Archive for Roland Topor

The Bite

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , on July 4, 2017 by dcairns

Paris was quite nice — and didn’t rain much, and ex-student/film-maker Anna Deutsch showed up with a spare umbrella and then subtitler/film detective Lenny Borger showed up with a spare copy of LES VAMPIRES, so you could say it was a worthwhile stopover apart from the two-hour wait on the tarmac and the eight-hour queue. The city is still one of the best places you could hope to be stranded, though annoyingly it was Sunday and the Roland Topor exhibition was shut. (Think! They might have had POSTCARDS!)

Huge backlog of interesting stuff seen at Bologna to write about — will start digging into it tomorrow, I swear.

Duet for harpsichord and bongos

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2009 by dcairns

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When graphic designers go odd…

So, a puzzled Keir Dullea, surrounded by antique-style furniture, turns around and sees himself as an old man. What film are we watching?

Award yourself 10 points if you answered “2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY”, and eleventy million points if you added “or DESADE.” Since DESADE is a film about a man trapped in an infinite time loop, the sense of deja vu Dullea must have experienced from his work as astronaut Dave Bowman may have helped him get into character.

Donatien Alphonse, Marquis de Sade, embodied by Dullea, is on his death bed, adrift in visions from his past life (it doesn’t so much flash before his eyes as trundle) in this late work from blacklistee and ZULU helmer Cy Endfield, produced by AIP. One wonders what must have gone wrong with Endfield’s career to bring him to this point — and thence to the horrors of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER? After 1965’s SANDS OF THE KALAHARI, he didn’t work for four years, and when he did…

…he got a project already rejected by Roger Corman. Corman told his bosses at AIP that this movie wouldn’t work, since the censors would let them show what they needed to show in order to make a respectable life of Sade. He also voiced concerns with their choice of replacement — there was some doubt that Endfield would be able to bring himself to include the exploitation elements the film needed in the marketplace. The whole thing was a balancing act between the censors and the box office. Endfield faithfully promised to shoot a spicy yarn, but seemingly chickened out when it came to the crunch, so Corman was roped in to shoot some extra skin.

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How we laughed. Pouring hot wax on prostitutes — I guess you had to be there.

You can pretty much identify the Corman interpolations: he shoots the orgies in slow motion through a thick red filter, just like Hazel Court’s satanic rite in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. It pretty well robs the scenes of erotic potential, since we lose the flesh tones, and gain only the opportunity to observe jiggling cellulite at 100 fps. Also, everybody’s laughing in Dullea’s orgies. The relationship between sex and humour is a complex one, but generally speaking, if you’re throwing an orgy (does one throw orgies? Or organize them, like posses?) and the “guests” or “participants” or “fuckers” or whatever you call them, are in a constant state of hysteria, is anything going to get done? Is anyone going to get done?

Leaving aside the sex, we have the story, at least in theory. It’s a kind of biography-by-hallucination, comparable to Raoul Ruiz’s more recent KLIMT, only written by Richard Matheson. I admire Matheson’s work, and his contribution to cinema is as fine as his contribution to genre fiction, but I have to admit his bad-guy dialogue is inclined to the fruity. He really needs Vincent Price to get away with some of these lines. A few years later, acting in a TV version of Huxley’s Brave New World, Dullea would display the camp chops necessary to pull off a Vincent, but here he lacks full confidence in his flounce and pout, so it’s left to older hams to relish the rich flow of Matheson’s verbiage.

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Darling Lilli — still porcelain-perfect, but huge black eyes like mouseholes.

Lilli Palmer is in fine fettle as Sade’s mother-in-law (and WHAT a mother-in-law!), and John Huston has disruptive fun with the part of Sade’s wicked uncle, the Abbé. He even plays his first scene with some kind of stage Oirish accent, just because he’s John Huston and nobody can stop him. He also gets the most disturbing scene, the primal scene, if you will, where Sade as a boy spies on his uncle molesting a maid, and then gets caught and punished. The future arch-pervert’s young mind forms a lasting association between sex, cruelty and voyeurism. It’s all very dollar-book Freud, but it’s passable as motivation, and the sequence is genuinely distressing. I’m not sure you could even film it nowadays.

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Eyes Wide Crossed.

Complicating the psychodrama is his love for his sister-in-law. He’s forced to wed plain-jane Anna Massey (in the middle film of her sadeian trilogy, sandwiched between PEEPING TOM and FRENZY) despite being hopelessly in love with glamourpuss Senta Berger. This embitters him and sets him on his path of sexual turpitude, if turpitude is the word for it.

vlcsnap-854234Senta’s little helper.

Matheson may have a simplistic but clear angle on Sade’s psychosexual upset, but he’s forced to short-change us on Sade the philosopher. The do-what-thou-wilt catechisms we associate with Sade’s books are here either ignored, in order to present us with Sade the lovelorn drip, or they’re given to the Abbé, the real villain of the piece. This rather falsifies the story, and is the aspect of the film the Divine Marquis would no doubt have despised the most. In fact, Sade’s writing barely gets a look in.

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“Ooh, I could crush a grape…”

Paul Schrader observed, when he was making Mishima, that the only way to film a writer’s life was by dramatizing his stories. With a composer, you play the music; with a painter, you show the work; but a novelist is unique since you have to actually adapt their art into a whole new medium just to give some (unavoidably falsified) idea of what they do. I’d be interested in a radical solution to this problem that involved lengthy recitations, but I can’t think of one of hand. All I can think of is films that dramatize the work (MISHIMA, DREAMCHILD, GOTHIC) or films that don’t, and fail (IRIS). And oh yes, a third category, which DESADE falls into —

— along with Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH — the films which create a phantasmagoria, the life of the artist merged with their work, or filtered through their style. That’s what Matheson has tried to write, but he’s unable to get to grips with Sade’s pornographic side, and unwilling to get to grips with his world-view (which is arguably even more unpleasant). But at least it gives him an unusual style and structure. Increasingly the film plays like the last act of Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL, with reality and fantasy cascading together in an avalanche of dream.

How do you solve a problem like the Marquis? I confess I haven’t seen MARQUIS, in which the naughty nobleman’s life is enacted by puppets designed by renaissance man Roland Topor, with the Marquis’s most satisfying relationship being with his talking penis, but that sounds like the most realistic version conceivable. Nor have I seen Peter Brook’s film of his stage success, THE MARAT/SADE. I have scant regard for Brook as a filmmaker, but that might be at least a bit interesting. Saw the play once. It was a bit interesting. Philip Kaufman’s QUILLS falls flat because again, it’s reluctant to admit how nasty Sade’s fantasies were: when it tries to do so, the film’s rather jovial tone disintegrates, which would be fine if it were an intentional effect, but it doesn’t seem to be. Pasolini’s SALO is still the most unadulterated, apocalyptic version of Sade put on screen, and that was promptly banned in nearly every country on Earth. I believe it was legal to screen it on the Moon, but the film came out three years after the last manned flight there. I’m not sure astronaut Eugene A. Cernan has seen the film to this day.

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Their royal lownesses, the King and Queen of Lilliput.

Returning to the Endfield: he directs it with some pictorial flair (although my MGM DVD seems to cut things off at the top), aided by decorous locations, but there’s sometimes a lack of good sense in his shooting: after showing the newly married Dullea and Massey advancing between two lines of people, he cuts to a reverse angle, seemingly a POV, but shot from knee-height as if the protagonists had been abruptly munchkinated. He’s also inclined to masturbate the zoom lens a bit.

Somehow, the film is still a decent watch, maybe because it has enough bad taste  to compensate for its lack of bad taste. It’s not offensive as porn or very upsetting as drama (apart from that one scene), but it’s decorated with enough lapses of common sense to make it amusing. The opening credits, in which Sade is envisioned as a ball-playing winged fish, are ludicrously abstract, and the music by the wonderfully-named Billy Strange chooses to equate decadence with modernity, so that the faux-18th century chamber music segues into bongo jazz or wah-wah guitar whenever anything juicy threatens to happen. Like most bad decisions in films scoring, this approach has a perfectly sound reason behind it: it’s just that it doesn’t work. I expect Michael Mann to try something similar any day now.

Here’s some more sado-erotic action with Lilli Palmer, thirty years earlier in Carol Reed’s pre-make of SHOWGIRLS, enticingly entitled A GIRL MUST LIVE. Lilli’s Scottish opponent is the great Renee Houston.

“He had the Devil’s own eye.”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

 you're thinking about a brick wall

Very much enjoyed talking about Jack Clayton to students the other day. First lecture of term is usually a bit shambolic, and the room and equipment didn’t help here, but Clayton’s films are quite accessible and it’s certainly easy to find good scenes to extract: there are so many stand-out moments in THE INNOCENTS and maybe especially THE PUMPKIN EATER that it’s hard to limit oneself to one or two per film.

My CD of Georges Delerue’s original score to SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES just arrived, so I’m listening to that as I write. Pretty criminal of Disney to have fired the sublime Delerue and hired James Horner instead, but I will admit to rather liking the Horner score, which has a pleasingly Halloweeny sound.

Since Disney never throw ANYTHING away, the idea of a restored director’s cut of SWTWC is perfectly practical. Removing the V.O. and changing the score would be very simple, and would already make a bug difference. The only thing standing in the way of this is the fact that there’s no obvious money to be made from such a project — unlike BLADE RUNNER, this film hasn’t grown in reputation since it’s first, unsuccessful release. (I remember waiting for it to play Edinburgh, but it never even came.)

Looking at Clayton’s work as a whole was a pleasure — bits link up in unusual ways. The fly that buzzes on the soundtrack of THE INNOCENTS, presaging the appearance of ghosts, moves onscreen for THE GREAT GATSBY, where it alights on a sandwich mysteriously abandoned in the echoing mansion house.

Woman in Black

The influence of the past on the present, embodied by those ghosts, receives an echo in THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE, when Judith’s drinking friend appears as a shadowy, blurred reflection in the background of a shot, fading up as Judith remembers her.

Clayton’s fondness for overlapping images became more obvious, from the lap-dissolved dream in THE INNOCENTS to the slow mix that takes us from a giant billboard image of bespectacled eyes (the Eyes of God) to the blood-smeared headlights of Gatsby’s car. A slightly overdone effect, maybe, and one that anticipates even more vulgar pictorial effects in Coppola’s DRACULA (Coppola scripted Clayton’s GATSBY).

in the mouth of madness

But despite these interconnections, Clayton’s was such a discontinuous career that one can’t help feeling that vital parts are missing, films that would help make sense of the whole oevre if Clayton had been allowed to make them: projects like CASUALTIES OF WAR and THE TENANT, later realised by other filmmakers; projects never yet realised, like adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, Jessamyn West’s MASSACRE AT FALL CREEK, or James Kennaway’s SILENCE.

(All this from Neil Sinyard’s excellent book, Jack Clayton.)

SILENCE was killed by Barry Diller when he took charge of 20th Century Fox. Diller is rumoured to be the model for Mr Burns in The Simpsons, and the fact that he cancelled the project without even reading the script caused Clayton to throw several chairs through that executives plate glass office window.

The story of a mute black woman known only as “Silence”, the unmade film acquired a prophetic significance when Clayton himself lost the power of speech after a stroke. Re-learning language and re-starting his career was an incredible feat — rather than regretting that Clayton made so few films, maybe I should just be grateful he was able to make as many as he did.

Free Mason

British teeth

Stills from THE INNOCENTS and THE PUMPKIN EATER.