Archive for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Spent Bullet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 3, 2013 by dcairns

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Sam Peckinpah’s THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND doesn’t strike me as a  particularly good film, and credited screenwriter Alan Sharp didn’t think much of it either. It was one of these much-rewritten movies where nobody can really be sure afterwards who was responsible for what, and it’s based on a Ludlum novel anyway so what can we expect? And it’s a Peckinpah espionage movie which puts it in the same ballpark as THE KILLER ELITE, only more tired.

But as I recall, Sharp’s description of what went down on the movie was pretty illuminating — according to him, the film’s producers accorded Bloody Sam every respect and privilege, desperate to make him happy on what could clearly be his last film (he directed it on a drip) and to break the cycle of lousy relationships he’d had with the suits throughout his career. Sam treated them mercilessly.

And so, in post-production, the producers did what nearly every previous Peckinpah producer did — they shut him out of the cutting room and released a version which satisfied them, ignoring his bitter ranting. They did at least preview his unfinished cut — audiences were confused by the opening, which was seriously incomplete, so they decided to proceed with their own version. This is a shame, because a Peckinpah edit, no matter what the director’s raddled state, is automatically going to be superior to an edit by an army of eight execs. Because some kind of guiding cinematic sensibility is needed, rather than committee groupthink.

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Fortunately for us, if we obtain the special edition DVD, the bonus disc contains a director’s cut, mastered on low-res video tape and rescued from a bin. Despite the poor image quality and the rough video versions of optical effects (Sam did love his cheesy opticals, bless his infarcted, drug-addled, misogynistic heart), it makes for interesting viewing.

At the film’s opening, we see hidden camera footage of a sexy tryst between Dr Who (John Hurt) and a naked lady (women in this film are either naked or dead: this one is soon both). While Hurt is out of the room (I presume washing his balls) and the lady is toying languidly with her nipples as ladies always do when men aren’t around, assassins burst in and inject a lethal overdose up her nose. It’s possible that somebody explains why later. What struck the Monthly Film Bulletin critic at the time was that this whole scene is covered from multiple angles, suggesting that not only did CIA head Burt Lancaster have spy-cams planted all over the room, panning and zooming at will, but that he also had Roger Spottiswode or Monte Hellman or somebody in a darkened room vision-mixing this footage live so Burt could always be seeing the best angle on his private espionage snuff film, with faster cutting for dramatic effect in the more exciting moments. It doesn’t really contribute towards an air of verisimilitude.

“Nasty piece of film, Stennings,” says Lancaster, in the film’s most self-aware line, just as the title naming the nasty filmmaker responsible appears (as is usual with Peckinpah, his name appears looong after everybody else’s credit has gone, as if some kind of quarantine was required to keep the rest of the cast and crew from being infected by his beady-eyed mania.

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What we get in the director’s cut is layers of wooziness — shimmering ripple effects as if we’re sliding in and out of a movie dream sequence or flashback (I still can’t believe those eggy ripple-dissolves to flashback in THE WILD BUNCH, like the nouvelle vague never happened). I can’t see any possible reason for this effect. The DVD claims it was intended to show the John Hurt character’s warped point of view, but he spends most of the scene in the shower so it’s not his point of view anyway. But it does throw the question of verisimilitude out the window, leaking from blood capsules and squib damage as it plunges to earth.

The Peckinpah version then segue’s back into the edit we know — Lancaster has just watched the murder on tape, but it’s not implied that the events had been covered from multiple angles. So we can already see that whatever the problems with Peckinpah’s vision (and here I would cite the Lalo Schiffrin soft porn sax accompaniment high on the list), it at least made more sense than what eventually made it to cinemas.

In theory, the fuzzy video version could be used to restore Peckinpah’s intended approach — but that would depend on the original negative rushes having been preserved, which is unlikely. And it would depend on somebody with the money giving a rat’s ass, which is less likely still. I’d settle for a definitive cut of PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, whose restoration suffered from a common malaise — a restoration team convinced they knew better than the original director. But at least that DVD also contains two alternative cuts showing what they had to work with.

THIS is Peckinpah’s actual last movie ~

And his last day on set, I think, was shooting second unit of a truck crash for his old mentor Don Siegel, on what proved to be Siegel’s own final film, the Bette Middler comedy JINXED! Desperate to re-establish his professional reputation, Peckinpah organized detailed storyboards and shot everything with lightning efficiency. The pyrotechnics department provided him with a blaze of glory in name only.

 The Osterman Weekend – Commemorative 2 disc edition [1983] [DVD]
The Osterman Weekend (Two-Disc)

The Sunday Intertitle: Night of the Long Ears

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2011 by dcairns

“This is the most boring film about giant killer rabbits I’ve ever seen!” cried Fiona.

“And, at the same time, the most interesting,” I suggested.

“No,” she said, firmly.

NIGHT OF THE LEPUS — how did this happen? We had to watch, in search of clues. I formulated a half-baked idea that the novel it’s based on, The Year of the Angry Rabbit, must’ve been remarkably compelling, thus fooling a particularly gullible producer into thinking it’d make a good screen property. Throw in a batch of tainted cocaine and that almost seems plausible. But the book is a sci-fi satire, whose author, Russell Braddon, was well aware of the comic overtones of his chosen subject. Somebody involved in LEPUS — hell, everybody involved in LEPUS — has decided to play it completely straight, an incomprehensible decision.


The whole thing’s on YouTube. There are many cherishable moments, but I like this scene — a reaction to a scene of bloody horror, stylishly underplayed by actor Paul Fix at 5:20 in. I particularly like the ever-so tiny backward glance he gives the corpse — a look of… irritation. A sort of “You again?” look. Or maybe, “I was in SCARFACE, and now this?” Still, he would appear in PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID a few years later. Don’t give up, Mr Fix!

I can’t see DeForest for Ms. Leigh.

Speaking of Peckinpah, director William F. Claxton, who came from television and went straight back there (chastened, one imagines) throws in some bright crimson blood splattering, jolts rabbits around on wires to make them look like they’ve been hit by gunshots (like Elisha Cook Jnr in SHANE) and struggles manfully with the impossible job of making normal-sized rabbits, hopping cheerfully about in slomo on model sets, interact dramatically with normal-sized people, running about on location. There’s actually one ingenious solution, a POV shot looking through a miniature truck windscreen, over a miniature truck hood, at the onrushing bunny horde. (Scenes in cars constitute the film’s main source of “camera movement.”)

The ending sees the rabbit army destroyed by an electrified railway line, in a montage of positively Vertovian frenzy. The rabbits are driven onto the tracks by an array of car headlights — we all know about rabbits and headlights, yes — recruited from a drive-in (the cartoon showing is a TOM & JERRY — obviously should’ve been BUGS BUNNY but this is an MGM release, not Warners. And William Claxton’s directing, not Joe Dante)… there’s humorous potential in all of that, plus a chance for a William Castle type address to the real drive-in audience watching, but none of that gets picked up.

To call NIGHT OF THE LEPUS a missed opportunity would be… insane. But in a funny way, it is. Claxton and his writers (one of whom seemingly never worked again) missed their chance to make a knowingly ridiculous movie, and instead made an unconsciously ridiculous movie. The rabbits probably had a better idea of what was going on.

Amazing shots of frying rabbits! It’s opticals and stuffed toys, I don’t think they actually harmed any rabbits, although I’m not making any promises. This movie was originally released in odorama so the smell of singed bunny fur… no.

It even has an intertitle.

WEIRD COINCIDENCE DEPARTMENT

So, we’re watching, then I have to take a Skype call (I actually can’t tell anymore if I’m watching this stuff for pleasure or to see Randy’s expression when he calls and I tell him what’s on) and after that I check my email and a correspondent has sent me a list of DVDs for possible swapping. I notice EVERY LITTLE CROOK AND NANNY and have to look it up because although I’ve vaguely heard of it, I don’t know what it is — Lynn Redgrave comedy — I only ever heard of it via seeing it in Halliwell’s Film Guide, probably twenty years ago.

Resume movie — and on the marquee of the drive-in, the one the rabbit pack is rampaging towards, what do you think the main feature presentation is?

Up until this point, I had thought the strangest thing about the film was, you know, its subject.

Warren peace. 

David E writes, via FaceBook: Janet Leigh was asked about it once and she said “Well when I read the script it SOUNDED horrifying.” She wasn’t entirely wrong.

Night of the Lepus

Haynes’ Pandemonium Carnival

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2008 by dcairns

he's not here 

My head is an incredible jumble! I feel like I have been melted down by the Button Moulder.

I start lecturing again tomorrow (and we’ll see how I keep this blog going once THAT happens) so I started preparing my first lecture, on Jack Clayton. I love THE INNOCENTS especially and THE PUMPKIN EATER and am pretty wild about most of the others, and I’ve never done a talk about him so it seemed like fun. I was looking at THE GREAT GATSBY (featuring the infant Absolute Beginner Patsy Kensit) again, trying to choose extracts, and I got sucked into it and suddenly realised I’d better stop and go and see I’M NOT THERE, as had been my plan for the day.

Off to the Cameo!* This is a legendary Edinburgh art-house/fleapit. My parents saw THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM along with THE SEVEN SAMURAI here (an unlikely pairing). It used to be run by a wild entrepreneur and showman called Jim Poole, who would turn the heating up for desert films, and other feats of William Castle-style Sensurround legerdemain. Yet I can’t see any obvious reason why, for this film, the auditorium was freezing cold and smelled of wee. These sensations disappeared as the film began though, returning with renewed intensity as the end credits rolled (to the sound of “Like a Rolling Stone”) and I realised I’d been in a state of sensory suspension for the whole film, absorbing only what the film’s makers delivered to me through my ears and eyes. 

I don’t feel equal to delivering any kind of useful thoughts on this film just yet, which is a Phantasmagoric Cavort through various aspects of Bob Dylan’s life and art, because a) it’s pretty complex and b) I don’t know much about Dylan and c) I have managed to amplify the rather weird state the film induced in me by way of artistic overload:

On the bus home, I had the gated drums of Siouxie and the Banshee’s Peekaboo and the lovely Charlotte Gainsbourg singing to me on my Nano, while I read a little memoir by Ralph Richardson (favourite role: Peer Gynt) and the illuminations of the Balmoral Hotel and Edinburgh Castle glowed, and I thanked my lucky stars again for living in the city where W.C. Fields first tasted whiskey.

Then home, lighting a fire and finishing off THE GREAT GATSBY, which has marvellous people and moments, even if it doesn’t entirely grip. Fitzgerald is referenced in Haynes’ film, but I thought on the whole that SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, a marvellous film made by Clayton and partially unmade by the suits at Disneycorps, is closer to Haynes’ film, which has a definite flavour of the Fellini-esque about it. EIGHT AND A HALF is the big stylistic cue for the Cate Blanchett scenes, but then this circus flavour invades the Richard Gere sequence, supplanting most traces of Peckinpah (though the presence of Kris Kristofferson as narrator provides another reminder of PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID). I guess the blend of Americana and the carnivalesque is what brought Clayton’s film to mind.

all I see are dark eyes

dusty old fairgrounds

You can probably expect more on the neglected Clayton, and hopefully some more ordered thoughts on Haynes’ film, which I kind of loved, soon. Or soon-ish.

ONE thought: Cate Blanchett has rightly had much favourable attention for her work here, but I think she has an advantage over her co-stars because drag is pretty well always interesting. Not that she isn’t remarkable. But I want to say that Marcus Carl Franklin as “Woodie Guthrie” is also a true Star — when he’s on it’s like someone pierced the celluloid and let a VERY BRIGHT LIGHT shine through.

MC Franklin

*One very nice thing about this picture house is that there’s generally one of my students or ex-students working there. This time it was Clair. Hello, if you’re reading this!

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