Archive for Richard Lester

Juggernaut Jones

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 17, 2019 by dcairns

Our Freddie Jones tribute screening consisted of THE ELEPHANT MAN and JUGGERNAUT. I can’t discuss his role in the latter without heavy spoilers, but I would argue that the film, though beautifully plotted, is spoiler-proof because its real pleasures go well beyond the what-happens-ness of the narrative.

But the spoilers start right now.

I was able to get Fiona to rewatch JUGGERNAUT because she’d forgotten most of the what-happens, and because I sold it as Freddie’s only title role. We see cops Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Colley (a Ken Russell favourite) interview various suspects or potential informants as they try to catch the pseudonymous title terrorist. (One scene shows them backstage at Swan Lake, presumably interviewing the dry ice specialist about his protechnics expertise, but alas we don’t meet him.) Freddie Jones, Cyril Cusack and Michael Hordern play the characters we do meet, so there’s a small whodunnity aspect to the story. But as with a Maigret mystery, whydunnit is much more important and interesting.

Hopkins interviews Cusack in prison, giving the scene a little SILENCE OF THE LAMBS pre-echo, but with Hopkins in the opposite part. Cusack plays a charming IRA bomb man, evidently a bit of a psychopath, but mostly just old: “I don’t really care who gets blown up.” No longer full of passionate intensity, he apparently now lacks all conviction and his only reason for not teasing Hopkins with false leads is that he can’t be bothered.

Director Richard Lester told me they started the scene at the usual time, and when they finished it he looked at his watch and it was 9.20 a.m. or something. A wonderful feeling for a man who liked to move fast!

Michael Hordern is working at a dog track (because robot rabbits and bombs are part of the same skillset) and is annoyed that his name’s on the terror suspect list. He only does criminal stuff abroad, and his last job was for HM Gov and they promised to take him off the list. “You can’t trust anybody these days,” says Colley, before promising to take him off the list if he helps. Hordern does a shifty look. He’s only really here because Lester loved his work and because we need another suspect. The rule of three.

Freddie’s character, Sidney Buckland, is a retired bomb disposal man, living in a little suburban home with his nice wife, watching telly and seemingly quite relaxed and helpful to the police. If this were a whodunnit, which it is, we’d immediately finger him for the perp, which we do. But Jones plays his scene with so little intensity — not always a naturalistic actor, but he can do it when required — that he gets away with it. And his lovely wife, Kristine Howarth, is so warm and sweet, she’s the best character witness you could ask for.

The thing that makes the pay-off satisfying is that Buckland is the former colleague and guv’nor of Fallon, the hero (Richard Harris), the man who has the job of defusing the bombs. When Fallon recognises the style of the bomb as belonging to a wartime German job he defused with Buckland, the cops realise Buckland is their man (the original bomb’s designer being dead). So this is satisfying in narrative terms but also makes the situation worse, especially for the hero: the man he has to outsmart is his friend and defusion guru.

(The movie doesn’t worry about why 47-year-old Jones is retired — the real one worked until the age of 90 — but I guess acting is different from bomb disposal — or is it? — or how he and 44-year-old Harris could have been defusing doodlebugs thirty years earlier — evidently both characters are older than they look.)

Fallon has narrowed his options down to two wires, red and blue. He can’t tell which one deactivates the bomb and which one will set it off. Oh, and there are several bombs, all below the waterline on an ocean liner in heavy seas. No way to evacuate, and any mistake will kill everyone. Fallon has already lost his best friend Charlie Braddock, on this job, and he’s a tired, angry fellow who despises the establishment he works for.

Catching Juggernaut means they can ask Buckland which wire to cut. It’s on a timer and it’s going to go off in minutes. If Harris cuts the right wire he can convey to his team, each stationed at their own device, which one he cut and they can duplicate his action (if all the bombs are the same).

Freddie/Buckland walks to the mic, I think maybe the only tracking shot in the film. (To make the film feel like it was unfolding “live,” Lester shot casually, mo st scene s covered from one position with two or three cameras, one on a master, the others punching in to catch closeups and details.)

So, by radio, Fallon asks Buckland which wire he ought to cut. He appeals to their friendship, he acknowledges Buckland’s mastery, and he reminds his mentor what the fear and tension of the job are like. It’s an impassioned performance and a sensible approach that WOULD work, if you were dealing with a fellow human being with a spark of empathy left.

Lester cross-cuts between the two wires in macro-close-up, each forming a diagonal for maximum graphic punch.

Buckland tells Fallon to cut the blue wire.

Fallon thinks about it. Then cuts the red wire. The bomb doesn’t go off. “It’s red, lads!” he shouts. Job done. The audience can wipe its sweaty hands.

This ending is really impressive and nailbiting cinematically bravura. Still, something about it kind of bothered me as a kid, and I thought about it, worried away at it, and it got even better.

First, there’s the fact that Buckland steers Fallon wrong, even though he’s already been caught. Killing his friend and all those passengers and crew will achieve nothing, now. He’s never going to get his half million ransom, and his probable sentence for mass murder will be, if possible, even harsher than his sentence for extortion by terror would have been. It’s a completely nihilistic and self-destructive act. Therefore a good gesture for the antagonist to make at the end of a story, I guess.

But what about Fallon? We have to assume that something about Buckland’s delivery of the simple lines, “It’s blue,” and “Cut the blue wire,” tells Fallon that his old friend is not to be trusted. He detects the trap and avoids it.

Now this clip IS a spoiler.

What I realised was bothering me is that Fallon, on impulse, cuts the red wire, without telling anyone. His team, listening in, think he’s cutting the blue. If he’d guessed wrong, they have all cut the red wire, thinking he’d been killed by the blue, and they have all been blown up also.

(Of course, if he’d guessed wrong, they’d probably all drown anyway.)

It seemed like, to create suspense, the film had Fallon do something pretty stupid. He should at least have announced what he was doing. But that would have been messy, would have spoiled the neatness of the tension-relief scheme.

But maybe Fallon didn’t care. Maybe he just made a perverse choice, not worrying about the consequences. Perversity and rebellion are big parts of his character. And maybe Buckland is a model for the man Fallon might turn into. So maybe Fallon’s action, which saves the ship and everyone on it, was also a completely nihilistic and self-destructive act.

Fallon doesn’t look relieved or happy that the ship doesn’t explode.

He goes on deck and looks out, not at where the ship has been, but back at its wake.

He has the air of a gambler who has lost everything. But is disappointed to find he’s still there.

BUCKLAND: I can’t explain what they did to me, not in official police jargon. […] They teach you how to dismantle bombs, save lives. But they didn’t pay you enough so you learn how to design bombs, taking lives. Pays much better. And then one day you’re old and they give you a miserable pension. I’m still good at my job.”

JUGGERNAUT features Professor Albus Dumbledore; Doctor Yuri Zhivago; Dildano; Dr. Hannibal Lecter; Polo Bollen; Bilbo Baggins; Sheriff J.W. Pepper; the Cheshire Cat; the Mock Turtle; Eva Braun; Thufir Hawat; Major Breen; Chief Insp. Gregg; Pandit Nehru; Admiral Piett; Lord Tarquin of Staines; Cuthbert Clare; Hopkirk (deceased); Control; Roj Blake; and Manimal.

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The Knack: Cut Scenes

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on February 12, 2019 by dcairns

When I was a young movie buff, I was very excited to learn that Channel 4 was showing THE KNACK. The night before it aired, I dreamt about it. But my dream did not notably resemble the film I was expecting to see — it all took place in a papier-mache labyrinth.

Reading through the various drafts of THE KNACK…. AND HOW TO GET IT (1965) in the Charles Wood Archive was like being in that labyrinth. It was also like playing one of those giant video games where every bit of a landscape has been rendered for you to explore, and every character you meet has their own dialogue and storyline. I think officially Wood wrote five radically different drafts, but there were also lots of incomplete bits. So it’s like the RED DEAD REDEMPTION of Swinging London.

I transcribed some bits. The first draft opens with a censorable scene that probably wouldn’t have suited Richard Lester’s taste — but something about this draft clearly convinced him that Wood was the man for the job.

1 DREAM SEQUENCE

An interesting and stimulating presentation of a breast in repose, spread and doubled to form a bosom, followed by a swinging succession of coarse grained famous CLOSE SHOTS of all time and every known source, cinematic, acrobatic, and Rubens.

Clutching fingers echo the passion of thrusting loins, moan, moan, brut, brut. Deep into at least two inches of coarse grained well fleshed lady they grummel and grab – such a high moaning and a tossing and a rolling ecstasy has seldom been seen on the English screen, moan moan, brut brut.

It gets really frantic, this rolling and tossing and might even get too frantic for the prurient but lethargic. It’s got to stop. Before the whirling sickness is induced, brut brut.

INT. COLIN’S BEDROOM  EARLY MORNING

COLIN falls out of bed. And brings an end to this highly romantic tossing. The brut brut noises we took for foreign film expressions of lust in the general ecstasy before COLIN fell out of his much too narrow for such cinematic antics, very narrow bed, don’t stop just because the bare backed lady has vanished and the ride is over.

COLIN hunts for the brut brut noises in his bedclothes. He is still half asleep.

EXT. STREET OUTSIDE COLIN’S HOUSE

TOLEN on his motor bike, makes the brut brut noises.

The early iterations of the script play almost as if the whole film is a dream sequence, and something of that does survive in the surrealism of the finished movie.

A nice line —

It would fall off, his head, if it wasn’t held by his hands and to a lesser extent his neck.

At what point did they start thinking of Michael Crawford for the role? Because this seems like it’s him.

A good bit of the dialogue in the film is from Ann Jellicoe’s play — the bulk of the exchanges between the four leads. But for a couple of drafts, Wood was writing everything himself — probably a useful exercise if you don’t mind the hard work, to get into their heads so that he could write in a voice that ultimately matches Jellicoe’s seamlessly.

Look at the size of his bloody bed. What a pit! That’s all it is, to what do you attribute your sexual prowess? The enormity of my dirty great bouncing pit. That’s all. The quilted musical enormity of it! It’s just hard neck to have a bigger bed than your landlord and a more successful bed than your landlord and more women than your landlord.

Early version of the sexy schoolgirls bit:

SCHOOL PLAYGROUND

Full of young girls bursting out of their gym slips with growing, and leaping about so that they bounce before our very eyes. They play netball but COLIN knows they are aware of their growing.

Does not yet have the scene’s creepy and amusing end note, where Colin looks at the dirty old men in raincoats watching the schoolgirls from behind the fence, and sees himself among their number. As Soderbergh put it, approximately: “The expression on his face! Hilarious!”The film introduces Colin’s class of boys learning by rote, droning repeated bits of maths after him, and then, brilliantly, uses them as a cutaway repeating other lines of dialogue later in the film. It only does this a couple of times, though. One draft of the script at least tries multiples:

TOLEN: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen.

TOLEN: That you haven’t ever done Col.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Sir.

TOLEN: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen the likes of which you’ve never thought of.

COLIN: I’ve thought.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Thought.

COLIN: I’m not ambitious – really I’m not, what sort of things?

Bits of Jellicoe are creeping back there, but all chipped up in the Woodchipper.

The scripts, for some reason, keep changing format and are also printed on all sizes and thicknesses of paper, which does not quite keep the various incomplete drafts from getting mixed up.

THE BIG WIDE MAIN DRAG IS SUDDENLY AND BEAUTIFUL CLEAR LIKE EARLY MORNING WOULD BE AS THEY ARE TOGETHER ALMOST AND PERHAPS WOULD HOLD HANDS IF NANCY’S MAGAZINE HAD NOT GONE FLYING BLOWN BY A GUST OF WIND INTO THE EMPTY SPACE OF EARLY MORNING ROAD SEEN FROM WAY UP ON HIGH LIKE THEY ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE IN LONDON.

AND COLIN GOES TO GET IT AND IT BLOWS A BIT AND HE TURNS TO GRIN AND GOES SOME MORE AND WHOOPS AS HE GETS IT A DIRTY GREAT CAR COMES LIKE THE ARROGANT BASTARD CAR THAT IT IS DRIVEN BY A SLEEK AND HAIRY PRIME MINISTER.

After a few drafts, a Big Idea starts to form: writing VO dialogue for the citizenry of London, the film’s famous “Greek chorus” though as a narrative device they’re a lot weirder than that. They do comment on the action, but also divert off into their own private obsessions, and of course there’s a strain of nonsense to all of it. It’s meant to suggest vox pop interviews, and Wood captures and exaggerates the stream of consciousness way real people speak ~

Laugh the other side.

I mean there’s a time and a place for everything I always say and I always keep my place and that’s neither the time nor the place – mods and rockers.

I’m bound.

They play fast and loose with their own bodies and emotions – I’m not surprised when it lets them down.

Got the whole idea from television.

I’m very bound.

Giggling sex kudos.

Golliwogs.

That coverage of the Keeler case led them to look closely at their own possible and they experimented.

And there in my daughter’s own very own handbag I found this contracepticle I was hurt and amazed at the sight of this sordid piece of work and told him not to expect my daughter to come again – no.

A number of those lines do turn up in the movie, but cut and pasted into new positions (though cut and paste was not used — the digital kind didn’t exist and the physical kind was too messy, I guess. It was all done with typing.

Should all be tored down.

They’re tearing it all down. It used to be lovely when I was a lot younger than I’m young now, ‘cos of course I’m getting on now, you wouldn’t believe how old I am, how old do you think I am?

Filth.

That last word survived. Then there’s this scene, a sort of presentation by an entirely unknown character who doesn’t feature in the film at all. I can’t really swear that this ever was a scene from THe KNACK, except it appears in the KNACK box and is written in the same fragmented style ~

THROUGH THE OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING OFFICER OF HER MAJESTY’S CHRISTMAS CARDS

COMMANDING OFFICER

We’re glad to have you – no bull like an old bull which we won at Waterloo and we hope that more young people will follow your example and learn to do it the man’s way embracing the path of discipline – oh because it’s lovely.

The American’s haven’t got it – for all their jazz and ma tazz . . .

And we all wear lovely hats.

Which we were pleased to say all the best have worn from time imperial guard of dear old Napoleon who we trounced at Waterloo god rest his guard, old, young, and baby who ever they may be . . . do get your hairs cut.

Pretty great. I want a whole film about this guy and his Christmas cards. Then there’s ~

Handwritten: MORE AND MORE BED STUFF

I felt fulfilled – and yet just for a little while afterwards I felt sick the same way that I felt about all people I borrow from and throw away on things that can only bring ruin and frustration to myself – curiosity is the footnote.

I suppose he was just another of the glib talkers that seem ten a penny in London and I would like to give him a piece of my mind.

I was the silent wife who met horror and frustration in the beat palaces of the London King of the Beats.

He asked me the way to Wimbledon.

I am a writer and want to prove my philosophy of life and will never do it again if you can see your way clear to letting me go back to Bolton.

He said I had Chinese eyebrows – Please Toddy come back to your little Suzy.

Some of these are brilliant, but in a slightly different style to the vox pops in the film, because they’re all past tense. In the movie, only a couple are, e.g. “Workers’ playtime! She took off her wooden leg and put it on the mantelpiece next she took out her glass eye well I’ll never see the like again.”

The set-piece where Colin attempts to board up his front door to stop women getting in (see the parallel, distaff version in REPULSION, released the same year) exists in a very early form: Col’s two lines do make it into the final film.

DURING THIS TELLING SEQUENCE OF EVENTS AND OBSERVATIONS OF THE CROWD COLIN HAS ROUNDED OFF ALL THE ENDS OF THE BATTENS AND TAKEN UP HIS PLANE AND SMOOTHED DOWN THE ROUGH AND CHAMPERED WHERE HE CAN UNTIL IT IS INDEED A JOB.

COLIN: That is indeed a job.

PRIDEY HE STANDS AND TAKES A PAINTBRUSH. AN INSTANT LATER HE HAS PAINTED THE BATTENS AND IS PABBLING IT AND PRODDLING IT AND AT LAST HE MAKES A NON JERRY JOB OF IT WITH GREAT DELIGHT AND THEN HE CAN’T GET OUT:

COLIN: I can’t get out.

One last bit of early Greek vox chorus pop:

CANDID FACES OF THE AVERAGE GREENGROCER

They come here from the North and they expect the earth well they don’t get it do they and they deserve all they get.

I’ve no sympathy with them.

I blame their mums and dads – I mean I wouldn’t let my child across the street to London with all you read the way they have started this twilight world you read about.

Two years.

Flock in they do and of course what do you expect the inevitable takes place of course and then they scream of course and the usual happens and what happens then of course is proverbial and of course who gets the blame the poor bloody slop on the beat of course and how can he be held to ransom for the action of a minority – of course you can’t say that.

Did me a world of good.

I’d spank their – can I say it – rear parts.

The first draft, I think it is, climaxes on the Forth Bridge. I am thrilled to think that the whole unit would have had to come to Edinburgh for this. But thought better of it. As Colin and Tolen are clinging to the girders way up high ~

THE WIND IS TERRIBLE LOUD UP HERE ON THE FORTH FIFTH OF ANY BRIDGE THAT IS GIGANTIC AND IS BEING BUILT OR PAINTED BY TOLEN AND A FEW THOUSAND OTHERS.

~ we get a handwritten note ~ “Tolen as one of crowd.” So even as he was writing his epic bridge climax, Wood (or Lester?) was hatching the idea of making Tolen get absorbed by the Greek chorus and lose his star status, become another anonymous, embittered voice.

Lester told me he temp-tracked the end of the film with the late Michel Legrand’s “I Will Wait for You” from THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG… which made it a very tall order to ask John Barry to come up with something that could take its place. But he did.

The Old Sex Thing

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2019 by dcairns

I’ve just been to York to rummage and guddle through the treasures in the Charles Wood Archive. An essay/book chapter will result.

Multiple drafts of Richard Lester films THE KNACK, HELP!, HOW I WON THE WAR, PETULIA, THE BED-SITTING ROOM — I had to restrict my searchings somewhat as I just had a day, so I concentrated mainly on the sixties, taking in THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE and THE LONG DAY’S DYING too. And then I could resist peaking at the dialogue rewrites for THE THREE MUSKETEERS, partly just so I could hold George MacDonald Fraser’s jumbo script in my hands. Interleaved throughout are bits of suggested dialogue on tissue-thin pages, where Fraser’s brisk yet literary exchanges are substituted for Wood’s strange, informal yet archaic word patterns, full of hesitations, repetitions, non-sequiturs and talking at cross-purposes. In the finished film, often the scenes combine both texts, always favouring the tightest construction.

In THE THREE MUSKETEERS, Raquel Welch hitches a ride on a sedan chair, hanging off the side so she’s concealed from pursuers, but part of her is revealed to the chair’s occupant (Frank Thornton, Captain Peacock from Are You Being Served?). Fraser, I think, tried some dialogue for this guy, but Wood was asked to give it another go, and came up with ~

Pretties, a maiden’s bobbing pretties, bobbing … bub, bub, they go … oh!

Which didn’t make it into the film, possibly for reasons of taste, maybe because Welch’s “pretties” don’t bob, they jut like an escarpment.

It’s a cleverly devised visual gag, but maybe a bit creepy and that dialogue would have pushed it over, I think. But pushing things into an area of discomfort or conflicted response is rather a Wood speciality, it’s what he normally got paid for.

There’s a suggestion that Thornton’s aristocrat, off-camera (after blowing on his fingers to warm them) has a fondle of the pretties, at which Raquel jumps down from the sedan chair, and then oddly waves to it before running off, a peculiar, sweet touch — as if she thinks she now has a friendship with the occupant — which maybe softens the creepiness.

Wood’s textual descriptions are as great as his dialogue, and the only way to enjoy them is to get ahold of the scripts. There’s this bit from THE BED SITTING ROOM, in which Michael Hordern invades a woman who has mutated into a cupboard (while Rita Tushingham enjoys her reunion with the cupboard-woman, who is her mother) ~

 

“He enters the cupboard sexily.”

Michael Hordern’s radiant leer and the caressing hand on the door — eeewwww!

Lots and lots of fascinating stuff on THE KNACK which I’ll devote a whole post to.

Here’s a nicely described moment from HOW I WON THE WAR which made it in more or less intact ~

A WOMAN LOOKS THROUGH THE CURTAINS AND WATCHES ANOTHER WOMAN IN TURBAN AND STRAP SHOES BEING KISSED BY A FLAPPY TROUSERED MAN IN A RESERVED OCCUPATION WHICH HE HAS WRITTEN ON A PLACARD AROUND HIS NECK. HE HAS HIS HAND UP HER UTILITY SKIRT. THEY ARE BOTH SLIGHTLY DRUNK. WITH GAS MASKS.

The movie adds some dialogue, also no doubt by Wood — they would keep him around during filming to invent bits and bobs — “Here, you’ve brought your child’s gas mask,” says the woman, “Oh no, not in front of your child’s gas mask.”

The man is Frank Thornton, of course, whose presence always fires the erotic imagination.

Wood did a lot of uncredited work on PETULIA — enough to deserve a credit, really. He moved it definitively away from the source novel and the Barbara Turner draft (both of them are credited) before Lawrence B. Marcus came on and produced the final version. I *think* Marcus came up with the line “Was it the sex thing, Archie? Was it the old sex thing?” because I read two versions by Wood of the topless restaurant scene it is uttered in. But it sounds Wood-y, showing that his influence on the film remained — the fractured timeline/s were certainly introduced by Wood, no doubt with Lester’s encouragement.

A good bit ~

ARCHIE TOUCHES HER AND IT LOOKS LIKE ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS WE ALL KNOW AND LOATHE THAT ARE HOLLYWOOD SHORTHAND FOR YOU ARE A WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING AND I DEARLY TRULY LOVE YOU ABOUT TO BE SEALED WITH SPITTLE.

JUST BEFORE WE PUKE SHE SCREAMS AND FAINTS.