancied John Travolta! Actually probably more Kenicky. Oh I don’t know, can’t make up my mind even now!…..Useless info but felt I had to get it off my chest! :-D

Roderick Ramsay Earliest – The Incredible Journey (1963). I was pre-school and had to be taken out because I was bawling my eyes out. That would be nigh on 40 years ago. Gosh. I hasten to add that I did not see it IN 1963. It must have been at one of the now sadly defunct Saturday shows they did for kids and was probably around 1973.Scariest? I was 6 and was being babysat by my 13yo aunt who woke me up to come and watch Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein. It was TV though. Scary cinema was Jaws in 1976. It was my first experience of queueing around the block to get into a movie and it was my first A-rated film. It was a huge step up from U-rated and when Richard Dreyfus was trying to find a shark tooth in a wreck my hands locked onto the chair arms in terror. It was a while before i could let go :-)

Most awesome? Being 8 and going to see Star Wars in 1977. Wee spaceship comes on the screen and I thought “Wow!”, then the prow of the Star Destroyer came in from the top of the screen and gradually filled it with huge spaceship awesomeness. One of those cinematic memories that stay forever. Unless you’re my Dad and you fall asleep.

Lorna Hewitt Oh God yeah, Jaws, most impact on my life, still can’t ‘get back into the water’ without a shiver and keeping an eye out!! Agh!

Mark Van-Daal Saturday morning – ABC Minors in Paisley – episodes of Flash Gordon with Larry (Buster) Crab followed by gawd knows what – Disney’s Return from Witch Mountain maybe? Also the Apple Dumpling Gang? I have a ‘hilarious’ story about trying to get in to the Odeon in Renfield St Glasgow to see Alien dressed as a ‘workman’ that my dad had pushed me in to doing. it involved padding my big parka with newspaper, balancing a corduroy Donovan cap with more newspaper perched on my head for extra height and a pair of my mums suede platform boots and my face smeared with brown water colour paint to look like stubble. The Odeon Renfield St weren’t buying it and my Dad had to take me home again. Also me and my tike pals used to sneak in the fire exit and hide under a stage in front of the big screen and watch thing and Burt Cort buddy movies that were a kind of shit Cheech N Chong. Also queuing for hours to see Star Wars but I suspect that’s standard fare for most people in this thread.

Mark Van-Daal Oh and at Primary School we were taken to rooms below the Art Galleries in Glasgow to watch a special screening of the Amazing Mr Blunden (it was a posh school -we did lots of stuff like that)

Lorna Hewitt That’s so weird Mark, I remember going to see Saturday Night Fever, aged 15(?) dressed as an ‘adult’, with the help of my mum’s props no less, so I wore her tweed hat and carried a long black umbrella which I swung in a jaunty fashion! Strange to think that that’s what I thought someone of 18 would wear! More 80! Me and my 3 pals somehow got in hiding behind my older sister who bought the tickets for us. Another give away I somehow think!

My first ‘X’ rated film…

Roderick Ramsay I never saw an ‘X’ at the cinema as they changed ratings when I was 14. There’s a long-ish story where I saw Conan The Barbarian at 13 – underage for a AA-rated film and then was denied entry for the same film 6 months later when I was finally 14 but they’d changed it to a 15-rating.

My first 18-rated movie was The Company Of Wolves. I was 15 or 16 but was accompanied by an alleged adult. I think we all probably remember the first time we broke new ground in ratings: Jaws, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Company of Wolves for me.

Fiona Watson I remember queueing all afternoon in Dundee to see Star Wars (dropped off by Mum, left there, then picked up again after the screening). There was a man with half an arm standing infront of me. I spent the best part of three hours staring at his stump. I also remember seeing Jaws at The Regal in Broughty Ferry, again I was on my own (I was ALWAYS going to the cinema on my own as a kid!) and made the mistake of sitting next to ‘bigger girls’. Just before the ‘head in the bottom of the boat’ reveal was about to happen, the ominous music and general set up cued me into knowing a scary bit was coming up. The ‘big girls’ had apparently seen it before, so I trustingly asked them to ‘tell me when it was all over’ and put my hands over my eyes. Seconds later I get a dig in the ribs and look. IT WAS THE F***IN HEAD! They all pissed themselves laughing as I shot vertically out of my seat. I couldn’t even move because it was a sell out. Bitches…

Mishker McKay Hilarious reading about Lorna’s 18 outfit; I worked in the Odeon a long time ago and received training on how to spot/ interrogate and trip up such types when I was on the ticket desk. Was a great job ruined by the ‘dark sales’ girl leaving; every 4 weeks it was my turn to don the tray of KiaOra and Cornettos. The effin stap was too short and leaning down to let others see my wares my change would cascade in among the choc-ices and Strawberry mivis. The last straw was facing the packed screen 1 on a Saturday night, Crocodile Dundee if you please. The jeers of ‘check the poof wi the ice cream’ was just too much to bear!

Fiona Watson (a different Fiona Watson, confusingly) Wow! I have loved reading these. I have vague memories of seeing Snow White at a drive in movie in Australia when I was 4 or 5 and not being able to see properly as we were in the back seat. My first proper memory is being taken to the Odeon in Derby, England by my Nana to see the Sound of Music. I was 7 and had never seen a musical before. I was spellbound by the hugeness of it all. I remember wondering about the ‘soldiers’ in it and why they wanted to catch the Von Trapps. It was a few years before I put the horrors of the Nazi’s into the film and realised the darker side that was present. To this day I still find new things on the odd occasion I watch this film. I think it was that outing that created the bond between myself and my Nana because we liked the same things and I have loved musicals ever since.

Mark Medin Mine is different than most since my dad hated going to movie houses from about the time Jeanette and Nelson quit being a team (I only wish I were joking about that). My first cinema experience was going to a matinee to watch a movie my brother wanted to see. We bought tickets and this place had only one bored ticket taker who didn’t even direct us, so we walked into the wrong theater (it was an early multiplex, I think it had three or five screens). So I got to watch The Long Goodbye almost in its entirety (it had already begun, we got there just when Gould was returning from the supermarket to feed his cat). I was 12, TLG was an R rated film, and I got away with it. I think many theaters in the ’70s were pretty lax in enforcing age restrictions. My friends never had trouble getting into R films at certain theaters.

I think I recounted this once already. Maybe twice.

Ceiling Hero

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by dcairns

CITIZEN KANE images via Checking on My Sausages.

In between saying inspiring things like, “Remake ORDINARY PEOPLE. Do it in your apartment. Play all the roles. Make it in a day,” my host in NYC, the esteemed Comrade K, projection into our sphere of a numinous, n-dimensional shepherd-warrior from a land before history, got me started on the following set of thoughts by an offhand remark, which went something like, “People were amazed by the ceilings in CITIZEN KANE. Nobody had ever seen a ceiling before. People couldn’t look up before Orson Welles showed them how.”

He’s right! Welles made the breakthrough by practicing a unique form of yogic meditation taught him by Rudy Vallee. This resulted in the opening of Welles’s “third eye,” which coincided with him lying on his back, causing him to discover the ceiling of his living room. It has been argued that people intuitively knew of the existence of ceilings before this, since logically every floor must have an underside. Some feminist writers have suggested that the ceiling’s true discoverer was a woman, arguing that the prevalence of the missionary position in pre-war life made such an awareness inescapable for the fair sex. But this strikes me as akin to arguing that people “had dreams” before Freud taught them how in his hit book, Close Your Eyes and Move Them Rapidly About.

Some point to the glass ceiling shot in Hitchcock’s THE LODGER as a pre-Wellesian ceiling, but in fact this is nothing more than a glass floor, above which Hitchcock suspended his camera while two burly stagehands held Ivor Novello upside down so he could place his feet on the translucent surface and mimic the actions of a right-side-up walker.  So in fact the shot actually depicts a floor, with Novello on the other side of it. Incidentally, Novello enjoyed the experience so much that he spent a month traveling this way, and had it specified in future contracts that all his films must include upside down walks. Novello later composed “Rose of England” in an entirely inverted position, complete with upside-down grand piano strapped to the backs of a half-dozen burros.

In explaining his concept to art director Van Nest Polglase, Welles was faced with the difficulty of introducing the concept of the ceiling to a man who, like everyone else in 1940s America, had never seen one. Resistant to yogic disciplines, Polglase finally had to be shoved onto his back and held down by Joseph Cotten, while Welles peeled back the eminent designer’s eyelids and forced him to look. Concerted to the cause, “Poley” later became a great proselytizer for the ceiling, even having a house constructed in Beverly Hills composed entirely of ceilings, top, bottom and sides, inside and out. The famous Polglase House was later purchased by James Mason, who had a notorious phobia of doors*. Living in a home whose rooms could be accessed only by skylights appealed greatly to the Huddersfield-born actor.

In addition to the heavily corniced plaster ceilings displayed in KANE, there were several “trick ceilings” — canvas ceilings through which sound could be recorded, and matte painting ceilings to fill in the top portions of large sets, where a real ceiling would be too costly or frightening. Welles also used his mastery of sleigh-of-hand to suggest ceilings that weren’t actually there, enlisting the audience’s imagination by saying things like “Look at that amazing CEILING!” while subtly pointing upwards, or hanging photographs and etchings of great ceilings from history around the walls of a ceiling-less set. In the New York Inquirer set, Welles experimented with rear projection, stretching a screen across the top of the set walls and projecting outtakes from SON OF KONG onto it, but test audiences found the stop motion pterodactyls distracting, and the notion was abandoned.

When KANE was released, the impact was extraordinary. Columbia boss Harry Cohn immediately called in architects to build a ceiling for his office, which until that point had opened on to the room above, forcing the accounts department to rappel from the ceiling to reach their work stations. Suddenly, it became possible to build structures higher than a couple of storeys, and miracle “skyscrapers” mushroomed up in America’s great cities. (Tall buildings seen in pre-1941 movies were always fantastical special effects.)

While Hollywood legend has it that Welles’s film was a flop, it has been suggested that audiences, alerted to these mysterious planes above their heads, became distracted from the cinema screen and spent the movie’s running time staring upwards past the projector beam. Not for the first time, Welles had been too innovative for his own good.

*In civilian life, Mason was only able to enter a room by the window, or while strapped to a hospital gurney, or sometimes both. Ironically, in the movies, he could “act” walking through a door with ease and even suavity, even picking up awards for his smooth entrances. Whereas Pat Boone, Mason’s co-star in JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, could enter a room in a graceful, natural manner, but invariably either stumbled, fainted, or soiled himself when called upon to do so for the films.