Archive for Leonard Rossiter

An Odyssey in Bits: Putting the starch back into Starchild

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2019 by dcairns

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”

So, the second most dazzling cut in 2001 is probably the one nobody talks about. After Geoffrey Unsworth’s camera tracks into the monolith (death), Kubrick hard-cuts to the moon — seen from space or the Earth, we don’t know yet, and dead-centre in frame, like HAL’s eye. He could have dissolved, but the hard or direct cut makes it clear this is continuous action, just like the switch from bone to orbiting missile, the same process continuing.The moon then appears to rise straight up (its prominent role here would be more meaningful, it occurs to me, if we’d ever really seen Moonwatcher, our lead ape, you know, moon-watching. Yes, Kubrick remembered to show him looking up in awe and terror at night-time, but I don’t recall him including a POV shot. Perhaps showing “the outward urge” and John Wyndham called it seemed too on-the-nose to him at this early point). Then the Earth hoves in, and we realise that the choice of “up” is an illusion of camera angles —And the Starchild, Baby Dave, seen previously hovering or lying on Dave Bowman’s bed in its Good Witch Glinda bubble, hovers into view, the shot framed so His bubble is exactly the size of our world.This is the only shot where He looks cute, as opposed to beautiful and divine.

 

There had been a plan for Baby Dave to then blow up all the orbiting nukes, seen earlier, which would have closed the narrative thread of East-West tension established on the orbiting satellite earlier (cut to aghast reaction shot of Leonard Rossiter) but this was dismissed because either

(a) It was too pat, too Peace On Earth

(b) Kubes realised he hadn’t made the nukes obvious enough

(c) It lacked ambiguity, like, totally

(d) He didn’t want to end two films in a row with a bunch of nukes going off

SO we simply see Baby Dave, EVA in ECU, slowly turn until he’s looking right at us, which is disarming in a different way. And chimes worryingly with THIS image:“We’re the start of the coming race.”

What happened between the ending of 2001 and the start of CLOCKWORK to account for the sudden sourness, misanthropy and pessimism? Well, it was always there — look at STRANGELOVE. But if the question has any vestige of validity, we might list: the Tet offensive, covered in FULL METAL JACKET; the My Lai massacre; the Manson murders; and the cancellation of Kubrick’s NAPOLEON. The last one perhaps being the most significant.

Kubrick’s (very) informal science fiction series consists of films that seem to rewrite each others’ messages — in STRANGELOVE, mankind is all-but doomed by the brilliance of its scientific thinking and the stupidity of its political and military thinking — in 2001, space travel offers the possibility of a way out of this mess by contacting smarter beings who may help us — in CLOCKWORK ORANGE we’re on our own: the great achievement of evolution is “man — the killer ape” and the great achievement of science is dehumanisation — politics continues to be totally fucked — if THE SHINING qualifies as SF because it relies on ESP and quasi-explains its ghosts with a version of Nigel Kneale’s Stone Tape Theory, then we learn that ESP isn’t very helpful and ghosts are assholes: politics plays no central role but human beings are vulnerable and evil is imperishable — and if A.I. qualifies as a Kubrick film (I’d say only somewhat), it shows his latter-day thinking: human beings are too flawed to survive but we might be able to make something that will outlast us.

(In CLOCKWORK ORANGE scientists produce a mechanical human, organic yet functioning mechanically — what Burgess meant by the title. In A.I. they achieve the opposite, Kubrick’s anti-Frankenstein myth.)

Lots of variety in that “series,” tending towards the somewhat pessimistic. But it’s realistic to say that, since nothing lasts forever, human beings have only a certain amount of time to footer around, and optimistic to say we might get to play a role in choosing our own successors, be they starchildren or Giacometti androids.

I know a lot of people aren’t interested in these questions — it’s all a long way off. But the end of humanity always fascinated and worried me, along with the end of the universe. Maybe it’s not too soon to start planning for the heat death? And in fact, extinction, and not prosperity, may be just around the corner. Kubrick seems like one of the few filmmakers to be seriously thinking these thoughts.

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An Odyssey in Bits: Dr. Smyslov, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Squirt

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2019 by dcairns

Complicated bit now. We’re moving through Kubrick’s 2001 in sort-of chapters. This one contains several sub-sections.

First, Kubes chops into The Blue Danube at an opportune moment, so the transition to the interior of the Big Space Wheel is neat yet abrupt. The grinding sound of the rotating chamber that introduces William Sylvester’s Heywood Floyd to the wheel’s security atrium helps as aural interruption. There’s another of those pretty stewardess types (Maggie London) in the room with him (it’s not quite an airlock, something like an elevator that doesn’t go up or down, just around… a revolving door you can sit down in), and then another (Canadian Chela Matthison) at the sort-of customs desk.

Floyd meets a faceless functionary, Miller, who has something to do with security, bland pleasantries are exchanged, blandly. The first dialogue of the film, discounting ape-grunts, is arguably the noiseless lip-flap of the characters in the TV show Floyd is sleeping through on his shuttle trip, but these encounters offer the first audible speech and it makes about the same impression.“Here you are, sir.” “See you on the way back.” “We haven’t seen you up here for a long time.” “Very nice to see you again.” “Did you have a pleasant flight, sir?” “Sorry I’m late.” “You’re looking great.” “It’s nice to have you back.” “Did you have a good flight?”

Let’s assume this is all deliberately dull. Science fiction writers believed for a long time that their stories should feature rather bland, standard-issue characters without distracting quirks, so that the strange situations could stand out by contrast and there would be a grounding in what they’d probably insist on calling “normalcy.” This was a false good idea, because boring cut-outs don’t help make a story credible. But there’s more to that going on in 2001. The functionaries we meet here are rather dull men and women doing, what are to them, dull, everyday things. The astronauts, later, embody what the filmmakers’ and actors’ research told them, accurately, astronauts would be like: flat and not very emotional. You don’t want hand-flapping hysterics piloting your interplanetary craft, you want Neil Armstrong.

There are two characters called Miller in this film. Which gives you an idea of the deliberate blandness. This one is played by Kevin Scott, whose immediately previous film credit was THE COOL MIKADO for Michael Winner. “I like to work with the best actors in the world,” said Kubrick. Worth repeating that every so often as we watch this film. But Kev is fine here, exactly right for what’s called for.Good to see that the Dutch are prominently represented in space travel.

I like the weird garbled stuff Floyd is forced to say by the security screen woman (Judy Keirn, who plays an actual stewardess in her only other film, Sidney Lumet’s THE DEADLY AFFAIR) for his voice print identification: destination, nationality, full name, surname first. So he has to say “Moon. American. Floyd. Heywood R.” Which is certainly the best line of the film so far.Then Floyd says he has to make a couple of phone calls, but in fact makes one: he tries to speak to his wife but gets Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, playing his daughter, Squirt. Is it an issue that she has an English accent, despite Heywood being a yank who lives in America? I don’t mind it: she’s so cute and the conversation has such a realistic awkwardness — the authentic feeling of talking to a distracted child via technology — and we can easily invent an explanation. Mrs. Floyd must be English, they must have lived there until recently…What IS a mistake is that the camera filming Squirt is able to pan right to keep her in frame during her hilarious and random postural contortions. A videophone wouldn’t do that, and if it had some motion-sensor capacity to do so, it would look more automated than Kubes’ spontaneous movement. But I guess he couldn’t bear to have a misframed daughter disappearing out of shot in his space epic. And the scene appears to have been filmed casually in the Kubrick home so it hasn’t had the rigorous thought put into it that you’d expect from S.K.

Vivian Kubrick later joined the Church of Scientology (I blame Tom and to a lesser extent Nicole) and is now completely estranged from her family. Horrible.Leaving the phone booth having been billed $1.70, which I guess was a lot of money in 1968, Floyd is ambushed by the Russians. It seems foolish of station security man Miller to have let HRF out of his sight like that, but maybe they actually WANTED this encounter to take place — because Floyd proceeds to bamboozle the Russkis, refusing to confirm the cover story his own people have leaked out, thereby making them think this story must be true. (To conceal the discovery of an alien artifact at the Tycho Clavius base on the moon, they’ve concocted a false tale of infection and quarantine.)

This scene features two actors who don’t quite fit the film’s pattern of nondescript performance. Margaret Tyzack would return in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, her plummy English solicitude acquiring a sinister edge. And Leonard Rossiter would nearly capsize BARRY LYNDON with the comic flamboyance of his performance. Here, he’s Dr. Andrei Smyslov, pumping Floyd for info as they all sit around on their comfy ’60s space chairs.

We should previously have praised Tony Masters, Harry Lange and Ernest Archer for their production design, and it’s a bit crap that I focus on them here where the design is noticable in a partially negative way. The curve of the floor, indicating that we’re inside that big wheel we saw floating in space, is fantastic. And the contrast of the white white set with the red furniture is really beautiful. But of course within ten years the chairs dated it. But then a little later we could appreciate how attractive they were, and by the time the year 2001 rolled round for real they seemed perfectly plausible space furniture.

This sequence, so soon after one of the great cuts of film history, contains the worst cut in 2001 ~

A jolting jounce inwards, not far enough to feel like a meaningful change, with a jarring continuity glitch in Rossiter’s stance. OK, not quite as bad as my frame-grabs suggest. And they make William Sylvester’s head-turn the focus, and preserve the continuity of movement there. But it’s the small size of the reframing that makes the whole cut ugly. Perfectionist, my ass!

This scene also has some beautiful pausing. If Harold Pinter was writing it, he wouldn’t even put “(a pause)”, he’d go all out and put “(a silence)”, indicating that the actors should really go for maximum discomfort. The seeds of THE SHINING’s creepy conversations are sown here.

Our latest two podcasts have a science fiction theme:

SPACE MADNESS

LET’S GET SMALL

Cat’s in the Bag

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2015 by dcairns

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THE WITCHES (1966) predates ROSEMARY’S BABY but isn’t as good — but it really does play many of the same tricks, with the audience meant to be unsure if Joan Fontaine is crazy or if the charming English village really is swarming with diabolists. THE WICKER MAN is also strongly recalled by the rural terror angle.

Of course, we were watching because the movie is scripted by Nigel Kneale. I don’t suppose many people watch for director Cy Frankel. Poor Cy. Fontaine’s casting suggests all those Hollywood horrors in which former leading ladies are cruelly reshaped as monsters, from BABY JANE on, but in fact she’s playing a fairly resourceful heroine, and the movie is more inclined to ignore her age rather than exploit it for queasy chills.

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Fontaine could have used a stronger director, though — she overacts horribly in places. Shown round her new cottage home, she pulls hyperactive cutesy faces at everything, like a neurotic schoolmarm. Admittedly, she’s playing the character of a neurotic schoolmarm, But you don’t want to play a neurotic schoolmarm LIKE a neurotic schoolmarm. It makes for an appalling display. But she reins it in later.

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How to seduce Joan Fontaine #3,412: Cod Psychology.

Lots of other pleasures in the cast — Kay Walsh, Duncan Lamont (the jumping leaping man from QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) and Leonard Rossiter in the Charles Grodin part, as a doctor we can’t quite be sure about. Plus Michelle Dotrice, who gets all horny at the black mass, just as she would in BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, still playing a teenager five years later. Between these two films lies Robert Fuest’s tense AND SOON THE DARKNESS, so there’s a trilogy of terror alright, but the world is still waiting for La Dotrice to get overexcited at her third sabbat.

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The erotic power of the bowl.

It’s a shame the film leaves the sleepy/creepy village for a stretch in the middle, breaking off some nicely building suspense, and one could have wished the final plot revelations had been fed in more gradually. But the idea of an aging person planning to insert their consciousness into a younger donor body is very interesting — the same idea is used in NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, but with a mad science angle rather than sorcery. And we get another great Kneale rhyme —

Grow me a gown with golden down,
Cut me a robe from toe to lobe,
Give me a skin for dancing in.

Maybe it comes from the book, I don’t know, but it sounds like him.

The one truly alarming bit is this —

The cat in the bag — a cloth doll twitching on the floor, repulsive and uncanny and incomprehensible until we realize what it is we’re looking at.

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Poor kitty!