Archive for Kathleen Byron

Reincarnate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2019 by dcairns

In Peter Sasdy’s NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, Christopher Lee is stuffy, Peter Cushing is snippy, Diana Dors is stroppy and Georgia Brown is chippy, lippy and slutty. And little Gwyneth Strong is absolutely brilliant. Everyone is intense, fervid, all the time, like they were all fathered by Charles McGraw when no one was looking, which seems to be a Sasdy characteristic (see also The Stone Tape).

It’s Christopher Lee’s only film as producer, adapted from a novel by John Blackburn, a quite interesting genre writer though a very reactionary one. Reaching the screen, some of these attitudes are softened or switched, but some remain, so you don’t quite know what to think.

The plot centres on an orphan (Strong), seemingly traumatized in a bus crash, but there’s something sinister afoot with the foundation caring for her (Kathleen Byron is involved so it can’t be a purely charitable institution, can it?). Dors is a red herring in a red shiny coat, seen trudging through the Scottish heather for reels on end, the least inconspicuous person ever. She’s a fortune teller with a black cat decal on her Hillman Imp and she’s trying to get her daughter back. Tabloid hack Brown tells her, “You must admit she’d be better of with them than here,” which seems a bit unsympathetic. There’s nothing wrong with Dors’ clairvoyance pad: she has a phrenology head and an Emmanuelle chair, what more could any child ask?

Apart from class horror at Dors’ raging slattern, the film seems to share Lee and Cushing’s distaste for the pushy journo, yet she’s the one who sets them on the right trail. The great duo are at everyone’s throats all the way through, with Cushing in particular JUST VERY CROSS in every scene. It’s the Hammer films trope of the authority figures being righteous, correct, our only hope, yet deeply dislikeable. Only with the pitch turned up and a bit of a headache.

Gwyneth Strong can dislocate her jaw in order to swallow whole goats.

We enjoyed the Scottish locations — Edinburgh airport looks unchanged to me — the evil scheme is an intriguing one and the climax gets some real moral horror going, aided by Lee waking up and doing some proper acting as he faces a kind of payback for his role in THE WICKER MAN. He could really rise to the occasion, that man, and at six foot ninety he had a head start.

It all falls apart in the closing shots, where the script can’t come up with a good finish, calls for some effects that don’t quite make it, and the staging falls apart accompanied by mismatched dusk/dawn-for-night and night-for-night shots (NOTHING LIKE THE NIGHT, you could call it), and it looks as though Sasdy just ran out of time on top of everything else.

Night shoots are a bitch.

The music — a lush rephrasing of Nine Green Bottles — is extremely poor. A death-by-hatpin recalls Sasdy’s HANDS OF THE RIPPER. Strong’s performance is one for the ages — authentically terrifying.

NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT stars the Grand Moff Tarkin; Mycroft Holmes; Frau Poppendick; Frau Freud; Nigel Barton; Mackay; Albus Dumbledore; Aunt Beru; Victor Carroon; and Sister Ruth.

Advertisements

Eyre Turbulence

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-08h47m26s89

Cary Fukunaga’s JANE EYRE is a cracker.

(I remember The Scotsman‘s film critic greeting BLADE RUNNER at Edinburgh Film Fest with the opening sentence, “Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a cracker,” and thinking it was simultaneously slightly cool and slightly shocking that he should jettison the dignity of his position in such an enthusiastic, fanboyish way, but there are times when that’s appropriate.)

The director of True Detective serves up a smart period film that feels modern in all the right ways. The costumes and settings take us directly into the Bronte-world, and the authentic candlelight cinematography of Adriano Goldman allows us to feel actually present in a way not possible until very recently (Kubrick’s much-vaunted candlelight scenes in BARRY LYNDON still required huge banks of candles offscreen, erasing the flicker and rendering the effect not totally realistic, while the extremely narrow focal depth forced the actors to remain rooted to the spot.) I was reminded of The Knick — though Fukunaga doesn’t go quite so far as to deploy an electronic score to show just how modern he can go. The understated Dario Marinelli piano and violin accompaniment chosen has an appealing delicacy. You don’t want to get too clever for your own good, and what works for Soderbergh wouldn’t here.

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-08h45m42s75

The performances are also strongly naturalistic — Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender not only speak in authentic-sounding Yorkshire accents (and for once Rochester sounds properly regional), they have absorbed the accents so that they are able to concentrate fully on each other.

I didn’t see the popular BBC version, so I mainly recall the Zefferelli on ’96, which strikes me as inferior in every way, save one. I had remembered Maria Schneider, as the first Mrs. Rochester, having a more fully-written role. I actually remembered her having dialogue. Not so — here’s the scene on YouTube.

Some of Zefferelli’s editing choices seem whimsical — there’s an unexpected high angle shot that seems inserted to protect us from the performances rather than to allow us to understand the scene — Jim Clark’s account of editing for Franco Z in his book Dream Repairman (he worked on YOUNG TOSCANINI) kind of suggests that Zefferelli will favour in the edit whoever he happens to be on good terms with that day — but Schneider’s reaction shots are vivid and articulate. It’s often the best policy to play mad people as sane (cf Wasikowska in MAPS TO THE STARS and Kathleen Byron in BLACK NARCISSUS, who is terrifying but consciously decided to play it sane in defiance of screenplay and director), and you can tell Mrs. R understands everything her despised husband is saying, though he talks as if she is a dumb animal. Schneider, the madwoman in the attic of European cinema, had a lot to draw on here.

Not that Valentina Cervi is in any way inadequate as Bertha in the Fukunaga — she has the appropriate menace — it’s just that I think Zeff pulled off a casting coup that would be hard to beat.

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-08h47m42s246

Also in Fukunaga’s cast and of note: Judi Dench can’t suppress her obvious intelligence to play a silly housekeeper, but we don’t mind; Jamie Bell manages to not annoy in the most thankless role; Simon McBurney always adds a touch of the unexpected; Amelia Clarkson is a terrific Young Jane. The idea of starting in media res and exploring the story via flashbacks allows Fukunaga to intercut a child and an adult who don’t really look anything alike and make us forget to bother about that, a bit like Bunuel and his two leading ladies in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE —

— a casting decision that came about after Bunuel fired a recalcitrant Maria Schneider, thus closing the circle here and allowing me to escape. Sound of footsteps, door slam. Mad cackle.

 

Blind Tuesday: As Farrar as the Eye Can See

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2011 by dcairns

Extraordinary! No sooner have I watched one obscure blind-person-in-jeopardy movie starring a BLACK NARCISSUS alumnus (Kathleen Byron in MADNESS OF THE HEART) than another comes along (David Farrar in NIGHT WITHOUT STARS) And they’re practically the same movie!

Novelettish title: check (the night is without stars because he’s BLIND, geddit?). Southern French setting: check . Miracle cure around halfway: check. Insanely jealous incestuous relative: check. But this movie, directed by Anthony Pelissier, is quite a bit more compelling and less cheesy than Charles Bennet’s potboiler, even if nobody in it’s as compelling as la Byron.

Jumble up the first film as if in a dream, and you have the second film. Winston Grahame (MARNIE) scripts, from his own novel. Farrar is a veteran who lost most of his vision in the war. Holidaying in France, he falls for a girl, Alex, widow of a resistance fighter, but suddenly she has a hostile fiance. Farrar gets to demonstrate impressive sang froid while dealing with this Gallic lout —

“Go on, go on, before I keek you downstairz!”

“I don’t think there’s much danger of that, do you?”

“I zuppose you seenk your blindness protectz you?”

“On the contrary, I should have thought it’d make it easier for you.”

Suave.

But then, a panicked phone call — in French, which DF doesn’t speak — from Alex, inviting her over to the guy’s apartment on an urgent matter. He comes. Nobody seems to be there. As he prowls around, cinematographer Guy Green (GREAT EXPECTATIONS) lights him with a follow spot, emphasizing his isolation — the light beams onto whatever Farrar touches, making us feel the limitations of his senses. As he moves about the deserted apartment, finding a smashed vase and strewn flowers, an abandoned piece of jewelry, a gun… a loud ticking sound builds, oppressively…

Of course it’s Farrar’s giant alarm clock from THE SMALL BACK ROOM, tockative companion to the more famous giant whisky bottle. Has to be. In the insane Wikipedia article of my mind, Farrar had it in his contract that both items had to accompany him on every set, in case he wanted to time himself having a big drink. Or no, maybe the alarm clock sort of STALKED him, like the one that stalks Captain Hook in Peter Pan from inside a crocodile. Or maybe the sound just sort of imbued itself into Farrar’s cinematic presence. Sound men would protest when he was cast, because they knew they could record him in conditions of absolute silence and yet still on the tape, at the end of the day, would be heard that phantasmal tick-tock… That’s why there’s so much John Barry music in BEAT GIRL, it’s to drown out the beating of that infernal clock!!!

THE SMALL BACK ROOM.

Ahem. A nasty moment follows when Farrar sits on the bed and the fiance’s corpse slumps over on him. He flees, waits for police reports, but nothing. Then he discovers that the cafe where he used to dine with Alex has vanished, or rather it has a different name and a different proprietor. Alex herself has vanished. WHAT is going on?

Anthony Pelissier, who directed THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER, had an occasional tendency to stylistic verve (the climactic “rocking” scenes of that film are visually WILD), tamped down by the time and place he was working in. I suspect if he’d been able to get started earlier in the forties we’d have seen some masterpieces from him, exploiting the feeling of innovation and brio in the air. As it is, this is a twisty thriller with a stiletto-hurling bad guy and a third act detective inspector deus ex machina to sort everything out. Farrar’s experience with matte-painted mountainsides comes in handy at a dicey moment, and we establish for certain that bottle bottom glasses are not a good look for him. And Nadia Gray is tres charmant (although actually Romanian, not French).