Archive for Schlock

Lost in Time and Lost in Space… and Meaning

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by dcairns

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I was impressed by a shot in Adam Curtis’s free-form documentary found-footage mash-up IT FELT LIKE A KISS in which Doris Day closes a hotel room door in our face and the room number on it is 2001. Curtis uses this to evoke thoughts about the events of 9:11 and the more innocent-seeming world we dream existed before that act of unscheduled demolition opened the  war on abstract concepts. I became convinced that it might also be possible to draw connections between Kubrick’s film 2001 and the actual events on September 11th of that year. If, as ROOM 237 shows, THE SHINING can be bent this way and that to support an apparently unlimited range of unrelated theories, surely the even more open text of 2001 can act as a lens through which to view events which were still in the almost-unimaginable future when Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived their space odyssey?

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Kubrick begins with a desert landscape populated by aggressive cave-dwellers. Al-Qaeda? Racist to conflate arabs and ape-men, but in a way we’re only following the racist logic of much media reporting to see where it leads. 2001 begins with a land that doesn’t need to be bombed back to the stone age because it’s already there. The simians are visited by a shiny rectangular artifact, which we’ll spuriously claim represents the Twin Towers. Gazing at it in awe, they are inspired to discover weapons and kill.

Of course, the connection between apes and the World Trade Center is really made by the DeLaurentiis KING KONG, in which Kong scales one of the towers before leaping to the other, driven by some primal urge (he apparently relates the towers to a geographical feature of Skull Island). Attacked by helicopters, Kong (like the 2001 man-beasts, an uncredited actor in a costume) is shot down. KING KONG is directed by John Guillermin, who had considerable skyscraper experience, having just made THE TOWERING INFERNO. Thus Kubrick’s film, without containing any shots of large-scale destruction, calls to mind the events of 9:11 in a variety of ways in its very first sequence.

In Steve Bell’s newspaper strip in The Guardian, entitled If…, George W Bush was always portrayed as a simian. And IF… is also the title of the film starring Malcolm McDowell which got Little Malcolm the lead role in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. (CLOCKWORK ORANGE can be seen as a black parody of 2001: a barbaric savage is reprogrammed by a higher power. In both cases, the primitive being is shown a film accompanied by German classical music — Moonwatcher the apeman perceives this with his mind’s eye, whereas Malcolm watches it on a traditional screen. The protagonists of both films end up in bed, transformed.)

In a justly famous transition, Kubrick match-cuts from a hurled bone to a spacecraft, cementing the notion of flying vehicles as weapons. Later we will meet spacecraft identified as belonging to Pan-Am Airlines, confirming that spacecraft are just evolved aircraft (and both are just evolved ape-weapons).

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Now we meet Space Station V, an orbiting base composed of two wheels, each constructed like a skyscraper swallowing its own tail. Parts of the station are apparently as yet incomplete, exposing red girders. To a Strauss waltz, we watch as a spacecraft flies directly into the station, but rather than causing destruction it is simply swallowed up. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, this space base has a restaurant and an unbeatable view. The WTC boasted of its top floor “observatories” and its “Windows on the World” restaurant and “Cellar in the Sky” bar. The SSV actually does feature windows on the world, through which the Earth can be seen, apparently spinning below.

On board, things are seething with international tension — in Kubrick’s vision of the future, Perestroika never happened so the Russians are still the threat. There’s also news of a strange discovery on the moon —

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The floodlit excavation sight is almost a dead ringer for New York’s Ground Zero, only with a skyscraper (the monolith) still rising out of it, impossibly. It’s existence causes another flight, this time to Jupiter (and beyond the infinite), which incidentally is one of the dozen places President Bush was flown to after the towers collapsed.

Now we find ourselves on a spacecraft on a secret mission, hijacked by a terrorist which started out disguised as a legitimate passenger on the craft (the shipboard computer). HAL kills the crew members in order to take over the ship, but he does it because “this mission is too important to allow you to jeopardise it.”

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Repeated image of a body tumbling through space.

Like the passengers on the hijacked planes, Kubrick’s astronauts can phone home. One receives the message “See you next Wednesday,” a line quoted in every John Landis film. Landis’s career has been marked by fatal aerial catastrophe. His movie SPIES LIKE US deals with a team of idiots deployed by corrupt commanders to distract attention while a war is started. His first movie, SCHLOCK, features numerous parodies of the apemen from 2001.

Like the passengers of United 93, Dave Bowman destroys the hijacker, resulting finally in his own death — but this is played in stylised form, first as a flight through distorted, psychedelic landscapes, then as an accelerated aging process, then with the traditional death-bed. In a white room whose floor is illuminated panels like the sides of a skyscraper.

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But at the foot of that death-bed, the monolith appears yet again, and once more we move inexorably towards its smooth surface, repeating yet again the collision with the WTC, an event which killed, among thousands of others, the sister of Marisa Berenson, who starred in Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON. She was also the wife of Anthony Perkins, best known for playing a knife-wielding killer who struck in disguise, and who appeared in Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE, which shares with 2001 a climax in which a passage through a space portal leads to a mysterious spiritual experience.

From the impact with the monolith, something new is born, but the movie is vague about what, exactly, can be expected from it…

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In a way this is a thought experiment, to see how many meaningful-seeming coincidences can be drawn between an event and a film which actually preceded it by decades and could not have been influenced by it in any traditional cause-and-effect way. In a way it’s a parody of such academic exercises. It’s also inspired a bit by the fancy footwork in this remarkable piece.

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Cave

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2009 by dcairns

That’s “cave” in the Latin sense, of course, meaning “beware.” Beware of TROG, one of the worst films I’ve yet sat through as part of my demented quest to experience every morsel of terror and ennui suggested by the photo-illustrations within Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

TROG it was, of course, that inspired a young John Landis to try his hand at film-making, on the basis that he would be bound to make a better movie than TROG.

Controversial question: has he done so yet?

(I think he has, and would cite AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON as a really tip-top genre piece with a jolly pleasing touristic view of England. I’m just being what you might call provocative. I’ve still to see Landis’s debut, the directly TROG-inspired comedy SCHLOCK.)

What makes TROG the more deplorable, more than its puerile screenplay, wooden supporting cast, more than the lip-smacking yet deeply rubbish performance from Michael Gough (working with material, it should be admitted, that would strike less courageous [or foolhardy] actors with mutism and paralysis through its sheer awfulness), more than the ape-man himself, who has a serviceable prosthetic ape-face, attached to a hairless, chubby body which is rather noticeably a different colour — more than any of this, the film should be regarded with terror and pity because it’s the last movie ever to star Joan Crawford.

Yep.

It also ended director Freddie Francis’s directing career, or nearly. It made him want to stop directing films (he returned to his first love, cinematography, with excellent results). In fact, FF carried on helming turkeys for another five years, and even made a comeback in 1985, murdering the late Dylan Thomas’s fine script of THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS. If Thomas had been alive to see that, or if the film’s bodysnatchers had dug him up and anatomist Timothy Dalton had somehow revived him from his earthy slumber, I don’t know what he would have done. Probably got drunk — which is the best way to approach TROG, I would suggest. Some have suggested that was the only way Joan could get through acting in it.

Yet, stone-cold sober I viewed the atrocity, in which badly-acted spelunkers are mauled by a neanderthal in a cave in Berkshire. Handy scientist  Dr Brockton (our Joan) goes down the hole with a tranquilizer gun and soon has “Trog” the apeman eating out of her hand. But local citizen Gough is up in arms about this “demon” devaluing housing prices, or something, so he breaks in to the lab one night and sets it free. Makes sense.

Cue amusing mayhem, ketchup for blood, dead bodies that visibly breathe, and a car that explodes just because Trog rolls it over. There’s a great scene where he wrestles a German shepherd that looks like its having the time of its life. A hint of the wretchedness herein can be gleaned from the fact that the world-class surgeon they get in to give Trog the power of speech (!) is played by Robert Hutton, last seen hereabouts revivifying the head of Nostradamus in THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY.

Is Trog’s head really stolen from 2001, as somebody suggests? I suspect it might be. It has the same nicely articulated lips. Of course, the guys in 2001 were lucky enough to get costumes that continued from the neck down. Certainly stolen from Irwin Allen’s THE ANIMAL WORLD is the lengthy sequence of fighting dinosaurs, psychedelically tinted, which stands for Trog’s flashback to his prehistoric youth (he’s been frozen underground for trillennia). The Willis O’Brien/Ray Harryhausen animation is the only real touch of class in the film, but stops the plot dead because it has nothing to do with anything in the story. I will pass over in silence the grave scientific error in presenting T-Rex and Trog as contemporaries.

(Allen’s nature film was so completely cannibalized for stock footage, that it’s thought that no complete print survives — although the animation is intact.)

Are there any other pleasures to be had in this mess of potage? I sort of liked the way all the younger actors just look as if they’re really chuffed at being in a film with Joan Crawford. I liked Trog’s strange grunts — his repeated cry of “Ugh!” would make a great capsule review for the movie. The bad dialogue should have been funny, but was mostly annoying — writer Aben Kandel (which looks like an anagram, but for what? Banned Leak? — the same chump worked on KONGA and CRAZE for the same wretched producer, Herman Cohen) — the fact that the writer doesn’t know a flashlight from a flashbulb, and that nobody corrected him, is just slightly dismaying.

Overall, the movie sort of makes you wish this had happened, for real, when they were shooting it ~

Now you can rush over to Amazon and buy this, as I know you’ll want to —

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