Archive for Peckinpah

On second thoughts, leave it on his shoulders.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 30, 2008 by dcairns


Alfredo Garcia rears his ugly head in HAUT BAS FRAGILE.

I started watching a not-entirely-perfect DVD of Jaques Rivette’s 1995 musical-mystery HAUT BAS FRAGILE, and noticed a strange effect. At various points the action would sllloooow doooowwwnn, then abruptlyspeedupagain, as if it had fallen behind and needed to catch up. My first two theories were that (1) the film had been shot on elastic instead of celluloid or (2) Rivette had been possessed by the wandering shade of Zak Snyder.

Then I decided the disc had come from a faulty original of some kind, and while the soundtrack seemed to run at a consistent speed, the picture would periodically lose synch and then snap back into place. It’s not a phenomenon I’ve ever observed before.

Rivette — always the innovator.

Doing my best to ignore the abrupt decelerations and accelerations of the cast, I was then surprised and delighted to find a character called Alfredo Garcia, in tribute to Peckinpah, the master of slomo. It seemed like fate was at work. Then, to my further delight and under the influence of M. Garcia, the plot dovetailed briefly into Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club. Since I’ve nothing better to do (apart from nod to the presence of screen goddess Anna Karina in this elegant and unusual movie), I’ll quote you my favourite bit from the book ~

“You say truly that you are in the dark,” remarked Mr. Malthus with more animation. “Why, my dear sir, this club is the temple of intoxication. If my enfeebled health could support the excitement more often, you may depend upon it I should be more often here. It requires all the sense of duty engendered by a long habit of ill health and careful regimen to keep me from excess in this, which is, I may say, my dissipation. I have tried them all, sir,” he went on, laying his hand on Geraldine’s arm, “all without exception, and I declare to you, upon my honour, there is not one of them that has not been grossly and untruthfully over-rated. People trifle with love. Now, I deny that love is a strong passion. Fear is the strong passion; it is with fear that you must trifle, if you wish to taste the intensest joys of living. Envy me — envy me, sir,” he added with a chuckle. “I am a coward.”


Digital camera goes wonky in presence of wonky DVD playing on TV.

Charlton Heston, actor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2008 by dcairns

Fiona came into the room early in the morning and told me that some famous Hollywood person had died.

Then she came into the room and told me that Charlton Heston had died and I realised the earlier incident was a dream. I’ve never had deja vu like that before. Weird.

Then, as Edinburgh was briefly swamped by snowflakes the size of nachos, I began to think I must commemorate the great Chuck’s passing.

My first, dark thought, was that Heston’s Altzheimer’s had in some way, tragic though it was, aided his reputation. At least with me — I no longer thought of him as a wingnut and a gun-nut, but as a victim of an illness. Reagan’s senility never affected me that way. In some way I always wanted to like Heston. I know his illness had nothing to do with his arch-Republican stance, which preceded it by decades, but in some unreasonable way the illness erased my image of Heston as spokesman for opinions I loathe. It helps that, despite his right-wing views he was a supporter of the civil rights movement and an eager collaborator with the liberal Orson Welles and the politically somewhat complex Peckinpah.

I thought of my favourite Heston performance, in Wyler’s THE BIG COUNTRY. Heston can really play arrogance and aggression. In the same director’s BEN-HUR he’s stuck with trying to play nobility, which can’t be acted at all, only embodied by the right actor in the right role. The impossible task turns Chuck in on himself and, always prone to self-consciousness, he becomes stiff and monumental (I still can’t picture anybody else in the role though).

Wyler pulled one of his nasty tricks in a scene where Heston struggles with Carroll Baker. Heston traps both her tiny wrists in one of his great bone-sculpture hands and she tries to pull away. WW privately instructed her to break free of Heston’s grasp, while taking Heston aside and telling him to on no account allow Baker to get away. After a couple of takes, her wrists were red-raw, and there’s a real tremor in Heston’s voice as he struggle with her — he’s not a happy actor, but it works for the character. It’s a rare moment of seeing a human being instead of an icon. It makes me like Heston that playing this scene upset him so much — but he also respected Wyler for getting the effect.

Oh, and I love his last scene in Lester’s THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, where he dismisses Michael York’s D’Artagnan with a little wave of his hand. One doesn’t normally think of Chuck as a WITTY actor, but he respected Richard Lester and maybe the gesture was scripted or suggested. Anyhow, he does it beautifully.

Go away, you small boys

A flick of the wrist.

I want to be alone.

“Charlton Heston” by Stump, from the album A Fierce Pancake.

The pyramids were in construction,
The pharoah glowed with satisfaction,
But then to his immense surprise,
His empire fell before his eyes.
A hundred thousand busy slaves,
Downed their tools and stood and stared.

The Red Sea walls stood like a canyon,
The pharoah pulled up in his wagon,
And saw within those walls of glass,
A herd of whales go racing past.
A hundred thousand fishy tales,
Crossed his mind about the day.

Then Charlton Heston put his vest on.

The broken tablets had been mended,
The golden calf had been up-ended,
And old folk sitting round the fire,
Would talk of voices from the sky;
Babies sailing down the Nile;
The recipe for locust pie;
A hundred thousand frogs per mile —
We’d always ask them to describe,

How Charlton Heston put his vest on.

Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal;
Shalt not commit adultery.
Boils the size of fifty pee,
Lights! Camel! Action!

Bushes that refuse to burn.
See these sandals hardly worn.
Raining blood, raining bread,
The night we painted Egypt red.
Thou shalt not covet; shalt not lie;
Thou shalt not bonk your neighbour’s wife.
The recipe for egg fried lice;
A hundred ways to kill a fly;
Love your daddy, love your mummy;
Put your bread in milk and honey.
Loved his fish, he did, he did,
Never beat the wife and kids.
Slouch though desert, slouch through sand,
Until we reach the promised land.
Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal;
Shalt not commit adultery.
Boils the size of fifty pee.
Lights! Camel! Action!

The Williams Boy

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2008 by dcairns

 Robin Williams Syndrome

Lots of people have been reading the post “Roddy, Prince of Darkness,” apparently looking for information on Williams Syndrome. I feel kind of bad about this, because that post was just me venting some stress after our slightly horrific Christmas experience with my partner’s brother, an adult with this non-inheritable genetic condition. I also didn’t want to have to explain the story to everybody who asked “How was your Christmas?” so being able to say “Read the full story here,” seemed a good solution.

Bad Xmas

But that particular tale is maybe not going to be that amusing for anyone with a Williams kid looking for insight and encouragement and hope, so now that the trauma has faded a bit I thought I’d try to write something more upbeat.

Fiona just got back from an emergency meeting called to try and tackle Roddy’s weight problem and phobias, and they seem to have put together a sensible plan, which involves Roddy going out to buy food with one of his care-workers every day. This provides a little exercise and fresh air, hopefully controls the amount of food brought into the house, and allows Roddy to get used to spending time outside, so his anxiety about falling over will be reduced. We’ve seen how his ability to handle stairs improves markedly within just a few days if he’s staying with us, so it could be that this new regime will produce positive results quickly.

So things are a bit better than they were. Like many people with learning difficulties, and many without, Roddy isn’t the most disciplined character, so he really needs encouragement to do what’s best under these circumstances. His natural instinct would be to glue his ass to the couch and hook three litres of full-fat milk to an I.V. So there’s a balance to be struck between treating him as the adult he is, and making sure he takes care of himself. I don’t know quite where one should draw the line, myself.

tummy trouble

But, MY MESSAGE OF HOPE: Williams Syndrome is a complex thing, and the way it manifests itself seems to vary. People with W.S. may share certain passions, phobias, skills, but they’re full of surprises. They are people just like anybody else. Part of the condition seems to often involve an outgoing, sociable nature (even when he’s trying his best not to leave the house, Roddy is chatty and charming with anybody who comes IN), so my advice would be to enjoy the person, appreciate them for the good company they are, and gently steer them to make the best of themselves (Williams folks may need to be encouraged not to hog the conversation or to interrupt others with their own little obsessions, but it’s fairly easy for them to learn this).

A Williams person will grow into adulthood, while retaining certain childhood traits. It’s unlikely they’ll “grow out of” their childhood enthusiasms (in this, they resemble a lot of film-makers). One of Roddy’s school report cards details an incident when he went missing, and was found in a field, looking at a tractor — his love of heavy machinery is as strong today. But he’s a grown man, even if some of his emotions are childlike (maybe ALL emotions are, and it’s just experience that allows us to focus them in “adult” ways?), and his literacy level is well below his verbal functioning.

The rules of thumb with Roddy is that he can do a lot of things for himself, but he needs a bit of supervision. It’s good to encourage him to widen his abilities and do all he can do, as long as you keep an eye on him. Once he’s learned the right way to do something, he’ll need a refresher course once in a while because he’ll let things slide, whether it’s personal hygiene or tucking his shirt in or getting a reasonable amount of exercise.


Williams people don’t score too well at reading others, which makes them terrible liars. Roddy will try to avoid trouble by the tried and true method of DENY-DENY-DENY, but he’s not good at judging whether his account is at all credible. “Somebody’s spilled Coke,” he explained, when I came in the door one time. A bottle of cola, previously sealed, was now open. Some was splashed on the floor. The front of Roddy’s jumper was wet. He likes Coca Cola to an excessive degree. He was alone in the house.

“Was it you?” I asked.



It’s uncertain what Roddy’s future will be: he’s overweight and he has a dodgy heart, and there are other complications which can beset Williams sufferers. There has already been a bit of a drop-off in his functioning. But he’s still happy, he enjoys what he sees as a good quality of life. How anybody else might judge it doesn’t matter to him, and why should it? He’s made it to his late forties. He’s held down a part-time job for some of that time, and the U.K. system of “care in the community”, which has had some terrible failures when looking after the mentally ill, has been pretty successful with people with learning difficulties. Roddy enjoys a degree of independence that his parents would probably never have believed possible.

smelling the grass

Since this is supposedly a movie blog, a quick word about mental handicap in cinema: this is one of those things that movies nearly always get wrong. Lars Von Trier, in THE KINGDOM and to some extent THE IDIOTS, seems to believe people with Downs Syndrome are “gifted with innocence,” or are “holy fools,” a belief system that went out of style around 1500 AD. Sam Peckinpah carries on the “village idiot” approach with David Warner’s character in STRAW DOGS, whose “simple-mindedness” is all plot device and no diagnosis. Jaco Van Dormael’s THE EIGHTH DAY, much-praised for its “sensitivity,” is in fact a sinisterly sentimental tissue of lies with a eugenically-inspired ending where the Downs character thoughtfully takes himself out of the gene pool by rooftop suicide, and everybody sings a sweet song. It’s not “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead,” but it might as well be. The filmmaker, who has a sibling with Downs, is obviously struggling with some hostile feelings he is completely unable to analyse, and so they wind up expressed in a false and offensive way. Which makes the film a failure as a piece of art.

I think it’s pretty bad when the best handling of the subject comes from the Farelly Brothers, who at least recognise people will all kinds of handicaps as PEOPLE, and therefore suitable material for comedy — I don’t think they’re poking fun, they’re just having fun. But their decision to cast a “regular” actor as Mary’s learning-disabled brother in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY may one day look like the casting of blackface whites in earlier Hollywood films, since THE EIGHTH DAY did at least show that people with chromosomal disorders can still be good actors.