Archive for Last Year at Marienbad

Dordogne Among the Dead Men

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2021 by dcairns

More J. Lee Thompson — EYE OF THE DEVIL was originally to be called DAY OF THE ARROW and then THIRTEEN, which would seem to have jinxed it. They started shooting on September 13th, also.

Sid Furie was originally slated to direct, and a few distinctive “Sid Furie shots” appear, but these seem to have been shot by Thompson and the resemblance is a matter of fashion. Not many directors shoot down through lampshades, it must be said. Within a year or two directors got all self-conscious about this kind of self-consciousness. The minute they found themselves crouching behind a potted fern, viewfinder nosing through the leaves, they would say to themselves, Oh God no, not a Sid Furie shot!

After Furie, Michael Anderson was attached, but got ill early in the shoot. Or did he? There are a number of questions hanging over this one. Did he fall or was he pushed?

So it became a Thompson film, starring Kim Novak, and then two weeks before the end of filming, Novak was out. The official story was that she’d injured her back in a fall, but everyone stressed the fact that she’d be fine, but she couldn’t work for a few months and so the film would have to be restarted with a replacement.

But David Hemmings, who makes an early appearance, indiscreetly reveals in his very readable memoir that Novak departed after rowing with producer Martin Ransohoff at a press conference. Hemmings reports that he can no longer recall what Ransohoff said to offend Novak, nor if she was justified in her outrage, but he had an indelible memory of Novak stubbing her cigarette into his one good eye…

Nothing that horrifying happens in the film, which is nominally a scary movie…

Anyway, that’s Novak out, but co-star David Niven comes to the rescue, roping in Deborah Kerr, making the film a kind of Powell & Pressburger affair since Flora Robson also appears.

It’s a kind of WICKER MAN/ROSEMARY’S BABY plot, but much less gripping and more guessable than either, and the horror at its heart is strangely uninteresting. But the film itself is sort of fascinating.

Thompson is treating it as an exercise du style, pulling in a lot of nouvelle vague influence — the opening blur of flashforwards, which has no real reason to exist, is certainly modernist and flashy — then MARIENBAD seems to be the order of the day. Thompson tracks incessantly and cuts before his movements finish, which pre-Resnais was considered filmically ungrammatical, though obviously this was always false (exceptions existed for cutting from a shot tracking with a character, to their POV, for instance, as seen so often in Hitchcock).

The direct cutting approach, unfortunately, lops all the tension out of the film. No sooner has the thought of a character going somewhere scary been planted, than we cut to them arriving, or already there. And yet MARIENBAD itself is quite a spooky film. Maybe because it combines sudden jumps in time (which promote nervousness) with funereal creep. This movie’s had all the creep excised.

It has Donald Pleasence doing his whispery bit, but the eeriest presences in it are Hemmings and Sharon Tate, as a twisted brother and sister. One’s first response to Tate is that she’s surely dubbed. Publicity at the time suggested she took lots of voice lessons to acquire a posh English accent and a deeper voice — but, as we know, the publicity people on this film were not always completely truthful.

In a way, it doesn’t much matter if Tate’s using her own voice — certainly there’s a lot of (pretty good) post-synching going on — the combination of the plummy purr and her striking beauty and stillness is quite uncanny. A slight feeling that her voice isn’t coming from her body but from somewhere beyond adds to the character’s sinister presence/absence.

Critics complained about her immobile face, evidence that the weekly film reviewer’s job is to notice anything fresh or interesting an actor does, and then condemn it. They trashed Anjelica Huston on first sight also.

This vertiginous sequence, part of the evil games Tate’s character indulges in, is genuinely alarming, partly because real child endangerment seems to be occurring. Sure, the shots are framed so that someone can always be hanging onto the kid, and ropes and harnesses may be involved, but it still seems dodgy.

Elsewhere, Niven gets some terrific stuff acting hypnotized — a mode of Niv we’ve never seen before. And there’s a relatively early example of a downbeat ending — not only does evil triumph, but it’s going to carry on perpetuating itself and triumphing down the generations. If the film had come out when it was new it would have perhaps had more impact, but it seems to have crept out incrementally over the course of about three years.

I’d love to see the outtakes — Michael Anderson’s stuff, Kim Novak’s. And I wonder if the MARIENBAD approach was established by Furie at the planning stage (it seems like something he might come up with) or Anderson (if Thompson were taking over early in the shoot it seems he’d want to match what had been filmed) or Thompson, who certainly went to town with it. “He’s given this film everything,” attested Niven.

EYE OF THE DEVIL stars Sister Clodagh; Sir Charles Lytton; Ernst Stavro Blofeld; Devon Miles; Queen Elizabeth I; Caligula; Sarah Shagal; Dildano; Sgt. Wilson; Lady of Lyonesse; Tsarevitch Alexei; Bunny Lake; and Vivian Darkbloom.

The Home Film Festival

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2018 by dcairns

It was rainy last Sunday so I suggested we have our own film festival at home. Try it!

An eclectic program, decided at random. First I watched THE ORE RAIDERS, and blogged about it, then I popped on THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974), which always looked like awful tommyrot when on TV, but it’s Don Siegel therefore worth a try.Reader, THE BLACK WINDMILL is indeed awful tommyrot, but with impressive credits. TV pan-and-scan showings, which I recall seeing bits of, ruined it utterly — the pleasure is all in Siegel’s framing and blocking. Ousama Rawi, the former Mr. Rita Tushingham, shot it, beautifully — there’s some particularly nice anamorphic city lights. Antony Gibbs, of PETULIA and PERFORMANCE, cut it, less successfully than one might have hoped, though the neatest bit is a long take from a locked-off position as bad guys frame the hero with a nudie photo staged in his own bedroom. Roy Budd, of GET CARTER, provides a GET CARTER type score, with added tabla drums. Veteran costume designer Anthony Mendleson makes his leading man look ridiculous. I think there’s a good argument for leading men dressing conservatively, as Cary Grant suggested. They don’t date, and anyway, why would a spy dress like THIS?I suppose, in a crisis, he could always turn sideways and hide behind his necktie.

A distinguished cast includes cast includes Harry Palmer, Dr. Crippen, Empress Alexandra, Elizabeth Bathory, Sheik Abu Tahir and Maya the shapeshifter from Space 1999.

   

Fiona only joined that one midway, then insisted on some Bette Davis so we ran JEZEBEL, which we hadn’t seen in ages. I’ve often felt that the Germans in Hollywood had more racial sensitivity than native-born filmmakers, but although the black characters here all get bits of characterisation, and Eddie Anderson underplays for once, the movie never misses a chance at a cheap joke. When Henry Fonda says he feels haunted, wrinkled retainer Lew Paton stammers, “H-haunted?” in terror of spooks.

Still, the soapy story compels, and Bette is playing a perverse, willful, stroppy filly much like herself. She adored Wyler’s disciplinarian approach, and dialled down her excesses. When she reacts to the news that Fonda has married, her face registers a dozen emotions and calculations at lightning speed, subtly enough that you can believe smiling Margaret Lindsay doesn’t notice them, and visibly enough that you can see Fonda does.

Also great work from Richard Cromwell and, shockingly, George Brent, whose sleepy approach to acting here becomes electrifying when he’s given something of real interest to play. His character is supposed to be a dynamic old-school swashbuckler, and by playing it with indifference he actually adds a convincing edge to it. This guy is so dangerous because he doesn’t advertise it.

The cunning use of POV shots I noted in THE ORE RAIDERS is present here, as Bette, embracing Fonda, makes particular note of the stick he’s left by the door. All her behaviour in the ensuing scene is an attempt to provoke him into using it on her, which he refrains from, much to her disappointment. Did I mention Bette’s character is a touch perverse?

Co-writer John Huston was drafted in to direct a duel scene, and in a film full of smart grace notes, delivers one of the neatest, as the duellists take ten paces, clear out of frame and two puffs of smoke issue in from the edges of the screen, rendering the battle an abstraction, its outcome a mystery.

We followed this with another, contrasting Bette movie, LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO (1972), which I’ve tackled at greater length elsewhere. Let’s just say that, cast as a kind of monster-goddess, Bette again is playing a character remarkably like herself: indefatigable.

Short subject: PIE, PIE, BLACKBIRD with Nina Mae McKinney and the Nicholas Brothers when they were small. She does an adorable rasping trumpet honk thing with her voice, an orchestra plays inside a giant pie, and the Bros. dance so hard, everybody turns into a skeleton. Will, if anybody was going to cause that to happen, it would be them.

It’s very funny to me that the props man couldn’t find a child skeleton — there was, it would seem, little call for such items — so he’s removed the shin-bones of an adult to make it dance shorter. Incredible to think that young Harold performed all those moves without knees.

Then MIRAGE, based on regular Shadowplayer Daniel’s recent recommendation. Sixties Edward Dmytryk, when he’s supposed to be washed up, but there’s some interesting stuff afoot, not all of it pulling in the same direction, but still. Stars Atticus Finch, Felix Unger Oscar Madison, Anne Frank’s sister Margot, Willie Loman’s son Biff, Gaetano Proclo and Joe Patroni. Which is to say, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy are reunited after CHARADE, which was also scripted by Peter Stone, and Matthau and Jack Weston are together, prefiguring A NEW LEAF.

Stone’s script is witty as usual, perhaps too witty — there’s a good sense of Kafkaesque nightmare going on in the crazy amnesia/conspiracy plot, but you have Gregory Peck being all Gregory Peckory, stiff and bashful, and then making quips, and the sense of waking nightmare rather deserts one.

BUT —

Dmytryk, a former editor, has discovered direct cutting — he’s seen MARIENBAD, in fact — or maybe the previous year’s THE PAWNBROKER. As Peck thinks back on baffling recent events, or retrieves fragments of memory from his earlier, lost-time spell, we cut in hard to snippets of dialogue from earlier or brief flashes of action. Best of all is a subway scene where the sound of the train continues unabated over glimpses of Walter Abel falling out of a skyscraper. Then he cuts to a watermelon hitting the ground and bursting, something that’s only been mentioned earlier. It’s a non-diegetic watermelon, perhaps the first of its race.

It’s dazzling and disturbing and would still look pretty nifty in a modern film. What makes it sellable to the great public of 1964 is that the odd technique is tied directly to the plot gimmick. Anyway, it’s very nice indeed, and makes you realise how conservative most cutting still is. Given Dmytryk’s late-career wallowing in turgid airport novel stuff, I wish he’d enlivened his work with this kind of monkey business a lot more. For a guy who’d sold out, who had to shore up his sense of self-worth with spurious justifications, accomplishing a nice piece of work like this must have been some kind of relief.

I Understand

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by dcairns

No I bloody don’t!

Still wrestling with Twin Peaks: The Return/Twin Peaks season 3, a show whose troubling ambiguities extend even to its title. Of course, you can’t SOLVE a David Lynch (& Mark Frost) mystery, and you’re not meant to. Except MULHOLLAND DR., which comes equipped with clues and Lynch helpfully told us where to look and a lot of the film DOES make a kind of sense when you apply them. but some bits still seem to have no logical reason to be there.

But I like puzzling things out. I even spent a certain amount of time trying to interpret MARIENBAD, and that one REALLY isn’t meant to be solved.

Who is Judy? I want to solve that one, for the sake of poor old Mr. C, who asks that question.

“You’ve already met Judy,” says Philip Jeffries, in the form of a big kettle. So, Judy was at some point known to Mr. C, or two BOB who is inside him, or to agent Cooper whose life he’s taken over. That narrows it down, but not by much. The three-in-one-meet a lot of people, some of whom even survive the experience.

Judy was first mentioned by Jeffries back in FIRE WALK WITH ME, when he was David Bowie. “We’re not going to talk about Judy,” he insisted. Well, you brought her up, mate. In episode 19 of The Return, FBI director Gordon Cole (Lynch himself) tells us that Judy is a corruption of Jowday, an extreme negative force he and Jeffries were investigating. OK, so probably not Lucy, then. And maybe not even female, as the name has apparently been distorted over the centuries.

In THE MISSING PIECES, a collection of outtakes from that movie — Twin Peaks‘ answer to TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER — we see Bowie in Buenos Aires, asking if Judy has checked into a hotel. An oddly mundane thing for an extreme negative force to do, but I suppose she/he/it has to sleep somewhere. But back when this was filmed, Judy was supposed to be the twin sister of Josie Packard (Joan Chen). Furious retconning has since occurred — still, I think it’s legit to look for clues here. In this version of events, Jeffries says, “I been to one of their meetings. It was above a convenience store.” Also, that he found something in Seattle, at Judy’s, and then, “there they were. And they sat quietly for hours.” Which seems to link Judy to the Black Lodge entities.

Things play out differently in FWWM, where Bowie’s recollections are interrupted by what seems to be a garbled flashback, breaking in like interference. The viewer assumes that this sequence showing the room above the convenience store inhabited by sinister characters is Bowie’s memory of something he somehow spied on. We get our first look at a couple of woodsmen (but they haven’t gotten all dirty yet), there’s Bob, there’s Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont and her grandson, and the malign, doppelganger version of the Arm/man from another place (I’m pretty sure it’s not the nice one we’re used to, though I only just figured this out: the film doesn’t bother to remind us that he has a doppelganger). But the first person we see is this geezer ~

He’s billed as The Jumping Man. He wears a loud suit exactly like The Arm’s, a sort of flat-top afro, and a plaster mask with a pointy, Commedia Del’Arte nose.

Now, there’s an old prison song, recorded by folk music specialist Alan Lomax, one version of which goes like this ~

Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
All over dis worl’, hanh, all over dis worl’, hanh!

So there’s a connection of sorts between jumping and Judies.

In Episode 15 of The Return, this fellow makes one of his rare appearances, as Mr. C. goes above the convenience store, which apparently has the ability to TARDIS about from place to place. On this occasion, the JM has Sarah Palmer’s face projected on top of his mask.

But there’s another jumping man, or anyway jumping boy, in FWWM. He’s the grandson of Mrs. Tremont/Chalfont, who appears in both season 2 of the original TP, and in FWWM, though he’s played by different kids each time. Leland sees him jumping in one scene. Here and in the convenience store scene, he wears a mask like the Jumping Man’s, and at one point whispers “Judy.”

The grandson (who may be the Magician of that bit of Black Lodge doggerel — he performs magic tricks in the original series) and his grandmother are quite hard to figure out, in terms of their intentions. They seem associated with negative things, turning up around the time of Teresa Banks and Laura Palmer’s murders, but they also give Laura valuable information. But then, there they are, sitting calmly with BOB and the woodsmen etc. And this guy.

So, we might infer that the grandson and the Jumping Man have to do with Judy. It would certainly make sense of Jeffries’ comment, “You’ve already met Judy.” Mr. C. literally passed the Jumping Man on his way in.

There are other candidates, however. In Episode 1 we meet The Experiment, a violent, faceless woman who appears in a glass box apparently constructed at the behest of Mr. C. Mr. C. is looking for something with a sort of bug-like aspect, and it’s probably The Experiment. In Episode 8, she turns up inside the first atomic test, sneeze-ejaculating BOB into the world. So it feels like Mr. C. is looking for BOB’s mother. But he doesn’t know the name Judy until Phillip uses it. He has no clue why Phillip has brought her up.

(But then, does Phillip ever really understand which Cooper he’s talking to? He was apparently part of a task force with the real Cooper to find Judy. Although in FWWM it’s obvious they’ve never met before. Still, when you’re floating in a tin can, it’s slippery.)

I like the idea that BOB is looking for his mother. Sweet.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palmer has an extreme negative force lurking inside her. It rips a trucker’s chin off. It seems to feature Laura’s smile, and her finger. (Both Sarah and Laura apparently have faces that open on hinges. Not sure what this means.) So a lot of people think this is Judy. Poor Laura: with BOB inhabiting her father and Judy in her mother, what chance did she have in life?

“You’ll find Judy in here,” says Phillip, before sending Cooper into the past. Cooper eventually ends up in the present but in Odessa, Texas (arguably worse than the past) where he finds a diner called Judy’s, which leads him to Laura Palmer, living under a new identity with no memory of her old one. He then takes her to Sarah Palmer’s house, but instead finds a Mrs Tremond, who bought the house from Mrs. Chalfont.

Ever since LOST HIGHWAY, Lynch has been exploring the slipperiness of identity. This series is probably the most convoluted and involuted rendition of that theme, even more so than INLAND EMPIRE. When the new Mrs. Tremond gives her name, and her predecessor’s name, we can be pretty sure that she’s the same character (whatever that means in this universe) who previously bore that name (sure, the show is full of Bobs, Mikes, Philips, but surnames have a specific quality). Also, she has an offscreen husband she talks to, lurking within the house, reminding us of the “something” in Sarah Palmer’s kitchen.

So, has Coop found Judy as he was promised? In this universe, is she merely the name of a franchise of threatening diners? Has she gone abstract, the way Mabuse did? Or does this extreme negative force still attach to human vessels, sometimes? Is Alice (through the looking glass) Tremond and her troublingly abstract husband also Mrs Chalfont, the Jumping Man, the inside of Sarah Palmer, AND Judy?

It’s quite a houseful in there.