Archive for Kurosawa

Debonair

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Sport, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2018 by dcairns

Slow news day. And I’m now heading into Hell, as my viewing of feature film submissions for Edinburgh Film Festival crashes into my viewing of short films as applications for Edinburgh College of Art Film & Television Department. There will be hundreds of features and hundreds of shorts. So, probably no time for watching ANYTHING apart from snatches of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and I can’t write about any of the films I see for eminently reasonable privacy reasons.

BUT — my friend Travis, an ace sound editor, got in touch the other day and mentioned a clip he was going to use in a class of sound designers. It’s his favourite bit from RAGING BULL, with the mysterious close-ups of coffee cups and a coffee cup HANDLE. Scorsese is still doing these giant detail shots in SILENCE and WOLF OF WALL STREET, where Jonah Hill spots Leo’s car and it fragments into what Werner might call ECSTATIC SNAPSHOTS. The whole sequence is such a compendium of unusual choices, maybe I can just talk about THAT today.

It’s 11 am. on Wednesday the 31st of January. Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off.We’re an hour into Scorsese’s 1980 monsterpiece. Joe Pesci as Joey La Motta slams Frank Vincent as Salvy’s head in a taxi cab door in a fit of pique. It’s a scene of high noise and chaos, the violent blows underplayed if anything in favour of the vocal panic of onlookers. Then, Scorsese and his mixing team do something very curious.

All the din fades down, while the onscreen action remains furious (though we do withdraw to a more placid, distant high angle, almost a Hitchcock God shot) and Mascagni’s Barcarolle bleeds in, wafting a discordant gentleness over the brutish proceedings. (Scorsese has talked about how the violence he saw in the streets as a kid was often accompanied by wildly contrapuntal love songs on neighbourhood radios, so that the more literal accompaniment he heard in the movies always seemed terribly mediocre.) Emotion recollected in tranquility.Then we cut to the Debonair Social Club, which should be hilarious in contrast to the preceding skull-cracking, but the music and the wideness of the shot kind of quashes the humour, deliberately. Scorsese cuts to the sign AFTER, to avoid making the joke quite coalesce. I don’t know what Travis was going to talk about in class, except that he was struck by how this rainy street scene, with a man running by to get out of the downpour, has no rain FX and no footsteps foley. Just the music, so this transitional mood overlay, which is not emotionally appropriate in any obvious way for the fight scene or the resulting negotiation we’re about to see, dominates the soundtrack and, in one very practical sense, smoothes over the gear change from one to the other.

More detail shots: the club license, framed respectably on the wall (these mob places are impossible to get into if you’re not, ahem, in the club: but I *think* maybe they filmed in a real joint. And it was slightly awkward, iirc.)  Then, as we get details of coffee-making and cups, we hear the gentle voice of “Coach” from Cheers, Nicholas Colasanto, smoothing the ruffled feathers and making nice with Pesci and the heavily bandaged Vincent, which is where the scene DOES allow some humour to break loose.

The voice is so low and reasonable and soothing, it’s the first thing that really makes sense with the music, though the circumstances still seem some considerable ironic distance from the plot of Silvano, Mascagni’s “sea-faring drama.”

That coffee-cup handle… so mysterious. How does one think of something like that. And what does it do? it makes us see an object, really SEE it, in a new way. It gives a great impression of DAINTINESS. You can sort of picture an invisible pinky sticking out as this cup is raised. Again, this could be funny, but isn’t, exactly.Cut to card-players’ hands, with a used coffee cup — is Ozu an influence here? I had been thinking Kurosawa — the bit where Mifune chooses the name Sanjuro by looking at a cornfield in YOJIMBO comes to mind — but using the idea of a coffee cup to dance from the kitchen or bar to the front of the establishment seems very like the way Ozu’s detail shots can transport us through space-time on a thread of mental connections between objects. “You don’t raise your hands,” Colasanto is saying, which is the most specific sound-picture connection we’ve had so far.

And STILL we don’t see the man talking, we just get a wider shot of the calm, stolid card-players.So, if this is what you’ve been doing, you need to keep it up, right? So now we finally go to the group this scene is about, and Colasanto’s voice has finally faded up to full volume (still soft and throaty), but instead of showing the speaker, we’re on the listeners, the patched-up Salvy and the glowering Joey, sort of trying to look like an altar boy, an amusing thing to see as Colasanto waves a hand and says, his back to us, “Now, we’ve heard everyone’s point of view…”

We only see the room in a wide shot when this part of the interview is over, which allows a sort of mental reset for the next piece of business —Finally, by now, the music has finished fading down, so slowly you don’t notice it leaving. It’s replaced by an almost totally inaudible piece of diegetic music playing somewhere, slight atmospheric creaks and clicks and fidgeting noises, the sounds of general movement in the club, but almost no except those of the principles, despite the fact that people seem like they’re probably talking in the background if you think about it realistically, and maybe the distant clank and rumble of an elevated train.

OK, it’s 11.39, time for me to get on with my day…

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Evil Xs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2010 by dcairns

Not much to add to the gleeful hubbub surrounding Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD. A rare film which takes faithfulness to its source as a call to have fun rather than stifle invention, it’s also one of the few movies that really works for me in terms of juggling sort-of-real characters with personalities and issues, and awesome fight scenes where people get exploded. There’s no sense of a mismatch at all, you don’t worry about the death side of things, you just accept that the mild mayhem is some kind of metaphor, and nobody really gets hurt within the world of this film.

Taking his cue from the graphic novel/s, Wright plays games, literally, with cinema, cheerfully eating up anime and comic book and video game techniques. It makes me curious to see what he’d do with 3D, since his showcasing of technique for the sheer hell of it makes self-consciousness a virtue. Also, it’s very funny.

Wright has always had a lovely sense of comic timing, and his hyperkinetic style actually works hand-in-hand with that. The sharp cut following Michael Cera’s reaction to the line “Bread makes you fat,” — a single, horrified, “What?” — is made retroactively funnier by the abruption of the edit following fast on the heels of the line. In a split second, your brain is reprogrammed to upgrade the line from amusing to hilarious.

Cera is of course delightful, but so is everyone. My new conversational opener for after a film viewing with a friend is “Who was your favourite?” and it works very well with this movie [Maybe wouldn’t be so helpful with something like SECRET HONOR] I asked Fiona, “Who was your favourite?” “What?” “Who was your favourite?” “Oh. Girl drummer.” An instinctive reaction to a good bob. And then, “And gay guy.” My favourite is Ellen Wong as Knives Chao, because everything she does is cute and funny. But it’s a tough call, because there’s a whole trench-full of cute funniness in the flick.

As one who’s gone on the record with a deep, almost sexual admiration for Cera, I felt uncertain about his darker hair coloring here, and Wright does a lot of profile and three-quarter views of his star, which makes him less beautiful, less a Starman and more a 21st Century Sterling Holloway. But that ain’t bad.

Is Scott sitting on a swing in the snow a reference to Kurosawa’s IKIRU? It seems like it might be. Or it might be a reference to Bruce MacDonald’s THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS, which likewise has teenage issues, split screen and Canada as sub-topics. Two references that seem fairly certain are the use of the hypnosis sting from Mike Hodges’ FLASH GORDON, and the appearance by the Monster from the Id from FORBIDDEN PLANET. What’s he been doing with himself in the last fifty years, anyhow?

He’s certainly kept in trim.

Family Viewing Time

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2009 by dcairns

rod-taylor-the-time-machine

How are we getting on with our teen-supervision activities, you ask?

Films watched with Louis this week include THE WRESTLER (which I didn’t see, but which Fiona found pretty old-fashioned, like a marginally more disfigured version of King Vidor’s THE CHAMP — “I like his scary fridge film better,” says Fiona, referring to REQUIEM FOR A DREAM), HEAVENLY CREATURES, and THE PUMAMAN, a bizarrely homoerotic Italian superhero movie about ancient Incan space technology which gives the hero the powers of a puma: sensing danger, achieving a death-lke trance, flying — you know, just like a puma. “I always seem to end up watching something really weird with you guys,” Louis observed affably.

Best of all, we watched George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, which gives new pleasures every time I see it.

While Pal’s best pal couldn’t argue that he’s particularly sophisticated as a director, he has a very smart script to work with here, and has obviously been looking around and drawing inspiration from some pretty cool sources. When intrepid chrononaut Rod Taylor (marvellous perf!) goes for a walk in the Eden-like future forest, Pal throws in a variety of tracking shots suggesting that he’s been impressed by Kurosawa’s RASHOMON. The giveaway shot is the one looking up at the sunlight blinking through the branches.

Later, when Taylor discovers that the savage Morlocks (paunchy blue guys with unsightly body hair — the Scots of the future?) have a Gremlin-like aversion to bright light, he dazzles them for a moment by lighting a match, and Pal steals from the Master, with an orange glare of POV dazzle filched from REAR WINDOW. This struck Louis as implausible: “Just how bright IS a match, anyway?” Since the Morlock’s have Jawa-style glowing eyes, do they not get equally blinded whenever they look at each other?

As a fan of TV’s The Mighty Boosh, Louis has a fine eye for absurdity, and enjoyed such moments while still appreciating the beauty and craft of Pal’s special effects sequences and the sweep of the story, which must have made some impression: when I loaned him my battered copy of the Watchmen graphic novel later in the week, warning him that it might crumble to dust, he sagely remarked, “Like the books in THE TIME MACHINE.”

Yvette Mimieux: a bit too Paris Hilton for Louis’ taste.

Another weird coincidence: on Monday morning I was lecturing on Orson Welles, doing his whole film career only in reverse, and mentioned the amazing moment in the MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS screenplay, deleted from RKO’s edit of the film, where the voice-over suggests a future time when George Amberson Minafer’s shade might be seen, kneeling, its head and shoulders disappearing through a partition wall that wasn’t there in his era (you really have to read it to make sense of this). That evening, as Rod Taylor fired up his elegant steam-punk time-sled, Louis speculated about what would happen if he materialised halfway through a yet-to-be-constructed wall…