Archive for La Belle et la Bete

Rubber Biscuit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2018 by dcairns

Was discussing something with Anne Billson on Twitter. Those shots where either a character moves on a dolly independently of the camera —

Examples:

Belle in Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, gliding eerily down a corridor of wafting curtains.

This ghost in William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL — Cocteau maybe invented the trope and Castle maybe introduced it to Hollywood.

The implacable revenant in Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, who never makes the mistake of moving like a normal living person. She teleports from room to room like Droopy (“I do this to him all through the picture.”), sits up in bed without the use of arms, rising like a drawbridge, then finally wheels forward through a rainbow of artfully gelled lighting, arms already in position for a spot of strangling…

Kathleen Freeman as the Penguin in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Landis’s parodic use of the supernatural glide is striking because the trope was scarcely in common use at the time. It wasn’t like the trombone shot/exponential zoom in his THRILLER video, where the gimmick was maybe on its way to becoming overexposed and thus ripe for parody. The nun on wheels (at the very end of the long clip above) feels like it could have been played absolutely straight in a real horror movie.

(I like to think they intended to hire Kathleen Byron as a scary nun but asked Freeman by mistake. But I know this is not true.)

Also, those shots where the camera moves WITH the actor, as if the actor were on wheels or the camera were attached, or both. There are two variations on this (well, two main ones) ~

At the opening of SECONDS, John Frankenheimer and James Wong Howe mount their camera on an actor via some kind of rigid harness, getting a whole range of eerie effects whereby the world lurches about, a drunken handheld nightmare, while the foreground shoulder or slice of face remains rock steady.

Another example of the same thing: Scorsese fastens on to Harvey Keitel for (appropriately) a drunk scene in MEAN STREETS, to the tune of Rubber Biscuit. Scorsese has also attached his lens to a boxer’s forearm to deliver a fist’s-eye view of a punch in RAGING BULL (blink and you’ll miss it) and to Willem Dafoe’s crucifix as it’s raised in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Interestingly, mounting the camera on a car is normal film language (although this still feels unusual) but latching on to any other moving object is still a novelty.

The other variation ~

Spike Lee is the main proponent of this one — camera and actor are moving in unison, but it’s a steady tracking shot, as if the actor is standing on the same dolly the camera moves on (and he is). Lee seems to do this in every film, and, distressingly, sometimes he seems to be doing it just to prove it’s him. His signature shot.

I used this one in my short film CLARIMONDE, back in the nineties — so Lee may have been the influence. I wanted a dreamlike effect and to show a character moving without free will. We didn’t actually have a proper dolly, just a tripod with castors, so I got my lead actor, Colin McLaren, to balance his feet on the castors and grip the top of the tripod so we could wheel him across the studio floor. I still like the result.

This whole slew of techniques seems to be without a name, unless I’ve missed something. I propose calling it the Rubber Biscuit Shot, even though Scorsese didn’t invent it and Spike Lee could probably stake a better claim to ownership. I just think Rubber Biscuit Shot sounds absolutely right for the weird, dislocating effect.

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Jack-the-Vlad

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2018 by dcairns

Cast list for Mario Puzo’s DRACULA —

Al Pacino — Dracula

Diane Keaton — Mina Murray

Robert Duvall — Jonathan Harker

Marlon Brando — Professor Van Helsing

John Cazale — Renfield

Duvall’s Dr. Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION is a worthy predecessor to Keanu Reeves’s Unconvincing Victorian Gentleman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. OK, on with our amazing journey through Francis Coppola’s director’s commentary, billed excitingly as Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula With Francis Coppola. Let’s! Oh, do let’s!

A pause in the commentary allows us to enjoy Keanu’s accent. It’s not that the accent is awful, or even too extreme — some posh Englishmen probably talked much posher in Victorian times — it’s that the accent has taken over the performance and is occupying all the actor’s concentration. Plus, I guess if you’re known for being Keanu Reeves, which Keanu Reeves was at the time, your English accent had probably best be quite subtle and discreet, which this isn’t.

Winona’s “It’s just that I’m so tebbly worried about Jonathan,” could give Keanu a run for his money, though. The line is kind of pathetic (I’m guessing the film wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test — Winona & Sadie’s scenes are all useless drivel, women waiting for men to show up so something can happen) but the delivery feels positively parodic.

The garden is built into the swimming pool that was Esther Williams’ swimming pool.

OK, that clarifies what Uncle Francis said earlier. Suddenly it’s NIGHT, in the best Edward D. Wood tradition, and the girls are looking off camera, slightly upwards, and the sky is full of Gary Oldman’s eyes, and NONE of this works.

You know, he’s on his ship, in his coffin, buried in his soil of Transylvania, and it’s beginning to influence even those girls in England.

It’s hot, you’re sweating, now here comes Julius!

Now Francis embarks on a stream-of-consciousness monologue in which what he’s trying to say keeps getting interrupted by what he’s looking at, because he can’t help say what he’s looking at, like a child going “Dog!”

This is a sequence trying to express the crates of boxes of Dracula’s belongings, including himself in a kind of almost embryonic state in the box and of course the movement of the ship on the water is now translated even to the girls in their garden and maze trying to unify the turmoil of storm that is about to, um, reach them… […] As though the earth of this English estate is moving, and the animals in the zoo are all becoming like a boat. […] All hell is breaking loose in the asylum because the coming of the boat again the metaphor is that the boat is expressed by boat-like movement even in a rock-solid place like an asylum.

The Joycean quality of the above does kind of suit the sequence, which is a very exciting one. John Boorman praised it for being a new form of cinema… Coppola admits he got it from Abel Gance. I think the few static shots here are a shame though. Ken Russell would have found a way to keep the madness going.

He’s getting so stoked, Renfield.

Well, it is BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

Coppola credits the pixilation shots, like a speed-freak version of the EVIL DEAD’s shakicam, to his son Roman, and speculates that the technique may have been developed and named by experimental filmmakers in the San Francisco Bay Area. As far as I know it’s Norman McLaren’s term, but I may be wrong.

Please, this isn’t what it looks like!

Then Dracula in the form of a big werewolf is shagging Sadie Frost and even Coppola seems bemused.

I’m a little surprised by this movie, I haven’t seen it in such a long time, but… it never stops doing stuff. It’s hard for me to talk about it, because normally, doing a commentary — oh yeah, he’s actually seeing the blood coursing through her veins — these are all ideas that we hoped to do when we planned it out and then of course we had to find ways to be able to do this imagery… and some work really very, very successfully, and some, uh, not at all, but you can see that it was a production that was full of ideas…

I like that he’s on the point of explaining why the film is hard to commentate on because crazy shit keeps breaking out, when he has to cut himself off because some more crazy shit just broke out. He then invokes Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a mistake, I feel. Surely he’s thinking of Charles Band’s PHANTOMS.

This sequence is actually shot with a Pathé camera, hand-cranked camera. I wanted to shoot much more of it with the camera but the photographer was less than interested.

Michael Ballhaus is emerging as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, isn’t he? It’s a lovely moment, and for once, it DOES feel like we’re back in the past.

Maybe the British actors and Ballhaus and, oh, everybody else who wasn’t a relative, was having trouble figuring out what this film was supposed to be because Coppola, as we’ve seen, doesn’t express himself very precisely with words. But he does express himself expressively. I recall Clive James quoting, I think maybe it was Bruce Beresford — “There’s an interview where Coppola says he doesn’t make films for the hoi polloi, when he means the intelligentsia.” Coppola would naturally want to use the term hoi polloi because it sounds snooty, something a toffee-nose would say, even if it doesn’t mean what he wants it to mean.

Well hello.

Coppola points out the clever effect where Oldman seems to catch a falling medicine bottle at knee level, then all at once has it at eye level — in an unbroken shot. THIS is the kind of “Did I see that?” sleight of hand that’s perfect for making the character a touch uncanny but not obviously strange.

(My friend Kiyo said “But… he’s obviously strange,” as Jude Law romanced the heroine of TALE OF A VAMPIRE, and then Fiona and I use it every time a Gothic movie attempts to sell a character as seductive when in fact you’d run screaming into the night if you ever met him.)

Fiona points out that Oldman is unlikely casting as a sexy Dracula, but admits that he is rather splendid in his man about town garb and shades.

I’ve always had the theory that a man loves the same woman all his life even if she takes the form of different women but ultimately from Day One a man loves the same woman and she is him.

Does this line work on the long-suffering Eleanor, I wonder? Oh, I’m such a bitch.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Sunday Intertitle: Bava Lava

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2015 by dcairns

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I’m finally reading Tim Lucas’s magisterial Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. I can’t fault the scholarship — few filmmakers are lucky enough to get books as exhaustive and considered and respectful as this. It’s all the sweeter since Bava was such an underrated artisan in his lifetime.

I wouldn’t dare to contest Lucas’ unparalleled expertise in this subject, but one little bit where I think he’s not quite right gave me an idea for today’s piece.

The book not only examines Bava’s directorial legacy, it probes into his work as cinematographer, and also provides as full an account of the career of his father, Eugenio Bava, cinematographer and visual effects artist of the silent era. Lucas examines the legendary CABIRIA, whose effects are jointly ascribed to Bava Snr. and the great Segundo de Chomon. Chomon usually gets most of the credit, and Lucas thinks this is probably unfair — he claims Chomon’s effects “were usually rooted in the principles of stop-motion animation.” In fact, I think it’s going to be impossible to make any calls on who did what, other than that we are told Bava Snr. built the model Vesuvius. Chomon’s imitations of Georges Melies’ style saw him performing every kind of trick effect known to the age, to which he added the innovation of stop motion, cunningly integrated into live action sequences. I think it’s fair to say than any of the effects in CABIRIA might have been the work of either man.

Lucas goes on to focus on one spectacular shot of the erupting volcano, a composite in which the bubbling miniature shares screen space with a line of fleeing extras and sheep (do the sheep know they’re fleeing? Perhaps they’re just walking). Lucas notes that smoke pots in the foreground, placed near the extras, waft fumes up across the model volcano, which makes him think the shot could not have been achieved as a matte effect. He deduces that the volcano was filmed through a sheet of angled glass, one corner of which was brightly lit to reflect the extras.

I would suggest that the shot is in fact a pure double exposure, with no mattes. The volcano is dark apart from the bright lava. The shot of the extras is also dark apart from the extras, sheep, and smoke. Double exposed on the same negative, the bright parts register and the black parts stay black. Thus the white smoke can drift up through the frame, appearing transparently over both the darkness and the bubbling Bava-lava.

belle et la bete end

More examples of this effect: at the end of Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, two characters fly off into the sky. The highlights on their figures cut through the superimposed cloudscape, but the shadow areas become transparent, phantasmal, in a way I don’t think the filmmakers intended; and in CITIZEN KANE, Welles crossfades slowly into flashback, with Joseph Cotten remaining solidly visible long after his background has disappeared, a trick achieved by fading the lighting down on the set while keeping Cotten brightly lit — no matte was needed, and had Cotten puffed on one of those cigars he was talking about, the smoke could have drifted across the incoming scenery, provided a sidelight picked it out of the darkness.

Lucas’s reflection trick, a kind of Pepper’s Ghost illusion, would have anticipated the more refined Schufftan effect by more than a decade (Eugen Schüfftan used mirrors to combine miniatures with full-scale action within the same, live shot on METROPOLIS) and Lucas suggests that Mario Bava resented this claiming of an invention his father had anticipated, and makes his disapproval known by including a character called Schüftan in his movie KILL, BABY, KILL. Since I don’t believe Eugenio anticipated Eugen in this technique, I think we can say that the use of the name Schüftan for the film’s heroine is more of an affectionate tribute to a great cinematographer, effects artist and a near-namesake of his dad.

Quibbles aside, I repeat: this is an amazing book.