Archive for Pulp

The Soho Dialogues

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2021 by dcairns

Something different — Fiona and I bounce around thoughts on Edgar Wright’s LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, avoiding major spoilers — but if you want to go in clean and blind, you still might want to bookmark this for afterwards.

DC: So, we both enjoyed LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, though you loved it more than I did. It was certainly nice to see a filmmaker enjoying himself so much — several of my worries about the project proved quite unfounded. To start on a high note — I loved the dance where the two lead actresses keep substituting for one another, in a long take which uses framing and blocking rather than visible special effects to make the changes. Edgar Wright COULD have been using CGI to enhance the trick, but the beauty of it was that it wasn’t visible. Rather like the mirror tricks in our recent viewing, THE HALFWAY HOUSE. I enjoy special effects but in-camera stuff has it’s own thrill.

FW: At the end I wanted to stand up and applaud, but then I had an emotional connection to it that you didn’t. I empathised with Eloise so deeply that I was dragged in, almost unwillingly at first, into the narrative.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is such a tour de force of filmmaking. I didn’t frighten me, apart from one superb jump scare, I was just vibing on the emotions and the extremely clever steals from other movies. I struck up a conversation with a couple in their twenties who’d been seated behind us and I was really surprised when the guy admitted to being scared shitless by it. We, being old hands, had to explain that most of what we’d just witnessed was a wickedly clever homage to other films, so it was more of a hugely enjoyable box-ticking exercise for us. I really like that cinephiles and non-cinephiles can appreciate it together for different reasons.

DC: Agree that the story and dialogue do a great job of setting up the character and making us feel for her, by giving her such an implacably hostile environment, personified by the awful Jocasta. I have a slight question about why that evil woman scenario is the right way to set up a story about toxic masculinity and the patriarchy in sixties media, which seems to have been the foundation of Wright’s interest in the material. But that’s maybe one example of why it’s often best to ignore what the filmmaker says about their work. But it makes me wonder if the two writers were on the same page. There’s a tantalising story told by Wright that he had wanted to make all the sixties sequences musical numbers, and Krysty Wilson-Cairns talked him out of that. The idea being they could get more emotion in if there was dialogue, which strikes me as a failure to understand musicals. I kind of wish he’d made that version, because as stylish as the film is, that could have been truly remarkable.

FW: When you think about something like THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, you don’t have to give up emotion at the expense of the genre. I’d love to see Wright’s original conception of this movie. However, I also loved what Wilson-Cairns brought to the piece, so I feel a bit torn. I still felt like I was caught up in a maelstrom of film and being flung about hither and thither by its makers. Normally I don’t like feeling out of control, but this was just so deliciously delirious. When we got home, I started declaiming Wright as one of those rare British directors who take flamboyance to the next level. I was putting him in the same pantheon as Ken Russell, Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock. You, very wisely, pointed out that they were originals, so I came to the conclusion that Wright is more like a supremely talented magpie, exuberantly stealing ideas out of other filmmakers nests. 

Shall we talk about the ‘colour’ problem?

DC: Well, in term of the film’s colour palette there’s no problem, just a luscious blend of Bava, Argento, Clouzot’s pop-art phase and Hitchcock’s tests for the unmade KALEIDOSCOPE-FRENZY. 

In terms of race and representation, yes, we each picked up on different things. I found it strange that there are no gay characters in either the sixties section (Soho, polari, a vibrant queer culture) or the modern section (a fashion college). Homosexuality seems not to exist, even as a concept, so that Eloise never even wonders if the sympathetic John (Michael Ajao), who’s a fashion student who’s interested in her as a person, not a lust object, might be gay. There may have been something I missed, but if so it was very minor.

FW: I pointed out that I was surprised there seemed to be no people of colour in 1960s Soho, which was incomprehensible to me. Also, Eloise’s boyfriend, John (Michael Ajao) seemed almost tokenistic in his representation.

DC: That’s very weird, as you see all races even in British films of that milieu made at the time. The customers in the particular nightclubs depicted may well have been overwhelmingly white, but you have black performers in BEAT GIRL and JUNGLE STREET, and Burt Kwouk turns up on the Soho Streets in both EXPRESSO BONGO, eating fast food, and DEEP END, selling fast food. And then there’s FLAME IN THE STREETS and SAPPHIRE.

Wright’s movies have been pretty damn white — BABY DRIVER is the only one with a major Black character, but it was shot in Atlanta, where you might expect to see more than one. So, in a film that wants to cast a critical eye over the entertainment industry’s exploitation of women, is there no room for any other kind of representation? It’s great to see Ajao featured, but he has to stand in for the entirety of a multiethnic metropolis here.

FW: HA HA HA. I’ve just re-watched the trailer and they’ve put Psycho ‘stabs’ into Land Of 1000 Dances by Wilson Pickett the Walker Bros! Genius.

Shall we talk about the use of music? You seem to know more about the inspiration behind, and the making of, the film than I do, because I went in completely ‘blind.’ As we’re still writing about it, I’m really struggling not to look at other people’s reviews because I want my response to be pure and untainted. So far, I’m winning, but I’m teetering on the brink.

DC: I went in as blind as the trailer leaves you, but it was all interesting enough to make me want to read up on it. Wright has an impressive list of influences.

Since he’s adept at using music that’s quite on-the-nose, but never being clumsy in a Zemeckis way (e.g. the use of the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society in HOT FUZZ) I was waiting for a couple of songs to turn up: the Pogues’ beautiful A Rainy Night in Soho (produced by Elvis Costello) and Pulp’s Bar Italia (Soho is “where all the broken people go”) but the concentration on sixties tunes, even in the modern sections, ruled that out I guess. He’s said he liked the idea of using songs that have well-known cover versions, reintroducing the originals people might not have heard. What did you think of the use of songs and score?

FW: Oh God! She’s so adorable.

 Maybe we should talk about the performances and how great they are. And also how neither of the leads are English but they do flawless Cornish and London accents respectively.

DC: Almost nobody in this film is using their own accent: McKenzie and Rita Tushingham are being Cornish, Taylor-Joy is doing London, Matt Smith does Cockney. Only Ajao, Terrence Stamp and Pauline McGlynn are talking naturally, but you’d never know it because everyone’s so good.

FW: Anyway, back to the soundtrack. I loved it. It’s given as much importance as the visuals. The result is overwhelming, but in the best possible way. Triple threat Anya Taylor-Joy actually did cover versions for the movie.

Was just watching the Anya Taylor-Joy video and picked up ANOTHER cinematic reference. Last night, as our Halloween treat, we watched DEAD OF NIGHT. There are shots in LNIS that reminded me of Robert Hamer’s Haunted Mirror section from that movie. 

DC: Which goes back to your enjoyment of non-digital effects in LNIS. DEAD OF NIGHT and THE HALFWAY HOUSE are jam-packed with practical effects that are still incredibly impressive to this day.

FW: I guess Wright wanted to keep an element of “old-fashioned” filmmaking in his period-infused movie. There’s also superb editing going on, courtesy of Paul Machliss, who worked on Wright’s BABY DRIVER, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD and THE WORLD’S END.

I was fascinated when you told me the cinematographer was Chung-hoon Chung, who’s probably known best for OLD BOY. When the Oscar noms are handed out, expect to see his name. He’s done an absolutely spectacular job on LNIS.

Production designer Marcus Rowland, another Wright regular, also deserves a nod.

DC: One missed opportunity in the film — there’s a sequence where Matt Smith’s bad guy bites Sandie and it’s Eloise who receives the hickey, so we learn that her link to the sixties is actually physical as well as audio-visual. What happens to Sandie happens to her. But this never recurs. Which seems like a missed opportunity (1) to develop and clarify the rules of the game and (2) to add jeopardy. There is actually another scene where Eloise experiences Sandie being injured, but this time she does NOT share the injury. Inconsistent, and weaker dramatically than it would be if they’d kept that idea going. (If you die in a dream you die in real life.)

FW: Yes. They had a marvellous opportunity to enlarge on that material and inject some real jeopardy. That loose end might have been caused by two writers coming together who hadn’t worked as a unit before, but surely someone else reading it could have pointed out that are real-life consequences to the events in Eloise’s dream world. You mentioned before that they might not have been on the same page, and this certainly seems to reinforce that idea.

Inspired by this, I started thinking about what I might have done with the material as a writer, based on my own experiences. As a child, growing up in an abusive household, I had such horrifying nightmares that I would dig my nails into the palms of my hands until they drew blood to stop myself from falling asleep. I think that once Eloise discovered that these wonderful, inspirational dreams had taken a very dark turn and were actually having an effect on her own body, she would do anything to stay awake – Do what I did. Drink gallons of coffee. ANYTHING to stop it. This would cause severe sleep deprivation in the ‘real’ world. Sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations. But she wouldn’t have any control over her autonomic nervous system, so she would fall asleep anyway, in the design studio, on the underground, anywhere in fact, leaving her in a constant state of terror. She would still want to solve the mystery, but this would be balanced with her need to stay safe and not get sucked into a potentially fatal situation in the dreams.

DC: I’m very glad that Diana Rigg got a decent role at the end of her life: the oldsters in HOT FUZZ were very welcome but it looks in retrospect a bit uncomfortable to have Simon Pegg kicking them in the head, when they were all so close to the end. Rigg’s role is juicy and doesn’t have the same kind of discomfort.

What else can we say? It embraces giallo style without indulging in giallo-style misogyny. I know Farran Smith prefers to use the word “sexist” when it’s adequate, but sometimes only the M word will do. The stuff that allows the film to escape misogynist sadism is the psychological and parapsychological angle, which tries to introduce fear unrelated to physical violence. And the #MeToo theme makes it imperative that leering sexism and sadism be avoided, and it mostly is. But the giallo is also a genre of crazy plot twists, and maybe overmechanistic plots have a tendency to pull filmmakers back to stereotypes and retrograde attitudes. I’m not sure why that should be, unless we accept Daniel Riccuto’s “narrative is evil” theorem. Which might be right. Or, at least, it might be right that when a creator is trying to follow what feels like the right narrative line, they’ll be unconsciously guided by hidden prejudices. At any rate, the need to make things turn out neatly turns a film about female victimization into something about female predation. Wright and Wilson-Cairns do inject some surprising tender beats into the climax which are commendable, but it’s almost like someone trying their damnedest to subvert a genre they really love and not quite admitting whether what they want to make is an anti-giallo. And then it’s weird to do all that and then serve up a female hate-figure like Jocasta.

FW: I completely agree. It’s an admirable attempt to do something different with a traditionally misogynistic genre. At the end I wanted to stand up and cheer. I’d been picked up and carried off by a cinematic twister, just like Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ, another film about alternate realities. It’s a tornado of film, throwing you about all over the place as you descend into the eye of the storm, then depositing you in a field, miraculously unharmed. And LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is not just about alternate realities. We’ve got time travel and the supernatural in the form of Stone Tape theory. It’s an exhilarating mix. I also connected to it emotionally in a way I wasn’t expecting.  I think I said, “Whoa! What a ride!”

But that ending. Are we supposed to feel pleased about what Eloise sees in the mirror, or disturbed that the image is still there? It adds an interesting element of unease.

MY VERDICT – Flawed but brilliant.

DC: I don’t have a fixed opinion — it seems quite likely I’ll love it or hate it more next time I see it, so I’ll record an open verdict on this unusual venture. More films like it would definitely improve the national cinema’s hit-rate, even if it took a few tries.

Blue Sky Alice

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by dcairns

“Blue sky casting” is a screenwriter’s trick — you imagine anyone you like, living or dead, in a role, and that hekps you find the character’s voice. If you’re writing for Jeff Goldblum or Michael Redgrave, different things happen. What you probably shouldn’t ever do is cast the person you were thinking of — there’s an exciting tension that happens if you cast, say, Joan Cusack, in a role written with, say, Myrna Loy in mind.

It’s also a fun exercise: here’s a fantasy cast list for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. I found as i was coming up with it that it was tending to a mid-1950s feel, and naturally British. But it began when Fiona proposed Peter Lorre as the Dormouse.

It turns out I’ve been carrying in my mind various casting ideas for Alice, and they cam tumbling out and were joined by others…

It just seems crazy that Kenneth Williams never played the Mad Hatter. Put it down to typecasting — the Carry On films, though hugely popular, rendered all the actors uncastable in anything other than sitcom or sex farce. The two main productions KW would have been eligible for, Jonathan Miller’s rather wonderful TV Alice in Wonderland, and the execrable musical ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, have excellent Hatters in Peter Cook and Robert Helpmann respectively, but Williams would have knocked it out the park.

It’s kind of obvious that Jimmy Edwards, extravagantly-tached comic actor, should be the Walrus, but I think Norman Wisdom is very close to Tenniel’s drawing of the Carpenter. It’s starting to look like this production belongs in the mid-fifties to sixties.

Not for any physical resemblance, but the wide-eyed dithering innocence John le Mesurier brought to his work in Dad’s Army seems to suit the King of Hearts nicely. And he practically plays the role in Gilliam’s JABBERWOCKY.

I feel that Irene Handl deserves a crack at the Queen of Hearts — though associated with working class roles (she argued with Billy Wilder about how to play cockney dialogue), she was actually quite posh, seemingly, and derived her characterisations from her observation of her family’s maids when she was young. And she’s the most versatile and surprising and funny of actors, seriously underused. (If you were doing it later, Prunella Scales would be immense, and she’s a lot like Dodgson’s own drawings.)

I’ve always seen Lionel Jeffries as the White Knight. He has such an air of melancholy. I can never read the Knight’s verse without tears springing unbidden to my eyes. Same with Lear’s The Jumblies: “Far and few, far and few…” an incantatory lament.

Okay, granted, Roger Livesey has to be a contender too.

Charles Gray as Humpty Dumpty, because.

When I look at Tenniel’s White Rabbit, I see Edward Everett Horton, which makes it odd that Paramount cast him as the Mad Hatter in the 30s version. They should have borrowed George Arliss for the Hatter and given Horton the rabbit. Fuck Skeets Gallagher. But if we’re going for anxious British players of the 1950s, maybe Alastair Sim? Or Alec Guinness, but there you’d be opening up a can of worms. Who could he NOT play? We know he’d make a magnificent Duchess:

And that’s a role which should really be done in drag, for compassionate reasons. Peter Bull was pretty perfect in the seventies abomination. Leo McKern would be good too.

Peter Sellers is maybe the only man to have played motion picture versions of the March Hare AND the King of Hearts, and he’s another can of worms if we let him in. But in the Miller piece he does the unimaginable, improvising Lewis dialogue in character, so he should be essential. Since this would be early, chubby Sellers, maybe we should be thinking in terms of the caterpillar, a somewhat shadowy figure in the illo.

If we’re having Sellers, then Spike Milligan would be a fine Frog Footman (see YELLOWBEARD for some exemplary footmanning from SM).

Based on Tenniel, there can be no question that the White King and Queen are Thorley Walters and Joan Sims. though Handl is another possibility for the latter. The Red Queen could be Flora Robson or Patricia Hayes, but I’m going for Yootha Joyce (energy) whereas the Red King, apparently dreaming the whole thing like in INCEPTION, doesn’t ever wake up and so it seems like wasted effort to cast a celebrated thesp. Might as well be John Wayne.

Miller cast Finlay Currie as the Dodo, an impressive feat — the only human actor to LOOK like a dodo. But he’s too old, since Dodgson based this didactic fowl on himself, incorporating his stutter — Do-do-Dodgson. Trying to find an actor not aged in the 1950s, with Dodgson’s sad eyes and an impressive beak, I stop at Richard Wattis.

Cecil Parker, arch-ovine, must be the Sheep, a rarely-filmed character but one with great material. I suppose the sheep should really be female, but drag is allowed. We’re through the looking glass, here.

The Gnat also has some really good jokes, and is never presented onscreen — perhaps because Tenniel didn’t deign to draw him. Another tutelary figure — you can really tell the author is a lecturer — he could really be played by anybody from Terry-Thomas to Robert Morley. The latter is more pompous, so he’d do, but then for heaven’s sake why not Noel Coward? Or Dennis Price, who quotes Lewis with relish in Mike Hodges’ PULP?

Of course, given the period, we can have perhaps Britain’s greatest child actor in the title role, Mandy Miller (MANDY, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT), and by happy coincidence it appears she’s a fan of the author:

Randy Cook suggests Benny Hill for the Cheshire Cat. What are your thoughts? I presume that, like me, you have been carrying casting ideas for Alice around in your heads for decades.

A High Silk Hat and a Silver Caine

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2016 by dcairns

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SILVER BEARS is one of a crowd of Michael Caine movies from the seventies which, it turns out, deserve to be better known. PULP is, in my view, great, and PEEPER comes close, but is let down by a weak last act. The fact that the climax, with supreme, toe-curling unfortunateness, involves Natalie Wood fighting in a lifeboat, may explain why the film isn’t more often revived.

SILVER BEARS is just very enjoyable. Caine plays a finance expert for the mob who conceives the idea of casino owner Martin Balsam buying his own Swiss bank to store his loot in (as if Swiss banks were notoriously picky about their customers — see also THE HOLCROFT COVENANT for Caine’s continuing PR campaign on behalf of Switzerland’s financial institutions). Caine buys the bank but finds he’s been conned, then gets offered a chance to come in on a silver mine in Iraq, which is right where the Bible says there should be a silver mine…

Ivan Passer directs with deadpan modesty. CUTTER AND BONE is the US film of his with the best reputation, but I prefer BORN TO LOSE, a defiantly uningratiating movie about junkies with George Segal. Like the best US seventies stuff it has a Twilight of the Gods melancholic downfall built in — somebody was bound to make something like JAWS and STAR WARS eventually, and as soon as they did films like this were bound to stop being made. It’s a movie that has no interest in explaining to us why we should care about its lead character. It knows we don’t even care about his real-life counterparts, so what will induce us to get interested in a fictional version? Doesn’t matter. He’s a human being. We SHOULD care. A brief early appearance by DeNiro, unusually cast as a cop, also enlivens.

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SILVER BEARS is positively jolly by comparison, and it has an even more impressive cast — Caine and Balsam are supported by a host of co-stars, most of them on their last legs as box office phenomena — Cybill Shepherd, Louis Jourdan, David Warner, Stephan Audran, Tommy Smothers, plus Charles Gray, Joss Ackland and a fleeting Nigel Patrick. And Jay Leno, for God’s sake, who turns out to be a very funny actor. Maybe he just didn’t want to go on playing idiots and low-lifes.

Caine is very funny (“He’s not a fag, he’s just English,” explains Balsam), caught midway between the Adonis of the sixties and the puffy-eyed, blotchy Caine of pay cheque fame. Fiona felt Louis Jourdan stole the show, though. And David Warner looks like this ~

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A big hand for Bernard Gribble’s editing, which enhances the comedy with slow-burn reaction shots. Jourdan steals the show, but it’s one of Shepherd’s good jobs too, and Caine is very funny. There’s a great bit of exposition delivered while marching at high speed through a stately home, led by Gray (one of the stately homos of England, as Quentin Crisp would have it). Good bit with Jourdan and Audran slapping each other — a dicey moment to get laughs with, but she sells it by looking more shocked when she slaps him than when he slaps her. Her surprised face looks like the outrage alien at the end of the Star Trek end credits.

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Peter Stone, who scripted CHARADE, has some good short circuits stored up for getting out of predictable situations in unpredictable ways. When Cybill realizes Caine slept with her to get info on her husband’s bank, she only pretends to be furious for the sake of appearances, for as she immediately explains, she realizes that he did her three times in one night, which was far more than necessary to learn what he needed to know. It’s a lightweight movie but it has enough inventions like that to keep me charmed.

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