Archive for Steven Soderbergh

Hammer Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2019 by dcairns

MICKEY SPILLANE

IS

MIKE HAMMER

Thus bellow the opening credits of THE GIRL HUNTERS, and they bellow the same thing again in reverse at the end in case we didn’t get it. So here’s an interesting phenomenon — years before Garth Marenghi, an author plays his own famous fictional creations (Hammett used a Spade, Spillane a Hammer… Gerry Anderson a Spanner). And the result is quasi-interesting.

Spillane, of course, isn’t an actor… but he IS Mike Hammer, so he has a kind of advantage over Ralph Meeker, Stacy Keach et al. Robert Aldrich and A.I. Bezzerides made a noir masterpiece out of KISS ME DEADLY by doubling down on the sadism but treating the character with acid disapproval. It’s not absolutely certain that Spillane wholly admires his character — he has Lloyd Nolan’s fed make a prophecy about the man’s lurking violence, which then comes true with a double-whammy of nastiness at the end. But whatever ambiguity is on offer is of the two-fisted variety and the movie would rather nail a man’s hand to the floor of a barn than linger too long on ethical questions. So it does.

Kind of hilarious the way everyone who helps the hulking Hammer is a chinless, bespectacled pencilneck, as if to emphasise the protag’s pudgy, slab-faced manliness.

There are as many bikinis for Shirley Eaton to wear as there are dweebs for Hammer to chat with. She plays her society lady role… I would not say incompetently… but it’s like the Rank Charm School version of early Monroe, all inappropriate sexiness. Ladylike flirtation and raised eyebrows. Kind of genre-appropriate, you could say, but Spillane’s version of the genre is moronic.

The movie was shot at Borehamwood, England, with what looks like a day’s location work in NYC, showing Hammer shambling from dive to dive before plunging back into the sound stage. It’s surprisingly seamless and the only really terrible Noo Yawk accent is in the first scene, which gives the game away.

His dialogue is occasionally crudely felicitous (“I’ve been shot before.” “Yeah, but you’ve never been killed before.”) His prose was the same: he couldn’t write, but he could write a line like “I took out my gun and blew the smile off his face.”

The characters spend a lot of time swapping backstory about entirely offscreen figures we have no reason to care about. Hammer snoops, meets up with Nolan to tell what he’s gleaned, then checks out Eaton’s latest swimsuit, then snoops, then meets Nolan again… There’s half an hour’s plot here padded out with exposition covering what we already know because we just saw it. For a thriller, it’s very slow, stodgy, simple and inert, a bit like its lead performance.

Still, the film is just about worth seeing. The ‘Scope camerawork is in the hands of operator Alan McCabe, singled out by Soderbergh as the best in the business. The compositions are consistently fine, and frequently GORGEOUS. Much better than this commie-baiting sadism, pulp cliche and thick-ear deserves.

The title is meaningless — a line of VO near the end refers to “the night of the girl hunters,” just to try and get it in there, but no girl hunting then occurs. Do we feel cheated or relieved?

And do I need to see RING OF FEAR now?

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One Ferpect Shot

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by dcairns

I was describing the opening of ERIN BROCKOVICH to students, don’t ask me why, and then decided to look online to see if we could watch it, and discovered I’d remembered it all wrong.

The key thing is that Erin (Julia Roberts) goes for a job and doesn’t get it. I got that bit right. But I’d described it as being all one shot, in which we never see the prospective employer she’s auditioning to. In fact, look —

These are the basic shots, and the cleverest things are that

  1. They begin on a big closeup of JR without context, right in the middle of the conversation.
  2. The first shot of the boss is wider, but this works fine: I didn’t perceive it as a clunky mismatch
  3. When we go wider on JR, we go tighter on the boss, which also works fine.

The boss looks a bit like Soderbergh.

BUT — I do feel like my memory of the scene is better than the scene. Holding on Roberts in a single, unbroken close-up would get the film off to a bolder start and really boost the idea that this is a star vehicle built around the Roberts Charisma, which it is.

It would also fit nicely with the upcoming bit, which is really cool and more closely resembles my memory of it. Roberts finishes a cigarette outside, having failed to land the job  — the movie’s most cinematic ideas all involve ellipsis, and the ending will call-back to this transition by jumping over the actual trial scene that’s nominally the story’s climax.

Then she goes to her car and finds she’s got a parking ticket, then she breaks a nail opening the door, and the trailer VO man clears his throat preparatory to growling “Erin Brockovich is having a REALLY bad day,” — and we start to feel this movie is going to be really by-the-numbers, which in some ways it is. Then she gets in, drives off into the distance —

And SMASH!

A black car side-swipes Roberts’ car, sending it spinning.

The clever bit is that this DOES look like a single shot, but obviously Soderbergh wasn’t likely to have another car crash into Roberts’ vehicle while she’s in it. We have to go back and look at the moment where her car passes the camera quite close — very simple to stitch two shots together as the car is wiping frame, with a stunt driver in a big wig behind the wheel in the second shot. So that’s quite clever, isn’t it?

The Film

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2016 by dcairns

the-shout-1

I got interested in Donald Barthelme after reading of him in Steven Soderbergh’s interview book with Richard Lester, Getting Away With It. Lester, encouraged by regular screenwriter Charles Wood, had contemplated a film of Barthelme’s The King (the legend of Arthur updated to WWII and expressed almost entirely in dialogue — not an obvious movie subject) and I was quietly gratified to notice a copy of the novel still adorning Lester’s bookshelf (I am an incurable bookshelf snoop) when I visited to conduct my own modest interview.

Lester had guessed that Barthelme might be up Soderbergh’s street, a shrewd supposition given that SCHIZOPOLIS, the most ludically Barthelmian of Soderbergh films, was still in post-production at the time. 40 Stories has an introduction by Dave Eggers, another artist up whose street Barthelme might be assumed to lie. In fact, one might uncharitably suggest that Barthelme is the writer Eggers would like to be — both share a taste for a certain kind of airy whimsy. But Barthelme is much more mysterious in his effects — one doesn’t know precisely what he is up to, and we will never explain or offer a hint — and he also has a gift for pastiche that allows him to layer his whimsy deeper below the surface. I was very taken with his piece The Film, which apart from being Grade-A nonsense, also captures precisely the mixture of pensive doubt and self-importance which always seem to be present in diary entries published by film directors at work on another masterpiece.

I think he may have been looking at Truffaut’s diary of FAHRENHEIT 451, which would account for the name Julie. But I think Godard’s diaries, published in Cahiers, are MUCH more pompous — only Woody Allen could do them justice in parody.

bone spinning

An extract —

Thinking of sequences for the film.

A frenzy of desire?

Sensible lovers taking precautions?

Swimming with horses?

Today we filmed fear, a distressing emotion aroused by danger, real or imagined. In fear you know what you’re afraid of, whereas in anxiety you do not. Correlation of children’s fears with those of their parents is .667 according to Hagman. We filmed the startle pattern–shrinking, blinking, all that. Ezra refused to do “inhibition of the higher nervous centers.” I don’t blame him. \\then we shot some stuff in which a primitive person (my bare arm standing in for the primitive person) kills an enemy by pointing a magic bone at him. “O.K., who’s got the magic bone?” The magic bone was brought. I pointed the magic bone and the actor playing the enemy fell to the ground. I had carefully explained to the actor that the magic bone would not really kill him, probably.

Next, the thrill of fear along the buttocks. We used Julie’s buttocks for this sequence. “Hope is the very sign of lack-of-happiness,” said Julie, face down on the divan. “Fame is a palliative for doubt,” I said. “Wealth-formation is a source of fear for both winners and losers,” Ezra said. “Civilization aims at making all good things accessible even to cowards,” said the actor who had played the enemy, quoting Nietzsche. Julie’s buttocks thrilled.

We wrapped, then. I took the magic bone home with me. I don’t believe in it, exactly, but you never know.