Archive for Superman III

Mustard

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , on November 13, 2021 by dcairns

When I spoke to Richard Lester about his career he was at pains to make clear that his work on SUPERMAN (as a go-between going between Richard Donner and the Salkinds) and SUPERMAN II, finishing the film Donner started, was strictly professional and impersonal. “You were able to get more of your sensibility into SUPERMAN III,” I ventured. “Yes. And that didn’t work.”

SUPERMAN III is indeed flawed, there is some kind of mismatch between Lester the satirist, grounded in some kind of social reality, and the comic book fantasy of Supes, and this weirdly results in a film that’s MORE comic-book and juvenile than its predecessors, maybe because Lester can’t take the thing seriously enough to indulge in the epic chunkiness of Donner, whosaw the thing in terms of myth. Well, to Lester, myths exist to be examined and debunked.

It’s probably a perfect entertainment for the under-tens, but as a fifteen-year-old I remember being offended by nonsense like a weather satellite being reprogrammed to make weather instead of analysing it. When the baddies try to slip some kryptonite to Superman, pretending it’s an award for his services, they don’t sculpt it into a convincing medal, they just hand it to him in a lump. That seems kind of charming to me now, and there’s something benign about a superhero movie actually aimed at little kids, as it should be.

But what’s with the mustard motif?

This first appears as a literal splash of mustard on Jimmy Olsen’s sweater, before the very very Lester title sequence, a chain reaction of Tatiesque chaos on the streets of Metropolis (Calgary). In the next scene, Clark Kent spots the stain using his supervision. But even before then, a girl in mustard coloured kneepads and cap rollerskates into the hot dog cart and propels it into a set of mustard call boxes, toppling them into mustard plantpots.

To say nothing of the mustard dicky-bows of the runaway wind-up penguins, and the jumper worn by the chap Superman rescues, echoed by the parking sign he’s run into:

There’s more. I think it maybe has something to do with Superman’s colours being mirrored throughout the film: a traffic jam is all red white and blue and yellowcabs. One green car (for kryptonite?) has crept in. Lana Lang is associated with a softer yellow, matching the Kansas wheatfields (of Alberta) while the Smallville sweater than nearly gives Clark’s secret identity away is definite mustard.

Maybe the further answer is that when the defective synthetic kryptonite turns Superman bad, the colours of his costume get muddied, turning the yellow of his S emblem into a muddy… mustard?

The car wrecks are all red, white, blue and yellow too. A lot of effort has been gone to, Antonioni style, in this Milton Keynes junkyard.

Okay, I’m satisfied that this is all about the costume. Although it should be noted that Superman gets his powers thanks to earth’s yellow sun, which we see in the closing shot. Turns out it really is yellow. Sorta mustard, in fact.

Moving House

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2013 by dcairns

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There are good things in FINDERS KEEPERS (1984), Richard Lester’s penultimate fiction feature (there are good things in RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS too, but it’s overshadowed by tragedy on one side and its illustrious predecessors on the other). Lester has said that FK was the only movie he made as a hired gun, making it in theory even less personal than the SUPERMAN films, which he nevertheless managed to imbue with a lot of his personal style and attitude. In fact, FINDERS KEEPERS being a knockabout farce, on the surface it’s closer to classic Lester.

Michael O’Keefe and Lou Gossett play con artists, Beverley D’Angelo plays a potty-mouthed actress. The plot revolves around a coffin full of cash and there’s lots of action on trains, chases and other opportunities for the Buster Keaton influence to show itself, assisted by the flat landscapes and Lester’s planimetric, architectural framing (“That’s my thing.”)

Lester inherited the project from a friend, along with some of the cast, but he was able to drop a few friends into the proceedings — Brian Dennehy and John Schuck return from BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS and Pamela Stephenson breezes in fresh from SUPERMAN III. Ed Lauter’s bad guy is a stand-out — he’s a vengeful ex-accomplice, making his part of the film like a comic take on Peckinpah’s THE GETAWAY. Dennehy, playing a corrupt sheriff, is my other favourite — he’s a smart crooked man with a dumb family, and his seething fury at his lot in life and his chuckleheaded clan is pretty funny. His flaky daughter is played with wondrous tall awkwardness by Barbara Kermode, in her only film role. “Did you forget to take your anti-crazy pills?” asks Dennehy wearily, at her latest eccentric outpouring. This is a line you CAN use with your loved ones, I’ve found, but only if you’re sure you can get away with it. I told Lester when I met him earlier this year that I greatly enjoyed Kermode’s perf. “She was a local girl we found on location,” he said, slightly amazed. He also said that he hadn’t seen the film since making it. (It never played Edinburgh and I’ve only seen it on VHS. There’s never been a DVD.)

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Barbara Kermode, you are a STAR!

Oh, and one other cast member deserves mention. It’s his first movie, and he’s playing Lane Biddlecoff, Dennehy’s dumbest nephew. Here he is ~

The kid is good, but Barbara Kermode really ought to have had his career.

At the climax of the film, Lauter kidnaps D’Angelo and hides out in an empty house. When they awaken next day, the house is in motion — being dragged across country by a truck, like the church in DELIVERANCE. D’Angelo becomes hysterical and starts screaming and Lauter, lacking any ready-made gag, in desperation rips off his toupee and stuffs it in her mouth, a grotesque but, too me, very funny act. Lester, who went bald at 19 and found it helped him get taken seriously by older authority figures, could never resist a wig gag, and here, quite literally, is a wig gag.

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McKean and Gossett set off to rescue her and get the loot. Spoiler alert — this is the whole ending of the movie —

It displays the film’s strengths, I think — some genuinely clever visual gags, perfectly framed, and some rambunctiously stupid ones — and its weaknesses, which for me include Ken Thorne’s score. Thorne had been a regular collaborator and his Kurt Weill-influenced soundtrack for THE BED SITTING ROOM is marvelous. He got an Oscar for arranging and scoring A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (that chase scene scoring!). Here he seems out of his element. The selection of pop songs and their placement isn’t everything I’d like it to be either, suggesting that it was no longer something Lester felt completely at home with.

But the last shot — very Keaton, and specifically THE BLACKSMITH. There’s an elegiac quality which has nothing to do with the story but fits in very well with the film’s place at the twilight of the director’s career.

Stark reality

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2011 by dcairns

THE SPY IN BLACK (above), is notable not just for being the first screen collaboration of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, nor for being a nifty wartime thriller with Conrad Veidt as a surprisingly sympathetic Nazi spy — it’s also the first known screen credit of one Graham Stark, seen at screen right — the larger bellboy.

Yes, that familiar soft, chewing-gum face, surmounted by a huge, angular cranium, like a baby snail peeping from under a cardboard box, is familiar to us from numerous Blake Edwards and Richard Lester films, the common link being Stark’s friend Peter Sellers.

Stark plays Inspector Clouseau’s sidekick, Hercule LaJoy in A SHOT IN THE DARK, for my money the funniest of the PINK PANTHER sequels, and he’s Auguste Balls, supplier of theatrical costumery and disguises in several later PP movies. He nearly bookmark’s Lester’s career, showing up in the early TV work and THE RUNNING JUMPING & STANDING STILL FILM, and again in the silent comedy credits sequence of SUPERMAN III, as a blind man with a runaway guide dog.

In TRJ&SSF, he’s recipient of the world’s greatest and most profound visual gag (starting 9 mins and 10 secs in) ~

He’s also directed a couple of nice silent comedy inspired shorts, and one feature film, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN DEADLY SINS, which is mainly, uh, not great, but has a nice Spike Milligan scripted chapter on the theme of sloth, a sepia-tinted silent which shows his true strengths — a shame Eric Sykes and Graham Stark didn’t get to make wordless feature films, their shorts were rather popular.

Graham Stark is still with us at 89 — a few years back, a student of mine tried to recruit him for a short film — he was up for it, but his wife wouldn’t let him come out and play. Still, he remains a grand old man of British comedy, part of a noble troupe who enlivened backgrounds or embodied inane stereotypes at the drop of a bowler hat, performing an essential service all through the fifties and sixties.

Addendum: RIP, Graham Stark.