Archive for Laurence Olivier

Mitehunter

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2021 by dcairns

Purely by accident we wound up rewatching BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING last night. Which was well worth it — I’d forgotten just how excitingly Otto Preminger melds his two main stylistic tropes here: long takes (enhanced by the ultra-widescreen) and location filming. He somehow manages to cram some kind of a crane inside a tight staircase, he rushes from room to room (but tends to use the passage from indoors to out and vice versa to motivate the few cuts in his sequences).

Poor Carol Lynley has to work very hard to not seem to SEE this busy, nosy intruder with its heap of crew — she’s constantly required to look into, past and THROUGH the lens, giving her an unsettling blind quality. But on the other hand, the long takes and domineering camera eye seem to calm both Laurence Olivier in a major role, and Martita Hunt in a smaller one, and they give perhaps the most restrained and naturalistic performances of their careers. And this was done, we’re told, without Otto’s usual beetroot-faced temper tantrums: Larry let it be known that he didn’t want any shouting, and as long as he was around, there was none.

In the extras, Lynley recalls that Otto found it amusing, when an actor was struggling with nerves, to sidle up behind and scream “RELAAAAX!” in the player’s ear. John Huston recounts this happening to Tom Tryon on the set of THE CARDINAL, but Huston gives no clue that Otto was being humorous. Carol L was in THE CARDINAL too, but I bet Otto gave poor Keir Dullea the same treatment.

BLIM is preposterously crammed with familiar faces from the previous thirty years of British cinema. Finlay Currie turns up for one scene, Megs Jenkins is practically an extra (maybe her nurse is the same character from GREEN FOR DANGER?) and Lucie Mannheim, from THE 39 STEPS (Fiona excitingly noting that she was Conrad Veidt’s first girlfriend) gets a bit.

There’s also the Zombies. Otto had a weird sense of showmanship — turning up in his own trailers, Hitchcock-style, is understandable (although the one for IN HARM’S WAY is inadvertently hilarious, with Otto standing talking to us in the middle of war scenes, apparently invisible to those around him, like Christopher Walken appearing in his own visions in THE DEAD ZONE). He promoted BUNNY with orders that nobody be admitted late, and requests not to reveal the ending, a la PSYCHO. But he does other things that are stranger: here, a pub TV is tuned to a performance by posh sixties beat combo the Zombies, and the film stops for a bit to enjoy the show. And the same song turns up whenever a radio is turned on. Otto and songs is a whole essay in itself: the sung end credits of SKIDOO and strolling troubadour Pete Seeger wandering through TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON… Otto is an artist but also a huckster, but his sales techniques would make Stan Freberg wince. It’s comparable to Jerry Lewis’ use of product placement, which was always so unembarrassed — it was like Jer was PROUD that he could get Colonel Sanders to associate with his movies (the only other filmmaker to woo the Colonel was Jer’s namesake, Herschell Gordon of that ilk).

Paul Glass’s score is very attractive, but behaves oddly too: Lynley’s exploration of a doll repair shop’s spooky basement, lit by oil lamp, should be terrifying, but Glass treats the place as enchanting, a delicate wonderland.

It’s an odd movie, all in all, but effective enough as thriller and mystery, until the last act, which is a tad unconvincing. A character who’s seemed acceptably normal throughout is revealed as the crazed baddie, and is suddenly completely deranged, a dissociated manchild who can be tempted into children’s games at the drop of a hat. Fiona rightly wondered how he’d held down a responsible job previously.

Impossible to know whether screenwriters John & Penelope Mortimer are to blame for this, or Ira Levin who did some uncredited work on it. Haven’t read Evelyn Piper’s source novel. But I think I recognise the Mortimers’ style in the quirkier details, as when Olivier notes that bus drivers are notoriously unobservant: “They’re philosophers and poets, mostly. Probably out of self-protection.”

While everyone else is mostly underplaying, Noel Coward as a sleazy landlord and BBC personality, seems to be having the time of his life, showing off his chihuahua, his African masks, and his collection of whips.

Well worth seeing — Preminger is almost anti-Hitchcockian in every aspect (despite Hitch’s dalliance with the long take) so it’s fascinating to see him waddling about in the master’s disguise.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING stars Heathcliff; Mona and Regina Fermoyle; Dave Bowman; Lady ; Miss Prism; McWhirter and Sheik Abu Tahir; Magwitch; Annabella Smith; The Witch of Capri; Mrs. Alexander; Mrs. Grose; Nervous Man; Ancious O’Toole; Grogan; Antoinette de Montfaucon; ‘Bluebeard’,- Gilles de Rais; Sir Nules Thudd; and the Zombies as themselves.

Dyspeptic in Elsinore

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2021 by dcairns

Asides from my making-of Caesar and Cleopatra book, I also have a lovely, if tattered volume entitled The film HAMLET, covering Olivier’s 1948 production. Various heads of department contribute short chapters about their work.

My late friend Lawrie Knight was only a 3rd AD on it, and only for a few days. His story doesn’t feature. Stop me if you’ve heard it before. Olivier, it seems, wanted the sound of a heartbeat to accompany the ghost’s appearance. In the end he used a drumbeat, but perhaps the story of Ruben Mamoulian recording his own heart after running up and down a flight of stairs, for the transformation scene in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, was already well-known? Olivier, saving himself the strain, sent an assistant off to run around the studio, and then they pressed a mic to his ribcage.

“Nothing but indigestion!” reported Lawrie, with a chortle.

The book lacks that kind of engrossing detail. Olivier’s own piece is rather windy, and devotes a lot of time to justifying his choice to shoot in black and white, though he would later admit that he was having “a frightful row with Technicolor” which played a significant part in the decision. Still, it was a great choice.

Really lovely pic of Larry directing in costume and, it seems, in character.

Producer Anthony Bushell’s thoughts on the casting are more interesting. He starts by recounting an anecdote from his youth as an actor: he tried to secure a walk-on/spear-carrying role in John Barrymore’s London production of the play. Barrymore somehow misunderstood and thought he was angling for Laertes.

“Young man, it is your misfortune that the Hamlet in this production will never see fifty again. You cannot possibly play Laertes with me.”

(Barrymore wasn’t actually fifty yet, but maybe he felt it, or maybe he actually said forty.)

We learn that Stanley Holloway got the role of the gravedigger after “F.J. McCormick, the little Irishman who as the bowler-hatted Shell in ‘Odd Man Out’ enchanted thousands only to sadden them by his untimely death, was first to have played the role.’

I like what Bushell says about Osric.

As You Know, I’m Your Father…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2020 by dcairns

“As you know, I’m your father…” What vistas of the strange those six simple words open up.

We were watching MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, a bunch of us (four being a bunch for the purposes of this discussion). The film begins with some scenes of an expository nature. The throng (four being a throng as well as a bunch) being composed entirely of people with at least a toe in the business, we soon bridled.

First thing we see — after three pieces of text — THREE! — to tell us it’s a true story — is Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in a recreation of the Having a Heatwave number from THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS which is totally unlike the original but I suppose not wildly anachronistic or inaccurate in terms of period style. It’s not madly overedited, for one thing.Cut to an audience, Our Young Hero front and centre. Marilyn herself liked to sit front and centre when she went to the movies as a kid, which is why this is the proper place to sit: think of whom you might meet. However, I immediately don’t want to meet this guy, based on his macabre smile.

Main title.

Cut to stately home. Voice over. “Everyone remembers their first job. This is the story of mine.” Well, could be worse. A bit blunt. It’s not only going to tell you a story (as opposed to showing you it), it’s going to tell you it’s telling you a story.Here comes Our Young Hero again, walking briskly across the lawn. “I was the youngest of a family of over-achievers.” Backstory, not interested.

As the VO tells us that OYH liked going to the pictures, we cut back to him at the pictures, even though we’ve just seen this. Well, if you must. OYH mentions film people he liked, and names Olivier, and the film obligingly shows us Kenneth Branagh playing the part in a clip from a movie premiere which we’re going to see in full moments later. This is a bit shit, I remember thinking.Back to OY Hero entering some rough-stone outbuilding. Turns out it’s a posh library, and here’s a man and some other people. “Ah, Colin, come in, have you met James and Anna, my two very brilliant pupils?”

Oh, good, he’s called Colin and this man knows him and has two very brilliant pupils, who are called James and Anna (must remember that, it’s obviously important). Wait, how does Colin not already know them?

“Hello, I’m off to London now, pa.”

Brilliant, right, this chap is Our Young Colin’s father, and what’s more Colin KNOWS he’s his father. It’s not going to be like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, all confusing twists. And OYC is off to London now, and he’s telling his father that. Good. Got you. Wait, how does his dad not already know today is the day his son, Colin, his son, leaves home? For London? His son?

“Ah, your silly job interview. Well, bonne chance, dear boy, I can always get you a research position at the V&A once you’ve grown up a bit and got this film idea out of your system.”

OK, let’s see if I’ve fully grasped the layers of subtext being poured over me like slow-motion nougat. OYC’s father (OYCF for short) disapproves of his son, Colin’s choice of career and hopes he will soon put away childish things and assume a more respectable occupation. Perhaps very soon, as this is only an interview.

The film continues, but our thoughts kept straying back to this scene and its supreme awkwardness.

“I’m off, Mother.” It’s a new scene, do keep up. OYC is telling his mother (OYCM) that he’s off. “My job interview, ‘member?” OYC is a mumbler. He means “remember?” But it hardly matters because we’ve just had this scene with his dad (OYCF).OYC crosses a London street. “Like every young man, I had to make my own way.” And indeed, OYC does manage to make it across the street without being flattened by an omnibus. Well done you. On the other hand, his rich parents and expensive education and school tie might be opening just a few studio doors for the entitled little prick (ELP).

The next scene, in the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions, is confusing, as it seems OYC doesn’t have a job interview at all, nobody’s expecting him and they’re not looking for anyone, which kind of casts doubt on ELP’s street-crossing prowess after all.

At this point in the film, we were getting a bit distracted, still talking about that weirdly expository chat with OYCF (the dad: do keep up). I ad-libbed a satirical example of the kind of dialogue we’d been forced to consume: “As you know, I’m your father…”OYC hangs about Laurence Olivier Prods in the best Rupert Pupkin manner until he somehow picks up some work. Cut to him crossing the road again, successfully staying out from under the wheels of another red bus.

Enter Branagh with a thing in his lip.

Monroe’s agent is called Mr. Jacobs. Here’s Toby Jones! “Hello, Mr. Jacobs.” He’s Mr. Jacobs. “Who built this place?” Mr. Jacobs is a brash agent.What’s actually happening is fine: we see OYC display tact and ingenuity in locating a house for MM to stay in. But we are continually being spoonfed. Meanwhile, by now we’ve practically convinced ourselves that “As you know, I’m your father…” is a genuine line of dialogue from the opening of the picture. I tactfully remind everyone that I made it up. Must be fair. Plus, I want credit.

OYC arrives at Pinewood. They’ve taken the trouble to engage and costume a Norman Wisdom lookalike, which impresses me because they’re showing a heedlessness about whether anybody recognizes NW. Not typical of this film, which is so anxious that we understand everything. Then this guy glides past, and I get the impression I’m meant to recognize him, too, but I haven’t a clue. Well, I suppose that should impress me even more.

We glimpse the Romantic Interest (not Monroe: the other one) and OYC is immediately warned about love affairs in the workplace, so we know she’s going to be a Romantic Interest, especially because we recognize the girl from HARRY POTTER. And come on, Pinewood may not be Hollywood, but the British film industry was a veritable hotbed of, well, hot beds.A bodyguard, an ex-copper, is engaged for Monroe, whose habits are described as “Erratic.” “She drinks?” “Among other things.” “Pills?” GOOD GUESS!

Here’s the thing. Screenplays and movies are meant to be clear, except when they’re being mysterious on purpose. Look at the care with which Chaplin shows us that the Blind Flower Girl is blind. Also, a flower girl. But belabouring points is ugly.

Billy Wilder said it much better and quicker: as storyteller, your job is to put across your points clearly. The more elegantly you manage it, the better you are.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a Harvey Weinstein Production. Weinstein was (I hope we can safely use the paste tense now) a true auteur. You can spot the clumsy, overanxious storytelling in ever film he touched. Usually in the form of overdubs on people’s backs, stuffing dialogue into their mouths to make sure we understand. “Master Shakespeare!” expostulates the back of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head when the front of her head sees Master Shakespeare in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. “The King!” murmurs the back of Mina Sorvino’s head when the front of her head sees the king insect in MIMIC (the company was apparently so patriarchal the insects weren’t allowed a queen).

But I think it’s even worse when the lines come out of the front of people’s heads, having been planted in their mouths by a long development process. (I don’t blame the screenwriter.)

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is also a BBC production, and seems to use all the same locations as STAN & OLLIE. I could be wrong, but it certainly has the same feel. A certain limited degree of plushness. Solidity. Craft. Zero excitement.

I would sort of like the BBC to be prosecuted for sexual offences (this more or less happened a few years ago) so that this kind of filmmaking could end. But the BBC didn’t have a hand in JUDY so I suppose it’d carry on, zombie-fashion.

It’s not even BAD, compared to lots of things, but it’s the reverse of imaginative or daring.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN stars Charity Barnum; Balem Abrasax; Sabrina Fairchild; Gilderoy Lockhart; Lily Potter; Christopher Foyle; Lavrenti Beria; Dr. Arnim Zola; Jennifer the Viking – another rapist; Sir Thomas Fairfax; Uday Hussein; Queen Victoria; Madame Hooch; Hermione Granger; I, Claudius;