Archive for Norman Foster

I have seen The Other Side of the Wind

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2018 by dcairns

I took Netflix up on their “first month free” offer to do it. It’s really at least my second month, because I did this before in order to see Community. I kept the service for a few months that time, and may do so again — they deserve something for finishing THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

It stars Noah Cross, Sammy Michaels, Sally Groves, Marty ‘Fats’ Murdock, Emma Small, Max Morlan, Carl Evello, George Washington Cohen, Frank Booth, the Masterblaster. Yes, some of those are quite obscure, but they are almost as obscure, some of them, when called by their right names. It’s a very odd cast, made up of people Welles had met and liked, or worked with in the distant past, anyone he could lure into his web. In this film structured around an unending party in which every hand seems to come clutching its own whisky glass and cigar, the real-life alcoholics abound: if you’re acting with Welles, your career/life must be in trouble.

I think it’s fantastic. While I was watching it, I was already fantasising about watching it AGAIN. Instead I watched one of the making-of documentaries, the erratic but fascinating THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD. But I still have a fantasy about rewatching it every day of my free Netflix month. That seems quite appealing.

All those actors. Welles gets variable results from them, but it’s a variable film in every way. And he was never a great unity guy — what school of performance unites Joseph Cotten, Welles, Everett Sloane and the hyperventilating Erskine Sandford of CITIZEN KANE, and yet there they were in one scene. Here we have striking, delicate work from Dan Tobin and Tonio Selwart, who both look like scarecrow cadavers but do beautiful things, jostling against Edmund O’Brien, who is just a big drunk (“Eddie is a magnificent ruin,” said Welles, perhaps missing an irony?) but certainly REAL. We get into stranger territory with Norman Foster, a lousy, charmless second-string leading man in the early thirties, who became a fairly good, peppy director in the forties, helming JOURNEY INTO FEAR for Welles at RKO, then returning to acting for a few things in the 70s, including this. I find it hard to assess his performance, which seems to draw upon the pathos of his oddly young/old face and his uncertainty (about how to say a line; about what the hell’s going on) to create a synthesis of good acting, bad acting and non-acting. His abused flunky character is basically Joseph Calleia from TOUCH OF EVIL, but with Hank Quinlan’s sweeties addiction (“It’s either the candy or the hooch,”) and I found myself enjoying him but not knowing whether to feel more sorry for the actor or the character, and unsure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that he never lived to see the movie.

Cameron Mitchell is awfully good — another drinker, one who seems to have been in more posthumous films than anybody (I guess a hard-working agent got him cameos in whatever cheapo production was rolling, including this. And I guess he’s playing some version of Welles’ pet make-up genius, Maurice Seiderman.

A lot of these excellent people are redundant in story terms, scene-swellers as well as scotch-swiggers. The magnificent Mercedes McCambridge doesn’t really have any dramatic material to work with, just exposition delivered with a world-weary or universe-weary gloom. But they had to create a convincingly populated party. The fleeting glimpses of Dennis Hopper, Curtis Harrington, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom et al really help sell this.

The leads, of course, hold it together: Huston (with son Danny voicing some lines: you’d never know) and Bogdanovich are terrific. All kinds of real-life tensions perhaps in play, with Welles perhaps resenting his leads’ success as Hollywood directors — and even if it wasn’t like that, the casting invites us to imagine it.

This is a party filmed at multiple locations over years, with actors coming and going (Rich Little, ejected from his leading role, still turns up in the background) and using a deliberate patchwork of film stocks (it looks BEAUTIFUL) — cohesion would seem like a drunkard’s dream, and yet it hangs together. The mockumentary angle should disintegrate at once, since you can’t imagine some of these scenes being enacted in sight of a camera, but the movie lets us forget the device whenever it needs to, reminds us of it when appropriate. We have to praise Bob Murawski to the skies and beyond for cutting the movie in a way that seamlessly matches the few scenes Welles had already put together: a jagged, frazzled, jazzy frenzy (Fiona got tired out and went to bed midway, but wants to come back and see it all).

It IS enervating and exhausting — it has an authentic long-party feeling, trundling on past the point anyone wants, fuelled by inebriated inertia. We’re all going to regret this.

MORE SOON!

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Headgear

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2011 by dcairns

“He’s worse with a hat on!” I declared, and Fiona agreed with me.

The subject of discussion was Regis Toomey, star of the spicy pre-code triumph UNDER 18, which we enjoyed very much. And it was a strange discovery to make. I’d thought I just didn’t much like Toomey, didn’t like his face, like that of a juvenile clown whose makeup has become grafted to his skin; didn’t like his voice, a raspy instrument more suited for frightening cats than human speech. But when I saw him sans chapeau (a rare condition for a male actor in 30s movies), I found him not without a certain vulnerable appeal. Let once a cap, fedora or helmet adorn his brow, however, and repulsion, anger and intolerance made hay with my disposition.

I mean, look at this (UNDER 18) ~

And this (SHE HAD TO SAY YES) ~

And this (THE FINGER POINTS) ~

And normally I like hats. I’ve never found an attractive one that would fit my bulbous, William-Hurt-sized head, but I like them on other people. Normally. It’s just that on Toomey, his pursed, shrunken clown face takes on a new and ghastlier hue when shaded neath the brim of an otherwise inoffensive lid, be it homburg, boater, fedora or Moorish tarboosh.

Still, that aside, Toomey is sympathetic in a difficult role in UNDER 18 (the title is an irrelevance): anybody who has to act cross with Marian Marsh is doing very well to not make the audience hate him. And she does well too — a peaches-and-cream cutie playing a naive ingenue type with big googly eyes, she could easily become punchable, but she holds the film together, aided by Warners Brothers’ typical no-nonsense approach, which hits story points hard and fast, and even manages to deliver sentimentality in a blunt manner.

Case in point: the movie begins with Marsh’s sister getting married (to future director Norman Foster, so we know there’s trouble ahead). Director Archie Mayo holds a long shot on the girls’ dad, as he slowly tears up. It’s sweet and gently funny, but it’s followed by a quick dissolve to the old guy’s gravestone, as we move into the future, the stock market crash, and marital difficulties which for the big sister which soon have Marsh questioning the viability of romance. And when a girl’s in that frame of mind, the arrival of a feckless millionaire played by Warren William is apt to represent a temptation.

WW, who gets to smirkingly emit the line he was born to say — “Why don’t you take off your clothes and stay awhile?” — is on very good form, as is Mayo, one of the less distinguished but still damn good Warners directors. Here, his attention to the bit part players is especially commendable.

“Watch your step,” says the elevator operator (Otto Hoffman) to Marian as she alights at Williams’ penthouse fuck pad. And then he drives his double entendre home with a meaningful look.

This delivery boy (name unknown) gets TWO looks, a bored/nosy/dopey one as Marian signs for her delivery, and an obsequious/lecherous one when he makes eye contact. The guy makes his mark.

The movie also finds space for sparky Claire Dodd, cadaverous Clarence Wilson, an unusually camp Edward Van Sloan, and many other attention-grabbing artistes.

And for 1931 this is a remarkably fluid piece of work, with long camera moves and expressive angles unhampered by the demanding microphone. Here, setting up Williams’ shagging palace, Mayo proves himself a regular pre-code Ozu with the three building-block establishing views he uses ~

Of all the pre-code parties, this may be the best, even if the host suffers a near-fatal injury.

For B. Kite.

Naked Came the Strangler

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by dcairns

I love monster movies where the monster is an attractive naked woman! No, wait, “love” isn’t right, what’s the word I want? Oh yes, despise.

Still, THE DEATHHEAD VIRGIN is a curio, being the last film of Norman Foster, former minor movie star (forever traducing Sylvia Sidney in the thirties) later director of JOURNEY INTO FEAR and the best of the MR. MOTO films (pretty entertaining stuff, depending on what you’re drinking). It was made in the Philippines, which is generally a mark of quality when it comes to horror films. Low quality is still quality, right?

I know, I’ve started off with a dubious assumption, that there’s some kind of sub-genre of monster movie that substitutes nudie cuties for Charles Gemorra/Rick Baker in a monkey suit, or a Carlo Rambaldi animatronic contraption, or a CGI virtual sculpture of a bat with a cow’s legs. Well, that sub-genre consists of (1) LIFEFORCE, a simply remarkable Tobe Hooper oddity which recasts the concerns of the QUATERMASS films and TV series through the concerns of a frantically masturbating sixteen-year-old schoolboy. Favourite moment: the scary shadow of the monster on a wall, consisting of the shapely silhouette of Mathilda May, breasts jutting like zeppelins. Can you feel the stark terror?

And (2) THE FACULTY, directed by Robert “will this do?” Rodriguez, which climaxes with the hero being stalked by a starkers Laura Harris. How will he survive? I mean, she’s all naked and everything! When I worked on a kids’ TV show, the two 14-year-olds were big Josh Hartnett fans, and were appalled that I hadn’t seen this. “It’s, like, one of the great films!”

In fact, it’s like, not, but who would deny youth its illusions?

Old age, by contrast, often comes with wisdom, so I hope Foster cashed his cheque fast on this one. The movie deals with some kind of curse, elaborated at such tedious length that one forgets how it started before the exposition is finished. But the result is a naked girl in a skull mask who goes around killing people, and can apparently breathe underwater, or maybe she doesn’t breath at all. Lots of aquatic action here, which seems to be the main sales pitch: JAWS, with the roles of predatory fish and skinny dipper kind of reversed. But this movie was made in 1974, before JAWS. There’s a lesson there: never make a bizarre variant on a box office smash BEFORE the box office smash has happened.

Moments of interest: the opening titles don’t start until about seven minutes in, and don’t end until fifteen minutes in. And the movie is barely over an hour, that’s over a fifth of the running time eaten up by credits. Foster may be the archetypal “guy who’s forgotten more about filmmaking than we’ll ever know” at this point. I was half expecting more credits to start halfway, or for the film to suddenly end and begin again, or for an entire scene to play out upside down. Once such basic structural sense has been jettisoned, it seems like anything’s possible.

Or nothing.

The other moment of interest is the scene where the two unappealing male leads and the somewhat depressed Filipino bikini girl entertain themselves by drunkenly chucking lit sticks of dynamite about on a beach. This little divertissement is served up so blithely, without any explanation, that I figure it’s something Foster, a much-traveled man-of-the-world, we are told, may have indulged in himself. It is at least marginally less suicidal than John Huston’s favourite pastime in Mexico, a variant on Russian roulette: load a pistol, pull the hammer back, and throw it at the ceiling. You have two chances of getting killed, as does anybody else in the room (or anybody passing by outside): once when the pistol hits the ceiling, and once when it hits the floor.

I explained this gag to David Wingrove, who thought it sounded pretty good fun. “Much better than Russian roulette. Russian roulette always seems so bleak.”

“You’re going to be hearing the word ‘panties’.”