Archive for Roger Corman

Public Anomie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h04m23s165

“You’ve got to have a good beginning,” Roger Corman told Scorsese as he prepared to shoot BOXCAR BERTHA, “because the audience wants to know what it’s about, and you’ve got to have a good ending, because they want to know how it all turned out. Nothing in between really matters.”

Scorsese would later call this, “The best sense I ever heard in pictures,” but at that time he was only able to fulfil the latter half of the success formula. BB opens with a really pathetic biplane crash (obviously an AIP feature could afford to crash a plane for real, so Scorsese cuts to horrified onlookers – he would make up for this in THE AVIATOR), but it ends with a cattle car crucifixion and a really dynamic shotgun massacre which has clearly been storyboarded and then executed faithfully – the wildest shot is the trackback POV of a guy who’s just been blasted off his feet by the shotgun. Compared to the bloodbath that climaxes TAXI DRIVER, it’s very cartoony, but effective. (And during the shoot, Barbara Hershey gave him a copy of Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Scorsese’s struggle to maintain quality in his low-budget period romp is interesting to bear in mind when watching DILLINGER, which proved to be the best John Milius film I’ve ever seen. It never feels like they didn’t have enough time or money to do what they wanted to do, there are spectacular sequences (gun battles to beat HEAT) and beautiful shots, and not a bad performance in it – a considerable feet for a movie with scores of speaking parts, an inexperienced director, and a limited budget.

The very first shot (top) made Fiona cheer, and packs in more excitement and movie-star charisma than the whole ninety hours of Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES – and it’s all done with Warren Oates’ expressive kisser and impactful comicbook composition. The Oates countenance: a kind of tapioca mudslide, like the bags under his eyes decided to strike out and form a face of their own. Everything is yielding to gravity, as if only loosely fastened to the crumbly skull beneath, and yet there’s a contradictory sense of hardness and permanence that stops you from thinking he’s about to disintegrate and pool on the floor this instant. The impression is of a real tough guy who can kill everyone in the joint between cigar puffs, but who carries his own eventual dissolution wrapped up inside that bullish carcass.vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h04m44s149

Milius/Oates’ Dillinger is amoral, charming and forceful, just as he should be. I did feel the lack of a real love story — what’s missing is an intro scene to the relationship with Billie Frechette (Michelle Philips — the plain one from the Mamas and the Papas — who has a great rake-thin 1930s shape and a great 1970s slouch) — Milius admitted not being too great at writing women, I believe. Here the couple just slap each other and he tears her dress off, and it’s rather hard to read this as the beginning of a great love story or anything other than plain brutality. As with most Milius films, there’s greater interest in bromance.

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h07m56s250

The real passion is between Dillinger and Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), the G-man who was sworn to smoke a cigar over his bullet-ridden corpse. The balance between twin protagonists — a device Milius tried again in THE WIND AND THE LION — works well here because it helps stop the story being purely a glorification of Dillinger. Despite the horror of the shoot-outs, JM probably IS in love with his outlaw protag (going on his form elsewhere) but we get to opt out if we want. It’s necessary, I think, to like Conan, but it’s not necessary to like Dillinger — you can get away with just finding him interesting, a compelling problem for society to solve.

In one nice, mythic scene, Melvin Purvis fails to impress a small boy at a shoeshine, demonstrating that being a G-man is nowhere near as cool (or lucrative) as being an outlaw. Especially if the outlaw is called Dillinger and the G-man is called Melvin Purves. This isn’t enough to motivate the man’s later suicide, but it’s one note of unease more than Michael Mann thought to supply — in his movie, it’s a complete mystery why he chose to disclose this fact about Purves (a very minor nonentity in his film).

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h09m47s73

Bonus Richard Dreyfuss, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis (that moustache actually normalizes his weird Hanna-Barbera head!), Cloris Leachman.

Kurosawa influence (see also CONAN) very much in view — Johnson walks into a house where a bandit is staked out, we hear screams and shots, and the bloodied perp staggers out and dies — NOT in slomo, however. Milius evidently felt there was a limit to what he could steal. That’s what makes him different from his hero, I guess.

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h05m55s69

Great Directors Made Little: The Little Fellow

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2014 by dcairns

cc10002

Part of an occasional series of baby photographs of the great auteurs. Because.

Chaplin’s background of grinding poverty made family portraiture unlikely, but thankfully the nice people at his primary school in Kennington, in between beating him for being left-handed, took a memorial snap of the year’s waif intake.

Charlie is the one with a circle round his head and a cunning plan to get out of this.

cc20002

Images from Paul Merton’s fine study Silent Comedy, about which my only complaints are (1) no Raymond Griffith and (2) insufficient Charley Chase. Merton hasn’t been able to see Griffith projected, and eschews tatty video copies, which is fair enough, and he’s not a Chase fan, which is something of a liability in the business of appreciating silent comedy. What he says about Chase is fair enough, there just isn’t enough of it — needs about twenty pages more.

Mind you, Walter Kerr, the greatest critic of silent comedy, doesn’t rate Chase that highly either, but his account of WHY is sharp and beautiful ~

“…and Charley Chase could be counted on to fill a release schedule with a steady supply of more that acceptable two-reelers. But there was no pushing Chase beyond a sprightly domestic base, or toward features: his trim face and manner had no fairy-tale excess in them, no line to invite a caricaturist’s ballooning, no mystery to be wrestled with. He would always be at his best as a faintly fussed Mr. Normal,  condemned–in his best comedy, Movie Night–to hustling his children to the bathroom across the resisting knees of patrons trying to watch the screen. At his less than best he would manufacture gags too transparent for surprise: having padded his thighs with sponge because he is going to play Romeo in tights, he carelessly–and really inexplicably–walks across a lawn covered with revolving sprinklers; as we expect, and as he ought to have expected, the sponge inflates wildly, providing him with the legs of an overfed frog. Chase was a craftsman, and would often be of help, behind the camera, to others on the lot, Laurel and Hardy included; but he was trapped between the arbitrary gagging of his Sennett origins and the sheer, not unattractive, ordinariness of his appearance.”

Maybe… BUT (1) only in the world of silent comedy could Chase’s bizarre elongitude be classed as ordinary, and (2) I am already laughing at the image of Chase with overinflated legs — and I haven’t seen that film. (One of Kerr’s skills is evoking visual gags for us).

This all leads, somehow, to Roger Corman’s monster-maker, Paul Blaisdel ~

“…Corman retained Blaisdell to make a mutated human horror for the film THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED.  Working from a pair of long underwear and carefully cutting, gluing, and painting pieces of foam rubber and carpet padding, Blaisdell produced the three-eyed, crab-shouldered “Marty the Mutant.” [ …]  It was also in this film that Blaisdell had his first brush with death as a stuntman — during a rainstorm sequence, the foam rubber began to soak up water, causing him to collapse under its weight and nearly drown in the absorbed water.”

Via www.bloodsprayer.com

My Chaplin piece.

Click thru to explore the possibility of buying Merton’s fine volume: Silent Comedy

Falling for the House of Usher

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 15, 2013 by dcairns

UsherBlu-763x1024

By clicking here

Fall of the House of Usher [Blu-ray]

you can buy a fine Blu-ray of Roger Corman’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER featuring, among many marvelous extras, a little video essay I put together with the mighty Timo Langer. My ambition is to become a Great Video Essayist. I’m not there yet, one has to start somewhere.

Nothing else lined up to see print just now, though I just got a review copy of a disc for Electric Sheep — and I think I know what my next film will be.

All this jet-setting (Telluride-Pordenone-Lyon!) BTW, is made possible by the fact that a feature script Fiona and I wrote ages ago finally went in front of the cameras and we got paid a chunk of our fee (some of it we had when in what is known as development, some is deferred). More on that later…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 599 other followers