Archive for Laurence of Arabia

Dinner with Andre

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2008 by dcairns

More De Toth, you say? OK!

My Dinner with Andre

De Toth, among many other things, was second unit director on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (and Nicholas Roeg was his cameraman), during the later part of his career when he also produced BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN for Ken Russell and generally did things other than directing his own films. On LAWRENCE, most of his ideas were rejected (“Revolting!” Lean would say) but he was still very useful to the production.

When Sam Spiegel decided that Lean was never going to finish the film in Arabia and arranged to have the unit shifted to Almeria, Spain, it was decided that the production would have to buy some camels and import them. I think the figure was fifty camels, including ten silver racing camels.

(Stop me if you’ve heard this before.)

De Toth is presented with a problem. Several production personnel have visited the sheik, and arranged to buy these camels, but the deal never seems to go through — the camels don’t come. André is the muggins who must go and investigate.

The deal is agreed once again, over a banquet. Then, the sheep’s eyeballs are brought in. A rare delicacy. De Toth shrewdly realises the problem. All the previous production emissaries have refused to partake of this treat — a fatal insult to the sheik. To make sure the deal goes through, De Toth must chow down on ovine orb.

For a brief moment he imagines that the consumed eye will replace his own missing left eye. He pops the thing in his mouth. Not so bad. Yes it is. Worse! Unendurably repugnant. He swallows, the sheik is appeased, and De Toth will awaken gagging for many nights to come, re-experiencing the traumatic sweetmeat.

The Sheep Man

De Toth and the camels and their herders go to Spain.

One morning, he is awakened in his hotel suite by the smell of camel dung. The camel herders are standing round his bed. They have bad news. The camels have escaped. All of them. How has this happened? Nobody knows.

Imagining haveing to return to Arabia and eat another sheep eye, De Toth pulls out all the stops. Soon he has the Guardia Civil sifting the dunes for his fugitive ruminants. Partial success! All ten of the silver racing camels are recaptured, but only 37 of the regular ones.

Defeated, De Toth reports the camel shortfall to Lean’s trusted assistant, an indefatigable and resourceful woman. “Mr. Lean specifically asked for 50 camels and I only have 47.” She thinks. “We won’t tell him,” she decides.

Lean goes into battle with 47 camels and never notices the difference. Nobody thinks to count them.

Dirty Pretty Thing

As for the missing camels, De Toth reports that they were still living in the Spanish desert when he shot PLAY DIRTY there some years later, adding enormously to the conviction of his North African setting. “We could never have afforded them otherwise.”

Almeria in those days was such a popular location that film shoots would actually collide — De Toth’s armoured vehicles would break into the background of Edward Dmytryk’s western SHALAKO, while Dmytryk’s cowboys and Indians rampaged across De Toth’s WWII campaign.

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Face: the final frontier.

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Painting, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2008 by dcairns

the face of another 

My partner Fiona would like to point out that Javier Bardem, much discussed for his role and hair-do in the Coens’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (“a haircut for all time” — Coen hairdresser Paul LeBlanc) has the biggest face in creation.

It covers his entire head! Front AND back.

One of the many interesting things about Milos Forman’s GOYA’S GHOSTS is the sight of Bardem’s colossal pan nestling under a tiny tiny skull cap.

I’ve always said that the truly epic film gains its sense of vastness by contrasting the very big with the very small:

An eyeball reflects a flame-spurting urban dystopia at the start of BLADE RUNNER.

Peter O’Toole blows out a match, and the sun rises across an illimitable desertscape in LAURENCE OF ARABIA.

A pen drifts in zero G as a space-ship docks with a mighty rotating space station in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

And now: Bardem’s king-sized kisser is crowned by a casquillo del cráneo the size of a mooncup.

People look smarter in hats

Bardem’s casting in GOYA’S GHOSTS is the climax, to date, of Milos Forman’s policy of casting actors with surprising accents in his period films. It begins (though I can’t speak for the Czech films) with AMADEUS, where the starting point was a notion of using Americans to play the more declassé characters, with Brits as snooty Viennese aristos. But this system was abandoned, more-or-less, as soon as red-blooded American Jeffrey Jones was awarded the role of Emperor. Meanwhile, Tom Hulce as Mozart would try to tone down his American accent and Forman would try to catch him at it.

(Scots actor Brian Pettifer (IF…) found Forman, “a bully” and notes that the Czechs hated him. Actor and biographer Simon Callow had a hard time disguising his overtly theatrical tendencies. “Stop ACTING!” Forman would bellow. Then: “NO! Now you are ACTING NOT ACTING!”)

In VALMONT, there’s an even mixture of Brits and Yanks among the French aristocracy, with Scottish-accented servants. Weirdly, the exact same rule applies in the other version of Laclos’ novel, DANGEROUS LIAISONS. And yet I’m not sure Scots would make the BEST servants… watching John Laurie’s erratic buttling in UNCLE SILAS seems to confirm this.

GOYA’S GHOSTS has the most extreme mishmash of accents, because we have a Swedish Goya, an American King Carlos, a French Spanish Inquisitor, and English Napoleon, and then, just to shock us: a Spanish actor playing a Spaniard. Bardem’s is truly the most distracting accent in the film. But it’s his contribution that pushes the whole thing to the point where we can GET IT, and relax and enjoy the pageant of inappropriate accents as an unimportant sideshow to the main event, which is a pretty good film, despite those reviews.

Oh, and I’ve just seen NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, which I’ll attempt to say something about once it’s been digested.