Archive for Robert Louis Stevenson

Things I Read Off the Screen in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2017 by dcairns

Are we all excited about the new series? We re-watched the last episode of season 2 and the movie, to get us in the mood. Lynch has said the movie is the best way to prepare ourselves for what he has in store. I went LOOKING FOR CLUES.

Fourth shot after the credits sequence ~

UNLAWFUL TO PASS WHEN RED LIGHTS FLASH

Fiona read this one out, which started me thinking it was time for another installment of “Things I Read Off the Screen” — I imagine this is just something that real school buses have, but it feels occult and significant and mysterious here, maybe because school buses aren’t really a thing in the UK. And, given James’ last scene (below), it definitely feels like we’re meant to notice it, and it’ll end up tying the film together.

SHERIFF DEER MEADOW

Nice odd phrase. I’ve been enjoying a terrific podcast called Diane which has studied the original series and the movie and the tie-in books and the film, and is now preparing to appreciate and analyse the new shows. You should give it listen. They point out that Deer Meadow, scene of the first BOB murder, is like the anti-Twin Peaks, a town that’s dead, horrible and utterly lacking in positive magic. And the coffee is horrible. So we’re about to meet the anti-Lucy, a sniggering slut, the anti-Andy, a bragging bully, and the anti-Truman, a hulking brute, Sheriff Cable.

In one of the best of the deleted scenes, Chris Isaak beats the hell out of this guy.

Isaak and his buddy Keifer Sutherland (at times evoking Stan Laurel) discover a clue — the letter T under the corpse’s fingernail, which they RIP OFF. Laura Palmer, in the series, will be discovered with an R under her fingernail. In the extra scenes shot for the European release of the original pilot, we are told that the letters were eventually going to spell ROBERT, but this isn’t really canonical. And nobody ever calls BOB “Robert.” It doesn’t suit him, somehow. Still, I like the idea that the name was going to be spelled backwards (TREBOR), since Bob comes from a world where people speak backwards-forwards at the same time.

Based on this movie, I think maybe the word was going to be DIRT backwards. Leland, Laura’s father, who is BOB on some level, during one of his particularly nasty moments tells her there’s a “piece of DIRT” under her nail. This is clearly a reference to her future fate, but the letter R is literally “a piece of DIRT” so that’s why I think that.

HAP’S. With its weeping clown neon and faulty electrics and anti-Peggy Lipton proprietor, Hap’s is the anti-Double R Diner. Unlawful to pass when red light flashes.

SAY HELLO GOODBYE TO JACK.

FAT TROUT TRAILER PARK MANAGER

9 AM …… EVER

ROD MY TRAILER HAS A LEAK FIX IT BY TOMORROW

The Fat Trout is a classic liminal space, so it makes sense that the denizens of the Black Lodge have been all over this place, apparently scooting in and out by the telegraph wires. The old lady and her grandson (Lynch’s kid, Sean) used to have a trailer here, and will later appear in Twin Peaks on Laura’s meals-on-wheels route. Eerie enough when they keep to their own red room space, they become uncanny in a whole new way when they trespass in our world or show signs of their presence.

Harry Dean Stanton plays Carl Rodd, who will be back in the new series. I like that one of his… tenants?… thinks his name is “Rod.” So they think they’re calling him by his first name when they’re really calling him by his last name. They’re on different planes of familiarity without realising it. I think I’d be the same way if I met Harry Dean Stanton, because I would want to love and admire him and he would think I am an asshole.

kcoR s’teL

Let’s Rock

This is something the man from another place says in the series — part of the reason TP:FWWM arguably doesn’t stand up as an independent work away from the series is that these things are very satisfying to note, but you have to look outside the movie for them. There aren’t many clues IN the movie which help you feel you’re making headway with its mysteries. But I’ve given up letting that bother me.

T

Bobby Briggs has a T on his back! He must be involved in the Theresa Banks case! But this does seem like one of the few red herrings. We can’t get excited every time we see a letter T… can we?

X

Xs, however, are always exciting. This is a direct appearance by red lodge characters in our reality, so the universal symbol for the unknown seems wholly appropriate. If I had the Blu-ray maybe I could tell you what that small lettering says. It might be the key to everything.

The BANG BANG BAR

An exterior featured in one of the trailers for the new series, so it’ll feature again. Under new management, I presume. Unlawful to pass when red light flashes.

TREAT HIM RIGHT

This one is just kind of funny. But it comes in a very fraught scene, which includes flashbacks which help establish Leland’s motivation for murder ~

MOTEL

Unlawful to pass when red light flashes. The movie complicates our understanding of Leland’s guilt. In the series, it’s possible to believe that he’s an innocent man invaded by an alien force (BOB, the double-denim demon). In the movie, we clearly see Leland as Leland, plotting and remembering and in full knowledge of his guilt. It puts me in mind of a passage from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (an ur-text for all divided-consciousness horror tales) where Jekyll complains that, deep into his experiment in duality, he was often wholly Hyde but never wholly Jekyll…

Note the presence of those sinister WIRES again.

STOP

What the critics at the time didn’t notice (along with Sheryl Lee’s moving and bizarre and fearless performance) but which the Diane podcast is great at spotting, is that the movie takes familiar recurring images from the show like the ceiling fan at the Palmer residence and this set of overhanging traffic lights, and imbues them with new and more powerful meaning. This turns out to be the setting for Laura and James’ last love scene. James will watch her go, then wait for the light to turn red before revving up and roaring off…

Unlawful to pass when red light flashes.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Tales of Witless Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2015 by dcairns

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Richard Oswald made UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN twice. The 1932 one is covered here, but for some reason it’s taken me ages to get around to the 1919 one, which stars Conrad Veidt (pre-CALIGARI), Reinhold Schunzel (better known, by me anyway, as a director of thirties comedies), and famed dancer Anita Berber. I knew it used a different sampling of spooky fiction to make up its “uncanny tales” — Poe’s Black Cat appears in both, as does a loose adaptation of Stevenson’s The Suicide Club, but the rest of the bits are different. But I didn’t know that the three actors from the framing structure –who play Death, the Devil and the Whore, coming to life from their portraits and running amok in a bookstore, before leafing through the various volumes in search of diverting yarns — also appear in all the separate storylines, in a variety of guises. It’s a nice idea to bind an anthology together.

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It does cause a slight sense of the repetitive, since nearly all the stories become romantic triangles, and for some reason Schunzel is insane, or goes insane, in most of them. But this minor problem is nullified by the film’s extraordinary tone, which is a kind of Weimar cabaret of grotesque humour. In fact, the movie plays like a spoof of its own remake. The actors are obviously having great fun at the expense of the material. Schunzel proves to be a great creepy toad, prefiguring the qualities Peter Lorre would bring to his early roles in German film, and Veidt gets to do some fine clutching hand stuff. Berber alternates between sexy and horrible at will, and in her final installment, an out-and-out parody of the form, she has a manic schoolgirl naughtiness reminiscent of Miranda Richardson’s Elizabeth I in Blackadder II.

To my surprise, the first story turns out to be a variant on the story — an urban myth — that inspired both SO LONG AT THE FAIR and, less directly, THE LADY VANISHES. Schunzel plays a madman in it who turns out to be a complete red herring.

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In the second episode Schunzel kills romantic rival Veidt and is haunted by his vengeful revenant. Some nice imagery here: Veidt rehearses his HANDS OF ORLAC schtick to campy but chilling effect, becomes a huge translucent Floating Head of Death, and manifests as a series of disembodied footprints, appearing one by one in a series of jump cuts, perhaps the first time that trick was tried. Carl Hoffman’s cinematography frequently surprises and delights with its spooky low-level lighting. All the more sad that Murnau’s film of Jekyll and Hyde, DER JANUSKOPF, with Conrad Veidt, is a lost film: Hoffman shot it.

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I expect that cat’s quite old now.

Then, in The Black Cat, he kills Berber. It was her turn, I suppose. Unlike in the later version, there’s no spooky visuals of the entombed bride, but the cat is endearing, and Schunzel goes off his chump again.

In The Suicide Club, Schunzel finally gets to be hero, and in the last story he’s a cowardly knight humiliated by a fake Scooby Doo ghost show put on by Veidt to scare the interloper away from his flighty wife.

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R. Schunzel, R. Schunzel, let down your hair!

Fun stuff for your next Halloween, I would suggest. The light-hearted approach is novel, and it’s slightly surprising to see a genre being gently ribbed before it’s finished being invented.

The Sunday Intertitle: Heckle and Hype

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on October 28, 2012 by dcairns

I thought I’d watched all the silent versions of DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE but I’d missed a doozy, the 1913 feature with King Baggot. K.B., who has a fantastic name, proves to be quite the performer. His Jekyll is a stiff plaster saint in the Fredric March mould, for sure, but his Hyde… OH, his Hyde!

Now we see where Jerry Lewis drew his inspiration for Professor Julius Kelp. Baggot dons a set of comedy teeth and spasms at will. Most actors playing the role have assumed that the physical transformation of one’s entire body and face, brought on by consumption of a fuming flagon of peculiar poison, would be painful, and effect their metamorphosis by writing about in agony. Baggot stands stock still and transmutes via slow dissolve into his alter ego — THEN goes into paroxysms of contortion and crouching. He plays the whole part in a crouch, buttocks scuffing the pavement as he shuffles along, like Toulouse-Lautrec with intestinal cramps.

It’s an arresting spectacle. Director Herbert Brenon assists the weirdness by framing his shots for an erect man, so that his star wriggles wormlike across the bottom of the screen, great tracts of empty discomfort occupying the frame above his head. He also inserts some wonderfully confusing intertitles, with a less-is-more approach to grammar. Nearly every bit of text provokes minutes of head-scratching, greatly enhancing the overall effect of baffling strangeness.

Rather than the “vague sense of deformity” Stevenson’s characters attest to feeling in Hyde’s presence, the supporting players here either start in horror at the mere sight of Baggot, or fail to notice him altogether as he wiggles by like a Russian dancer.

Baggot was one of those silent stars who stuck it out but wound up an extra, probably unrecognized by the new generation of actors and directors he worked with. He’s an unbilled Courtroom Spectator in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and Man on Subway in Minnelli’s THE CLOCK. I like to think that this fall from stardom was occasioned by a perverse decision to play all his rolls crouching, almost curled into a ball, hopping and staggering around and gesticulating spasmodically with splayed, twitching fingers. Sadly, that’s just a fantasy, easily disproved.

But if I say that Baggot liked to polish his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by doing his patented Mr Hyde walk over it so that the seat of his pants dusted the shiny sidewalk emblem, who among you can prove I speak false?