Archive for Paul Schrader

Two Deaths

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2018 by dcairns

Bernardo Bertolucci evidently hoped to make more films before getting the cancer that killed him. Nic Roeg, after writing his autobiography, had grown frail in mind and body, and would not have been able to. Still, we wish it were otherwise. The fact that Roeg was unable to make his own projects for so long is deplorable, an extraordinary tragedy to add to the more mundane fact of death. (“This isn’t the worst,” Von Stroheim is said to have lamented on his death-bed. “The worst is that they stole twenty years of my life.”)

To a friend, Roeg freely admitted to trading on his reputation with nonsense like SAMSON AND DELILAH (with Liz Hurley! On the basis that Baby Spice hadn’t been discovered yet, I suppose). He clearly wasn’t the kind of filmmaker who could be a gun-for-hire and still bring his distinctive sensibility into play. His work was cerebral, and if the underpinnings weren’t there, you couldn’t expect a gloss of Roegian affect. Bertolucci was lucky enough never to have to make a biblical epic for HBO, though he’d probably have been a better choice for the task.

I first caught a glimpse of Roeg’s work when Barry Norman, presenting Film 83 on the BBC, showed us what the programme (and he himself) had looked like when it started ten years earlier, and there, startlingly, was a clip of a sodden Donald Sutherland screaming in slow motion, holding his drowned child, a trail of droplets raining from her toe, as a slide of a church dissolved into a lurid phantasmagoria of colours. I immediately knew I had to see this film, even thought (or BECAUSE) I had no idea what the images meant.

I looked the film up in Halliwell’s Film Guide, and surprisingly, if you know Halliwell, he actually managed to capture some of the strangeness I had felt, though I think he also managed to (a) spoiler the ending and (b) render the plot garbled and meaningless in a single two-line synopsis.

   

Then there was a Guardian lecture at the NFT, broadcast by the BBC again, where we saw clips from other Roeg movies including his latest, EUREKA!, which I was able to rent on VHS a bit later. I may need to revisit it to see if I still feel that the beginning is great and the rest, progressively less great. By the time INSIGNIFICANCE came out, I think I’d caught up with the earlier films and been blown away. Even if I didn’t always enjoy or understand the experience first time round, some blowing-away always took place. I used to alternately hate and then love BAD TIMING each time I watched it, and even though half the time was no fun, I couldn’t stop watching it. On VHS!

ARIA screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival but I can’t actually recall if Roeg took to the stage for the intro. Ken Russell was there with a plastic cup impaled on the end of his golf umbrella and that rather stole all the thunder, I’m afraid.

I think the first one I was able to see on a first run at the cinema was CASTAWAY (maybe that’s worth revisiting? It was one he really wanted to make). Barry Norman previewed it, saying he’d seen a rough cut with the director sitting right behind him muttering, gloomily, “It is what it is, I suppose…”

A guy I know worked on a script for Roeg. He said a lot of the script notes were just muttering, really, but then you would get these blinding flashes of brilliant insight. And Roeg would turn up on TV interviews, muttering quite dreamily to himself, the words sometimes completely indecipherable, then snapping into sharp focus. Kind of like what my developing mind would experience when struggling through the denser passages of his films.

Another guy I know worked for years and years to get another Roeg movie made, and he was absolutely certain Roeg was still a master, powers undimmed, if only the right project could be launched. This was a kind of Jekyll & Hyde story, and when the idea of an octogenarian Roeg helming the whole thing came to seem unduly optimistic, the plan became to have one, younger director for Jekyll while Roeg handled Hyde, or maybe it was the other way around. Donald Sutherland was up for starring, and when scheduling conflicts intervened, Ruther Hauer was slotted in. But the financing never came together.

I don’t have such a clear image of when Bertolucci impinged on my mind, but Paul Schrader discussing him on The South Bank Show (ITV this time) would have brought THE CONFORMIST into my ken. I hadn’t even seen TAXI DRIVER at this point, I think, and the interview made me rent that and RAGING BULL and probably AMERICAN GIGOLO but Bertolucci had to wait until BBC2’s Film Club, I think, screened THE CONFORMIST, and then there was THE LAST EMPEROR at the cinema, and LAST TANGO IN PARIS at the University Film Society (but maybe at one of the Cameo’s late-night double features first, with something unsuitable like BETTY BLUE).

Channel 4 (see how television used to play such an active role in cinephilia) showed 1900 over two nights, and I watched it with my parents, treating it as a big miniseries, and my dad summed up the weird, allegorical ending with a quite literal interpretation that turned out to be exactly what BB had in mind. I can only assume that screening was censored at least a bit, because there are SO many WTF images in there that I can’t imagine my parents lasting ten minutes. Fiona’s face nearly fell off when I ran it for her.

While the experimental arm of commercial cinema in which Roeg had been able to work — the very fag-end of British sixties cinema — sputtered out and left him to waste his time on hackwork — Bertolucci was somehow able to keep making personal films. What hurt him, I think, was the end of the arthouse cinema he’d come out of, and the end of the hope for a particular revolutionary change in society which had animated his vision. The man who made STEALING BEAUTY and BESIEGED was still talented, but I think he’d lost key elements of his relationship to the world, so that his talent didn’t know quite where to go. He gamely kept at it.

We saw him in Bologna a few years ago, in his wheelchair with the Mondrian wheels. I was going to say “I love your wheelchair” and then I realized who he was and would have added “and your work!” but he had a big guard standing over him making sure nobody interrupted his chat with the guy from Variety. So I didn’t get to have an encounter as charming as the one I heard about from a friend of a friend on the internet, who had approached him at a cafe and asked, “Those colours in THE SHELTERING SKY… was that what the desert was like, or were they created?” to which BB replied, “They were created… for you.”

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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.

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.