Archive for Nicholas Ray

The Zombie Dialogues

Posted in FILM with tags , , on May 28, 2021 by dcairns

“I realize that your work has usually been in the interplanetary zone.”

Nicholas Ray took the view that every line of dialogue should be said as if for the first or last time, unless one character is quoting another ironically or something. I would say that the above quote from ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE ticks that box, as does the title ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE itself, a set of words nobody had though to combine into a phrase until screenwriter Ronald Davidson came along with his wooden fingers and typewriter. People passing his office door thought he was playing the xylophone but he was writing wooden dialogue for wooden actors. Normal dialogue of flesh is fatal to such dendritic thespians.

True, the actors also have to say things like “Prepare for landing,” which have doubtless been said before, and better, many times. With such lines crammed into their protesting mouths, the actors playing the zombies definitely have the best of it. Perhaps everything a zombie says is for the last time, or, arguably, AFTER the last time. But the beauty is that the zombie doesn’t know or care. They can throw away their lines or, better, let them drop on the ground at their feet. It’s the living characters who have to put some effort in, poor devils.

I’m three minutes into ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE and there is SO MUCH TO SAY.

The Little Theatre of Georges Franju

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2020 by dcairns

Georges Franju finished his long career making short features for French TV, of which the last, appropriately enough, is THE LAST MELODRAMA, scripted by his actor friend Pierre Brasseur, the mad surgeon in EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and featuring the essential Edith Scob from that film. It deals with a touring theatre troupe, an extended family,

At first, the film seems flat and lifeless. The major stylistic element is the zoom lens, jerked around for crude reframings. But the conjunction of theatre and “real life” (which, as we all know, is less real than theatre) in Brasseur’s script begins to allow Franju opportunities to flex his stiff imaginative muscles. Scob, dining al fresco with the troupers, goes into a monologue from La Dame aux Camélias, and Franju shoots her against the painted backdrop of the little theatre-wagon, fades up piano music, and intermingles life and art.

The film is played contemporary, late seventies, though it seems barely credible that such a set of strolling players could exist in the age of punk (or, in the case of France, slightly gone-to-seed hippies) and Brasseur’s memories of such a scene surely date from the late twenties. But let’s agree not to care about that. The elderly often appear chronologically adrift to the not-yet-elderly, so we consider this a benefit we’re getting from the unusual treat of having a sixty-seven-year-old director (and Franju at 67 looked a bit like the animatronic zombie-skeletons in LIFEFORCE, so we should really think 87). This Billy Pilgrimesque unstuckness may also be why everyone except the wee boy seems to be playing a character of a different age from their actual one.

The film begins with an iris-out, so Georges isn’t exactly trying to be with-it. The iris is echoed a bit later, too:

The company make a last-minute switch from La Dame aux Camélias to Les Miserables, due to Grabo having just played CAMILLE on TV. The boy is dragged up as Cosette and evokes the kid in KILL, BABY, KILL!

The archaic world of the troupers is disturbed by a startlingly camp biker gang, anticipating THE NINTH CONFIGURATION by a year. Maybe old George has his finger on the pulse after all… or he has his finger on where the pulse would be, if there was in fact a pulse. The gang leader, in his vinyl bolero jacket, is hardly a wild angel. “What are you rebelling against?” “Je ne sais quoi.”

The trouble with the gags is they have too much screen time. In Fellini’s ROMA, the bike gang at the finish get basically nothing to do except ride their bikes loudly through the nocturnal streets, representing for the director the fact that “Rome is now full of people with whom I have nothing whatever in common.” Franju and Brasseur are even more gen-gapped (Brasseur, in fact, had been dead seven years), which means they’re not in a position to write lines or extract performances suited to these characters.

Old-stager Raymond Bussières brings the authenticity of his years to the role of the most senior thesp, and gives mt favourite of the uneven performance. Even he is acting at a whole different pitch and pace to those around him, but I think they should have adjusted to him, not the other way around. Mostly, Franju seems to be satisfied with whatever anyone does.

Oh, and then Juliette Mills turns up and burns the theatre down. The stage in flames does make a fitting pyre for Franju, even though he has another eight years to live. Reminds me of the burning screen in Nick Ray’s demented-swan-song, THE JANITOR. That, and the image of a man killed for real by a blank-firing gun (his heart) are the grace notes.

I’m glad I saw this but it illustrates more the weaknesses of late work than the strengths. It’s hard to say whether the bigger problem is the old director or the dead writer. As with MANK, having a screenwriter you can’t interrogate without using a planchette, and whom you admire too much to rewrite behind his dead back, is a bit of a millstone.

Carol & Alice

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on March 9, 2018 by dcairns

Research for a new project: went to the library to get material on Natalie Wood. Most of the books in the biography section were either written by Simon Callow or about Gypsy Rose Lee, it seemed, but I eventually found Gavin Lambert’s sensitive bio, and as a bonus, Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon, which also ties in with this project.

And so in the space of half an hour I read about a drunken Nick Ray accidentally drinking Natalie Wood’s urine sample, and Cary Grant getting his foot frozen to a window. Neither story is particularly useful to my project or anything at all really, but they seemed like enough for a short blog post. If you require more detail, ask for it in comments, but you might prefer to work on your negative capability or just use your imaginations to embellish the scenarios.

I’m mostly better but my stomach is still as sensitive as Mr. Lambert’s writing.