Archive for Pino Donaggio

They Go Boom #2

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2018 by dcairns

The second film in our accidental Vilmos Zsigmond/Nancy Allen double feature, theone actually shot by Vilmos, was, of course, Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT, which is one of his NON-Hitchcockian thrillers. It meshes BLOW UP and THE CONVERSATION, Chappaquiddick and the JFK assassination, a few good ideas and some great execution with a lot of stupid ideas and a little stupid execution… as a political thriller it’s missed the bus to Pakulaville, but it does sport a charming and unaffected performance from John Travolta. I like some of his affected perfs too (American Crime Story!) but it’s interesting to see him looking and sounding human. He does have one terrible bit though…

We open with a film-within-a-film —  a slasher movie which we’re meant to find cheesy, yet De Palma can’t resist serving up long, bravura steadicam shots which kind of confuse the issue — parody cheese or real cheese? Also, this is the only bit where Pino Donaggio’s score works at all — it’s a kind of imitation Morricone/Goblin sound, again making the exploitation nonsense seem more distinguished than we’re meant to find it. From here on, EVERY TIME Donaggio crashes the soundtrack, it’s ruinous. I love love love his DON’T LOOK NOW music, but everything he did for BDP is noxious, especially the PSYCHO strings in CARRIE. Come to think of it, CASUALTIES OF WAR is a defensible film until the final scene where Morricone destroys it with syrup. De Palma has great taste in composers but lousy taste in music, it seems.The bit where Travolta is recording wind sounds at night is just gorgeous — ridiculous splitscreen/diopter shots, macros closeups of recording kit, rich sound design and a stunning location. The fatal “accident” outcome of this scene — a car’s tyre explodes and it crashes into the river, drowning a political hopeful and nearly killing his girl-of-the-moment — is the least interesting thing about it, but that’s OK.

From here on in, the film is in big trouble. BDP has written a nitwit role for his wife and, credit where it’s due, Nancy Allen totally commits to playing it to the hilt. She has concussion/shock when we first meet her, but when she recovers she just gets worse. Travolta’s solicitude for her character is endearing, but inexplicable, and this is going to kill the film’s ending.De Palma hasn’t got half enough story to make a feature film, so he pads it out two ways — he inserts an irrelevant flashback of Travolta working as a sound man for the cops, and he shows his baddie, John Lithgow (yay!), killing a couple of women, once as a case of mistaken identity when stalking Allen, once to suggest the action of a serial killer so that when he eventually does kill Allen, the investigators will be confused. Obviously, killing three women is riskier than killing one or two, as Lithgow eventually learns, but we can’t ask for De Palma thrillers to make sense.

The surveillance flashback is a way for De Palma to exorcise the memory of PRINCE OF THE CITY, which he was all set to direct before for some reason getting kicked off it and replaced by Sidney Lumet. But then Lumet got kicked off SCARFACE and DePalma took over that one, so they’re even. (See also: William Goldman was pissed about Bryan Forbes redrafting his work on THE STEPFORD WIVES, but got to doctor Forbes’ script for CHAPLIN in revenge.) The only effect of this backstory is it makes the police reluctant to help, a device BDP had already used for Jennifer Salt’s journalist in SISTERS. At this point, he’s not so much recycling Hitchcock as himself.

The movie further stretches credulity by having Travolta rephotograph frame enlargements of a Zapruder-type film printed in a news magazine, which shows the “accident,” and rephotograph the pics on an animation rostrum, creating a new film which magically syncs with his sound recording (using the crashing car’s impact with the water as sync plop). None of this is technically very plausible, but it’s accomplished largely without words, and is fun to watch.In Mark Cousins’ Scene by Scene interview with Kirk Douglas, the crumbling legend is shown a scene from BDP’s THE FURY, and briefly covers his eyes. Asked about it afterwards, he says “I don’t like my face” — not, I think, an expression of modesty or self-loathing, just an honest response to his director making him look silly in slomo. Similarly, Travolta’s excellent work is marred horribly by 100fps shots of him HUFFING — puffing out his cheeks and expelling air from his lips, making them ripple like thick wet carpets being shaken. A hideous and preposterous sight at what is meant to be the movie’s emotional climax.

But, you know, there are great bits, as there usually are with De Palma.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2009 by dcairns

The sex scene in DON’T LOOK NOW is something I’ve already written about, but what the hell — there’s always more to say. It’s a sequence that rewards study. The last time I ran it I was struck by elements of explicit actor-on-actor contact I’d never noticed before — possibly because they disappeared in pan-and-scan TV and VHS versions, actually. Possibly because director Nic Roeg places them at the edge of frame to make you only subliminally register them. So the scene feels stronger than it appears to be?

But I want to address another impression that struck me, and which belatedly occurred to me to write about as I’ve been walking around with Pino Donaggio’s score playing on my old coal-burning Nano. I want to talk to you about the very weird stuff Donald Sutherland is doing.

The scene starts, really, with Julie Christie, as Donald’s lady wife, observing that he has toothpaste on his chin from his recent ablutions. “Lick it off,” commands Donald.

This is, one might think, a quirky form of loveplay, and not one we can really blame Donald for. But since Donald is genetically of Scottish blood, and co-scenarist Allan Scott is likewise, I’m tempted to blame the famed frugality of my own race.

“You’ve got toothpaste on your chin.”

“Well jings, woman! Dinnae let it go tae waste!”

We then get this odd moment, during the actual “at it” sequence (editor Anne Coates to Soderbergh on the rip-off version in OUT OF SIGHT: “They don’t seem to ever actually… go at it.”) — Donald bends one arm behind his back, as if being arrested by an invisible judo instructor. I don’t know what kind of mime training they gave him at Perth Rep, but it’s paying off in spades.

That’s one moment I was always aware of. Fiona claims that she pointed it out to me, but don’t believe her. Possibly it’s some kind of rarified tantric technique Donald picked up in the sixties. Possibly he just had an itch between the shoulder blades. But it’s IN THE FILM. It clearly means something.

STOP PRESS: It’s NOT in the film. On revisiting the sequence, I find I’ve misremembered it entirely. Donald’s arm is bending behind Julie’s back, not his own, as if he’s preparing to swivel her around on his member. Still: not quite normal.

Then we get Donald physically licking Julie’s lips. Licking his own lips would be bad enough. There’s nothing, on paper, about licking a pretty girl’s lips that’s off-putting to me. For some reason I’ve never been moved to try it, possibly because it seems somehow weird, but the principle doesn’t seem obviously worse than French kissing, for example. But now, having seen Donald do it, somehow the possibility of my ever wanting to try this diminishes rapidly. I’m ranking it somewhere below incest and coprophilia on my list of things to try. Maybe it’s the mustache.

Of course, in putting together a sequence like this, so intricately edited, many shots did not make the cut, so I was pleased to come across the genuine continuity sheets for this day’s filming, with the notes next to takes that were judged “NG” (No Good). here are a sampling, for your edification ~

Take 4. NG. Donald inserts his head between two pillows and barks like a seal.

Take 7. NG. Donald seems to become hypnotized by his own knee. Falls off bed.

Take 11. NG. Donald starts biting Julie’s hair. Julie becomes irate. Donald bites own hair.

Take 12. NG. Donald starts biting Julie’s hair again.

Take 15. NG. Donald behaving strangely. Explains that he’s trying to lick his own eye.

Take 16. NG. Donald begins playing an Ozark harp. Julie complains this is distracting.

Take 17. NG. Donald’s whistling puts Julie off.

Take 18. NG. Julie discovers Donald is wearing flippers. Urgent conference with Nic. Donald agrees to remove flippers. Asks for snorkel. Agrees to do without snorkel. Asks for perm. Nic agrees to perm.

Throughout all this, the only strange or unbecoming thing Julie does is to bite Donald. Which I’m down with, seems like only fair retaliation. But she bites him on the ball of the foot. Maybe I’m prudish, but I generally like to keep the feet as far removed from the actual sex act as possible. “I’m not knocking it,” as Donald repeatedly says in LITTLE MURDERS, it’s just not my scene. So, Julie, I’ll let you off with a warning this time: never bite a man’s ball.

A friend once corresponded with la Christie, concerning a movie. The starting point was an old chestnut about a couple having sex on a train, who offend their fellow passengers by sparking up cigarettes after performing the act. At some point the script improved from the initial idea of sexy young people offending the fuddy-duddies, to the more interesting idea of an older couple offending the stuffy kids. So Julie was approached. And sent back a very nice letter, handwritten, explaining that she did not buy into the story, because in her (apparently considerable) experience of having sex on trains, discretion had been the watchword, “even down to having my lover place his hand over my mouth to stifle my cries.”

Which is more information than was requested, yet not necessarily more than we wanted to know.