Archive for Lawrence of Arabia

Mossop

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2021 by dcairns

John Mills’ excellent turn as Willie Mossop in HOBSON’S CHOICE is a terrific bit of physical acting and character design. He has two hairstyles, one of which is spectacularly disfiguring — both of which seem to be real, so they must have shot the later scenes first, before barbering him into grotesquerie.

Mills’ other uglified role is in RYAN’S DAUGHTER, where he’s just hideous. Strange to think he won an Oscar for it — if he’d repeated his Early Mossop performance in that context it would have been too much — instead, he goes even further, beyond Mr. Laughton’s Quasimodo. I guess it’s an interesting choice to make the “village idiot” uncharming and unphotogenic, where such characters are usually sentimentalized, but Mills’ choices plunge him into the unpleasant domain of caricaturing the afflicted, an error of judgement, to put it mildly, that lands him in the same camp as Alec Guinness’ whole look in OLIVER TWIST (a film made three years after the Holocaust, if you need reminding).

Mossop, on the other hand, is a wonderful creation. Any discomfort felt about laughing at this ill-educated and ill-dressed man is joyously dissipated as the film shows him blossoming in confidence and erudition, a Galatea sculpted by his partner Maggie (Brenda de Banzie, also wonderful).

Costume designer John Armstrong has collaborated with the actor to subtly deform and distort his trim chorus boy’s body. A little pot belly has been added — I assume it’s prosthetic. The trousers hang in a strange manner, suggesting scrawniness and waste beneath, as well as an ill fit.

Mills enhances the effect by doing a lot of QUALITY ass-work: he sticks out his backside to suggest poor posture rather than pugilistic sauciness, and this seems to do unwelcome things to the clothing. There’s a perfect storm in those trousers — pants and stance in total disharmony.

Kevin Brownlow’s magisterial book David Lean tells us that originally, Robert Donat was cast, and had to shoot a test to convince himself he could do it. He went down the trap door a prematurely aged asthmatic, then came up as Willie Mossop. But he failed the medical, the stress bringing on an attack of wheezing. (Movie medicals, made to satisfy the insurance people, were generally a bit lax. Roy Kinnear said of PIRATES, “A number of us were quite long in the tooth. We all had to do a physical examination. You went in a room and got on a couch, and you could manage that, you were in.”)

Losing his co-lead days before the shoot, Lean had to deal with a rebellious Laughton, who felt betrayed — Korda basically blackmailed him into doing it — “If you go to the scandal sheets, so will I.” Which is… wow. But it certainly helped Lean that his producer was prepared to play the bad guy. Lean and Laughton then enjoyed a good relationship. Lean recalled Mills, on a boat outing, feigning seasickness, and realised what a good physical comic he was. He had imagined Mossop as hulking, but the physical contrast between Mills and Laughton plays brilliantly: Lorre and Greenstreet in Lancashire.

Original author Harold Brighouse wasn’t heavily involved in the film version, but he did advise Lean that he could play the wedding night scene where Mossop tremulously prepares for bed “as long as you like” and it would bring the house down. As with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and Omar Sharif’s long approach, Lean lost his nerve, as he put it, and so Mossop’s preparations are truncated by an awkward dissolve. If only he’d test screened it… that kind of thing can give confidence as well as shatter it. He was able to go back and extend Sharif’s approach for the LAWRENCE restoration, but alas HOBSON’S never got that treatment and no doubt the footage was swiftly disposed of.

But still… HOBSON’S is a fascinating case of the duties of a main character being split among three superb players. Laughton brings the lion’s share of the entertainment, a bumptious and sodden Lear, but he never learns anything, he’s simply reduced in power until his mean spirits can’t hurt anyone. De Banzie’s Maggie is the hero who makes things happen — a bit of fancy footwork by Brighouse allows her to triumph due to a complete accident — Hobson falling down a hole — that she could never have anticipated. But she’s unchanging. Mossop is manipulated and coerced every step of the way, a character lacking any form of proactive self-determination, but he’s the one with the arc — more than his circumstances change, he grows in stature and becomes master of the house, albeit one put in that position and kept there by a strong woman who is the real power in the relationship. Mossop knows he’s a mere figurehead, but Maggie gives him confidence at every turn by praising his skill as shoemaker. I’ve seen productions of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW where they’ve tried to make Kate and Petrucchio partners in a role-playing game put on for the benefit of society, but I don’t think you can make that entirely convince as Shakespeare’s intent, but Brighouse was a suffragist and the feminist underpinnings of his play are strikingly modern (see also Stanley Houghton’s oft-filmed HINDLE WAKES) — Maggie and Willie agree to play the roles of strong man and supportive wife, while both know that the reality is more the other way around.

Anyway — we raise our glasses to John Mills and Willie Mossop. He may never have gotten another role like it, but it opened up the range of parts he could be considered for and gave him a new lease of screen life, which he certainly ran with.

Next must-see Millses are ICE-COLD IN ALEX and TUNES OF GLORY.

Pacific War is a contradiction in terms

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2021 by dcairns
The chairman is thinking about Taiwan

Last night I started watching THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA (1971), subtitled A TEMPESTOUS CHRONICLE OF THE SHOWA PERIOD, “tempestuous” being the understatement of the period, and I hope to finish it today (bad viewing habits, huh?).

It’s directed by Kihachi Okamoto, whose stuff I haven’t got into before, and it has a zip to it. After David Lean’s embrace of direct cutting in LAWRENCE added a spring to the step of the lumbering epic form, new possibilities opened up, largely ignored in the west. Compare this to those dreadful Mirisch Company war movies, huge, flat and lifeless, cinematic Saharas of imagination.

In principle, it’s doing the same things as a piece of oily flotsam like BATTLE OF MIDWAY — archive footage is blithely intercut with modern pyrotechnics and star cameos (Tetsurô Tanba, Tatsuya Nakadai). You know they’re serious because they show you actual corpses before the main titles roll. (Being serious can lead to worse violations of taste than being flippant.) The stock shots are anamorphically stretched to fit the Tohoscope frame and look miserable.

But but but. The cutting is both nimble and eccentric. Surprising details are emphasised in surprising places and at breakneck speed (a scene ends, almost nonsensically, on an ECU of a sex worker’s toes). The characters are all finest quality Japanese cardboard with very emphatic playing in the A. Kurosawa manner, which works fine as they all need to make an impression in nothing flat.

The music is constantly lighter and more playful than the situation seems to warrant — none of this is going to end well — perhaps the same national tendency that gave us Gojira’s jolly march and Sanjuro’s baby elephant walk. Masaru Satô so that makes perfect sense and is personal more than national. In fact, now that I check, it’s by But the counter-intuitive choice imparts a grace and lightfootedness that propel the film forward without the usual grinding of gears.

An obvious comparison would be TORA! TORA! TORA! but the auteur of that one is Twentieth Century Fox and so it plods pachydermic through its history lesson, a literal-minded behemoth. Okamoto can dance.

I know some of this story, though. It’s going to get really horrible, isn’t it?

Reflections

Posted in Fashion, literature with tags , , , , on January 18, 2021 by dcairns

My friend Lawrie worked as an AD on David Lean’s THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS. We watched a documentary where Lean appeared, the twinkly elder statesman, in interview.

“David seems quite charming,” said Lawrie. “He wasn’t.”

Some directors are delightful on set, but probably the minority. Lean was a scowler. Kevin Brownlow, in his majestic biography David Lean, describes the great man complaining when he got stuck on the above scene from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, that his crew were full of annoying suggestions whenever he knew exactly what he wanted, but when he was short of ideas they were silent.

Lean was a great believer in prep — “You cannot turn up on location and go wandering in the woods looking for inspiration — it WILL NOT COME,” — but somehow had arrived at this boardroom without a strong image in mind to bring the scene to life. A plain old wide shot, followed by close-ups, would give us the setting and performances alright, but would not express anything cinematic.

The IDEA Lean wanted to express in visual form was that Lawrence, a terror on the battlefield, was rendered impotent in this political setting.

I think Lean prowled the set for a few hours before coming up with this —

“Of course. He’s a shadow of his former self.”

This is for the class I’m teaching today — it’s my contention that dramatic filmmaking is inherently expressionist.