Archive for Lara Belmont

World’s Worst

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2009 by dcairns


I joined Twitter 11 months ago, and thought it was time I actually did something there, so I asked everybody for their worst cinema experiences, figuring I could compile that into a simple blog post quickly, and it might be amusing. Then I put the same request on Facebook, so I could test which is better.

Facebook wins!

Via Twitter, regular Shadowplayer and cartoonist Douglas Noble writes,“Dundonian EXORCIST audience, no heating, film snaps, advice yelled to screen, stair-fall exodus. I think I’ve mentioned it before.” I picture the audience’s breath misting in the projector beam.

Whereas, touchingly, Elver Loho, one of the very first Shadowplayers EVER, Twittered back, “Worst cinema experience? Don’t think I’ve ever had a truly bad one.” If that’s true I’m moving to Estonia.

Now, the FaceBook landslide.

Mandy Lee, inventor of the Human Swastika, chimed in with the following lament: “THE CRUCIBLE in a multiplex. About halfway through, the film went on fire and started bubbling and melting on the screen – it was creepy and at first no-one really knew if it was a special effect or not, then we got evacuated. Sort of fitting though, bearing in mind the subject matter.” I’m picturing Philippe Noiret ablaze in the projection booth. I’ve seen that happen with THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY at Edinburgh University Film Society. Slightly alarming.

Musician Daniel Prendeville: “A Saturday night sitting behind Paddy Twomey in the Astor Cinema, trying to watch THE LAST WALTZ, while the sleeping Paddy, all 6’5” of him, shifted in his seat, obscuring my view for the entire film.


Baris Azman: “One was with THE STRAIGHT STORY, which I saw in an arthouse theatre, where there were tons of old ladies in the theatre. Two behind me and my friends literally commented on almost every thing that happened during the film. “Oh my what happened?”, “Oh my, the lawnmower broke down. Oh my, he’s getting off. Oh my, there’s a truck …  coming.” And on and on and on, ’till I finally turned around and asked them to be quiet, we can all SEE what is happening. They then proceeded to call me “rude”.

The other one was where PULP FICTION was screened in a theatre in 2005, finally I was able to watch it on the big screen, finally after all those years. I’m enjoying the hell out of myself ’till there is a reel change somewhere around the scene where they have to clean up the mess they made with Marvin and what happens… the next reel us not only upside down, but in reverse. The projectionist had spliced one of the reels backwards.

We got our money back, but it screened only once.”

Michal Oleszczyk: “A very recent screening of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, with a group of teenage girls giggling at each Craig’s line (I’m still wondering what dirty double entendres did they get that missed me).” Sounds like an enhanced experience to me.

Filmmaker Timo Langer sympathises: “I have a simular one to Michal…Watched RUN LOLA RUN in Germany next to a guy which commented almost every exciting scene if not cut with the word “Phat”…the cool word at the time as I remember.”


Celebrity guest Lara Belmont, star of Tim Roth’s THE WAR ZONE, volunteers: “THE THIN RED LINE, you know you’re in trouble when the nature shots are the only reason to stay, and even they end up driving you out of the cinema.”As a devout Malickite, I can’t agree, but I can understand. There are a lot of leaves in that film, and some of them have more screen time than George Clooney. 


Regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider: “Well, there was always the midnight screening of David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS where the crowd was beery and numskulled and, when a face came onscreen who vaguely resembled Henry Kissinger, a male voice called out “Looks like a Jew!” … causing me to think “That’s my cue to leave.”” The Kissingeralike would be Joe Silver, also seen in RHINOCEROS, I think.

Brilliantly, filmmaker May Miles Thomas had an unpleasant run-in with the same film: “Years ago I went with my boyfriend to see SHIVERS at the Lyceum, Govan. Unfortunately boyfriend arrived stoned. Ten minutes in, he excused himself and never returned. I was about to leave when the usherette (50s, bespectacled) came up to me in a panic. I ran to the foyer and found boyfriend with his head embedded in a plasterboard wall. ‘Too scary for him’, opined the usherette. He claimed to have fainted on the way to the toilets.” Why this movie? Is there something strange about SHIVERS? Surely not.


Brian Robinson: “AMERICAN PSYCHO – “Hee hee hee”, said the apparently disabled (but not physically so) man to my immediate right as Christian Bale slapped around two prostitutes during a bout of rough sex. And then his hand slipped into his trousers and I frantically searched for a way to get away without actually passing him. “Hee hee hee”.” Brrr.


Two from Mary Gordon: “Watching KUNDUN at the Lumiere with the house lights up and remonstrating with the museum staff that Mr Scorsese mde it to be seen in the dark; watching an EIFF documentary, Armenian, no dialogue and someone behind me with a runing commentary with what was happening on screen (came close to being banged up in Cornton Vale that day).”


Shadowplay informant Danny Carr: “Watching THE WIZARD OF OZ while a friend snogged my ex-girlfriend a row behind me. The film was tainted for years to come!” Ouch.


Harriet Hunter: “Going to see WOLF CREEK and speding most of it trying to hide under the seat and wispering ‘I can’t watch this,I can’t watch this’,yet still watching It with one eye closed…not a great experience for the friend I was with.” Still, I’d say that was appropriate behaviour at a horror movie. Extreme, but appropriate.


My producer, Nigel Smith: “My first cinema experience was part of a schoolfriend’s birthday party. What sort of parents would take a bunch of excitable six year olds to see Tommy Steele in HALF A SIXPENCE? That’s tantamount to abuse.” It is pretty bad, I remember that film. It’s quite hard to take on TV. On the big screen it would be like getting your brain opened with a Mantle retractor.


But Mary suggests something worse: “Easy — WATERSHIP DOWN: I spent years after that checking for Nazi rabbits under my bed…”


Filmmaker Johannes Roberts: “A teenage audience laughing everytime John Carpenter cut to a close up of a sweaty close up of the fat Baldwin culminating in a prolonged groan for his close up kiss with Sheryl Lee, in VAMPIRES.” I don’t know, that sounds like an enhancement.

Also debatable, Chris B’s use of refreshments: “Ahoy, I went to see ELOGE DE L’AMOUR at the cinema back in 2001/2002, a film that had falsely been advertised as a romantic comedy in the Julia Roberts vein (only, avec subtitles). The first odd occurrence in this rather yuppy district was a young man called his mother before the film began (which is ok) to tell her that he was watching a Godard film; clearly he felt some kind of superiority in this triumphant choice of screening and had to call his mum to join in on the celebration.

The film began and the audience, allowing it some leeway despite not being prepared for the film they expected, became a little restless; the guy sat behind me even said to his complaining girlfriend that “this is interesting, let’s give it some more time”, but she was having none of that and, maybe being a French film’n’all, must’ve felt that in order to “fill the void” that the film was leaving, became horny and began the process of fellatio. I must say, I was fairly familiar with ELOGE having owned and rewatched the DVD countless times prior to the 35mm announcement; so, and despite Godard’s eclectic and whimsical play with soundtrack, I knew that the wet slapping sound emerging from behind me was not part of the Dolby Digital output. This continued for some time until oral did not suffice and a move to full-on penetration would be the order of the day, albeit discretely(?). Well, as much as I enjoy people enjoying themselves, they were encroaching upon MY cinema experience and something had to be done. I waited until the first credit appeared (the film plays out until the very end); exited the room to buy a couple of large Cokes (with ice, please); returned; and threw my purchases all over the couple who were in no position to begin pursuit of the perpetrator! Was this a bad movie experience? I’m not sure thinking about it.”

As for me, I recall being physically threatened by an oddly aggressive stoner sitting behind me at a screening of BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS, which didn’t seem so funny, and there was a very weird screening of THE IDIOTS at Cannes where Fiona and I found ourselves crawling along some kind of balustrade to get to our seats (the festival had kept us waiting outside until the film started), not quite a science fiction film AIR VENT, but close, and then when we reached our seats we could dimly hear the simultaneous English translation whispering from the armrests, but couldn’t find any way to ACCESS it, so ended up watching the film in Danish with French subs, which actually improved it. If you can understand what they’re saying, that sure isn’t a very good movie.

I think the John Cleese movie CLOCKWISE was the worst, though. It just seemed like the death of everything precious in cinema.

This, of course, is your cue to offer up YOUR experiences.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2007 by dcairns

Barbara Steele, the somewhat-reluctant queen of Italian Gothic horror.

Don't look in her eyes!

There is, I submit, something we might call a PROFOUND FACE.

Barbara Steele was a graduate of the Rank Charm School, a sort of publicity gimmick/finishing school for movies stars. Armed with the kind of training perhaps more suited to a fashion model than an actor, she pitched up in Italy and appeared in Fellini’s OTTO E MEZZO, as well as a slew of horror films, including Mario Bava’s MASK OF SATAN, the film which really inaugurated this period of Italian horror cinema.

While Fellini was clearly particular about the kind of performances he manipulated and constructed from the raw material of his actors, some of these horror directors were perhaps less scrupulous, less concerned with anything outside the purely visual-aural design of their films and the scarifying effects produced, so the actors were treated purely as elements of mise-en-scene.

Is Barbara Steele a great actress? I would say probably not, though she can be a very good one. But she is undoubtedly a GREAT FACE (and age cannot wither her), which means not just pretty or striking, but iconic. She has the kind of face that haunts cinema, with those massive eyes that are just as good for looking into as for looking out of. A profound face is one which can amplify the emotion of a scene even when it appears to be doing nothing, perhaps by reflecting back the audience’s feelings.

It’s a great injustice, but some players simply don’t have an interesting essence on the screen: they can appear before a camera and think about their dead dog, and though genuine emotions may be rampaging around inside them, nothing photographs. The same emotion that lies across Josh Hartnett’s face like an expired trout will come shooting from Oliver Reed’s laser-beam eyes, down the barrel of the lens and into any receptive audience member. But in addition to this sense of life in the eyes, there is the amplifying effect that a Great Face, acting purely as a sculptural construction, can have on the emotion shared by actor and viewer.

In very lucky instances, a Profound Face can find itself attached to the skull of a truly great actor:

Lillian Gish helped to change screen acting forever. D.W. Griffith found in her an ideal performer to develop the more controlled style of playing he began to favour early in his directing career. Many things come together in Gish: an ability to make a small movement of the face or body read as massively significant, when viewed against a still canvas; an ability to psyche herself up into a state of real hysteria (to the extent that one reporter lost his lunch after witnessing Griffith shoot the climax of BROKEN BLOSSOMS); an ability to use the earlier, more gestural style of silent cinema acting while infusing it with psychological conviction*; and an ability to just stand there and give great face (to use the vulgar parlance or our times).

Of course it’s impossible to separate out entirely that essence that lurks in the eyes, the skills of the performer, and the power that a striking face carries in its contours.

It’s a very mysterious area, this, and if I’m not doing a very good job of shedding light on it, hopefully it’s only 10% because I’m an idiot and 90% because explaining this is like explaining love.

Un film de.

I had the pleasure of nearly working with Lara Belmont once. She had just done Tim Roth’s THE WAR ZONE, which was much-hyped in the biz, and the word was that casting her in our film could help us get the backing, so I was under a certain amount of pressure to like her. I met her and DID like her. She liked our script and the notes she gave me on her character were very intelligent, if practically illiterate from a strict grammar and spelling point of view. Only then did I see THE WAR ZONE.

She looked fantastic onscreen. Her seemingly lidless eyes hooked you into a scene, and you could read great depths of thought behind them. Her steep wall of forehead and impossible four-dimensional lips made her fascinating and surprising from every angle.

All this was somewhat dissipated whenever she parted those lips to give utterance. A newcomer to acting, Lara hadn’t really any facility with lines, which tended to sound like lines when she spoke them. I later heard that Roth and crew had sometimes filmed rehearsals, without telling her, in an attempt to capture the freshness and spontaneity that would vanish when she was self-conscious. I wasn’t convinced this had worked.

Anyway, whore that I am, I offered her the part. I was hoping that the experience of doing Roth’s film, and the confidence she must have gained from the (to me, somewhat inexplicable) rave reviews, would help her out. Knowing how great she was considered purely as a compositional element, and knowing that she was both smart and extremely dedicated (she burned her body with a cigarette lighter during one scene of THE WAR ZONE, something I had no intention of asking her to do), I had some hope that her difficulties with dialogue-speaking could be overcome. I was gambling with both of our reputations, though.

Anyway, Lara’s agent ultimately persuaded her to do a different film instead (“a piece of nonsense”) and our project lumbered on for a few years before dying a natural death. So I never found out if our film could have sailed to glory on Lara’s amazing face. I’d still love to get her in front of my camera though: whether or not I succeeded in getting the best from her as an actor, no film with those features gracing it could ever be entirely ordinary.

It's not just about being pretty.

*My maternal grandmother saw BROKEN BLOSSOMS on its re-release in the early sound era, by which time both the melodramatic story and performances seemed ridiculous to somebody steeped in the cinematic fashions of 1930. Decades had to pass before the film could be seen without considerations of dated-ness: to us, it is not the product of some obsolete trend, it’s an alien artifact, from an utterly foreign culture which we can nevertheless understand perfectly thanks to our shared humanity.