I contributed a little bit to a new article at The Chiseler, masterminded by Daniel Riccuito and also starring Jennifer Matsui. It deals with such movies as SECONDS and CARNIVAL OF SOULS and Epstein’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, from which I have selected a festive image (above).
Archive for Seconds
Casual observations inspired by screening SECONDS to students —
Screenwriter Lewis John Carlino (THE FOX, THE MECHANIC) apparently didn’t care for John Frankenheimer’s handling of SECONDS — Frankenheimer cut a scene on a beach with a kid which nevertheless gets referenced in the film’s final shot. “It still works,” argued Frankenheimer, and he’s right — in a non-literal, allusive way, the scene has something to do with unfulfilled dreams or poignant memories, and it provides a heartbreaking note of regret amidst the sheer horror of that killer final sequence.
Carlino also objected to all the damn STYLE — James Wong Howe’s bravura handheld swooping, the cameras mounted on actors to turn them into gliding automata in a wobbly world, the jump cuts (in Hollywood! in 1966!), the expressionist set in the drug-trip staged sexual assault. Carlino carefully scripted the action to take place in mundane settings, anchoring the allegory (the ending, with the line “You were my finest work,” somehow reminds me of Kafka’s Parable of The Law in The Trial). As with ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, the fantastic company is plonked down in reality — reached via a steam laundry on Lafayette and a meat-packing company a short taxi ride away.
But I love all the disorienting tricks. The only false step I think is shooting Jeff Corey low-angle, where his nostrils, black and wondrously elongated like tadpoles, get a little distracting.
The best (and most literal) cut in a film full of daring excisions — John Randolph lowers pen to paper to sign his Faustian pact, and we immediately see a scalpel touch skin as the painful (and in literal terms unbelievable) process of transforming the puddingy Randolph into chiselled Rock Hudson begins. We think of signing in blood, and the surgeon’s blade as a pen rewriting lives. Very evocative, and also OUCH!
That missing scene is a good thing, probably — the beginning and end of the film are very strong, and the middle kind of weak (that interminable nudie hippy wine ceremony!), and so speed is a good weapon to get Rock back to the company and bring things to their predestined appalling conclusion. They nearly overdo it — one is reminded of what Fitzgerald said about second acts in American lives — but the balance is just about there. I suspect David Ely’s novel got too internal in the middle and Carlino couldn’t quite crack it without access to the character’s inner world, or else he did crack it and Frankenheimer and Hudson strayed from the path (it’s never fair to blame the writer unless one has read the script, and I haven’t, though I’d like to).
Still, this is strong stuff, and I found myself thinking about the many, worrying ways the story blends with Hudson’s own life (we’ll give you a new face, new voice, new name, and everything will be perfect). Theory: the strongest horror movies were probably made by people who didn’t think they were making a horror movie as such. Or, rather than scaring the audience with a Wes Craven 1-2-3-BOO! every ten minutes, they simply follow the implications of a disturbing story to its terrible conclusion.
I’m jumping on a plane to Venice today, en route to Pordenone. So as a stop-gap measure, here’s the list of screenings I’ve set for students at Edinburgh College of Art where I work. They’ve already had THE GENERAL, M and CRISS CROSS.
The screenings start off in chronological order but then meander. The choices are not so much to fill in vital areas of film history — impossible to do with so few! — but to hint at the development of the medium while pointing to clues useful to our students’ work. Things like POV and subjective emotional effects, use of time, movement, props and their relationship to character and story, seducing the audience to go on a journey…
My blurbs are on the basic side, written in half an hour…
TUESDAY 15TH OCTOBER
The film that introduced Japanese cinema to the west. A dizzying exploration of truth and lies. Several people have witnessed a murder, but at trial their accounts differ so radically that nobody can make sense of what really happened. Kurosawa turns this premise into a hypnotic, sometimes shocking, always beautiful study of our problematic relationship to truth.
THURSDAY 24TH OCTOBER
An old man nearing death goes on a journey into his past. Bergman’s poetic film uses cinema to explore time and memory as a key to character. The aging actor/director Victor Sjostrom, in his last role, is extraordinary.
THURSDAY 31ST OCTOBER
A man is approached by a mysterious company who offer him a new life. A new face, a new identity, a chance to start again. Second helpings. Both melancholy and stylistically dazzling, the film unites the influences of Hollywood, television, and European arthouse to paint a haunting portrait of longing and failure that will incidentally terrify you.
THURSDAY 7TH NOVEMBER
DON’T LOOK NOW…
Visually beautiful, romantic, frightening. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are grieving parents in wintry Venice, haunted by visions of their dead child and embroiled in a deeper, darker mystery. Roeg practically reinvented film cutting with his allusive, mosaic-like approach, fragmenting time and space.
THURSDAY 14TH NOVEMBER
Not always considered in the context of New Hollywood cinema (Scorsese, Coppola etc), but he definitely belongs there, the choreographer-turned-director Fosse proved himself with this divinely decadent exploration of Berlin night-life in the years just before the rise of Hitler. A musical which is also sinister, sexy, scary, political and unsettling.
THURSDAY 21ST NOVEMBER
A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE
Documentary and fiction crash together in such a way that you can’t tell them apart. Director Makhmalbaf decides to make a film about the policeman he stabbed during the Iranian revolution. He hires the policeman to play himself. What will a fictional recreation of a real event reveal?
THURSDAY 28TH NOVEMBER
SHORT FILMS PROGRAMME
Classic and obscure short fiction films selected to broaden or even explode your thinking about story, performance, photography, design, editing…
THURSDAY 5TH DECEMBER
Pierre Etaix stands somewhere between Jaques Tati and Woody Allen, delivering visuals gags around romantic situations. Playing almost like a series of short films, The Suitor follows Pierre’s misadventures as he doggedly tries to find romance, without understanding really what it is. For his use of framing, props and the language of film, Etaix is a master to learn from.
THURSDAY 12TH DECEMBER
Simply one of the most exhilarating pieces of filmmaking ever, this political thriller is also a dark psychological drama and a joyous romp through cinematic technique. Clerici wants to please Italy’s fascist rulers because he needs to feel he belongs – he’s worried about an event in his youth which may mark him as different. The state sends him to Paris to assassinate his old teacher, to prove his loyalty. Since he’s getting married, he brings his new wife along – it’ll make a nice honeymoon…
THURSDAY 19TH DECEMBER
L’ASSASSINAT DU PERE NOEL (THE MURDER OF SANTA CLAUS)
A delightful mystery which serves up the true spirit of Christmas: murder, suspicion, insanity and malaise. But all wrapped up at the end in a way that’s charming and funny and surprisingly heart-warming. Amazing to think this confection was first served up during the Nazi occupation.
Up until the last minute the list included COME AND SEE, an amazing film which I think students would get a lot out of… but I began to fear that the schedule was getting to be too much of a wrist-slitter. I don’t find any of these films depressing, but some light and shade is useful.