Archive for Scene by Scene

The Clumsy Waiter

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2020 by dcairns

In canceled John Landis’ KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE Donald Sutherland has a surprising cameo — Landis evidently cultivated the star assiduously while assisting on KELLY’S HEROES (and got him again for ANIMAL HOUSE) — as “the clumsy waiter,” a bit that involves cutting to him falling down a lot in waiter garb, as part of a mock trailer for a disaster movie starring George Lazenby… these few moments of crude slapstick may hint at something deeper which would, if viewed from the right angle, unlock the mysteries of cinema.

Sutherland was fresh from Fellini’s CASANOVA and Bertolucci’s 1900. In Mark Cousins’ Scene By Scene interview — I think the best in that series — he tells an amazing story about the latter. In 1900 he plays a fascist who’s literally called Attila and who shows you how bad he is by murdering a cat with his head.

The story’s at about 22:42. The reason this is the best episode is that it’s the only time the central conceit of showing scenes to filmmakers actually results in staggeringly interesting reaction shots. Some of Donald’s expressions in this interview count as among the best of his career.

Bertolucci set the scene, explaining that he would tie a (real) cat to a post, then charge a cunningly substituted fake one headfirst, crushing a bag of blood concealed within. Donald wasn’t exactly keen on smashing into a wooden post with his head, which he needs for acting with, but agreed to do it ONCE.

THUD.

The bag of blood failed to burst. “The actor didn’t hit the cat correctly,” was what Sutherland recalled them saying. OK, one more time.

Some FX genius got the idea of placing two thumbtacks against the baggie, so that it would be pierced by any solid impact.

THUD. SPLASH.

“There. OK?” “No. Not okay.” He has two thumbtacks sticking out of his forehead. He also has concussion.

So he does twenty takes or something crazy until Bertolucci is satisfied. That evening in the bar he’s trying to explain to Gerard Depardieu what he had to do that day and he decides to SHOW them what he had to do. He charges a pillar, trips, crashes into what turns out to be a mirror, and ends up with half his ear hanging off.

The point of this story, besides the striking nature of the events themselves, would seem to be the plight of the actor, but Sutherland plants a seed of doubt in our minds about his physical prowess, and one maybe wonders if the KENTUCKY FRIED skit was inspired by a certain gaucheness in his movements?

Moving on.

Next story comes from John Baxter’s Fellini biography, not his best work, but he describes Sutherland wrapping on his last day on the project. They’re filming in a field. As he’s walking away, wearing a blanket or cloak or something, he does a big wave at Fellini, using the robe for a flourish. It catches the wind, and he’s pulled off-balance and falls in the mud.

He gets up, makes the gesture again, and falls in the mud again.

Moving on again.

This is from Philip Kaufman’s audio commentary on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Kaufman is filming the climax in a big greenhouse with Sutherland way up in the roof beams, clambering about.

A friend drops in. “Is that Donald Sutherland way up there?”

Kaufman confirms that it is.

“What the hell? Don’t you know he’s the clumsiest man alive?

I love Donald Sutherland and I will gladly accept any stories you have about Donald Sutherland falling over.

They Go Boom #2

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2018 by dcairns

The second film in our accidental Vilmos Zsigmond/Nancy Allen double feature, theone actually shot by Vilmos, was, of course, Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT, which is one of his NON-Hitchcockian thrillers. It meshes BLOW UP and THE CONVERSATION, Chappaquiddick and the JFK assassination, a few good ideas and some great execution with a lot of stupid ideas and a little stupid execution… as a political thriller it’s missed the bus to Pakulaville, but it does sport a charming and unaffected performance from John Travolta. I like some of his affected perfs too (American Crime Story!) but it’s interesting to see him looking and sounding human. He does have one terrible bit though…

We open with a film-within-a-film —  a slasher movie which we’re meant to find cheesy, yet De Palma can’t resist serving up long, bravura steadicam shots which kind of confuse the issue — parody cheese or real cheese? Also, this is the only bit where Pino Donaggio’s score works at all — it’s a kind of imitation Morricone/Goblin sound, again making the exploitation nonsense seem more distinguished than we’re meant to find it. From here on, EVERY TIME Donaggio crashes the soundtrack, it’s ruinous. I love love love his DON’T LOOK NOW music, but everything he did for BDP is noxious, especially the PSYCHO strings in CARRIE. Come to think of it, CASUALTIES OF WAR is a defensible film until the final scene where Morricone destroys it with syrup. De Palma has great taste in composers but lousy taste in music, it seems.The bit where Travolta is recording wind sounds at night is just gorgeous — ridiculous splitscreen/diopter shots, macros closeups of recording kit, rich sound design and a stunning location. The fatal “accident” outcome of this scene — a car’s tyre explodes and it crashes into the river, drowning a political hopeful and nearly killing his girl-of-the-moment — is the least interesting thing about it, but that’s OK.

From here on in, the film is in big trouble. BDP has written a nitwit role for his wife and, credit where it’s due, Nancy Allen totally commits to playing it to the hilt. She has concussion/shock when we first meet her, but when she recovers she just gets worse. Travolta’s solicitude for her character is endearing, but inexplicable, and this is going to kill the film’s ending.De Palma hasn’t got half enough story to make a feature film, so he pads it out two ways — he inserts an irrelevant flashback of Travolta working as a sound man for the cops, and he shows his baddie, John Lithgow (yay!), killing a couple of women, once as a case of mistaken identity when stalking Allen, once to suggest the action of a serial killer so that when he eventually does kill Allen, the investigators will be confused. Obviously, killing three women is riskier than killing one or two, as Lithgow eventually learns, but we can’t ask for De Palma thrillers to make sense.

The surveillance flashback is a way for De Palma to exorcise the memory of PRINCE OF THE CITY, which he was all set to direct before for some reason getting kicked off it and replaced by Sidney Lumet. But then Lumet got kicked off SCARFACE and DePalma took over that one, so they’re even. (See also: William Goldman was pissed about Bryan Forbes redrafting his work on THE STEPFORD WIVES, but got to doctor Forbes’ script for CHAPLIN in revenge.) The only effect of this backstory is it makes the police reluctant to help, a device BDP had already used for Jennifer Salt’s journalist in SISTERS. At this point, he’s not so much recycling Hitchcock as himself.

The movie further stretches credulity by having Travolta rephotograph frame enlargements of a Zapruder-type film printed in a news magazine, which shows the “accident,” and rephotograph the pics on an animation rostrum, creating a new film which magically syncs with his sound recording (using the crashing car’s impact with the water as sync plop). None of this is technically very plausible, but it’s accomplished largely without words, and is fun to watch.In Mark Cousins’ Scene by Scene interview with Kirk Douglas, the crumbling legend is shown a scene from BDP’s THE FURY, and briefly covers his eyes. Asked about it afterwards, he says “I don’t like my face” — not, I think, an expression of modesty or self-loathing, just an honest response to his director making him look silly in slomo. Similarly, Travolta’s excellent work is marred horribly by 100fps shots of him HUFFING — puffing out his cheeks and expelling air from his lips, making them ripple like thick wet carpets being shaken. A hideous and preposterous sight at what is meant to be the movie’s emotional climax.

But, you know, there are great bits, as there usually are with De Palma.

The Eye of the Duck

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 17, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-09-16-21h46m33s142

I’ve just written a feature script with Alex Livingston(e), a very talented guy, who pointed out to me that you can see the eye of a duck in David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET. (above)

And this was significant since Lynch has a whole theory about the eye of the duck, which he explains below.

The clip I really wanted to show was Mark Cousins’ Scene by Scene interview, where he brings up the duck-eye theory again and gets a typically detailed elucidation of it, and we learn that movies are like ducks and each movie has a scene which is equivalent to the eye of the duck. Mark asks Lynch what the eye of the duck scene is in his latest movie, THE STRAIGHT STORY. Micro-pause. “I haven’t thought about it.”

Brilliant comic timing, but unplanned. The difference between being a comedian and simply being comic, and aware of it. At a certain point, Lynch realized that he could be a comedy character. I don’t think I understood this slightly performative, yet sincere, aspect of Lynch in the first few times I saw him speak, but looking back on them, it was always there.

Of course his recent ice-bucket challenge displays this brazenly.