Archive for Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2009 by dcairns

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I saw most of the classic ’50s sci-fi films when I was a kid — the best time to see them — many of them in a season on BBC2 (Ah! The glory days of film seasons on BBC2!) but somehow never saw IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE until now. Which turned out to be a fine thing — I’m glad my first encounter with it was in 3D, even if the anaglyph copy I obtained was a little wonky at times.

Jack Arnold, apart from directing MAN IN THE SHADOWS, the dirty cop movie with Orson Welles that paved the way for TOUCH OF EVIL, had a fine line in monster and sci-fi flicks, all of which I’m perhaps foolishly fond of. Looking more objectively, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN still strikes me as a modest masterpiece, a philosophical and moving work with some striking surreal imagery and grand special effects. TARANTULA, THE SPACE CHILDREN and his two CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON movies are fun but don’t come close, but IT CAME is pretty nifty.

vlcsnap-39637Barbara Rush pops out.

Screenplay is credited to Harry Essex, a monster-movie regular, but the story is by Ray Bradbury, and some of the speeches have a distinct Bradbury tang: purple and overblown, but aspiring towards poetry and sometimes hitting it. The prosaic interludes by Essex actually work to dilute Bradbury’s excesses down to non-toxic levels. If everybody talked like a Bradbury character all the time, things might get unbearable.

“Ah, it’s just this poor old tunnel. Needs more propping up. Like a man: gets old, needs propping up.”

Richard Carlson, stolid in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, is rather sweet here. He’s something of an alien himself, an astronomer and dreamer who doesn’t fit into the tiny Arizona community he’s somehow landed himself in. When he tries to make peace between the suspicious locals and the crashed alien visitors, his status as outsider becomes all too apparent.

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But even the loutish sheriff — a madly reactive near-hysteric (Charles Drake) — gets a typical Bradbury monologue –

“Did you know, Putnam, more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once – lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety two, it’s too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable.”

This is practically a paraphrase of the scene in SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES dealing with “the soul’s midnight,” the time of night when most people die. Jack Clayton’s film of that book shows how Bradbury’s overblown writing CAN work onscreen, just about, if the performances and visual stylisation are there to support them all the way through.

The third great speech is from the telegraph guy –

Arnold gets some good 3D effects going — it turns out that the rocky scenery is highly suited to the process, with figures on ridges standing out sharply against distant desert landscape. The meteor flying into the lens doesn’t work, and neither does the alien POV (the poor creatures seem to be half-blind, despite consisting almost entirely of eyeball), but the long-winded avalanche is fun (rocks bouncing through frame are more convincing that ones that come straight at us — just when we’re about to be impressed, the edges of the frame always cut them off and ruin the illusion). His best device is one I couldn’t even swear is intentional. Each time Carlson encounters an alien passing as human, Arnold moves the action from the dusty locations that dominate the film, into a fakey set. The robotic speech and unblinking gaze of the humanoids is enhanced by the uncanny sound stage environment. Surreally effective.

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Help Shadowplay buy a pair of new shoes! UK shoppers here:
It Came From Outer Space [DVD] [1953]
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It Came From Outer Space

“He had the Devil’s own eye.”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

 you're thinking about a brick wall

Very much enjoyed talking about Jack Clayton to students the other day. First lecture of term is usually a bit shambolic, and the room and equipment didn’t help here, but Clayton’s films are quite accessible and it’s certainly easy to find good scenes to extract: there are so many stand-out moments in THE INNOCENTS and maybe especially THE PUMPKIN EATER that it’s hard to limit oneself to one or two per film.

My CD of Georges Delerue’s original score to SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES just arrived, so I’m listening to that as I write. Pretty criminal of Disney to have fired the sublime Delerue and hired James Horner instead, but I will admit to rather liking the Horner score, which has a pleasingly Halloweeny sound.

Since Disney never throw ANYTHING away, the idea of a restored director’s cut of SWTWC is perfectly practical. Removing the V.O. and changing the score would be very simple, and would already make a bug difference. The only thing standing in the way of this is the fact that there’s no obvious money to be made from such a project — unlike BLADE RUNNER, this film hasn’t grown in reputation since it’s first, unsuccessful release. (I remember waiting for it to play Edinburgh, but it never even came.)

Looking at Clayton’s work as a whole was a pleasure — bits link up in unusual ways. The fly that buzzes on the soundtrack of THE INNOCENTS, presaging the appearance of ghosts, moves onscreen for THE GREAT GATSBY, where it alights on a sandwich mysteriously abandoned in the echoing mansion house.

Woman in Black

The influence of the past on the present, embodied by those ghosts, receives an echo in THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE, when Judith’s drinking friend appears as a shadowy, blurred reflection in the background of a shot, fading up as Judith remembers her.

Clayton’s fondness for overlapping images became more obvious, from the lap-dissolved dream in THE INNOCENTS to the slow mix that takes us from a giant billboard image of bespectacled eyes (the Eyes of God) to the blood-smeared headlights of Gatsby’s car. A slightly overdone effect, maybe, and one that anticipates even more vulgar pictorial effects in Coppola’s DRACULA (Coppola scripted Clayton’s GATSBY).

in the mouth of madness

But despite these interconnections, Clayton’s was such a discontinuous career that one can’t help feeling that vital parts are missing, films that would help make sense of the whole oevre if Clayton had been allowed to make them: projects like CASUALTIES OF WAR and THE TENANT, later realised by other filmmakers; projects never yet realised, like adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, Jessamyn West’s MASSACRE AT FALL CREEK, or James Kennaway’s SILENCE.

(All this from Neil Sinyard’s excellent book, Jack Clayton.)

SILENCE was killed by Barry Diller when he took charge of 20th Century Fox. Diller is rumoured to be the model for Mr Burns in The Simpsons, and the fact that he cancelled the project without even reading the script caused Clayton to throw several chairs through that executives plate glass office window.

The story of a mute black woman known only as “Silence”, the unmade film acquired a prophetic significance when Clayton himself lost the power of speech after a stroke. Re-learning language and re-starting his career was an incredible feat — rather than regretting that Clayton made so few films, maybe I should just be grateful he was able to make as many as he did.

Free Mason

British teeth

Stills from THE INNOCENTS and THE PUMPKIN EATER.

Haynes’ Pandemonium Carnival

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2008 by dcairns

he's not here 

My head is an incredible jumble! I feel like I have been melted down by the Button Moulder.

I start lecturing again tomorrow (and we’ll see how I keep this blog going once THAT happens) so I started preparing my first lecture, on Jack Clayton. I love THE INNOCENTS especially and THE PUMPKIN EATER and am pretty wild about most of the others, and I’ve never done a talk about him so it seemed like fun. I was looking at THE GREAT GATSBY (featuring the infant Absolute Beginner Patsy Kensit) again, trying to choose extracts, and I got sucked into it and suddenly realised I’d better stop and go and see I’M NOT THERE, as had been my plan for the day.

Off to the Cameo!* This is a legendary Edinburgh art-house/fleapit. My parents saw THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM along with THE SEVEN SAMURAI here (an unlikely pairing). It used to be run by a wild entrepreneur and showman called Jim Poole, who would turn the heating up for desert films, and other feats of William Castle-style Sensurround legerdemain. Yet I can’t see any obvious reason why, for this film, the auditorium was freezing cold and smelled of wee. These sensations disappeared as the film began though, returning with renewed intensity as the end credits rolled (to the sound of “Like a Rolling Stone”) and I realised I’d been in a state of sensory suspension for the whole film, absorbing only what the film’s makers delivered to me through my ears and eyes. 

I don’t feel equal to delivering any kind of useful thoughts on this film just yet, which is a Phantasmagoric Cavort through various aspects of Bob Dylan’s life and art, because a) it’s pretty complex and b) I don’t know much about Dylan and c) I have managed to amplify the rather weird state the film induced in me by way of artistic overload:

On the bus home, I had the gated drums of Siouxie and the Banshee’s Peekaboo and the lovely Charlotte Gainsbourg singing to me on my Nano, while I read a little memoir by Ralph Richardson (favourite role: Peer Gynt) and the illuminations of the Balmoral Hotel and Edinburgh Castle glowed, and I thanked my lucky stars again for living in the city where W.C. Fields first tasted whiskey.

Then home, lighting a fire and finishing off THE GREAT GATSBY, which has marvellous people and moments, even if it doesn’t entirely grip. Fitzgerald is referenced in Haynes’ film, but I thought on the whole that SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, a marvellous film made by Clayton and partially unmade by the suits at Disneycorps, is closer to Haynes’ film, which has a definite flavour of the Fellini-esque about it. EIGHT AND A HALF is the big stylistic cue for the Cate Blanchett scenes, but then this circus flavour invades the Richard Gere sequence, supplanting most traces of Peckinpah (though the presence of Kris Kristofferson as narrator provides another reminder of PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID). I guess the blend of Americana and the carnivalesque is what brought Clayton’s film to mind.

all I see are dark eyes

dusty old fairgrounds

You can probably expect more on the neglected Clayton, and hopefully some more ordered thoughts on Haynes’ film, which I kind of loved, soon. Or soon-ish.

ONE thought: Cate Blanchett has rightly had much favourable attention for her work here, but I think she has an advantage over her co-stars because drag is pretty well always interesting. Not that she isn’t remarkable. But I want to say that Marcus Carl Franklin as “Woodie Guthrie” is also a true Star — when he’s on it’s like someone pierced the celluloid and let a VERY BRIGHT LIGHT shine through.

MC Franklin

*One very nice thing about this picture house is that there’s generally one of my students or ex-students working there. This time it was Clair. Hello, if you’re reading this!

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