Archive for Martin Scorsese


Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Sport, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2018 by dcairns

Slow news day. And I’m now heading into Hell, as my viewing of feature film submissions for Edinburgh Film Festival crashes into my viewing of short films as applications for Edinburgh College of Art Film & Television Department. There will be hundreds of features and hundreds of shorts. So, probably no time for watching ANYTHING apart from snatches of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and I can’t write about any of the films I see for eminently reasonable privacy reasons.

BUT — my friend Travis, an ace sound editor, got in touch the other day and mentioned a clip he was going to use in a class of sound designers. It’s his favourite bit from RAGING BULL, with the mysterious close-ups of coffee cups and a coffee cup HANDLE. Scorsese is still doing these giant detail shots in SILENCE and WOLF OF WALL STREET, where Jonah Hill spots Leo’s car and it fragments into what Werner might call ECSTATIC SNAPSHOTS. The whole sequence is such a compendium of unusual choices, maybe I can just talk about THAT today.

It’s 11 am. on Wednesday the 31st of January. Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off.We’re an hour into Scorsese’s 1980 monsterpiece. Joe Pesci as Joey La Motta slams Frank Vincent as Salvy’s head in a taxi cab door in a fit of pique. It’s a scene of high noise and chaos, the violent blows underplayed if anything in favour of the vocal panic of onlookers. Then, Scorsese and his mixing team do something very curious.

All the din fades down, while the onscreen action remains furious (though we do withdraw to a more placid, distant high angle, almost a Hitchcock God shot) and Mascagni’s Barcarolle bleeds in, wafting a discordant gentleness over the brutish proceedings. (Scorsese has talked about how the violence he saw in the streets as a kid was often accompanied by wildly contrapuntal love songs on neighbourhood radios, so that the more literal accompaniment he heard in the movies always seemed terribly mediocre.) Emotion recollected in tranquility.Then we cut to the Debonair Social Club, which should be hilarious in contrast to the preceding skull-cracking, but the music and the wideness of the shot kind of quashes the humour, deliberately. Scorsese cuts to the sign AFTER, to avoid making the joke quite coalesce. I don’t know what Travis was going to talk about in class, except that he was struck by how this rainy street scene, with a man running by to get out of the downpour, has no rain FX and no footsteps foley. Just the music, so this transitional mood overlay, which is not emotionally appropriate in any obvious way for the fight scene or the resulting negotiation we’re about to see, dominates the soundtrack and, in one very practical sense, smoothes over the gear change from one to the other.

More detail shots: the club license, framed respectably on the wall (these mob places are impossible to get into if you’re not, ahem, in the club: but I *think* maybe they filmed in a real joint. And it was slightly awkward, iirc.)  Then, as we get details of coffee-making and cups, we hear the gentle voice of “Coach” from Cheers, Nicholas Colasanto, smoothing the ruffled feathers and making nice with Pesci and the heavily bandaged Vincent, which is where the scene DOES allow some humour to break loose.

The voice is so low and reasonable and soothing, it’s the first thing that really makes sense with the music, though the circumstances still seem some considerable ironic distance from the plot of Silvano, Mascagni’s “sea-faring drama.”

That coffee-cup handle… so mysterious. How does one think of something like that. And what does it do? it makes us see an object, really SEE it, in a new way. It gives a great impression of DAINTINESS. You can sort of picture an invisible pinky sticking out as this cup is raised. Again, this could be funny, but isn’t, exactly.Cut to card-players’ hands, with a used coffee cup — is Ozu an influence here? I had been thinking Kurosawa — the bit where Mifune chooses the name Sanjuro by looking at a cornfield in YOJIMBO comes to mind — but using the idea of a coffee cup to dance from the kitchen or bar to the front of the establishment seems very like the way Ozu’s detail shots can transport us through space-time on a thread of mental connections between objects. “You don’t raise your hands,” Colasanto is saying, which is the most specific sound-picture connection we’ve had so far.

And STILL we don’t see the man talking, we just get a wider shot of the calm, stolid card-players.So, if this is what you’ve been doing, you need to keep it up, right? So now we finally go to the group this scene is about, and Colasanto’s voice has finally faded up to full volume (still soft and throaty), but instead of showing the speaker, we’re on the listeners, the patched-up Salvy and the glowering Joey, sort of trying to look like an altar boy, an amusing thing to see as Colasanto waves a hand and says, his back to us, “Now, we’ve heard everyone’s point of view…”

We only see the room in a wide shot when this part of the interview is over, which allows a sort of mental reset for the next piece of business —Finally, by now, the music has finished fading down, so slowly you don’t notice it leaving. It’s replaced by an almost totally inaudible piece of diegetic music playing somewhere, slight atmospheric creaks and clicks and fidgeting noises, the sounds of general movement in the club, but almost no except those of the principles, despite the fact that people seem like they’re probably talking in the background if you think about it realistically, and maybe the distant clank and rumble of an elevated train.

OK, it’s 11.39, time for me to get on with my day…


Scantily Vlad

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2018 by dcairns

Part Three of my (excited)  commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, a dreamlike incursion into the kaleidoscopic mental tombola of this great filmmaker. With added comments from Fiona the Great and Powerful.


Clearly Jonathan Harker should have noticed, if not alone from the hairdo and the strange red robe, that there was something amiss with this guy, that there was something very mysterious in terms of the world he was entering.

Uncle Francis puts his finger on it — one reason Keanu seems dopey in this movie, prompting a lot of audience members to be (naively) surprised that the BILL AND TED star is a really bright guy, is that his Jonathan Harker has to be unbelievable obtuse and unobservant. Of course, all Coppola’s tricks with shadows are fun to do, just as Bela Lugosi walking through a spiderweb is fun, but it destroys our ability to empathise with the supposedly “normal” character.

Martin Scorsese talked about how strong and alarming it was to have Christopher Lee just stride into his closeup and chummily declare, “I am Dracula,” as one might say “Yep, that’s me!” As he put it, “…unlike Bela Lugosi, with whom you knew you were in trouble.” So I think it might be worth sacrificing some of the fun in order to gain some credibility. Despite Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski’s bizarre appearance in the two NOSFERATUs, the use of solid, real locations does add a certain mundanity that’s useful for contrast and also to anchor the phantasy.

I think maybe some of this stuff would work if it was just barely GLIMPSED, so that Harker might be justifiedly saying to himself, “Did I just see that?” and the audience would be chanting “Yes you did!” but at least they’d be able to understand his restrained, uneasy behaviour. And Keanu would have something to play.

he was reputed to be an expert meme

I think Francis means “mime.” But if we just exchanged the meanings of those words we could have some interesting conversations, so maybe he’s right.

Coppola tells us that Eiko Ishioka designed not just the costume but the hair, the whole look. From his making-of diary I recall him wanting minimal sets and to have the costumes really stand in for the sets, but he wasn’t given the freedom to go QUITE that far. Here, he tells her that he fired the first designer.

when you do things like that you’re always on the verge of the ridiculous.

He knows it! Stop mocking him.

Wait! “Reinfeild”? What the hey…?

Ah, that’s my missing Persian print! I can’t find that print. I know I loaned it to the movies to be able to do this scene and of my entire Richard Burton collection of Arabian Nights, that book is missing.

Aw! But I can attest that, while movie companies usually look after props well, unless Kurt Russell is about, it’s when the director brings props in, those are the things that vanish. Still, now we know that Coppola has a vast collection of ancient Persian porn.

While this is being discussed, we meet Sadie Frost via some very non-Victorian dialogue, and then her three suitors, Withnail, the Dread Pirate Roberts, and the Rocketeer.

They were such an enthusiastic young group of people. They all came to Napa I remember for a week or so of rehearsal and I staged also some wacky adventures for them to go on to bond. I remember that the three suitors, I ordered a hot air balloon so that they could go ballooning

In his diary (published in the late-lamented Projections) Coppola complained that there was a lack of commitment from the younger actors, but maybe he didn’t mean these ones. Fiona and I saw Richard E. Grant talk about his film career and he was a bit cheeky about Coppola’s rehearsal techniques. I don’t think he mentioned the balloon, but he said they were all sent to the zoo to study the animals. And I think Sadie Frost did use this a bit for her one good scene here (as a vampire).

Antony Hopkins: “Gary needed help with his character and he wasn’t getting it from the director.”

Oldman to Coppola: “Look, the film’s called DRACULA, isn’t it?”

I’m heartbroken that when they show this movie on TV they cut these sequences out, maybe they’re too weird

Wait, they cut Tom Waits out on TV? Because you can’t show bug-eating estate agents on TV?

Apparently Waits/Renfield/Reinfeild’s weird Freddie Kruger finger-fretwork is “so he won’t hurt himself.”

Here, Coppola makes the mistake of starting a sentence with no conclusion, or point, in mind, and has to speak very slowly, hoping something will come up:

Of course, he is under the care of Richard E. Grant’s character, Dr. Seward, his behaviour is… notably being studied as for… what evidence it can… ultimately then contribute… to the strange things that begin to happen… in London… with the shadow of the oncoming of Count Dracula.

Fiona: “I think you’re being incredibly mean towards a man who’s bipolar.”

And it’s true, we all get lost in our own sentences sometimes. This blog may stand as a record of that.

Reinfeild/Renfield/Waits says that the master is coming to make him immortal, Seward/Grant yells “HOW?” in a very untherapeutic way, and the man who wrote the words “He got twenty years for lovin’ her / From some Oklahoma governor” unceremoniously throws himself on the man who delivered the sentence, in a BBC documentary about The Arabian Nights, “I’m going back in time, to Egypt.” Fiona bursts out laughing. “This is a very funny film.”

This was a live-action effect. Here you see there’s a mirror and you don’t see Dracula reflected in the mirror but you do see his hand, and that was hard to do and I don’t remember how we did it.

Great. Well, Fiona suggests that’s Keanu peeping through a wee window while his stand-in stands in the foreground looking at him.

The photographer of the film was Michael Ballhaus, and he was a fine gentleman, I think during much of the filming he was very confused [laughs] as to what the overall concept of this film was.

No comment.

…all of it is from the Bram Stoker book, and lines, and [laughs] there, the robe goes out the door and the shadow goes after to follow it, I haven’t seen this for a while, but it’s full of, a treasure box of strange effects.

He’s not wrong.

Coppola tells us that you could go two ways with this, theatrical and stylised, or realistic and documentarian, since whatever happens you need to make it different from the various well-known earlier versions. This was possibly the more striking choice on paper, since you could argue that adaptations had been shading towards the more real… but then you have to factor in Frank Langella’s DISCO DRACULA, whose idea of Swooning Romance anticipates some aspects of the Coppola. Given Coppola’s great success in a sort-of realist vein with the GODFATHER films, I just wonder what he could have done with that.

“Monica’s so hot she can make your crucifix melt,” says Fiona, and then, “I had another of my Monica Bellucci dreams.”

Even though, in this case, the girls had all agreed that there would be nudity in their contracts, when they came on stage they were all covered up. And then I would say, “Hey, Roman, tell them to take off their clothes,” and Roman said, “I’m not gonna tell them to take off their clothes.” He said to the assistant director, “Okay, tell them to take off their clothes,” and nobody wanted to tell them to take off their clothes, and that’s usually what it’s like, but I agree that those scenes are not comfortable for anyone, and when I see the DRACULA material of the smoochy scene there with them all kissing and stuff, I was just dying, I was so uncomfortable.

The smoochy scene. I love Uncle Francis.

I remember when we shot this I was careful to do it in a way that exposed the baby to the little bit of handling as possible.

What this would USUALLY mean — and I have no knowledge of this incident or Uncle Francis’s child safety record generally — but what this would usually mean in terms of film shoots is that they just got on with getting their shots until maybe somebody said, “Hey, possibly we should try not to expose the baby to so much handling, you know, just the little bit of handling as possible,” and the director would say “We’re nearly done,” and years later would remember how careful he was. But I’m not saying that’s what happened here.

I always thought I would love to see that baby again, I held her in my hands and thought that, Oh I’d love to see you in future years, it reminds me I should find out who that baby was so I can go bring her a present or something.

Here I am, Uncle Francis! Just cash is fine.


Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2017 by dcairns

I remember being struck by the fact that in Scorsese & Schrader’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, Jesus (who has drawn a magic circle, like Murnau’s FAUST) is visited in the desert by Satan, who takes not just three forms ~

A snake (which explodes); a lion (which fades away in a dissolve); a column of fire (which dissipates in a gust of wind) ~

Satan also appears via a series of cinematic devices ~

Tracking shot (snake). Scorsese doesn’t shoot this as snake POV — we’re at Jesus’ eye level, not the snake’s, gliding in. But when the snake rears up to address the Messiah, the camera rises also, as if representing the POV of a much bigger, unseen snake.

Cut (lion). Before we see the (rather gentle, wise-looking big cat, voiced by PEEPING TOM scribe Leo Marks), there are two cuts taking us closer to Willem Dafoe’s Jesus, moving straight down the line at him, no angle change, kind of like the Frankenstein monster’s first appearance, or the eyeless farmer’s discovery in THE BIRDS. There’s a (rather appropriate) horror movie theme developing here…

Crane (fire). The camera swoops down majestically just before the Lynchian flame-column appears.

I have no coherent theory to offer here. Other than that Scorsese’s restless imagination and bulging repertory of cinematic tricks compels him to emphasise not the similarity of the three visits (one character, visited by another, three times) but their difference (since similarity is taken care of by the Aristotelian unities at play: time, place and action are consistent, as are theme and character).