Archive for Michael Anderson

Ruhr Wars

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 19, 2020 by dcairns

I hadn’t watched DAMBUSTERS all the way through for decades, and so I remembered precisely enjoying the exciting action climax and the quaint-but-cool VFX, sure, remembered that… Remembered really enjoying Michael Redgrave but nothing specific.

Well, Redgrave is worth digging into. “They’ve aged him up,” declared Fiona. True. And Redgrave has made some slight modifications to his delivery and movement to suit an older character, but it’s so subtle it just melts into him and you forget there’s any acting going on. Something like DEAD OF NIGHT — extreme nervousness — allows MR to get showy, but this kind of invisible acting is something he’s also really good at.

Best Redgravian choice is when his moment of triumph comes — a dam is bust — and he doesn’t know how to do a fist-pump (had they been invented?) or he’s too repressed, so he pumps both fists DOWNWARDS as if he’s trying to detach his sleeves. Close to his sides, very repressed jubilation. Marvelous.

It wasn’t until I saw him outside a big shed with a couple cans of film under his arm that I realised this whole thing works as a metaphor for the film biz. Someone has an idea. They work up a proposal and shoot some tests, but they have to get it approved by a damn committee. Through personal connections they manage to catch the ear of a big shot with an office, and then they’re into pre-production. A crew must be selected, or as they call it here, “a crew.” After months of inertia, they suddenly have to get the whole thing together to meet a narrow window of opportunity. Then, having set it in motion, the minds behind it just have to sit back and see how it’s received by its audience (the Germans).

I truly believe the reason Peter Jackson hasn’t done his threatened remake yet is that he can’t decide what to call the dog. And the only reason he wants to make it is to have more realistic splashing. (Just like Cameron clearly wanted to re-re-re-remake the TITANIC story so as to include the detail of the ship snapping in two.)

Fiona, a stranger to the film, was astonished at the abstract effect of the bomb-splashes. An animated outline with shots of the sea inside it. It’s really kind of delightful. I think maybe it’d have been 5% more convincing if the sea was out of focus, and it should have been white water rapids all going UPSCREEN. But it’s adorable.

I pondered whether, by delving more deeply into the less appealing qualities of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, Jackson might be able to get away with giving him a racist dog. Probably not. It’s going to be a distraction whatever you try, and simply renaming the pooch Digger or Tigger or Trigger or Barkie is the least distracting option. People will get over it. And is your three-hour movie going to be accurate in every other respect?

A racist dog.

DAMBUSTERS, as directed by Michael LOGAN’S RUN Anderson is very watchable. The making-a-movie structure is really sound: Barnes Wallace battling committees is surprisingly exciting (following a character who’s right about something and faces opposition, hmm, there might be something in that) and then of course it leads into the operation itself, which is helluva exciting. The only possible hiccup is that you have to hand over from one lead character to another, which is often tricky in films. Redgrave is so much more interesting than Richard Todd that if it weren’t for the ramping-up of jeopardy, and the convenient baton-passing scene, it might not come off.

“The unfortunately-named Burpy,” said Fiona.

“I think it’s ‘Berkeley,'” I told her.

“I’ve been hearing ‘Burpy’ all through this film.”

“Well, he wouldn’t be the only one with an unfortunate name.”

It also struck me that, since Gilbert Taylor shot the effects work, that might be why Kubrick got him to shoot DR. STRANGELOVE — but the best stuff in this is done with real Lancaster bombers — and even Kubrick couldn’t supply real B52s — and with a vast miniature landscape — which wouldn’t have helped Kubrick much — but I would love to stride across it like a bespectacled Gojira — those plane shots in DR. S. always seem slightly disappointing, especially given what would be achieved in SK’s very next film. Oh, and George Lucas must surely have grabbed Taylor as his STAR WARS D.O.P. because of how the Death Star assault is so massively influenced by this.

As director, Michael Anderson’s best thing — apart from close-up of dog-scratches on door, a real hearthrob but probably in the script — is the sudden shock cuts from noise of battle to dead silence in the operations room, and the beautifully composed, near-abstract images there:

THE DAM BUSTERS — which everyone seems to call DAMBUSTERS — stars Dunois, Bastard of Orleans; Col. Eisenstein; Frau von Kalteneck; Claudius – The King; Nathaniel Beenstock; Capt. Edward John Smith; Cavendish ‘The Surveyor’; Quint; Captain Alec Rattray; Lord Alfred Douglas; Tiberius; Tang How – Tong Leader’s Aide; Six-Eyes Wiener; Klove; and Number Six.

“What’s it like being so sexually attractive?”

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2017 by dcairns

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YES! You should see THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, the film in which Max Von Sydow asks this question of George Segal. You have to wonder if screenwriter Harold Pinter knew what the casting was going to be and how funny this line would seem. I mean, some don’t like George Segal but I do, I find his presence sympathetic. But I don’t see him as any Cary Grant in the glamour department. I think Pinter must have known, and intended the line to be funny (it also has, like everything Max says in this film, a definite Comedy of Menace undertone) but he also has the sexy and soft-focus (cut that out, cameraman Erwin Hillier!) Senta Berger fall eagerly into bed with George, in a way that’s even more suspicious than Eva Marie Saint’s come-ons to Cary in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. This has the potential to blow a giant hole in the plot, and is either deliberate but inexplicable, or a consequence of Harold not being as good so writing women.

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“We could do an underwater ballet,” says George to Senta as they wander an empty swimming pool, causing Fiona and I to exchange surprised glances at this synchronicity — this being the first non-Esther Williams film we’ve watched in some time. And then a tiny John Moulder-Brown turns up, future star of DEEP END, the all-time great empty swimming pool movie. Perhaps when you start tuning in to Pinter’s cryptic subsubsubtexts, the universe begins to seem full of significant insignificances.

This is a sixties spy film — it seems to have all the same Germans as FUNERAL IN BERLIN, including the Gay German Christopher Lloyd — as written by Pinter. The characters meet with elaborate coded conversations about cigarette brands — “Is it milder than other brands?” “It’s milder than some other brands,” and then go into more spontaneous discussions that have exactly the same coded quality. The whole thing looks pretty ugly for the first half, modern Berlin looking like one big hideous airport, but the chance to see Alec Guinness, say, or George Sanders, doing Pinter makes it electrifying. Guinness chooses to make his irksome spook slightly lower middle-class and a lot more camp than we’re used to, making the shady rendezvous at the start more resonant — or it would be if George Segal weren’t George Segal, bless him. Also, Guinness is constantly nibbling, especially during the nost ominous moments…

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Then Max shows up, the settings get older and grungier, and suddenly the film becomes extremely beautiful and extremely tense. Director Michael DAMBUSTERS Anderson is one of those first ADs who moved up to directing and was generally efficient, sometimes inspired. The compositions in Max’s truth serum dungeon are fantastic, with lurking henchmen of various sizes dotted around the frame as you might say MUTE SENTINELS. And there’s a great bit of interrogation where Max walks to and fro before the seated George and George’s close-up is filmed from his approx POV, tracking past George first one way, then the other. I  wonder what Michael had been looking at — the same thing Leone was looking at for Charles Bronson’s rotating close-up in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?

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Then the whole third act is basically George wandering helplessly around the city at night, shadowed by the Mute Sentinel guys, with elevated trains and derelict buildings making for a much more gritty and habitable world than the airportscapes of the first half. It’s incredibly tense and almost nothing is happening: an ideal Pinter climax.

And then a rather chilling ending. It’s one of the best visualisations of Pinter Wonderland, which usually revolves around dialogue. George and Senta’s last scene is amazingly cryptic, with every thought and emotion clouded by obfuscating billows of terse dialogue, and then we’re just pulling back from a school. But the school itself is like a Pinter sentence, bland and companionable on the surface, threatening and loaded with sinister meaning just underneath. The new Nazis are coming, and as Guinness remarks earlier, “They look like everybody else.”

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Nibble, nibble.

Pop. Boom

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2015 by dcairns

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The two main films about overpopulation — a much discussed subject in the seventies — are SOYLENT GREEN and Z.P.G.

I have been to one science fiction convention in my life, a thing called Ra Con (cartoon rabbit emblem) at the Grosvenor Hotel in Edinburgh, sometime in the eighties. I was fifteen or so. I didn’t know anyone, so I just wandered around amidst my fellow sensation-seekers, a bit alienated. I went to the film show and saw Svankmajer and Bunuel/Dali and Trnka shorts, which put me in quite an odd frame of mind.

Harry Harrison was a guest, and I believe I was already a fan of his Stainless Steel Rat novels about a master-criminal of the future who is recruited into a crime-busting outfit on the principle of “to catch a thief.”

SOYLENT GREEN was screened and Harrison, an irascible, twinkly, gnome-wizard hybrid, (in my memory a lot like Edward G Robinson in the movie) spoke about the differences between the film and his source novel, Make Room! make Room! He was genuinely exercised by the problem of the population explosion. “People say things like, ‘Oh, she’s been blessed with nine children.’ Blessed! She ought to have her fallopian tubes cut out!”

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HH liked the same bits of the film I liked — the opening montage, which he seemed to indicate had been added at the last minute to rescue the film and make the point clearer, although it could be that it was always part of the plan and they simply didn’t tell him — the scene where Chuck Heston brings some real food home and he and Edward G. Robinson enjoy an actual meal “and Heston does some actual acting,” — and Robinson’s euthanasia scene. He was genuinely honoured to have Robinson, making his last screen appearance, in a film based on his work. And he made a vaguely lecherous remark about Leigh Taylor-Young.

(A year or so ago, Fiona was forced to call up the NHS’s 24 hour help line to consult on what seemed like a health crisis [and was]. The music they played was “light classical” — the sounds Robinson dies to.)

What Harrison didn’t like is the thing everybody talks about (spoiler alert) — “Soylent Green is made of p*****e!” He felt that was an exploitative, gimmicky, icky and unnecessary twist. In a sense it was put in to punch up a movie which was by its nature not so much sensationalistic as steadily downbeat. What would have made it less so, in his opinion, was deleted dialogue between the old folks, where they were to have offered up a solution — not to their problems, which had reached an irretrievable crisis, but to ours. Birth control! The one thing that could stop us reaching the dead end displayed in the movie, where we’re killing healthy old people to make room, and eating “tasteless, odourless crud” from tubes, and shoveling people up with bulldozers. But, afraid of alienating the Catholic audience, the studio chickened out and wouldn’t allow contraception to be mentioned or supported. You can have cannibalism but not condoms.

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I tried to watch ZPG once before and it didn’t take — the movie seemed lifeless and joyless, even more depressive than SOYLENT GREEN (which has Robinson to at least rage against the dying of the light). It seemed quite humourless, though in fact it isn’t…

A more sympathetic viewing in fact showed quite a lot of dry wit, it’s just that the characters aren’t in on the joke. We’re in one of those strangely antiseptic future worlds of the kind SLEEPER makes fun of — everything is ultramodern and plastic and white. BLADE RUNNER really revolutionized that view by making the great leap and imagining that SOME of our stuff will still be around in forty years, it will just have more modern crap accrued on top of it. In ZPG, the future seems like a blank slate, even though the kind of skyscrapers we see are not too different from the kind we have now.

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The details of this dystopia do, as I say, have a slight satiric bite, like the deliberately terrifying child-subsititute dolls (Super-Toys!) and the museum with stuffed cats and couples re-enacting swinging dinner parties of the seventies. The movie twice stages these soirees only to reveal that they’re happening in front of an audience in the museum, and both times I fell for the gag. Delightful. What makes the film seem humourless is that the characters aren’t in on the joke. In this world where childbirth is a capital offence, the broody Geraldine Chaplin and the brooding Oliver Reed have little to smile about, it’s true, but people do have a way of laughing in adversity, and it helps to make fictional character credible if they can step outside the seriousness of their situation and indulge in a joke. This happens precisely once in this movie.

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In defiance of the edicts, Chaplin is up the duff, and canoodles with Reed while enumerating the months, weeks, days, hours minutes and seconds until her blessed event comes due. “Are you sure about the seconds?” he asks, whimsically. “Yes,” she replies, and adopts a robot voice: “A – computer – told – me.” Again, delightful, although maybe a bit Futurama. It feels like Chaplin is making a joke about the fact that she’s a character in a science fiction film. But it’s nevertheless a welcome break from the gloom. Reed would ask directors, “Do you want Moody 1, Moody 2 or Moody 3?” In this movie, he needn’t have asked. But there is something impressive about seeing all that bullish machismo wrapped up so tight in a civilized, repressed carapace. You fear he might burst at any moment, resulting in a dome-shaped explosion of testosterone impregnating everyone in its radius, like what happens in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.

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Yay, seventies reptiles!

These two films, SOYLENT GREEN and ZPG, mark two extreme reactions to the population problem. In one, we do nothing about it and suffer dire consequences. In the other, we suffer massive ecological damage and then have to take such draconian action that the cure is as bad as the disease. Of course, only in a true totalitarian state could a “no-child policy” be implemented, and it seems unlikely to me that the rulers of such a state would want to follow the same rules as everyone else. I suspect the human race would passively, in a state of denial, choose extinction rather than submit to such a regime, and our democratic leaders would prefer a popular choice with a high chance of causing extinction than an unpopular one offering a solution. But ZPG can be seen as an allegorical warning rather than a literal one — if we are in danger of heading towards a catastrophe where the only solution is one we would never accept, dramatizing that by showing the solution in action is fair enough.

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And then they end up in The Zone. Great.

Of course the other 70s film about population control is LOGAN’S RUN, another high concept that doesn’t make much sense. WILD IN THE STREETS and GAS-S-S-S! are more plausible, and more fun — maybe one of those explains how this future history without people over thirty came to be. LR works best as cheese, with a single moment of behavioral realism when Jenny Agutter, exposed to nature for the first time, cries “I hate Outside!” like a stroppy child on holiday. Like Geraldine Chaplin’s computer voice joke, it almost breaks the film by allowing a semblance of humanity in.

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