Archive for Lord Byron

It’s Vlad, Dad!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2018 by dcairns

Huzzah! We’re back in the room with Uncle Francis Ford Coppola, director of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, watching BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA with the director of it. Slip into something fuchsia and join Fiona and I (and Uncle Francis) on this adventure!

So, Mary Shelley was at that time not much older than seventeen

So, uh, eighteen?

We now get a garbled explanation of how Lord Byron inspired Mary Shelley to write “the articulate monster Frankenstein,” a theory new to me but which does seem to enfold the classic error of naming the monster Frankenstein rather than the creator. And this man produced Francis Ford Coppola’s Kenneth Branagh’s MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN.

But Dr. Polidori who was probably in love with Lord Byron in a way that was unspeakable

HAHAHA but now Uncle Francis garbles Polidori’s The Vampyre, conflating it with the unrelated penny dreadful VARNEY THE VAMPIRE.

a figure who, by his attractiveness, sucks the life, sucks the blood out of you, so he cast Byron in his mind as the vampire. So in a way both our famous monsters the monster Frankenstein and the vampire Dracula, are both inspired by Lord Byron.

No no no, none of that is true.

“Sadie looks like shit with red hair,” says Fiona, who is more than usually follicle-obsessed right now. “OK, maybe not shit. But it doesn’t suit her.”

Thinking back on this movie, it wasn’t terribly enjoyable experience for me.

Fancy dissolves on Absinthe pouring.

“That is such a Tia-Maria-commercial dissolve,” remarks Fiona, scornfully. But in fact, the classic Tia Maria ads starring Iman relied mainly on hard cuts. I think it’s Gordon’s Gin she’s think of. Or possibly Castrol GTX. At any rate, this is indeed the one bit of the film that really looks like an ad for something (we’re about to get a bit that looks like a music video) — as more and more of our visual language is co-opted by salesmen, is it going to get harder for filmmakers dedicated to the quest for cinematic beauty to avoid this? Perhaps not… because Madison Avenue isn’t watching Carl Dreyer, and great cinema is informed by substance and meaning and reality as well as photogenics. This sequence lapses into the language of ad-land precisely because it has no purpose other than to promote absinthe. Coppola’s business-man head and wine-grower’s sensibility are seeping in.

Roman did such beautiful effects work in it to weave the legendary and somewhat magical effects of the drink absinthe which was of course made illegal around this time or a little later, primarily because it was the first aperitif that was made out of something other than grapes

Uncle Francis, I believe, can be trusted on the subject of drink. So I’m grateful for this history lesson. (Fiona checks his various absinthe anecdotes on Wikipedia and he’s confirmed correct.)

and really present Dracula as a romantic figure

“Let’s just show him crying, that’ll help,” says Fiona.

“And sweating,” I add.

I think this movie was thought of many different ways, but among the most enthusiastic people who seem to have enjoyed the film are women, it’s the nature of the love story, I mean everyone at some point has been in love with someone who’s bad for them. Certainly being in love with Dracula would fit that description [laughs].

Fiona points out that Uncle Francis DOES have a sense of humour and can laugh at himself. He doesn’t need me.

Then we get another crack about Winona not being willing to push herself enough.

This is definitely an homage to Cocteau, but a lovely image, that he takes her tears and makes them into diamonds, every man would like to do that if he makes the woman he loves cry.

Maybe it could work as an excuse? “I swear, I was just trynna make diamonds come out of your eyes!”

Keanu is STILL a prisoner in Sitting-Down-Dracula Castle. But Coppola is finally talking about Wojciech Kilar’s score. He originally wanted Witold Lutoslawski: “Young man, do you know how many hours it takes me to write one minute of music?”

The implication that at that level of handmade music it’s incredibly time-consuming

To listen to or to compose? I think he lucked out with Kilar.

He wrote three or at the most four cues, a love theme, a kind of initial, very dramatic theme, and then a third theme.

Beautifully evoked there. I can almost hear them, especially the third one.

And that was all he gave me.

Coppola says they only had these three tracks and they had to mix them differently in order to not just have them repeat endlessly. Uncle Fran puts this down to classical music being so time-consuming and Kilar being of that world, but WK had already done film scores for Kieslowski… So I think maybe he was just taking the piss, defrauding Hollywood by doing the minimum work for a presumably generous fee. But he wrote GREAT themes.

(Later, I will realise that I was so fascinated by this disquisition that I missed the entirety of Keanu Harker’s escape from Sitting-Down Dracula Castle.)

“Winona’s got such adorable ears,” says Fiona. A shame she won’t push herself. She just falls back on her ears.

Funny how FFC is always full of praise for Sadie Frost’s sexiness, but can’t resist slapping Winona down for her (if anything, superior) performance.

She’s sorta sexy with those cute little baby vampire teeth.

She puts me in mind of a young Celine Dione.

Discourse on Hopkins’ aversion to long rehearsals, or any rehearsal at all. Coppola admits the value of spontaneity.

“This is like the video for Wrapped Around Your Finger.” [by The Police] says Fiona, accurately.

“I never much liked the idea for ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger.’ No, I was kind of pissed off about that one. I’ve never been much of a fan of that song, actually. Sting got to shoot his part last in that video and made a meal of knocking all the candles out. Fuck him.” – Andy Summers [The Police]

These sequence with the candles was really the brainchild of Michael Ballhaus, who was really a wonderful man, and trying very hard to get with what he understood ultimately was a kind of far-out style in which almost anything goes, and I think if I’m correct, he’d got the idea of a scene where there were just candles and what have you.

Poor Michael.

I don’t want to dwell on Antony Hopkins’ performance too much. I think his accent is good, he can do throwaway with it, which Keanu can’t. But the note of music hall is not helpful to this picture.

You could say I encouraged him to be a bit over the top, but the whole movie is over the top, so what’s over the top?

Antony Hopkins is.

You know, I’m even beginning to think of an era in which I make movies not only in which you tend to hold closer to your vest, right, which is to say you don’t show anyone the script and you don’t ask anyone’s opinion but maybe even one day you don’t even show the film to anyone. Maybe you just make it and you look at it and you say “okay” and then you put it in a closet drawer and you forget it.

Man’s mad.

All you need to do that is a lot of money.

Yeah, right, so there’s absolutely no downside because WHAAAAAAT

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

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Nights at the Villa Deodati #2: Phantasmagoria

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2016 by dcairns

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I saw GOTHIC at the Cameo Cinema on its first release in 1986. I went alone. I watched alone — I don’t remember another soul being there, though I suppose there must have been somebody else in the audience. If Messrs. Golan & Globus had witnessed that matinée, they might have thought twice about bankrolling Ivan Passer’s HAUNTED SUMMER, which violated the law discovered by his fellow Czech filmmaker Milos Forman on VALMONT: “Never make a movie that somebody else has just made.”

In HAUNTED SUMMER, screenwriter Lewis John Carlino “solved” the problem of the fact that nothing much is known to have actually happened during the summer when Mary Shelley hatched the idea for Frankenstein by writing a historically faithful script in which nothing much happens. In GOTHIC, Stephen Volk, a writer who has shown an admirable devotion to the fantastique throughout his distinguished career, tackles the same problem in a number of ways —

  1. He folds into the story the characters’ backstories, so that dramatic events from their pasts can inform the action. Byron’s incestuous love for his sister and, crucially, the death of Mary’s first baby, are introduced via dialogue, some of it a bit awkwardly expository, and then can be played out in the ensuing psychodrama. Whatever the merits of the execution, the idea is a masterstroke, creating a human drama behind the authorial act which is our prime reason for being here — it’s unbelievable that the other movies on the subject neglect to do this.
  2. He also incorporates glimpses of the characters’ tragic futures, seen in psychedelic visions. This is also much more satisfying than HAUNTED SUMMER’s wrap-up, where a flurry of tragic deaths is dispensed with in a few titles at the end, leaving the odd impression that we’ve been watching the wrong scenes from the protagonists’ lives.
  3. By plunging the audience into the drug-induced paranoia of a frenzied laudanum party, Volk concocts a supernatural plotline in which a kind of séance seemingly unleashes all manner of hellspawn. I don’t think this is fully developed in narrative terms, perhaps because the barely-glimpsed monster is given short shrift compared to all the onscreen psychotronics, but it certainly gives rise to lots of good images.

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Russell was returning to British cinema after an interesting American adventure which self-destructed with the barely-released CRIMES OF PASSION, from which the MPPAA cut around 40 mins (“They cut everything to do with art,” observed Ken.) I now look rather affectionately upon this penultimate phase of his career — I still can’t get on with the home video works that followed it, but I’ll speak up on behalf of LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, SALOME’S LAST DANCE, and GOTHIC. Not so keen on THE RAINBOW, alas.

Russell was also giving interviews in which he extolled the virtues of the fast forward, saying he’d enjoyed RUMBLE FISH but that he’d watched it at double speed, which improved it. GOTHIC feels a bit like the script is on fast-forward, as if Russell couldn’t wait to get to the leaches and severed heads, and couldn’t be bothered allowing any of the characters to start breathing as human beings. A talented cast, plus Julian Sands, are left gasping for air with unformed lungs like poor Mary’s premature baby. They are ~

  1. The late, lamented Natasha Richardson. Her decision to give Mary a Scottish accent is surprising — Mary spent maybe a year and a half in Scotland, max. But alone among the cast she establishes a baseline of credibility — she doesn’t get space to develop it, but she’s always believable, even when required to disgorge implausible amounts of exposition.
  2. Julian Sands. Sands is good in some stuff. Not here. His Percy Bysshe Shelley alternates between acting as if he’s SHOUTING, while speaking at normal volume, and drawing the edges of his mouth as far back as possible, like a monkey in a wind tunnel, or a man attempting to eat a Wagon Wheel biscuit in one go. He’s supposed to become hysterical, but he’s already hysterical, and in the wrong sense of the word. Bysshe Bash Bosh.
  3. Gabriel Byrne. Naturally Byronic, but unimpressive stripped to the waist, incipient moobs aquiver. Suffers a bit from having Every Famous Thing Byron Ever Said as dialogue. Next to Sands he sounds like a genius though.
  4. Timothy Spall. Knows he’s in a Ken Russell film, so is playing it like Murray Melvin in THE DEVILS, but an MM who has been mysteriously inflated with methane.
  5. Myriam Cyr. The least-known one, and the most memorable, with her huge eyeballs. One of a harem of Russell lovelies who only made one indelible impression (Alita Naughton, Imogen Millais-Scott). Her sparse other credits include FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND and FRANKENSTEIN AND ME. The woman’s clearly obsessed.

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Every version of this story seems to feature one surprise unknown. In HAUNTED SUMMER it was Philip Anglim, whom we’d never seen before. At his first closeup, Fiona cruelly and hilariously remarked “No.” She was already smitten with Stoltz as Shelley. Later she admitted Anglim was pretty damn good. The best of the Byronic batch, actually.

“You’re not allowed to criticise the score,” said Fiona, a Thomas Dolby fan from way back. After five minutes, she was criticising it, or at any rate saying “The score is a disaster.” When the movie is prematurely hysterical, the score is a particular problem. Russell has lost his patience as a filmmaker, and patience is a form of courage — believing you can make the audience wait for something. So the movie isn’t scary, despite throwing everything at us. It’s frequently freaky, though.

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The last act is where it all kicks in and starts working. Since the visual stuff works better than the talking headcases, it would be easy to give Russell all the credit, but he was careful to praise Volk’s script for the fact that it served up delicious images, more valuable than words. So Russell’s hectic tempo is responsible for some of the apparent writing flaws, and Volk’s visceral writing deserves some of the credit for the film’s feast of imagery. Mary Shelley in a timewarp, glimpsing the future, encapsulates the premise of FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND in five minutes better than that movie manages in its whole runtime.

My favourite images —

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Ken recreates his beloved Busby Berkeley’s Lullaby of Broadway sequence, only with a skull instead of Wini Shaw.

A bit of T & eye. Not frightening. But bizarre. (see top)

A simple closeup, utterly beautiful and more haunting than anything else we’ve seen.

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To Russell, the cardinal sin was to bore, and on that basis, GOTHIC wins the Battle of the Byrons. But read on…

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…