Archive for Robert Duvall

Jack-the-Vlad

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2018 by dcairns

Cast list for Mario Puzo’s DRACULA —

Al Pacino — Dracula

Diane Keaton — Mina Murray

Robert Duvall — Jonathan Harker

Marlon Brando — Professor Van Helsing

John Cazale — Renfield

Duvall’s Dr. Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION is a worthy predecessor to Keanu Reeves’s Unconvincing Victorian Gentleman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. OK, on with our amazing journey through Francis Coppola’s director’s commentary, billed excitingly as Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula With Francis Coppola. Let’s! Oh, do let’s!

A pause in the commentary allows us to enjoy Keanu’s accent. It’s not that the accent is awful, or even too extreme — some posh Englishmen probably talked much posher in Victorian times — it’s that the accent has taken over the performance and is occupying all the actor’s concentration. Plus, I guess if you’re known for being Keanu Reeves, which Keanu Reeves was at the time, your English accent had probably best be quite subtle and discreet, which this isn’t.

Winona’s “It’s just that I’m so tebbly worried about Jonathan,” could give Keanu a run for his money, though. The line is kind of pathetic (I’m guessing the film wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test — Winona & Sadie’s scenes are all useless drivel, women waiting for men to show up so something can happen) but the delivery feels positively parodic.

The garden is built into the swimming pool that was Esther Williams’ swimming pool.

OK, that clarifies what Uncle Francis said earlier. Suddenly it’s NIGHT, in the best Edward D. Wood tradition, and the girls are looking off camera, slightly upwards, and the sky is full of Gary Oldman’s eyes, and NONE of this works.

You know, he’s on his ship, in his coffin, buried in his soil of Transylvania, and it’s beginning to influence even those girls in England.

It’s hot, you’re sweating, now here comes Julius!

Now Francis embarks on a stream-of-consciousness monologue in which what he’s trying to say keeps getting interrupted by what he’s looking at, because he can’t help say what he’s looking at, like a child going “Dog!”

This is a sequence trying to express the crates of boxes of Dracula’s belongings, including himself in a kind of almost embryonic state in the box and of course the movement of the ship on the water is now translated even to the girls in their garden and maze trying to unify the turmoil of storm that is about to, um, reach them… […] As though the earth of this English estate is moving, and the animals in the zoo are all becoming like a boat. […] All hell is breaking loose in the asylum because the coming of the boat again the metaphor is that the boat is expressed by boat-like movement even in a rock-solid place like an asylum.

The Joycean quality of the above does kind of suit the sequence, which is a very exciting one. John Boorman praised it for being a new form of cinema… Coppola admits he got it from Abel Gance. I think the few static shots here are a shame though. Ken Russell would have found a way to keep the madness going.

He’s getting so stoked, Renfield.

Well, it is BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

Coppola credits the pixilation shots, like a speed-freak version of the EVIL DEAD’s shakicam, to his son Roman, and speculates that the technique may have been developed and named by experimental filmmakers in the San Francisco Bay Area. As far as I know it’s Norman McLaren’s term, but I may be wrong.

Please, this isn’t what it looks like!

Then Dracula in the form of a big werewolf is shagging Sadie Frost and even Coppola seems bemused.

I’m a little surprised by this movie, I haven’t seen it in such a long time, but… it never stops doing stuff. It’s hard for me to talk about it, because normally, doing a commentary — oh yeah, he’s actually seeing the blood coursing through her veins — these are all ideas that we hoped to do when we planned it out and then of course we had to find ways to be able to do this imagery… and some work really very, very successfully, and some, uh, not at all, but you can see that it was a production that was full of ideas…

I like that he’s on the point of explaining why the film is hard to commentate on because crazy shit keeps breaking out, when he has to cut himself off because some more crazy shit just broke out. He then invokes Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a mistake, I feel. Surely he’s thinking of Charles Band’s PHANTOMS.

This sequence is actually shot with a Pathé camera, hand-cranked camera. I wanted to shoot much more of it with the camera but the photographer was less than interested.

Michael Ballhaus is emerging as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, isn’t he? It’s a lovely moment, and for once, it DOES feel like we’re back in the past.

Maybe the British actors and Ballhaus and, oh, everybody else who wasn’t a relative, was having trouble figuring out what this film was supposed to be because Coppola, as we’ve seen, doesn’t express himself very precisely with words. But he does express himself expressively. I recall Clive James quoting, I think maybe it was Bruce Beresford — “There’s an interview where Coppola says he doesn’t make films for the hoi polloi, when he means the intelligentsia.” Coppola would naturally want to use the term hoi polloi because it sounds snooty, something a toffee-nose would say, even if it doesn’t mean what he wants it to mean.

Well hello.

Coppola points out the clever effect where Oldman seems to catch a falling medicine bottle at knee level, then all at once has it at eye level — in an unbroken shot. THIS is the kind of “Did I see that?” sleight of hand that’s perfect for making the character a touch uncanny but not obviously strange.

(My friend Kiyo said “But… he’s obviously strange,” as Jude Law romanced the heroine of TALE OF A VAMPIRE, and then Fiona and I use it every time a Gothic movie attempts to sell a character as seductive when in fact you’d run screaming into the night if you ever met him.)

Fiona points out that Oldman is unlikely casting as a sexy Dracula, but admits that he is rather splendid in his man about town garb and shades.

I’ve always had the theory that a man loves the same woman all his life even if she takes the form of different women but ultimately from Day One a man loves the same woman and she is him.

Does this line work on the long-suffering Eleanor, I wonder? Oh, I’m such a bitch.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Town without pity

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2016 by dcairns

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Why had I been resistant to seeing THE CHASE? The Arthur Penn movie, I mean. Maybe that ultra-generic title had something to do with it. I seem to recall seeing a doc on Penn — must’ve been a LOOONG time ago — which positioned this movie as an unsatisfactory struggle with the studio system, coming before the breakthrough of BONNIE AND CLYDE. They found a clip showing Jane Fonda shot in soft focus, intercut with a pin-sharp Robert Redford, to illustrate what a conventional affair it was. A Shirley Temple movie with guns.

That may have been how Penn himself recalled it, though he was such a big fan of Brando’s work, he must have found something more to enjoy in the film. he spoke of how Brando suggested filming his fight scene with closeups filmed at 12fps so that fists could be brought in slowly and actually connect with his face, smuching up his features. When projected at normal speed, the image ought to look genuinely violent. (Polanski attempted something like this in TWO MEN AND A WARDROBE. The tiny fists are his own.)

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None of Brando’s suggested Keystone pugilism makes it into the final cut as far as I can see, but the film’s violence is still incredibly intense and convincing, partly due to the sadomasochistic relish with which Marlon throws himself into it. Screenwriter Lillian Hellman, adapting Horton Foote’s novel and play, loaded the script with bile, so there’s considerable raw anger behind each punch. (A punch hurts, but the aggression motivating it is just as upsetting — if you’re a sensitive blossom like me, anyway.)

I think THE CHASE may be a masterpiece, just not wholly Penn’s. It’s a Sam Spiegel film, which I guess makes it White Elephant Art writ large, but I quite like White Elephant Art. The Cistine Chapel is not termite art.

Another reason for my resistance to the film is that I HAD seen bits of it on TV and found it drear. But you need to see it, obviosuly, in the proper widescreen ratio, and you need to be prepared to accept its grimness. It’s unrelenting, but not wholly unlevened. As a big Hollywood movie, part of what provides relief from its hellscape of corruption, bigotry and raging cruelty is the all-star cast, all of whom get grandstanding moments. It’s a very well acted film physically, and apart from stunts like Brando, pummelled to mush, rolling off a desktop and dropping to the floor as dead weight, and gestures like Miriam Hopkins’ hyperactive hands, it’s full of great POSES —

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Henry Hull making great use of his skeletal frame. Clothes hang so nicely on him!

And nobody ever looked deader onscreen than the dead body in the movie’s third-last scene.

“You gotta feel bad for Brando’s character in this,” I remarked midway. “Surrounded by assholes.” And that was before the beating.

I think Robert Redford, though quite good, is miscast. Hard to imagine him having been this out-of-control wild kid. Hard to imagine everyone scared he’s coming back home. I tell you what would have improved everything and launched the film into a higher level of seriousness: make the character black. But Hellman compensates by including a couple of black characters whose perilous lives do suggest something of the racial tension (read: vicious intimidation) in the South.

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Ridiculously all-star cast. Hard to conceive of a Jane Fonda film from this period in which she is not the sexiest woman, but — “Janice Rule is my new girl-crush,” declared Fiona. Mine, too, I think. Janice is playing a really appalling character with really great breasts, and a lot of soap opera gusto. She out-bitches Dynasty. Her milquetoast husband is a very young Robert Duvall — so young he has vestigial traces of hair — equally loathsome but WEAK. Then there’s enthusiastic drunk acting from Martha Hyer, the always-welcome-if-it’s-not-a-Bond-film Clifton James, and an early prototype Paul Williams ~

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The very ending reminds me of THE DEVILS. THE CHASE is only slightly less grim and only a few shades less hysterical than that despairing masterwork.

“It’s hard to say who had the worst night of it,” I said to Fiona, eyes wide. About an hour later, she managed to reply, “Well, probably ****, because he DIED.” “Yes, but **** lost BOTH the men in her life,” I pointed out. Then there are the bereaved parents, the jerk who’s going to jail for murder, the poor guy who got beaten up in prison (and not even by a cop) and then had his scrapyard blown up. It’s not a comedy.

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However, also militating against any sense of actual depression is the fact that Spiegel was evidently impressed by the Bond films and has hired Maurice Binder to do the credits (no naked silhouettes though) and John Barry to score the thing. It’s not that Barry didn’t watch the movie, I think, it’s just that his sensibility at the time was so irrepressibly vibrant that he can’t help elevate the mood. No doubt Spiegel wanted something epic and heroic: Barry claimed he composed the score to BORN FREE as a parody of Hollywood’s uplifting themes, but much of THE CHASE could almost be amping things up into a state of overkill. It never feels like he’s spoofing it, but he’s willing it to be more thrilling and epic than it wants to be. So you have Penn and Hellman fighting for  downbeat drama and Spiegel and Barry dragging it towards tragic grandeur and glorious passions.

I tend to favour the auteurist viewpoint, not because movies aren’t team efforts, but because unless you have one sensibility in charge filtering what goes into the mix, and unless that sensibility is an interesting and intelligent one, things tend to get chaotic and discordant. But in rare cases, the struggle between warring visions can produce something quite satisfying, where the creative tension blurs into dramatic tension. It can be very exciting, though probably none of the participants would come away feeling satisfied. That’s THE CHASE, I think.

The Taking of Studley Constable

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2015 by dcairns

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One could wish that author Jack Higgins had invented a Norfolk village with a less silly name than Studley Constable as the setting for his war adventure The Eagle Has Landed, or that Tom Mankiewicz, adapting it, had switched the location to somewhere with more dignity. Scratby, perhaps, or East Runton.

The John Sturges movie based on the book must have seemed a bit old-fashioned in 1976, but as I recall there was a certain market for that kind of thing at the time, as an alternative to the prevailing direction of Hollywood cinema — the IMDb’s list of ten “most popular” films for that year doesn’t feature a lot of romance — things tend to end as they do for Kong and Dwan, or Travis and Betsy, or Sissy Spacek and bucket guy — making Jenny Agutter and Donald Sutherland — the English rose and the ungulate Casanova — the screen’s sexiest couple of ’76. She even consented to do clothed scenes, but only because they were essential to the plot.

They genuinely are good together. Sutherland plays one of those sympathetic IRA men beloved of Hollywood (in a film crowded with sympathetic Nazis), and Agutter is twenty-five playing “almost nineteen,” a village girl smitten with the romantic newcomer. And she sells it. I don’t know if that was a difficult task — maybe she just defocussed her eyes and imagined chocolate eclairs — but she seems to be spectacularly interested in everything that dribble of a face is doing. Fiona finds Sutherland devilishly attractive, in a deeply weird way. The scene where he orders a bartender to suck his thumb had her all a-tremble.

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While Sutherland has never really mastered an accent in a film, and essays an extreme and wonky brogue here,  he does have fun in the role, grinning satanically and boozing a lot. He’s the only one with good dialogue. And he’s the best Irish Nazi since Stephen Boyd in THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS. Michael Caine (Jewish Nazi) tries to talk in a slightly clipped way suggestive of being German, and Robert Duvall (another no-hoper when it comes to accents, except for a rather good blue-collar New York which I was surprised to discover wasn’t his native idiom) lays it on thick, though not as badly as he would playing Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION the same year. I would love to see a movie where Sutherland does his FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY English, and Duvall does his Watson, but I think I should go mad watching it.

Caine has a line near the end about no longer driving events but being driven by them, and it’s very apt indeed, but it could apply to everything that happens in this movie from the start. Plot dictates every move, and people keep shifting out of character to allow the plot to get done. Jenny Agutter becomes a murderer — WHAT? Larry Hagman (very amusing) is at least set up as a knucklehead desperate for glory, but that’s an example of a character being machine-tooled and dropped into position to fulfill a narrative function. Spectacular accidents occur in order to move things along more briskly.

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The whole thing is swiped from …WENT THE DAY WELL? which is a much better movie. Higgins even began his novel in a post-war English graveyard, like Cavalcanti’s film, though fortunately the movie dispenses with this pilfered prologue. What Higgins added is the Churchill kidnap plot, which makes it high-concept, and the idea of the Germans as heroes, which is dicey at best. Proving that Caine’s character isn’t anti-semitic in an introductory scene smacks of special pleading, and the efforts to make Duvall’s Colonel likable count for nothing — he would have been just as effective as a bastard, since what the audience cares about is What Will Happen? We aren’t, after all, rooting for the Nazis to win, we are merely concerned by a scheme.

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Higgins reports (in his foreword to the book) that he did encounter resistance to the idea of Nazis as leads, but says that his dealings with German soldiers in the fifties had made it clear to him that “most of them were just like us.” That should worry you, Jack!

Studley Constable (that name!) cemetery is full of gravestones that wobble when anyone touches them.

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The real studly constable (right).