Archive for Richard Burton

Where Eagles Dare passes the Bechdel Test

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-11-28-10h54m16s233

Rather unexpectedly. One might grumble that the test is quite hard to pass — Cukor’s THE WOMEN wouldn’t pass it, I don’t think, and no men appear in that movie. But many many films would pass the opposite version of the test — LAWRENCE OF ARABIA has no women with any dialogue at all, and THE THING has no women, period, nor do the men spend their time discussing the opposite sex.

But Alastair MacLean’s thick-ear warnography, referred to as WHERE EAGLES SHIT by Joseph Losey, includes a brief, all-business discussion between Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt. Go figure. The scene is quite redundant, which is even more obvious as it’s right next to an equally unnecessary discussion between lead Aryan supermen Anton Diffring (a man who needs binoculars to look down his nose at you) and Derren Nesbitt (described by Matthew Sweet, I think it was, as looking like he’s been dipped in peroxide from head to toe). Maybe there should be a Bechdel test for Nazis. Does your WWII film feature any scene between two Nazis when they’re not talking about the British?

vlcsnap-2015-11-28-10h55m49s166

Fiona quizzed me very closely on why the hell I was watching this film. “Well, I don’t know, some people seem to like it,” I blustered. Boys of my generation saw this on TV or on re-release around the same time as STAR WARS, and like to relate to their dads via manly combat films (dads who were themselves too young to be in the war). I can’t even recall seeing it, though the cable car action rang a vague bell. But maybe I was confusing it with MOONRAKER.

Richard Burton doesn’t look TOO drunk, although he’s doubled in many longshots. Not just for the abseiling — for the walking around shots. He was together enough to coin the phrase “dynamic lassitude,” a brilliant encapsulation of co-star Clint Eastwood’s screen manner. Nobody else makes a huge impression, though Patrick Wymark and Michael Hordern are on hand for beady-eyed perspiring and mmnah-hrrumph, respectively. “Functional” would be a very kind way of describing the dialogue. There is, quite literally, no characterisation whatsoever.

vlcsnap-2015-11-28-10h56m13s156

Matte-painted castle evokes Hammer horror, augmented by the fact that Ingrid frickin’ Pitt is up there.

Lots of things blow up, though. Sometimes they blow up for no discernible reason, which is interesting and suggests an idea for a really colourful but quite abstract film in which everything blows up in every scene for no reason. INCEPTION meets THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE meets ZABRISKIE POINT. I would watch that. I do enjoy explosions, it’s the grim-faced heroes or jocular heroes who tend to walk about in front of them that give me the pip.

Gone for a Burton

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-08-18-11h17m23s202

RIP Jack Gold. In a twist of fate the protagonist of THE MEDUSA TOUCH would have mordantly approved of, the veteran director’s passing was completely drowned out by the posthumous panegyrics in praise of Uggie, the dog from THE ARTIST, whose euthanizing was announced the same day. I suspect film history will eventually balance itself and the director of THE BOFORS GUN will come to be regarded again as a more significant figure than the one-hit Jack Russell Terrier.

I was wary of approaching THE MEDUSA TOUCH as, though undeniably a piece of seventies sci-fi, I recalled it also being a piece of crap, and perhaps unsuitable viewing if I wanted to say nice things about Gold. (I met Gold, only last year, when Edinburgh Film Fest screened THE RECKONING. He was very sweet, very sharp, and seemingly in the best of health.) Fiona, on the other hand, DID deny it was science fiction (I guess because either telekinesis isn’t real, in which case it’s fantasy, or it is real, in which case it’s social realism) and at any rate its status as crap outweighed any genre attributes. She never met the lovely Mr. Gold.

BUT! I am delighted to report that the movie is a lot less crap than I remember it. It has two really weak moments that had coloured my recollections, plus another one I’d forgotten, but it also has a lot to enjoy, in a modest, unpretentious, daft way.

vlcsnap-2015-08-18-11h17m44s154

Gold co-produced the film with his editor. the great Anne V. Coates (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE ELEPHANT MAN, OUT OF SIGHT, and Gold’s THE BOFORS GUN…and, at ninety, FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY if you can believe that) and it’s an editor’s film — one of its pleasures is the way it enfolds flashbacks within flashbacks, interviews within interviews. I’m imagining Gold and Coates meticulously plotting this all out in advance. French flic on exchange in London investigates the bludgeoning of Richard Burton, prophet of doom, by talking to his shrink, Lee Remick. She introduces flashbacks in which Burton tells her he can cause disasters with the power of his mind (case in point: STAIRCASE), and he thus leads into deeper flashbacks where we see this happening.

Coates sticks to the principles of Direct Cutting which serves her so well when T.H. Lawrence blew his match out and made the sun rise in the desert. frequently she cuts to a reverse angle in mid-conversation to reveal that the person looking back is a different one from who we expected, and we’ve now shifted time zones. Gold will even pan 180º back in time without a cut. For a legendary bad movie, it’s stuffed full of intelligent and elegant film storytelling.

vlcsnap-2015-08-18-11h13m30s169Lino Ventura, ace detective.

These reminiscences lead to Bad Moment Number One, the death of young Burton’s parents, nudged off a White Cliff of Dover by a runaway jalopy. This wasn’t as terribly directed as I remembered it — in fact, it’s served up fairly convincingly. The problem may be that such a scene cannot be rendered horrifying (especially when the parents are horrible caricatures out of Roald Dahl — they might as well get trundled flat by an outsize peach). To make it dramatic, Gold gives us Staring Boy, Low Angle of Car Slipping its Brakes, POV of Car pushing in on Parents, POV of Parents Staring at Looming Car… it all feels overdone, and goofy, because it’s a silly accident, without even the dignity of a FINAL DESTINATION atrocity pile-up. I tried imagining it all played in long shot over the boy’s shoulder, but that seemed comical too, like one of those AIRPLANE comedy-business-in-background routines.

vlcsnap-2015-08-18-11h19m08s222

Meanwhile the film moves on, with Burton exterminating all and sundry with his gloomy gaze, and the cast list heaps up enjoyable hams. Michael Hordern has a great bit as seedy medium, Alan Badel is a silky lawyer, Philip Stone a bashed bishop, getting punished for his poor parenting skills in Kubrick’s films. Harry Andrews and Gordon Jackson compete with Burton and Ventura for the coveted Big Face Award. Derek Jacobi turns up to report a mysterious anecdote about Burton and a tramp which is never bloody well explained. I’m quite cross about that.

But the next really bad bit is a plane crash — the film has received a fair bit of stick for Brian Johnson’s special effects, but I’m inclined to blame Gold and Coates a bit here. the key with special effects is not just to get great material, obviously, but to exercise judicious quality control so no bad material slips in to spoil the effect. With Coates’ crosscutting, the jumbo jet striking a tower block yields some very effective pyrotechnics. But the early shots simply showing the plane flying over London are pathetic. Making the toy plane fly straight across frame from screen right to screen left is a terrible bit of staging, exposing the artifice as surely as if they’d spotlit the wires holding it up. It could be argued that, with slow seventies film stock and airspace safety regulations, they couldn’t simply film a real plane. But what does a real plane at night look like? Like a blinking tail-light! A cheaper, more convincing special effect could not be imagined.

vlcsnap-2015-08-18-11h17m56s18

Oh, and this is supposed to be Burton’s POV. He must live in a very hi-rise indeed.

I had forgotten the plane, but I vividly remembered the crumbling of Westminster Cathedral. As a boy, I laughed hysterically as a church bell bounced off a church official. Not because I was naturally evil-minded, although that is a possibility, but because I knew even then that the physics were all wrong. A bell that size wouldn’t be remotely deflected by a chap standing under it, even if he were Lino Ventura. The chap would simply fold up and the bell would continue on into the flagstones and then maybe a bit further.

It’s a real shame, because that one shot spoils a thoroughly convincing housequake, seamlessly blending location, set and miniature. Admittedly, it’s the worst kind of movie disaster, the kind you CHEER ON, rather that saying “Oh the humanity!” (as in A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and even bits of TITANIC). We were sincerely regretful that Harry Andrews managed to stop the Queen entering the Abbey in time to get a bell dropped on her. This nihilistic glee is made OK by Burton’s philosophising, a bunch of anti-establishment rants which are all, broadly speaking, on the money, if a little jejeune.

vlcsnap-2015-08-18-11h16m03s146

The script is by Jack Briley who also penned CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED and thus knew a thing or two about giving someone a very hard stare indeed — the plot is all business, with little time for characterisation but the starry cast seize any moments they can.

who

Jack Gold directed another 70s sci-fi opus, WHO? in which a scientist loses his face and fingerprints in an accident in Russia, and when he’s returned with a new, cybernetic face, the US authorities can’t decide if it’s really him. But, on the plus side, he can store food in his cheeks.

I’d like to see WHO? again sometime — it’s based on a proper sci-fi book by Algis Budrys (great name!) and has an affecting performance from Joe Bova as Chubby-Cheeks the Tin Woodsman.

The Sunday Intertitle: Bad Vats and Jeroboams

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2015 by dcairns

UMW 1

There are TWO intertitles in Kevin Allen’s new film of UNDER MILK WOOD, screened at EIFF in advance of its general release this autumn. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of the film to frame-grab these from, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. And I can’t remember exactly what they say. The Fest is becoming blurry.

As is the film — frequent smearings of digital vaseline to rub the image into a glassy glaze, along with multiple other tricks and tics — it’s a hugely resourceful film, visually, as it needs to be. The challenge of matching pictures to Dylan Thomas’ “Play for Voices” which don’t overwhelm the text or blandly illustrate it must have been daunting. Allen, who reports that he spent the intervening decade since his last feature working on a pig farm, seems to have grown immensely in stature as a director — this was a proper Ken Russell phantasmagoria.

Allen burst on the scene with TWIN TOWN, producer Andrew MacDonald’s follow-up to TRAINSPOTTING, which I think suffered from the sense of letdown that it wasn’t as assured and entertaining as its predecessor — but it did give us Rhys Ifans. Ifans, who seems to be in every film in the Fest, is back here as both First Voice and Captain Cat Complimenting his Jekyll-Hyde dual role in THE MARRIAGE OF REASON & SQUALOR), along with the estimable Charlotte Church, all lusty smile and lascivious jiggle as Polly Garter.

UMW 3

Allen decided to treat the film as ALL DREAM, with scenes flowing together and surreal and bawdy rupturings of reality pushing through at every turn. It’s frequently delirious and only occasionally deleterious — when what the text calls a “shaving glass” is represented by a wall mirror in a shop, I couldn’t see what was gained by the mismatch. And maybe there are too many phalluses. But it’s all livelier and more evocative than the earlier Richard Burton job, I think. In that one, the line “circling her nipples with lipstick” is illustrated by a busty wench drawing rings round the outside margins of her bosoms, as if about to turn them into pink-nosed smiley faces. Allen persistently seems to have a better idea of what Thomas was on about, and aided by Mark Thomas’ epic, sumptuous score and Andy Hollis’ gorgeous photography, has created something rather intoxicating.