Archive for Michel Legrand

The Knack: Cut Scenes

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on February 12, 2019 by dcairns

When I was a young movie buff, I was very excited to learn that Channel 4 was showing THE KNACK. The night before it aired, I dreamt about it. But my dream did not notably resemble the film I was expecting to see — it all took place in a papier-mache labyrinth.

Reading through the various drafts of THE KNACK…. AND HOW TO GET IT (1965) in the Charles Wood Archive was like being in that labyrinth. It was also like playing one of those giant video games where every bit of a landscape has been rendered for you to explore, and every character you meet has their own dialogue and storyline. I think officially Wood wrote five radically different drafts, but there were also lots of incomplete bits. So it’s like the RED DEAD REDEMPTION of Swinging London.

I transcribed some bits. The first draft opens with a censorable scene that probably wouldn’t have suited Richard Lester’s taste — but something about this draft clearly convinced him that Wood was the man for the job.

1 DREAM SEQUENCE

An interesting and stimulating presentation of a breast in repose, spread and doubled to form a bosom, followed by a swinging succession of coarse grained famous CLOSE SHOTS of all time and every known source, cinematic, acrobatic, and Rubens.

Clutching fingers echo the passion of thrusting loins, moan, moan, brut, brut. Deep into at least two inches of coarse grained well fleshed lady they grummel and grab – such a high moaning and a tossing and a rolling ecstasy has seldom been seen on the English screen, moan moan, brut brut.

It gets really frantic, this rolling and tossing and might even get too frantic for the prurient but lethargic. It’s got to stop. Before the whirling sickness is induced, brut brut.

INT. COLIN’S BEDROOM  EARLY MORNING

COLIN falls out of bed. And brings an end to this highly romantic tossing. The brut brut noises we took for foreign film expressions of lust in the general ecstasy before COLIN fell out of his much too narrow for such cinematic antics, very narrow bed, don’t stop just because the bare backed lady has vanished and the ride is over.

COLIN hunts for the brut brut noises in his bedclothes. He is still half asleep.

EXT. STREET OUTSIDE COLIN’S HOUSE

TOLEN on his motor bike, makes the brut brut noises.

The early iterations of the script play almost as if the whole film is a dream sequence, and something of that does survive in the surrealism of the finished movie.

A nice line —

It would fall off, his head, if it wasn’t held by his hands and to a lesser extent his neck.

At what point did they start thinking of Michael Crawford for the role? Because this seems like it’s him.

A good bit of the dialogue in the film is from Ann Jellicoe’s play — the bulk of the exchanges between the four leads. But for a couple of drafts, Wood was writing everything himself — probably a useful exercise if you don’t mind the hard work, to get into their heads so that he could write in a voice that ultimately matches Jellicoe’s seamlessly.

Look at the size of his bloody bed. What a pit! That’s all it is, to what do you attribute your sexual prowess? The enormity of my dirty great bouncing pit. That’s all. The quilted musical enormity of it! It’s just hard neck to have a bigger bed than your landlord and a more successful bed than your landlord and more women than your landlord.

Early version of the sexy schoolgirls bit:

SCHOOL PLAYGROUND

Full of young girls bursting out of their gym slips with growing, and leaping about so that they bounce before our very eyes. They play netball but COLIN knows they are aware of their growing.

Does not yet have the scene’s creepy and amusing end note, where Colin looks at the dirty old men in raincoats watching the schoolgirls from behind the fence, and sees himself among their number. As Soderbergh put it, approximately: “The expression on his face! Hilarious!”The film introduces Colin’s class of boys learning by rote, droning repeated bits of maths after him, and then, brilliantly, uses them as a cutaway repeating other lines of dialogue later in the film. It only does this a couple of times, though. One draft of the script at least tries multiples:

TOLEN: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen.

TOLEN: That you haven’t ever done Col.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Sir.

TOLEN: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen the likes of which you’ve never thought of.

COLIN: I’ve thought.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Thought.

COLIN: I’m not ambitious – really I’m not, what sort of things?

Bits of Jellicoe are creeping back there, but all chipped up in the Woodchipper.

The scripts, for some reason, keep changing format and are also printed on all sizes and thicknesses of paper, which does not quite keep the various incomplete drafts from getting mixed up.

THE BIG WIDE MAIN DRAG IS SUDDENLY AND BEAUTIFUL CLEAR LIKE EARLY MORNING WOULD BE AS THEY ARE TOGETHER ALMOST AND PERHAPS WOULD HOLD HANDS IF NANCY’S MAGAZINE HAD NOT GONE FLYING BLOWN BY A GUST OF WIND INTO THE EMPTY SPACE OF EARLY MORNING ROAD SEEN FROM WAY UP ON HIGH LIKE THEY ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE IN LONDON.

AND COLIN GOES TO GET IT AND IT BLOWS A BIT AND HE TURNS TO GRIN AND GOES SOME MORE AND WHOOPS AS HE GETS IT A DIRTY GREAT CAR COMES LIKE THE ARROGANT BASTARD CAR THAT IT IS DRIVEN BY A SLEEK AND HAIRY PRIME MINISTER.

After a few drafts, a Big Idea starts to form: writing VO dialogue for the citizenry of London, the film’s famous “Greek chorus” though as a narrative device they’re a lot weirder than that. They do comment on the action, but also divert off into their own private obsessions, and of course there’s a strain of nonsense to all of it. It’s meant to suggest vox pop interviews, and Wood captures and exaggerates the stream of consciousness way real people speak ~

Laugh the other side.

I mean there’s a time and a place for everything I always say and I always keep my place and that’s neither the time nor the place – mods and rockers.

I’m bound.

They play fast and loose with their own bodies and emotions – I’m not surprised when it lets them down.

Got the whole idea from television.

I’m very bound.

Giggling sex kudos.

Golliwogs.

That coverage of the Keeler case led them to look closely at their own possible and they experimented.

And there in my daughter’s own very own handbag I found this contracepticle I was hurt and amazed at the sight of this sordid piece of work and told him not to expect my daughter to come again – no.

A number of those lines do turn up in the movie, but cut and pasted into new positions (though cut and paste was not used — the digital kind didn’t exist and the physical kind was too messy, I guess. It was all done with typing.

Should all be tored down.

They’re tearing it all down. It used to be lovely when I was a lot younger than I’m young now, ‘cos of course I’m getting on now, you wouldn’t believe how old I am, how old do you think I am?

Filth.

That last word survived. Then there’s this scene, a sort of presentation by an entirely unknown character who doesn’t feature in the film at all. I can’t really swear that this ever was a scene from THe KNACK, except it appears in the KNACK box and is written in the same fragmented style ~

THROUGH THE OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING OFFICER OF HER MAJESTY’S CHRISTMAS CARDS

COMMANDING OFFICER

We’re glad to have you – no bull like an old bull which we won at Waterloo and we hope that more young people will follow your example and learn to do it the man’s way embracing the path of discipline – oh because it’s lovely.

The American’s haven’t got it – for all their jazz and ma tazz . . .

And we all wear lovely hats.

Which we were pleased to say all the best have worn from time imperial guard of dear old Napoleon who we trounced at Waterloo god rest his guard, old, young, and baby who ever they may be . . . do get your hairs cut.

Pretty great. I want a whole film about this guy and his Christmas cards. Then there’s ~

Handwritten: MORE AND MORE BED STUFF

I felt fulfilled – and yet just for a little while afterwards I felt sick the same way that I felt about all people I borrow from and throw away on things that can only bring ruin and frustration to myself – curiosity is the footnote.

I suppose he was just another of the glib talkers that seem ten a penny in London and I would like to give him a piece of my mind.

I was the silent wife who met horror and frustration in the beat palaces of the London King of the Beats.

He asked me the way to Wimbledon.

I am a writer and want to prove my philosophy of life and will never do it again if you can see your way clear to letting me go back to Bolton.

He said I had Chinese eyebrows – Please Toddy come back to your little Suzy.

Some of these are brilliant, but in a slightly different style to the vox pops in the film, because they’re all past tense. In the movie, only a couple are, e.g. “Workers’ playtime! She took off her wooden leg and put it on the mantelpiece next she took out her glass eye well I’ll never see the like again.”

The set-piece where Colin attempts to board up his front door to stop women getting in (see the parallel, distaff version in REPULSION, released the same year) exists in a very early form: Col’s two lines do make it into the final film.

DURING THIS TELLING SEQUENCE OF EVENTS AND OBSERVATIONS OF THE CROWD COLIN HAS ROUNDED OFF ALL THE ENDS OF THE BATTENS AND TAKEN UP HIS PLANE AND SMOOTHED DOWN THE ROUGH AND CHAMPERED WHERE HE CAN UNTIL IT IS INDEED A JOB.

COLIN: That is indeed a job.

PRIDEY HE STANDS AND TAKES A PAINTBRUSH. AN INSTANT LATER HE HAS PAINTED THE BATTENS AND IS PABBLING IT AND PRODDLING IT AND AT LAST HE MAKES A NON JERRY JOB OF IT WITH GREAT DELIGHT AND THEN HE CAN’T GET OUT:

COLIN: I can’t get out.

One last bit of early Greek vox chorus pop:

CANDID FACES OF THE AVERAGE GREENGROCER

They come here from the North and they expect the earth well they don’t get it do they and they deserve all they get.

I’ve no sympathy with them.

I blame their mums and dads – I mean I wouldn’t let my child across the street to London with all you read the way they have started this twilight world you read about.

Two years.

Flock in they do and of course what do you expect the inevitable takes place of course and then they scream of course and the usual happens and what happens then of course is proverbial and of course who gets the blame the poor bloody slop on the beat of course and how can he be held to ransom for the action of a minority – of course you can’t say that.

Did me a world of good.

I’d spank their – can I say it – rear parts.

The first draft, I think it is, climaxes on the Forth Bridge. I am thrilled to think that the whole unit would have had to come to Edinburgh for this. But thought better of it. As Colin and Tolen are clinging to the girders way up high ~

THE WIND IS TERRIBLE LOUD UP HERE ON THE FORTH FIFTH OF ANY BRIDGE THAT IS GIGANTIC AND IS BEING BUILT OR PAINTED BY TOLEN AND A FEW THOUSAND OTHERS.

~ we get a handwritten note ~ “Tolen as one of crowd.” So even as he was writing his epic bridge climax, Wood (or Lester?) was hatching the idea of making Tolen get absorbed by the Greek chorus and lose his star status, become another anonymous, embittered voice.

Lester told me he temp-tracked the end of the film with the late Michel Legrand’s “I Will Wait for You” from THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG… which made it a very tall order to ask John Barry to come up with something that could take its place. But he did.

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Twang!

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2010 by dcairns

Hollywood producer Ray Stark makes a cameo appearance.

Before we all sit down to discuss ROBIN AND MARIAN on Friday, there are a few background facts I want to spout out, as perhaps forming a useful context to the film and the director’s intentions. Richard Lester, the gleaming dome of British sixties cinema, had somewhat reinvented himself after a forced break of four years, coming back with THE THREE MUSKETEERS and its part two (not really a sequel as both halves were shot at once and intended as one film) THE FOUR MUSKETEERS. ROYAL FLASH came after that, firming up the idea that Lester was now a director of comedy swashbucklers. But while FLASH is more broadly farcical than MUSKETEERS (which has a distinct serious side and a fairly bittersweet ending), ROBIN AND MARIAN was shot under the title THE DEATH OF ROBIN HOOD, and was intended from the start as a serious and sombre film.

Reviewers often view one film through the lens of another — I can be guilty of this myself — meaning that what’s actually on the screen can either be intensified or obscured. If you read the contemporary reviews of R&M, it’s striking how critics seem to feel cheated, or disappointed at least, by the film’s solemnity. Lester has protested that “there’s not one deliberate joke in the whole film,” which is an exaggeration, I think — he can’t resist having a knight hurt his finger while loading a boulder into a siege machine, which subsequently misses its target pathetically — but his jokes derive from an acute awareness that life is, and always has, included a portion of the absurd and surreal. The comic moments are part of the film’s realism, not separate from it. My parents couldn’t work out if the film was meant to be serious or funny, and consequently disliked it. I kind of wonder how you can enjoy life if you need to make that distinction.

Along with altering the title (which would have served as a useful warning of what to expect in the film), producer Ray Stark rejected Michel Legrand’s score, held a competition among prominent movie composers for the gig, and hired John Barry, all without telling Lester. Barry dutifully provided the lush, filmic movie score Stark had demanded, ignoring Lester’s calls for a more restrained approach inspired by Sir Michael Tippett’s early string compositions. It’s possible to enjoy the Barry score as a typically romantic and sweeping work, but it tends to push a more light-hearted flavour at odds with the film’s true purposes. Since Lester was never able to finalize the Legrand score, a director’s cut is not possible.

Some violence has also been trimmed from the movie — Lester wanted to undercut any impression of fun action, more forcefully than he had in the MUSKETEERS film, where there’s a constant tension between slapstick and bloodshed — and this is weakened by trims made to the moments of brutality. The idea that an audience can be educated out of enjoying violence onscreen by being exposed to more and more extreme forms of it is a rather discredited one, I feel, but Lester always had the ability to bring in the unpleasant action in a surprising way, so he was not dependent on extremes of gore, but on extremes of contrast. It compares somewhat with Robert Altman’s sudden tonal shifts from comedy to horror.

Despite these compromises, I think we can have a fun time with this movie – -I hope to re-watch it tonight. Join me on Friday and Saturday for the post-match analysis.

Asteroids from Beyond Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2009 by dcairns

This is the sight that greeted British cinemagoers in the ’70s. My childhood big screen experiences were all prefigured by this, an ad for an ad company that was responsible for the ads we were about to see before seeing the film we had come to see. And yet, me and everyone else of my age regards this meta-ad with affection and nostalgia (it IS the most ’70s thing ever). Today we all hate the multitude of delays and irritations we’re subjected to before a film starts. Actually, I don’t think we admired this piece until after it was discontinued in the ’80s.

(THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remake is catching an unusual amount of flack for its product placement — I guess prominently featuring MacDonalds during a film with a supposed eco-friendly message is crossing some kind of line. What next, pop-up ads at the cinema?)

I only feature the P&D ad, not because the company is now based in Scotland (at SMG, home of Scottish Televsion, where the Ladies’ and Gents’ toilets are labelled Pearl and Dean, an appalling cutesy touch), but because I recently got ahold of Anatole Litvak’s last film.

Back up — explain — Litvak’s THE LADY IN THE  CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN is a late ’60s thriller with a hep cast — Samantha Eggar, Oliver Reed — from a novel by Sebastien Japrisot (GREAT name!) who also authored the source novel of A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT and lots of other books that have all been filmed.

I saw this film, or most of it, as a tiny child, possibly on a small b&w TV in a holiday cottage my parents had rented. Picture a dimly smouldering log fire and a crackly picture. There was nothing else to do in the country dark except watch this film on a fuzzy screen, and it was very boring to my young mind. The main thing that caught my interest was the credit sequence, which reminded me forcibly of the Pearl & Dean trailer:

Having recently come across the movie again, I’m pleased at how accurate my correlation of the two sequences was. I’m also warmed by the GRINDHOUSE-like poor quality of the print, which seems to start life as a miasma of BAD AIR passing through the projector at speed, “a foul and pestilential congregation of vapours,” gradually gaining substance as a stream of dust, which then assumes solid form as slivers of shredded celluloid, eventually acquiring the shape of a strip of film with sprocketholes and a magnetic soundtrack, at which point we start to see and hear something.

Something lovely!

Although — the fidgety special effects man keeps throwing new effects at us, some more abstract than others, some cheesier than others, and Michel Legrand keeps segueing from track to track as if his needle was skipping, or as if he was trying to dispense with all his soundtracking duties in one swell foop, which gives the whole thing rather a restless, disturbed quality, at odds with the easy-listening vibe otherwise in evidence. It’s like suffering intermittent blackouts while attending a fondue party. A psychegenic fugue in jazz form.

It’s all very apt, since that Pearl and Dean ad, with its pa-pa pa-pa theme tune which years later turned out be be called ASTEROIDS (!), continued to be run through the projectors of my adolescence long after the print had decayed and turned pink and been scratched to buggery and beyond, since in the ’80s nobody could be bothered updating anything about Britain’s smelly and vacant cinemas — so seeing Litvak’s film in such a decomposed form is like a kind of time travel, only legal.