Archive for Nicolas Roeg

A bit of a character

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2019 by dcairns

I showed a bit of PERFORMANCE to my students last week as part of a class on filming dialogue — I wanted to show them how interesting and experimental they can get.

The clip got a lot of laughs! The performances do go right to the edge of caricature, but Roeg & Cammell’s framing and cutting are so eccentric that they also invite a knowing response.

The coverage starts off almost conventionally in the establishing shot. There are some freeze-frames, though, accompanying a stills photographer’s flashbulbs — looks like Scorsese picked up on this. Certainly Paul Schrader has cited PERFORMANCE as a particularly good movie to steal from, and a back-to-back viewing with MISHIMA will confirm this.

James Fox’s Chas gets told off by his boss, with accompanying yes-men, while Anthony Valentine, his erstwhile victim, gloats. (Really appreciated Valentine’s work in TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER and THE MONSTER CLUB when we podcasted about those).

Once we start seeing closer angles, though, things get weird. There’s an in-your-face quality that’s nightmarish — the lens is wide and the actors are uncomfortably close. It does have an alcoholic quality — that moment when you’ve had a few and you suddenly notice how funny everything looks and feels.

As the scene progresses, the shots and cutting both get more fragmented: Roeg’s framing cuts off parts of faces in a most odd way, reducing characters to mouths or eyes:

When we see Chas, the angles are closer, more centred, lower. The effect is to isolate him from his surroundings. Close-ups and low angles can be used to confer strength, but not here:

Chas breaks into a sweat, and his eyes dart around the room.

Now, Cammell attested that in collaborating with Roeg, he took charge of the actors and Roeg handled the camerawork, and this worked very smoothly. My first geuss about the scene was that maybe the two filmmakers were diverging in their intentions, resulting in the shots feeling really wacky.

But James Fox’s eye movements convince me this is quite false: the crazy angles are actually a subjective rendering of what he’s experiencing, a sort of panic attack, coupled with a dissociation from reality, and a kind of ADHD distracted hyperfocus. Chas is seeing things very clearly, but only in a jumble of bits.

At one point, Cammell and Roeg surprise us by cutting to a b&w photo of a limbo-dancing violinist, then zoom out to catch Anthony Morton in profile. Throughout the scene, Morton freaks us, and Chas, out, but delivering his lines either right down the barrel of the lens, or off into the void.

A similar dissociating effect occurs earlier when everything fades into bluish monochrome and seems to go far away:

Quite scary, in fact. With a change of lens, some experimental colour grading, and rearranging the furniture in the office, the filmmakers have turned the room into one of REPULSION’s distorted nightmare spaces.

That photo on the wall is probably one of the filmmakers’ little connections — tying us to the idea of performance, which is mentioned in the scene (Chas, who “puts the frighteners on flash little twerps,” is a performer whose role is to terrify) — anticipating the musician character we’ll meet later — it also ties up with the photographer and his flashes, and with the b&w subjective imagery from the office scene. The sudden cut to the photo also makes us think a new scene has begun, before the zoom-out reveals that we’re still trapped in this one.

The lesson is, Be bold!

Crime Jazz

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2019 by dcairns

JAZZ BOAT, seen and enjoyed and wondered at thanks to Talking Pictures TV. Ken Hughes directed this boggling jazz musical crime comedy thriller, a star vehicle for Anthony Newley, who pretends he’s a master thief knows as The Cat, and gets mixed up with a criminal biker gang led by James Booth. Every scene depending on the anticipation of violence between these two “toughs” cracked me up.

Booth’s gang also features David Lodge in a beard and specs that make him resemble Nick Frost — his character, Holy Mike, is a kind of ironic religious maniac in black. Added muscle is provided by Al Muloch from the openings of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, as a real gone thug, maybe the most substantial part of his tragically shortened career. And then they’ve got Bernie Winters as back-up, and busty Anne Aubrey as “the Doll,” whose going with Booth but somehow can’t keep her hands off Newley. He must have had something, I suppose.

“He was quite good as the Artful Dodger,” admits Fiona.

“With a walnut up his nose,” I remark.

“What?”

“A walnut.”

“WHAT?”

“He played the part of the Artful Dodger with a walnut up his nose.”

“WHAT?”

“Anthony Newley. Played the Artful Dodger. With a-“

“Whose idea was that?”

“David Lean’s, I suppose.”

“But that’s child abuse!”

“No it isn’t. Kids love shoving things up their noses.”

“But it might have gotten lodged, and gone deeper…”

“Well they could just have got… Mark Lester to go in after it.”

“Why Mark Lester???”

“Well, he was little…”

“But he was in a different film. He was in OLIVER!”

“Oh yeah… Well, that’s ideal. He’d have been REALLY little…”

Shoving aside the thought of an unborn Mark Lester being injected up Anthony Newley’s nostril in some grotesque nasal parody of FANTASTIC VOYAGE, we return to JAZZ BOAT. Lionel Jeffries plays a tough police inspector, and this oddball casting works great, because he’s a really good actor. All the oddball casting is defensible except that Newley and Booth are the same type, and Newley can’t suggest his character’s innocence.

The film opens in Chislehurst Caves where Ted Heath and his Band are playing and we meet all the characters, and a fight breaks out.

Then there is some quite decent storytelling where we see how Newley gets mistaken for the Cat, and how he’s honest, really, and then gets roped into doing a crime with Spider’s gang.

There is, eventually, a jazz boat, but it has little to do with the plot. Within minutes, it seems, the film is showing us Newley in drag trying to escape the gang’s revenge, then showing Booth and poor Aubrey slashing each other with razors. Then the boat docks at Margate and we may remember the Archers’ bit of doggerel about that town, and there’s a chase through Dreamland, the funfair immortalised by Lindsay Anderson in his free cinema documentary — a film which now looks a bit worrisome in its aghast depiction of working-class entertainment.

We never find out who the real Cat is, which seems like a big loose end. But then, this whole film, handsomely shot by Ted Moore with Nic Roeg operating, is a giant, marvelous blunder, a skull-throbbing offense against taste and tone and logic and genre — put together by professionals, so the bits don’t quite fall apart even though they might do better if they did.

I really want to see IN THE NICK now, made the same year of our Lord 1960 by mostly the same culprits, many with the same character names, but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.

JAZZ BOAT stars Heironymous Merkin; Prof. Joseph Cavor; Pvt. Henry Hook; Jelly Knight; Knuckles; and Clang.

The Wrong Films

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2019 by dcairns

A strange day of interventions by fate — we panted up the road to see THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH, a Henry King late silent with Kevin Brownlow intro and Vilma Banky, Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper in the leads — but I got the cinema wrong and when the lights dimmed, Renoir’s TONI appeared on the screen in a new restoration. My only regret was missing the RARER film. I hadn’t seen the Renoir before and of course it’s very fine, though none of the cast seemed able to reach the upper pitches of emotion the script demands. At one point Toni insists his wife stop screaming, when she’s been doing nothing of the kind.

But what an ending!

Then I thought we’d better get coffee so I didn’t pick the wrong cinema again, and when we got back from it, UNDER CAPRICORN was completely packed out. So we went up the road to the Lumiere and saw LA MASCHERA E IL VOLTO, a 1919 Augusto Genina film which turned out to be a splendid Italian comedy anticipating aspects of DIVORCE: ITALIAN STYLE in its jet-black approach to the comic possibilities of uxoricide. A husband who has expressed approval of Othello’s honorable way of resolving marital difficulties is undone when he discovers his wife has strayed. He can’t bring himself to actually strangle her, but he orders her to leave the country so he can tell everyone he DID kill her — so he can be a feared murderer rather than a pathetic cuckold. Things go awry when he hires for his defense lawyer his wife’s lover. A great line: “The ridiculous always seeks out those who are afraid of it.”

Then we split up — Fiona & Nicola going to see a noir double bill of THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE and THE THREAT, but succumbing to heat and sleep deprivation during the second — me going to see the brilliantly restored MEMPHIS BELLE, introduced by director William Wyler’s daughter Catherine, along with THE COLD BLUE, a new documentary made by Erik Nelson from Wyler’s rediscovered rushes, and then having a couple of Aperol Spritzes.

The immediacy gained by MEMPHIS BELLE’s colour photography now that you can actually see the B-17 pilot’s five O’clock shadow in a long shot — it’s that pin-sharp — really makes a difference in a you-are-there kind of way. Everything Peter Jackson promised and failed to deliver with his crappy colorization is authentically provided here.

We all met up for MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, which a mistake in the programme COULD have caused us to miss. As it was we had to bolt our dinner. But it was worth it. “I have never seen reds so red or blacks so black!” Fiona exclaimed. A very new 4K restoration which made this handsome, eccentric, alternately campy and poetic film glow.

“The Fall of the Blouse of Asher,” Nicola christened it. Which nails the campery aspect, but it has this compelling comic-book Bergman side to it too. Corman’s direction, Roeg’s photography, David Lee’s score, and the best ensemble cast Corman ever assembled outside of ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE. Very nice, very nice indeed.