Archive for Steve Railsback

Rush Job

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2017 by dcairns

Filmed mainly around California’s famous Hotel del Coronado, its plot involves a fugitive protagonist in disguise hiding in plain sight with a showbiz job, but it’s not SOME LIKE IT HOT, it’s THE STUNT MAN, which I finally saw after having it at the back of my mind ever since seeing Peter O’Toole promoting it on a talk show in 1981. I distinctly recall the clip where Steve Railsback’s character (doubled, one presumes, by a real stuntman) crashes through a skylight and plummets towards a bed, from which a copulating couple separate and roll off instants before his impact. I can still hear O’Toole’s amused voice intoning, “actually the woman was a man, and her bosom was rubber.” My fourteen-year-old self had perked up at the fleeting glimpse of nudity afforded by the clip, and was now disappointed and a touch confused that the stimulating frames had actually depicted a bloke with prostheses.

Without being aware of the fact, my teenage self had also seen another film by the same director, Richard Rush, the notorious FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. When you’re a kid, provided you’re fairly unenlightened, that’s a great movie. Car crashes, violence, antisocial behaviour… When you’re an adult, it SHOULD be profoundly problematic: sexist, racist and toxically, deeply and violently homophobic.

This all came back to me only while watching Rush’s own making-of documentary — during THE STUNT MAN I had fondly imagined it to be the deranged product of a cultish one-hit wonder. And then I remembered THE COLOR OF NIGHT and the tacky video effects of the doc started to make sense — what we have here is a macho yet somewhat self-questioning, brazenly vulgar sensibility which uses style as a decorative element rather than a constructive one. I’m not sure such a sensibility could ever make a perfect film, but maybe it could manage a really good one. I’m still not sure if THE STUNT MAN is this film (FREEBIE and COLOR sure ain’t). But it’s interesting.

Steve LIFEFORCE Railsback, troubled Vietnam vet, is on the run from the law when he blunders onto the location of director Peter O’Toole’s WWI epic, accidentally killing a stuntman. O’Toole covers up the fatality by getting Railsback to replace the slain man, which apparently his cast and crew are all happy to go along with. Over the course of the next two hours, Railsback falls for movie star Barbara Hershey, takes part in a series of insanely elaborate stunt sequences, and comes to suspect that the Mephistophelean O’Toole is plotting to murder him and get his death on film.

We were watching this because Richard Lester had mentioned to me that Lawrence B. Marcus, who wrote the final draft of PETULIA had written it, and it was odd that it didn’t lead to more and bigger things. I looked up Marcus and was surprised to learn he’d been writing movies since 1950’s DARK CITY. His IMDb bio is fascinating — there’s a Lester story I didn’t know. I suggested that THE STUNT MAN may not have boosted Marcus’s career as much as you’d think, despite his Oscar nom, because it was such a troubled production. “But interesting!” said Lester, enthusiastically.

O’Toole is excellent — his post-CALIGULA career was kind of ice-cold at this time, but he followed this up with MY FAVORITE YEAR — both films somehow suit his premature elder statesman quality — he seemed like some kind of survivor of a bygone age when I saw him on TV as a teen. (He was just a little older than I am now, but had, you know, done a lot of living, something I’ve done my best to avoid.) His and Richard Harris’ interviewers always seemed amazed he was alive, though it would have been even more startling, surely, had they been dead and still appearing on Parkinson. Barbara Hershey is also very good, though Rush apparently likes big and loud and frenzied performances. Hershey’s ability to look unbelievably gorgeous while twisting her face up in the throes of whatever passion is required by the action at hand seems like a special effect in itself.

Allen Garfield is not quite as glamorous as all that. I hope I can say that without causing offense. But he’s really good as the film’s writer, and it’s nice to see him not playing a sleaze, unbeatable though he is at that.

Leading man Railsback is, arguably, more problematic. Though much better than he was in LIFEFORCE, for sure — I think he’s hampered by the lunacy of every line and situation in that film. But the facial muscles that stood him in such good stead to play Charles Manson in Helter Skelter on TV do make him seem a little edgy, even for this movie. It’s fine that we think his character may have a serious criminal past (quite believable whenever he smiles), and may have combat shock and be delusional (believable during all the other facial expressions, and there are many), but perhaps a problem for the film that one is fighting a recurring impulse to lash out in self-defense with the nearest blunt instrument (in my case our Tonkinese cat, Momo). In a sense, despite the crime and insanity, his character is supposed to be a sort of innocent, out of his depth amid the madness of a film shoot.

But that doesn’t stop the film being interesting, it just makes it work differently. Perhaps less well. But it’s still an intriguing show. The movie O’Toole’s character is making looks dreadful, which is often a problem in behind-the-scenes dramas — the film being made never seems to hang together. But if you had a fully functional movie idea, why wouldn’t you be making that, instead of making THE STUNTMAN?

As befits the title, the stunt sequences are spectacular, even if the realistic acrobatics, pyrotechnics and daredevilry are somewhat undercut by the preposterous duration of the sequences being staged — I always assumed they’d break these things down into simpler, less risky and more controllable segments, although I’ve seen some bits of behind-the-scenes stuff from John Woo shoots which were eye-opening.

Rush’s appearance in his own documentary seems to explain his films nicely. Big hair, porn star mustache, deep, deep tan, muscles, corny sense of humour, adam’s-apple the size of a Fabergé egg — he seems Hemingwayesque, in a seventies kind of way. The rambunctiousness, the vulgarity, the thrust towards deep and meaningful statements, the energy (cranes, helicopters, steadicams whenever possible), the gaudiness (starburst filter! animated blast of light to take us into the next scene!) all makes sense when you see him. And for all the negative qualities associated with macho intellection and showy zooms and rack-focuses, he and his film are oddly likeable.

Also the score, by Dominic Frontiere, which contributes to the off-balance tone by adopting a circus attitude, pushing a light-heartedness that the movie only occasionally reaches for otherwise. Rush says it took them ten years to get the script made because the tone was so intentionally erratic, the subject unfamiliar (HOOPER and other stunt pics got made first, which actually helped them look like a bankable proposition), and studios couldn’t think how to sell it.

O’Toole loved his crane, apparently.

“I don’t think this music is right for this film,” protested Fiona.

“Well, it’s not obviously right… it’s interesting.”

 

A DD-Notice Situation

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by dcairns

We watched LIFEFORCE recently, to get me in the mood for my trip to London. With Fiona protesting that she’d rather watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or any of the, you know, GOOD Tobe Hooper films. Because the man had just died, and was this really the way he’d want to be remembered? But then, I bet he’d want to be remembered as more than JUST the director of TTCM.

I also read some good defences of the (arguably indefensible) film and that, coupled with the fact that, you know, the man had just died, made me sort of afraid to write about it, because I couldn’t really bring myself to say that the film is “good” — but at the same time, we had a hell of a good time watching it, so there’s that.

How do we parse this distinction between “good” and “a good time”? Are movies like women in ‘forties films? At any rate, much of what is hilarious and delightful in LIFEFORCE *could* be deliberate, which should lift the movie clean out of the “so bad it’s good” category. What makes my head go all Linda Blair is a feeling that even IF the ridiculous choices ARE purely intentional, they still seem crazy and impossible to defend on any normal grounds.What do I mean? Well, the story, adapted from Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby (INVADERS FROM MARS) deals with a naked space lady (Mathilda May) sucking the energy out of London’s masculine population. I think the idea of a monster movie where the monster is a naked girlie is kind of hilarious — as if they asked the question, What are teenage boys REALLY scared of? I think they could even have gotten away with the nude, but not a really busty nude. The film looks glorious — Alan Hume’s lovely lurid colours in anamorphic widescreen — but the shot of the menacing shadow of tits on the wall should arguably have been vetoed. Except no, because it’s perfectly in tune with the film’s demented tone. Hell, it exemplifies it.

(Colin Wilson was England’s top existentialist angry young man for a fortnight in the fifties — I don’t know what led him to write a Quatermass knock-off. I first encountered him during research for a Jack the Ripper project — he was a prominent ripperologist — but, as I discovered in my reading — he really didn’t know very much about the case, and much of what he claimed to know was wrong.)

Hard to explain the odd effect of the dialogue: apart from Steve Railsback, it’s a lovely cast of Brits, speaking in a pastiche of Britishness that seems at least ten years out of date. V FOR VENDETTA has a similarly timewarped quality, highly gigglesome. I don’t imagine it sounds so comical to Americans, because it’s not THAT off. It’s a good pastiche of Hammer horror dialogue, or maybe a tough crime drama with Stanley Baker.That cast — Frank Finlay is playing it quiet, well aware how close to looking ridiculous he is. He only loses it when he has to shout over a radio link, and his Shakespearean enunciation makes the whole thing rather Toast of London. Peter Firth is superb — full-on restrained camp. That thing when restraint becomes in itself a form of ham. And then there’s good old Michael Gothard, yielding sweatily to the temptations of the flesh just as he did in THE FOUR MUSKETEERS and THE DEVILS and…And Patrick Stewart! As if the second question they asked was What else will freak out teenage boys? and their answer was Homosexual Panic. Possessed by the naked space babe, Patrick turns on his sexual magnetism, and Railsback just can’t resist leaning in for a kiss. Hilarious to watch Firth and Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris dashing in to manfully prevent this same-sex violation of the norm, and then the room going poltergeistically haywire as the thwarted sex drive runs amok. (“CAN YOU IMAGINE how much fun Patrick Stewart would be having with a scene like that?” asked my host in London when I described it.)There’s more, so much more. The film is much less interested in its male vampires, but one of them does get to say to Firth, “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.” Whoops and cheers.

There’s lots of impressive animatronic zombie-work, all cut SLIGHTLY too loose, spoiling the illusion, and lots of fun QUATERMASS AND THE PIT panic on the streets, and as I say, the film looks great. In fact, my host in London was taught at the NFTS by Alan Hume. “He called everyone darling, regardless of sex.” He was clearly the man for LIFEFORCE.And Frank Finlay’s finale is terrific — the film’s one genuinely great scene for which you don’t have to make apologies or suspend disbelief or try to wedge yourself into a previously unimagined tone encompassing camp and B-movie thickear, the knowing and the unknowing. A scene that would hold its own in a real Nigel Kneale script. And FFinlay, having held back so long, makes a perfectly judged decision to have fun with it, as he expires in a welter of bladder effects. Stirring stuff.

(This is arguably as inappropriate an homage to the late Mr. Finlay as it is to Hooper, but I watched him in Dennis Potter’s Casanova too so I’m covered on that score.)

So why can’t I give the film total respect? It does seem to know what it’s doing. I feel like a humourless critic at a Ken Russell film, recognising that he’s displaying a comedic attitude but unable to grant him permission because the precise timbre of his wit seems unacceptable. I love Ken Russell, I *can* accept his bizarre tonal combinations and jokes that seem designed not to get laughs but just to buffet the sensibilities. Maybe LIFEFORCE isn’t serious enough to get away with it? Maybe I should just bloody well RELAX? “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.”