Archive for Sam Peckinpah

A Kubrick Shot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2016 by dcairns

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Quite late in ONE-EYED JACKS, directed by star Marlon Brando after Stanley Kubrick departed the project, there is an unmistakable Kubrick shot.

We follow Brando, a prisoner, and Karl Malden and Slim Pickens, his captors, into the jailhouse. The party advances towards us then turns to head screen right —

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— tracking screen right, the camera passes THROUGH a wall —

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— through various cells, following Brando and Malden and Pickens —

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— emerging at the the stairs to a tower —

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— and as the characters start to climb, the camera begins an ascent also…

Then the shot stops abruptly, cut off by a rather jagged angle change which abandons the phantasmal fluidity — having declared that prison walls can’t hold it back, the camera abruptly gives up the ghost-walk and jerks to a higher angle. Understandable, in a way — Brando is about to kick Pickens downstairs, and this is not the kind of action I, personally, would care to stage repeatedly (or at all!) at the end of a long, complicated camera move. Better make it a single, locked-ff shot and then the only thing that can go wrong is the stunt itself. With luck, you can just do it once and hope “Slim” doesn’t crash through the set wall.

What’s incredibly striking is how Kubrickian the shot is — under the influence of Ophuls, Kubrick was tracking through walls A LOT in THE KILLING, and would do so even more in LOLITA, the project he jumped ship onto immediately after his collaboration with Marlon ceased to seem tenable. (After LOLITA, Kubrick’s camera loses its power to become intangible and pass through solids — I don’t recall any instances of permeation in STRANGELOVE.)

The second striking thing — or maybe this struck me first — is that the shot is totally un-Brando-like. His filming so far ha been decent enough, elegant even, but he hasn’t shown any interest in long, fluid camera movements. Arguably he doesn’t show much interest here either, hacking into the shot as soon as he is decently able — sooner, even.

One would be tempted to assume that Kubrick filmed this sequence before his untimely departure, and maybe Brando chopped it up, contemptuously — but all accounts suggest SK left the film before photography began. What gives?

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My best guess is that maybe the set was prepared to Kubrick’s specifications — and it must have looked surreal, all those jail cells with a missing back wall — with a specific shot in mind. In filming there, Brando was certainly tied into one good angle — a long, graceful track-and-crane shot would be the only alternative to a series of choppy entrances and exits. Based on his usual approach, Brando might have preferred to put the camera at one end of the cells and have the characters approach from the far end, and perhaps the incomplete cells made this impractical.

If the whole thing is coincidence, I think it’s an interesting one, a novice filmmaker falling into the style of another director he’s just fired.

Incidentally, many versions of Kubrick’s departure have been told, most of them involving a script meeting and a bell or gong. What story did YOU hear?

Also, incidentally — Kubrick stole Slim Pickens for DR. STRANGELOVE after Peter Sellers wriggled out of playing Colonel Kong. And Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado were stolen by Sam Peckinpah, who had been fired from this project by Kubrick and Brando, when Peckinpah remade the story as PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID.

Without a Sound

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2016 by dcairns

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Looking at LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE and SAMURAI WOLF, and am blow away by the use of sound in these 60s and 70s Japanese samurai flicks. What’s impressive is not so much the steely clashes as the silence around them.

SWORD OF VENGEANCE director Kanji Misumi uses one particularly lucid technique to heighten his swordplay. Much of the film consists of flashbacks depicting how jowly protagonist Tomisaburo Wakayama became a masterless ronin. These flashbacks tend to feature water — rain, a rushing weir. But the water makes no sound. An eeriness is created, from which the shrill clang of blades emerges with alarming clarity. There’s basically no atmos whatsoever, so that the sound mixer’s golden rule — always be having something going on — is abandoned. The audience is always quieter when the film is quiet. We fear our movements will give us away, revealing our position to potential enemies elsewhere in the auditorium, or to the giant, godlike figures on the screen. Heaven help you if you attract their attention.

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Of course, Misumi’s choice also helps distinguish flashbacks from present tense.

Hideo Gosha’s slick SAMURAI WOLF uses silence as the sound of death. Normal sound is cut off with the swipe of a sword — we lose the whistling wind sound, the cries of the dying victim continue for a second, and then get flicked off as with the throw of a switch — this seems to follow the advent of slomo, as a kind of delayed after-effect. As with Kurosawa (THE SEVEN SAMURAI) and Peckinpah after him (THE WILD BUNCH) slomo is the speed of the dying man, that adrenalin shot of death-trauma putting your last moments into a slurred timescape, a last chance to put your thoughts in order before oblivion reels you in. And with no sounds to distract you — how thoughtful of someone.

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The last great repository of silence may be the anime, where, since every sound is added afterwards anyway, Japanese filmmakers still occasionally withhold an effect. Miyazaki does neat things with the SIZE of sounds too — in TOTORRO, the titular nature spirit is big and noisy, but in an extreme long shot he can alight with a comical PLOP, like a fat raindrop. In Otomo’s AKIRA, Tokyo blows up in the opening shot, a black bubble of destruction which spreads and bursts without a single sound, the audio vacuum somehow suggesting a roar too great for any cinema’s speakers.

Hill’s Angels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2015 by dcairns

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Fiona and I both flashed on the same minor detail in Walter Hill’s THE LONG RIDERS — a dog defecating in the main street of Northfield, Minnesota. There’s realism for you. John Ford sets up STAGECOACH with a stray horse cantering through town. Hill goes one better. Did he get lucky, or train the dog to squat on command, or wait like David Lean for his mythical perfect sunset, in the form of dog poop?

There’s also the steam-driven abstraction that putters through town just before the James-Younger Gang’s raid. The outlaws just stare at it in sullen bafflement. It’s a symbol of their obsolescence, I guess.

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Hill’s gimmick of casting real sets of brothers (David, Keith and Robert Carradine, Randy and Dennis Quaid, Stacy and James Keach, Christopher and Nicholas Guest) arguably depends on the audience being in on the gag, since no sets of brothers ever looked less alike (the Guests achieve a kind of resemblance only because they’re styled as a matching set). But it’s still fun, and all of those actors are excellent actors. Pamela Reed maybe beats all of them, though, as Belle Starr. I’ve been obsessed with her since THE RIGHT STUFF, but somehow never saw this properly before (another brown western, I thought, catching snippets on TV) and then got her confused with Joan Allen. She’s really quite different — earthier, for one thing. She had these huge, lizard-lidded, wide-spaced eyes, like the kind you might find looking out of a dwarf. Too big for the skull trying to contain them. Amazing. It’s funny when Michael Beck from THE WARRIORS turns up as her hubbie, still wearing a waistcoat with nothing underneath.

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Hill usually admits to being uncomfortable writing for women, so the fact that he didn’t script this himself is a blessing. Compare Deborah Van Valkenburgh’s translucent-topped tart in THE WARRIORS (“She was a nasty little shit-stirrer, wasn’t she?” said Fiona) with Reed’s complex, intense, angry human being here. The actor and script even manage to find a wholly unfamiliar attitude to take — ambiguous, defiant — when her rival menfolk prepare to fight over her. The potential pitfalls of obnoxious cliché are so numerous here it’s a miracle the movie negotiates them, but it does.

Bill Bryden, a Scottish writer who had been running the BBC Scotland Drama Department, initiated this script, and my main takeaway from it is that bank robbers are fools and everything these guys did was destructive and counter-productive. It could be seen as an entirely negative film. But it has some kind of affection for its characters in spite of everything, and a love for the kind of Americana it wallows in. Hill’s long collaboration with composer Ry Cooder never yielded anything else as marvelous as this, a score to rank with Bob Dylan’s for PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and Joe Strummer’s for WALKER.

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Hill’s debt to Peckinpah (he scripted THE GETAWAY) is certainly evident in the action scenes, which look seriously dangerous to both man and horse. The lensing of talk isn’t always fluid or interesting — Hill’s comic book approach comes through here, with players locked into stand-and-deliver mode, the framing static and life supplied only by staccato cutting patterns. It verges on the televisual — but then Hill’s restless editing can make a tense stand-off out of a few flat closeups and one begins to admire how far he can push a limited technique.

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