Archive for Soderbergh

No Picnic

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on August 21, 2015 by dcairns

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To my surprise, I find there’s a visual gag at the start of Tarkovsky’s STALKER. Well, not quite the start — we get several long-take explorations of what Fiona termed “texture porn” — every interior set seems to have been sprayed with crude oil, so surfaces glisten darkly, they display soaking and rumpling and seep goopus from cracks and creases. But then, unexpectedly, there’s a car wearing a hat.

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It’s a familiar sitcom gag, the object placed on a car roof which is then lost when the car departs. Tarkovsky may have gotten the idea — and I like this idea so I’m going to say DEFINITELY GOT —  the idea from Frank Tashlin’s THE GEISHA BOY, in which conjurer Jerry Lewis is parted from Harry, his rabbit, in just this fashion. Said scene is a lot funnier than Tarkovsky’s, due to Lewis’s repetition of the single word “Harry.” He must say it about forty times, trying different intonations, ending with a plaintive yet accusatory “Oh, Harry!”

So, there you go — Jerry Lewis is funnier than Tarkovsky. He can have that on his tombstone, and then, ten years later, when we get to see THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, they can chisel it off.

Mind you, Tarkovsky does very well to have the hat facing forward, not like a hat that’s been casually placed on a surface. In profile, the hat displays its most characteristic aspect, so it’s instantly recognizable, which is good visual comedy. And it also makes it look like the car is wearing a hat.

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There are fewer laughs as the film goes on. A piebald specialist takes two irksome dilettantes, a novelist and a physicist, into “the Zone,” an uninhabited region touched by some strange alien force. A bit of text at the start claims this takes place in a “small country,” and is signed by a Dr. Wallace. Fine — so this is happening in SCOTLAND, as far as I’m concerned. I know a few places here as strange as the Zone. Have you ever walked through Dumbiedykes?

The steaming, oozing smudge and crumble of the opening scenes gives way to lush yet dank colour as we enter the Zone, because “Zone” is “Oz” spelt backwards, partly. Fields dotted with rusting tanks set the mood for a film set in a landscape once civilized but now reclaimed by nature — or something else. It’s all very proto-Chernobyl, as everyone must think when they see this. Another case of east European sc-fi managing an act of prophecy, even in disguise.

My friend Alex tells me the Strugatsky brothers’ source novel, Roadside Picnic, is so named because the various zones dotted over Earth in it are places where travelers have briefly stopped, then departed, leaving stray objects, signs of their presence. It all sounds a bit more whimsical that Tarkovsky could bring himself to be, and it doesn’t sound like a meditation on faith, which I take STALKER to represent. Maybe, rather than remaking SOLARIS, the ludic Mr. Soderbergh should have turned his attention to this one?

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Eyre Turbulence

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2014 by dcairns

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Cary Fukunaga’s JANE EYRE is a cracker.

(I remember The Scotsman‘s film critic greeting BLADE RUNNER at Edinburgh Film Fest with the opening sentence, “Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a cracker,” and thinking it was simultaneously slightly cool and slightly shocking that he should jettison the dignity of his position in such an enthusiastic, fanboyish way, but there are times when that’s appropriate.)

The director of True Detective serves up a smart period film that feels modern in all the right ways. The costumes and settings take us directly into the Bronte-world, and the authentic candlelight cinematography of Adriano Goldman allows us to feel actually present in a way not possible until very recently (Kubrick’s much-vaunted candlelight scenes in BARRY LYNDON still required huge banks of candles offscreen, erasing the flicker and rendering the effect not totally realistic, while the extremely narrow focal depth forced the actors to remain rooted to the spot.) I was reminded of The Knick — though Fukunaga doesn’t go quite so far as to deploy an electronic score to show just how modern he can go. The understated Dario Marinelli piano and violin accompaniment chosen has an appealing delicacy. You don’t want to get too clever for your own good, and what works for Soderbergh wouldn’t here.

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The performances are also strongly naturalistic — Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender not only speak in authentic-sounding Yorkshire accents (and for once Rochester sounds properly regional), they have absorbed the accents so that they are able to concentrate fully on each other.

I didn’t see the popular BBC version, so I mainly recall the Zefferelli on ’96, which strikes me as inferior in every way, save one. I had remembered Maria Schneider, as the first Mrs. Rochester, having a more fully-written role. I actually remembered her having dialogue. Not so — here’s the scene on YouTube.

Some of Zefferelli’s editing choices seem whimsical — there’s an unexpected high angle shot that seems inserted to protect us from the performances rather than to allow us to understand the scene — Jim Clark’s account of editing for Franco Z in his book Dream Repairman (he worked on YOUNG TOSCANINI) kind of suggests that Zefferelli will favour in the edit whoever he happens to be on good terms with that day — but Schneider’s reaction shots are vivid and articulate. It’s often the best policy to play mad people as sane (cf Wasikowska in MAPS TO THE STARS and Kathleen Byron in BLACK NARCISSUS, who is terrifying but consciously decided to play it sane in defiance of screenplay and director), and you can tell Mrs. R understands everything her despised husband is saying, though he talks as if she is a dumb animal. Schneider, the madwoman in the attic of European cinema, had a lot to draw on here.

Not that Valentina Cervi is in any way inadequate as Bertha in the Fukunaga — she has the appropriate menace — it’s just that I think Zeff pulled off a casting coup that would be hard to beat.

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Also in Fukunaga’s cast and of note: Judi Dench can’t suppress her obvious intelligence to play a silly housekeeper, but we don’t mind; Jamie Bell manages to not annoy in the most thankless role; Simon McBurney always adds a touch of the unexpected; Amelia Clarkson is a terrific Young Jane. The idea of starting in media res and exploring the story via flashbacks allows Fukunaga to intercut a child and an adult who don’t really look anything alike and make us forget to bother about that, a bit like Bunuel and his two leading ladies in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE —

— a casting decision that came about after Bunuel fired a recalcitrant Maria Schneider, thus closing the circle here and allowing me to escape. Sound of footsteps, door slam. Mad cackle.

 

A Blank Look

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by dcairns

The freeway, shimmering like a dewy cobweb strand…

Ran John Boorman’s POINT BLANK for students this week. Apart from the use of Alcatraz, it also has THIS in common with Richard Lester’s PETULIA —

POINT BLANK.

PETULIA — the disembodied bunch of flowers ascends diagonally, like Sharon Acker’s head in the Boorman film.

It’s conceivable that Lester saw POINT BLANK, which came out in ’67, around the time he was shooting his movie. There’s an amusing story about Lester bumping into Mike Nichols, who was shooting THE GRADUATE. The chatted briefly about their respective projects, and each left in a state of paranoid anxiety — “Oh no, we’re making the exact same movie!

False alarm.

Sharon Acker’s really good in this scene — a masterstroke by Boorman to cut half the dialogue so that she simply recites her side of the “interrogation” — Marvin, all post-coitally spent after firing all his bullets into the mattress (ahem) simply slumps.

Boorman rocks the Antonioni thing, colour-co-ordinating everything to within an inch of its life — see also Mike Hodges’ THE TERMINAL MAN, which repaints LA so that everything except the grass is black and white and gray and silver. The long scene in Sharon Acker’s apartment is starved of Technicolor to the point where a shot of smashed beauty products in a bathtub carries a visceral shock.

Bath gunk colours are picked up later by globular sixties club lighting…

And that’s Boorman’s genius here — every scene has it’s own strong visual and aural ideas, and they’re butted up against one another for max contrast and effect. It’s fun to see how Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson’s costume changes cue the interior design choices. Lee changes into a brown jacket, and suddenly we notice the brown curtains ~

And the bed he’s looking at suddenly has a brown sheet. And when he revisits Alcatraz, it’s brown too — it wasn’t when we first saw it, at the beginning of the film.

Just ridiculously beautiful.

James Sikking, as a pipe-smoking hitman, describes Marvin as “a brutal” — an adjective turned into a noun, and a word that returns in Boorman’s ZARDOZ, where Connery leads a tribe of brutals. That made me smile.

One of Boorman’s strengths/weaknesses is his lack of humour, the way he doesn’t think for a moment we’ll laugh — leading to Linda Blair doing Lullaby of Broadway and Sean Connery in a nappy and Helen Mirren in figure-hugging tit armour… but here, it all works: POINT BLANK is either a cold-blooded existential/Jungian revenge drama or a deadpan jet-black comedy. Or both. No contradiction is apparent.

Boorman, in that glossy Michel Ciment book, is very keen on the Incident at Owl Creek Bridge idea — each of his movies, it seems, could merely be fleeting by in the mind of a dying protagonist. In POINT BLANK that really does work, and is heavily hinted at in the opening scene. “A dream?” ponders Marvin, in VO, a bullet in his belly. The film’s convenient elision of how he escapes certain death and what he’s been doing before his return in a silvery suit adds weight to the fantasy hypothesis. Note also how the dialogue in any scene from which Marvin is absent has a stilted, B-picture quality, as if it’s the best he can come up with for the stuff he has to imagine happening when he’s not there.

Somebody pointed out the delicious, mysterious connection with Curtiz’s THE WALKING DEAD, in which gangster Boris Karloff returns from the grave to seek revenge, and those he’s after all get themselves killed without him laying a finger on them. He seems to be an embodiment of guilt, an abstract Nemesis. And Marvin’s character, “Parker” in the Westlake/Stark novel, is here called Walker.

(Westlake once said that if he’d know he was going to write so many books about Parker, he’d have called him something else, to avoid having to find alternative ways of saying “Parker parked the car.” Boorman’s Walker differs most markedly in that he’s very much a one-shot character. Walker will NOT return in POINT BLANK II.)

Boorman’s writers are an interesting gang — besides the source novel, he’s got the writer’s of WHERE’S JACK? which deals with the celebrated highwayman and escape artist Jack Sheppard (Hitchcock once proposed a biopic of this fascinating folk hero for Ernest Lehman to write) and THE FRENCH CONNECTION II. Alas, none of them seem to have done much else.

The Heavy Symbolism is very much Boorman, though. Walker’s wife has no maiden name (we see her gravestone) so that Angie Dickinson, his sister-in-law, can ask “What’s my last name?” and then Walker can ask “What’s my first name?” Geddit? Either nobody knows anybody, not really, in this alienated modern world — or else these are stock movie characters in search of an author or at least an ending (Boorman’s movie, like his HELL IN THE PACIFIC, deliberately fizzles out, classic bang/whimper stuff). “A dream?” Or a movie? Note the emphasis on sliding curtains, lenses, screens, an LA where nobody’s in the movies but everybody’s playing at being a gangster, and Angie’s jazz club is called The Movie House and the evil conglomerate is called Multiplex…

Lee Marvin’s posture is the film’s secret weapon. Here, he watches as the phony stash floats away into the storm drains where it will doubtless be eaten by giant ants.

Soderbergh interviews Boorman on the DVD commentary track! Buy it — Point Blank