Archive for Star 80

Rocky Road

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2008 by dcairns

Shiny Happy People 

Those who know me — happy few! — will aver that in one thing I am something of an absolutist. I absolutely don’t like depressing Scottish realist films. My producer and friend Nigel Smith is even more adamantly of this opinion, and has dubbed the genre “miserabilism”, a term which has since CAUGHT ON and been used in no less an organ than Sight & Sound. Nigel further categorises these films as the “piss in a milk bottle and sling it at yer granny” school of filmmaking, quotes the Johnny Rotten line “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery,” and suggests that the ultimate message about the Scottish people promoted by miserabilism is “we are victims and we live in a terrible place.” While perhaps being more moderate in my views, I don’t strongly disagree with any of this pithy assessment. But then, maybe my moderation is due to the fact that unlike Nigel I generally avoid seeing any of these films if I possibly can.

But no more! Since my great good friends Colin McLaren and Morag McKinnon have embarked on their feature film debut ROUNDING UP DONKEYS (Morag actually has a no-budget feature to her name already, but she’s been keeping quiet about that), and since said extravaganza is a follow-up of sorts to the award-winning RED ROAD, and since RR seems to epitomise many of the attributes associated with miserabilism (unhappy working-class characters, tragic backstories, unpleasant sex scenes) … in short, since all of that, I feel I’m going to have to bloody watch RED ROAD.

I’m treating this as a kind of scientific experiment. Each day for a week I’m going to run a bit of the movie but if, after a bit, I can no longer stand the skull-crushing depression, I’ll stop it, watch something cheerful, and resume the next day. Now, I might actually become HOOKED and forget my aversion to this kind of entertainment and watch the whole thing at once — if so, I solemnly vow to let you know how it went down. On the other hand, the sheer Scottishness might be too much for me almost at once, but I figure that even if I can only manage fifteen minutes at a time I’ll have the thing well and truly watched inside of a week. And I can send despatches from the front line along the way.

Smile!

If I do end up fragmenting the film thusly, I’d have to admit that’s not an ideal viewing experience of the kind the makers had in mind, so you can make allowances accordingly. On the other hand, I HAVE screened some films I respect and, in a sense, enjoy, in just that way. I found Bob Fosse’s STAR 80 so horrific, and Eric Roberts’ performance in it so skin-crawlingly unpleasant, that I had to keep stopping the tape every ten minutes so I could prance around the room clawing the imaginary ants from my body. Despite this, my admiration for the film is enormous, and not just because it’s the only film, to my knowledge, photographed by Sven Nykvist to begin with a close-up on a portrait of Telly Savalas.

Smile!!!

So — I will begin my assault on the north face of RED ROAD immediately, and will be posting regular updates on my progress to its rugged and inaccessible summit.

Wish me luck.

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Euphoria #17: It’s showtime, folks.

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2008 by dcairns

Fiona’s got a nasty ‘flu’, so I’m attempting to restore her spirits with another of those movie scenes that infuses you with optimism, like steam inhalation for the soul. 

Pure frug-ing euphoria from Bob Fosse’s SWEET CHARITY, his remake of Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, book by Neil Simon. A modest floor-show in the Fellini, visible for just a few seconds, is here inflated into a gigantic number with Suzanne Charney (and Ben Vereen!) This is the second euphoric clip in two days where a woman makes remarkable shapes with her body. S.C. is utterly incredible. Women want to be her. Men want to be on her. 

Neil Simon and Bob Fosse were great friends and contemporaries: Fosse was only two days older than Simon. He used to say, “During those two days when I was on this earth and you weren’t… I had more girls than you will have in the entire rest of your life.”

Another writer friend was Paddy Chayefsky (NETWORK, ALTERED STATES). When Fosse was about to go in for open-heart surgery he asked Paddy to sign his will as a witness. Chayefksy asked to read it.

‘Well, that’s not really nec-‘

‘I don’t sign anything I don’t read,’ snapped Chayefsky.

He scanned the document, then: ‘Well, this all seems — I say “SEEMS”, mind you — to be in order. But I don’t see my name anywhere.’

‘Well, that’s true. I mean, you know I love you like a brother and everything, Paddy, but you’re not actually a beneficiary.’

Chayefsky throws the will back at his sick friend. ‘Screw you then — LIVE!’

Hospital hallucination, take 1

Fosse’s surgery is gorily recreated in ALL THAT JAZZ, his penultimate film. He gives himself the best lines in that one. To first wife: ‘If I don’t make it, I’m sorry for all the things I did to you.’ To new girlfriend: ‘And if I DO make it, I’m sorry for all the things I’m GONNA do to YOU.’

*

Style note: Fosse cuts rather a lot for a choreographer/director. His editing is very stylish and rhythmic, but sometimes it takes over from the dancers, makes it impossible for us to follow the WHOLE SCENE. True, it’s a cinematic effect instead of a theatrical one, but when the dancing is this good, sometimes simplicity might be better? My main reason for fretting over this is the horrible state of filmed dance in the mainstream media today.

In CHICAGO we get a modern director imitating Fosse’s approach, but with many more cuts, the MTV tradition. The dance becomes totally incoherent, and what people remember is the editing: “Wasn’t the editing great?” Well, no. It wasn’t.

Showtime

I still love Fosse though. Like a lot of theatre directors, he embraced the unique qualities of film with insane enthusiasm. His films are all about montage, juxtaposition, cross-cutting different kinds of fictional reality, performance and life clashing head-on.

If I ran a series of clips of Cinema That Makes You Want to Gnaw Your Own Brain Off, Fosse’s skin-crawling work with Eric Roberts in STAR 80 would have to be Clip One. Amazing stuff.

Footnote: just watched this again and don’t find it at all over-edited. Maybe there’s too much cutting in other sequences, but not here.