Archive for Paul Schrader

Phantom Ride

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , on July 4, 2018 by dcairns

  

There are reasons, beyond the eerie effect of Bernard Herrmann’s last score, why these shots in TAXI DRIVER became iconic (and much-copied).

Attaching a camera to a vehicle is an old idea, common long before purpose-built dollies existed. Do the car chases in D.W. Griffith movies count as tracking shots? Kind of.

But in all that time, I’m not aware of anyone using the car clamp to photograph details of the car itself. You film the road from the POV of the car, or maybe cheat with a lower angle to add dynamism. You film the people IN the car. But the bumper, the wing mirror, this is unheard-of. Scorsese has a real thing for unusual detail shots. He wants us to see things in a new way.

Scorsese had previously attached his camera to Harvey Keitel for the Rubber Biscuit drunk scene in MEAN STREETS. This is similar: Travis Bickle’s cab is, in a sense, an extension of him. The effect is not the natural one of a traveling shot through a city, or a view of a man in a vehicle. We’re aware of how the cab seems solid and fixed, the city transitory and fleeting. A similar effect to that created as an accidental by-product of the rear-projection in older movies, where the moving background is a film within a film, slightly diffuse compared to the solid hero and the half a car he’s driving.

THIS kind of shot is pretty common in modern cinema — the extreme shallow focus — but very rare in the seventies or earlier. Like with Travis’s autistic fascination with a glass of Alka-Seltzer, we get a dissociated, alien view of a familiar surface, stretching away like a metallic landscape seen by a myopic fly. The old idea of “making strange” used to assist the feeling of alienation.

TAXI DRIVER, in fact, is one of very few films where the montages of time passing are among the most striking and emotionally effective sequences. There’s the music and VO, of course, but also the fact that Travis’s feeling of drifting through time, unanchored by social ties, one day seeming like another, is a big part of what the film deals with, and montages are ideally suited to expressing this sensation. Normally, having to show time passing in between the dramatic scenes is a burden on a film, breaking up the narrative and deflating tension. Here, the glimpses of Travis’s hacking life, “drifting through an open sewer in a metal coffin,” as Paul Schrader once put it, give you the strongest feeling that all this is indeed heading somewhere. Somewhere worrying.

Advertisements

Harvey

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on October 12, 2017 by dcairns

But you should see the one in his attic.

And now for a nice post about an invisible rabbit.

No.

Can I add anything to the current controversy about Harvey Weinstein? Nothing personal. I greeted him when he was at the Edinburgh Film Festival one time, because I sort of wanted to see if he would be minimally polite (he was fine) and if I could sort of face him. (I’d read Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures so I had a faint idea of how monstrous he might be, but only in relation to films and directors.) But Fiona felt I should just have avoided him and she was right.

Charlize Theron, speaking in Edinburgh: “I think it [the casting couch] probably does exist. But there’s a way of walking into a room that say, ‘Well, maybe…’ Whereas when I walk into a room, it’s like ‘Ain’t no fuckin’ way.'” Theron is a tough cookie. And I don’t think she’s blaming those who aren’t as self-reliant. As someone who’s been bullied, I know the importance of the first concession. If you agree to meet Harvey in his hotel room, he’s got you. But the awful thing is, standing up to a bully doesn’t work if you’ve been assessed as bully-able. The unbully-able never understand this.

I’m curious as to when we’ll hear anything about this from Robert Rodriguez. Tarantino has been notably silent too, of course, and he’s a considerably more interesting or anyhow provocative filmmaker than Rodriguez, but RR is much more closely connected to this story — wasn’t Rose McGowan his partner when whatever happened happened? (And we basically all think we know what happened.) He has continued to work with Weinstein up until right about now. I find that seriously hard to understand, even in an environment like the movie business. I found Kevin Smith’s reaction plausibly sober and dignified, but silence from Rodriguez baffles me. If he’s in any way able to distance himself, you’d think he’d be doing it, loudly and on social media.

Nothing wrong with what Damon & Affleck said, except that Rose McGowan tells us that Affleck DID know all about Harvey’s depredations.

On the other hand, one rather wishes Paul Schrader had stayed away from the discussion. His comment that Weinstein’s being a “sexual gangster” offended him less than the producer’s tampering with films by Bertolucci and Wong Kar-Wei could certainly have used an edit. I guess, cutting him the maximum possible amount of slack, we could say that Weinstein’s entire raison d’être was his handling of films, so the fact that he handled them in a violent and destructive way, treating them much as he treated aspiring actresses, means that he’s not only a horrible human being, but the kind of producer who makes films worse. So that he shouldn’t have even been in a position to exploit women. We shouldn’t have ever had to hear about him.

But still, I would hope nobody would seriously argue that recutting a film is worse than raping somebody, and Schrader ought to be able to express himself better. He’s stunningly articulate. One reason people are piling on him is that he doesn’t have stupidity as an alibi, and when you’re smart and fail to be sensitive about a particular subject, it makes it look like you don’t care about that subject.

It was widely believed that Weinstein leaked Roman Polanski’s court records to try to stop THE PIANIST winning at the Oscars. That would seem to tie in with my theory that we all tend to attack others for our own faults. Weinstein, an assailant of women, points at Polanski. All these stories about Weinstein calling women “fat” (Haley Atwell, ffs)… The guy must hate himself, somewhere deep down. Continuing to kick him in print is almost beside the point, though if he can be successfully prosecuted that would be a fine thing. And let’s keep him out of movies. He’s crippled the careers of talented people, I don’t think anybody should feel he deserves a second (more like a thousandth) chance. An investigation into the DA who dropped the prosecution over that HORRIFYING tape would be good too.

But more than anything I want to praise the courageous women who first spoke out. It’s not easy to imagine how daunting that must have been.

And I imagine there are a lot of nervous execs in Hollywood and New York right now. Louise Brooks said that the movies came about because a bunch of wealthy businessmen thought it would be a marvelous idea to own beautiful young women. Women like Olivia De Havilland pushed back against that ownership, the studio contract system. It would be nice to see the whole power structure finally collapse.

STOP PRESS

Aaaaand Twitter suspends Rose McGowan’s account for speakingn out against rape. I think we should boycott Twitter for 24 hrs or until she’s reinstated.

Untold/Unheard

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2013 by dcairns

untold

The only downside of coming to America for ten days is that I’ve had to leave behind Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick’s book The Untold History of the United States. Not because they’d impound me on crossing the border, though that seems conceivable, but because it’s a mammoth doorstop of a thing, if mammoths can be said to have doorstops (paleontologists are divided on the subject).

I’m highly skeptical of Stone as a filmmaker. His screenwriting produced three films accused of racism — MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (Turks); YEAR OF THE DRAGON (Chinese-Americans); SCARFACE (Cubans); it’s possible CONAN THE BARBARIAN was picketed by a few outraged Cimmerians. Of course screenwriters can’t be accused of responsibility for anything in their movies because they have no authority about what goes in ’em. Robin Wood accused Paul Schrader of fascism based on his extensive writing output but I don’t think anything he’s directed really supports that, though Wood made a case for AMERICAN GIGOLO’s homophobic tendencies.)

Shadowplayer David WIngrove is an admirer of SEIZURE, but I’ve only seen the preposterous THE HAND from this period (come to think of it, the Michael Caine character who is so outraged that his barbarian cartoons are being rewritten after his hand is implausibly knocked off by a truck [true!] must be channeling Stone’s rage at getting rewritten by John Milius on CONAN — though he managed to get his response into cinemas a year ahead of Milius’s stimulus).

Then I thought SALVADOR was terrific and highly relevant, but was underwhelmed by PLATOON and since then have only sort-of liked anything from Stone. NATURAL BORN KILLERS has a compelling audio-visual style but is one of the more morally repellent films I’ve seen: though John Grisham’s attempted lawsuit against it was moronic, Stone’s film seems to invite such a reaction.

But I got stuck into Stone’s new book on the recommendation of (clunk of name-drop) Richard Lester, who had seen the TV series and pronounced it “brilliant” a word he does not use lightly (well, he never applied it to me). “I don’t know how he hasn’t been arrested for it.” The good news for non-Stone fans is that probably co-author Kuznick can be credited with the blinding insights, with Stone in charge of presenting them clearly in a way that works for an audience who may know only a little, or else quite a lot of misinformation, about the subject.

I’ve still to check out the TV show — only way seems to be to buy it so I’m waiting for payday — but I’m now fascinated to see what Stone does with it visually. The basic gist of the thing, chapter by chapter, is to present a contrary view to how large chunks of modern US history are understood. This is less the case in (skipping ahead) chapters about the last two presidents, but it’s certainly the case where the authors revisit world war two and the start of the cold war, a part of the book which presents Henry A. Wallace, a largely forgotten vice president, as the hero who could have changed the course of history for the better if democracy had been allowed to triumph over vested interests.

The book is at times heart-breaking, because we’re told that Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and then the cold war, were not in fact necessary. To give you just a small sense of the book, I want to talk about the bomb — because this chapter has haunted me since I read it.

I’d always swallowed the terms of the argument, if not the argument itself, you see. There’s something very compelling about the moral conundrum we’re told faced Truman: invade Japan and face severe casualties from US troops, or drop the bomb and cause many civilian casualties. The obscenity of war means a commander-in-chief is forced to weigh up the lives of friendly combatants versus enemy civilians, and how are you supposed to calculate that.

But this whole argument is academic and irrelevant here because that’s not what happened. George W.H. Bush once credited the atomic bombings with saving “millions of lives.” But the figure Truman claimed was “just” a quarter of a million. And he was lying too — he was provided with all sorts of contradictory figures (how can you be sure anyway?) but the highest was nowhere near that and the lowest was just three thousand.

But playing that game is still assuming that the choice came down to nuking or invasion. In fact, Japan was ready to surrender: they had been putting out feelers to the USSR, in hopes that Stalin could broker a more favourable peace. They were terrified that the “unconditional surrender” Roosevelt had spoken of meant they could lose their emperor. A lot of advisers were telling Truman that a clarification of the terms of surrender could have provoked an immediate favorable response.

Hiroshima did not prompt a surrender because the situation with Emperor Hirohito remained unclear. The Japanese already knew we could bombs cities out of existence since we’d done that to Tokyo, What probably prompted them to down arms was the USSR launching an invasion against them — this caught them between two super-powers, and meant they could abandon all hope of help from that direction. But before they could even respond to this attack, Nagasaki was bombed.

The argument is made, and it convinces, that America wanted to avoid the USSR making territorial gains in the East, and earning economic aid that had been promised for its participation in the war on Japan. Furthermore, General Groves, who oversaw the Manhattan project, was quite clear in his own mind that the goal of the bomb drops was not to affect Japan, but to affect the Soviet Union. The impact of using the atomic bomb would obviously far greater than the impact of merely possessing it — Japan was the USA’s last opportunity to show itself willing to annihilate a whole city with a single weapon.

If you have any more doubts about this, a direct quote from Truman may help allay them: he said that his announcement of the dropping of the bomb was the “happiest” he ever made.

Highly recommended stuff. I’ll be checking out the series.