Archive for King Kong

It Came from Outer Space Beneath the Sea

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2013 by dcairns

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We enter the multiplex auditorium and immediately feel the crunch of popcorn under foot — a heap of the stuff, spilled on the carpet. “My God, a child has exploded,” says the guy behind us.

As a pedant, the bit of Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM which I did not enjoy, was hearing Idris Elba say that he would die if he “stepped foot” inside one of those giant walk-robots again. This particular language-mangling is one which seems to have gained ground since I first heard it in a hair product ad ten years or so ago (how does one “step foot”? Did Johnny Eck “step hand”? I think the phrase for which Del Toro and his drift partner / co-writer Travis Beacham are grasping is “set foot,” a phrase which has the advantage that, when you think about it, it actually makes sense) and I’m not sure how it can be exterminated. Perhaps the linguistic equivalent of a plasmacaster could do it. Or an Idris Elba elbow rocket.

If the film’s grammar is faulty, its look is very nice indeed, with a lot of intense coloured light, neon etc, filtered and softened through water haze — a bit like wearing the old anaglyph 3D red-blue glasses to go swimming (what? I’m the only one to have done this?). Despite having written about giant monster movies quite a bit, I’ve never been entirely convinced that there was a way to make a really good one, the first KING KONG still being, in my opinion, the only conspicuous triumph in eighty years of kaiju kinema. PACIFIC RIM’s main achievement is to suggest that such a film, further down the line, might be possible. I don;t think this is it, but it comes closer than the likes of Michael Bay could ever dream.

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Del Toro is striving to be mainstream here, which is a potentially depressing thing to see any filmmaker do, especially one who shouldn’t need to struggle to be immensely popular. I’m convinced that his HOBBIT or his AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS would have been more interesting and probably more box office than this. As it is, his disinterest in his leading character (who has no grotesque quirks or illnesses and isn’t a child) is palpable, with Charlie Hunnam fairing worse than similar Brit-with-a-US-accent Rupert Evans in HELLBOY (a character brutally excised from the sequel with a dismissive two-line dialogue exchange). Rinko Kikuchi (memorable as Bang Bang in THE BROTHERS BLOOM) is rather delightful as his opposite number, but her child version in flashback, tiny Mana Ashida, creates the film’s only real emotion.

Ron Perlman and Charlie Day are fun. Burn Gorman, who gets a lot of work by looking like a Skull Island rat monkey, or like Lee Evans with third-degree burns, overacts rather badly. The human dimension is very cartoony, and while I don’t necessarily say that characters with names like Stacker Pentecost and Hercules Hansen are foredoomed to be one-dimensional comic strip figures (I picture a one-dimensional comic-strip figure as resembling a single dot from a Roy Lichtenstein blow-up), the figures declaiming lines like “The apocalypse is cancelled!” do not consistently transcend the emotional sophistication of the Mattel toy.

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BUT — I don’t think any of that would necessarily spoil the pleasure of anybody who already thinks that giant robots fighting giant lizards is a good idea for a movie. I do think it was a mistake to set the final battle underwater, thus losing the sense of scale of the earlier urban punch-up, which is more spectacular, more inventive, and not hampered by the drag effect of water. Underwater battles are ALWAYS dullsville, surely? Remember THUNDERBALL? It took a lot of effort to make something that dull. Del Toro’s deep-sea donnybrook is more exciting than that, but it’s weaker than what has gone before.

I remember learning, to my surprise, from a female anime fan in Leytonstone, that female anime fans really like big robot stories — the idea of piloting a big robot appeals to some untapped female primal urge — and I worry that by making his robots team-driven, the most interesting idea at play in PACIFIC RIM, Del Toro and Beacham may have negated the wish-fulfillment fantasy of having a giant steel carapace.

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Maybe it’s time I watched PATLABOR again.

A shame the movie doesn’t use the term “waldos” — Robert Heinlein invented the term in a science fiction story and it became an accepted name for “remote manipulators” (machines which mimic the movement of a real human limb at a distance) when they were eventually invented. But the film does use the expression “Double Event,” borrowed from Jack the Ripper studies — Del Toro is a keen Ripperologist and no doubt liked the strange, mythic import of the words.

Phantom Electric Theatres of Edinburgh # 2

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2013 by dcairns

For this exploration of vanished cinema sites, empty shells and transmogrified theatres, we started by getting the bus to South Clerk Street, where alas the first movie house on our itinerary, The Salisbury, is long demolished, with modern apartments slapped on top. Here’s a still from the excellent Scottish Cinemas site, showing the auditorium as demolition got underway ~

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The Salisbury opened in 1925 with the silent THE SEA HAWK, but was damaged by fires in 1939 and 1943 after which it was used as a store.

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A short distance down Clerk Street is the cinema of my childhood. I knew it as The Odeon, and its auditorium (originally one screen with upper stalls, later partitioned into three) was let by constellations of stars in the ceiling. When those lights finally dimmed after the ads, for the main show, the feeling was magical.

Films seen: the original KING KONG — and the De Laurentiis remake — STAR WARS — Godzilla and James Bond double bills — and the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA restoration. Probably this was where I was taken to see my first movie, DR DOLITTLE on rerelease, and started to cry because nobody had warned me it would be dark.

That’s me, above, standing in line.

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Found this online — the cinema is showing NUNS ON THE RUN, which I *saw* there, I’m embarrassed to say. As a fan of some of Handmade Films’ output, I wanted to give it a chance. A mistake. But one which raises the possibility that I might be IN that photo. The figure bottom right — is that me? I don’t think so — but I did own a grey coat like that…

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Here’s the cinema when it opened, as The New Victoria. It’s showing GLORIFYNG THE SHOWGIRL, a movie which doesn’t exist on the IMDb — I’m thinking it’s GLORIFYING THE AMERICAN GIRL (1929), retitled for the UK. But the very first movie screened here was ROOKERY NOOK, an “Aldwych farce” — basically a photographed play, the British film industry’s first response to talking pictures.

The cinema closed in 2003 — among the films showing was TOMB RAIDER, which is appropriate when we come to this gallery of images taken by an urban explorer within the deserted kino-mausoleum.

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Cinema 8

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No, I didn’t take those pictures. I would soil myself with terror in a place like that.

But we have barely begun! Moving down onto Clerk Street, we come to the Festival Theatre, used for live productions but also venue for the opening and closing galas of Edinburgh International Film Festival. Before it was constructed, there was the Empire Palace Theatre, site of Edinburgh’s first ever cinematograph showing. Here’s the programme screened ~

Dinner Hour at The Factory
Children Playing
A Landing Stage
Arrival of The Paris Express
A Practical Joke on The Gardner
Trewey’s Hat
Champs Elysee, Paris
The Fall of The Wall
Bathing in The Mediterranean

The Empire burned down in 1911, in a fire which killed stage magician the Great Lafayette.

Across the road stands a Bingo Hall, originally known as La Scala — a real fleapit in its day. In my day it was The Classic, and it showed naughty films. I was too young to go, but I can remember giggling at the marquee — CONFESSIONS OF A LESBOS HONEY was shown, as was THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE. The only defining trait uniting the varied programme seemed to be that everything shown had to be crap. The only movie I ever saw listed there that had been reviewed on TV was Tinto Brass’s THE KEY with sugar daddy Frank Finlay.

So I never got to see inside — which makes this image all the more enticing!

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You can just feel that sticky carpet, can’t you? Just keep telling yourself, “It’s only Kia Ora.”

Nicholson Square, former home of Burke & Hare’s patron, Dr Knox, later housed a picture house, The Lyric, later the The Silver Kinema House, which opened in 1913 (an annus mirabilis when countless theatres threw open their doors for the first time), showing THE RIVAL AIRMEN and THE NIAGARA FALLS. It also ran, at that time, Edison’s kinetophone — talking pictures! A year later it was re-named THE LYRIC, which nobody could pronounce. Ironically, the advent of true talkies killed The Lyric, and it closed in 1931 with MARRIED IN HASTE and THE HELLCAT.

Now all that’s left is a bank, supposedly utilising some of the lobby space, and a vacant lot, utilising the rest.

The Lumiere, attached to the National Museum of Scotland, was a lecture theatre awkwardly adapted to serve as a cinema — the wide centre aisle meant that the exact spot you would sit for the best view was occupied by steps, and the seats were steeply raked as if the show were going to be an anatomy lesson. But the programming was great, during the three and a half years it was open (1998-2002) — I saw PLAYTIME for the first time here.

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This little shed, appended to a church, seems to be The Waverley, Infirmary Street. It was known in its day (pre-WWI) as a “penny scratcher,” a literal fleapit, where kids could buy entry upon presentation of an empty jelly jar. Classy. Sometimes, your ticket came with a free orange, in those distant pre-Kia Ora days. Happy young patrons could suck their orange while scratching themselves, making for a truly immersive and interactive experience. A Charlie Chaplin short viewed under such conditions would be the HOBBIT of its day.

The Cinema House stood for a long time, an incongruous low building next to the imposing Grecian frontage of the Surgeon’s Hall. Opened in 1903, it used to provide a fee cup of tea with every ticket, and was the first Edinburgh cinema to provide “continuous” programmes from 2.30 to 10pm. Hard work for the poor pianist! The Cinema House closed as a cinema in 1930 (with Mildred Harris in SEA FURY, supported by THE LOVE OF THE ATLANTIC), was used by the Salvation Army, then fell into dereliction — finally it was knocked down in 2004.

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The Roxburgh doesn’t look much like a cinema today, but it opened as such in 1919 with THE SILVER KING starring Barbara Castleton. As the cinema did not advertise regularly, Thomas is unable to provide a closure date, but reckons it did not survive the coming of talkies. The triangular top to the facade is the only hint of the Roxburgh’s theatrical origins.

Ignominy! The Tron Cinema (no relation to the Disney movie) is now a bar/restaurant. As a cinema, it opened in 1914 with screenings of A VISION OF THE WORLD and FROM SKY BLUE TO PURPLE DEEP, neither of which merits an IMDb entry. “Take the tram to the Tron!” was the cry. Talkies killed the Tron, it seems.

We nipped along Chamber Street, once home of the Operetta House, now totally demolished. Originally a theatre, then a music hall, it began showing film subjects in the early twentieth century, with titles such as THE DIAMOND THIEVES and HOW THE POOR CLOWN’S PRAYER WAS ANSWERED. This theatre did make it into talkies, but seems to have closed in 1939.

On Forrest Road, the first address I lived at after leaving home, there is a building called Oddfellows Hall, which apparently screened movies at one time — things of a religious nature designed to improve. No more of that.

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The New Palace on the High Street opened in 1929 with HER NEW CHAUFFEUR, a talkie. It wasn’t one of my Dad’s regular haunts, but he does recall being taken there to see SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON when he was ten. You can still see the stone-carved letters declaring “PICTURES”. But the narrowness of the building prevented modernisation, and the introduction of Todd-AO reduced seating from 1050 to 950.

The doors closed in 1959 with CAPTAIN KIDD, SMART BOYS and EAST SIDE KIDS. Thomas quotes Bernard McGowan’s account of the last picture show: “youthful audiences tried singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, the usherette cried ‘Stop that racket! You’re barred the lot of you. You’ll no’ get in next week!’”

The Star on St Mary’s Street is a great old building, but totally unrecognizable as a former cinema. It opened in 1914 and closed in the twenties. It was known locally as “The Starry,” but nothing else is recorded about it.

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Still not quite exhausted, we trudged down to the Calton Studios, still open as a music venue. Once this was a base for the Edinburgh Film Festival, after having been a TV studio. It opened in 1977 with THE FRONT, under the management of Bill Landale and Steve Clark-Hall (now a successful film producer) but phased out cinema operations as the Filmhouse took over as Edinburgh’s main art cinema.

The building has great cyborg sculptures sticking out of it, which we admired.

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And that was enough for one day. Nodding in the direction of the Regent, Abbeymount, of which no trace remains, we headed home. Last films screened at The Regent: CARRY ON AGAIN DOCTOR and THE TRAP, with Oliver Reed and Rita Tushingham.

Lost in Time and Lost in Space… and Meaning

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by dcairns

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I was impressed by a shot in Adam Curtis’s free-form documentary found-footage mash-up IT FELT LIKE A KISS in which Doris Day closes a hotel room door in our face and the room number on it is 2001. Curtis uses this to evoke thoughts about the events of 9:11 and the more innocent-seeming world we dream existed before that act of unscheduled demolition opened the  war on abstract concepts. I became convinced that it might also be possible to draw connections between Kubrick’s film 2001 and the actual events on September 11th of that year. If, as ROOM 237 shows, THE SHINING can be bent this way and that to support an apparently unlimited range of unrelated theories, surely the even more open text of 2001 can act as a lens through which to view events which were still in the almost-unimaginable future when Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived their space odyssey?

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Kubrick begins with a desert landscape populated by aggressive cave-dwellers. Al-Qaeda? Racist to conflate arabs and ape-men, but in a way we’re only following the racist logic of much media reporting to see where it leads. 2001 begins with a land that doesn’t need to be bombed back to the stone age because it’s already there. The simians are visited by a shiny rectangular artifact, which we’ll spuriously claim represents the Twin Towers. Gazing at it in awe, they are inspired to discover weapons and kill.

Of course, the connection between apes and the World Trade Center is really made by the DeLaurentiis KING KONG, in which Kong scales one of the towers before leaping to the other, driven by some primal urge (he apparently relates the towers to a geographical feature of Skull Island). Attacked by helicopters, Kong (like the 2001 man-beasts, an uncredited actor in a costume) is shot down. KING KONG is directed by John Guillermin, who had considerable skyscraper experience, having just made THE TOWERING INFERNO. Thus Kubrick’s film, without containing any shots of large-scale destruction, calls to mind the events of 9:11 in a variety of ways in its very first sequence.

In Steve Bell’s newspaper strip in The Guardian, entitled If…, George W Bush was always portrayed as a simian. And IF… is also the title of the film starring Malcolm McDowell which got Little Malcolm the lead role in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. (CLOCKWORK ORANGE can be seen as a black parody of 2001: a barbaric savage is reprogrammed by a higher power. In both cases, the primitive being is shown a film accompanied by German classical music — Moonwatcher the apeman perceives this with his mind’s eye, whereas Malcolm watches it on a traditional screen. The protagonists of both films end up in bed, transformed.)

In a justly famous transition, Kubrick match-cuts from a hurled bone to a spacecraft, cementing the notion of flying vehicles as weapons. Later we will meet spacecraft identified as belonging to Pan-Am Airlines, confirming that spacecraft are just evolved aircraft (and both are just evolved ape-weapons).

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Now we meet Space Station V, an orbiting base composed of two wheels, each constructed like a skyscraper swallowing its own tail. Parts of the station are apparently as yet incomplete, exposing red girders. To a Strauss waltz, we watch as a spacecraft flies directly into the station, but rather than causing destruction it is simply swallowed up. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, this space base has a restaurant and an unbeatable view. The WTC boasted of its top floor “observatories” and its “Windows on the World” restaurant and “Cellar in the Sky” bar. The SSV actually does feature windows on the world, through which the Earth can be seen, apparently spinning below.

On board, things are seething with international tension — in Kubrick’s vision of the future, Perestroika never happened so the Russians are still the threat. There’s also news of a strange discovery on the moon –

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The floodlit excavation sight is almost a dead ringer for New York’s Ground Zero, only with a skyscraper (the monolith) still rising out of it, impossibly. It’s existence causes another flight, this time to Jupiter (and beyond the infinite), which incidentally is one of the dozen places President Bush was flown to after the towers collapsed.

Now we find ourselves on a spacecraft on a secret mission, hijacked by a terrorist which started out disguised as a legitimate passenger on the craft (the shipboard computer). HAL kills the crew members in order to take over the ship, but he does it because “this mission is too important to allow you to jeopardise it.”

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Repeated image of a body tumbling through space.

Like the passengers on the hijacked planes, Kubrick’s astronauts can phone home. One receives the message “See you next Wednesday,” a line quoted in every John Landis film. Landis’s career has been marked by fatal aerial catastrophe. His movie SPIES LIKE US deals with a team of idiots deployed by corrupt commanders to distract attention while a war is started. His first movie, SCHLOCK, features numerous parodies of the apemen from 2001.

Like the passengers of United 93, Dave Bowman destroys the hijacker, resulting finally in his own death — but this is played in stylised form, first as a flight through distorted, psychedelic landscapes, then as an accelerated aging process, then with the traditional death-bed. In a white room whose floor is illuminated panels like the sides of a skyscraper.

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But at the foot of that death-bed, the monolith appears yet again, and once more we move inexorably towards its smooth surface, repeating yet again the collision with the WTC, an event which killed, among thousands of others, the sister of Marisa Berenson, who starred in Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON. She was also the wife of Anthony Perkins, best known for playing a knife-wielding killer who struck in disguise, and who appeared in Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE, which shares with 2001 a climax in which a passage through a space portal leads to a mysterious spiritual experience.

From the impact with the monolith, something new is born, but the movie is vague about what, exactly, can be expected from it…

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In a way this is a thought experiment, to see how many meaningful-seeming coincidences can be drawn between an event and a film which actually preceded it by decades and could not have been influenced by it in any traditional cause-and-effect way. In a way it’s a parody of such academic exercises. It’s also inspired a bit by the fancy footwork in this remarkable piece.

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