Archive for Something Wicked This Way Comes


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2023 by dcairns

I would like to live in a world where the director’s cut of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES was available…

Apparently the thing exists, as a VHS tape, probably of the cutting copy. But Disney seem never to throw anything away (those vaults of old cels!) so film elements may exist. Georges Delerue’s beautiful score exists, so it’s possible the soundtrack could be reconstructed at higher quality than the image. It might take a Criterion-Disney hook-up to make something like that happen.

Of course, from Disney’s point of view, releasing Jack Clayton’s version of the film could make them look bad — any credit they acquire for making the thing available would have to be balanced against the old management’s decision to butcher it. But that was the old management — different guys.

No apostrophe, proof of their evil.

As studio botch-jobs go, the results could be worse — James Horner’s derivative but punchy score is one of his best, and some of the new sequences and special effects are effective. I have mixed feelings about the rotoscoped glow added to the pages Jonathan Pryce tears from the book of Jason Robards’ life — the acting is so brilliant in that scene one resents anything else attracting the attention, but then again, the acting is so good that the SFX can’t obscure it.

The spider attack scene is proper scary.

I’m glad Bradbury changed the Sand Witch to a Dust Witch. Seriously, Ray, a Sand Witch?

The climax of the film is a bit of a mess — all kinds of special effects come crashing in upon us with a resulting loss of focus. Maybe Clayton’s version didn’t work either — he told Disney going in that he didn’t have any experience making effects films so he wanted their best people, but the best people were all doing TRON “…so all I got was four old men and a box of fireworks.” Of course once he was in post-production a whole army of trick artists descended on the footage, but without his input.

Anyway, if Sam Peckinpah’s cutting copy of THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, preserved on VHS, can become an extra on the DVD — and that isn’t even a good film nor do Peckinpah’s variant choices fix it — Clayton’s autumnal monsterpiece deserves at least equal treatment. I think it’s as close as anyone has got to successful Bradbury onscreen, though FAHRENHEIT 451 and even The Martian Chronicles do have their moments. But this movie has far more good moments than bad, and the good stuff is more intensely good.

I like the totally unexplained little ballerinas, standing frozen.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES stars Cheyenne; Sam Lowry; Ida Sessions; ‘Minister’; Blind Dick; Sunshine Doré; Jackie Brown; The Master (Blaster); and the voice of Dependents Clearing Officer.

The Big Good Wolf

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2023 by dcairns

I’d been keen to see Carroll Ballard’s NEVER CRY WOLF back in 1983 when it (barely) came out, but like that other Disney oddity, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, it never seemed to play my hometown, and the possibility of traveling to another city did not occur to me at age 15. So I finally saw it for the first time.

I must have seen NCW reviewed by Barry Norman on his Film programme. To this day I haven’t actually seen THE BLACK STALLION, which is what he’s known for. Clearly I should. Disney must have looked at it and said, This is the kind of thing we should be doing, and written Ballard a blank cheque, only to find that the romance of a boy and a horse on an island did not transfer to a naked chinless scientist and wolves in the Arctic Circle, for some unaccountable reason. The world has bad taste, as Martin Amis assured Salman Rushdie, and he ought to know.

As with SOMETHING WICKED, the very things that make NCW a dim commercial prospect are the things that make it a good film. Charles Martin Smith is a convincing scientist — if you can’t have Bob Balaban you should definitely have him. He’s surprisingly buff, when he runs naked with the caribou — the first adult male nude in a Disney release — preceded only by some anonymous kid’s ass in POLLYANNA, which startled me as a child — and projects the intelligence and sensitivity and unworldliness the role seems to require.

His voice-over — script is credited to Curtis Hanson and Sam Hamm — at first has a whiff of the executive imposition, but I figure they must have meant there to be some kind of narration otherwise we’d just have a guy in a tent for unknown reasons. The nature photography by Hiro Naruto is stunning but also we get music by Mark Isham, Alan Rudolph’s guy, and sound design by Alan Splet, Lynch’s guy. So it’s a gorgeous audio-visual experience. Splet gets to enjoy himself when our hero decides to determine, by actual experiment, whether a large mammal can survive on a diet of mice. Lots of squeaking and crunching.

The human side is augmented by the formidable presence of Brian Dennehy, cinema’s dad. The real-life adventure the story isnbased on has presumably been dramatised-up a fair bit, but still plays out like a proper seventies movie, making few concessions to the audience or to the Robert McKee school of story structure. Instead of being involving in the Spielbergian sense, it’s HYPNOTIC.

Curious to see whether Ballard could continue with this individual approach as Hollywood clamped down on idiosyncratic talent.

The Sunday Intertitle: Behind the Seen

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2022 by dcairns

“You don’t count, I discount you. I give you the great laugh of all time, the laugh of acceptance — which melts you down.” Ray Bradbury in Kevin Brownlow’s doc The Tramp and the Dictator, attempting to summarise what Chaplin does to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR, and perhaps more accurately summarising the end of his own novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. I wonder if he made the connection, and I wonder if he was in any way thinking of Chaplin, or Nazism, when he wrote the book. Dark & Cooger’s Pandemonium Carnival seems wholly a manifestation of supernatural evil, but maybe its cyclical behaviour, returning again and again to plague humanity, could be a gesture towards political madness and badness, which seems set on an eternal return of its own.

I miss Ray B.

The Brownlow documentary is excellent, of course.

When Kenneth Branagh narrates that two mysterious suitcases belonging to Sydney Chaplin were found in the Chaplin villa in Switzerland, I immediately flashed on how alarming it might be to have the job of opening them, knowing what we know about Syd’s proclivities. They might contain anything — the missing bits of the Black Dahlia, for instance. I’m barely even kidding here.

Instead, to our relief and gratification, we get Syd’s home movies, which include behind-the-scenes shots, in colour, of the shooting of THE GREAT DICTATOR. Also holiday film of topless native girls, filmed with a lascivious eye to the viewfinder. But that’s relatively innocent in comparison to Syd’s history of aggravated sexual assault (only one incident, so far as we know, but a singularly horrible one).

In the film of TGD’s ballroom scene, Syd seems to have his eye on an attractive blonde extra. I can only hope she escaped unscathed.

Interesting to see Chaplin and Grace Hayle dancing, from the wrong angle, with camera tremor, and in colour. When you see Keaton performing via a documentary camera in BUSTER KEATON RIDES AGAIN, his stylisation becomes more apparent: he’s acting for THAT camera, not THIS one. Chaplin’s stylisation is nearly always apparent, I think. And Grace H. is always almost completely real, which is why we feel a bit sorry for her Madame Napaloni, even though we probably needn’t.

Later, when we see Billy Gilbert, NOT acting, laughing at something Chaplin has said, he seems as vaudevillian and exaggerated in life as he does when performing (above right, left of frame).

We also get to see Chaplin staging WWI in Woodland Hills, and the ghetto on the back lot, surrounded by Los Angeles with its palm trees, and everything is in too-gaudy colour, both more and less real than the scenes in the finished movie.

In this extra feature, made for the European DVD of TGD, my man Costa-Gavras goes deep on the world’s tolerant approach to Hitler as Chaplin set out to make his denunciation. Chaplin can seem naive and woolly, the self-educated man full of opinions he likes, but the fact is on Hitler he was bang on, and most of the rest of the world was horribly wrong.

He also talks about Napaloni’s arrival by rail, the scene I just discussed yesterday — he finds the clapped-together production values intriguing, and is sure Chaplin meant the cardboard production design to signify the emptiness, the deep falsity of the two dictators. And he sings the praises of Heinkel’s dance with the globe — and one might think of the Dance of the Eurocrats at the end of his most recent film, the criminally neglected ADULTS IN THE ROOM.

Oh yes, it’s Sunday, we need an intertitle. Brownlow’s documentary provides one, untranslated, as the VO notes “audiences did not respond to [Hitler] as a silent actor.” Despite the low angle framing, making the little man in short trousers look big, the vital element of the voice is missing. Hitler needed radio and talking pictures to convey his message beyond his immediate presence. They were invented at just the right time for him, and you might argue the wrong time for Chaplin.

God knows, Hitler’s actual words — “Germany’s freedom will rise again just as people and fatherland will resist, stronger than ever!” — are not particularly meaningful. They have the tone of prophecy rather than political analysis, which presumably worked in their favour, but you would need A.H.’s salesmanship to put them across.

Chaplin said Hitler was the greatest actor he’d ever seen.

More fun with Charlie and Adolf next week!