Archive for Milos Forman

Vampire Nightclub

Posted in FILM, Interactive, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2018 by dcairns

If Max Schreck is looking a bit unusual above, that’s because I photographed him off the screen at The Hidden Door Festival’s BLADE event. I shall attempt to explain.

Hidden Door put on surprising and unusual events in empty buildings around Edinburgh. A bit like squatters, only they invite an audience. Flashback a week —

I’d given up going to the Filmhouse Quiz (second Sunday of the month) because I found the new quizmaster a bit inept. I felt bad for him, but after all I don’t go out at the weekend looking to feel bad for someone. If I want to cringe, I can stay home and think about my adolescence.

But there’s a NEW new quizmaster and I’d heard she was great and I went along and she was — and my team won, which doesn’t always happen. My kind of film trivia doesn’t always turn up in a film trivia quiz.

AND there was a special question with a special prize — there was a line of dialogue which turned out to be from BLADE, and BLADE is a very special film for team member Kim — she met her future husband Eg through their shared love of BLADE. So of course she recognized the line, won the prize, and it was free tickets to the Hidden Door event…

On the night, Kim got in touch as there were still a couple of tickets going spare. The Leith Theatre, site of the event, is only five minutes from out house, but Fiona had just set off for a nap, so I popped along myself, curious about the venue and the “immersive cinema experience” promised.

Not quite curious enough to stay. The show started at 7.30 but the movie itself… when? NOSFERATU was on when I arrived.

The disco lighting created lots of odd effects unimagined by Murnau. The pumping music did not exactly sync with the movie — it wasn’t intended as accompaniment, really — but I’ve heard worse attempts at scoring. And they’d really put a lot of effort and imagination into creating a vampire nightclub, including people playing vampires who prowled up and down or danced on podiums by the screen. It was all fine. I hate night clubs, but I was happy to have a beer, walk about, watch NOSFERATU for a bit…

NOSFRATU ended… I prepared for BLADE… and NOSFERATU began again. Of course they weren’t going to sync the start of one film to the end of the other. NOSFERATU was just screen-filler. They would start BLADE whenever.

The thing is, I don’t actually like BLADE, so having enjoyed the venue and seen a bit of NOSFERATU under unique circumstances, I left. The thought of being in a night club, even a vampire one, for an indeterminate period, was intolerable to me. I enjoyed what I’d had — would strongly recommend Hidden Door (it’s still running) to those who enjoy nights out — but it wasn’t really for me. And the reward for staying in the club would have been BLADE…

I warmed to Stephen Norrington at the time his debut, DEATH MACHINE, came out, because he did an interview saying “We are the generation that hates LONDON KILLS ME.” He was foursquare against gritty British social realism, which was the only flavour on sale at the time apart from heritage Merchant-Ivory stuff. I was with him. We might also have been the generation that hates DEATH MACHINE, I’m not sure — I never saw it.

BLADE had an impressive opening sequence, but one that invalidate the rest of the film — once you’d seen Wesley Snipes effortlessly kill a hundred vampires, there didn’t seem much point sticking around. Then Norrington made the autobiographical tortured genius film THE LAST MINUTE, which I haven’t seen, then THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, oh dear. I recently learned that Sean Connery had been set to do a film with Milos Forman until his experience with Norrington made him retire instead. Another reason to dislike this loud mess.

Norrington hasn’t made a film since, which is pretty remarkable. Normally, you do a film of that size, and SOMEBODY will hire you again. There’s a story there, but a lot of disagreement about what it is…

From one party I heard that everybody on LOXG hated Norrington. He famously didn’t attend the premiere. Another friend bumped into Norrington and heard his side of it. He’d been treated abominably. My friend was totally convinced by his account. But it doesn’t take too much finagling to find a theory that would square both versions: possibly Norrington was being mistreated by the producers, and this made him hard to work with, and Connery loathes disorganisation, and Norrington wound up universally unpopular but it wasn’t originally his fault. I don’t know. But I do find it hard to forgive him for using up Sean Connery right before he would have made the Milos Forman film. We are the generation that hates THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

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Porn Again

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2018 by dcairns

Probably we’ll be revisiting a few Milos Forman films, in the wake of his passing, but the one I dropped in the player was THE PEOPLE VERSUS LARRY FLYNT, mainly because we hadn’t seen it since it came out. It’s still very amusing and affecting — Courtney Love provides the untrained quality Forman admired as Althea Flynt, and Woody Harrelson brings the more actorly professionalism, creating the perfect blendship. It comes across as a genuinely sweet relationship between two filthy people in love. And Harrelson’s brother Brett is really good, he should do more.

Since then, screenwriters Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski have brought us The People Versus O.J. Simpson on TV plus several more biopics of Great American Weirdos. including Forman’s follow-up MAN IN THE MOON. I think this is one of their most successful attempts at character portraiture in their specialised sub-genre, the one in which character is in constant flux and motivation is often inexplicable, two challenges which would derail most writers.

Away from the human element — the movie does pretty well with its mercurial madman hero — it’s a defence of free speech, and the movie is effective enough here, but sort of slanted.

Firstly, feminist criticism of porn doesn’t exist in this film, so Flynt’s legal opponents are bluenoses and creeps like Jerry Falwell. This is fair enough in narrative terms, since those guys threatened the real-life Flynt more than attacks by Andrea Dworkin. But it leaves out a whole aspect of the subject, which could potentially enrich the movie. Ed Norton — playing a composite of all Flynt’s actual lawyers through the tears — yet appearing in the end-of-film summary as if he were a real person — talks about finding Hustler magazine distasteful, and Harrelson’s Flynt himself says, “The most I’m guilty of is BAD TASTE!” — a good line — but might there have been room for a more nuanced consideration? The weird effect is that the movie seems to take place in an alternative version of the 60s, 70s and 80s in which feminism never happened.

You can make up your own pearl necklace joke, if you absolutely have to.

Secondly, that analysis of what’s actually in Hustler is limited by censorship — the movie can’t actually show a real centrefold from the magazine, because vaginas are bad. So it can get a lot of good comedy value out of showing prudes at a fundraiser gaping in horror at unseen images, but it can’t let the other audience, us, view those images and make up our own minds. In other circumstances, this could make us imagine that the skinzine contains images of UNIMAGINABLE HORROR, I suppose, but instead it’s more like a suggestion of “nothing to see here.”

I’m not completely sold on my own suggestion that an analysis of the feminist objections to Hustler would improve the movie. Storywise, it’s not certain that feminism ever posed a threat to, or otherwise impinged on the life of Mr. Flynt whatsoever. The movie also omits three of his marriages and five children, including the one who claims he sexually abused her. And in today’s climate, it’s easier to say he may well have done. Apart from the fact that most such accusations tend to be truthful, Flynt was, in his youth, obviously highly sexed and sexual, morally flexible, mentally somewhat unbalanced (not that any of that automatically makes you a rapist). He makes a good suspect. How does that suspicion make the film play? More uncomfortably, which may be a good thing. The movie is a little too sure of itself.

We have to factor in Forman’s Goyaesque side, too, even though he hadn’t made GOYA’S GHOSTS yet. In fairness, Flynt’s staffers are a carnivalesque bunch of freakazoids, with Forman fave Vincent Schiavelli vying with sleepy-eyed Crispin Glover for physiognomy first prize, but it’s the prosecutors attacking Flynt who get the really repulsive reaction shots. All this is complicated a bit more by Flynt’s own cameo as a biassed judge, his flat delivery and bulbous features making for a caricature that works against both himself and his opponents. The satirical laser bounces between two funhouse mirrors and ends up just making the room seem hot.

The tendency to slant things towards Flynt is maybe most apparent in the scene where Love’s character drowns in the bath — while Flynt is on the phone trying to get her more medical help for her AIDS and drug addiction. It’s a pat, inelegant construction in an otherwise very smart screenplay, because it seems to be trying to force sympathy out of us that we should be quite willing to give freely. I don’t know, maybe that’s exactly how it happened in real life, but real life can sometimes need a rewrite.

But! I’d missed the news that the guy who shot Flynt, paralysing him, had actually been caught and executed. And Flynt campaigned to save his life because he’s opposed to the death penalty. That is some serious Christian forgiveness from a proud atheist. (Maybe atheists are more Christian than the Christians? I can’t imagine Falwell doing that.)

 

The Sunday Intertitle: The March of Time

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2018 by dcairns

I wanted to say something about the great Milos Forman, who died the other day. And, as it happens, his RAGTIME begins with a silent newsreel and lots of intertitles.

RAGTIME is one of Forman’s great follies. He worked out early that American films had to have clear dramatic focus and conclusive endings in order to make it big with the public. But he’d occasionally find himself making films that hadn’t a prayer, because they were scattershot or their stories fizzled out in ambiguous, frustrating ways. These unloved movies are by no means inferior to his acclaimed, Oscar-winning masterpieces. They’re just less ingratiating. (And, looking at the endings of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and AMADEUS, we may have to redefine what we usually mean by “ingratiating” — but they’re very SATISFYING endings. Oh, GOYA’S GHOSTS was generally not liked by anyone except me and Fiona, and has an ending that redefines grim, but nobody could accuse it of being inconclusive. It’s an ending beyond which there can be nothing.)

Forman was also the king of bad timing. For every movie that somehow came along at the right time — CUCKOO’S NEST was a sixties novel that depicted a mental hospital decades out of time, but turned out to be a movie just right for the seventies, there would be a HAIR (NOBODY wanted to see a film about hippies in 1979, AND it didn’t have a plot — sure, more story than the stage musical, but still, no plot) or VALMONT, a version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that followed the Stephen Frears/Christopher Hampton adaptation by just a year (“Never make a movie somebody else has just made,” was the lesson the producer drew from that). But those are really good films, I’m SO glad Forman ignored his own sound financial instincts and made them, out of love.

RAGTIME itself has not one story but a bunch, so loosely connected that producer Dino De Laurentiis was able to excise one almost completely, over Forman’s passionate objections. But the real heart of the film is the story of Coalhouse Walker (Howard Rollins Jr.), who is playing piano alongside that newsreel at the start of the film. Original author E.L. Doctorow had basically just plagiarised Heinrich Von Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlhaas (also filmed by Volker Schloendorff) and transposed it to the early twentieth century. Doctorow called it “a quite deliberate hommage” and it’s true that the similarity of names shows he’s not hiding anything. But it’s not a passing nod of the head or tip of the hat — he’s nicked the whole story, the cheeky blighter.

Anyhow, Forman was moved by the story, as Kafka had been before him. It’s a tale of injustice, and injustice ALWAYS MOVES AN AUDIENCE. (“When a child says, ‘This isn’t fair!’ the child can be believed.” — A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.) Forman, having been born in Czechoslovakia with typically interesting timing, knew all about injustice. A man’s beautiful knew carriage and horses/jalopy is gratuitously trashed. He demands reparation. The authorities are weak or corrupt and simply tell him to go away. He won’t. Death and destruction follow. And a moral victory appearing from total ruination.

Baron Harkonnen is fire chief and Cody Jarrett is police chief in this town? We could be in trouble here.

There aren’t enough Milos Forman films. And yet, once you start listing the essential ones, you can’t stop until you’ve named them all.