Archive for Napoleon

An Odyssey in Bits: Putting the starch back into Starchild

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2019 by dcairns

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”

So, the second most dazzling cut in 2001 is probably the one nobody talks about. After Geoffrey Unsworth’s camera tracks into the monolith (death), Kubrick hard-cuts to the moon — seen from space or the Earth, we don’t know yet, and dead-centre in frame, like HAL’s eye. He could have dissolved, but the hard or direct cut makes it clear this is continuous action, just like the switch from bone to orbiting missile, the same process continuing.The moon then appears to rise straight up (its prominent role here would be more meaningful, it occurs to me, if we’d ever really seen Moonwatcher, our lead ape, you know, moon-watching. Yes, Kubrick remembered to show him looking up in awe and terror at night-time, but I don’t recall him including a POV shot. Perhaps showing “the outward urge” and John Wyndham called it seemed too on-the-nose to him at this early point). Then the Earth hoves in, and we realise that the choice of “up” is an illusion of camera angles —And the Starchild, Baby Dave, seen previously hovering or lying on Dave Bowman’s bed in its Good Witch Glinda bubble, hovers into view, the shot framed so His bubble is exactly the size of our world.This is the only shot where He looks cute, as opposed to beautiful and divine.

 

There had been a plan for Baby Dave to then blow up all the orbiting nukes, seen earlier, which would have closed the narrative thread of East-West tension established on the orbiting satellite earlier (cut to aghast reaction shot of Leonard Rossiter) but this was dismissed because either

(a) It was too pat, too Peace On Earth

(b) Kubes realised he hadn’t made the nukes obvious enough

(c) It lacked ambiguity, like, totally

(d) He didn’t want to end two films in a row with a bunch of nukes going off

SO we simply see Baby Dave, EVA in ECU, slowly turn until he’s looking right at us, which is disarming in a different way. And chimes worryingly with THIS image:“We’re the start of the coming race.”

What happened between the ending of 2001 and the start of CLOCKWORK to account for the sudden sourness, misanthropy and pessimism? Well, it was always there — look at STRANGELOVE. But if the question has any vestige of validity, we might list: the Tet offensive, covered in FULL METAL JACKET; the My Lai massacre; the Manson murders; and the cancellation of Kubrick’s NAPOLEON. The last one perhaps being the most significant.

Kubrick’s (very) informal science fiction series consists of films that seem to rewrite each others’ messages — in STRANGELOVE, mankind is all-but doomed by the brilliance of its scientific thinking and the stupidity of its political and military thinking — in 2001, space travel offers the possibility of a way out of this mess by contacting smarter beings who may help us — in CLOCKWORK ORANGE we’re on our own: the great achievement of evolution is “man — the killer ape” and the great achievement of science is dehumanisation — politics continues to be totally fucked — if THE SHINING qualifies as SF because it relies on ESP and quasi-explains its ghosts with a version of Nigel Kneale’s Stone Tape Theory, then we learn that ESP isn’t very helpful and ghosts are assholes: politics plays no central role but human beings are vulnerable and evil is imperishable — and if A.I. qualifies as a Kubrick film (I’d say only somewhat), it shows his latter-day thinking: human beings are too flawed to survive but we might be able to make something that will outlast us.

(In CLOCKWORK ORANGE scientists produce a mechanical human, organic yet functioning mechanically — what Burgess meant by the title. In A.I. they achieve the opposite, Kubrick’s anti-Frankenstein myth.)

Lots of variety in that “series,” tending towards the somewhat pessimistic. But it’s realistic to say that, since nothing lasts forever, human beings have only a certain amount of time to footer around, and optimistic to say we might get to play a role in choosing our own successors, be they starchildren or Giacometti androids.

I know a lot of people aren’t interested in these questions — it’s all a long way off. But the end of humanity always fascinated and worried me, along with the end of the universe. Maybe it’s not too soon to start planning for the heat death? And in fact, extinction, and not prosperity, may be just around the corner. Kubrick seems like one of the few filmmakers to be seriously thinking these thoughts.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Judex Files: Going Underground

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 27, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-11-27-12h17m30s065

The Late Show — The Late Movies blogathon — starts on Thursday December 1st and I am woefully unprepared as, probably, are you. But let’s get stuck into it. I do have a light teaching week this time so the opportunity to watch a bunch of swan songs and write about them exists. All submissions to this, the galaxy’s smallest and most valedictory blogathon, will be merrily accepted.

The call goes out for a subtitled of even dubbed edition of Abel Gance’s last gasp, THE BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ. This had UK TV screenings and even a VHS release, so I’m mildly hopeful there could be a version I could watch and understand [those Frenchies talk FAST!]

Still reeling from NAPOLEON — Edinburghers get a shot at seeing it at Filmhouse this month, and should not miss it.

Now read on…

vlcsnap-2016-11-27-12h16m23s549

JUDEX, episode 8, continues at a slower pace than the hectic opening episodes, but interest does not decline. As Judex takes his mother to meet the object of her vengeance, the crooked banker Favraux, we get the best, most spectacular views yet of J’s mountain lair, the Chateau-Rouge and its surrounding scenery, and a few location interiors achieved by virtue of natural light and the big holes in the building that let it in. Something I haven’t said enough about is Feuillade’s exquisite use of real interiors, which have to be applied sparingly because of the atmospheric but decidedly shadowy atmosphere they produce. Visually, these scenes are always a highlight of any given episode.

vlcsnap-2016-11-27-12h17m57s019

Favraux is observed in his cell via Judex’s craft moving mirror arrangement, a kind of panopticon-periscope, a poseable Judas Window. What it reveals is grim: Fravraux has grown a beard. Also, he’s lost his marbles. This basically manifests as an infantile state of distraction and incomprehension. Everybody decides this is taking revenge a bit too far.

vlcsnap-2016-11-27-12h20m42s573

Paris: Morales, the jailbird son of trusty old Kerjean, visits the fiendish Diana Monti (Musidora) to call it quits with her evil schemes. Foolish young John Lithgow lookalike! Soon, Musidora has worked her womanish charms and he’s back in the fold of vipers, if vipers can be said to have a fold. I’m no herpetologist, as anyone will tell you.

vlcsnap-2016-11-27-12h24m17s256

vlcsnap-2016-11-27-12h29m01s569

vlcsnap-2016-11-27-12h29m07s012

Morales leads a band of brigands to chloroform and abduct Favraux from his cell (the guy’s options have not been good for some time now, but kidnapped from prison is a new low). But the joke’s on them, since Favraux has been removed from solitary confinement to speed his recovery (sound therapeutic practice) and the man they snatch is old Kerjean, who just happened to have bedded down for a quick snooze in the place of punishment, as you do. Musidora now plots to murder the poor  old duffer.

But private eye Cocantin has been keeping an eye on Monti, and we get a brisk action sequence involving jalopies, pistols and blue tinting. Musidora loses a valued accomplice, and Kerjean is rescued — it’s all been one of those meaningless-running-about bits that serials delight in. A true action sequence should leave us in a different position than when we started, but since a series has to spin its plot out for quite a long time, and has to keep throwing out fights and chases and abductions, you often get elaborate plots and struggles which mainly result in a restoration of the status quo. it’s a weakness, but one that serial lovers must learn to indulge.

To be continued…

Napster

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 25, 2016 by dcairns

output_tg5whi

Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON gives us five-and-a-half hours on France’s smartest, bravest, sexiest, tallest man.

I’m not sure if star Albert Dieudonné was actually tall — in one of two shots there are other actors who out-heighten him. But more often, Gance gives him screen prominence that makes him seem to tower over his surroundings, and his bony, sharp features and slender frame create an impression more of tallness than its opposite. Basically, nothing about him really evokes the historical figure he impersonates, but like Chaplin, Napoleon can be reduced to a hat and a stance, and so anybody can stand in for him.

Dieudonné’s great advantage is his intensity, which he seems to carry with him at all times and which makes itself felt even if he just sits there. You believe he must be a military genius because of his presence and how Gance frames him. Kubrick believed Jack Nicholson would make a good Napoleon because he felt intelligence was the one quality that can’t be acted. I’m not sure that’s true. If the actor is bright enough to understand something, they can play the person who invented it. While there are certainly cases like Denise Richardson playing a nuclear physicist which seem to insult OUR intelligence, for the most part, a moderately sentient thespian can play a brainbox by hard work. John Huston was ultimately impressed by the way Montgomery Clift convinced us in FREUD that he was having original thoughts, when in fact the poor man’s brain was basically burned out. What convinces us of genius is the one quality Nicholson and Dieudonné both share — that mysterious quality called presence.