Archive for Tarantino


Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on October 19, 2016 by dcairns


I was lecturing today upon the art of visualisation — getting from words on a page to images on a screen. I wanted to show the first talking scene from THE GRADUATE but I also thought “What the hell?” and showed the whole title sequence.

It brought back to me my first impressions of seeing the film as a teenager: how the opening shot immediately made me feel that I was in… not safe hands, but purposeful hands. Here’s Dustin Hoffman as a kind of disembodied head. The filmmaker definitely has something on his mind. It turns out Mike Nichols signature image for the film was “He’s out of his depth.” Hence all those shots of Dustin Hoffman poolside, or filmed through glass, or otherwise framed in a way to suggest drowning. Here he is, shot as if bobbing in a sea of white upholstery.


Then we get the shot Tarantino stole for JACKIE BROWN’s title sequence. As blatant thefts go, it can be excused somewhat on the basis that it’s not just a nice shot repeated, but the shot is apt in both cases. Our main character is a passenger. Dustin Hoffman is literally a passenger, Pam Grier is a stewardess, but still, she does not control where the plane is going. By shooting both characters on a kind of conveyor belt, the directors suggest that these people are trapped in a rut, being led along by life, passive. But this is going to change.

Nichols goes one better and cuts to Hoffman’s suitcase, on its own conveyor. Dustin is like his suitcase, and inanimate object trundling along on a preordained path.

For the first time, I noticed the sign. I’m obsessed with writing onscreen but I had not become so when I first saw this movie. It’s a great line to put up front in what is, in effect, a romantic comedy in disguise ~


Just back from Ricky Callan’s funeral. When the music in the pub switched to Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, I figured that the day had come full circle and it was time to wander home. Cheers, Ricky.

Licking Hitler

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2011 by dcairns

Tom Von Cruise.

I was always very curious to see Bryan Singer’s VALKYRIE. Just not curious enough to actually see it, at least until three years after it came out.

The film, whose true title is LET’S KILL HITLER TO DEATH, as my friend Randy rightly says (in the same way that the true title of Meryl Streep’s A CRY IN THE DARK is A DINGO ATE MY BABY, as my friends Colin and Morag rightly insist), got a lot of negative publicity early on when people saw what Tom Cruise looked like in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch. Cruise is still a big star, despite being a strange cult member, and so the studio must have felt his involvement bolstered what was already a compelling true story torn from the history books (if you visit a library in LA, all the newspapers and history books are incomplete, because of all the stories torn from them), but the problem is identical to that faced by MGM when they made PARNELL: for every great star, there is a role which is so alien to what the star’s public expects, that the combination of actor and role destroys whatever appeal each may have had. In the case of Tom Cruise, that role was a Nazi with an eye-patch.

I confess to mixed feelings about Bryan Singer. I liked THE USUAL SUSPECTS as much as most people seem to, and his first X-MEN movie seemed like the first superhero movie to capture the appeal of comic book superheroes — good guys and bad guys, broadly drawn, each with his/her own unique set of powers, fighting each other and having soap opera emotional crises. Since some powers are particularly effective against others (Magneto’s magnetism turns Wolverine’s metal skeleton from a strength to a liability), the result has some of the cleverness of a chess game, but with more violence and property damage, so everybody wins.

Of course, SUPERMAN RETURNS was a misfire, despite a convincing Christopher Reeve clone and an amusing Lex Luther and Miss Tessmacher and a convincing duplication of the original Donner and Lester movie’s feel — when it became clear that the plot centered around a scheme basically identical to the first Donner movie’s masterplan, the whole thing started to get arthritic.

Just what this movie needs — a Busby Berkeley water ballet.

VALKYRIE seems to follow an opposite course, actually acquiring greater conviction and force as it goes on. To begin with, the American and British actors mingle poorly, and no alibi is in force to explain why all these German characters have different ways of speaking English. (I hated INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, hated it, but I have to give Tarantino points for an uncompromising approach to language, with everybody speaking the tongue they would have spoken, in the situations they would have spoken it in.) Then Hitler turns up, and he has a GERMAN accent.

I don’t want to be too down on Jeremy Bamber, the non-lookalike cast as the fuhrer. I don’t know whose idea it was that he assume a phony accent, or play the role with similar infirmity to Bruno Ganz’s still-fresh-in-memory barnstorming triumph in DOWNFALL. I can only say, “Lousy idea.”

Then some actual German actors turn up, confusing things still further. And meanwhile, Singer’s directorial tropes are all either over-familiar to the point of distraction, or else stylistically inexplicable and counter-productive. So, much as one wants to be mature and NOT laugh at the spectacle of Tom Cruise in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch, the movie doesn’t exactly help one. Once Cruise was seen recruiting Eddie Izzard in a men’s room, and Kenneth Branagh compared Germany to Sodom, I started to wonder if the whole movie could be some kind of strange, sly metaphor concocted by the out gay Singer around the officially heterosexual Cruise. It was weird.

But, as we near the moment of detonation, suspense starts to kick in. Here, David Bordwell talks about the mystery of how movies generate suspense around stories where the outcome is already known to us. It’s a fascinating area. Singer is helped by the fact that, though one hopes most of his audience know the plot against Hitler failed (just as one hopes they know Tarantino’s version of events is not historically accurate), the precise outcome of the aftermath of the failed coup is less familiar to many of us. So, while John Ottman’s scoring and editing, the high-stakes, complicated operation put into action by Cruise, Izzard, Terence Stamp etc (was the whole casting process predicated on height? Cruise may be the tallest man in the film), and the inevitable “what if?” and “if only” thoughts inspired by the story, all do their part, in some ways the denouement’s predictability only adds to the clarity Hitchcock insisted was necessary for true suspense.

As an example of the “what if?” factor — the coup fails because, obviously, Hitler failed in his part of the plan and didn’t die. But, more crucially still, he proved he was still alive by communicating by telephone and radio. Which suggests that, even if he HAD died, the bad Nazis (as opposed to all those good Nazis we’ve all heard so much about) could still have convinced the world A.H. was in charge by enlisting the services of a decent Hitler impersonator. Who was the Third Reich’s equivalent of Rich Little, anyway? On questions like this, the fate of nations may be decided.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 11, 2011 by dcairns

On watching the extras on Criterion’s superb double-disc edition of THE LADY VANISHES, I was struck by this crudely-lettered cardboard sign. Fascinating to see the soundproof camera booth, of course, but something about the sign captured my imagination. “Please keep away from front of camera.” I wonder it it’s been preserved, and if so, whether the present owner has ever considered sending it, as a piece of friendly advice, to Quentin Tarantino?

I’m not actually sure if I consider Tarantino a bad actor or not. Despite his addiction to casting himself in his films (which he hasn’t done lately, so this post may be even more pointless than usual), he’s never really given himself a proper scene to play, just dialogue. Or maybe that’s just the way it seems, due to his weak acting. But the problem really lies, I think, in the fact that QT is kind of upsetting and embarrassing to look at on a screen. It’s not just the face, which looks like it’s frozen in the act of collapsing inwards upon itself, an avalanche of cartilage funneling inwards towards some internal singularity situated just behind his nose. That alone wouldn’t be a problem for me, since I admire Jim Broadbent, for instance. The ability to have teeth but look as if you don’t can, in certain circumstances, be a positive boon. With Tarantino, it’s the embarrassing enthusiasm that gets me. Which is a rotten thing to say, since enthusiasm is, in itself, a wonderful thing.

When QT first appeared, promoting and appearing in RESERVOIR DOGS, his enthusiasm didn’t bother me so much. “Wow, a movie director who’s an honest-to-God geek,” I may have thought. Which seemed like a positive thing. I’m kind of a geek myself. But as QT became some kind of arbiter of cool, the geek defense fell away. Nerds and geeks seem to be most welcome when either they know we’re geeks and nerds, or they think we’re normal, which is adorably misguided. A geek who thinks he’s cool is just a dork.

Now, when Tarantino appears, I get an instinctive cringe, the desire to seek shelter from his bullying enthusiasm, his clapped-in mouth, his snappy diction. The way around this would be to focus on what he’s saying, because any instinctive aversion can be overcome when you realise the creepy person talking is actually making sense. But Tarantino seems to say less and less of interest. Which is the problem with his films, too, handsomely crafted though they are.