Archive for Sergio Leone

Only Two Cannes Play

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 9, 2017 by dcairns

AN ALMOST PERFECT AFFAIR is very minor Michael Ritchie, but charming enough. Best joke is in the titles ~

Second best joke is a linguistic mix-up between lovers Keith Carradine and Monica Vitti, as she’s trying to warn him of what the future might hold — “You could be eaten be a sherk! Your teets could fall out!”

“My tits could fall out?” queries Keith, more amused than alarmed.

“Yes! Your teets!” insists Monica, and taps his impressive teeth. Aaaaaah. Got you.

Being set during the Cannes Film Festival, the film offers a few celebrity cameos, but not many. I saw more famous people the times I was in Cannes. Nice to see Sergio Leone here, though, looking like the offspring of an owl and a grizzly bear. Arnon Milchan reports that when he first got involved in the film biz, he went to Cannes, bumped into Leone, and couldn’t believe his luck when Leone pitched him ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. It was only after committing to make the damn thing that he realized that Leone had been sat on a balcony at Cannes pitching it for fifteen years, year in and year out.

Alexander Walker was on the Cannes jury the same year as Monica Vitti, but her schedule prevented her from seeing the films at the same time as everyone else. In the interests of transparency, she was required to sign a ledger testifying that she had indeed viewed the works in competition. So when the other jurors would sign their own names, they would find her testimony — “Veni, Vidi, Vitti.”

Advertisements

Wife, Horse, Mustache

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-08-15-10h09m12s171

A shot nobody particularly remarks upon in its first iteration goes on to become famous in LAST TANGO IN PARIS…

It’s odd the things that stick in your mind. I remember some TV review of the year show at the end of 1982 and Billy Connolly was on it reviewing KING OF COMEDY, which he said had become his new favourite film — “Apart from VIVA ZAPATA!” So there you go, now you know what Billy Connolly’s favourite film is. I mean, I’m sure it hasn’t changed.

vlcsnap-2016-08-15-10h25m19s252

vlcsnap-2016-08-15-10h11m25s122

Another odd thing — since I’m younger than cinema itself, marginally, I find myself experiencing film history backwards sometimes. Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE is a film I retain some considerable fondness for, though I’m more and more bothered by the misogyny. But when I finally watched Billy Connolly’s favourite film, I was fascinated to see the influence it had on Leone — specifically an execution in the rain with an artfully-lit rain-speckled car window. Though Leone was clearly working off the American western tradition, it’s relatively rare that I spot a moment in one of his films that owes a noticeable visual debt to any specific movie. Sir Christopher Professor Frayling has pointed out shots borrowed from HIGH NOON, and I was quite smug when I noticed that the opening of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY owes a recognizable debt to William Wellman’s YELLOW SKY (gunfight indoors, filmed from outdoors, with a camera movement motivated by somewhat abstract means), but no doubt partly because of the new tools of widescreen and the zoom lens, and pertly because of his own distinct visual mannerisms (extreme closeups from eyebrow to lower lip intercut with spectacular wide shots, and deep focus compositions which combine ECU and ELS), Leone’s films never seem to me like a patchwork of influences. I also don’t really feel they have anything in common with anybody else’s spaghetti westerns, a genre which seems to me to have produced almost no distinguished work outside of Leone.

vlcsnap-2016-08-15-10h12m52s247

Anyway, to VIVA ZAPATA!, a relatively early Kazan/Brando, which really does come to life in its scenes of personal violence (battles, not so much). Kazan is continuing the very in-your-face deep focus approach he used in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (which at times looks like it was shot for 3D, so much thrusting into the lens goes on). There are lots of great expressive shots which develop and transform as you watch, a hallmark of Kazan’s approach since he decided to make PANIC IN THE STREETS “like Hitchcock.”

 

THUNDER FURY! whaaa?

There is a slight problem with the whole Mexico thing. This Fox production credits no Mexican actors at all, apart from special case Anthony Quinn, though there are plenty in small roles. Allowing for Hollywood fantasy (which one doesn’t have to allow for in Kazan’s very best films), actors like Joseph Wiseman and Arnold Moss make semi-credible substitutes, and Jean Peters doesn’t really try, which wins her points. Brando is the problem.

vlcsnap-2016-08-15-10h08m25s601

It’s an interesting makeup. Apart from darkening his skin and hair, the makeup team (including Ben Nye and gorilla specialist Charles Gemora — did somebody ask for a guerrilla fighter and get misunderstood?) have given him wouldn’t-it-be-rubbery oriental eyes, which combine with dark contact lenses to make Brando/Zapata seem boss-eyed. And they’ve given him a mustache many, many times smaller and punier than the famous original. Brando’s ‘tache would only look like a Zapata if glued to Herve Villechaise for some kind of ill-advised TERROR OF TINY TOWN scaled-down remake. That’s a strange choice. We don’t require our leading man to look exactly like the historical figure he’s impersonating — but Zapata’s mustache was very famous indeed, and he gave his name to it. Which must have been confusing. “Are you talking to me or my mustache?

vlcsnap-2016-08-15-10h13m46s017

vlcsnap-2016-08-15-10h13m50s300

Suspense-building cutaways — Kazan probably wished he had a half-dozen more of these for the climax, but he gets by with two, thanks to Barbara McLean’s taut cutting and Joseph Walker’s marvelous photography.

The ending is a stunner — well, not so much scenarist John Steinbeck’s inspirational coda, which I found noble but corny — but the action climax is proper proto-Peckinpah, no slomo required. Brando, like Peckinpah, is an artist of violence, particularly inspired by moments of pain and death, and he approaches the assassination with a lot of interesting ideas. Look out for a major Brando project from me shortly…

Dusters

Posted in FILM with tags , on January 8, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-01-07-22h08m35s184

Having whimsically decided at the last moment to shoot my new film in Cinemascope ratio, I thought I’d improve my chances by looking at THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY of an evening. Well, I’m not sure I learned anything, I was too busy being amazed and entertained, but I did appreciate the fantastic Civil War gag of the soldiers in grey who turn out to be soldiers in blue who have gotten dusty from riding.

vlcsnap-2016-01-07-22h08m58s150

But what amazed me anew as I had forgotten it was how the sound of the officer beating his sleeve to dispel the dust segues into the sound of feet marching on the spot in the following scene. Both sounds are absolutely central to the action they depict and both actions are interconnected by narrative imperatives. This is miraculous stuff. Anybody can dream up a sound match — earlier in the film, a slain man drops to the ground and as his knuckles hit the dust, we cut to a donkey-driven mill-wheel which makes a series of clunks picking up the same sound and turning it into a backbeat. It’s good, but it’s not tremendously clever. The sleeve/marching transition is tremendously tremendously clever, as not only do the shots make matching sounds (cf David Lean and his wineglass/streetcar bell transition in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO), but each of them delivers a closely linked story beat. (1) You have fallen into enemy hands and (2) thus you are our prisoners-of-war.

vlcsnap-2016-01-07-22h25m27s46

Hats off to Maestro Leone!