Archive for Oedipus Rex

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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The Peasants are Revolting

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2011 by dcairns

I both do and don’t get along with Pier Paolo Pasolini. Looking at his Trilogy of Life — THE DECAMERON,  THE CANTERBURY TALES, THE ARABIAN NIGHTS  — I don’t think I’d watched all of it before — I found quite a bit of it got up my nose. The not-quite-handheld camera style — “Tighten your fluid head, mate, it’s wobbling amok!” — is a permanent source of irritation to me, though it can work well in some films or some scenes. Here I think it’s meant to add vigour and nervous energy, which really should come from elsewhere. The approach is all over the last film, dominates about half of the first, and is only fitfully present in the middle one (my favourite).

In addition, I’m sometimes doubtful of the selection process: in adapting these three big medieval story-cycles, he’s cherry-picked a small sampling of yarns, and they’re not necessarily the best. ARABIAN NIGHTS in particular seems to leave out nearly all the magic, a shame since PPP is really quite good at magic and myth in THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW and OEDIPUS REX.

And since what’s left are mostly bawdy comedies, isn’t it worth noting that Pasolini’s talent seems both anti-comic and anti-erotic? For all their explicitness, the sex scenes never convince me on a basic anatomical-movement level, and even when the people are attractive, which isn’t always by any means, I never feel any interest in seeing them at it. Quite possibly it would help to be gay, but also possibly PPP is hampered by the fact that all the actual sex is hetero — he seems more sparked by the sidelong glances, often between men and very young boys, scenes which provoke considerable discomfort today (how were they taken back in the 70s?).

Ninetto sings his ever-unpopular “yowling cat theme.”

As for the laughs, the use of accelerated motion to impart Keystone Kops freneticism is usually just embarrassing in any film (I give a pass to Richard Lester, but not to Tony Richardson), and doubly so here, maybe because it feels doubly desperate. Ninetto Davoli’s  Chaplin impersonation in CANTERBURY TALES  is just awful, a would-be homage that actually insults the master by suggesting that enthusiasm is enough to allow you to step into his outsize shoes. If Davoli had been hit in the face with a rotten cabbage at the end, that might have redeemed things though. There are a few laughs, always at unexpected moments, but Pasolini’s timing, framing and view of life doesn’t generally seem conducive to the laughter of surprise, and his performers are a mishmash of skilled and unskilled, seemingly left to their own devices with no attempt at finding a Milos Formanesque harmony between amateur and pro.

I’m also kind of disgusted by Pasolini’s use of grotesques, who are encouraged to display their bad teeth by gurning and laughing for no reason — Fellini seems much more sympathetic to me, and he always gives his caricatures at least the dignity of being effective performers within their scenes, rather than just saying “Stand their with your mouth open so we can see your dental cataclysm.”

But then PPP gives us a shot like this, and I forgive him everything ~

This weird Fayre of Allegories comes at just the right point to rescue THE DECAMERON, adding a sudden gust of the strange and melancholy, and prefiguring the spectacular religious vision that concludes it. Pasolini’s casting of himself as a master painter here, and as Chaucer in CANTERBURY, is also very successful, allowing him to more or less state his own thoughts about his grand project as it unfolds. His absence from THE ARABIAN NIGHTS may well be down to his not looking Arabian enough, but I also interpret it as a sign of his emotional withdrawal from the series.

Franco Citti is an incredibly impressive Devil in THE CANTERBURY TALES.

Common wisdom has it that Pasolini was perturbed by the fact that his films inspired a rash of softcore imitations, and made SALO as a somewhat embittered response. Something that couldn’t be turned to an exploitative use. A friend was fond of claiming that with SALO the filmmaker had “defeated the capitalist mechanism of cinema” by making a film that got banned in most countries and couldn’t be made to generate profit. But if that’s so, didn’t John McTiernan achieve something similar with THE LAST ACTION HERO, a far more expensive movie that not many people wanted to see?

SALO does seem to me a more successful work on some level, though — maybe because the elements of comic grotesquerie are harnessed to a purpose that’s very far from making us laugh. And Pasolini is not a natural clown. (It occurs to me that “Unnatural Clown” would look nifty on a business card.)

One way in which I *do* get on with Pasolini — I love his use of locations. I saw my first PPP film, OEDIPUS REX, right after I’d made my first short as director, a medieval comedy called THE THREE HUNCHBACKS (mine has laughs in it — not enough, but some). It struck me that we’d both been wrestling with the same stuff: staging historical scenes amid crumbling ruins, trying to make them look lived-in and not like monuments, post-dubbing dialogue to avoid intrusive modern sounds (make a period movie and you’ll be amazed how often aeroplanes fly over your head). And, in  my modest short as in his epic Trilogy of Life, we were both attempting to connect with the ribaldry and brutality of another age’s comedy.

Both DECAMERON and CANTERBURY end with spectacular religious visions, including the sight of naughty friars being popped out by a giant red devil in Hell — an image unequalled in Ken Russell or Terry Gilliam’s oeuvres. The tableaux here at times equal Paradjanov’s evocation of Russian icons — for some reason, the art of another era translates more readily to cinematic life than any idea of the naturalistic comings and goings of the people, at least in PPP’s hands.