Archive for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

A Kubrick Shot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2016 by dcairns

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Quite late in ONE-EYED JACKS, directed by star Marlon Brando after Stanley Kubrick departed the project, there is an unmistakable Kubrick shot.

We follow Brando, a prisoner, and Karl Malden and Slim Pickens, his captors, into the jailhouse. The party advances towards us then turns to head screen right —

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— tracking screen right, the camera passes THROUGH a wall —

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— through various cells, following Brando and Malden and Pickens —

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— emerging at the the stairs to a tower —

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— and as the characters start to climb, the camera begins an ascent also…

Then the shot stops abruptly, cut off by a rather jagged angle change which abandons the phantasmal fluidity — having declared that prison walls can’t hold it back, the camera abruptly gives up the ghost-walk and jerks to a higher angle. Understandable, in a way — Brando is about to kick Pickens downstairs, and this is not the kind of action I, personally, would care to stage repeatedly (or at all!) at the end of a long, complicated camera move. Better make it a single, locked-ff shot and then the only thing that can go wrong is the stunt itself. With luck, you can just do it once and hope “Slim” doesn’t crash through the set wall.

What’s incredibly striking is how Kubrickian the shot is — under the influence of Ophuls, Kubrick was tracking through walls A LOT in THE KILLING, and would do so even more in LOLITA, the project he jumped ship onto immediately after his collaboration with Marlon ceased to seem tenable. (After LOLITA, Kubrick’s camera loses its power to become intangible and pass through solids — I don’t recall any instances of permeation in STRANGELOVE.)

The second striking thing — or maybe this struck me first — is that the shot is totally un-Brando-like. His filming so far ha been decent enough, elegant even, but he hasn’t shown any interest in long, fluid camera movements. Arguably he doesn’t show much interest here either, hacking into the shot as soon as he is decently able — sooner, even.

One would be tempted to assume that Kubrick filmed this sequence before his untimely departure, and maybe Brando chopped it up, contemptuously — but all accounts suggest SK left the film before photography began. What gives?

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My best guess is that maybe the set was prepared to Kubrick’s specifications — and it must have looked surreal, all those jail cells with a missing back wall — with a specific shot in mind. In filming there, Brando was certainly tied into one good angle — a long, graceful track-and-crane shot would be the only alternative to a series of choppy entrances and exits. Based on his usual approach, Brando might have preferred to put the camera at one end of the cells and have the characters approach from the far end, and perhaps the incomplete cells made this impractical.

If the whole thing is coincidence, I think it’s an interesting one, a novice filmmaker falling into the style of another director he’s just fired.

Incidentally, many versions of Kubrick’s departure have been told, most of them involving a script meeting and a bell or gong. What story did YOU hear?

Also, incidentally — Kubrick stole Slim Pickens for DR. STRANGELOVE after Peter Sellers wriggled out of playing Colonel Kong. And Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado were stolen by Sam Peckinpah, who had been fired from this project by Kubrick and Brando, when Peckinpah remade the story as 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

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