Archive for Raging Bull

Rubber Biscuit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2018 by dcairns

Was discussing something with Anne Billson on Twitter. Those shots where either a character moves on a dolly independently of the camera —

Examples:

Belle in Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, gliding eerily down a corridor of wafting curtains.

This ghost in William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL — Cocteau maybe invented the trope and Castle maybe introduced it to Hollywood.

The implacable revenant in Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, who never makes the mistake of moving like a normal living person. She teleports from room to room like Droopy (“I do this to him all through the picture.”), sits up in bed without the use of arms, rising like a drawbridge, then finally wheels forward through a rainbow of artfully gelled lighting, arms already in position for a spot of strangling…

Kathleen Freeman as the Penguin in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Landis’s parodic use of the supernatural glide is striking because the trope was scarcely in common use at the time. It wasn’t like the trombone shot/exponential zoom in his THRILLER video, where the gimmick was maybe on its way to becoming overexposed and thus ripe for parody. The nun on wheels (at the very end of the long clip above) feels like it could have been played absolutely straight in a real horror movie.

(I like to think they intended to hire Kathleen Byron as a scary nun but asked Freeman by mistake. But I know this is not true.)

Also, those shots where the camera moves WITH the actor, as if the actor were on wheels or the camera were attached, or both. There are two variations on this (well, two main ones) ~

At the opening of SECONDS, John Frankenheimer and James Wong Howe mount their camera on an actor via some kind of rigid harness, getting a whole range of eerie effects whereby the world lurches about, a drunken handheld nightmare, while the foreground shoulder or slice of face remains rock steady.

Another example of the same thing: Scorsese fastens on to Harvey Keitel for (appropriately) a drunk scene in MEAN STREETS, to the tune of Rubber Biscuit. Scorsese has also attached his lens to a boxer’s forearm to deliver a fist’s-eye view of a punch in RAGING BULL (blink and you’ll miss it) and to Willem Dafoe’s crucifix as it’s raised in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Interestingly, mounting the camera on a car is normal film language (although this still feels unusual) but latching on to any other moving object is still a novelty.

The other variation ~

Spike Lee is the main proponent of this one — camera and actor are moving in unison, but it’s a steady tracking shot, as if the actor is standing on the same dolly the camera moves on (and he is). Lee seems to do this in every film, and, distressingly, sometimes he seems to be doing it just to prove it’s him. His signature shot.

I used this one in my short film CLARIMONDE, back in the nineties — so Lee may have been the influence. I wanted a dreamlike effect and to show a character moving without free will. We didn’t actually have a proper dolly, just a tripod with castors, so I got my lead actor, Colin McLaren, to balance his feet on the castors and grip the top of the tripod so we could wheel him across the studio floor. I still like the result.

This whole slew of techniques seems to be without a name, unless I’ve missed something. I propose calling it the Rubber Biscuit Shot, even though Scorsese didn’t invent it and Spike Lee could probably stake a better claim to ownership. I just think Rubber Biscuit Shot sounds absolutely right for the weird, dislocating effect.

Through the ceiling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 11, 2018 by dcairns

Last of my short series on moments in TAXI DRIVER.

After the big shoot-out/massacre, Travis slouches onto the couch with a gaping hole in his neck and greets the first responders by putting a blood-dripping finger to his head and miming blowing his brains out —

 

— and Scorsese retreats to directly overhead, looking down through a slit cut in the floor or the rooms above (the building was condemned, fortunately), tracking away from Travis, across the mayhem left around him, and out the door.

We get surprising and unfamiliar views of a ceiling lamp and a doorway from above. I showed this to a friend one-time who was unimpressed, feeling that since these angles are eccentrically removed from anything we ever experience in life, they were tricksy and essentially ineffective. I disagree with this demand for Fordian austerity, for the following reasons —

It’s fun to see things from unusual angles! Admittedly, “fun” might be a peculiar sensation to be experiencing in this scene of horror, but visual pleasure complicates the emotions and makes the horror sing out.

It feels like an OOBE — an Out Of Body Experience, as if Travis’s consciousness has left his body and is drifting away. Now, that’s not literally what’s happening — unless it is, and the rest of the film is a dream Travis entertains himself with after death, which isn’t likely to be anybody’s FIRST interpretation of what’s going on in those strange scenes. But the feeling of projecting out of the body remains, and seems to be the main thing motivating the camera movement, at first, anyway. It turns into an exploratory move as the scene develops, retracing Travis’s bloody path into the building.

(Fiona points out that you don’t have to be dying to have an OOBE — you can just be so dissociated it just happens. Trauma — like having a chunk blown out of your neck – cn do it. And Travis is already having trouble staying in the moment, as seen in that shot where his POV descends into a glass of Alka-Seltzer.)

You could also relate it to a Hitchcockian God’s-eye-view, a frequent Scorsese trope — these overhead views are present when Travis first gets his job, recur in the boxing ring in RAGING BULL, return in force in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and are back in unheard-of abundance in SILENCE, suggesting that they do have something to do with religious feeling, the idea of a superior, observing force, superior even to us in the audience.

Tonally, the sequence is a kind of numbed lull, a respite from the trauma even while the brain matter is still oozing down the walls. So withdrawing from the scene, which we’ve been almost subjectively involved in, makes sense. Scorsese has found the most distant way possible of filming the action in this relatively confined space.

One other thing adds a kind of resonance. In the following sequence, as the camera continues drifting about Travis’s apartment, picking up items pinned to the walls, we see a newspaper report on the shooting incident, in which an artist has mapped out the scene with an overhead view exactly like Scorsese’s tracking shot, only stationary. They could be storyboard, or production designer’s plans.

The next clipping on the wall, btw, is the obligatory Catherine & Charles Scorsese cameo, as we see a still of Marty’s parents — playing Jodie Foster’s parents — watching the news. (The IMDb cat list, “verified as complete,” doesn’t tell us who voices Foster’s dad in this scene’s narration. I don’t think it’s Mr. S.)

Debonair

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Sport, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2018 by dcairns

Slow news day. And I’m now heading into Hell, as my viewing of feature film submissions for Edinburgh Film Festival crashes into my viewing of short films as applications for Edinburgh College of Art Film & Television Department. There will be hundreds of features and hundreds of shorts. So, probably no time for watching ANYTHING apart from snatches of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and I can’t write about any of the films I see for eminently reasonable privacy reasons.

BUT — my friend Travis, an ace sound editor, got in touch the other day and mentioned a clip he was going to use in a class of sound designers. It’s his favourite bit from RAGING BULL, with the mysterious close-ups of coffee cups and a coffee cup HANDLE. Scorsese is still doing these giant detail shots in SILENCE and WOLF OF WALL STREET, where Jonah Hill spots Leo’s car and it fragments into what Werner might call ECSTATIC SNAPSHOTS. The whole sequence is such a compendium of unusual choices, maybe I can just talk about THAT today.

It’s 11 am. on Wednesday the 31st of January. Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off.We’re an hour into Scorsese’s 1980 monsterpiece. Joe Pesci as Joey La Motta slams Frank Vincent as Salvy’s head in a taxi cab door in a fit of pique. It’s a scene of high noise and chaos, the violent blows underplayed if anything in favour of the vocal panic of onlookers. Then, Scorsese and his mixing team do something very curious.

All the din fades down, while the onscreen action remains furious (though we do withdraw to a more placid, distant high angle, almost a Hitchcock God shot) and Mascagni’s Barcarolle bleeds in, wafting a discordant gentleness over the brutish proceedings. (Scorsese has talked about how the violence he saw in the streets as a kid was often accompanied by wildly contrapuntal love songs on neighbourhood radios, so that the more literal accompaniment he heard in the movies always seemed terribly mediocre.) Emotion recollected in tranquility.Then we cut to the Debonair Social Club, which should be hilarious in contrast to the preceding skull-cracking, but the music and the wideness of the shot kind of quashes the humour, deliberately. Scorsese cuts to the sign AFTER, to avoid making the joke quite coalesce. I don’t know what Travis was going to talk about in class, except that he was struck by how this rainy street scene, with a man running by to get out of the downpour, has no rain FX and no footsteps foley. Just the music, so this transitional mood overlay, which is not emotionally appropriate in any obvious way for the fight scene or the resulting negotiation we’re about to see, dominates the soundtrack and, in one very practical sense, smoothes over the gear change from one to the other.

More detail shots: the club license, framed respectably on the wall (these mob places are impossible to get into if you’re not, ahem, in the club: but I *think* maybe they filmed in a real joint. And it was slightly awkward, iirc.)  Then, as we get details of coffee-making and cups, we hear the gentle voice of “Coach” from Cheers, Nicholas Colasanto, smoothing the ruffled feathers and making nice with Pesci and the heavily bandaged Vincent, which is where the scene DOES allow some humour to break loose.

The voice is so low and reasonable and soothing, it’s the first thing that really makes sense with the music, though the circumstances still seem some considerable ironic distance from the plot of Silvano, Mascagni’s “sea-faring drama.”

That coffee-cup handle… so mysterious. How does one think of something like that. And what does it do? it makes us see an object, really SEE it, in a new way. It gives a great impression of DAINTINESS. You can sort of picture an invisible pinky sticking out as this cup is raised. Again, this could be funny, but isn’t, exactly.Cut to card-players’ hands, with a used coffee cup — is Ozu an influence here? I had been thinking Kurosawa — the bit where Mifune chooses the name Sanjuro by looking at a cornfield in YOJIMBO comes to mind — but using the idea of a coffee cup to dance from the kitchen or bar to the front of the establishment seems very like the way Ozu’s detail shots can transport us through space-time on a thread of mental connections between objects. “You don’t raise your hands,” Colasanto is saying, which is the most specific sound-picture connection we’ve had so far.

And STILL we don’t see the man talking, we just get a wider shot of the calm, stolid card-players.So, if this is what you’ve been doing, you need to keep it up, right? So now we finally go to the group this scene is about, and Colasanto’s voice has finally faded up to full volume (still soft and throaty), but instead of showing the speaker, we’re on the listeners, the patched-up Salvy and the glowering Joey, sort of trying to look like an altar boy, an amusing thing to see as Colasanto waves a hand and says, his back to us, “Now, we’ve heard everyone’s point of view…”

We only see the room in a wide shot when this part of the interview is over, which allows a sort of mental reset for the next piece of business —Finally, by now, the music has finished fading down, so slowly you don’t notice it leaving. It’s replaced by an almost totally inaudible piece of diegetic music playing somewhere, slight atmospheric creaks and clicks and fidgeting noises, the sounds of general movement in the club, but almost no except those of the principles, despite the fact that people seem like they’re probably talking in the background if you think about it realistically, and maybe the distant clank and rumble of an elevated train.

OK, it’s 11.39, time for me to get on with my day…