Archive for Julia Roberts

Dear Valentina, I can throw your pictures off the screen

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio, Science with tags , , , , on July 26, 2021 by dcairns

This I swear: I will give you regular updates on my progress through Lindsay Anderson’s Making a Film: The Story of Secret People.

In this installment, imported star Valentina Cortese receives a letter at the Dorchester:

Dear Valentina Cortese, — Hoping you will forgive an Englishman not as old or as young as your lovely self according to the Mirror photograph. It would be the greatest pleasure of my life to have just a good Cup of Tea with you. My assets are the finest Sight in the World and three small pensions. If I told I have all birds and animals, Millions of Human Beings see under water like fish, whales, sharks, crocodiles and all Electric Rays from Earth to Beyond the Sun and Moon. This letter is actually written by Radio. I have sent a Ray through the wireless around the Earth, as I am the only one who causes faults at night. I should like you to answer this letter from a lonely Englishman Who has eyes like you, hands and feet as the Master you see in all your Churches… Post-script: I see more than anyone else when I go to the pictures. I can throw your pictures off the screen.

Valentina’s comment: “Yes, it’s horrible–but that’s nothing, darling.”

It might seem presumptuous to diagnose schizophrenia by mail, without medical qualifications, but I nevertheless have little hesitation in doing so. In its more florid forms the illness has so many signature characteristics, all on display here.

REFUSED

I used to get the occasional comment here from a Howard Hughes III, whose communiques had much of the same “energy”. And on another movie-related note, when Fiona was briefly in psychiatric hospital with severe depression, we discovered a tabloid newspaper extensively annotated in biro by a fellow patient. It was all celebrity conspiracy theories, with religious and supernatural overtones, a mess of contradictory and interpenetrating delusions. I remember one line, added to a photo of Julia Roberts: “NOT the real Julia Roberts. The real Julia was killed in 1987 for refusing to take it up the arse of the pope.” (sic)

What was fascinating was the way the whole subject of his sentence shifted from JR to the Pope without, seemingly, the author realising it. He experienced it as consistent and logical, though how he could have sustained this if he read it back, I don’t know. That, perhaps, is the strange superpower of the schizophrenic, to contain contradiction. (OK, maybe we all do a version of that.)

Fiona remarked to a staff member that she hadn’t realised the author was so floridly insane. “I’m very glad to hear you say that,” he said, “because there’s a lot of people here who think he’s perfectly normal.”

There was also the ex-flatmate who stalked two celebrated Scottish documentarists, one of whom she insisted had proposed marriage. “This was all done telepathically.” Never officially diagnosed so far as I know, she seemed perfectly healthy when last we met, I’m happy to say.

On this evidence, schizophrenia can be seen as not merely an illness but a genre, built around consistent elements endlessly recombined, and subject to fashion. Telepathy has now probably supplanted radio as the invisible influencer of choice, celebrities are still big (royalty holding their own against movie stars) and religion a near-essential component, like pistols in a western.

A One-Way Ticket to Pakulaville

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2018 by dcairns

THE PELICAN BRIEF (1993), Alan J. Pakula’s second-last film isn’t interesting in itself. It shows its director revisiting the past glories of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, with Washington locations, crusading reporters, underground car parks, conspiracies. It’s very glossy and well shot and cut, but John Grisham’s book, at least as adapted by screenwriter Pakula, is diffuse and ineffectual. Splitting the action between Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington’s characters for the first half undercuts any forward thrust, and we keep cutting away to other characters on top of that. The movie also begins way too soon, with the assassination of two supreme court judges… it then has to tread water for half an hour before the assassination of another character who’s actually a character, as well as being someone connected to one of our protagonists.

The comparisons to ATPM just show up how unexciting the thriller became in the nineties (I don’t think it’s recovered, either). Here’s a movie where we know exactly who will be alive at the end, who will be dead, and who will be disgraced (Robert Culp, I’m looking at you). You don’t know that for a second in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, even though it’s a true story and you literally know how it turns out. It feels full of uncertainty and possibility.It’s nice that Pakula was still working at this stage, but unfortunately the cinema of the era didn’t tend to allow the interesting choices that enlivened his ’70s work (THE PARALLAX VIEW would surely have been impossible), so he was walled in by artificial genre and commercial constraints. I’m looking at my cat right now, who is lying very happily in a shoe box that’s much too small for him. Cats like confined spaces. Artists, not so much.

The plot gets underway with Supreme Court justices being murdered. President Culp doesn’t really want to the truth to come out (Culp is culpable) and tells his intelligence men to lay off — the scene with the most contemporary relevance. Law student Julia Roberts cracks the case with a bit of research (in fact, all she finds is a possible motive). She’s sleeping with her professor (Sam Shepherd) — and this is quite normal and OK in the world of this film — so she tells him, he tells a friend in DC, and is promptly assassinated. Julia goes on the run and has to enlist crusading reporter Denzel Washington to help.

The story is a bit implausible, but also a bit boring, which is a terrible combination. It’s all very well made, with the occasional nice touch, but it can’t transcend its Grishamite limitations. But here’s a nice dissolve from assassin Stanley Tucci leaving the site of one SCOTUS killing, disguised as a jogger, and entering a porno theatre disguised as a big old gay homosexual to kill another SCOTUS ~ Later, Robert Culp gets maybe the best closeup of the year 1993 ~Features Erin Brockovich, Malcolm X, Chuck Yeager, Alex Cutter, Frank Boggs, Caesar Flickerman, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Dr. Emilio Lizardo and Death.

I’ve never seen Pakula’s CONSENTING ADULTS but for some reason I saw PRESUMED INNOCENT at the cinema when it was new. It seemed sexist, and Pakula seemed to be stuck making John Grisham and Scott Turow adaptations, which seemed slightly worse than directing episodic TV. I feel he could have had more fun on The X-Files, which he practically invented with ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.THE DEVIL’S OWN got terrible reviews in the UK (Hollywood films always get Irish political things horribly wrong; Pakula’s late works, being generally inoffensive, got fairly forgiving notice usually, but not this one). Like TPB it has an overblown, schmaltzy James Horner score, where early Pakula benefited massively from the subtlety of David Shire and the aptly-named Michael Small.

When this came out, we’d just had the embarrassing BLOWN AWAY (how’s that for a tasteful title for a movie about a mad Irish bomber?) and the critics reviewing TDO reminded us that the Guinness in BA looked like weak tea, which was a bit unfair because the stout in TDO looks approximately like stout. There were also reports, I seem to recall, of bad behaviour from the film’s stars, particularly in the form of jealousy from Harrison Ford over his young co-star, Brad Pitt. This certainly seems to have left its mark on the film.Pitt plays an IRA man with an enthusiastic go at a Belfast accent. Having seen his father murdered as a boy, and being a fugitive in his homeland after a gigantic, ludicrous gunfight, he’s sent to the US to purchase guns for the cause from gangster Treat Williams. His political sponsor has him billeted as a houseguest of Irish-American cop Ford, on the grounds that this will make great cover. It also irretrievably makes Ford look a sucker, which may have started the trouble with him.

For the next HOUR of screentime, Pitt’s plotline fails to proceed while Ford gets a series of action set pieces showing his unbelievably exciting life as a cop. These don’t progress the narrative, of course, because they have nothing to do with the narrative. Something showing Pitt in danger of being rumbled by his host would have been more to the point. And something showing a developing bond between the characters was surely needed. We do see them play pool and exchange light-hearted racist taunts with some Italianamericans, but that’s all.It’s only when Pitt’s cover is blown and his criminal activities endanger Ford’s family that the film finds its feet again, at which point it promptly shoots both of them, as well as everything else in sight. “I told you before,” says Pitt, soulfully, “this isn’t an American story, it’s an Irish one.”

It bloody is an American story, though. Look who’s alive at the end.

Stars Han Solo, Tyler Durden, Mary Boleyn, Mickey Nice, Critical Bill and Arthur Dent.

One Ferpect Shot

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by dcairns

I was describing the opening of ERIN BROCKOVICH to students, don’t ask me why, and then decided to look online to see if we could watch it, and discovered I’d remembered it all wrong.

The key thing is that Erin (Julia Roberts) goes for a job and doesn’t get it. I got that bit right. But I’d described it as being all one shot, in which we never see the prospective employer she’s auditioning to. In fact, look —

These are the basic shots, and the cleverest things are that

  1. They begin on a big closeup of JR without context, right in the middle of the conversation.
  2. The first shot of the boss is wider, but this works fine: I didn’t perceive it as a clunky mismatch
  3. When we go wider on JR, we go tighter on the boss, which also works fine.

The boss looks a bit like Soderbergh.

BUT — I do feel like my memory of the scene is better than the scene. Holding on Roberts in a single, unbroken close-up would get the film off to a bolder start and really boost the idea that this is a star vehicle built around the Roberts Charisma, which it is.

It would also fit nicely with the upcoming bit, which is really cool and more closely resembles my memory of it. Roberts finishes a cigarette outside, having failed to land the job  — the movie’s most cinematic ideas all involve ellipsis, and the ending will call-back to this transition by jumping over the actual trial scene that’s nominally the story’s climax.

Then she goes to her car and finds she’s got a parking ticket, then she breaks a nail opening the door, and the trailer VO man clears his throat preparatory to growling “Erin Brockovich is having a REALLY bad day,” — and we start to feel this movie is going to be really by-the-numbers, which in some ways it is. Then she gets in, drives off into the distance —

And SMASH!

A black car side-swipes Roberts’ car, sending it spinning.

The clever bit is that this DOES look like a single shot, but obviously Soderbergh wasn’t likely to have another car crash into Roberts’ vehicle while she’s in it. We have to go back and look at the moment where her car passes the camera quite close — very simple to stitch two shots together as the car is wiping frame, with a stunt driver in a big wig behind the wheel in the second shot. So that’s quite clever, isn’t it?