Archive for Kirk Douglas

It’s not blood, it’s red

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , on June 28, 2021 by dcairns

Watched two Vincente Minnellis this week, without having planned it. BELLS ARE RINGING (top) was a rewatch. The combination of the timeless and simple source material — Cinderella — clever-clever screenwriter/songwriters (Comden & Green) — a crazed aesthete for a director — and the comedy powerhouse that is Judy Holliday — make this one that shouldn’t be missed if you like any of those kind of things.

We’d never seen LUST FOR LIFE. We didn’t initially take to Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh, although he certainly looks the part. He rants a lot, and it feels like the usual Kirk schtick amped up to eleven, rather than anything new or insightful. We admitted the thing was extremely beautiful. We pondered at the fact that Vincent’s letters to Theo (James Donald) were read on the soundtrack by Donald, not Douglas.

Slowly, the film gets better, or its better qualities come to dominate. Donald is the emotional centre, the one who can enlist our sympathies most strongly, so that’s why he gets the VO. And there’s more going on with the imagery than “just” beauty or even an attempt to mimic the look of specific Van Gogh paintings.

When VVG, close to his first crack-up, sits in a gloomy bar, Minnelli shows us his tormented face and then his POV.

We don’t know yet that Minnelli plans to use the image of the lamp as a symbol for when VVG’s mind overheats. It returns later, precipitating the ear-lopping.

What it does here, instead, is suggests the artist’s ability to find beauty in unexpected circumstances. Combined with Kirk’s glowering features, it suggests that he’s oppressed by this ability.

And then the ravishing landscapes, the film’s incessant picturesqueness, start to take on an added value. They go by too fast for us to really study them, seize them with our minds. We feel like the artist, struggling to capture fleeting beauty before it vanishes forever. (No replay function for real life.)

The lantern having assumed a prominent role, Minnelli can simply pan away onto it when VVG is about to make with the straight razor. Exactly as Tarantino does in RESERVOIR DOGS.

Lacking the ability to make Kirk’s ear disappear, Minnelli has to simply avoid shooting him on one side after the bandages come off.

Fiona remembers her art teacher inveighing against Don McLean’s song Vincent and its bogus sentimentality. I remember my art teacher answering a question about why VVG cut his ear off with the line, “He wanted to see what it looked like.” Quite a logical answer. He was an artist, he painted self-portraits… Not true though.

Kirk quietens down in some scenes. James Donald continues to quietly engage. Anthony Quinn brings the entertainment, and doesn’t overact. And he makes things a bit less formal.

The ending had an unexpected emotional impact, especially for Fiona, bringing back her feelings at her own brother’s death. “My poor brother,” says Theo, which is simple and absolutely right. What else can you say?

We’re inclined to look at some more cinematic Vincents. There are lots! The Richard Curtis Dr. Who episode is the worst thing ever, though — way beyond Don McLean.

20,000 Leagues of Their Own

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2021 by dcairns

Inspired by the Karel Zeman documentary we didn’t watch a Zeman film but instead looked at Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. First time I’ve made it through the thing, more or less, without drifting off. And yet, it’s not THAT boring.

It’s an impressive technical feat — everything they need to do, they pull off, and Bob Mattey’ giant squid is a wow. No wonder they brought him out of retirement to do Bruce the shark in JAWS. Quick! What was Richard Fleischer’s lawyer’s name? If we knew that, we would know what the squid should be called.

Melvin? Ken? Diablo?

Jules Verne’s episodic, meandering novel has given the adaptors some trouble — scenarist Earl Felton had written a couple of LONE WOLF movies (yay!) and a few small-scale works for Richard Fleischer, including the fantastic THE NARROW MARGIN, and suddenly he’s charged with penning this undersea epic which never had much of a plot. Once the protagonists are taken prisoner by Captain Nemo (James Mason) there’s nothing to do except wander around the magnificent Victorian sub, and go for the occasional jaunt. It all looks great but there’s no dramatic ticking clock to say anything in particular needs doing.

It’s interesting that Nemo is an ambiguous character and the fellow most sympathetic to him, Professor Arronax (Paul Lukas) is also most sympathetic to us. No strong decision seems to have been taken as to who Peter Lorre is playing, so the film’s best actor is somewhat rudderless, although as Fiona pointed out it’s kind of nice to see him playing somebody basically nice. And then there’s Ned Land, whaler and troilist, an appalling lout-hero, ably personated by Kirk Douglas, giving it both knees as usual. This seems to connect somehow to the Harryhausen/Juran FIRST MEN IN THE MOON — both feature delightful Victorian scifi vehicles (see also Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE) and thuggish heroes contrasted with appealing but powerless intellectuals. The Harryhausen movie actually made this WORK, though. (And this almost brings us back to Zeman, since his BARON PRASIL begins with a modern cosmonaut meeting Munchausen on the moon, much like FIRST MEN’s NASA opening, drafted by Nigel Kneale.)

THE BLACK HOLE, it’s been pointed out, is Disney’s unofficial remake of LEAGUES — Maximilian Schell even borrows James Mason’s beard (well, he had no further use for it) — to the extent of stealing the maelstrom from Verne, which doesn’t appear in the movie, and putting it front and centre and calling it a black hole. Where LEAGUES is meandering, though, HOLE is violently incoherent, though it does have an insane psychedelic/religiose ending which elevates it to the category of something or other that happened.

This must surely have been storyboarded to within an inch of its life but, curiously enough, Fleischer’s compositional genius isn’t much in evidence. I guess it’s his first Scope film.

Asides from the actors named above, the movie has one other favourite figure, Percy Helton, who turns up at the start as a salty sea-dog, looking less grotesque than usual in a beard of his own. He should’ve kept it, or vice versa. It’s one of those no-moustache Irish jobs, which usually make people look worse (Lincoln pulled it off, sorta), but dear Perc has the kind of face you can’t disimprove upon, so he ends up looking quite cute — from goblin to garden gnome.

Ulysses’ grunt

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2020 by dcairns

I was intrigued about the 1954 Italian ULYSSES by Mario Camerini and boy it’s handsome — Harold Rosson (THE GARDEN OF ALLAH) as cinematographer, Mario Bava operating, production design by Flavio Mogherini (who didn’t do that many period movies, oddly, but had done the Loren AIDA, the movie with the biggest shoe polish budget ever). It has a lovely misty look.

The script is by Homer but with quite a lot of help — six scenarists, in the Italian/DeLaurentiis tradition, including Ben Hecht and Irwin Shaw, ffs. And the main thing that the result doesn’t have is an effective structure, something Homer had managed quite well all on his own. The hero is introduced, voiceless, in silent flashbacks to the Iliad, then loses his memory and regains it in a series of different, subjective flashbacks, and they keep cutting to Penelope because she’s the producer’s wife, even though Penelope’s situation isn’t really developing much. She’s just waiting for Ulysses. They try to fake a sense of progression but you can only do so much.

We watched the Italian dub because the audio on the English version was pathetic, sounding like it was recorded in a tin shack on the Adriatic, missing whole music cues. But losing Douglas’ voice was a considerable detriment. Like a dark tinted window descended between audience and actor. Whoever was doing the voice sounded quite nice and the orotundity of the language was helpful, but it didn’t seem to connect to the face onscreen. I’ve seen dubbed performances which, though flawed, kinda worked, and this one didn’t. I played back the sirens scene in English: MUCH better. (Silvana Mangano doubles as the voice of the sirens, and later trebles as Circe with the aid of a green fill light.)

Lots of bad scenes where people just stand and talk at each other in groups for ages.

But a decent cyclops (unlike Harryhausen’s, this one talks, though his cave is not worthy of Plato: Plato would have kept looking for something in his price range), a lovely ship and the ending is surprisingly drawn-out for a commercial film (because they want more Mangano) so we get a lot of the stuff that might normally get left out. A badly edited fight with the suitors but it still manages to be quite hardcore and intense. Kirk “gives it both knees,” as you’d expect.

We rarely get the impression that we’re watching people, behaving, though when we do it’s because Kirk has done something good. But we frequently get the impression we’re hearing a legend that has been told for hundreds of years, and that is preferable to the other feeling that threatens to prevail, that of watching a daft fantasy epic.

ULYSSES stars Vincent Van Gogh; Tadzio’s Mother; Paul Gauguin; and Helen of Troy.