Archive for Mike Nichols

Discombobulation

Posted in FILM with tags , , on May 3, 2018 by dcairns

I’ve been buying up cheap DVDs. I went all the way up to £1 for this one. I intend at some point to investigate Mike Nichols’ later work more fully. (I paid a whole £2 for Angels in America, which I think was a good decision. You can’t get it!)

I opened the box to check the condition of the disc (and, indeed, its presence — I’ve been cheated before) and my head went back this far. You’ll have to use our imagination here, but picture me holding my hands this far apart.

I’ve never seen SILKWOOD — when I was a teenager, it seemed like it would be boring Oscar-bait, as did just about every other Streep picture (I no longer feel quite that way) — but I know what it’s about. So this design seemed kind of tacky. It may in fact offer a clue as to what bad taste IS. Because it’s obviously sort of appropriate, but in a deeper sense, totally inappropriate. It’s a bit like all those WWII movies that use swastikas in their advertising imagery — those are much worse, but they’re so commonplace they often go unremarked.

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Mom?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2018 by dcairns

So, I read Joseph Heller’s autobiography, Now and Then. I’m a big Catch-22 fan but never got into his other novels. When someone told Heller he’d never written anything as good as his first novel, he’s said to have replied, “Yes, but neither has anyone else.” But I do really like No Laughing Matter, Heller’s other memoir, co-written with Speed Vogel, which deals with his year struggling with Guillane-Barré syndrome, a nasty but thankfully temporary neurological complaint, with the two writers taking alternate chapters, which leads to a great bit where Vogel announces his friend’s tragic death and Heller bounces back in the next chapter with “I certainly did not die, and I don’t know why Speed insists on telling everyone I did.” (Later, Heller did die, which either spoils the joke or adds a fresh punchline depending on your level of morbid humour.)

Anyway, the autobio is good, but I was mainly interested in reading about the events which influenced Catch-22. An unexpected one occurs before Heller even gets overseas. He was working in flight training when his mother fell and injured herself. He got leave to go visit her ~

Entering the hospital in Brooklyn some five days later by myself some five days later I had no idea what I would find. For reasons I don’t understand and never expect to, I had constructed the bizarre scenario that I might not recognize my mother and feared that my failure to do so might sink her into deep despair. A couple of dozen beds in the women’s ward of Coney Island Hospital stood before me. Facing the entrance when I stepped in was a bed holding a white-haired woman of about my mother’s age whose attention I captured instantly. She rose on an elbow to observe me more intently. I stared right back with the tentative beginnings of a smile. Her gaze remained fixed on me and I started across to her. I hugged her gently while kissing her once or twice and sat down. I was appalled that she didn’t seem to recognize me or respond appropriately to my name. This was worse than I had imagined. It required a few more awkward minutes of uncomfortable talk for both of us to realize we had never set eyes on each other before. I glanced about wretchedly. At the far end of the ward I then clearly spied my mother, practically levitating out of her bed, plaster cast and all, and waving wildly in furious and frustrated exasperation to attract my attention. She looked exactly as I remembered, and she told me yet again that I had a twisted mind.

Lots of interest there. I’m struck by the fact that when I’m waiting for someone, and they’re late (I’m usually early, and I’ve always had the misfortune to socialise with people who are usually late), I cast around and seem to see them in every stranger. But then, when the real person turns up, I KNOW it’s them. Recognition is a frail, fallible thing, until suddenly it’s not. Heller had seen his mother every day of his life, then suddenly he’d been removed from her, and found he didn’t have a reliable image he could call to mind.

He goes on to say ~

After reading this, anyone who has recently read Catch-22 for the third or fourth time might be struck by the parallel between the account of my mother I’ve just given and an episode in the novel in which Yossarian is visited in a hospital bed by a family of tearful strangers, but I don’t remember that I consciously had the former in mind when I was devising the latter.

And the scene made it into Mike Nichols and Buck Henry’s movie adaptation, so there you go, a movie connection. I wish they’d found time for the soldier who sees everything twice, and Yossarian’s psychiatrist, but then the movie would be three hours long.

I think the scene in the novel isn’t about the vagaries of recognition in the same way. The family, who have lost a real son, embark on a sort of role-play where Yossarian stands in for their son/brother who died before they could see him. The mother seems to believe that Yossarian is her dying son, and dad keeps correcting her, until she says, “What does it matter, he’s dying, isn’t he?” (Yossarian is not, in fact, dying, or no more than the rest of us.) So it’s about knowing self-deception and rites of passage. Saying goodbye. Maybe it doesn’t matter who you say it to.

Cut the Cheese: or, Dino’s Mighty Wind

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2017 by dcairns

A week of posts inspired by my recent reading. Here’s an excellent book by Sam & Bobbie O’Steen — Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America’s Favorite Movies.

Sam O’Steen cut THE GRADUATE and ROSEMARY’S BABY and became Mike Nichols and Roman Polanski’s go-to editor. His book, “as told to” his wife and edit-room assistant, is full of good creative advice, often encapsulated in handy mottos — “Movie first, scene second, moment third,” — and also full of terrific gossip and anecdotes, as O’Steen was frequently on-set and witnessed the activities of a lot of very strange, talented, obnoxious people…

Some of the best stories arise from one of the worst films O’Steen was involved with, HURRICANE — Dino De Laurentiis’ epic turkey remake of John Ford’s group jeopardy potboiler, which was already not very good, despite sharing a lot of credits with Ford’s next film, STAGECOACH. The rehash was planned by Polanski but dropped due to his legal difficulties — it’s tempting to say that Polanski dodged a bullet, but you can’t really say such things, can you?

Jan Troell landed in the hot seat, with Lorenzo Semple on script, Sven Nykvist shooting, Danilo Donati designing, and stars Mia Farrow, Timothy Bottoms, James Keach, Jason Robards, Trevor Howard, Max Von Sydow and non-star Dayton Ka’Ne. And with all that talent, it’s deadly dull to watch. David Wingrove disagrees with me, and suggested that the film was a promising one that had been butchered in the edit, as evidenced by awkward jumps in the story and huge sets that are barely used. But O’Steen’s account makes it clear that many scenes were never actually filmed, and the imposing but underused sets are a regular result of Donati’s work — the crew on FLASH GORDON also complained that Donati never read the script, just a breakdown of scenes, so he would spend his budget freely on whatever interested him, building vast interiors for scenes that might only play for moments in the film, and skimping on others so you might find yourself shooting twenty minutes of action in a broom closet.

Many of the problems O’Steen was vexed by didn’t strike me as terribly serious — Mia’s hair and makeup may not be flattering, but I’ve seen worse. O’Steen had to create passion between the leads where none existed — Farrow eschewed any on-set romance with her unknown co-star, instead bedding Troell, then Nykvist, then (it’s heavily implied) Bottoms, leaving a trail of broken hearts in her wake. And they were all stuck in Bora Bora for six months while this was going on. There’s a big swimming scene which isn’t sexy or romantic (because it’s not there in the script or performances) but sure looks nice. It’s bloody looong, though. I guess O’Steen had to lay it on thick to compensate for the chemical inertia.

The crew arrived at a specially built hotel… that was still being built.

Franco Rossi was leading a second unit shooting waves, but they all got drunk and left their film cans to get flooded on the rocks.

Mia was seen at dinner with her beautiful son Fletcher on her lap… and all her adopted kids sitting on the floor, ignored.

Jan Troell’s love for Mia resulted in him ignoring the scenery and the story and shooting endless close-ups of his adored star. In the final film, O’Steen must have used every camera move he could find, because he complains Troell wasn’t shooting any.

Bottoms urinated on De Laurentiis’ shoes in a fit of pique, then hastily wrote an apology, in fear for his life.

Troell was promised final cut… then paid off with $25,000 to stay out of the edit room.

When Mia was feeding poor Dayton lines for his close-ups, she wouldn’t bother looking at him. She could read lines and do crosswords at the same time. Well, he’s no Jon Hall.

“Four down, nine letters, a mighty wind.”

She was also reportedly heard to refer to him as “the animal.”

Dino: “All directors are stupid. Anybody who gets up so early every day to say ‘Good morning’ to all those sons-of-bitches has to be stupid.”

Symbolism! God caber-tosses a crucifix at Trevor Howard!

With all this, and the drink and drug consumption, the VD outbreak (“You’d be surprised who has it,” said the unit nurse) and the malfunctioning toilets, plus all the grade-A talent, it’s amazing how dull the film is. The actual hurricane is good, especially as it wipes out a lot of the characters who have been boring us for two hours, but the natives are used as colourful cannon fodder, as usual, so it’s also kind of offensive. When our young lovers are left alone on a lifeless, flattened atoll at the end, it’s questionable whether we’re meant to expect them to survive or not, though we don’t actually care one way or the other.

Worse than KING KONG. But the behind-the-scenes action might make a good movie.