Archive for Terry Gilliam

Ark Shadows

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2018 by dcairns

Are thirties cartoons strange because the sensibilities attracted to motion picture cartooning at that time were inherently odd people, or because the years have aged the films in unexpected ways, or because the medium was still in its relative infancy and so rampant experimentation predominated, or something else, or some combination of all three.

At the Fleischer Bros studio, we seem to have a peculiar worldview that’s beautiful to watch (as long as they stayed with shorts: GULLIVER’S TRAVELS and HOPPITY GOES TO TOWN exhibit a very different manner), whereas the lesser studios, it seems to me, often produced work that’s bizarre but doesn’t seem to WORK.

Witness Terrytoons’ jug-band rendition of the deluge, purportedly as Aesop’s Fable according to some title cards, while others (the film has been released with various hot-spliced main titles over the decades since its manufacture) don’t bother with this band-aid alibi and leave the blasphemy to stand on its own merits.

I don’t think the Old Testament mentions anything about a mouse playing a toenail xylophone, so the picture gets off to a flagrantly apocryphal start. Noah’s modern dress overalls suggest this is an updating of the apocalypse, something like TAKE SHELTER.

Then we get a plotless stretch of musical farm animals which is disturbing in a classic early thirties way, especially the la-la-la cow who ought to be rendered into sirloin ASAP to preserve sanity. So things are already a bit upsetting before the single black storm cloud starts a storm that engulfs the entire planet. The giraffe with windows in his neck, and down his right leg, is an unwelcome invention also. Co-star him with the Frankenstein monster from VAN HELSING, the only other character I can think of with windows in him, so I can avoid both at the same time.

OH GOD NO MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP

Mouse seems to be riding a toy horse, it has puppet-like joints on its legs and is too small to be a real horse, but then it gets struck by lightning and becomes a skeleton. What. And then it gets chopped in half but keeps running, like Baron Munchausen’s steed. (Terry Gilliam had to leave this passage from the novel unfilmed, due to budget problems on THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN: “I cut the thing that made me want to do the movie in the first place.”)

Various equally appalling gags show more exotic animals boarding the ark two by two. Toons of this vintage often have a nice/scary quality of BLACK GLOW, where the ink-lines are somehow underexposed or badly duped, resulting in an antimatter aura of darkness bleeding from the dark figures. This one is kind of washed out, but the lightning bolts are interesting: they’re so over-exposed they just look like some kind of print damage or error, blinding fluctuations in the brightness.

But the ending is the thing that makes this one worthwhile. You should really watch it before reading further, but I do want to write it down so I can see the words in cold black and white. So stop reading now and watch at least the last minute of the toon if you haven’t already, then come back and read on after this happy image ~

YES. Like the freed prisoners of Bunuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, the happy menagerie give thanks to the Lord for their deliverance — and He strikes them down again, for no reason. Noah ends up with a frozen lightning bolt through the seat of his dungarees, as it rains cats and dogs (more than two by two, them critters breeds FAST). In a cartoon, God is a capricious, cruel, infinitely destructive demiurge, like Bugs Bunny tormenting Daffy Duck in DUCK AMUCK with nightmarish metamorphoses in a cel-painted Beckettian torture-show. The cartoonist hits on the perfect metaphor: if there were a God, this is the kind of guy He would have to be, randomly dishing out surreal punishments before returning us to the darkness of the inkwell.

And the Lord sayeth, “Ain’t I a stinker?”

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But at what cost?

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , on September 24, 2016 by dcairns

I was always amused by Terry Gilliam’s animation segment “The Killer Cars” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in which — at first — automobiles spring out from alleyways to crush innocent pedestrians. Then, scientists engineer a killer car killer — in the form of a vast, erect, Siamese cat, which devours the homicidal vehicles with alacrity. “But at what cost?” booms the narrator in best William Alland manner*, as the colossal kitty goes on to feast on the metropolis itself, sucking entire tower blocks up like spaghetti.

The cat appears in Terry Gilliam’s illustrated biography, Gilliamesque, an entertaining read, as you’d expect. Turns out the ‘meser was Gilliam’s own, though it never had a name, save for “cat” (unless we count the secret feline name attested to by T.S. Eliot) and the picture of it on hind legs was taken while Gilliam’s dad supported the protesting beast under the armpits. As a Siamese owner or curator myself, I have occasionally had to lift Tasha the Terrible away from danger or valuable treasures, and am always amused by the way her body and back legs go rigid, hanging like a slightly curved hook, like an inverted comma. And I always say “But at what cost?” in a stentorian voice.

*False memory syndrome: watching the clip, I now discover the voice was a plummy, high-pitched squawk, suggestive perhaps of a public information film from the forties, when primitive sound recording colluded with certain voice types to create shrill, honking narrations.

How thrilling! Cat appears in this archive interview at 2.52, licking itself as the interviewer asks “How does the sound work?” in a very BBC manner.

And yes: very sad about the other Terry.

Knight Aberrant

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2015 by dcairns

 

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The Red Knight is a Rorschach blot!

To the Cameo, where celebrity guest programmers are introducing favourite films. My friend, actor Gavin Mitchell introduced THE FISHER KING, which I hadn’t seen since it came out. I recall Terry Gilliam saying the access to real human emotion he was permitted by Richard LaGravanese’s script made him feel his previous films were kind of superficial. I didn’t agree, but I liked this one too.

Then I remember a couple of friends criticising Gilliam for the way he films extras, specifically those cast as the homeless and/or mentally ill. He seems to use them as compositional elements rather than human beings — perhaps a consequence of his love of medieval painting. There’s clearly both a visual excitement and a social commentary in the way Gilliam creates a medieval atmosphere in modern New York here, and when the figures are active it works great. But the bad quality reaches a climax with the catatonic patient whose job is to hold a newspaper and then get wheeled out of shot, a combination of expositional device and visual gag, depending for its effect on the dehumanization of the individual. This unexamined tendency crops up again in TWELVE MONKEYS a bit and DR PARNASSUS a lot.

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Serious bit over. I enjoyed the film, and Gav’s intro, which was a whole show in itself. Gavin met Robin Williams on BEING HUMAN, Bill Forsyth’s ambitious, career-trashing reimagining of INTOLERANCE, and became friendly with him — he spoke hilariously and touchingly about the pressure he felt when Williams wanted to riff with him. Gavin can do great impersonations — and is possibly the funniest person I know — and found himself roped into an impromptu Mick & Keef crosstalk.

“Bobby Carlisle had been given the job of getting some Scottish actors, so he found fourteen of us. Fourteen actors — two wankers. That’s not bad going.”

Makes me think I need to give BEING HUMAN another try.

THE FISHER KING works great when Williams is around. There’s a real danger in the film’s presentation of the homeless man as redemptive plot mechanism, but Williams skirts the troublesome areas and somehow defuses the risk. It’s not so much that the performance is free of the sentimentality that was a Williams weakness, it’s that he has enough mania and rawness to compensate and make the character seem credible.

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Jeff Bridges is playing one of the most obnoxious characters of his career, and to his credit commits absolutely. Still, there’s a drop in interest whenever the film has to do without Williams. The satire of talk radio and TV is sometimes ham-fisted, and one particular moment, when Bridges is pitched a TV sitcom about the homeless, is eggy in the extreme. The script is so tautly structured it just can’t resist making this scene, which is about Bridges becoming disgusted with his former success and rejecting it, also be about the Williams plotline. Something less on-the-nose would have served better: It’s a big coincidence in a script already brimming with them, and one can’t help feeling that some of the TV exec’s odious pitch could apply, with slight modifications, to the film we’re watching. Using issues like homelessness and mental illness in an entertainment is such a delicate thing.

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The film’s secret weapons are Michael Jeter, delivering a to-the-edge-and-beyond showstopper melding pathos and grotesquerie, and Amanda Plummer, who has never, it seems, been exploited so well. The energy released when she and Williams eventually get together is… quite considerable. Mercedes Ruehl is also awesome (best line: “If I had to live with my mother I would stab myself six times,”) but she’s a wide shot actress and Gilliam gets too close too often. I flinched a few times when her eyes opened wide.

The BBC, I believe, did a fine documentary on the making of this movie, which Gilliam didn’t like — this may be why it’s not available. Gilliam didn’t appreciate the way it took the producers’ view, which had a sense of “taming the beast” — redeeming Gilliam after BARON MUNCHAUSEN and getting him to make a film on budget. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating doc and deserves to be seen.