Archive for Richard Lester

Nobody Knows

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2015 by dcairns

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“In America, ‘crunchy’ is a compliment,” said Quentin Crisp, lamenting the quality of supermarket bread in the United States (he approvingly likened the consistency of British sliced bread to that of a flannel), the only thing he didn’t like about his chosen homeland.

American paperbacks are crunchier than British ones. I bought a second-hand copy of Richard Hughes’ The Fox in the Attic, and took it to Paris where I was reading it but then I accidentally left it behind. And then I found a copy in the bargain rack at Mercer Street Books, so naturally I picked it up. Distracted by other goodies, such as Mark Harris’ majestic Hollywood history Five Came Back, I laid it aside when home, and Fiona started in on it ahead of me. And the thing began to crumble in her hands, flaking to bits as she feverishly consumed it. “I feel like Rod Taylor in THE TIME MACHINE,” she complained. My copy of Hughes’ sequel, The Wooden Shepherdess, is a British imprint, and it’s appropriately loose and flannelish like a slice of bread from Tesco.

Same thing with another Mercer Street bargain, Gore Vidal’s Hollywood, which I’d been meaning to read for ages, even though the only other volume I’ve read in his history series is Lincoln (which I liked a lot. Richard Lester told me, “Gore Vidal kept trying to sell me the books of his I didn’t want to film, like Myra Breckinridge. I wanted to do Lincoln.”). And on the way home the cover of the book SNAPPED into jigsaw pieces, something I have never encountered before.

Fifteen pages in and it’s GREAT — Vidal has William Randolph Hearst sit in a chair which collapses under him, and then has him anticipate William Goldman’s famous dictum by seventy-odd years —

“But I don’t know anything about the movies.”

“Nobody does. That’s what’s so wonderful.”

I did at first fault Vidal’s prose when he wrote “Like a trumpet, she blew her nose into a large handkerchief,” since the comparison of nose-blowing and trumpetry is a banal one, and he seems to be saying that trumpets regularly, literally blow their noses into large handkerchiefs. But, on reflection, I came to admire the phrase, since it put into my mind the image of a trumpet blowing its nose, and one can’t help but be grateful for such an image.

But my favourite bit so far is the Washington psychic lady ~

“Why did you come to Washington?”

“Fate.” said Madame Marcia, as though speaking of an old and trusted friend. “I was associated with Gipsy Oliver at Coney Island. Mostly for amusement’s sake. But”–Madame’s voice became low and thrilling–“she had gifts as well–worldliness. Dark gifts. Amongst them, the gift of prophecy. I was, I thought, happily married. With two beautiful children. My husband, Dr. Champrey, had an excellent practice, specialising in the lower lumbar region and, of course, the entire renal system. But the spirits spoke to Gipsy Oliver. She spoke to me. Beware of the turkey, she said one day. I thought she was joking. I laughed–more fool I! What turkey? I asked. I know turkeys, and don’t much care to eat them–so dry, always, unless you have the knack of basting, which fate has denied me. Well, lo! and behold the next month, November it was, I was preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for my loved ones, when Dr. Champrey said, ‘I’ll go buy us a turkey.’ I remember now a shiver came over me. A chill, like a ghost’s hand upon me.”

Jess shivered in the stuffy room. This was the real thing, all right. No doubt of that.

“I said, ‘Horace, I’m not partial to turkey, as you know. Just a boiled chicken will do.'” She exhaled. Jess inhaled and smelled boiled chicken, old sandalwood. “‘Why not splurge?’ he said. Then he was gone. He never,” Madame Marcia’s bloodshot eyes glared at Jess, “came back.”

“Killed?” […]

“Who knows? The son-of-a-bitch,” she added, suddenly soulful.

The Man Who Painted the Park

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2014 by dcairns

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The death of production designer Assheton Gorton (last month, but I just recently learned of it) got me thinking about his unique contribution to sixties British cinema. Joe Massot’s WONDERWALL (1968), above, was an early sign of the new decadence, a film made almost entirely to spend the Beatles’ money before the taxman got it, which is not the noblest artistic purpose, but clearly everyone involved wanted to create something beautiful — more beautiful than a hospital ward or a torpedo bay (even a really nice one). And they succeeded.

I do get a ringing alarm bell in films about fantasy versus reality where the filmmakers can’t resist making the reality just as lovely and strange as the fantasy — MIRRORMASK, or THE CELL could be chosen as examples. WONDERWALL has this problem very badly — it plays a little like THE ZERO THEOREM, with its mundane protagonist twisted so far into eccentricity as to become insane and alienating, depriving us of our Dante or Virgil in the labyrinth. Some might argue that BRAZIL is oppressively fantastical too, but that’s the point for me — the reality is desaturated and bluish and oppressive and insistently real, and the fantasy can do its job effectively in such a context. If everything is fairytale, there’s no contrast, and movies love sharp contrasts.

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Whatever the opposite of an everyman protagonist is, Jack MacGowran is it. A kind of “no-man protagonist,” or “notagonist,” if you will. An actor whose quirks and accent and 24hr inebriation can make him fascinating at the same time as incomprehensible and utterly opaque. Apparently on KING LEAR he had no idea what he was saying. The trouble is, neither do I. Whereas, oddly, he seems to totally get Beckett, and makes me feel I do too.

Still, Gorton did a gorgeous job, though some shots are actually little more than beautiful actors in beautiful fabrics and patterns, beautifully lit, with not a wall or piece of furniture in sight.

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Obviously it was BLOW-UP, on which A.G. served as art director, that got him WONDERWALL. I suppose the job title is correct because Antonioni appears to have built no sets, but he transformed locations, painting a street various shades of gray, and even the people in it, so that David Hemmings’s skin becomes the only thing telling you the movie isn’t b&w. Elsewhere, colour is insistent and striking, though Antonioni still prefers a sort of metallic pastel palette, distinguishing his work from the screaming psychedelia that was beginning to explode in reality.

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Famously, Antonioni had Gorton paint a park, because the colours had changed since they location-scouted it and it no longer fitted the scheme. I couldn’t say for sure that the park looks different from a natural one, but I certainly FEEL it does — it seems flatter, more uniform and graphic.

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Aided by overcast English skies, the park becomes a gray-green silhouette — sure, the shrubbery has shadows and weight, but it doesn’t sem to have ENOUGH.

I always felt that, in scenes like the non-sequitur cross-talk purchase of a propeller from an antique shop, Antonioni was influenced by THE KNACK and its Ann Jellicoe-via-Charles Wood script, in which language becomes a kind of infestation, scrambling the characters’ brains and even pouring from their heads in the form of subtitles. Antonioni, working in an unfamiliar language, had the help of Edward Bond, but neither man is what you would call zany and so their attempts at a comedy of word soup floundering tends to fall rather painfully on its keys, but the very discomfort and flatness of it kind of suits the picture.

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In Jellicoe’s play, Tom, the Donal Donnelly character, repaints his room, stripping it of furniture and, I seem to recall, painting the shadows on the wall. And then he drives in a few nails so he can hang the chairs high off the floor. He doesn’t get that far in Richard Lester’s film, and he paints the room a featureless white, so that the various shapes look embossed, like MARIENBAD’s title sequence (Lester was a fan). Certianly Antonioni, who had been repainting reality in THE RED DESERT (1964), must have felt that Gorton was a kindred spirit. He just needed to THINK BIGGER.

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The Last Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2014 by dcairns

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My selfies always turn out looking like someone else.

So, I finally get to the end of my Bologna report.

I knew it was likely that I wouldn’t see so much stuff on my last day, since Richard Lester was going to be in town and I wanted to hang with him as much as possible. I wasn’t sure how much that WOULD be possible, but I was certainly going to try to find out.

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I crawled out of bed and made it in at 10.30 am, to see a program of shorts relating to Chaplin’s roots. The 1904 LIVING LONDON pulled together footage of the London of Chaplin’s youth, while films such as L’HOMME QUI MARCHE SUR LA TETE showed the kind of music hall attractions Charlie would have been surrounded by during his early career. This 1909 film documented an acrobat who fulfilled the title role by bouncing along a plank on his head, wearing a protective skull-cap but still presumably jarring his brains loose with every impact. Albert Capellani’s CENDRILLON OU LA PANTOUFLE MERVEILLEUSE was a kind of pantomime, mirroring the popular theatre of Chaplin’s youth, WORK MADE EASY  was a 1907 trick film, KOBELKOFF (1900) documents a limbless wonder, referencing the armless wonder who appears in a deleted scene from LIMELIGHT… the whole show was accompanied by Neil Brand at the piano.

Kim Hendrickson, producer of the Criterion Blu-ray of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was throwing a dinner and Lester was guest og honour and I got her to invite Neil since he’d interviewed Lester for his magnificent Sounds of Cinema series and I thought it would be nice to have a familiar face.

WANDA’S TRICK from 1918 was a diverting little comedy, part of a sidebar I’d completely missed up until then, celebrating the unknown filmmaker Rosa Porten, sister of actor Henny Porten, who directed along with Franz Eckstein using the pseudonym Dr. R. Portegg.

Having fallen asleep at a Japanese double bill earlier in the week, it was with trepidation that I attempted Yasujiro Shimazu’s SHUNKINSHO: OKOTO TO SASUKE from 1935, an early talkie which proved diverting enough thanks to its sheer, horrifying perversity. A fable of true love and self-mutilation, it did share with the comedies I’d snoozed through a focus on the voice as subject. Most of the filmmaking was staid in the way everybody always expects early talkers to be, even though they often aren’t, but there was one remarkable shot simulating a blind man’s POV. Since it wasn’t just a black screen, but a hand-held movement filmed out of focus, you had to admire the imagination behind it.

At 4.30 pm Richard Lester appeared in conversation with Peter Von Bagh, the festival’s director. Lester was on fine form. When he referred to THE MOUSE ON THE MOON being shot on old sets from a Cornell Wilde picture, David Bordwell, sitting next to me, laughed. “Ahah, someone here is old enough to know how degrading that is.”

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The event assumes a melancholic afterglow now that Peter Von Bagh has been taken from us before his time. His festival is just about the best I’ve ever been to. For location and buzz, Telluride is miraculous. Being an old movies guy, Bologna does it for me.

Photo stolen from David Bordwell’s site, where you can read more on the legendary PVB.

So then we had dinner, which meant missing Lubitsch’s THE MAN I KILLED, and Bimal Roy’s MADHUMATI, and Frank Tuttle’s THE MAGIC FACE — but it was dinner with Richard Lester! What’re you gonna do?

Unfortunately I wound up sat out of earshot, but got a recap at dessert: “I was telling them stories about Telluride,” said Richard, who filmed there for BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, “where I believe you did rather well.” A reference not so much to my screening, but to my wedding, which was actually held in Glendale Bel Air, LA, but you could say brokered via Telluride.

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And then we strolled to the Piazza Maggiore and watched A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Lester introduced it, and had hinted that he might take off after the first ten minutes, but he stayed to the end. The applause, I trust, was worth it. And the impact of that opening chord, on the big screen, coming as it should after complete darkness, no logos, no anything, was pretty remarkable. The audience applauded that, too, though it took them several seconds to process the startling effect.

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Beatles For Sale — I never noticed the signs to the right of the image, anticipating the title of a Beatles album yet to be recorded.

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