Archive for Lewis John Carlino

Nights at the Villa Deodati #1: Byron & Shelley’s Bogus Journey

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona was so entranced by the sight of Eric Stoltz, as Percy Shelley, emitting a flawless English accent while splashing about naked in a stream, that it may have taken her slightly longer than usual to notice that HAUNTED SUMMER is a very dull piece of work. Usually she gets bored before me.

I hated popped this one in the Panasonic after enjoying Ivan Passer’s SILVER BEARS (I also recommend his Czech debut, INTIMATE LIGHTING), but was dimly aware that this Cannon production did not enjoy a stellar reputation. The script by Lewis John Carlino (SECONDS) is literate and clearly the result of extensive research (source novel: Anne Edwards), but crucially lacks drama. Things only very occasionally get remotely tense, for instance when Shelley is induced to smoke opium in a scary cave, with Byron inciting him into a bad trip in which he is terrified by a transmogrified Mary — but the best the movie can manage for a hallucination here is Alice Krige in sudden lipstick, filmed off a wibbly-wobbly reflector. And then any anxiety produced is dissipated by a soft focus sex scene. A later love scene is shot through drifting muslin, the kind of “tastefulness” which quickly seems extremely tacky.

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We DO get a vision of a monster, and rather sweetly the filmmakers have made him resemble Charles Ogle as the monster in the Edison FRANKENSTEIN.

Those perfect English accents are part of the problem. Apart from Krige, who talks posh naturally so far as I know, the movie showcases cut-glass vocalisations by Laura Dern (as Claire Clairmont), Philip Anglim (Bad Lord Byron) and a tiny, barely-formed Alex Winter as Dr. Polidori, looking like an Oompa Loompa with jaundice. They’re all quite good — nobody dives into the strangulated manner of Keanu Reeves in B.S.’s DRACULA — but the cast’s inability to talk in their own tones does create a slight feeling of airlessness. I wonder if Passer shouldn’t have followed his Czech mate Milos Forman’s lead in AMADEUS and let the Americans talk American? This nagging doubt is confirmed if you tune out the chatter and just look at the relaxed faces: these are all terrific actors, able to bring an unwonted naturalism to the period setting.

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The great Giuseppe Rotunno shot this, but I would have to see a better copy to know if he was having an off-day or if he’s simply fallen prey to pan-and-scan and a washed-out transfer — unlike the other 80s visits to Villa Deodata, this movie seems to offer nothing resembling a strong, cinematic image. It also soft-pedals the whole point of the story — the origins of Frankenstein — leaving out the ghost story competition completely. If you didn’t know that Mary Shelley would conceive the idea for her masterwork during this sojourn by the lake, you wouldn’t guess it from the movie. How not to win the audience over: leave out the one historical fact they know, and the thing they’re already interested in.

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Thematically, the film could be about the end of the sixties, rather than 1816. Byron refers to his friends as “children of the revolution,” conjuring Marc Bolan rather than George Gordon Byron, and the progress from light to dark could represent the corruption of idealism. If so, the film would have seemed more dated in 1988 than it does now. All the late-80s slew of films dealing with this literary vacation come up against the same problem — apart from the conception of Frankenstein, an internal event difficult to capture on film, not much is known to have happened at the Villa Deodati, despite the explosive mix of people. The various filmmakers involved — Passer & Carlino, Gonzalo Suarez, Ken Russell & Stephen Volk, and Roger Corman & F.X. Feeney, all have their own strategies for tackling this problem. I might as well tell you now: none of them could quite solve it.

Read on…

Seconds Out

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on November 12, 2013 by dcairns

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Casual observations inspired by screening SECONDS to students —

Screenwriter Lewis John Carlino (THE FOX, THE MECHANIC) apparently didn’t care for John Frankenheimer’s handling of SECONDS — Frankenheimer cut a scene on a beach with a kid which nevertheless gets referenced in the film’s final shot. “It still works,” argued Frankenheimer, and he’s right — in a non-literal, allusive way, the scene has something to do with unfulfilled dreams or poignant memories, and it provides a heartbreaking note of regret amidst the sheer horror of that killer final sequence.

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Carlino also objected to all the damn STYLE — James Wong Howe’s bravura handheld swooping, the cameras mounted on actors to turn them into gliding automata in a wobbly world, the jump cuts (in Hollywood! in 1966!), the expressionist set in the drug-trip staged sexual assault. Carlino carefully scripted the action to take place in mundane settings, anchoring the allegory (the ending, with the line “You were my finest work,” somehow reminds me of Kafka’s Parable of The Law in The Trial). As with ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, the fantastic company is plonked down in reality — reached via a steam laundry on Lafayette and a meat-packing company a short taxi ride away.

But I love all the disorienting tricks. The only false step I think is shooting Jeff Corey low-angle, where his nostrils, black and wondrously elongated like tadpoles, get a little distracting.

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The best (and most literal) cut in a film full of daring excisions — John Randolph lowers pen to paper to sign his Faustian pact, and we immediately see a scalpel touch skin as the painful (and in literal terms unbelievable) process of transforming the puddingy Randolph into chiselled Rock Hudson begins. We think of signing in blood, and the surgeon’s blade as a pen rewriting lives. Very evocative, and also OUCH!

That missing scene is a good thing, probably — the beginning and end of the film are very strong, and the middle kind of weak (that interminable nudie hippy wine ceremony!), and so speed is a good weapon to get Rock back to the company and bring things to their predestined appalling conclusion. They nearly overdo it — one is reminded of what Fitzgerald said about second acts in American lives — but the balance is just about there. I suspect David Ely’s novel got too internal in the middle and Carlino couldn’t quite crack it without access to the character’s inner world, or else he did crack it and Frankenheimer and Hudson strayed from the path (it’s never fair to blame the writer unless one has read the script, and I haven’t, though I’d like to).

Still, this is strong stuff, and I found myself thinking about the many, worrying ways the story blends with Hudson’s own life (we’ll give you a new face, new voice, new name, and everything will be perfect). Theory: the strongest horror movies were probably made by people who didn’t think they were making a horror movie as such. Or, rather than scaring the audience with a Wes Craven 1-2-3-BOO! every ten minutes, they simply follow the implications of a disturbing story to its terrible conclusion.

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Chilly scenes of winter

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2010 by dcairns

The snow and ice out there looked so nice I sent the late William Fraker out to take some snaps of it before it all melts.

Not really, of course. The images are from the opening titles of THE FOX, a DH Lawrence story filmed by Mark Rydell, screenplay by John Lewis Carlino and Howard Koch. Fraker shot it, and it’s visually stunning.

I do tend to find Lawrence rather a load of tosh, but that’s because I’m inclined to find things funny where possible. Lawrence requires you to not do that, I think. In a way, John Boorman might have been a better match for him than Ken Russell, since Boorman similarly defies humour. I mean, I don’t deny that some woman, some time, may have stared into an icy pond and clasped her own breasts, but I can’t imagine she’d have done it with the earnestness and deep meaning suggested here.

Still, the movie has Sandy Dennis, that wonderful, uncontrolled presence, and is supported at either end by the cheekbones of Keir Dullea and Anne Heywood. One of them has a very attractive bob but I won’t spoil it by revealing which.

Koch, of course, had a hand in everything from CASABLANCA to LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN to Welles’s War of the Worlds. Carlino is known to me mainly for the chilling SECONDS. Here’s how his draft of the script for THE FOX begins —

FADE IN

EXTERIOR      FARM AND FIELDS     DAWN

It is dawn. The sun is just peeping over the trees, tinting the snow a faint pink. Fog and mist blend the shapes of trees with the whiteness so that all seems to have an amorphic unreality. There are no outlines, only dark shapes, emerging, blending, merging again. All is silent. There is no wind. Now as the sun moves higher, the mist and fog begins to burn off and shapes begin to define themselves. Thin fibril branches of trees and bushes, sheathed in ice, glistening against the sun. The fantastic geometric patterns of frost. The frozen ripples at the edge of a brook. The nimbus of gossamer-like cocoons and webs, flashing, crystalline, like spun glass. Everything is arrested, balanced, composed.

Incredible as it seems, Fraker manages to get 90% of that up on the screen, and more beautifully than Carlino’s prose can suggest. In particular, the image above revolves from hazy silhouette to solid, detailed form, perhaps in part due to Fraker creeping the shutter open to lighten the image, or maybe it’s a completely genuine Canadian sunrise, I don’t know…

Merry Christmas from the fox and his friends…

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