Archive for Jules Verne

Page Seventeen II: The Search for Curly’s Gold

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2021 by dcairns

‘Now,’ said my uncle, addressing himself to me directly, ‘in order to read the sentence you have just written, ‘I have only to take the first letter of each word, then the second, then the third, and so on.’

Underworld, a silent picture, opened on Broadway in the same month as The Jazz Singer. Dialogue would turn out to be as important to the crime film as it was to another genre which developed in the ‘thirties, the screwball comedy. The dialogue gave crime movies much of their flavour, starting with the steely terseness of the opening speeches by Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar: ‘Diamond Pete Montana – he doesn’t have to waste his time on cheap gas stations. He’s somebody. He’s in the big time, doing things in a big way. And look at us – just a couple of nobodies. Nothing . . . . Say, I could do all the things that fellow does, and more, only I never got my chance . . . . What is there to be afraid of? And when I get in a tight corner, I’ll shoot my way out of it. Why, sure. Sure. Shoot first and argue afterwards . . .’

The Antrobuses have survived fire, flood, pestilence, the seven-year locusts, the ice age, the black pox, the double feature, a dozen wars, and as many depressions. They have run many a gamut, are as durable as radiators, and look upon the future with a disarming optimism, Ultimately, bewitched, befuddled, and becalmed, they are the stuff of which heroes are made–heroes and buffoons. They are true offspring of Adam and Eve, victims of all the ills that flesh is heir to. They have survived a thousand calamities by the skin of their teeth, and Mr. Wilder’s play is a tribute to their indestructibility.

Osman kept pressing. At over six foot, he had the bearing of an old-fashioned military officer and the manner to go with it – abrupt in a way that could easily be interpreted as rude. He did not suffer fools gladly. The next year he attended a meeting of the Committee on Imperial Defence, explaining that it was a blunder not to have maintained a compulsory register of pigeon owners. His profound knowledge of pigeons was clear but there was also an element of self-interest – he proposed that an appeal for volunteers could be made through the Racing Pigeon, the newspaper he edited. It was agreed that a committee of four — including Osman – should start a National Pigeon Service, the NPS. It was to be riven by bitter infighting.

We’ll have cots out in the middle of the track, the promoter said, ‘and have the doctor and nurses on hand during the derby. When a contestant falls and has to go to the pit, the partner will have to make two laps to make up for it. You kids will get more kick out of it because the crowds will be bigger. Say, when that Hollywood bunch starts coming here, we’ll be standing ’em up . . . . Now, how’s the food? Anybody got any kicks about anything? All right, kids, that’s fine. You play ball with us and we’ll play ball with you.’

Perhaps in response to Alvarez’s questioning, the screen began to show old newsreels of Adolf Hitler at Nuremberg, Hitler relaxing at home near the Austrian border, Hitler fondling little children. These were swiftly replaced with images of Kemal Ataturk smiling sternly at his modernized countrymen. Mussolini, Stalin, Trotsky, Lenin, Franco were played in a sequence culminating with a trembling still of Birmingham a few seconds before she was taken out.

‘Your intellectual, social, political status could be pegged by knowing which coffee house you called home away from home,’ observed the Hollywood director André De Toth who had grown up in Hungary and worked for Alex Korda in the 1930s. Korda’s home from home was the Café New York. A favourite haunt of writers and artists, it was, in Paul Tabori’s description, run by ‘a most understanding head-waiter who acted as pawnbroker, money-lender, father confessor and agent to his large, varied clientéle.’ It was a place both to meet people and also to work. You could spend hours at a time here nursing just a cup of coffee. The most indigent person could swell with confidence in its palatial surroundings. ‘They sent you off to face the day not thinking, but knowing you are the king,’ recalled De Toth. But there were niceties to observe. ‘It all depended, of course, on how well you tipped.’

View but his picture in this tragic glass, says the Prologue, And then applaud his fortunes as you please.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from seven books bought from Edinburgh’s charity shops.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne; A Pictorial History of Crime Movies by Ian Cameron; From the program notes of The Skin of Their Teeth by Thornton Wilder, quoted in Kazan on Directing by Elia Kazan; Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Corera; Black Box Thrillers: 4 Novels by Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy (natch); The Alchemist’s Question, from The Opium General and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock; Korda, Britain’s Only Movie Mogul by Charles Drazin; Tamburlaine the Great, quoted in J.B. Stean’s introduction to Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays.

20,000 Leagues of Their Own

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2021 by dcairns

Inspired by the Karel Zeman documentary we didn’t watch a Zeman film but instead looked at Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. First time I’ve made it through the thing, more or less, without drifting off. And yet, it’s not THAT boring.

It’s an impressive technical feat — everything they need to do, they pull off, and Bob Mattey’ giant squid is a wow. No wonder they brought him out of retirement to do Bruce the shark in JAWS. Quick! What was Richard Fleischer’s lawyer’s name? If we knew that, we would know what the squid should be called.

Melvin? Ken? Diablo?

Jules Verne’s episodic, meandering novel has given the adaptors some trouble — scenarist Earl Felton had written a couple of LONE WOLF movies (yay!) and a few small-scale works for Richard Fleischer, including the fantastic THE NARROW MARGIN, and suddenly he’s charged with penning this undersea epic which never had much of a plot. Once the protagonists are taken prisoner by Captain Nemo (James Mason) there’s nothing to do except wander around the magnificent Victorian sub, and go for the occasional jaunt. It all looks great but there’s no dramatic ticking clock to say anything in particular needs doing.

It’s interesting that Nemo is an ambiguous character and the fellow most sympathetic to him, Professor Arronax (Paul Lukas) is also most sympathetic to us. No strong decision seems to have been taken as to who Peter Lorre is playing, so the film’s best actor is somewhat rudderless, although as Fiona pointed out it’s kind of nice to see him playing somebody basically nice. And then there’s Ned Land, whaler and troilist, an appalling lout-hero, ably personated by Kirk Douglas, giving it both knees as usual. This seems to connect somehow to the Harryhausen/Juran FIRST MEN IN THE MOON — both feature delightful Victorian scifi vehicles (see also Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE) and thuggish heroes contrasted with appealing but powerless intellectuals. The Harryhausen movie actually made this WORK, though. (And this almost brings us back to Zeman, since his BARON PRASIL begins with a modern cosmonaut meeting Munchausen on the moon, much like FIRST MEN’s NASA opening, drafted by Nigel Kneale.)

THE BLACK HOLE, it’s been pointed out, is Disney’s unofficial remake of LEAGUES — Maximilian Schell even borrows James Mason’s beard (well, he had no further use for it) — to the extent of stealing the maelstrom from Verne, which doesn’t appear in the movie, and putting it front and centre and calling it a black hole. Where LEAGUES is meandering, though, HOLE is violently incoherent, though it does have an insane psychedelic/religiose ending which elevates it to the category of something or other that happened.

This must surely have been storyboarded to within an inch of its life but, curiously enough, Fleischer’s compositional genius isn’t much in evidence. I guess it’s his first Scope film.

Asides from the actors named above, the movie has one other favourite figure, Percy Helton, who turns up at the start as a salty sea-dog, looking less grotesque than usual in a beard of his own. He should’ve kept it, or vice versa. It’s one of those no-moustache Irish jobs, which usually make people look worse (Lincoln pulled it off, sorta), but dear Perc has the kind of face you can’t disimprove upon, so he ends up looking quite cute — from goblin to garden gnome.

The Orphic Triangle

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2020 by dcairns

I hadn’t seen LAST TANGO IN PARIS for a long time but remembered it being interesting. Fiona hadn’t seen it in probably an even longer time and remembered it being boring. We watched it together for the first time and I was right.

But it was a really good illustration of Time’s effects: Fiona now found Brando sexy, whereas before he was just a creepy old guy. She also now found the film really funny, mostly thanks to Brando, who may be trying to take the mickey out of everything, suspecting that Bertolucci wanted to expose his raw inner being on celluloid or whatever: Brando perhaps is half-trying to make the film collapse under an attack of ridicule from within, and walk away from the rubble whistling as he had from so many other films.

He’s met his match.

Hard to imagine what this must have seemed like at the time when we were five and six years old and wouldn’t have been allowed in. Not only would the feigned sex have been startlingly graphic, considering a real movie star was involved, but the level of obscenity Brando comes up with in his improvised dialogue must’ve been an eye-opener. Fantasising about a threesome with a dying pig is… not normal. I believe even Nancy Friday would frown in consternation.

Thing is, despite the grotesque elements, this is an extraordinarily beautiful film. I don’t know if Storaro had sorted out his unique personal colour theories yet, but the variations on golden-brown he produces here are just sensational, and the combination with Gato Barbieri’s sax score is somehow just perfect. I was trying to figure out how Bertolucci came across this Argentinian jazzman whose previous movies as composer are obscure, but it’s the Pasolini connection: Barbieri is in PPP’s NOTES TOWARDS AN AFRICAN ORESTES.

But now — discovering I own a copy of David Thompson’s BFI Classic monograph on the film, I learn also that Barbieri’s wife worked on BEFORE THE REVOLUTION.

Awkward extratextual comedy as Marlon bemoans his spare tyre and his late wife’s lover show him his exercise bar. Years later, Brando would get one of those with the special boots you hang upside down from, but he was very heavy by this time and reportedly almost smothered inside himself. This goes along the story about him padlocking his fridge and then hiring the local burglar to teach him lockpicking, and the story about him making his own hypnosis tapes (“You will still be able to eat all the things you like, but you will eat less of them”) and others. There seems to be a cruel delight in Brando fat jokes, as there was with Welles, because we love to see great talents brought low… on the other hand, Brando’s fat stories are genuinely surprising and interesting.

One of the things about this film is that MB is still incredible attractive but right on the cusp of decay. And fear of aging, embodied in the film’s revulsion at the crumbly tangoists, is some kind of theme of the film, I guess. Images of death and decay. And grief. Brando’s monologue to his dead wife’s body made Dustin Hoffman run and hide behind a pillar when he saw it. I told this to Fiona but I had to repeat it like three times. Something about the anecdote appeared to be ungraspable.

Though Brando and Schneider are incredible presences and sexy people, I don’t find the sex scenes sexy, especially THAT one. Bertolucci’s betrayal of Schneider — adding the detail of the butter at the last minute to humiliate her — probably resulted in her being unwilling to trust filmmakers later on, and I don’t blame her. I think she acquired pretty good radar for when something was going to be a Bad Scene and ducking out of CALIGULA was a good call. Getting fired from THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE wasn’t necessarily a tragedy either — who wants to play an object?

What’s strange is that a distressing rape scene turned into a smutty joke for decades, and nobody used the obvious word “rape” when talking about the scene (the character’s seeming acceptance of what’s done to her obviously confused people but isn’t necessarily unrealistic — responses to sexual abuse cover a wide spectrum).

The British censor originally cut a few seconds from this scene. Bertolucci in interview smiled sweetly and said he had the feeling they did this “just to show… someone cares.”

The film’s obscenity and profanity do serve a necessary balancing function because the film might be in danger of vanishing up its own arse, without the aid of a dairy product as lubricant, if not for its sense of humour, which is mostly supplied by Brando. There’s even an Inspector Clouseau French accent joke: “Do you theenk I am a whirr?” “A what? Do I think you’re a whirr?” Another joke, cutting from the lovers groaning to a duck quacking into a rifle mic, might be one of Bert’s famous homages, to the early porno LE CANARD, but is probably just a bit of silliness. The editor is the co-writer…

Thompson’s book doesn’t offer a definitive theory of what the film really means or is about or why it exists, so why should I? But he does offer up T. Jefferson Kline’s reading of the story as a version of the Orpheus myth, though he’s a bit dismissive of the book it comes from, Bertolucci’s Dream Loom: A psychoanalytic study of cinema, which he calls “convoluted.” This idea does open up interesting possibilities, and if Paul is Orpheus (his bongos tying in with both the Greek’s lyre and Brando’s own musical proclivities) then I may have figured out why the empty apartment is on Rue Jules Verne, which has puzzled critics including Thompson. The association with science fiction, adventure, exploration and impossible voyages seems vague and unhelpful, but if the specific reference is Journey to the Centre of the Earth, then a ready connection to Orpheus in the Underworld may be drawn.

Bertolucci may have been hopelessly optimistic in assuming anyone in the audience would make this leap, but it’s better for this kind of reference to be obscure, provoking thought, rather than obvious, provoking smugness. Now excuse me while I go off and feel smug.