Archive for Mike Nichols

Crossing the Line

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 11, 2018 by dcairns

It’s not worth getting into any lengthy comparison of John Carpenter’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED with Wolf Rilla’s. Why kick a film when it’s down? “It’s not his worst film,” observed Fiona, kindly, but the only response to that one are not kind, so I’ll refrain. Although writer David Gerrold did come up with a put-down that’s so acid and perfect I can’t not quote him.

“Carpenter (n): one who works with wood.”

It was Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce who remarked that for each of us there exists an insult so apposite that, once applied, it will stick forever. “Our enemies have but to find it.”

In fact, the film has numerous nice touches, it’s just that whenever you look at the way the original movie (or the book) handled things, the nice touches aren’t as nice as the earlier ones.

A key moment early on illustrates the weaknesses running through Carpenter’s vision. The town of Midwich has been knocked unconscious by some mysterious force. The authorities, headed by Kirstie Alley, determine the perimeter of the strange knockout bubble, and draw a line on the rad marking the border. A bold soldier in gas mask steps forward, with a rope around him so he can be dragged back to safety if overcome.

 

He walks slowly forward. Topples. Is dragged back to the point of safety, and revives.

In terms of incident, this is much like what happens in the Wolf Rilla show. But Rilla keeps his camera on the safe side of the line. With the observers, we watch the pointman proceed forward, our anxiety synchronised with theirs. By respecting the line, Rilla makes the threat seem more real. We feel, in a way, that if he tried to film from OVER THERE, the operator and focus puller would collapse into coma, the lens tilting slowly down to gaze at the road surface until the magazine ran out. Even though in other scenes he’s swooped all over Midwich in a camera crane, recording the plague of narcolepsy. For THIS scene, the line matters.

And of course, Carpenter is all over the place, following the lone soldier as he walks into danger, as if he were a character or something, jumping back to the actual characters, just shooting the shit out of the scene but without the strong focus that comes from a strong idea, or from asking (drum roll) Mike Nichols’ Three Questions.

What are the Three Questions? Any of you know?

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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.

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.