Archive for Karen Black

Fog Fog Fog

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2008 by dcairns

We started watching ’70s horror BURNT OFFERINGS, and within twenty minutes Fiona was telling me it wasn’t even worth blogging about. A few possible angles did present themselves — the father/mother/son triad arriving by car seemed like a very close match to THE SHINING, and the concept of a building with an inner life of its own seemed relevant to Kubrick’s MUCH BETTER FILM.

Karen Black and Ollie Reed and Better Davis are of course hugely watchable, but Burgess Mereditch takes the acting honours for a dementedly camp turn as a chair-bound nutter.

For a while I thought I might write about the sheer dullness of it all (half an hour in and literally NOTHING has happened) but that might get dull, and as we resorted to the fast-forward button in order to get to the (impressively apocalyptic) ending, it became unfair to really comment on the film at all. So forget that I said it was dull, OK? I’m not qualified to pass judgement because I didn’t watch it.

But I thought I could mention the fashionable ’70s fog filter, which diffuses the whole film with a hazy smear. Then Ollie Reed has a nightmare and things get MAJORLY DIFFUSE:

The haziness is actually fine here — pretty pictures! — but damaging elsewhere because in the story the house is supposed to heal itself, and the filtration kind of blurs the textures so you can’t tell. When Karen Black stares in alarm, the filmmakers have to dub a line over the back of her head, where she expresses her surprise that the house has, in fact, seemingly improved its appearance in an unexpected way. Gosh!

Nestor Almendros used to walk out of films as soon as he saw diffusion being used, which does strike me as a bit hard-line. But in setting rules for himself, Almendros was really shifting himself out of the craftsman-for-hire category and repositioning the cinematographer as an artist in collaboration with the director. If you want extreme artificial lighting effects and filters and so on, get a cinematographer who doesn’t mind working that way — get Mario Bava! Almendros had one particular approach, and if you hired him you knew sort of what you were going to get.

Looking at BURNT OFFERINGS, I’m glad diffusion went out of style. But I wonder if it could be used in an interesting way now. No technique is actually bad in and of itself, I feel. What’s bad is default filmmaking that picks the fashionable approach without regard to the effect desired.

Director Dan Curtis tracks into close-up. Fiona says: “Karen Black’s face is unhappy.”