Archive for Julie Harris

Hallelujah the Hills

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2014 by dcairns

Arch-Shadowplayer David Ehrenstein provides our second guest post for The Late Show: The Late Movies Blogathon. Subject: Adolfas Mekas.

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Hallelujah the Hills

By David Ehrenstein

HTH

Hallelujah the Hills (1963) is most succinctly described by Ed Halter in the “Village Voice” in a column he wrote in 2003.

“A be-bopped beatnik riff on Mack Sennett madness, updated for the anything-goes youth counterculture, Adolfas Mekas’s 1963 Hallelujah the Hills provided a homegrown riposte to nouvelle vague zaniness, and became one of the more lighthearted cornerstones of the New American Cinema. Screening for its 40th birthday, a new 35mm print showcases cinematographer Ed Emshwiller‘s spot-on black-and-white lensing, which achieves a perfect balance of picturesque control and experimental fancy.

Loopy in more ways than one, Hills isn’t so much a linear narrative as an ongoing do-si-do between two madcap man-boys—bespectacled nebbish Leo (Marty Greenbaum) and studly Ivy League dipsomaniac Jack (Peter H. Beard)—in pursuit of the same girl, Vera, who’s coyly played by two actresses (Sheila Finn and Peggy Steffans) representing Leo and Jack’s different views of their shared paramour. In between wooing, the cast tool around wintery Vermont in a jeep, romp naked through icy waters, and spoof the art-film canon, from Griffith to Kurosawa. The finale brings a secret woodland cache of ga-ga-ga-goils and a film-stopping cameo from googly-eyed underground jester Taylor Mead. The result is a dizzy time capsule of proto-revolutionary anarchy, like bits of youthful, energetic innocence frozen in the snowdrifts of time.”

The premise (there’s no plot to speak of) is after being dumped by Vera for “the horrible Gideon (film scholar Gideon Bachmann) Jack and Leo take off for the territory to mourn their lost love. The morning process is delivered as a series of film homages involving not only Griffith and Kurosawa but Dreyer’s Vampyr  and W.C. Fields’ The Fatal Glass of Beer.

Unable to contain itself any longer the film comes to a halt in what would otherwise be its “Third Act<” to show the ice rescue scene from Way Down East, before resuming again.

(Ice Rescue scene from Way Down East analyzed)

Wiki sez

“Adolfas Meka 30 September 1925 – 31 May 2011) was born on a farm in Semeniskiai, Lithuania to Elzbieta and Povilas Mekas and brother to sister Elzbieta and Povilas, Petras, Kostas and Jonas. Adolfas was the youngest in the family.

At age 14, while still in Lithuania, Mekas saw his first film Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn, the cinemagic of which he would never forget.[citation needed] In July 1944, toward the end of World War II when Lithuania was occupied by both Soviet and German troops, Adolfas and his brother Jonas left Lithuania by train, fearing retaliation for their participation in the underground. Near Hamburg, they were taken from the train and put into a forced labor camp.[After World War II ended, the brothers were sent from one DP camp to another across Germany. While in the displaced persons camps in Germany, Adolfas attended classes in literature and theatre arts and philosophy at the University in Mainz, where he also wrote and published short stories, novels, and tall-tale books for children. Having been refused entry into Israel, New Zealand, and Canada, Mekas was sent as a refugee to the United States, where he landed with his brother at the end of 1949.[In the spring of 1950 he purchased a 16mm Bolex camera and began photographing life around him while he wrote more than 50 scripts and attended every film screening offered at the Museum of Modern Art, Cinema 16, Thalia, Stanley, and other venues for films of any kind, supporting himself with a variety of jobs from dishwasher to foreman in a Castro Convertible factory. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, assigned to the Signal Corps, and sailed for France in September 1951. On his return to the United States from Europe in 1953, he continued writing and filming and also began organizing, with his brother Jonas, the American Film House. Though the brothers approached many independent filmmakers, none were interested in collaborating on the project. Adolfas and Jonas persisted for over a year to find a location in Manhattan, but without success. In 1954 they abandoned the idea of the American Film House and with the money they had borrowed for the Film House project started a film society, which they called the Film Forum. “We showed films at public schools and at Carl Fischer Hall on 57th Street, wherever we could, until we went bankrupt in the middle of the second film series later in the year just in time to start Film Culture magazine, the first issue of which came out in December 1954.” – Adolfas Mekas

Film Culture magazine would be an outlet for anyone who had something to say about film.”

(Meaning ME!)

“In 1961 brother Jonas began shooting “Guns of the Trees.” Adolfas assisted him in all stages of production, writing and editing, and played one of the leads in the film. Other players were Ben Carruthers, Frances Stillman and Argus Speare Juilliard. The controversial film was considered to be a “poetic-political manifesto.”

In 1963 Adolfas’ film Hallelujah The Hills was the surprise smash hit of the Cannes Festival. Subsequently it was invited to 27 film festivals, including the First New York Film Festival, London Festival, Montreal Film Festival, Mannheim Film Festival and the Bombay Film Festival; it won the Silver Sail at the Locarno Festival, was invited to a Command Screening for the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace and had a 15-week run at the Fifth Avenue cinema in New York. Time magazine called it “… the weirdest, wooziest, wackiest screen comedy of 1963.” Jean-Luc Godard wrote in Cahiers du Cinema, “Hallelujah proved clearly that Adolfas is someone to be reckoned with. He is a master in the field of pure invention, that is to say, in working dangerously – ‘without a net.’ His film, made according to the good old principle – one idea for each shot – has the lovely scent of fresh ingenuity and crafty sweetness.”

In March 1964 he met his wife to be, Pola Chapelle. They were separated before their marriage by the production of his second feature film, The Double Barreled Detective Story, but never again during their long lifetime together. A rough and tumble nineteenth century town was built just outside Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for the location of the filming of The Double Barreled Detective Story. The screenplay was based on a Mark Twain short story and the film starred Hurd Hatfield and Greta Thyssen. In spite of the extraordinary performance of Hurd Hatfield, who played two parts in the movie, there were problems with the production from the start, and Adolfas never got to do a final cut. The producers took the film out of his hands and refused to release it. Nonetheless, with a little help from his friends, he was able to whisk a print to the Venice Film Festival of 1965. Gene Moskowitz in Variety wrote of the film – “The Double Barreled Detective Story is authentic Mark Twain-esque with all the rustic humor of the 1880s….Mekas shows he has a way with parody and he gets disarmingly innocent performances from his cast.”

In the same year Adolfas directed Pola Chapelle in a short parody of Italian art films of the time, written by Peter Stone for the Broadway show Skyscraper which starred Julie Harris and Charles Nelson Reilly. Paul Sorvino played opposite Pola in the three-minute film clip which won kudos from the critics. “…. a priceless film sequence satirizing Italian movies, for some of the heartiest laughs of the evening.” Nadel, NY World Telegram. “….there is a film sequence made by Adolfas Mekas: a very funny parody of an Italian movie, in Italian, complete with English subtitles and a projector that goes ‘zzzzzzz.” Julius Novick, Village Voice.

After his marriage in 1965 and for the rest of the 60s, Adolfas wrote and hustled his scripts to agents and producers while working as an editor and/or post production coordinator on various independent films, including the soft-core flics of Joe Sarno, ABC-TV’s Wild World of Sports, and a few TV musical extravaganzas. He was encouraged by Howard Hausman of the William Morris Agency, who had seen the future of cinema in Adolfas’ first film Hallelujah The Hills and made more than a few attempts at getting Adolfas’ scripts into the hands of independent producers who would understand their uniquely different style. Although three of his screenplays remained at Warner Brothers for a few years, under consideration, none were ever produced.

In 1967, with a very tight budget, Adolfas made a 16mm b&w film from his own script – “Windflowers, Elegy for a Draft Dodger.” “….No frills, no Gipsy violin effects, no second movement of Aranjuez’s concerto – and it is thereby, poignant. It is the other side of Vietnam. The stubbornness of a silent young man who is running away….who simply wanted to live.” Cahiers du Cinema, Dominique Noguez.

Shortly after the completion of Windflowers, Adolfas was contacted by Governor Harold E. Hughes of Iowa and his staff. After an interview with the Governor, he was given the job of creating promotional commercials for Hughes’ campaign for the United States Senate. He had no experience in the genre, but the challenge was enticing and he spent the summer of 1967 filming Harold Hughes as he stumped the Iowa cornfields. He produced 35 TV commercials for Hughes election to the Senate. Harold Hughes won.

In 1968 Adolfas wrote, directed, and starred in a 3-minute short entitled “Interview with the Ambassador from Lapland.” It was photographed by brother Jonas, with assistance from Shirley Clarke on sound. Pola Chapelle produced. “In these 3 minutes Mekas is Swift, the horrible and admirable Swift of the ‘Modest Proposal.’ One really must admit that Mekas has made the USA a bit less loathsome.” Cahiers du Cinema, DN. (Nota Bene: Jonas sometimes claims authorship of this short film, calling it the Time Life Vietnam Newsreel.)

In 1969 Adolfas photographed and edited “Fishes in Screaming Water” a catfilm produced by Pola Chapelle for the First International CatFilm Festival – INTERCAT ’69 – which she founded. For the 2nd International Catfilm Festival in 1973, he made the award winning “How to Draw A Cat.”

He edited and subtitled “Companeras and Companeros” in 1970 – A feature documentary, shot in Cuba by David and Barbara Stone. He edited three versions: for United States release, for European release, for Cuban release. That same year he cut and edited a film by Yoko Ono, 360 legs, in “Up Your Leg.”

In 1972, assisted by Pola Chapelle, Adolfas completed a film which documented the autobiographical journey of his return to Lithuania after a 27-year absence. “Going Home” was invited to the New York Film Festival and many other festivals that year. It was part of the Conference on Visual Anthropology at Temple University in 1974 and chosen by the Museum of Modern Art to be screened in its Anthropological Cinema exhibit, which toured internationally from 1975 to 1977.

On 3 July 1971 Adolfas received a teaching contract from Bard College. Soon after, he began organizing the young Film Department. At first denied tenure, he began a campaign in pursuit of it, believing that if he were given tenure, the Film Department would be tenured. Armed with letters from colleagues in the film world and ex-students, he was successful, and in 1979, tenure was granted him. He and Pola, young son Sean and Mamacat moved to the Hudson Valley, where he would dedicate himself to sharing his passion for the magic of film with the eager and talented young people of the then pastoral Bard College. Down The Road, a nearby pub became their after hours seminar room.

Only a very small budget was available to the Bard Film Department, and the department continued as the “orphan in the storm” for many years. Not deterred, never frustrated, once a year Adolfas rented a truck, and together with Pola, he scoured the labs of his film friends in New York City whose donations of reels, split reels, cores, viewers, projectors and occasionally a moviola, were carried back to Bard’s Carriage House – the Bard Film Center of the early years. The lack of proper funding of the department worked to energize Adolfas and his students in innovative ways, e.g., to raise funds for senior projects in film, he held lunchtime auctions outside the dining commons on campus. The film department was small – more than three graduates was rare in the early years; but unceasingly active and always visible, the dynamic center of the Bard campus. During his years as Chairman, Adolfas brought to the Bard Film Department some of the most noted independent and experimental filmmakers, including, Bruce Baillie, Ernie Gehr, Andrew Noren, Barry Gerson, Peter Hutton and Peggy Ahwesh and film historians and theorists Paul Arthur, P. Adams Sitney. John Pruitt, and guest faculty – friends including Ken Jacobs, Sidney Peterson, Shirley Clarke and George Kuchar. The Bard Film Department grew in stature to become one of the most respected film departments in the nation.

  1. Adams Sitney writes, “what came to be known as the People’s Film Department was his (Adolfas’) theater of hijinks; he surprised even himself with his enormous didactic gifts, his startling administrative skill and his unceasing fount of comic invention. His own fractured education and his nearly total disregard for academic decorum made him the ideal professor. Nowhere in the archive of film is there an invented character who could come near the brilliant, lovable, outrageous mischief that consistently turned his classrooms into arenas of magic. He taught generations how to see and act.”

And now the stars

Peter Beard first and foremost.

Here’s a fairly recent photo.

Here he is as I will always see him in my mind’s eye

 Wiki sez:

“Peter Beard’s photographs of Africa, African animals, and the journals that often integrate his photographs have been widely shown and published since the 1970s. His grandmother, Ruth (Hill) Beard, married, as her second husband, Pierre Lorillard IV, who was a tobacco magnate and is credited with helping to popularize the tuxedo. A great-grandfather, James Jerome Hill, was founder of the Great Northern Railway in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. Railroads, in part, provided the infrastructure for colonization both in the United States and Africa, promoting expansion into undeveloped frontiers. James Jerome Hill made his fortune in the railroad business, leaving as legacy both money, colonialism and art to his great-grandson Peter. While not rejecting money from this trust, Beard laments the expansion of Western capitalism into Africa. James Jerome Hill was a great patron of the arts and all of his heirs were exposed to and owned great collections, thus having a great impact on Peter’s interest in the arts and beauty. Beard is famous not only for his photographs of endangered African elephants but also of supermodels and rock stars like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Iman, Veruschka.

Beard’s milieu consisted of Andy Warhol, Jackie Onassis, Lee Radziwill, Truman Capote, and Bianca Jagger who all lived and rented houses in Montauk and Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s. Beard also had a close relationship with the late painter, Francis Bacon (painter). He photographed Bacon and was also the model for several of Bacon’s paintings. Beard was traveling with and photographing the Rolling Stones on the infamous Rolling Stones 1972 tour of America.”

Thus the “Vera’s” of Hallelujah the Hills are models very much to Peter Beard’s exquisite taste.

Marty Greenbaum is quite different story. Here he is in a recent photo:

Here’s some of his art

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Here’s his resume .

Here’s artist and filmmaker Ed Emshwiller, who was the film’s DP.

Hallelujah the Hills is one of the most gorgerous black and white films ever made – easily the equal of Fellini’s 8 ½ shot by Gianni DiVenanzo that same year.

Here’s Meyer Kupferman who composed the superb musical score.

And here’s his Symphony Number 4 (1955)

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Dr Winkle’s noises

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2013 by dcairns

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THE THIRD MAN — a very well-known film, very well-documented (Charles Drazin’s In Search of The Third Man is recommended)… or so you would think…

IMG 1692 from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Via Randall William Cook this little iPhone movie, filmed off his TV, showing an old VHS release of Carol Reed’s masterpiece. Note when Dr Winkle is describing the fatal “accident,” the sudden screech of breaks which punctuates his account and creates a frisson of danger just at the tale’s climax.

The tape also is notable for containing five minutes of exit music running over a black screen after the film has ended, something not even Criterion included in their disc.

Well, this sound effect seems to be absent from every DVD of the movie. What happened to it? It’s so effective, one can’t imagine anybody deliberately removing it. And further evidence is given by a later Reed movie, FOLLOW ME (aka THE PUBLIC EYE), which re-uses the device to equally thrilling effect, suggesting that Reed was particularly pleased with it.

Note the whine of the elevator starting bang on cue as Topol is about to refer to the fatal fall — it actually helps motivate the camera movement in on the actors, adds to the intensity of the mood, and echoes in our subconscious when Topol refers to his colleague’s mishap. Note also that the elevator never actually moves: NOT a blunder, but rather proof that the filmmakers were willing to pursue a good idea even though it doesn’t make literal sense. A testimony to their skill. Oh, and the editor of the film is Anne V. Coates, who cut LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (containing the world’s best edit), THE ELEPHANT MAN, OUT OF SIGHT…

I hope next time we see THE THIRD MAN, this crucial little FX flourish has been restored.

Two more semi-random but related points.

Mr. Cook points out that the slightly artificial dog whimper sound dubbed onto Dr Winkle’s chihuahua (or whatever the hell it is) is actually a baby wolf noise previously heard in Alexander Korda’s production of THE JUNGLE BOOK.

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I enjoy Topol’s white raincoat with matching cap and briefcase, and am reminded of Eleanor Bron’s all-pink outfit in HELP! with pink turban and pink handgun. Both films were designed by the great Julie Harris. Colour co-ordinated effects in Richard Lester’s films may be discussed again soon…

Halloween Film Club: Sick Building Syndrome

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2009 by dcairns

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The revelation in watching THE HAUNTING for me this time was that while Robert Wise’s filmmaking still holds up, and there’s a lot to say about that, the things that popped out most in the screenplay were the tin-eared blunders. Nelson Gidding (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM) has done a good job compressing the incidents and realigning the characters from Shirley Jackson’s uncanny classic The Haunting of Hill House (wherein, for instance, Eleanor is attracted not to the investigating doctor but to the spoiled heir), on a structural level, but he really doesn’t have anything like the prose style or ear for dialogue he needs. Here’s Jackson’s opening —

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Feel the goosebumps? Gidding has given the job of transferring Jackson’s intro and history lesson into the voice of Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), which means jettisoning some of the flourishes and sometimes injecting an unwelcome note of jocularity which is one of Markway’s least appealing traits ~

An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.

That first sentence, I think, does little but deaden the overall effect, whereas Jackson’s abrupt change of direction between sentence 1 and 2 is deliciously jolting. After the credits (simple sans-serif font, with a big spooky production number for the main title — why?) Then the narration continues, with Wise providing spectacular visual accompaniment — absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Davis Boulton, whose career seems otherwise quaintly undistinguished: I like CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED, but IT! and SONG OF NORWAY?

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Bad stuff in the VO: there’s no equivalent in Jackson’s book for the awful phrase “big tree,” which sounds comically awkward even with Richard Johnson’s manly tones behind it, although Jackson is responsible for the equally uncomfortable “ah, lifeless, I believe is the phrase they use,” and she also gave us the name of the builder of Hill House — Hugh Crain. Sounds like Ukraine, not good. Gidding changed many of the character names, aimlessly (Vance becomes Lance, Montague becomes Markway) but saw fit to leave that one. And we learned he “died in a drowning accident,” a horrendously clunky phrase.

Great stuff in the visuals: the slow lap dissolve transformation from childhood to senescence:

vlcsnap-790610vlcsnap-790720vlcsnap-790787Think about this too much, and it’s the scariest thing in the film.

And all those ANGLES. Wise asked Panavision if they had a good wide-angle lens. They said they were working on one, but had rejected all their prototypes so far because they caused too much distortion. “Perfect!” said Wise, “That’s just what I want.” “No no no,” advised Panavision, “We really think these are a bit more distorted than you’d like.” “I assure you that’s impossible,” stressed Wise. Panavision were insistent. They were really embarrassed by these warped bottle-bottom things. In the end, Wise had to sign lots of documents promising he wouldn’t sue Panavision for sending him funhouse lenses.

vlcsnap-797819The convex mirror is one of Wise’s little jokes about his unconventional lens kit.

Emerging from this sensational, moody tape-slide presentation opening, we get Fay Compton (Emilia in Welles’ OTHELLO), one of my favourite old ladies, although she does say “Ho ho ho!” once too often in this scene. And here we meet Richard Johnson, a bluff, plummy actor who can do solemn without getting sepulchral. An actor friend of Fiona’s attests that Mr Johnson, who is still extant, greets old acquaintances with a loud cry of “Who’re you fucking?” It’s a lovely image.

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Johnson, as anthropologist Markway, is off on a ghost-hunting jaunt, and is forced to take Compton’s delinquent young nephew along — Russ Tamblyn, imported by Wise from WEST SIDE STORY. Tamblyn’s legendary physical prowess will come in handy on a couple of occasions: a very intelligent actor who thinks with his body.

Now comes the plunge into despair as we meet Eleanor (Julie Harris), the deeply unhappy protagonist who is the key element in this film that could not exist without Shirley Jackson’s imagination. In researching haunted houses, Jackson tells us that she discovered a book by some parapsychologists investigating an old house, and the accounts of spookiness they recorded were unmistakably, to her modern mind, the products of their own neuroses. Eleanor is Jackson’s tool for unleashing the horrors of Hill House — if we take this little behind-the-scenes tale at face value we have to accept that there are no ghosts, only the demons that haunt Eleanor, manifesting through her latent telekinesis.

Eleanor’s horrible home life is sketched in economically, but still feels unbelievably oppressive, which may be a result of all that damn internal monologuing she does. Not my favourite movie device, but it works well here, draping a curtain of gloom over the events and reminding us of the story’s interior nature.

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This movie always seems to get away with being shot in Britain, dragged up as America, rather lightly. The street scenes are less than fully convincing, and then the housekeepers, Valentine Dyall with his ludicrous attempt at a New England accent by way of Kentucky, and Rosalie Crutchley who’s just English. Hill House itself is English, and now a hotel, real name Ettrington Park (anybody stayed there?).

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Hill House — the exteriors are mainly shot on infra-red stock, so the sky is black and clouds are white, giving the whole image a strange feeling. As Jackson puts it ~

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil. This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity.

Wise’s chief tool to create an equivalent in images to Jackson’s anthropomorphism is his editing, and to facilitate the work of invocation he has furnished himself with many many angles. Wise was an editor (CAT PEOPLE and CITIZEN KANE of course, but also THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, our first Film Club film) before he was a director, and the trait that lifts his best work out of the journeyman class, it seems to me, is his mastery of visual rhythm. The gunshot at the end of WEST SIDE STORY is a great example. Here, although Eleanor’s VO cues a lot of the eerie sensations, it’s the multiple shots of watching windows and statuary that confirms to us her impression that the house is alive and maleficent.

Fiona points out that as soon as Eleanor enters, we see her reflected in the floorboards (a beautiful shot) and in a decaying mirror, “as if she’s already being absorbed into the house.”

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Theo! The last of our adventurers. Claire Bloom adds to the insistent Englishness of the thing, but her character is so enticingly exotic that her country of origin counts for naught. A mindreader AND a lesbian, as she keeps frantically signalling to us, Theo is not so much a telepath as an empath, like Persis Khambatta in Wise’s later plunge into turgidity, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. And she uses her powers for evil: what IS it with Theo? She’s constantly noising up poor Eleanor, then running after her to make friends. Needy bitch. It’s as if Gidding has decided that lesbians are inherently alien and nothing they do makes sense, so he can just have her blow hot and cold at random and call it characterisation. Bloom doesn’t seem to have any particular interpretation in mind, she just plays it dead casual and chic in her Mary Quant (pre-mini-skirt) costumes. One can’t help but enjoy her.

(At the wonderfully obsessive eleanor-lance.com, the theory is put forward that Theo has a crush on Eleanor, and so her bitchy reactions would be triggered any time she sees Eleanor getting too cosy with Markway. I guess I always discounted this because the chic Theo doesn’t have much cause to be enticed by this dowdy spinster type, but I suspect it’s the correct interpretation.)

The remainder of the film, now that we’re in situ, can be divided into set-pieces and pontification, held together by Eleanor’s slow decline into madness. Julie Harris is Hollywood’s idea of a plain jane, and she’s quite affecting. She has that pale mole along from the corner of her mouth that always looks like a teardrop. And she gets that terrifying line about sleeping on her side to wear her heart out quicker. If Gidding invented that then I forgive him everything and prostrate myself at his feet.

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Something at the door! A symphony of sound effects, and the starting-point for Polanski’s great REPULSION. I have a hard job choosing a favourite between the Wise and the Polanski, both of which seem heavily flawed in ways that don’t matter, and deeply great in ways that do.

Again, Wise covers the scene with a zillion angles, trying his damnedest to always pop out of a different door and surprise us, hardly ever repeating a  shot. His crew must have thought him crazy. If he was shooting this for Lewton he’d have to do it in about eight set-ups. Compared with anything in CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE or THE BODY SNATCHER, THE HAUNTING has big-movie gigantism alright, but the guiding intelligence is so shrewd that the lumber of epic bloat is dispelled: it’s a graceful colossus.

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“Whose hand was I holding?” Another great set-piece, with astonishing sound and the world’s most sinister wallpaper. What are the great wallpaper movies? Anybody want to try a Top Ten?

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Then Miss Moneypenny turns up. Lois Maxwell was one of these Americans who came to live in England and scooped up tons of work whenever an accent was required. Like William Sylvester in a skirt. Inserting a new character at this point, one whose existence has been established but not revealed to Eleanor, adds new energy, dashes Eleanor’s romantic dreams, and accelerates us into the climax, with Mrs Markway vanishing and Eleanor starting to act very strangely indeed. The balancing act required here is prodigious: if Eleanor goes utterly irrational, no amount of VO will help us stay with her, and if she stays rational, there’s no movie. And if the other characters become too distant and unsympathetic, that will hurt the plausibility, but they must seem a bit distant if we’re to feel Eleanor’s alienation. I think the movie manages this well.

The drama of the swaying spiral staircase is pretty tense, and I wonder if Wise has been looking at THE RED SHOES — those fast tracks of Julie Harris’ feet running, and the spiralling journey up the stairs… plus the idea of a heroine pulled along by forces beyond her control.

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Fiona is very anxious I should talk about THE SOUND. Uncredited electronics wiz Desmond Briscoe seems to be a key name here. A founder of the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Briscoe is no doubt responsible for the very odd resonant poundings, and maybe some of those other, less identifiable noises. I seriously dig the weird mumbling prayers, with their mis-stressed phrases, that perfectly catch the sense of hearing something without being able to hear it — a psychological phenomenon that’s very hard to reproduce in a movie soundtrack, where something is either audible or not. Interestingly, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, an inferior but nonetheless enjoyable spook-house melodrama which is majorly indebted to this one, features a score by Delia Derbyshire, another Radiophonic alumnus (who wove the electronic tonalities of the classic Dr Who theme tune).

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In cinema, which exploits only two of our five (or is it more?) senses, anything which is not visible must be audible — unless it’s implied by what happens when you’re not looking. In Hill House, where doors close unaided, but only when unobserved, the unseen presence is constantly evoked by the restless camera and the shifting of camera angles, which prevents us getting orientated. Apart from big features like staircases, we never have any sense of the shape of a room, and even size seems unreliable. While Alexander Mackendrick built a house for THE LADYKILLERS (scored by yet another Radiophonics man, Tristram Carey) without a single right angle or true vertical, Wise and his designers creates more a sense of vast space, populated by a bewildering variety of animate mirrors, statues, and pictures. Accelerating the pace of cutting when we least expect it, he keeps us on our toes by forcing us to reorient ourselves with each fresh angle. One shot, an ECU on the eye of a cooked fish (a pun on those warped lenses?) always throws me completely.

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The End. The idea of Eleanor joining the spirits in the house seems like a big influence on THE SHINING, while the other idea, that the house was not actually haunted until now, is bleaker. Rephrasing the VO from the beginning and giving it to Eleanor (making this another entry in the series of films, beginning with SUNSET BOULEVARD and continuing through THE SEVENTH CROSS to AMERICAN BEAUTY, to be narrated by the dead) is a lovely idea, although once again the screenplay fumbles the correct sense of things — “and we who walk here, walk alone.” The pluralisation makes nonsense of the aloneness. As Joel McCrea protests in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, “How can I be alone if you’re with me?”