Archive for Robert Stevenson

Ellenshaw on Frisco Bay

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2019 by dcairns

I’m hopeful that a bunch of you won’t be able to identify the images here, thus creating INTRIGUE.

Which I will then SHATTER by telling you they’re from Disney’s THE LOVE BUG. Matte artist/ genius Harrison Ellenshaw was responsible.

His art adds a whole layer of melancholic, nostalgic beauty to MARY POPPINS and it kind of does the same, or tries to. The plotline doesn’t really sustain such emotions, especially in the final third, which is just one big car race, with gags more notable for their difficulty/expensiveness that for being particularly clever or funny.

But the first two-thirds… a lot of peculiar stuff in this movie (spiritual ancestor to CHRISTINE).

As a movie-besotted child, Fiona fantasised that Herbie, the sentient Volkswagon, must be possessed by a poltergeist, or else the reincarnation of a human in machine form. (Weird kid.) In the movie, there is actually an explanation offered, though it’s more in the form of speculation/bullshit than actual canonical backstory (kind of like how various characters in Romero’s zombie films suggest their own theories of zombie apocalypse causation). Buddy Hackett’s Tennessee Steinmetz, who has studied in Tibet, puts forth an animist view, proposing that man has invested so much emotion into his mechanical creations that they have become alive.

Amazingly, Buddy manages to put this theory over with some conviction. The ultimate version of HERBIE would be like A.I., with the machines reigning supreme after humanity’s extinction. HERBIE INHERITS THE EARTH, anyone?

As David Wingrove pointed out to me, there’s a weird irony/perversity to the fact that director Robert Stevenson was a conchie who went to America to get away from the war, and ended up working almost exclusively for the two biggest right-wingers in Hollywood, Uncle Walt and Howard Hughes.

Also watched: HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, which is the one I remember seeing on first release (not really any cool new paintings), and THE BLACK HOLE, for which Ellenshaw came out of retirement and created some amazing imagery.

Chim-chim-cheree.

THE LOVE BUG stars Zeke Kelso; Rosemary Pilkington; Lord Fellamar; the singing bone; Mr. Snoops; Tommy Chan; Officer Gunther Toody.

HERBIE RIDES AGAIN stars Madelon Claudet; April Dancer; Sheriff Al Chambers; Col ‘Bat’ Guano; Horace Debussy “Sach” Jones; Mr. Hilltop; Captain Flash; and Baron Samedi.

THE BLACK HOLE stars Hauptmann (Capt.) Stransky; Norman Bates; Max Cherry; Robin Lee Graham; Weena; Dirty Lyle; and the voices of Cornelius and Maj. ‘King’ Kong.

Citizen Eyre

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-20h22m53s60

Not quite fair to follow the exquisite Cary Fukanaga JANE EYRE with Robert Stevenson’s 1943 Gothic potboiler, though normally I’d be likely to prefer the older film (produced by Orson Welles!)

In this Hollywood England, everyone is plummy, with occasional hints of Scots accent for the harsher characters (Henry Danielle in particular) — the only Yorkshire accent is possessed by Ethel Griffies (the ornithologist from THE BIRDS) as Grace Poole, the madwoman in the attic’s nurse. She appears so late in the story that her authentic speech comes as an illusion-shattering shock.

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-20h29m00s150

In the leads, of course, we have Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, each in their own way slightly disastrous, together a cataclysmic calamity which nearly tears the film from its sprockets. But it’s not a total disaster — with atmospheric studio artifice — Thornfield as Castle Frankenstein — and Bernard Herrmann at his most chromatically characteristic, the movie is beautiful to see and hear, and there are fragments of good scenes and good ideas throughout. Stevenson, assisted and harassed by Welles, and with a mainly intelligent script her co-authored with Aldous Huxley and John Houseman, manoeuvres his way through the long, convoluted narrative quite deftly, distorting quite a bit and being too obvious much of the time, but hitting the key points…

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-20h26m31s207

You’ll grow to love Joan’s “concerned simpleton” expression or, if you don’t, it won’t be from lack of opportunity because it NEVER LEAVES HER FACE.

But we never believe the love story, do we? Orson is able to look offscreen with affecting tenderness — helped, I suspect, by his custom of playing his closeups against thin air. But when he’s intercut with Fontaine’s simpering features, we wonder what is inspiring such compassion, since Fontaine is cycling through her limited repertoire much faster than usual and too more wearying effect. (It’s a bit like DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, this intercutting of closeups that seem to technically correspond but betray the manipulation usually concealed — we KNOW, Kuleshov be damned, that these shots don’t belong together.)

Listen — I like Fontaine, who is great in REBECCA and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN and numerous other things. But look — in the screen tests for REBECCA, happily preserved, we can see a small army of Hollywood lovelies trying and failing to grab the role of the meek and mild “I”. The character actually has a line about being shy, but Loretta Young plays it lush and saintly, while Vivian Leigh looks like she wants to tear Maxim DeWinter’s trousers off. Fontaine’s looks like the most intelligent reading by far, but maybe it’s just that her mannerisms suited it better? She can play shy. As Jane Eyre, she’s supposed to be spirited — and she gives us the most submissive, eyes-downcast, passive performance we ever saw. A case of an actor needing to be broken from her habitual performance and shoved out into terra incognito, not an easy thing when the actor is a star. Also a case of playing the lines, which are technically submissive as it’s 19th century employee-to-employer dialogue, rather than playing the subtext. (I just watched The Secret Life of Books on the BBC, in which awful journalist Bidisha struggles with the politics of the book — she loved it at sixteen when she read it for pleasure, but now she’s thinking deeply about it, it all seems so incorrect — partly because her attempts to shoehorn it into a modern PC paradigm interfere with her ability to actually read and understand.)

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-20h25m53s66

Welles plays his happy scenes as Charles Rochester Kane, wears his pants absurdly high and affects a piratical puffy shirt and a false nose, but is very good in places. I like listening to his voice and we can believe him as temperamental, domineering, haunted — during those moments when we can believe him as a human being at all.

vlcsnap-2014-10-07-20h26m07s223

As you can see — great visuals, particularly in long shot.

The script hews closely to the cornier aspects of the book’s ending, though Jane never becomes rich — but we do get Rochester’s miracle recovery from blindness and the birth of a son to the house of Rochester, though this is all in the form of Fontaine’s tremulous narration, so Sonny Bupp is deprived of a plum role. As far as I recall, other adaptations are content to end with Jane and Edward reunited and “Reader, I married him,” as the inevitable future outcome, skipping any suggestion of a cure and letting the audience imagine the oncoming domestic bliss, such as it may be.

The Bobby Snatcher

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2008 by dcairns

Greyfriars Kirk, photographed by me, 2008. Both ends.

The church in THE BODY SNATCHER. This shot appears after a couple of stock location shots of unchanged Edinburgh settings, the Castle esplanade and Holyrood Palace, and it’s such a convincing Edinburgh church that I always sort of thought it was another stock shot. But that’s our protagonist sat on a gravestone, visible through the gate. And comparing it to the real Greyfriars, it’s obviously a vaguely similar set-up but not the same place. On the other hand, it looks too grand to be a purpose-built set. I wonder if it was left over from another picture, and was rearranged and repurposed for this one? That seems to have been standard practice for Val Lewton’s unit, where the grand staircase from THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS famously crops up again in CAT PEOPLE and THE SEVENTH VICTIM, and THE GHOST SHIP was written specifically to take advantage of a ship set constructed for another movie (but I’ve never heard which).

But it one sense, it’s the same church. The authentic Edinburgh location is the site where a wee dog, Bobby, stayed by his master’s grave, and is commemorated with his own canine statue in bronze. Lewton cheekily incorporates Bobby, now rechristened Robbie, into his version of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Burke and Hare spin-off, and has the inconvenient terrier soundly throttled by Boris Karloff. Is nothing sacred?

Decades later, Greyfriars Kirk was used as the opening location of BURKE AND HARE: THE MUSICAL, a film written by yours truly. It seemed fitting to acknowledge the debt to Lewton, and the fact that the church is next door to our base camp at Edinburgh College of Art was probably a factor too. But it’s amazing place — in the heart of a modern city, you can pan 180° without seeing anything that smacks of post-1828 construction.

GREYFRIARS BOBBY, THE TRUE STORY OF A DOG (amusing subtitle, I feel) in 1961 and GREYFRIARS BOBBY in 2005, tell the “true” story of the dedicated West Highland terrier.