Archive for Michael Fitzgerald

Page Seventeen II: Cruise Control

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2021 by dcairns

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Thalberg was awestruck with Universal City. It was a virtual world unto itself, a self-contained municipality devoted exclusively to making motion pictures. There were restaurants and shops and even a police force, but most impressive were the production facilities. Universal’s largest shooting stage was 65 feet by 300 feet–roughly the size of a football field–with another stage at 50 by 200 feet. Both were enclosed and electrically equipped; in fact, a dramatic moment during the studio’s dedication in 1915 had been the activation of the electrical system by Thomas Edison, Laemmle’s former nemesis, who supervised the wiring of the plant. Besides the enclosed and open-air stages, the street sets and “back lot” for location work, there were extensive auxiliary facilities, from film processing labs and cutting rooms to prop and costume shops, construction yards, and even a zoo to supply supporting players for some of Universal’s more exotic productions.

The various government departments were unable to agree on either the details of what had taken place or an explanation for it. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, announced at a press conference on 25 February that the raid had been a false alarm. He admitted that the west coast of America was now vulnerable to enemy attack and suggested that any vital factories or other manufacturing facilities by the sea should be moved inland.

Only way to protect yourself against this horrid peril is to come over HERE and shack up with Charybdis… Treat you right kid… Candy and cigarettes.

So what I am, is a photographer: street, holiday park, studio, artistic poses and, from time to time, when I can find a client, pornographic. I know it’s revolting, but then it only harms the psychos who are my customers, and for the kids I use for models, they’d do it all down to giggles, let alone for the fee I pay them. To have a job like mine means I don’t belong to the great community of the mugs: the vast majority of squares who are exploited. It seems to me this being a mug or a non-mug is a thing that splits humanity up into two sections absolutely. It’s nothing to do with age or sex or class or colour–either you’re born a mug or a non-mug, and me, I sincerely trust I’m born the latter.

Superficially, there seemed little to it — the story of a young photographer, obviously successful, who has become detached from reality. Happening on a pair of lovers meeting in a deserted park, he snaps them. The girl chases after him, desperate to have the film, but he refuses her and takes it home. As he develops the shots, and progressively blows them up, it appears that a murder may have taken place, what looks like a body is lying beneath some bushes nearby. It is never made clear whether this is reality or illusion — a dichotomy which is the central enigma of a flimsy plot.

After saying all this, my grandmother heaved a gentle sigh, but it was enough of a sigh to make the uniforms ask what there was to sigh about. She nodded towards the fire, meaning to say that she had sighed because the fire was doing poorly and maybe a little on account of the people standing in the smoke; then she bit off half her potato with her widely spaced incisors, and gave her undivided attention to the business of chewing, while her eyeballs rolled heavenwards.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from different books lying around my house. I was excited to discover that the first page of chapter one of my battered Bleak House lands on page seventeen, because I love that opening and page seventeen is my page of choice here. And of course it was high time Burroughs made an appearance, since he and Brion Gysin pretty much invented this kind of thing.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens; The Genius of the System: Hollywood Film-making in the Studio Era by Thomas Schatz; Unsolved Mysteries of World War II by Michael Fitzgerald (not the producer); The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs; Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes; Blow-Up and Other Exaggerations by David Hemmings; The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass.

Animal Magic

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-05-19-09h55m11s205

I had the great pleasure of meeting Michael Fitzgerald in Telluride the other year. An impressive gentleman, he numbers among his achievements exec producing two late John Huston movies, WISE BLOOD and UNDER THE VOLCANO. I asked him about the Great Man, and he was VOCIFEROUS, and extremely convincing in his passion, as he stated UNCATEGORICALLY that Huston was indeed a great man and that anybody who had anything bad to say about him was doubtless an untalented ingrate. However, I have also asked novelist and screenwriter Alan Sharp about Huston, having been promised that the results would be entertaining… but Sharp seemed already tired of the subject and merely said that Huston was a nasty man and a sadist. Both witnesses seemed credible and were in a position to know. Fortunately, I’m not called upon to come up with the definitive verdict on this legendary filmmaker and can content myself with the platitude that Huston was doubtless large, contained multitudes etc.

vlcsnap-2015-05-19-09h54m37s90

His autobiography, An Open Book, I can give a thumbs up to, however. Dipping into it again as an accompaniment to a viewing of THE BIBLE… IN THE BEGINNING was extremely informative and fun. First, the movie —

Dino de Laurentiis’ demented inspiration to make The Film of the Book notwithstanding (they managed only a few opening bits of Genesis), I’d always found this a dull film, but it rewards a sympathetic re-viewing. It’s all flawed, and many of the flaws do result in a kind of tedium, but you can see why the decisions seemed reasonable at the time. Huston, essentially an atheist, was drawn in by the language of the King James Bible, and handed himself the job of narrating the movie, effectively becoming the Voice of God. Getting Christopher Fry to write all the dialogue in a comparable style results in lines that are hard to speak naturalistically. George C. Scott solves this by talking very slowly, giving his character, Abraham, time to come up with all this great material. Unfortunately, all the lesser actors in the previous chapters have spoken slowly too, wearing down our capacity to appreciate another ponderous prophet. The only actor in the whole film who talks rapidly is Huston himself, not as God but as Noah.

vlcsnap-2015-05-19-09h54m08s61

Huston pours a full bucket of milk into a gaping hippo then pats it on the nose — insanely dangerous.

When Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Alec Guinness all passed on playing Noah, Huston realised that as he’d been practicing with the menagerie assembled for the ark scenes, he might as well take the part himself, and would have stolen the show if the raven, the elephant and the hippo weren’t on hand to steal it from him. Tossing off his lines with casual disregard, he invents a new kind of biblical acting that could have rescued the movie if only he’d passed the tip on to somebody else. As he once told Sean Connery about his character in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, “He can talk fast: he’s an honest man.” (Connery has said that his usual error is to talk TOO fast, resulting in Hitchcock requesting “a few more dog’s feet,” by which he meant “pawses.”)

The animal action here is extraordinary, and went largely unremarked, since, as Huston writes, everybody knows the animals went in two by two so they aren’t amazed to see it happen before their eyes.

vlcsnap-2015-05-19-10h01m30s169

As entertaining as the stuff about THE BIBLE is in An Open Book, the whole chapter about Huston’s charmed relationship with the animal kingdom tops it. His pet monkey, the Monk, gets some very sweet anecdotes (riding about New York on the back of a Pekingese). The only animal Huston expresses doubts about is the parrot. Realising that his grandmother’s parrot loved women but hated men (parrots seem to bond with the opposite sex), the young Huston once attired himself in a wig, full drag and face powder, doused himself in perfume, and approached the sacred perch, addressing it in an assumed falsetto.

“The parrot’s feathers fluffed out. I put my hand in the cage and the parrot cooed. Suddenly it cocked its head, looked me right in the eye, and then proceeded to dismantle my finger.”

OK, Fitzgerald’s right on this one: he dragged up to seduce a parrot, he’s a great man.