Archive for Reflections in a Golden Eye

Time Gentlemen Please

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2018 by dcairns

On my last day in London I went to see The Clock at the Tate Modern — Christian Marclay has created a 24hr film that’s a LOT more interesting than 24hr Psycho. It’s essentially a day-long scratch video  composed of snippets from movies of the last 120 years or so, all on the theme of time, most featuring clocks — clocks arranged in the edit so that if you enter the screening room at 11.20, as I did, you will see Susan Hayward facing execution at 11.20 in I WANT TO LIVE! (“Why is she – ?” began a small child before being hushed.)

Three minutes later I was startled to see an actor I had the pleasure of working with, Graham Crowden, speaking the time aloud in BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. He was the only I actor I’ve known personally to turn up while I was watching.

We also got PETULIA. And REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (above), which was startling as I’d just been interviewing a crew member from that one the day before. Of course HIGH NOON turned up at the appropriate time, intercut with Waring Hudsucker making a flying exit from Hudsucker Industries and various heist films. Lots of heist films all through, as people like THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN naturally need to synchronize their watches. Lots of people hurrying to catch trains, too — fitting, as I had a train to catch at 3. This is a movie you can watch without any fear of losing track of the time, which is the exact effect most other films are supposed to produce. It was quite a strange sensation: as a whole bunch of films illustrate the passage from 12:05 to 12:10, time is drawn out and it takes a while to get there, but at the same time the film is extremely diverting — What’s that one? I know that one! — and so the time seems to pass very quickly when you look back at how long you’ve been sat there. Time is simultaneously being stretched, squashed, and kept absolutely in place.

I stayed for the duration of a regular feature film, but would really like to see the whole thing so I could declare “This is where I came in!” Is that a thing? Does anybody take a seat at 9am and stay there until 9am the following morning, when the same clip starts showing? Toilet breaks would be permissible, and you could probably smuggle some modest snacks in… it would take care of my London accommodation, saving me the need to sleep on an inflatable bed that slowly thins out and lowers me to the floor by morning…

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The Sunday Intertitle: Shot Missing

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2018 by dcairns

The film within the film in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is also called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. Welles described it as a film he would never have made — it’s supposed to tell us about its fictional author, Jake Hannaford, played by John Huston, not about Welles. It represents, in other words, a Hollywood has-been’s pathetic attempts to be hip and radical and appeal to the youth audience, and emulate the art cinema of Antonioni and Bergman et al.

An OTHELLO image.

Counter-arguments are available: David Bordwell remarked, reasonably enough, that the film has more in common with colour supplement photography and advertising than with arthouse imagery, though we could carry on that argument to point out that commercials started being influenced by art movies back in the sixties and so maybe a Jake Hannaford movie WOULD look like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. We know Welles didn’t care for Antonioni’s style and mood and especially pacing (“I’m not a director who like to linger on thing […] Antonioni is the king of it,”) but I don’t think TOSOTW2 is meant as a straight pastiche of Antonionionioni. It could hardly justify the amount of screen time given it in TOSOTW1. Welles seemingly wanted it to be half the movie, according to Jonathan Rosenbaum, but it’s a lot less than that in the Netflix cut.

In spite of the attempts to frame the movie within as a Jake Hannaford film or a sub-Antonioni film, it’s also very much a Welles film. While the framing film has qualities in common with the patchwork style of F FOR FAKE, the inner movie practically quotes THE TRIAL, LADY FROM SHANGHAI and others. It’s full of trick reflections, forced perspective tricks (characters at different distances walking along the same horizon line) and extreme close-ups. If the film parodies arthouse imitations, it’s more in the cack-handed symbolism (giant phalluses destroyed by scissor attack) and the sheer EMPTINESS.

Welles and reflections: LADY FROM SHANGHAI comes to mind, but he was playing with multiple and overlaid images from KANE on.

Welles seems to have nailed the kind of cargo-cult art film gaining a toehold in Hollywood. You might compare TOOTW2 to the movie within a movie that begins STARDUST MEMORIES, which is also a kind of pastiche: the kind of film Woody Allen’s character, Sandy Bates, would make. Depressing, earnest, wearing its influences on its sleeve, aspiring to Bergman and Fellini but not quite making it. But if TOSOTW2 were a real film without a framing narrative to protect us from it, it might be Dennis Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE (and how apt that Hopper appears here), but also Roger Corman’s THE TRIP (thanks to Noel Vera for pointing this resemblance out) with which it shares four cast members, including Hopper again but also Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg and little Angelo Rossitto, enjoying the wildest party he’s been to since FREAKS. But also Christian Marquand’s gloriously pointless CANDY (1968) which also featured John Huston, and especially CAN HEIRONYMOUS MERKIN EVER FORGET MERCY HUMPPE AND FIND TRUE HAPPINESS? (1969), a truly boggling vanity project from Anthony Newley which shared with the Welles a rare late-career appearance by comedian George Jessel (as “the Presence”).

Oja Kodar and train stations: Welles met her on THE TRIAL, then filmed her on a train for F FOR FAKE.

The movie might also be a rather mean mockery of John Huston’s occasional forays into artiness, but here it seems wide of the mark in a way that suggests Welles wasn’t trying to score a direct hit on his star. Huston did make one, beautiful and arguably empty Euro-art film, A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH, which is far better than its terrible reputation suggests, but usually when he tried to be stridently “cinematic”, it took the form of photographic experiments like the aureate tinge of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE or the tinted flashbacks of WISE BLOOD. Though the late career of Huston certainly features some commercial hackwork (ANNIE, PHOBIA) his actual attempts at making good films add up to a remarkably dignified body of work. It’s arguably in his acting roles that he was guilty of trying too hard to be with it (CANDY, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, DE SADE, and on the plus side, CHINATOWN) but he always claimed not to take his acting career remotely seriously, so this might just be a case of him saying “Yes” to anything offered, and ignoring John Carradine’s sound career advice to his sons: “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing.”

A frame not in the Netflix cut.

Thanks to the late, much-missed Paul Clipson I was able to see extended versions of Welles’ cut of Oja Kodar wandering around Century City, and running about nude on a movie backlot in a lot of noir stripey shadows, and can confirm that those scenes sustain the attention effortlessly. And the psychedelic club with the ultrawhite toilet full of orgiastic activity is a stunning set-piece, as is the nocturnal car sex scene and the crazy desert bit. Would longer versions have worked in the context of the movie, interrupting the slender narrative of the party sequence with dreamy, plotless interludes? Maybe it would be useful to get Mel Brooks in to pontificate over them, as in THE CRITIC?

As with every posthumous Welles release or discovery, I find myself wanting multiple versions, the way we have several TOUCH OF EVILS, OTHELLOS, ARKADINS. If anyone could ever be said to (a) be large and (b) contain multitudes, surely it was Welles.

Viz Liz

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2011 by dcairns

I have a consciously erratic approach to obituary notices at Shadowplay, posting on rare occasions when I feel I have something unique to say, or when I simply feel moved to say something less than unique. I didn’t feel I had anything significant to contribute to the Liz Taylor encomia, which doesn’t mean I wasn’t very sorry to see the Great Lady go. But regular Shadowplayer David Wingrove, who writes as David Melville, did, so here it is ~

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – Elizabeth RIP

As all the world knows by now, Elizabeth Taylor – or, to give her full title, Dame Elizabeth Rosamund Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky – died in Los Angeles on Wednesday, 23 March. It had been almost 25 years since she starred in a major motion picture. No film of hers had enjoyed even a moderate critical or box-office success for two decades before that. Yet at the time of her death, La Liz was still arguably the biggest movie star in the world.

That may sound like a paradox, but only till you check out the competition. What woman on today’s radar has even a fraction of her power as a glamour icon, as a sex symbol, as a dramatic actress? Cher? A housewife! Madonna? A schoolgirl! Meryl Streep? A lightweight! On the younger Hollywood A-list, Angelina Jolie has maybe an inkling. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, are icons in the parallel worlds of fashion and politics – but, crucially, never in film. In Asia, where stars are still indisputably stars, actresses like Gong Li and Maggie Cheung electrify the screen with the flicker of an eyelash. But for all their splendour, they inhabit a world that is not wholly our own.

Elizabeth Taylor was more than a film star. At once coarse and regal, earthy and ethereal, human and divine, she was the Great Democratic Goddess of the Modern Age. A sublimely mythical being that only Hollywood could produce. Born in London to American parents in 1932 – and proudly holding British nationality until her death – she landed up in Hollywood as a ten-year-old refugee from World War II. It was MGM that discovered her. An eerily beautiful raven-haired child, with the face of a grown woman.

Not just the face, but also the full-on sensual allure. Her first star vehicle, National Velvet (1945) is profoundly disturbing for viewers today. A ‘heart-warming’ tale of a girl and her horse, it is transformed – through Taylor’s unwittingly erotic presence – into a study of sexual awakening. No contemporary film would dare to show a 12-year-old girl in bed, fantasising about ‘riding’ her horse and ecstatically crying out his name. We are no longer innocent (or corrupt) enough for that.

In the ingenue years that followed, Taylor blossomed in a string of largely mediocre films – an extraordinary beauty but a far-too-ordinary actress. (She also clocked up her first two marriages, to hotel chain heir Nicky Hilton and actor Michael Wilding.) A Place in the Sun (1951) cast her as a spoiled rich girl, stealing Montgomery Clift away from his working-class sweetheart. Our outrage is tempered by the fact that she and Clift are easily the two most gorgeous beings on Planet Earth. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) gave her an eerily prophetic role as a fictionalised Zelda Fitzgerald. A warm, intelligent and compassionate woman, driven to breakdown by her hard-drinking party lifestyle.

Her great years began with Giant (1956), in which Taylor (who was still only 23 years old) aged from a blushing bride to a venerable, silver-haired matriarch in a Texas oil dynasty. She it was – far more than her co-stars, Rock Hudson and James Dean – who held this vast and contradictory epic together. (It is, like The Godfather (1972), both a critique and a celebration of the American Dream.) Next came her most exquisite performance, as a doomed and decadent Southern belle in the underrated Civil War epic Raintree County (1957).

Nominated for an Oscar (and, scandalously, losing out to Joanne Woodward), Liz must have felt that Tennessee Williams was the next logical step. She was blazingly erotic, and coolly ruthless, as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). As a mental patient in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), she guided a shocked (or bewildered) audience through a climax that still ranks among the most terrifying in film history – the ritualised, cannibalistic murder of her homosexual cousin at a Spanish resort. She also pulled off the awesome feat of acting co-star Katharine Hepburn off the screen.

Meanwhile, she had married producer and wheeler-dealer Mike Todd, only to be left a widow when he crashed in his private plane. (Its name was, ironically, the Lucky Liz.) She then took up with singer Eddie Fisher, the husband of all-American sweetheart Debbie Reynolds. MGM’s ungallant response was to cast her as an out-and-out slut in Butterfield 8 (1960). Her role as a high-class call girl was one that Taylor hated, in a film she claimed never to have seen. But it finally won her that Oscar – not least because, on Oscar night, she was languishing in hospital with near-fatal pneumonia.

Her transformation from Actress to Myth came in a single movie, Cleopatra (1963). Gaudy, ponderous, overwritten and at least an hour too long, this saga of the doomed Queen of Egypt is still fabulous entertainment. Gowned in her robes of solid gold (courtesy of Irene Sharaff) Liz sits enthroned atop a pyramid as it trundles through the streets of Ancient Rome. When the parade stops, she rises and descends slowly from on high. Majestic in her bearing, resplendent in her jewels, she is the very essence of Hollywood royalty. Suddenly, she pauses in radiant close-up – and winks slyly, mischievously, at us, the audience.

For one magical moment, Hollywood’s greatest diva might be a small-town girl sitting rapt in front row centre, munching on her popcorn and enjoying the show. And enjoy it Taylor most certainly did. Falling in love with her co-star Richard Burton, she married (and divorced) him twice. Their off-screen antics – boozing and brawling, champagne by the gallon and diamonds by the gross – were reflected in the more successful films they made together. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) won Liz a second Oscar; The Taming of the Shrew (1967) was probably her last major hit.

Alas, so loud and garish did their jet-setting freak-show become, it soon began to upstage the films themselves. Seated on the Burton-Taylor yacht Kalizma, left-wing director Joseph Losey gaped in horror as Liz fed caviar to her poodles off plates of solid gold. As Liz remarked to one journalist: “I know I’m vulgar. But come on, be honest. Wouldn’t you be disappointed if I wasn’t?”

Still, it is a mistake to dismiss her later years as a sell-out to gross commercialism and artistic decline. Films like Reflections in Golden Eye (1967) and Boom! (1968) and Secret Ceremony (1968) and X, Y and Zee (1971) and The Driver’s Seat (1973) were all flawed but vastly ambitious projects, exploring sexual and psychological taboos with a boldness markedly ahead of their time. In each of these films, Taylor’s on-screen command is total, while her commitment off-screen was instrumental in getting them made.

It was weight, booze, pills and all-round ill-health that finally got the better of Liz. Not to mention two more disastrous marriages – to Republican senator John Warner, whose politics clashed wildly with her own liberal views, and to construction worker Larry Fortensky, whom she met in rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic. Yet she still looked stunning in the little-seen Young Toscanini (1988) as a Russian opera diva fighting to free the slaves of Brazil. Eager to work, she was written off as ‘uninsurable’ by an industry she had once made so rich.

Not that Liz ever had time for regrets. Much of her last 25 years was devoted to AIDS, the epidemic that claimed the life of her friend Rock Hudson. Speaking out about AIDS at a time when no other public figure was willing to do so, she helped to change it from a quasi-medieval plague to a modern-day illness demanding research and treatment, compassion and care. It is possible that thousands, perhaps millions, around the world owe their lives to her courage. She herself lived long enough to champion gay marriage, oppose the Iraq War and stay fiercely loyal to her friend Michael Jackson. Unlike so many in the movies, Elizabeth Taylor seemed to know instinctively that life was the greatest show of all.

David Melville