Archive for Kubrick

The Sunday Intertitle: Droogy Peggy

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by dcairns

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CAPTAIN JANUARY (1924) stars Baby Peggy, already a veteran at five years old. I can’t recommend highly enough the documentary BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, in which this survivor of the silent screen tells us about her remarkable career, as clear a case of child exploitation (and endangerment!) as you could wish to hear. Heart-warmingly — and I use the word without irony — Peggy-Jean Montgomery is today quite at peace with her movie career, able to enjoy the interest of fans and her position as former movie star, while still being quite clear-headed about the wrongs that were done her.

CAPTAIN JANUARY is a decent Peggy vehicle, in the sense that there’s lots of cuteness for us to enjoy — BP was unbelievably cute, and she has a dog, Skipper, and a pelican, Hamlet, to boot. The bird’s name is explained by the reading material Cap’n Daddy, her guardian, has selected for her education ~

Unfortunately, though ably directed by Buster Keaton associate Eddie Cline, the movie severely lacks plot and jeopardy. A villain is introduced, then dispensed with, having achieved nothing, and the happy ending remains clearly in sight through all the darkest moments, as if through a diaphanous veil. Ideally, you want the third act to throw up some situation so horrible and inescapable that the audience, despite knowing you must surely have a Happy Ever After tucked up your sleeve, can’t conceive of how you’re going to produce it. But maybe, Peggy being so cute, the scenarists didn’t have the heart to push things that far.

Astonishingly, this was remade (not so astonishingly, with Shirley Temple) — I assume it wasn’t so much the narrative they wanted as an excuse to feature a small child in oilskins, admittedly an adorable sight.But it’s Peggy’s long-johns and bowler ensemble that steals the show, transforming her for a few brief seconds into a proto-mini-droog.

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Being the adventures of a young girl whose principle interests are japes, lighthouse-keeping and Shakespeare.

Of course the inclusion in CLOCKWORK ORANGE of the novelty song “I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper” is tacit acknowledgement that Kubrick had seen this and stolen the look.

Eyre Turbulence

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Space Envy

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2014 by dcairns

YES, it is tatty British TV scifi (TBTVSF for short). Which is, in itself, admirable. But note the date! 1967 — BEFORE 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was in cinemas but undoubtedly WHILE Kubrick was working on it. And watch the space station-space shuttle link-up at the start! Highly reminiscent. What must Kubrick have felt when he saw this?

Well, we need not wonder, since I have here Kubes’ notes, dictated to personal secretary Isadore “Beeves” Krassovitz as he watched the show (Kubrick always had a short-hand typist on hand as he watched television, in case he made any remarkable observations during Crown Court), then recorded onto quarter-inch tape by voice artist Martin Jarvis, attempting a Bronx accent.

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0.16 Shit. This is EXACTLY like our first space sequence. Only… so much better! We are dead. DEAD. How do we top this? The music — it’s goddamn magnificent! The majesty of interplanetary travel, and yet, so perky! I’m gonna really have to shuffle through my record collection. It’ll never be as good as this.

0.28 Even their title’s better than ours.

0.35 Special effects by “National Interest Pictures.” Make a note of that. We have to get a spy in there to find out how they’re doing this stuff. We have traveling mattes and Schuftan and slitscan but this is WAY ADVANCED. It’s almost like they have access to alien technology or something.

1.22 The heroes are called Power and Tempo. And what do we got? Dave and Frank. We are boned.

1.36 Note how the stars are twinkling in a realistic fashion even though we’re in space and there’s no atmosphere to make them twinkle. That’s the kind of detail 2001 has got to have.

1.55 Actors are too emotional. But wait — that guy poking an ice cube tray with a pen light is Derek Fowlds, future star of Yes, Minister! I’m gonna have to cast the future star of a rival sitcom to compete. Maybe I can get the guy from Rising Damp? Or the guy from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin? Hell, I’ll get both. That’ll make it really futuristic.

2:06 I like how the TV monitor is in black and white. No way they could afford colo(u)r TV in space. Still, better look into it.

2:13 Their chairs are made of egg cartons. Nice.

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2:48 Look at the size of that TV set! Is that realistic? Why don’t I have one that big?

2:56 Mini-skirts are never, ever, going to go out of style.

3:46 When the Discovery enters the “tunnels of light” it’s gonna have to look every bit as good as this dry ice fog effect they got here or we’re gonna be laughed off the screen.

3.50 Hey, the set’s bouncing up and down as if they were actually moving! How the hell are they doing that?

4.00 A masterstroke. Only now, four minutes in, do they tell us the name of the episode, “CLOUD OF DEATH.” Maybe I could use text on screen to introduce the various “chapters” of my film. Like at the beginning, it could say “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES” or something. But I know what’ll happen — they’ll say I stole it from Solarnauts.

4.25 Now they’re blowing shit up! How come I never thought of that? We got all these models, and we never thought of doing some kind of space dogfight and blowing them up. First thing tomorrow I’m gonna find Arthur C Clarke in that tree in Ceylon he lives in and smack his stupid face. Even if I have to fly there!

5.00 Those zigzag wipes are awesome. I would never be that bold. I go from a monkey tossing a femur to a nuclear missile station in space and what do I do? I cut! What a goddamn tragic missed opportunity. Still, I guess those wipes might get tiresome over the course of a movie that’s 141 minutes long as mine is destined to be.

5:24 Jesus, that bald guy’s head is coming right out of the TV. What an amazing way to visualize an alien intelligence — a guy with no hair! That’s it, I can’t compete. We’ll just have to keep our aliens offscreen. I was gonna use guys with no beards, but this show has me licked. I don’t think I can watch anymore (sob!)

TAPE ENDS.

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I find Kubrick an irresistible comedy character. He did try to sue the makers of Space 1999 for infringing his title… “That date is only two years away from 2001!” One sees his point, but he does rather miss the crux of the matter, legalistically, that you can’t copyright a title.

 

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