Archive for Noel Coward

An Odyssey in Bits: Keir Dullea and Gone Tomorrow

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2019 by dcairns

Thanks to the acid wit of Noel Coward for the title. Noel co-starred with Dullea (happily still very much here today) in Otto Preminger’s BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING.

2001’s second superimposed caption appears: it’s not altogether certain that THE DAWN OF MAN has finished (it was apparently in play all through the orbital and lunar ballet) but at any rate the JUPiTER MISSION has begun.What was strange to me, this time around, was how fast this section of the film seems to go by, when you watch it in isolation. The pace of the shots may be slowish, but the narrative is super-economical.1. The Discovery sails past us.

(Various spaceship designs were considered with various propulsion systems, but the final look chosen is less about scientific practicality and more about style. The bony colouring adds to the Discovery’s resemblance to a giant skull and spinal cord. Also a little like a spermatozoa. So it also makes me think of the miniature Spike-creatures in ERASERHEAD.) 2. We cut to inside Kubrick’s giant hamster wheel. Here’s Gary Lockwood jogging, in a whole series is striking shots, including an up-butt angle as startling as the one George Sidney devotes to Ann-Margret in VIVA LAS VEGAS. Bruce Bennett’s citation of TRAPEZE as an influence gets backed up here — not only for the earlier use of the Blue Danube, but for turning the image sideways so it can fill the WS frame. It’s true that Kubrick lingers over these images, but they’re well worth it. My problem with EYES WIDE SHUT was its, to my mind erronious, supposition that Tom Cruise walking down a street or into an apartment was worthy of the same following-too-close attention.

(How does the craft generate its gravity? It’s not rotating in the exterior shots. Is there actually a big rotating wheel inside it for the living space? Seems to be the case. Wild.) 3. & 4. Then we get a couple of video bits — Lockwood’s taped message from home, and the BBC interview with the crew and HAL, which infodumps all the necessary exposition on us in a reasonable engaging and natural way.

Bowman and Poole have i-Pads so they can watch TV as they down their space-chow (from plastic pallettes packed with nutritional coloured pastes. Yummy).5. And then HAL is glitching right away — his mental breakdown is really just as speedy as Jack Torrence’s in THE SHINING. It’s when he says, “Just a moment. Just a moment.” Computers shouldn’t repeat themselves. It feels wrong. Later, he will repeat himself A LOT, so I know I’m right.

Dullea and Lockwood are beautifully blank. GL said they looked at reports on what astronauts were like, and their inexpressive performances reflect the demands that those fired into space should NOT be hysterical, hand-flapping types of furious fist-wavers. Ryan Gosling’s unemotive Neil Armstrong in FIRST MAN makes this a big story point, whereas Kubrick and Clarke and the cast just take it for granted. The fact that HAL is more appealing and warm is certainly no accident — Kubrick liked machines. Unfortunately, the story he’s telling requires HAL to turn homicidal, so this is far from the “alternative Frankenstein myth” he hoped to achieve with A.I., proving to us that our machines might be our heirs, our best hope of leaving something of ourselves behind.HAL trounces Poole at chess.

Clarke thought it a shame that the film didn’t make clear the reason for HAL’s malfunction: mission control had instructed him to withhold the true purpose of the voyage, in effect to lie, which was against his programming. (To lie is already to err.) When he tries to sound out Dullea’s Dave Bowman about the mission parameters, he’s probably looking for a chance to open up and get things off his metallic chest. Bowman brushes him off, and so he has to kill all the damn humans who are clearly going to screw this thing up. Again, his motivation connects him with Jack Torrence’s rant about “MY responsibilities to my employers,” though he expresses himself with a less hysterical tone.

I read somewhere that all Kubrick films are about somebody being entrusted with administering a system, and then screwing it up due to “human error.” Which sounds sort of right, but then you need to get out the old shoehorn to make it fit LOLITA (how not to be a step-parent) and THE SHINING (how not to look after a hotel: a sort of Fawlty Towers with axe murders) and EYES WIDE SHUT continues to be an outlier (the system failing to be administered is what, adultery?). But anyway, mission control has screwed up royally, somewhere in between the Clavius freak-out signal and this sequence, and now our eerily calm astronauts are going to pay the price. 6. The first EVA scene, though we’re our Extra Vehicular Activity is taking place in another, smaller vehicle. Contemporary critics harped on about the heavy breathing here, as if it were a showy and clumsy stylistic touch, rather than a logical solution to the problem of What can you hear in space? Kubrick alternates bold silences with music and subjective space-suit sound, all of which are great choices.

(William Friedkin on the excellent The Movies That Made Me podcast complained of Kubrick’s extreme low angle shot in THE SHINING when Jack talks to the food locker door. “Who’s POV is that meant to be?” But it’s another logical solution: how to shoot a man talking to a door and see all of his face rather than a profile. If you just do very logical things, like a machine would do them, maybe you will develop a striking personal style, because everyone has their own logic. And that’s why there’s so much trouble in this world.)7. HAL can read lips.

(Just like in real life, as soon as somebody goes a bit wrong mentally, everyone else starts tiptoeing around and lying and humouring them and unintentionally but very effectively escalating their paranoia…)

Though his eyeball was a fisheye lens earlier, and I think he even asks Dave to hold his drawings closer, but now he has a zoom and can follow a conversation in which his two pals are plotting to murder him. Which confirms him in his decision to off them first, which presumably he was going to do anyway since why else is he tricking them into cutting off communication with Earth and going E.V.A.?

And at this point, Kubrick goes audaciously to an intermission, and so shall I.Incidentally, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY stars the Marquis de Sade; Sir George; Sam Slade; Emanuel Shadrack; Lord Beaverbrook; Off-camera voice of Jesus; Scrimshaw’s henchman; Commander Ed Straker and Hank Mikado.

Imagine you somehow find yourself watching a sixties Canadian TV play and the off-camera voice of Jesus rings out and it’s instantly, chillingly recognizable as the dulcet tones of HAL-9000.

Also, you should see the 1957 version of OEDIPUS REX directed by Tyron Guthrie and Abraham Polonsky, in which among the voices issuing from behind Greek tragic masks are those of Douglas Rain and William Shatner. Sophocles has never seemed so interstellar!

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Heart Attacks

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2014 by dcairns

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Noel Coward, who once wrote a piece called Shadow Play, stars in THE ASTONISHED HEART, which he also wrote. The directors are Antony Darnborough and Terence Fisher, who also teamed to make SO LONG AT THE FAIR, a really terrific Hitchcockian mystery with Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde, which we had previously enjoyed — in fact, it’s more stylish than any of Fisher’s more celebrated Hammer horrors, perhaps because of the b&w atmosphere, perhaps because of Darnborough’s contribution (he was a successful producer, but since he didn’t continue as a solo director like his colleague, it’s hard to assess what he contributed).

THE ASTONISHED HEART isn’t as revelatory, but it is very good, if tebbly, tebbly British. Noel plays a psychiatrist (pronounced sick-iatrist) who falls in love with his the former schoolfriend (Margaret Leighton) of his wife (Celia Johnson). His inability to compete with her dead lover drives him crackers.

Everybody is tebbly civilised, with Celia refusing to make a scene and advising him to gone on a long holiday with his lover until he knows what he wants to do, when really you long for her to knock a stake through his heart or set him ablaze with a kerosene lamp, causing him to fall through a skylight into an acid bath, or something. But actually, as with BRIEF ENCOUNTER, if you can get past how posh everyone is, it has a core of emotional truth that’s effective.

Visually the strongest scene is Noel’s long dark night of the soul stroll, through an eerie deserted London — with the witty, brittle dialogue on hold, the filmmakers can concentrate on telling a story with pictures. But the scene where Noel returns to work and finds himself completely unable to function, so wrapped up in his own problems that he can’t even hear anyone else’s, is magnificently played and VERY elegantly shot, with a slow track-in and jib-down on Noel’s anguished, distracted face that builds up the pressure agonizingly until Noel’s head threatens to go all SCANNERS on us.

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Next Stop, Rocket Science

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2014 by dcairns

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It seems the biopic of Werner Von Braun, famed for his role in the US space program, but rather less popular for his rocketry for the Nazis in WWII was originally called WERNER VON BRAUN, and then somebody got cold feet and thought, Maybe we aren’t quite ready to forgive him yet? and so the title was changed to the more poetic I AIM AT THE STARS, but this mealy-mouthed approach was too tempting for someone or other, who suggested appending the subtitle …BUT SOMETIMES I HIT LONDON.

Nobody seems to know who thought of this wizard wheeze, but I suspect that further research would show that it was either Noel Coward or an anonymous wag. Previous research has shown that this kind of thing* is almost always the work of Noel Coward or an anonymous wag.

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The film itself is typical of director J. Lee Thompson’s energetic approach at this time, with a swinging camera and dynamic blocking. Laurie Johnson’s percussive score adds to the general sense of being yelled at, and in case that gets old, Curt Jurgens is on hand to do actual yelling. I don’t quite understand the Curt Jurgens phenomenon. Calling him “Curd” doesn’t help either. I guess we can blame …AND GOD CREATED WOMAN for turning him from a perfectly respectable German character actor into somebody regarded as an international movie star. With sex appeal. And yet I can’t convince myself that history would be any different if Gert Frobe had played all Curt or Curd Jurgens’ roles and vice versa.

*A further example of This Kind of Thing. Noel Coward remarked, upon seeing a poster for THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM with Dirk Bogarde and Michael Redgrave, “I don’t see why not, everyone else has.”