Archive for Star Wars

Static

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2016 by dcairns

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Another day, another bad John Frankenheimer movie. But he directs the shit out of all of them, I have to say — total commitment.

YEAR OF THE GUN. A film about Italy’s Red Brigade, made from an American perspective with a British screenwriter and producer seems an odd proposition, especially in 1991. The film is set in 1978 but is petrified of seeming like a period movie — the seventies didn’t come back into style until the late nineties so there are lots of students with short hair in this. The only obvious attempt at evoking period is to have the protags take shelter in a cinema showing STAR WARS — composer Bill Conti, he of the cheesy synths, attempts a tinny paraphrase of John Williams in the lobby, which is hilarious.

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The British input may account for the hero’s lack of heroism — harking back to Graham Greene, we like our American heroes baffled and impotent. But Holly Martins in THE THIRD MAN is also funny and sweet. Here we have Andrew McCarthy, whose character isn’t dumb like Holly, but isn’t endearing either. McCarthy doesn’t burn with screen charisma, and looks like a baby potato, but may be underrated as an actor — he does extremely good outrage. He just doesn’t pull us in, and the script gives us no reason to care  — we have to wait for Sharon Stone to turn up, which takes ages, and then things do get a bit more exciting. Seeing this, I wonder she didn’t really get noticed earlier. Frankenheimer responds to her ferocity.

No dutch tilts in this one, but some extreme deep focus and wide angle lenses and slomo and a lot of sweeping camera moves. None of which redeems the lacklustre and unfocused narrative — I don’t think the script is underdeveloped, I suspect it’s been overcooked with too many notes and rewrites. The sex scenes are awful — Frankenheimer applies himself with gusto, but they have no plot role to serve, they’re like the potter’s wheel interludes on old TV, only with tits.

Frankenheimer movies either end with violence — like, BANG! bad guy dead The End — or they end with television. Like a man obsessed, Frankenheimer couldn’t help returning to his first medium, which he had been forced out of by James T Aubrey. This one has Dick Cavett turn up at the end to interview the protagonists, a pointless and distracting bit of gimmickry, accompanied by Frankenheimer’s favourite device, the frame-within-a-drame TV set…

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Close in on TV screen. Static. Everything always comes back to white noise with Frankenheimer — the roar of emptiness.

Reboot of the Jedi

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2015 by dcairns

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I was going to be all noble and abstain from seeing STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS because I am an adult. I have managed to avoid giving George Lucas any of my money since the first mangling of the original STAR WARS with CGI characters dropped into it at random, though this was partially by luck rather than design — a friend acquired a bootleg of THE PHANTOM MENACE before it came out and I abandoned all ethical principles and said what the hell and watched it and was damned glad I hadn’t thrown my money away on that load of tripe.

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But Fiona wanted to see this one, because it has the original actors in it a bit and so it connects more convincingly to any residual fondness one has for the original trilogy… and she had an unexpectedly emotional response to it. Funnily enough, I had just come from a costume fitting with the magnificent thespian Gavin Mitchell, who reported that he saw the movie while rather tired but his girlfriend got really emotional. Same thing. Is this a STAR WARS film that works better for girls? No bad thing, since the first film was so boysie (and so white) as one female fan wrote, ruefully, “One wonders if Princess Leia had anyone to play with when she was small.”

Princess Leia is STILL small, but she’s now a general. Han Solo is back to smuggling, the marriage thing having not quite worked out. Best of all, there are new characters, who actually have characters, unlike the entire cast of the prequels. John Boyega plays Finn, a disaffected stormtrooper — someone with actual demonstrable integrity, who rejects the politics he’s been raised with — nobody else in the films has such nobility. Daisy Ridley plays Rey (I think that’s short for Reysie Diddly, although it may also be a nod to the maker of another celebrated trilogy). Oscar Isaac is Poe Dameron, the only one of these kids with a surname, and does a lot well with very little writing to support him. It had been uncertain, looking at his previous performances, whether the brooding O.I. could pull off lightly likeable, but he does it here. Oh, and bad guy Adam Driver, he of the massive face, a co-star of O.I.’s from INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, is excellent too. J.J. Abrams has by now made a lot more films than Lucas had when he made the first film in the saga franchise, and has certainly shown a lot more care than Lucas lavished on the prequels. And he has a surer sense of what STAR WARS films need to be like. I swear, when that two-headed sports commentator turned up in PHANTOM MENACE…

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Abrams’ great vice is his tendency to pass off remakes as reboots, so here we get secret plans hidden in a droid, yet another, an even bigger death star, Luke as the lost Jedi master in place of Obi-Wan, and a climax which intercuts a dogfight with a light-sabre duel. Plus a desert planet which might as well be Tatooine but isn’t, and a snowy planet that isn’t Hoth. The sense of deja vu is entirely intentional, but I would certainly have liked to see the filmmakers invent more — there are some striking background characters, but they stay in the background. And the filmmakers’ imaginations seem constrained, as if they can’t really imagine all this stuff they’ve imagined. The new death star is the size of a planet, but when the heroes land there next to one particular building they have to destroy, they quickly bump into the one person they’re looking for. It’s a small world after all.

The relentless compaction extends to time also — take a stop-watch with you and see how long elapses between the terrible news that the death star will be able to destroy everybody in two minutes, and the eventual solution to that narrative problem. We’re very used to this kind of trick in movies — the bomb timer that keeps doubling back on itself — but I swear it’s about fifteen minutes this time.

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Things Abrams definitely does better than Lucas:

The dialogue. With the aid of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK co-writer Larry Kasdan and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE guy Michael Arndt, Abrams has written (sparse) dialogue which doesn’t make you want to chew your own jaw off.

No midi-chlorians. Interestingly, midi-chlorians are the reason that, whenever you meet a Jedi knight, they smell like swimming pools.

Action. Lucas has recently tended to equate “excitement” with “shitloads of things buzzing about” whereas Abrams favours coherence, and has a pleasing tendency to make each shot do more than one thing, tying the scene together with images that develop and move, enhancing the sense of context at every turn.

Domnhall Gleeson with his permanent expression of “Ooh, matron!” camp outrage. So nice to find an actor making a bold choice and sticking to it.

Emotion. Even in the first/fourth film (the film that was called STAR WARS), Lucas rather shrank from emotion. John Williams provides a soaring Wagnerian leitmotif when Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed, but since there hasn’t been a single hint of human warmth between Luke and his kin, this can only do so much. A comparison with THE SEARCHERS, from which Lucas has borrowed this moment, shows how much is lacking — or avoided. This kind of thing has caused me to equate the word “operatic” with the phenomenon of “gesturing grandly at a supposed emotion without actually making you feel anything” — which I don’t think is the original meaning of the term. In amidst the frenetic running about, Abrams’ characters build up some actual affection — Reysie Diddly and John Bodeya are particularly useful here.

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But the reason Fiona had such a strong emotional response to the movie is that it reminded her of the original, which made her want to make movies at age 11. And maybe it was more the publicity booklet we both owned, which drew shrewd connections to everything from METROPOLIS to SILENT RUNNING, highlighted behind-the-scenes activities, and unpicked the creative process.

Meeting these characters again could be glibly compared to meeting people you grew up with, but really they haven’t grown up. It’s like meeting someone from your childhood and finding they haven’t matured at all. It’s cheering, in a nostalgic way, for a little while (135 minutes may be pushing it), to meet people incapable of growth or development, whose world doesn’t change. I don’t know why it should be so, but whenever friends meet Fiona & I after a while apart, they assure us that it is.

Why George Lucas Has No Penis

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2015 by dcairns

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As a coda to Seventies Sci-Fi Week-and-a-Half, here’s a piece I wrote ages ago and then didn’t post because it was too mean, and its subject is a rich and powerful man. On re-reading it, I decided it’s not that mean and its subject isn’t really its subject — it’s a kind of parody of the style of Professor Joseph Slade, whose article “Bernard Natan, France’s Legendary Pornographer” cast him as chief villain in NATAN, the documentary Paul Duane and I collaborated on (which also features crooked businessmen and Nazis, so Slade had to work hard to attain the top spot). The game is “psychoanalyse a moviemaker based on his work” — inferring all sorts of offensive assumptions on slender textual evidence. So I hope Mr. Lucas will see the funny side and not sic the assassination wing of Industrial Light and Magic on my ass.

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Exhibit A.

I don’t want you to misconstrue from the title of the post, or any of the many bad things I say in it, that this is an anti-Lucas screed. It’s more about examining George‘s immortal creation, the original STAR WARS, to see how it is in fact a coded cri-de-coeur from a man who wants to be virile and thrusting, to satisfy women, to have a penis, and yet cannot do any of these things, because he doesn’t have a penis.

Exhibit B: the light sabre. When Mel Brooks spoofed this peculiar weapon in SPACEBALLS (a title calculated to appeal to the untesticled Lucas), it wasn’t particularly funny, perhaps because the sight of Bill Pullman miming the act of clutching a long, luminous erection somehow doesn’t inspire hilarity, only a queasy urge to withdraw from the vicinity as soon as possible. But also because the joke is too obvious — and I don’t mean in the sense that all dick jokes are, by definition, obvious, I mean that the light sabre is already a naked phallic symbol impossible to parody. In terms of physics, it makes no sense — it’s apparently made of light, yet the beam comes to a dead halt just when you need it to, and it’s solid. And from the way they swing them around, it looks like it has a little weight too. What else is solid, comes to a dead halt when you need it to, and has a little weight? Of course: a penis.

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Exhibit C: Darth Vader. Authors automatically project onto their villains their own undesirable qualities. In Peter Pan, Captain Hook is frequently described as “impotent” by J.M. Barrie, and the pirate’s missing limb is a clear metaphor for his sexual deficiency. Vader on the one hand, like everybody else in the STAR WARS universe, represents Lucas‘ craving for an aura of powerful masculinity: he is large and imposing, he has a light sabre, he has a black man’s voice like Barry White, and his heavy breathing suggests a state of permanent physical arousal. But it also suggests acute asthma, and it is here that Darth’s status as a disabled war veteran reveals Lucas‘ secret anxiety about his masculinity.

His name is a thinly-veiled reconstruction of the words “death invader” and he is an intrusion of the thanatic, anti-life principle into the living world. As a result, Vader is not sexually active, and when faced with a desirable woman, in his power, Vader chooses to attack her with a surrogate robot, armed only with a tiny needle. This reveals Lucas‘ subconscious anxiety that his tiny penis, if he has one, which he definitely doesn’t, is too small.

(Some may suggest that Vader feels no sexual desire for Princess Leia because she’s his daughter, but in fact this is not so. She’s not his daughter in the first film because Lucas had not yet written the other films at the time he made it. He hadn’t even started pretending that he had written the other five — or is it eight? — films.)

Exhibit D: R2-D2. Although the long, shiny C3-PO and the short, buff R2, like many comic double acts, represent a kind of analog of the human penis and scrotum, it is in R2’s electronic interface shaft that we see again Lucas‘ longing for a penis he can call his own. A kind of plug, jack, or cable (all words with sexual significance), R2’s mechanical member allows him to sexually violate other machines, including even the all-powerful Death Star. Though small and inarticulate, like Lucas, R2 possesses the power, unlike Lucas, to make things happen with his ding-a-ling. In one famous scene, he sticks it in the Death Star and forces her destructive, vagina dentata gnashers to release the trapped heroes who have unwisely ventured down the garbage disposal shaft which represents the Death Star’s vulva.

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Exhibit E: the climax. At the climax of the film Lucas made which he called STAR WARS, not A NEW HOPE, we get a flurry of erotic symbolism so insistent as to be almost dizzying. The death star attempts to assume the phallic role by planning to shoot a laser cannonade at Yavin, a green, Gaia-like world representing the life principle. To prevent this, a whole fleet of phallic spacecraft are launched, each with its own X-rating in the form of criss-cross wings replacing the testicles.

The goal of these craft is to turn the Death Star into a big space vagina and penetrate it, thus “fucking it up.” They do this first by diving into a groove on the satellite’s surface, then firing a so-called “proton torpedo” into its “cooling shaft”. All while R2 sits directly behind Luke, stimulating his prostate with that computerized dildo attachment of his.

I have said that this is a mechanized version of sexual intercourse, but what it more closely resembles is the act of fertilisation. The Death Star is an egg and the X-wing fighters are sperm, swimming together in a race to penetrate the ovum. The fact that in this case, the goal achieved leads to a big explosion and thousands of deaths probably reflects Lucas‘ neurotic anxieties, but on the other hand, the destruction of the death star saves Yavin, and so billions of lives on the fecund world are saved.

Lucas‘ cast of characters are mostly sexually dysfunctional or incapable of maintaining an erection. Ben Kenobi is an elderly Englishman, as is the Grand Moff Tarkin. Luke Skywalker delivers his first line of dialogue in a shrill, pansified falsetto. C3-PO and Chewbacca have noapparent generative organs of any kind, and Princess Leia is a woman.

In Lucas‘s predominantly metallic, sterile universe, the only truly virile human is Han Solo, who doesn’t need to surround himself with phallic symbols.

His blaster is of no more than standard size, his space-ship looks more like a cake than anything else, and he is so secure in his masculinity that he travels around with a shaggy beast, just like Clint Eastwood in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE. Though his name strongly implies the act of masturbation, Han Solo is obviously a sexual conquistador of awesome dexterity. Chewbacca, Han’s “co-pilot” (read: fuck-buddy) is a savage male artifact in his own right, but his name (chewing tobacco) signifies his true role, as a lovable Walter Brennan sidekick with whom Han can, if he wishes, enjoy vigorous bouts of recreational sex.

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Just imagine him flanked by two Ewoks.

The top ten sexual innuendos of STAR WARS, via Strange Places.

1. “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
2. “Curse my metal body, I wasn’t fast enough!”
3. “Look at the size of that thing!”
4. “Sorry about the mess…”
5. “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.”
6. “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
7. “You’ve got something jammed in here real good.”
8. “Put that thing away before you get us all killed!”
9. “Luke, at that speed do you think you’ll be able to pull out in time?”
10. “Get in there you big furry oaf, I don’t care *what* you smell!”

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