Archive for Leon Shamroy

Tish Tash

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 19, 2022 by dcairns

Newly forthcoming from Criterion — Frank Tashlin’s rock ‘n’ roll live action cartoon THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. I was delighted to be asked to celebrated the film’s widescreen colour photography (by Leon Shamroy) in a visual essay edited by Stephen C. Horne.

Bad timing prevented me from including the following passage:

Hired to shoot a test of Janet Gaynor for The Young in Heart, Shamroy was disgruntled to learn that other cinematographers were competing for the job. While the great Karl Struss took twelve hours to light his test, Shamroy knocked his off in twenty minutes, and got the job.
Shamroy was gruff, short-tempered, and had a high opinion of his own skill: “Lee Garmes will never see the day that he’s as good as I am, and that goes for anybody in the motion picture business,” he declared. He only acknowledged one possible superior talent: “God was a great photographer. He’d only gotten one light.”

So here it is for you to enjoy.

The disc streets in April.

Saw some NEW films this week — look out for reactions to THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH and LIQUORICE PIZZA, both of which I substantially dug.

Don’t tell Chuck (again)

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2021 by dcairns

(Or, Creative Differences Two)

Having enjoyed LUST FOR LIFE no end, I popped THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY on, because that’s the other film based on one of Irving Stone’s popular art biographies. MGM had optioned LFL and sat on it for ten years, concluding “There’s no story there.” Then Minnelli came along and disagreed, and we got the film. TAATE definitely has a clearer kind of story, it’s based around a single goal (the Cistine Chapel ceiling) and it has a central conflict (Michelangelo vs. Pope Julius II). But it differs from most mainstream movies in that the conflict results in creation, not destruction.

This movie has not much of a reputation. Carol Reed was considered past his best in 1965, and so was the historical epic. It’s a white elephant picture par excellence. But I rather liked it. Shot by Leon M. Shamroy, designed by John DeCuir, two men with spectacular lists of credits, it’s a visual feast, and mostly the splendor avoids vulgarity.

Oh, except when Michelangelo gets his inspiration from a matte painting, that’s awful.

Chuck Heston in his memoir talks about the difficulty of playing Michelangelo is that the man didn’t seem to be interested in anything but his work. Really, Chuck? Diane Cilento has been pasted into this picture as a beard to heterosexualise the hero. Since Heston is always stiff in the wrong way around women, not much passion is suggested, but Chuckles is devoid of any trace of ambiguity so the effort could probably have been spared. Still, screenwriter Philip Dunne has included an archly amusing scene where the Pope has soldiers hunting for his painter, who’s gone on the lam. They;re seen searching a brothel, where a half-naked woman in bed is in hysterics: “You’re looking for Michelangelo in THIS HOUSE?”

So we have the amusing situation of Heston playing, for the second time (after BEN-HUR) a character whose sexuality he’s not allowed to know about. He isn’t terrible in the part — it’s not like his demented Moses — but had Rex Harrison a nimbler, more vulnerable and expressive co-star, it could have been pretty great. The agony doesn’t really come across. Michelangelo gets sick, but I missed much sense of backbreaking toil, and of course we never see anything really get painted, just the odd stroke.

The Reed film this most resembles is probably TRAPEZE, if you think about it.

But — Reed found to his surprise that the Vatican was willing to let them film in the real Cistine. But he turned them down. And he was right. DeCuir’s team built an identical replica at Cinecitta, ceilinged it with photographs of the real thing, with the colours brightened to make it look like new. And when Pope Julius leads his reluctant artist into the chapel for the first time, Reed can tilt up to reveal — a BLANK Cistine Chapel ceiling. Having a duplicate to shoot in obviously also freed the filmmakers from all kinds of restraints. But that’s an expensive solution!

Like everyone else who crossed Sey Rexy’s path, Heston found him tricky, though he has the appealing habit of trying to like everyone. He notes that Harrison objected strongly to carrying a papal pointer in a scene which was supposed to end with him breaking the pointer over Michelangelo’s back, an incident which really happened, was the climax of the scene, and was even referred to in dialogue later.

The script is by Philip Dunne, writer of Fox movies for thirty-plus years, some of which (THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) are great. This one’s literate, and doesn’t suffer too much from Epic Dialogue Syndrome.

Rex Harrison’s memoir is hilarious on this one. Harrison’s huge ego demands that he be the star in a film about Michelangelo even though he’s not Michelangelo. “I don’t think Carol was himself. I think Charlton Heston was absolutely himself, and by the end I didn’t know who I was. Pope I knew I was, though the real star was Michelangelo, and Heston very politely and very nicely made me feel that it was extremely kind of me to be supporting him. Carol did little to disabuse him of this notion, so I did everything I could to make myself believe that the picture was about Pope Julius rather than about Michelangelo. In this I was not too successful.”

They wanted Olivier, Rexy.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY stars Moses; Professor Henry Higgins; Molly Seagrim; 13th Earl of Gurney; Prof. Alberto Levin; Prof. Henry Wassermann; Largo; Pat Garrett; Julia Martineau; Manuel ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez; and Chief Inspector Tim Oxford.

Roeg Ape

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2021 by dcairns

Rewatching PLANET OF THE APES — I am gratified to see that when you type “Planet of the Apes” into the IMDb, this is once more the film that turns up, the Tim Burton adaptation being mercifully forgotten — I got struck by the Roegisms. Did Nic R. see this, like it, and absorb it into his stylistic toolbox?

Case in point: the dramatic zoom in on Heston laughing at the little stars and stripes planted on the planet, a zoom which aims at his face but then misses and shoots off into the sky as Heston’s voice echoes away. A slightly similar effect occurs in EUREKA right at the start, but the space-zoom isn’t integrated in with a character in that one.

But that’s not all — there’s the rocket crash, even before that point, which is really a self-plagiarism by director Franklin J. Schaffner (who has the greatest, crunchiest Hollywood director name ever) since there’s a very similar ski crash at the starts of his earlier THE DOUBLE MAN. Roeg’s splashdown in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is *extremely* similar.

A less obvious one is the descent down a gravelly incline by Heston and his crew, which Roeg also borrows for Bowie in his sf movie. But he reverses the handheld camera descent, so that it’s backing away from Bowie at a low angle, instead of following Heston at eye-level.

APES is edited by Hugh S. Fowler, a Twentieth Century Fox company man all his life, who worked on some fine stuff — but asides from PATTON, it’s kind of hard to detect a consistent sensibility between this, IN HARM’S WAY and WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? But his cutting, and the excellent sound design and Jerry Goldsmith’s score (a game-changer) do wonders to make every angle change a startle effect. Of course Schaffner deserves huge credit for providing such muscular material, along with cameraman Leon M. Shamroy, in gorgeous lifelike colour by Deluxe.

One more swipe — the dinghy’s transit along narrow canyons is borrowed by Michael Anderson for the final episode of his TV Martian Chronicles. And it serves him very well!