Archive for Susan Ray

The Plasticine Philip Yordan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 15, 2021 by dcairns

The Blu-ray of JOHNNY GUITAR from Masters of Cinema is getting its preliminary reviews. I made two extras for this with editor Chase Barthel, a video essay and an interview with Nicholas’ Ray’s widow, Susan Ray. The first of these involved me, for some reason, making plasticine puppets of the principle figures, including Philip Yordan (above), who maybe wrote it.

The project I’m at work on now seems perfect for plasticine, but unfortunately I made a quite detailed figurine of a noted Canadian filmmaker, filmed it being destroyed, and then realised I’d chosen the wrong camera angle… Note to self: don’t do that again.

Cheating

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2021 by dcairns

BITTER VICTORY, directed by Nicholas Ray, is really outstanding — it must have seemed even more striking in 1957, since it shows one British officer contriving in the death of another. It’s the same year as BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, which attempts to reduce warfare to “Madness!” but it goes much further, in that the real conflict is between two “brother officers” over a woman. In the event, the lush, colourful jungle movie made millions and won Oscars, and the dry, barren desert movie in b&w was mutilated differently for every territory and virtually vanished without trace.

But I want to talk about one cut. Godard, one of the few critics to praise Ray’s film, singled out the brio of the cutting in the early scene where the three principles meet. It’s a fine example of psychological editing, three medium close-ups interwoven in such a way that we think we’re following the words but it’s really thoughts and glances that motivate the changes.

But the sequence (really a couple of sequences) has one strikingly awry cut, when Richard Burton stands to leave. If you note the distance between Ruth Roman and Curd Jurgens, it goes from a cranny to a chasm all at once. It’s also an eyeline cross, since Jurgens and Burton, looking at one another, seem to be somehow looking in the same direction. Maybe that’s what stops Ray from getting away with it.

Because it’s not really a mistake, it’s what we in the business (or with a bare toehold in it, like me) call a cheat. Ray has rearranged the seating to make pleasing compositions. In theory, if the shots are pleasing and our eyes are drawn to the right parts of the frame, the disjuncture is erased and we simply see the drama. Unfortunately, the shots are arranged so that the Roman-Burton eyeline matches, but the cut happens when Burton is looking at Jurgens. So we’re being subliminally nudged to feel that something’s not quite right, and then there’s a strong chance we notice NOTHING IS RIGHT.

It’s a moment of uncertainty/discomfort, is all.

Here’s a whopping cheat from THE LADYKILLERS —

Astonishingly, this one works. Clearly, the gang of men are in two groups of two with a yawning abyss between them, and Guinness is separated in depth, and then suddenly they’re in a single line of four. The only consistent factors are Guinness’ distance from the others and his relationship to the door, and the ordering of the other goons, from left to right in shot one, and right to left in the reverse.

But Guinness in the foreground of shot two completely absorbs the viewer’s attention, and then Katy Johnson walks into what was virtually her POV, and that also distracts us. The two compositions are extremely pleasing and dramatic, the big point being made is that Katy’s position in the centre of frame/the lions’ den makes her seem vulnerable.

Director Alexander Mackendrick hasn’t finished screwing with us. After Guinness crosses frame in the second shot, he gives us a shot-reverse on Johnson and Guinness, decorating the background of each with two gang members apiece. This creates the visual impression that the guys are still standing in a line, but in fact each group must have shuffled several paces in order to appear in each frame, and the gap between them must now be an ocean. But onscreen it seems logical and continuous.

It’s worth remembering that Mackendrick was under the influence of the German expressionists, who would sometimes (according to Edgar Ulmer) build multiple sets for a single scene, each designed to look their best in one camera angle. Mackendrick is doing the same with human bodies, restructuring the whole set-up from shot to shot for optimum effect. Most filmmakers do this to a limited extent, except the multiple camera guys.

I just had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Ray, and we talked about the imperfections in her late husband’s films, and how Truffaut defended them by saying Ray got moments of emotional truth out of seeming chaos that other, more “professional” filmmakers never touched. “Do you know about wabi-sabi?” she asked.

BITTER VICTORY stars Mark Antony; Wernher von Braun; Anne Morton; Fantômas (voice, uncredited); Sir Andrew Ffoulkes; Professor Dippet; Col. Rice, Moon Landing Crew (uncredited); Scaramanga; Hercules; Lucky Dave’s Clumsy Barman. (uncredited); Windy; and Volumnius.

THE LADYKILLERS stars Obi-Wan Kenobi; Mr. Todhunter; Chief Insp. Charles Dreyfus; Inspector Jacques Clouseau; Morgan Femm; PC George Dixon; Miss Pyman; Bildad; Francis Bigger; Hengist Pod; Six-Eyes Wiener; Herod; Miss Evesham; Wally Briggs;

Quote of the Day: Goddamn Norwegian Mad

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on June 3, 2008 by dcairns

Norwegian Mad

Ending our series of zingers from Nicholas Ray:

Here’s Ray, after describing how he and his family were persecuted in Wisconsin during WWI because they were of German-Norwegian origin ~

“The story begins at the in-between time of November 8, 1918, the day of the false armistice. I was seven and had become a Lutheran monk sulking under the butternut trees, lying in a hammock, wearing bell-bottomed sailor trousers, teasing my sister to tickle up or go. That night my oldest sister Alice drove my other sisters, Ruth and Helen, my mother, and myself through the town of Galesville and, we all beat pots and pans and lit torches, honked the two horns, and yelled out ‘PEACE PEACE PEACE!! ARMISTICE ARMISTICE PEACE PEACE!!!’

“The next morning Alice came into my room to say with heavy doom that it had been a false armistice. I hadn’t yet observed that that was the nature of life, so I got goddamn Norwegian mad and ran slamming doors through the house to the front porch. The walls were covered with antler heads, the floor with the tears of my mother and our neighbours, the Beizers. The Beizers’ house had been painted yellow during the night to show that they were still dirty yellow huns.

“The best epitaph I can think of is:

Born

Lived

Interrupted.

“And it happens ever day.”

~ From I Was Interrupted, Nicholas Ray on Making Movies. Edited by Susan Ray.