Archive for Sven Nykvist

The Godless

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by dcairns

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I sort-of disliked THE GODDESS, even though it’s maybe John Cromwell’s last major film — his last in Hollywood — and scripted by the great Paddy Chayefsky.

(Cromwell directed two more movies, a mediocre B-thriller in Hong Kong & the Philippines, THE SCAVENGERS, and a drama in Sweden, A MATTER OF MORALS starring the versatile Patrick O’Neal and shot by the mighty Sven Nykvist — I have been unable to locate a copy.)

THE GODDESS is a roman a clef about Marilyn Monroe and how she’s doomed by the loveless emptiness of her existence — made while Monroe was still alive and working.

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Apparently this movie was hacked down considerably in post — some character called George Justin gets a credit as “supervisor.” For all the talent involved, nothing seems in sync. Kim Stanley is the first problem — we have to believe her, in some way, as a teenager when we first see her (Patty Duke gives a beautiful, melancholic performance as the child version of “Emily Ann Faulkner”). She then ages to 31, Stanley’s true age during filming. It’s a cruel observation, but at no point does she suggest the allure of a screen goddess or the freshness of a newcomer.

There are two ways to go wrong with casting a Monroe-like part: you could cast someone gorgeous who can’t act, or cast a strong actor who does not evoke glamour and youth and gorgeousness. Based on THE GODDESS, the second may actually be the more serious mistake, since it throws off all the other actors, removes the motivation for most of the story.

Not to pick on Stanley too long — there’s something more interestingly amiss. Chayefsy was a writer who, justifiably, fought to get his words on the screen as written. Here’s Stanley on her way to the casting couch —

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As photographed by Arthur J. Ornitz, THE GODDESS is full of powerful, expressive wides. A real hallmark of Cromwell’s style, going back to the early thirties. We know exactly what is going to be suggested in these scene — the shot speaks so clearly of patriarchy, power, sleaze. It’s as explicit as fellatio. So the fact that the scene continues into closeups and dialogue is redundant, boring, depressing. Arguably it’s Cromwell’s fault for saying everything the scene needed to say in a single image. But the old cliché about a picture vs. a thousand words applies, doesn’t it?

Some strange line flubs from Stanley late in the show. This is when her character is supposed to be disintegrating, so somebody may have decided they would seem appropriate, excusable. But humans misspeaking sound different from actors, usually — they correct themselves, or fail to, in different ways. Only very rare actors can stumble on a line and make it seem like a natural mistake in casual speech. And Chayefsky’s stuff is so precise, and in a way non-naturalistic (all that monologuing!) it really doesn’t benefit from people tripping over their tongues.

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And oh my God the trailing hand. THAT one hasn’t been seen since Barrymore’s day, and HE was spoofing it in TWENTIETH CENTURY.

Fiona has read more on Monroe than I have, and gave the film credit for acknowledging MM’s spiritual side, a real and overlooked aspect of her life. Chayefsky is the poet of emptiness, though, and religion in the end is another crutch, useless if it can’t forge a bond between the goddess and her distant mother (Monroe’s real mother, of course, suffered mental illness). Horrifyingly, Chayefsky diagnoses exactly where Monroe is going — more pictures, because it’s all she knows to do, with the likelihood of drink or pills or both getting her in the end. In an act not even as meaningful as suicide.

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Rocky Road

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2008 by dcairns

Shiny Happy People 

Those who know me — happy few! — will aver that in one thing I am something of an absolutist. I absolutely don’t like depressing Scottish realist films. My producer and friend Nigel Smith is even more adamantly of this opinion, and has dubbed the genre “miserabilism”, a term which has since CAUGHT ON and been used in no less an organ than Sight & Sound. Nigel further categorises these films as the “piss in a milk bottle and sling it at yer granny” school of filmmaking, quotes the Johnny Rotten line “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery,” and suggests that the ultimate message about the Scottish people promoted by miserabilism is “we are victims and we live in a terrible place.” While perhaps being more moderate in my views, I don’t strongly disagree with any of this pithy assessment. But then, maybe my moderation is due to the fact that unlike Nigel I generally avoid seeing any of these films if I possibly can.

But no more! Since my great good friends Colin McLaren and Morag McKinnon have embarked on their feature film debut ROUNDING UP DONKEYS (Morag actually has a no-budget feature to her name already, but she’s been keeping quiet about that), and since said extravaganza is a follow-up of sorts to the award-winning RED ROAD, and since RR seems to epitomise many of the attributes associated with miserabilism (unhappy working-class characters, tragic backstories, unpleasant sex scenes) … in short, since all of that, I feel I’m going to have to bloody watch RED ROAD.

I’m treating this as a kind of scientific experiment. Each day for a week I’m going to run a bit of the movie but if, after a bit, I can no longer stand the skull-crushing depression, I’ll stop it, watch something cheerful, and resume the next day. Now, I might actually become HOOKED and forget my aversion to this kind of entertainment and watch the whole thing at once — if so, I solemnly vow to let you know how it went down. On the other hand, the sheer Scottishness might be too much for me almost at once, but I figure that even if I can only manage fifteen minutes at a time I’ll have the thing well and truly watched inside of a week. And I can send despatches from the front line along the way.

Smile!

If I do end up fragmenting the film thusly, I’d have to admit that’s not an ideal viewing experience of the kind the makers had in mind, so you can make allowances accordingly. On the other hand, I HAVE screened some films I respect and, in a sense, enjoy, in just that way. I found Bob Fosse’s STAR 80 so horrific, and Eric Roberts’ performance in it so skin-crawlingly unpleasant, that I had to keep stopping the tape every ten minutes so I could prance around the room clawing the imaginary ants from my body. Despite this, my admiration for the film is enormous, and not just because it’s the only film, to my knowledge, photographed by Sven Nykvist to begin with a close-up on a portrait of Telly Savalas.

Smile!!!

So — I will begin my assault on the north face of RED ROAD immediately, and will be posting regular updates on my progress to its rugged and inaccessible summit.

Wish me luck.