Archive for Robocop

It always happens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2016 by dcairns

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On a whim — I’m a whimsical fellow — I made a gif of a dummy Kim Novak falling past the mission tower window in VERTIGO.

Stare at it long enough and you will begin to get past the initial amusement. You will see that what is happening is not funny, but terrible.

The shot in the movie itself is bathetic rather than tragic, escaping a Bad Laugh only because it’s part of a powerful montage with good acting and music. What’s wrong with the shot?

I think Hitchcock is up against the fact that figures falling past windows are somehow comic. There’s a whole Monty Python sketch about this, and one also thinks of Charles Durning’s cartoony plunge in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. Rigid dummies are also funny, though not as much as floppy ones. Did nobody think of manufacturing a realistically articulated dummy with a degree of stiffness in the joints? The expense of the exercise may have been a factor, but I bet I could knock up a better dummy in a day, if supplied with some mannikin parts and a wig and costume.

Are you actually reading this or have you become hypnotized by the perpetual motion falling Novak?

As often with Hitchcock’s less effective moments, the artificiality is an issue. He’s built a full-sized window and a big bit of background art, more of a cyclorama than a matte painting (we know this because it’s recycled in ONE-EYED JACKS). So there’s no reason I can see why the dummy has to be superimposed, but it appears to have been matted in afterwards. You could actually have placed a trampoline off the bottom of frame and dropped a real Kim Novak into it — it would have been hilarious when she bounced back into view, but George Tomasini would have cut by then. You could rely on George to get things like that right.

(Unlike Frank J. Urioste, who allows us to see a stuntman’s legs waving as he hits a crash mat just out of frame in ROBOCOP, even though he’s supposed to have been flung from a high window. Strange carelessness, in what’s otherwise a superbly cut film.)

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Then there’s the pose. Of all the possible angles of descent, head first seems to me the most potentially comical. Because it shows the ersatz Novak full-figure, in her most recognisable aspect (although we’re not used to seeing her upside down), Hitch may have thought it would be helpful for clarity, since we would only have an instant to recognize the plummeting figure. But I think the context he’s set up would allow him to get away with being less clear, and a less perfect angle would enhance the sense of glimpsed reality. Basically any angle that’s not upskirt would be better.

(See Polanski’s POV shot in ROSEMARY’S BABY of Ruth Gordon on the phone in the bedroom. The cinematographer was astonished that Polanski chose to obscure most of the actor with the door jamb, but that awkward framing is what convinces us we’re seeing something through the eyes of a real-life onlooker who cannot be expected to have a perfect view.)

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Anything else? Well, the dummy (and even in under a second we are in no doubt that it IS a dummy) seems to be falling at a very slight angle. I guess that’s possible if she stood on the edge and pitched forward, or did an Olympic-style dive, but it makes us wonder about things that aren’t relevant to the emotion of the scene.

Still, it’s been voted the best film ever made, so I guess Hitch was doing something right.

 

 

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Third Degree Screen Burn

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 26, 2015 by dcairns

I think it’s OK to reprint this — my first piece for Sight & Sound, on Montaldo’s CIRCUITO CHIUSO (CLOSED CIRCUIT). Frame grabs are new. Maybe the first review published in Sight & Sound in the form of a police interrogation.

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Okay, wise guy, what were you doing on the night in question?

I was watching a film. A perfectly harmless –

So you were watching a film. What film?

Um, it was called Closed Circuit.

Never heard of it.

It’s an Italian film, from the seventies. I wouldn’t expect you to –

Tell me all about it.

Well, it’s not easy to describe –

Try.

Well, it’s actually a TV movie. Made during that half hour when Italian TV was making interesting stuff like Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem. A time capsule from before Berlusconi.

He mixed up in this too?

No, thankfully. Anyhow, it’s all set in a cinema –

Thought you said it was a TV movie.

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It is. Set in a cinema. And for the first half hour, nothing much happens. People come in, we get glimpses of the staff, the routines, the different kinds of characters. But it’s fascinating, because the filmmaker, Giuliano Montaldo, who’s still working today, shoots everything with a wonderfully fluid moving camera, and a choreographed approach to action. Plus the sound, all post-dubbed in the Italian manner, creates a sense of everything happening just as it should. Like fate is running smoothly.

The movie being screened is a spaghetti western. And there’s something very nostalgic for me about the way that widescreen image gets crimped and cropped by shooting through doorways or blocking the screen with a foreground character. It’s like when I was a kid and saw Sergio Leone movies for the first time, and they were panned and scanned on the BBC, sliced down from 2.35:1 to 1.33:1. You could see this was wide, expansive cinema, but it was oddly telescoped. It seemed like a kid’s-eye view, watching the world from under a table or behind a couch.

Anyhow, the focus on bit-players, the artificial sound, and the plotlessness, sort of recall Tati. But then somebody gets shot. A middle-aged cinephile comes in late, sits down, and gets a bullet in the heart. There’s panic. The cops arrive and stop everyone leaving. They make a search but can’t find any gun. They interview everyone but can’t find any motive.

It’s a cop movie?

Well, the young detective in charge is as close to the lead as the movie has. And I guess it’s kind of a giallo, but without the sex and gore. It expands on the weird self-reflexive quality you get in some gialli. But the weird thing is, all this set-up hasn’t established anything that could make for a plot, anything which could lead to murder. So they decide to stage a re-enactment. An excitable usher takes the dead man’s role, they start the film again, and at the exact same moment, just as a climactic gunshot goes off onscreen, the usher gets shot.

Uh-huh. A serial killer.

Well, here’s the thing. The audience members are really freaked now. The sense of entrapment and repetition recalls Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel, even down to the media circus gathering outside the theater. Now one geeky guy comes to the cops with a hair-brained theory. They won’t listen, but he does succeed in finding a bullet-hole in the movie screen. A search behind the screen fails to find anything, but this arrogant police chief who’s come in –

Careful, buddy.

– this arrogant police chief insists on another re-enactment. To prove they really have the crime scene pinned down now, that the killer can’t possibly do it again. Because, maybe, the cops are starting to dread that the sociologist is right. There’s a superstitious terror in the air, a feeling that the movie may be cursed, may be a film maudit.

A film mud – ?

A cursed film. See, the sociologist is suggesting that the movie killed the first guy. And having adjusted itself to that fact, it will now repeat the action whenever it’s projected. Because it’s a movie, and movies are always the same each time you watch them. Or they’re supposed to be. And, you see, we know he’s right, because the movie hasn’t set up any crazy killer or villain who could possibly be the real guilty party.

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So they stage the final re-enactment. And even if we now see it coming, Montaldo pulls out all the stops. Just as the forensics guy arrives with the news that the first bullet came from a Civil War Colt, the projectionist finds his projector won’t stop, and the police chief panics as the big cowboy on the screen tracks him across the auditorium with his giant pistol. It has the same kind of hilarious, scary panic as the Ed 209 bit in Robocop.

See, once the film has become a killer, it can’t stop. Because what happens in a film always happens the same way, each time. And maybe that’s why everything in this movie feels so choreographed, so fated. Rewatching a movie gives us an overview of predestination and prophecy.

And it’s all about, basically, the power of the image.

That’s the screwiest thing I ever heard. I don’t believe there is such a movie.

But I –

Take him away.

The Two Tiers

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , on September 20, 2013 by dcairns

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Neil Blomkamp’s ELYSIUM has the same strengths and weaknesses as his DISTRICT 9, which at least shows he doesn’t absolutely need Peter Jackson sitting on his shoulder to pull off a scifi splatterfest that yokes interesting ideas to the mayhem. I’m not aware of another FX movie this season that preaches in favour of universal health care, nor one with such a tasty design sense — GRAVITY is a more beautiful film by far, and UNDER THE SKIN a more peculiar one, but if you’ve been starved of strong bloody mayhem since Verhoeven departed Hollywood, as I feel I have, this movie will certainly give you your dismemberment fix.

The basic premise of a divided society has been a staple of SF movies since METROPOLIS, and conceptually all Blomkamp adds is that, rather that sinking the proles beneath the Earth, he elevates the elite to a space station. And ties the results to modern American life as Romero did in LAND OF THE DEAD. He also equips the 1% with domestic med-bays which are able to heal virtually any injury short of death. This technology is apparently free, which begs the question why the top dogs guard it so jealously — one of a number of logical flaws which you have to overlook in order to enjoy Matt Damon’s grand guignol suffering, the Peckinpah wet-dream carnage, or the lovely and often original production design.

There’s also Blomkamp’s trademark shakicam, which at times gives the impression that he’s rested his lens on a washing machine as it hits the spin cycle. This inevitably costs him coherence, and there’s a crucial bit of business involving a grenade during the final hero-villain scrap which just isn’t discernible at all. You can figure out afterwards what happened, but having to re-frame and re-edit on the filmmaker’s behalf does take you out of the movie. Not many things take me out of a movie short of an armed escort, but that does.

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The sheer excess of poor Damon’s brutalizing made me wonder if I wasn’t seeing another kind of Verhoeven homage — the Killer Christ Figure (Robocop walks on water at the end of ROBOCOP — in order to stab a guy in the throat). The metallic exoskeleton he’s bolted into is like an articulated crucifix, and his other injuries include, if I recall correctly, not one but two stabs to the side, and an internal crown of thorns in the form of a direct-to-the-brain data upload of poisonously encrypted information. I don’t know what the biblical equivalent of the radiation overdose is, but we do know the Messiah gave off some kind of energy when he was reborn, because how else do we explain his bloody wrappings turning into photographic paper and capturing his image? And don’t give me all that Renaissance forgery bit.

But to return to the Passion of Max Da Costa — I dig how the orangey shanty-town sprawl of LA represents the have-nots, while the have’s live in a star-shaped space station whose interior looks like Beverly Hills. The metaphor is pretty clear, and if the film is not about Earth VS Space but about a divided America, then it’s presumably about Obamacare?

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I do think it’s a shame that the wideshot of the skyscrapers, fantasticated with platforms and extensions added on willy-nilly to deal with SOYLENT GREEN levels of overpopulation, never reappear after the establishing sequence — what a great setting for an action sequence those could be, with characters parkouring through the vertical barrio and leaping from tower to tower like Rick Baker in the DeLaurentiis KONG.

Fiona wanted to know what Jodie Foster was trying to do with her accent. I don’t rightly know. I think it’s a waste of the unrivaled naturalism she displayed as a kid, to see her so mannered and self-conscious, but I don’t know if it was a deliberate effect she was going for. Fiona also felt it was a shame that bad guy Sharlto Copley, who gives a very zestful performance, didn’t have a single line that wasn’t a crusty cliché. She’s not wrong. That we still enjoyed the film must be because enough interesting ideas and images survived the journey through Blomkamp’s mental mixmaster — if he could trust himself to slow down a little bit, we’d really have something.

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