Archive for Stephen Frears

Shelfies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 11, 2021 by dcairns

Picked up some shelving in the street, redistributed the physical media collection, which keeps expanding recklessly, due to charity shop bargains. The discs Fiona & I have worked on are still stacked vertically in the hall by the bathroom, and now reach up to my nose.

There’s another set of shelves still out there, and I’m tempted to grab them only there’s nowhere I can put them without obstructing access to other shelves or rooms. But I might try anyway. Tempting to subdivide the flat up with shelves, into a Borgesian labyrinth. I think Fiona would allow this so long as I ran coloured threads to mark things out.

Here you can just about see DePalma to Gilliam. The new space allows me to leave a tiny bit of room for the net, inevitable arrivals, but I know from experience it won’t last long enough. Why, I ask, do I even own CARRIE, a film I don’t like and won’t watch again? Just on the off-chance, or because I like owning things, prefer to have eleven DePalma films rather than ten? But then, it’s inconsistent of me to have gotten rid of the wretched DOMINO, surely? Conversely, the only reason I own seven Stephen Frears films is that I haven’t seen four of them, and might one day feel like popping one in the Panasonic. The three earliest ones in the collection are ones I like. Would like to own GUMSHOE.

Phantom Phones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2021 by dcairns

More from Goin’ Crazy with Sam Peckinpah and All our Friends by Max Evans “as told to” Robert Nott.

Not many people know that Sam Peckinpah was a mystic, though Fern Lea, his only sister, said once that only she and I knew about it. About ten days after his return from the Major Dundee shoot, he asked me to go into town with him to meet some industry people for a business lunch at a place that was called either the Steak ’n’ Ale or the Scotch ’n’ Sirloin. We were driving down Highway 101. He was driving a Corvette at the time. A car was coming straight at us in our lane, but it was quite a ways off. Then a phone in Sam’s car rang, and then again—except there was no phone in the car. Lord.

And just at that time the car coming at us went right through us—head on.

Sam looked at me and said, “Did you hear the phone?”

“Yeah.”

“Twice?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you see what just happened?”

“Yeah.”

It was a miraculous metaphysical phenomenon. We were sober. It happened. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

This fascinates me partly because it’s so cinematic. And yet I can’t think of a single really mystical scene in a Peckinpah film, though scenes like the departure from the village in THE WILD BUNCH have a kind of unstated magic to them.

Since Sam didn’t discuss this with anyone, apparently, I guess when he worked with Ida Lupino on JUNIOR BONNER he probably never learned that she;d received a mysterious phone call from a family friend, the mystery being that said friend had hung himself three days before.

Sam expected his friends to know what he was thinking. After that phone incident, he would often say to me, in a crowd or during one of his business luncheons, “Did you hear the phone?” to tip me off that he wanted something to change. Sometimes I would catch on; sometimes not. If he was in a business meeting with some industry people he didn’t like, and he wanted it to end, and I was there, he would turn to me and say, “Did you hear the phone?” and I was expected to find a reason to end the meeting there and then.

This jibes with L.Q. Jones’ remark that Peckinpah would get frustrated with actors and crew because he’d have thought he told them to do something when he really hadn’t. Maybe he’d used telepathy and it hadn’t worked. Or maybe, as Jones suggests, he’d been thinking about each project for so long her assumed everyone else understood it as thoroughly as he did, and would know what was required.

Not long afterward, while Pat, the girls, and I were still living in Studio City, the four of us were going down to Sam’s Broad Beach house for another mandatory weekend. Pat was carefully driving the twins and me from Studio City, where we lived, to Broad Beach. The road down to Broad Beach was a narrow pavement drive with what I would call “land waves” up and down along its surface to the front or back of the houses along Broad Beach. There was only one dangerous spot on this Broad Beach road, right at the bottom of the last of the “land waves,” just before the turn parallel to the beach. As Pat navigated the car at this point, a phone rang in our car three times, so loudly it shocked the hell out of all of us.

There was no phone in our car. The twins stood up in the back seat and peered over the front to double-check, wide-eyed—they wanted validation.

Pat slowed to a stop as we hit the turn. Just then a huge car came our way at a great, reckless speed, missing us by about six inches. We were all stunned and thankfully silent as Pat stopped our Buick sedan. That phone sound saved our nice little family from becoming a pile of hamburger meat—and we were thankful. Without any doubt, we were still alive because of that nonexistent ringing phone.

We didn’t talk about it at all that day—except for when Pat and I decided not to bring it up to the girls again since it was something we could not explain. We were justified in this silence as the twins slowly adjusted to similar “happenings” as they grew up. Varied beyond-the-norm incidents became a part of natural life for them over the years.

I told Sam about the incident. He wasn’t surprised. “The ringing is saving us for something, huh?” he said with a smile. “We better get after it.”

What Evans and Peckinpah wanted to get after was a film adaptation of Evans’ novel of the cowboy life, The Hi-Lo Country, to star Lee Marvin. The magic moment when Lee was available, his star riding high, and Peckinpah was employable, never quite materialised. Stephen Frears filmed the book in 1998 with Woody Harrelson. The invisible phone didn’t ring to stop him, or if it did, he never heard it.

One image is from THE GETAWAY, a Sam Peckinpah film, the other from VANISHING POINT, not a Sam Peckinpah film, but a mystical one.

Grift to the Scaffold

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2019 by dcairns

Yes — THE GRIFTERS stands up well. I was maybe a little underwhelmed in 1990, though I saw Stephen Frears do a Q&A on it and that was fun. In fact, it’s excellent. Stylistically, Frears was probably at his most assured — the opening split screen should go further, I feel, and the magnificent blocking in the hospital waiting room confrontation isn’t quite as dazzling as the way the characters prowl around each other in DANGEROUS LIAISONS, but it’s still hugely effective, and the three stars are tops.

I was very slightly sceptical of David E.’s assertion that the film presciently captures the state of America now — but I immediately noticed that, while the film opens with a quotation designed to acquaint its audience with the outdated term in the title, that term is now being slung around by both US political parties. Though I think the word GRIFT may soon be replaced by the word GRAFT, which seems really useful in today’s emulumental world.

Frears, as I recall, affected a complete disinterest in John Cusack’s previous career — “I gather he was in some sort of teenage things” — THE SURE THING, for one, is excellent, as I recall — Cusack has got IT, in the best Elinor Glyn sense of the word. Frears talked about auditioning various people for the role of Lilly, and sensing how the film would be good, but entirely different, depending on who he chose. With Sissy Spacek it would have been about class, and white trash aspiration, but with Anjelica Huston it was going to be Greek tragedy. Complete with descent into the Underworld.

He acknowledged that the last but one scene — AH descends in a Fatal Elevator — was a hommage to her recently-departed father and THE MALTESE FALCON. I can’t understand, watching it now, why the film doesn’t end on this sensational pair of shots, instead of frittering out into a routine car on road fade-out.

He talked about the horrifying oranges scene, with Pat Hingle, and how watching Huston’s devastatingly convincing pain was “one of those days when you wonder why you do this job,” because it was so distressing to watch.

Annette Bening is interesting — I think she can seem kind of phony-saccharine, but here she’s phony-sexy and it’s perfect. Fiona did question why she had to be naked so much and was the only one doing it, but I guess she’s the one who uses sex as a weapon so there’s SOME justification.

I can’t, damnit, remember any discussion of screenwriter Donald Westlake.

Cute in-joke in the signage, which references two of Westlake’s many nommes des plumes. He does quite a bit of this winking in his pseudonymous novels.

There was some chat about OA Jim Thompson and how, though he wrote about low-lifes, he was very happy to see big movie stars cast in his stuff.

Delirious from his stomach injury, Cusack hallucinates a see-through mentor — like Obi-Wan? Or maybe the reference is to the tormentingly translucent Julie London in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, whose co-star Henry Jones appears in this movie.

I think maybe I expected more twists, but I was glad it didn’t try to fool us too much. I always thought HOUSE OF GAMES was an awful piece of junk, depending for its success on the audience, and the lead character, never suspecting that the con artist characters might be orchestrating a con. So really THE GRIFTERS is about character, not convoluted tricks of narrative or “big store” schemes.

I also really like the way it’s set in a contemporary 1990 world with chunky computers and everything, but manages to feel much older, 1940s maybe, without this coming across as affectation or anachronism. Very hard to do. Neo-noir is nearly impossible to do, I think, without coming off all arch. Elmer Bernstein’s score is a big part of it, as are the costumes, the dialogue, the performances…

THE GRIFTERS stars Morticia Addams; Martin Q. Blank; Supreme Intelligence; Mousie; Commissioner Gordon; Baxter Wolfe; John Ehrlichman AND Bob Woodward; Mr. Pink (uncredited); and the voice of Vincent Van Gogh.