Archive for Roderick Watson

Things Roddy said during Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by dcairns

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A specific example of the limits of conceptual knowledge in WMS is from a reported instance of a 21-year-old woman with WMS (Verbal IQ of 69) who was literate and read several books on her favorite topic: Vampires. When this subject was asked what a vampire is, she responded reasonably and clearly that a vampire is ‘‘a man who climbs into ladies’ bedrooms at night and sinks his teeth into their necks.’’ When asked why vampires do that, she thought for a bit, and then said, ‘‘Vampires must have an inordinate fondness for necks’’ (Johnson & Carey, 1998).

Fiona’s brother Roddy is Christmassing with us again, which means we’re watching lots of his favourite horror movies. Roddy has Williams Syndrome, like the woman quoted above, and oddly enough he likes vampires too. (Williams people are often musical, and often seem to have passionate interests, bordering on obsession: Roddy’s love of cranes and digging machinery is very typical of the condition.)

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“I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night. Wonder what would happen if I did?”

Roddy says this once during every screening of a Christopher Lee DRACULA film. Lee is his favourite vampire, and we’re pretty sure the attraction is the sexual fascination Lee’s Count is able to exert over every blonde he encounters. Roddy does not exert this fascination, but would probably like to. Wouldn’t we all?

“What’s that he’s doing? Is that a coffin or something? Another victim? Oh my God.”

Roddy himself watches quite hypnotized, becoming antsy and talkative only when the suspense builds. But the boring scenes with Barry Andrews keep him hooked too, since it’s always possible that something more vampiric may happen at any moment.

This movie has a fair bit of tedium, but director Freddie Francis contrives some lurid and Bavaesque colour effects, which seep in whenever Lee is around. Unfortunately, nothing but verbiage seeps in when Barry Andrews and Rupert Davies are around.

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“Is it her he’s looking for? Look! He’s rubbing his face on her face. Oh! He’s a vampire and he bit her.”

“Uh-oh, there he is. What’s happening? Uh oh. Here you go.”

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People with Williams consistently interpret faces as being friendlier than the rest of us.

“He’s smiling, look.”

“Ah-oh, here we go. He got caught – run!”

Here, Roddy seems to be unsure who he’s rooting for, shouting helpful advice to Dracula as well as to the heroes. But he knows pretty well who the goodies and baddies are. The character of the unnamed priest (Ewan Hooper) who gets enslaved by Drac is a puzzle, though. Characters who behave inconsistently are troubling.

“Uh-oh. This is the best bit.” Hooper smashes Rupert Davies on the head. “Hit the wrong man!”

I try to explain to Roddy that no, he hit the man he was aiming at, but he doesn’t understand Hooper’s two-faced Renfield persona. People with Williams Syndrome are extremely sociable and tend to think the world is their friend, until proven otherwise.

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Also, since the spread of cognitive abilities in people with this condition is quite varied, I suspect Roddy has a rather uncertain “theory of mind.” I can explain the concept of theory of mind with a test ~

If you say to a child under three, “A little boy has some sweeties, and he hides them under a bowl, but when he’s away his mummy moves them and puts them under a cup. When the boy comes back, where will he look for his sweeties.” Younger children always say “Under the cup,” because that’s where the sweeties ARE, and they can’t grasp the fact that the boy has different knowledge from them. That’s theory of mind.

When we watched ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, Roddy became frustrated by the character of the policeman, who didn’t know that Lon Chaney was the Wolfman. I tried to explain that the policeman didn’t know that fact, but no matter how I tried to express it, Roddy thought I was claiming that Lon Chaney wasn’t the Wolfman. “I’m sure Lon Chaney is the Wolfman,” he muttered, repeatedly.

“What’s going to happen now? Uh-oh, here comes guess who. Uh oh, he’s got a hold of him now.”

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“He’s not very pleased, is he?”

Tests have shown that Williams people are very attentive to faces, when watching TV or otherwise. This close concentration seems to be connected to a difficulty in interpreting the meaning behind facial expressions. Because the condition involves high levels of sociability, Williams people concentrate very hard on the faces, trying their best to make out what the expressions mean. Concordantly, Williams people aren’t much interested in cartoons. Roddy loves slapstick stuff where people without learning difficulties fall down or bump their heads, thus losing their supposed sense of superiority, but cartoons aren’t interesting, presumably because the faces don’t have enough detail of expression.

Roddy’s generally very good at recognizing people’s faces — that seems to involve a different part of the brain. He did think the CGI Jim Carrey in A CHRISTMAS CAROL was “that man from that programme with the horse” — Wilfred Brambell in Steptoe and Son (but what other real human being ever looked like that?), and he did think Veronica Carlson in this films was a presenter from 70s children’s show How, but that’s not so unreasonable: Jenny Hanley’s appearances in SCARS OF DRACULA did not prevent her co-presenting Magpie on Children’s telly in the seventies.

“For example, adolescents and adults with WMS have difficulty differentiating not alive into the conceptual categories of dead, inanimate, unreal, or nonexistent.” The Neurocognitive Profile of Williams Syndrome: A Complex Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses, Ursula Bellugi, Liz Lichtenberger, Wendy Jones, and Zona Lai, Marie St. George

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“I ken what he’s going to do — I ken what happens!”

Roddy sort of believes in Dracula, and sort of believes in Santa Claus. It’s quite hard to work out how much he believes, though. I think it might be similar to the belief in God a lot of people must have — they would be astonished at any example of divine intervention (of course there are no doubt many people who would accept a miracle as wholly appropriate to their understanding of the world — I suppose…) Roddy doesn’t expect to meet Dracula on a dark night, and he knows that Christopher Lee is an actor. Or at least he accepts that these things are widely acknowledged to be the case. He believes Castle Dracula is a real place and won’t take in any information about special effects that contradicts the evidence of his own eyes. (To be fair, Yvette Mimieux believed the iron sphinx in THE TIME MACHINE was a real structure, and hoped to visit it one day, and she’s in the film.)

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“Watch out! There he goes! Eyes start watering.”

Things Roddy said during “Dracula”

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2009 by dcairns

Hammer horror: perversely seasonal. DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS.

Roddy sure likes his vampire movies. He watched the Hammer DRACULA, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, over three days, and found room for the Universal DRACULA with Bela Lugosi too.

Gotta love the way the theme music to DRACULA — better known as Swan Lake — warbles like a faulty gramophone.

And then they take care to explain all about vampires before we see any, and then cut ahead to Castle Drac to see the Count rising from his sepulchral slumber, along with his pet bugs and opussums. It’s all about clarity — establish that he’s a vampire, see? because if you don’t do that, the extreme reticence with which the film treats his blood-drinking makes him look like a sexual pervert. Dracula descends on Dwight Frye: fade to black. Upon a little waif in a dark street: fade to black. Frye creeps up on an unconscious woman: fade to black.

Ben Hecht wrote that Hollywood’s insistence on fading out for sexual interludes led him to imagine rampant intercourse whenever a film faded out for any reason whatever: the DA rogers the judge across his desk, the coach assaults his team, the chorus line fall upon, de-bag and ravish Warner Baxter. All is fade-out depravity.

At a not-too subconscious level, this erotic subtext is a big part of Roddy’s love of vampire movies.

“Oh, there’s the castle, ho ho!”

“Uh oh — David!”

“Where’s the female vampires, can’t even see them…”

Roddy keeps up a running commentary of non-sequiturs during most films, as well as baths, trips to the bathroom, and any other activity that doesn’t fully occupy his mouth muscles.

Love the track in on Lugosi during his first entrance, perversely accompanied by opossum squeaks. Reminds me of Deneuve and the cats in BELLE DE JOUR — the similarity is so striking that I suspect an influence. After all, Bunuel was just getting into movies when DRACULA came out.

“Oh, there he is!”

“You look busy writing there, David.”

Dracula: “I never drink…” and then the word “wine” is drowned out by Roddy, the teetotaler, declaring “Good man!”

“It’s only a bat, for God’s sake!”

“What’s happened there. What’s he doing? What’s he — uh oh!”

“They’re nice girls. Well, they seem friendly.”

When the asylum nurse calls Renfield a loony, “Loony, ho ho!”

“Do you think there’s such a thing as bats?”

Roddy, as usual, speculates on what he’d be like as a vampire: “I’d have to wear a black jacket, a red-black cloak, black shoes, and then I’d be like that Dracula.”

So if you happen to encounter a short, stout man, caped, black-jacketed and shod, naked from the waist down, do not be unduly alarmed.

The Christmas Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2009 by dcairns

Not particularly seasonal, I know, but with Fiona’s brother Roddy visiting, I didn’t get any silent films watched this week. Roddy can’t read (Williams Syndrome, the genetic condition he was born with, results in strong verbal skills but weak literary skills) so intertitles are a bother.

So DRACULA it was, although I didn’t entirely concentrate on it as I should’ve, what with the overflow of festive cheer and all. But I was pleased to find one of those intertitles, or supertitles, more common in early ’30s movies than later. Since DRAC is a filmed play, the shipboard scene gets a flurry of expository dialogue, news headlines, and a title card, just to make sure we’re not confused by the sudden departure from long drawn-out conversation scenes.

The film is a bit livelier than often supposed, though. Director Tod Browning and cameraman Karl Freund never stop serving up arresting images, even when we arrive in Whitby and the tension drops markedly. The theatrical aspect of the film becomes stronger and stronger, until the “climax” with its offscreen staking, which is indeed a letdown. But stage-trained Helen Chandler (who was suffering acute appendicitis throughout the shoot) and Dwight Frye in particular make excellent use of front-and-centre performance styles, aimed not at their fellow actors but at us, the wonderful people out there in the dark.

The thing is, it’s a lousy play, with plenty of what Hitchcock would call “no-scene scenes,” as when Mina and Lucy sit around discussing Dracula’s “romantic” manner. Playwrights used to argue that you couldn’t have a scene with just two women, because “nothing could happen.” A ridiculous idea, but this is the kind of scene they were warning against (it’s more or less reproduced in the Coppola version).

(There might be a good study to be written about the creative use of stage conventions in early talkies. When Lee Tracy in BLESSED EVENT, freaking Allen Jenkins out with his electric chair talk, refers to the audience present at an execution, he gestures at US. Both actors had transferred directly from the Broadway version.)

Haven’t been able to find out which silent movie the impressive;y hairy ship-in-a-storm footage has been culled from, but the Keystone mariners move at 20fps, so it’s certainly from elsewhere.

Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen

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