Archive for Starship Troopers

Film Directors with their Shirts Off #56749 Cecil Blount DeMille

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2014 by dcairns


Cecil B. DeMille is such a figure of dignity! Always Dignity! that I despaired of ever finding a shirtless image of the Great Man for my occasional series on cineastes sans chemise. And yet, in Robert S. Birchard’s estimable volume Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood, we find not one but two such images. The first shows the entire unit of FEET OF CLAY (1924) basking in the sun. Cecil wears what is either a one-piece bathing suit or a very tight dark vest and shorts. Probably the former. He still has his pipe in though.

But the above image really does it — FLESH is what the public screams for, and Cecil is not one to disoblige a screaming public. He’s chatting to Herbert Marshall and Claudette Colbert on the set of FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE (1934), effortlessly maintaining his sang-froid and keeping his smoking materials lit at the same time, proving that true dignity can be maintained in any circumstance, even while exposing one’s moobs.

DeMille may be showing solidarity with his leading lady, who goes nude in the film. Bathing under a waterfall, Claudette is filmed in extreme longshot so that we will have to wait for the Blu-ray to get busy with a magnifying glass and see if it really is her bottom. My theory is that DeMille here is disrobing just as Paul Verhoeven did on STARSHIP TROOPERS when some of his young actors were reluctant to strip for a communal shower scene. (While one applauds the Dutchman’s nerve, it isn’t really the same thing — his ass wasn’t going to be put on film and projected at millions of people.)

I guess the DeMilles I should be checking out are MANSLAUGHTER, THE WHISPERING CHORUS and other of his more sophisticated dramas, but somehow I always just want to watch the last half of MADAME SATAN and let my eyeballs rejoice at the costumes of Mitchell Leisen.

Blood for Oil

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2008 by dcairns

Alex Orr’s zestful cheapie BLOOD CAR played the Edinburgh Film fest this year (the Fest has a long history of supporting imaginative exploitation cinema, starting with its ahead-of-the-curve Corman retrospective back in the ’70s) and the writer-director was around for the whole event. He seemed very approachable so I cornered him for the first Shadowplay interview.

Well, it turns out I suck at interviewing, but am OK at free-ranging movie conversation, so once we stopped with the programmed blather things went much better. This means that I only garnered a tiny amount of useable on-topic stuff to print here. So I’m using ALL of it.

BLOOD CAR details the misadventures of vegan schoolteacher Archie Andrews, who’s trying to convert his car to run on wheat grass, but inadvertently discovers it prefers blood. The day before the interview I heard someone describe the film as “technically horrible” (it’s not, but it’s shot on digital) but “conceptually brilliant”. The political subtext of “blood for oil” is never stressed, but it doesn’t need to be. The filmmakers were certainly well aware of it.

“A B movie should just be a BIG AWESOME RETARDED THING,” he says, citing Verhoeven’s STARSHIP TROOPERS as the big-budget version of that principle: Pretty kids getting eaten by bugs, plus a weird Nazi vibe. It’s all in the concept.

Alex and his pals were pitching ideas in the car, trying to find an exploitable low-budget scenario, and I guess the idea of a car came naturally to mind since they were in one. I bet lots of cyber-thrillers are thought up while the writers are staring at their P.C.s. It’s obvious, really.

Being an aspiring low-budget filmmaker myself, I had to ask Alex the budget and schedule question. The movie was made for “around 25-30” and shot in 12 days, but there was a subplot that didn’t work, comprising about a third of the footage, so that was ditched and a further couple days new material was produced to bring the film up to length and add touches like the very funny baby-kissing coda. (OK, there IS some overt political satire).

Alex has a group of friends he regularly works with, and had helped out on horror films before, but never made one. His leading man is a friend whom everybody thought it would be amusing to systematically degrade and smear in blood. The “meat girl” character is Alex’s girlfriend (lucky guy). A local rap artist was drafted in to play a carjacker.

A little money was spent on one essential prosthetic effect, and a device to spray blood at high pressure was hired. And about fifty gallons of “Kensington gore” was purchased at a knock-down price.

The resulting movie has sold in Germany and has U.S. distribution, arranged through a sales agent. It’s pretty clearly going to turn a profit, and hopefully Alex will be able to make his next project.

“It’s about a white supremacist who gets a black hand transplanted onto him. It’s called BLACK HAND.”

Alex admires the seemingly loose but actually tightly organised plotting of LITTLE BIG MAN, and hopes to achieve a similar historical sweep. “Sex and violence can’t really offend anybody in a movie anymore, what with the Internet,” he says, “and nobody takes religion seriously,” so his plan is to use race, which is still a hot enough potato to get people talking.

“You gotta have an angle, other than ‘I’m great!’

Oh, I also want to mention Alex’s excellent abstract Peter Bogdanovich impersonation. “I met that guy, and he’s like a caricature of himself. He’s all, like, ‘Ah-wub-wub-wub.'” The sound can best be characterised as a smug burble. But Alex paid tribute to the burbler: “Your first two movies are the reason I became a filmmaker.” Bogdanovich is quite used to soaking up deserved praise for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, but: “What? Targets???” referring to his low-budget Corman-produced debut, to which Alex could only reply “YES Targets!” 

I agree, it’s a terrific movie, and Bogdanovich gets extra points for gamely seizing a poisoned-chalice project that had to incorporate ten minutes of outtakes from Corman’s THE TERROR, and turning it into a smart and touching homage to Boris Karloff, as well as a chilling meditation on modern-day violence.

It’s the kind of low-budget derring-do I’d like to see more of in British cinema.

Indiana Jones and the Garden of Evil

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2008 by dcairns

(We need shorthand ways to refer to the titles of the four INDIANA JONES movies. I suggest RAIDARK, TEMPOOM, LASTADE and CRYSKULL.)

Top of the World

Watching Henry Hathaway’s Mexican-western adventure GARDEN OF EVIL (in glorious Technicolor and Cinemascope) not so very long after seeing Spielberg and Lucas’ INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST TEMPLE OF THE LAST CRYSTAL SKULL got me thinking about various things, including imaginary landscapes.

I don’t want to get all nostalgic and neophobic and bash the Spielberg for being modern — GARDEN OF EVIL isn’t actually a brilliant film either, and the slam-bang ethos of the Spielberg actually helps make it watchable. If you have no very interesting ideas, at least speed of delivery can be your friend.

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain

It’s actually easier to bash CRYSKULL by comparing it with the first in the series. RAIDARK was an enjoyably SOLID film, using real locations and stunt men, not C.G. dreamscapes and flying synthespians. This had the effect of grounding it — there are very few truly unbelievable things in that film, and they’ve been discussed to death: “How does Indie hitch a ride on a U-boat?” etc. When a truck is overturned, the effects team made it happen by firing a dirty great log through it, hitting the ground beneath and tipping the vehicle over — and you can see the log in the finished film. On the one hand, it’s a technical flaw (no time for re-takes, for the first time Spielberg’s fee was tied to his bringing the movie in on budget and on schedule, so for the first time he TRIED), on the other hand it proves the stunt actually took place. It really happened, therefore it COULD happen.

Where would you even start with TEMPOOM or CRYSKULL? The sequels are catalogues of impossibilities, cartoony assaults on the laws of physics, with miniatures and matte paintings giving way to digital jiggery-pokery, as everyone labours under that terrible misapprehension of modern action cinema: we can do “ANYTHING.” The fact is, just because modern computer graphics allow an expensive filmmaker like Spielberg to represent whatever he chooses in a slick, photo-realist fashion, does NOT mean the audience has to believe it. We don’t for instance, believe that archaeological relic Harrison Ford can survive sailing over three gigantic waterfalls in an amphibious vehicle. We certainly don’t believe John Hurt can. Early on, Ford shields himself from an H-bomb blast by hiding in a refrigerator. “Could you survive an atomic explosion by climbing into a fridge?” asked Fiona. “Let me put it this way,” I replied, all Mr. Science and everything, “You couldn’t survive climbing into a fridge.”

Obviously, a film like CRYSKULL, and far worse stuff like Lucas’ appalling STAR WARS prequels (at least the JONES has some nice lines and appealing performers in sometimes amusing situations) will make hangars full of money by appealing to the public’s fondness for the originals, but the reliance on C.G. strikes me as odd. The public doesn’t actually LIKE C.G.I. Ask anybody. Obviously, what people mean is they don’t like tacky, obvious C.G.I. But what do they mean by THAT?

The hills are alive

Spielberg said something quite interesting once, something about the public ALWAYS knowing when something is C.G. It’s very nearly true. We know something is a special effect when we know it HAS to be. The most convincing effects in that piece of junk JURASSIC PARK II, for instance, are the vehicles. I didn’t realise, watching it, that many of the jeeps and trucks in many shots, are C.G. creations: far easier to make them interact with C.G. dinosaurs that way. So C.G.I. might be most effective when it’s used to present something we can believe in. Trusting the audience to be smart enough to actually question the reality of the images placed before them would be a good first step in fooling them successfully, with entertainment as the ultimate goal.

Think of the dinosaur stampede in Peter Jackson’s KING KONG. Ignoring the rather glaring flaw that the characters running about amid the brontosaurs’ feet are all perfectly illuminated by bright sunlight in three-quarter backlighting, necessitating the assumption that these dinosaurs are somehow TRANSPARENT, does anybody actually believe any of those characters would have survived five seconds in that situation? Scaling back the ambition to wow us with spectacular visuals would be a useful step in actually wowing us with dramatic situations possessing some modicum of convincing risk.

The Hills Have Eyes

Looking at the nice special effect landscapes in GARDEN OF EVIL’s mountain scenes, I was partly moved by an admittedly nostalgic fondness for matte paintings, but I also reflected that what matters just as much as the paintings on the right of the screen is the authentic landscapes on the left, photographed with skill and at some expense of time, effort and money. Doing the whole thing in the studio has always been a mark of cheapness in adventure cinema, with 1933’s KING KONG the honorable exception. We want to believe the filmmakers went on an adventure to get genuinely dangerous footage.

If filmmakers like Spielberg and Lucas followed the same logic in C.G. landscapes that they apply to action sequences, the artificial jungles and mountains of CRYSKULL would teeter on spindles like the Cloud City of Bespin in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, they would be stretching and distorted melting cheeselands like the worlds of Dr. Seuss, and be polka-dotted and patterned in ludicrous hues like the musical numbers in THE GANG’S ALL HERE. But they’re not. Because the filmmakers are smart enough to know that such silly antics wouldn’t fly with an audience. Why can’t they apply the same logic to their action scenes?

I Shot an Arrow in the Air

(There’s a moral question here — should Spielberg have stuntmen do dangerous stuff when he could fake it all up? Recently there have been serious accidents on the new Bond and BATMAN films. Personally, I can’t look in real life if somebody does something dangerous, so I’d be rubbish at this kind of cinema. And yet I love Keaton and admire classic Jackie Chan and quite a few older action films. I think doing it for real is aesthetically preferable in every way, but perhaps not morally. We remember what happened on Spielberg’s production of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, after all. How common are serious accidents? I don’t know, but when Paul Verhoeven needed amputee stuntmen for STARSHIP TROOPERS, he had no trouble finding them. Lots of them.)