Archive for Nigel Green

Puny Humans

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2008 by dcairns

Danger Island

It’s a real problem, the human characters in giant monster movies. They’re nearly always boring. KING KONG is the exception, as with so many things — in all three versions of KK, the humans are a bit more interesting than they absolutely need to be. The less-is-more economy and pace of the first film make it the winner, of course. Quasi-sequel MIGHTY JOE YOUNG also does OK — Robert Armstrong is even more ebullient and explosive than he is in KK. A shame he never played anything Shakespearian on screen. What do you think: Lear? Macbeth?

The ’70s KONG has Jeff Bridges as a sort of more passionate and committed version of the Dude from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and Jessica Lange playing the character who’s most like herself (slightly dippy blonde actress). The Jackson version has lots of “characterisation”, but doesn’t really understand the basic principle of characterisation through action, which is a bit of a shame since it’s an action film. For example, Adrien Brody is a writer. Yet, once the drama starts (an hour in) he acts exactly like Indiana Jones. I accept that we might need him to be slightly more physical than, say, Truman Capote, but what’s the point of all that set-up if you’re just going to forget it once the running and jumping starts?

Similarly, Jamie Bell is established as a kid who’s never fired a gun in his life, yet soon he’s shooting insects off Adrien Brody’s privates with the skill of a veritable Lee Harvey Oswald (ah, if only L.H.O. had confined his marksmanship to shooting insects off Adrien Brody’s privates, how different the political scene might be today).

(I remember seeing the DJ-musician Moby introduce a GODZILLA movie on TV, with the words, “As kids, we were very keen on monster movies, because the alternative seemed to be movies without monsters, and who would want that?”)

I love Ray Harryhausen’s work (he’s coming to the Edinburgh Film Festival — we’ve bought our tickets), but few of his films manage to create endearing human characters to compare to the little rubber guys. The great Lionel Jeffries in THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is one (and that film is probably the best film qua filmof Harryhausen’s oevre) and Raquel Welch certainly makes her presence felt in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. but I’m not sure that’s anything to do with characterisation. I think she’s there to make the dinosaurs look more life-like by comparison. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is jam-packed with fascinating thesps, from Nigel Green to Niall McGinnis, and they’re always welcome, but they don’t make much impact as human beings, since their dialogue is a bit stiff and their scenes feel like between-monster padding. Harryhausen’s last opus, CLASH OF THE TITANS, populates Olympus with an improbable throng of thesps (Olivier & Andress! Maggie Smith and Pat Roach!) but they have little of the snazziness James Woods brings to the role of Hades in the Disney HERCULES — the high-water mark of Greek god impersonation in Hollywood cinema.

In a lot of monster attack films, like WAR OF THE WORLDS, the heroes, being unable to do meaningful battle with an enemy so much bigger than themselves, are reduced to running around helplessly and speculating about what might be going on. Spielberg’s version actually gets around this for most of its running time by putting the protagonist and his family in a lot of very dangerous situations, but he comes a cropper on the ending, in which the Earth is saved no thanks to Tom Cruise.

Actually, if we accept JAWS as a monster movie, which I suggest we have to, Spielberg and his writers deserve a bit of credit for serving up engaging, if 2D, characters who actually occupy far more screen time than the sea beast. Of course, his three leading men are very watchable anyway.

I’m going to throw in a mention of TREMORS as well, since that has enjoyable, affable lead characters also. Why is this so hard as soon as a monster rears its head? I suppose these films typically didn’t attract the best actors, as much of the budget went on special effects. And the directors were usually ex-designers, photographers and special effects men themselves, rather than “actors’ directors”. And the writers? Science fiction is full of authors whose ability to deal with wild ideas outstrips their ability to deal with human conversation, so that could be part of it. KRONOS has some decent ideas, but flat characterisation. Imagine a giant monster movie written by Harold Pinter. That would be GREAT. Giant lizard feet could trample Buckingham Palace during the pauses.

THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, A.K.A. BEHEMOTH, A.K.A. BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER, which we watched recently, suffers the same problems of boring scientists and passive protagonists. The film is the work of art director Eugene Lourie, who turned director and gave the world this thing and also GORGO, a man-in-a-suit monster movie much loved for its plot twist of the even larger mummy monster coming to rescue the baby. It’s the DUMBO of kaiju films. Oh, and he did Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, “suggested by” Ray Bradbury’s great pulp-poetry story The Fog Horn, which my mum told me about when I was little, sparking my imagination wonderfully (thanks mum!) and THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, which to my regret I haven’t seen.

The monster in BEHEMOTH is another of those radioactive dinosaurs, whose sinister emanations have the effect of turning bystanders into drawings of skeletons. Nasty stuff, that radiation.

The only human element in the film is Jack MacGowran, an actor incapable of being uninteresting for a second or of underplaying for a frame. Here he’s on good form, having not yet succumbed to the bottle altogether. By the time of Peter Brook’s glum and fusty KING LEAR, MacGowran, though still somehow able to remember his lines, was quite unable to remember what they meant. Some how he still compels attention in that film and in THE EXORCIST (that “cursed movie” which supposedly claimed his life), but he’s much better when he actually knows what he’s doing. It’s such a relief when he ambles into BEHEMOTH halfway through — an eccentric showstopper, a smirking onrush of tics and mannerisms — and such a shame when he and his helicopter are subsumed by a hungry saurian just minutes later. It’s arguable that MacGowran’s thespian rampage is far more damaging to the film than the monster is to London — he makes everything seem so dull by comparison.

The behemoth is played by a glove puppet for most of the film, turning into an animated Willis H. O’Brien creation in the last ten minutes. Too little too late, though all the rampaging provides the usual fun (only kids and monsters actually rampage. Native people go on the rampage, which seems to be subtly different). And we do get a few underwater shots, which for some reason is rare in these movies.

But apart from MacGowran and the above examples, human characters in monster films still seem like an endangered species.

I guess there’s always the Peanut Sisters from GODZILLA VERSUS MOTHRA. Their characterisation consisted of (a) the fact that they were very small, and (b) the fact that they were called the Peanut Sisters. Oh, and I think they sang a song.

That’s more than can be said for Tom Cruise.

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Dead Set.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2008 by dcairns

The detective sergeant has no name. He works for a superior known only as The Voice. He works out of a place called The Factory, a department called Unexplained Deaths.

This nameless investigator is protagonist of Derek Raymond’s Factory series of crime novels, which I’ve just started reading — predictably enough, in the middle of the sequence. How The Dead Live is sensational and I immediately wanted to film it. One problem — I wanted to film it with Stanley (PERFORMANCE) Meadows in 1965, twenty years before it was written, two years before I was born.

But never mind, I’ll happily film it now if anybody will let me. The French have filmed two Raymonds, but the language of the books is so integral they must be losing masses of good stuff. How the Dead Lives alternates between madly uneven existential philosophy and pulp posturing in its narration, and shamelessly dated (even for the mid-eighties) cockney patter and noir bullshit in its dialogue. I found it utterly irresistible. You have to imagine dialogue as excessive as Clifford Odets’ in THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS of Abraham Polonsky’s in FORCE OF EVIL, only wrapped round a clenched London fist of slangy argot.

“‘I don’t think you quite understand,” I said. ‘I’ll put it this way. The more you don’t tell me right answers to what I want to know, the more I start to suspect — and as another police officer I’d better remind you straight off, you be careful you don’t pot the wrong colour on this one, darling. Because if you do you could lose the whole of this frame fast and find yourself on your ear with a pension worth five times fuck all. Now your best course is to start telling me what I want to know immediately, otherwise I’ll dig it up by myself and God help you, are you reading me? It’s London that wants the answer to this Mrs Mardy business fast, and I mean very fast. I’ve got a firework up my arsehole from my folk, and that means I’m going to have to put one up yours, it’s called self-help, alright?'”

Storywise, How the Dead Live starts like Red Harvest and ends like Poe — maybe The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, for instance. It’s smeared over with death throughout, although there’s only really one fatality within the novel’s time-frame. Raymond is obsessed with the Big Sleep. His prose reeks of decay. His hero is a ragged scarecrow of a man, the world he moves through is slipping into putrescence. At the centre of the book is a vast manor house collapsing with damp, its contents rotting away.

Usher

“Now I saw by the final light what I had only sensed in the dark the time before. Now appeared the murderous abandon of the park — shrubs that had once been planted in orderly groups shrank like wet beggars; the flailed and thrashed, unpruned, under diseased elms staggering in the gale. I stopped the car, got out and looked up at the ruin of the house, high, wet and hideous.

“As I stood there I suddenly felt afraid — not of what confronted me but in a general way. I thought and felt that the secret of existence was perhaps to get old with beauty, ironically, coming closer and closer to you as you aged; innocence, everything that you had rejected or ignored as a young man, entering you like music all the time until in the end there was no more time. Then much of what had seemed so hard would be over, after too much work in cities, after patrolling too many streets for too long, after studying too many faces with the sly, fixed look of the dead.”

It’s purple and overripe and totally sincere, like Poe or Cornell Woolrich. The best bits are incredibly sharp, the worst bits are still kind of brilliant. By the end I had settled on Bill Nighy to play the detective sergeant in my dream movie, although there’s a brilliant actor called Danny Webb who’s more the right age and could also be great. He has the same mad, icy eyes as the late great Nigel Green.

“‘Considering who you are and what you do,’ he said, ‘I think you’re all right.’

‘None of us are ever all right,’ I said. ‘We’re all just waiting for the death express.'”

Euphoria #21

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2008 by dcairns

The Euphoria shows no sign of subsiding here at Shadowplay. We are always OVER THE MOON here from watching these great clips, even when we go to the bathroom.

Duncan Aitchison, my film quiz running-mate (and uncrowned TEAM LEADER) suggested a bunch of great stuff, including this mighty scene of a young Oliver Reed DANCING from Edmond T. Greville’s seminal sixties juvie melodrama BEAT GIRL, which will also provide our Quote of the Day (a Shadowplay first!).

Fiona says Ollie Reed dances like I do, which I take to refer to his lack of co-ordination, weirdness of movement, and marked tendency to respond to unknown music in his own head rather than to the soundtrack provided for us mortals by John Barry and his Seven.

This is right before Barry started scoring Bond films, and his style has evolved from the rather random imitations of different commercial pop styles, and the annoying pizzicato noodlings of his earlier work. What we have here is just a hair away from the full-on Bondian torch-song brassy blast, and I FIND IT MAGNIFICENT.

Oliver Reed’s dancing makes me feel PROUD TO BE BRITISH. I think his only other connection to the medium of dance is his tiny cameo as a camp ballet dancer in Basil Dearden and Bryan Forbes’ marvellous crime caper THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN. Nobody’s idea of a gay prancer, Ollie stepped into that role at the last minute and made it his own.

“Do you want Moody 1, Moody 2 or Moody 3?” Ollie would ask Michael Winner, and it’s that lowering Heathcliffian menace that he’s been hired for here, not his terpsichorean dexterity. I like how he manages to preserve his essential Rugged Solemnity even while capering like a loon.

BEAT GIRL stars Gillian Hills, a sort of Brit-brat-Bardot, as the daughter of awful architect David Farrar (best known for riding a TINY DONKEY in BLACK NARCISSUS: his feet touch the ground when he straddles it, so he can make it go just by walking above it) who falls in with beatniks and strippers and Adam Faith (who exudes Proletarian Adenoidal Suavity — a STAR).

Nigel and sexiness

Sleaze is trowelled on by a nubile Christopher Lee and the reliably button-eyed psychosis of Nigel Green, both of whom I love more than oxygen. Plus there’s those strippers. Most of the onstage undressing is very mild and half-hearted, certainly less impressive than the same year’s EXPRESSO BONGO, but one number, by “Pascaline”, is a sizzler. Perhaps thinking that the dancer’s dusky complexion would render her gyrations safely asexual, in the way that naked National Geographic “savages” were the only kind of photographic nude permissable for years, the filmmakers let this former Crazy Horse artiste unleash her pelvis like a randy bronco, all over our screen. Alas, the censors fairly fell over themselves to truncate Pascaline’s masturbatory movements, but in these permissive naughty naughties, the film has been restored with all this previously unseen frottage.

But my other favourite favourite thing in this film — no, not a FILM exactly, more a PAGEANT OF ASSORTED MATERIÉLS, is David Farrar’s CITY 2000 — of which more anon.

Footnote: Duncan has chosen this scene because of his nostalgic-patriotic love of a particular British sleaze/romance, as embodied by his favourite line in David Cronenberg’s SPIDER: Gabriel Byrne’s silky come-on: “You wanna go down the allotments?”