Archive for Michael Winterbottom

Quigley Down Under

Posted in Dance, FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2013 by dcairns

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Rosario Dawson: has vagina.

One aspect of Danny Boyle’s new film TRANCE (a remake of a feature by screenwriter Joe Ahearne) which doesn’t seem to have excited as much comment as one might expect, is the cameo appearance by Rosario Dawson’s vagina. It seems odd to me, since that was all we were talking about as we left the cinema. “Did you get a load of that vagina?” we said, or words to that effect. “What kind of man puts his girlfriend’s shaven genitals in his film?” asked our friend Ali. “A middle-aged film director with a very hot girlfriend,” was all I could suggest. “Look what I have to come home to!” seemed to be the thought Mr Boyle wanted us to grasp.

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Linnea Quigley: as smooth and featureless as a young Harry Langdon.

And so we turn our attention, as every film blog must, to scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals. In fact, I have some hopes that this article will prove to be the definitive cinematic study of scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals.

Not that scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals have ever appeared in a film, to my knowledge. In that respect, and perhaps in others, the genitals resemble Gummo Marx. In a sense, however, scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals haunt 80s horror cinema as a kind of defining absence, and it is this unseen influence, this mute testimony, which I will attempt to address here.

The key text in the off-screen career of scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals is surely RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, an at-times rather witty sort-of-sequel to George Romero’s more celebrated and, let’s face it, classier NIGHT OTLD. One of the aspects of Dan O’Bannon’s follow-up that arguably robs it of some of its predecessor’s gravitas is Quigley’s graveyard striptease. I don’t say that a graveyard striptease would automatically render a film unworthy of respect. If somebody stripped during the graveyard trip scene of EASY RIDER, and my memory is unclear as to whether in fact they do or don’t, I’m not sure it would make any difference to that film’s claim to capturing the zeitgeist. The film would still be largely tiresome, incoherent and self-indulgent, but it wouldn’t be any worse for a graveyard striptease.

Somehow, though, Linnea Quigley, as punk rocker Trash, manages to lower the tone a little. Her wanton denuding somehow plants a seed of doubt in the viewer’s mind: are the filmmakers of this zombie teen comedy-horror somehow guilty of pandering to their audience? The doubt is arguably intensified by the fact that Trash, having become naked, remains naked for the rest of the film. All attempts to cover her up are stymied by the whims of fate, and those splintered ends of broken banisters that can so easily snap the corner of a blanket.

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However, scream queen Linnea Quigley’s nakedness is not at issue. What we are interested in is her genitals, or lack thereof. As it was described to me by somebody who probably knew nothing about it, the filmmakers initially thought they could get away with full frontal nudity by shaving scream queen Linnea Quigley’s naked genitals. Pubic hair seemed to distress the censor, and so doing away with said hair appeared to offer a solution. But to the filmmakers’ shock — and one must suppose them naive and inexperienced fellows if this is true — they discovered that in fact removing pubic hair does not make the genitals disappear. In fact, more like the opposite.

And so a prosthetic covering had to be created, something to cup and conceal scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals and turn her into a sexless Barbie doll. The idea seems to have been that nobody would notice the lack of genitals, because everybody would be looking at her lovely face. Except for the censor, who gets paid to look at genitals. Blue pencil raised in readiness, he would be forced to let it fall, unused, when he discerned that the full-frontally nude woman was equipped only with R-rated body parts.

Here, I hoped to mention that scream queen Linnea Quigley subsequently married a makeup effects artist. In the words of Donald Sutherland in LITTLE MURDERS, “That marriage did not last.” But in fact the effects artist she married was not one of those employed on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, though I think he did work on NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, where, if memory serves, Linnea Quigley’s breast swallows a lipstick. Yes, you read that right. After having a prosthetic lipstick-swallowing nipple created by him, reader, she married him. That marriage did not last.

Incidentally — very, very incidentally — I know of one makeup artist whose first major job was casting Kate Winslet’s genitals so she could give birth explicitly in Michael Winterbottom’s JUDE, by the way. Welcome to showbiz! And I note that Winterbottom’s defining trait as filmmaker is a puerile explicitness whenever it comes to pigs being slaughtered, women giving birth, and bloody beatings. This is a sad thing. Those three forms of entertainment have nothing in common except that filmmakers featuring them in close-up will be called “unflinching.” I like filmmakers who flinch before I do.

(After Michael Winterbottom comes Michael Springbottom. Before Michael Winterbottom comes Michael Autumnbottom.)

You might think I’m seizing on TRANCE as a sort of topical hook upon which to dangle these musings, but the connection goes deeper. In a willful bit of “only-if-it-were-essential-to-the-plot” conspiracy, TRANCE works very hard to make Rosario Dawson’s pubic region a vital part of the film’s narrative architecture. This includes a clue (art book with missing page — Goya’s The Naked Maja, the first painted nude with scandalous pubic hair) and a speech about how artists regularly left out the pubes to deny biology and make the female form more perfect. (Yet, like Linnea Quigley, these nudes did not display what should have lain concealed near the curly undergrowth so beloved of the late Jesus Franco — they were “smooth right round the bend” as Stanley Tweedle says in odd Canadia-German sci-fi show Lexx upon encountering a similarly vaginaless lady. Suggesting that the reticence of the artist had far less to do with some debatable perfectionism and more to do with censorship and/or anxiety about the female body.)

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Anyway, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD has had four sequels (the living dead KEEP returning, it’s one of their defining traits) but neither addressed the presence of a woman without genitals running around in the first film. Is it time for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD VI: WHY SCREAM QUEEN LINNEA QUIGLEY HAD NO GENITALS?

Language

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2010 by dcairns

Despite the fact that of the two popular music biopics currently on release, NOWHERE BOY clearly has the stronger cinematic credentials, we went to see SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL, the Ian Dury story as written by actor-turned-scenarist Paul Viragh and directed by TV helmer Matt Whitecross. Possibly because Fiona likes Ian Dury a lot, and possibly because she likes Andy Serkis, who plays Ian Dury, a lot.

What a remarkable figure Dury was: his music combines punk, funk and music hall, and he comes over on stage as a sort of sweary Essex Noel Coward, filtered through the wraith of Gene Vincent. Bizarre. And then there’s the wastage of half his body, caused by polio, giving him a marked limp. “On stage I try to sort of hover,” he says in the movie. “You’re putting that on,” someone once told him. “I thought I was trying to cover it up,” he replied.

The film is pretty creditable in many ways — the high-water mark for this kind of thing was set most recently by CONTROL, whose familiar structure of struggle, success and dissolution is echoed unavoidably in S&D&R&R, but the stylistic approach couldn’t be more different. In the film’s zanier scenes, deploying animation designed by the artist Peter Blake, and in its not-quite chronological structure, the movie is perhaps more influenced by 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (which also featured Serkis), although it substitutes music video japery for the more interesting cod-Brechtian antics of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s witty script. While Michael Winterbottom apparently had no clue how to use the Factory Records music in that film, Whitecross does at least find room to let Dury’s songs register, via sustained concert sequences and linking montages. The concerts, though ridiculously hyped-up in their cutting, are effective, and provide a semi-fantastical framing structure whereby Dury appears to introduce and wrap up the movie, but the montages reveal a certain desperation to be interesting, which shouldn’t be a problem with such a colourful central character.

The film is a lot like the trailer, hectic and eager-to-please but with something interesting oozing through. Except the trailer leaves out a lot of the best bits for censorship reasons.

Serkis as Dury holds the movie together, more or less overcoming a central indecision in the script — is this Dury’s story or his son’s? It’s a very effective impersonation of Dury’s singing, his manner, his disability (Dury is an almost unique example of a disabled pop star), his charm and his self-destructiveness. Dury’s main musical collaborator, Chas Jankel, produced the film’s soundtrack and reported that working with Serkis was liking attending a seance.

Supporting cast is very fine, with young Bill Milner impressive as Dury’s son (a strange effect is created by the fact that Dury’s kids never seem to age, but why let that bother us?) and Toby Jones enjoyably snarling as an underwritten villain. The women in Dury’s life present a problem, falling into the same stereotypes as those in CONTROL, long-suffering wife and fun, faintly annoying girlfriend. One has our sympathy but we don’t especially want to hang out with her when the fun is elsewhere, the other can’t really hope for sympathy and is too much of a hanger-on to be compelling on any other level. The problem is endemic to the material: philandering musicians write uninteresting roles for the women in their lives. Still, that’s no excuse to show Olivia Williams hurling crockery at her husband, a wretched cliché forty years ago, and something unworthy of inclusion in the film even if it happened. Important note to filmmakers everywhere: just because something happened, that’s no reason to put it in a film. Or as Dury himself says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

The biggest success is the consistently entertaining dialogue — at least as long as Dury is around — a lot of Dury’s witticisms are hoary old jokes, but he has an endless supply of them and no shame about trotting them out whether the situation demands it or not. His joy in the English language is evoked in a scene where he trades synonyms for “penis” with his son (although, I note sadly, there is no English synonym for “synonym”), but really illustrated by the songs themselves.

I was pleased to find a couple of my students at the same screening, and even more pleased to learn that at least one, the excellent Oliver, was already a fan. When Dury died ten years ago the student I mentioned it to had never heard of him. Progress!

Movie lovers can see the real Dury in THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER and PIRATES.

Barn Storming

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by dcairns

Hello, it’s Tod Slaughter again! And up to his old tricks — you know, murdering, and that.

Only two killings take place in MARIA MARTEN, OR, THE MURDER IN THE RED BARN, and one of those is Tod’s eventual and inevitable execution. The movie begins in a theatre where the cast of the play are introduced, making the theatrical nature of the events explicit — and since the hangman is presented as the final member of the dramatis personae, the end cannot be much in doubt.

Director Milton Rosmer (also an actor, and a regular player for Michael Powell) doesn’t make anything of the transition from stage to “realistic” film studio sets, and doesn’t add much in the way of cinematic appeal, tracking in from wide shot occasionally at the start of a scene. George King, who brought a little more panache to the shooting of CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE, acted as producer on this one.

Amusingly, it turns out that the central plot of MARIA MARTEN is recycled verbatim in CRIMES, adding an extra murder to the plot to keep things suitably juicy. Star / rampant hambone Tod Slaughter plays a corrupt squire who “ruins” local lass Maria M, then shoots her so she can’t interfere with his upcoming marriage to a rich lady. His plan hinges on framing Carlos, the gypsy boy who had wooed Maria. Carlos is played by Eric Portman, famed for playing a squire himself in Powell & Pressburger’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Flamboyantly miscast here, he plays Carlos with the cut-glass accent of an Eton undergrad, clashing preposterously with the other actors who play gypsies and yokels with a wide variety of Lancastrian-Mancunian-West Country-Cockney accents, but at least staying within a fairly narrow bandwidth of the social spectrum. Carlos’s mum must be regretting sending him to that posh finishing school.

Alas, Tod doesn’t have a moustache to twiddle in this film, and with only one rape and one murder to his name, his opportunities for salacious leering and barmy cackling are more limited than fans might like, but when caught in tricky situations he does reveal another string to his bow — he can squirm with outstanding effectiveness. As the heat is turned up, Tod’s entire form begins to wriggle and contort with discomfort, like a population of eels crammed into a carnival effigy. Delightful stuff.

Once again, it’s clear that the crudity of the drama and performances (“Winterbottom the village idiot” was a particular favourite among the supporting cast — the British film industry has changed so little!) are paradoxically sophisticated — the audience is meant to guess the plot turns long in advance, the better to savour them, and Slaughter’s overacting invites his public to share in his wickedness, blow by blow, with no evil thought or unhealthy appetite left untelegraphed. With everything nicely externalised, there’s no sense that we are guilty of the same evil desires, and our sense of moral superiority is secured by the happy ending, when we can watch in satisfaction as evil is extirpated.

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