Archive for Spirit of the Beehive

Playing Dead

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 5, 2015 by dcairns


Image from SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. Words from All My Flashbacks, the memoir of Brit director, and former child actor, Lewis Gilbert.

I had read only the chapters dealing with certain key films, but Fiona went through the whole thing, though not in order, lending the life of EDUCATING RITA’s director an unwonted MARIENBAD quality. She pointed out this anecdote.

At this point in the story, Gilbert is aged six.

…there was one thing I could not understand. Why would an actor – and I knew that actors appeared in films because I had already been in a couple myself – why would an actor playing a cowboy or an Indian allow himself to be killed? Why would he let someone fire a gun at him or shoot an arrow through him? I couldn’t understand that at all but I didn’t want to ask. One day the answer hit me. I went to the green room, the place in a theatre where performers go to relax, and found three or four of them sitting around, talking and smoking. “You know those people who get killed in a film,” I said, “I know how they get killed and why they get killed.” They all stopped and looked at me.

“What do you mean? They’re actors.”

“I know they’re actors,” I said, “but what actor would want himself to be killed?”

“They aren’t. They’re acting.”

“No, no. I’ve seen them dying. I’ve seen them fall off horses, dead.”

“So, what do you think happens?” they asked.

“What you do,” I said, “is, you go to the prison and you find somebody who’s going to be hanged and you say, ‘Look, if you come into our film and get killed, we will pay you some money and we will look after your family. You might as well do it our way and get paid because you’re going to get hanged anyway.'”

Well of course they roared with laughter and thought that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. “No, son,” they insisted, still laughing, “it is acting. Honestly, it really is.” But I thought, ‘I don’t believe that,’ and I turned around and stalked out. There it was again, the inability of the child thrown into a world of fantasy to adjust to what was fantasy and what was fact.

Which brings us right back to SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, doesn’t it?

Between the Frames

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by dcairns


First screening for students this academic year — THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. Seen it a few times, screened it a few times. Was mildly worried it might be too slow an opener for our fresh intake of students, but they lapped it up. Good discussion afterwards, in which I admitted I’m still finding new things in it.

(Shadowplay and I are now so old I had to check I hadn’t written about this one before. But all I found was this — and I have no memory either of writing it, or of the events described.)


The whole movie takes place because of the lacuna in James Whale’s 1931 FRANKENSTEIN created by the censor. For decades, the movie was screened without the depiction of the little girl’s death, making Boris the monster’s implied actions more inexplicable and terrible. With the restored footage, her drowning is clearly an accident, since the monster doesn’t realize that children don’t automatically float. But little Ana Torrent in SPIRIT sees the truncated print (also dubbed into Spanish, with the introduction “Well, we warned you!” revoiced as an apt but unheeded “Don’t take it too seriously,”) and, confused by the scene and by her slightly twisted older sister’s explanations (which seem to fuse Mary Shelley with a child’s version of Catholic mythology), drifts into an anxious world of fantasy.


Ana Torrent’s eyes are big black dots, like those of the mouse in DUMBO, and in their obsidian depths, what dreams may come? Monsters are brought forth.

Early on, the mother in the movie writes a letter, seemingly to a lover. When her daughter disappears, she burns another letter. On this viewing, I flashed on a  possible interpretation, again informed by Catholicism, and in this case, Graham Greene and The End of the Affair. Is the mother bargaining with God? I destroy my lover’s reply, and will be a faithful wife now, if my daughter is returned safe.


None of the students (I just typed “other students” by mistake, but I could just as well let it stand) had reached this conclusion, but I think only one of them had seen the film before, and none had an alternative interp. The beauty of Erice’s poetic and allusive style is that, while some connections (between plot points, between strands of the film’s rich imagery) seem definite, others can be pondered endlessly, as if this movie, too, had a missing scene that would make all clear.

Portrait in Black

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2011 by dcairns

HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER — finally available uncut in the UK — is reviewed here, at Electric Sheep. By me.

Recommended to any fans of TV’s The Walking Dead who may have been asking themselves, “Where did they FIND that guy???” and to anybody who saw MAD DOG AND GLORY and wondered how that director managed to get work. Because he showed startling early promise, it seems. I’m not 100% convinced about HENRY, but is IS an ambitious departure from the kind of cheapjack exploiter the production company was asking for. On the other hand, Victor Erice was asked for a cheap Frankenstein knock-off and he gave them SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. Now that’s ambition.