Archive for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Baron Knight

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , on January 14, 2023 by dcairns

Got my copies of THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN — a Blu-ray and a 4K — from Criterion. I contributed a video essay, The Astonishing (and really true) History of Baron Munchausen, to this one, with editor Chase Bartel, which covers the development of Munchausen from real-life soldier and raconteur to fictional hero and literary meme, to movie icon. A really interesting job, with the most extensive rostrum and animation work I’ve been involved with to date.

Also, Criterion have put my ARSENIC AND OLD LACE piece online here.

The paperback version of my new novel appears to be here, though Amazon seems reluctant to list it.

Also also, Chapter 5 of THE ADVENTURES OF SIR GALAHAD — Galahad to the Rescue — a title that brings PG Wodehouse to mind — opens with the lamest cliffhanger pay-off on record. Galahad plunges from the rocky outcrop that’s doubling as Camelot’s east wall, hits the ground — and then gets up as if nothing has happened. There’s an appealingly cynical calculation at work here — “We don’t need to come up with anything clever, boys, they’ve already bought their tickets. Just get on with it and have another cliffhanger at the end.” Proof that you can disappoint even the most undemanding audience and keep them coming back for more.

The battles between “Britain” and “Saxony” never involve more than twenty warriors — each nation’s army is the size of a posse. One could hardly expect them to stage ALEXANDER NEVSKY on a micro-budget, but maybe the script should have avoided such putatively large scale conflicts. There aren’t that many huge battles in the various Arthurian legends.

For the second episode in a row, Galahad and Bors steal a cart (the same one, in a dual role, if carts can have dual roles) and Bors gets forced into an embarrassing disguise. Last time it was a drag act, this time it’s just a false moustache.

This time Galahad succeeds in retrieving the stolen Excalibur, which means we need a new McGuffin or inciting incident. And a new cliffhanger, we’re running out of time.

Talk about in the nick of — Merlin announces the sword is a phony, and Sir Kay calls for a summary execution, having Sir G forced to his knees so he can CHOP! our hero’s head off.

Now that, I submit, is a pretty good cliffhanger. Nevertheless, I’m tempted to dispose of the rest of the serial in a couple of posts, because it’s not THAT entertaining to watch, so how much fun can it be to read about? I feel for you, you see.

The Cabinet of Sr. Del Toro

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2022 by dcairns

I wasn’t sure I’d love Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities — I’ve been disappointed by his recent output — but four episodes in I’m impressed.

The weird decision, to me, was to open with the weakest of the four, Lot 36 — I was taught you should start with your strongest episode, and put the other best ones in second and last place. Here, regular Del Toro cinematographer Guillermo Navarro directs a lackluster spookshow from a story by the man himself, but I would barely call it a story. It’s an EC Horror comic — nasty man meets nasty fate.

In effect, we get Tim Blake Nelson being a one-note pig-man for forty minutes or so and then a supernatural comeuppance. The shambling monster is quite good. But the idea of a horror story being a long character study (with only a couple of BAD characteristics to study) followed by a horrible death is surely dated now.

Vincenzo Natali’s Graveyard Rats, from a story by Henry Kuttner shows the same tropes done with zest and imagination. It has terrific production design (though it suffers from some very familiar Toronto warehouses being repurposed as residential streets) and a very colourful central performance by Natali’s favourite actor, David Hewlett. Unlike Nelson, his graverobber character given just enough attractive/sympathetic qualities to carry us through (he’s educated, uses language with glee, is an underdog). There’s a lot of gross-out stuff and some crawl-out-of-your-skin discomfort.

The tone is black comedy with a lot of sadism — it made me realize that viciously tormenting your protagonist is weirdly more acceptable if he’s undeserving — part of why I like EVIL DEAD II better than ARMY OF DARKNESS (Ash seems better as a victim of fate than as an asshole). There’s a very slight disconnect in the approach — if comedy is bad things happening to someone else and horror is when they happen to YOU (and this is a hugely reductive set of definitions), comedy-horror needs to be able to somehow be in two places at once, or shuttle nimbly back and forth between distant and close-up.

(Maybe, if tragedy is close-up and comedy is long shot, comedy horror is extreme close-up with a wide-angle lens, the distortion creating a sense of distance out of the uncomfortably close.)

What’s very odd is that episode one and two, grouped under the heading Scavengers and dropped on Netflix on the same night — tell exactly the same story. It’s just that Del Toro and his collaborators (including writer Regina Corrado) tell their story leadenly and Natali tells his with skill. A horrible man with a morbid profession is threatened over his debts and seeks buried/hidden treasure, gets entombed with a predatory menace, the end. They both try to freak us out with severed fishheads.

You can sort of see how, having accidentally made two versions of the same thing, Del Toro would choose to pair them up. It kind of draws attention to the mistake, though. It’s harder to see how you could actually let this happen in the first place. It reminds me of one of my favourite clangers — Terry Gilliam’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and Terry Jones’ ERIK THE VIKING both have their protagonists’ ships attacked by whales, which are then induced to sneeze them to freedom. Not only does the scenario derive from Disney’s PINOCCHIO (the literary Munchhausen merely gets swallowed by a fish, I think), and not only were the two Terries Monty Python colleagues, but both films were produced by Prominent Features, the Pythons’ movie company. Yet nobody spotted the repetition. HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?

Moving on: David THE EMPTY MAN Prior’s The Autopsy makes things as up-close-and-personal as you could wish for, with deeply sympathetic performances from F. Murray Abraham and Glynn Turman (star of J.D.’s REVENGE, my favourite fantasy blaxploitation movie). How up-close? Significant portions of the action take place inside the hero’s body and mind.

David S. Goyer adapts Michael Shea’s story in a way that’s consistently intriguing — where it could have plausibly played out as a much shorter, tightly contained one-room grand guignol tragedy, it seems to benefit from its peculiar, fragmented structure. There’s MORE tentacular unpleasantness (Cthulhu makes an indirect cameo in Rats) but the extreme body horror is part of the story and the story is very satisfying. Amazing music and sound design, including I think a trick I’ve never encountered, where the mechanical throb of a colliery exterior gradually morphs into a piece of suspense music.

Luke Roberts finds a way of playing a space vampire that’s remarkably credible.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Outside, scripted by Haley Z. Boston from Emily Carroll’s story, is another black comedy, this time a satire of the cosmetics business and I guess you could say toxic femininity. Terrific performances from Kate Micucci, Martin Starr and Dan Stevens (channeling Matt Berry’s unique phrasing through an Americanized German accent) and a deft use of the wide lens grotesque style — this eccentric coverage doesn’t always cut well, as we see in AMSTERDAM, but here it really works.

This one made me feel really ill, in a scene where violence erupts and Starr’s deeply likable, innocent performance seems to inhabit the realms of comedy and tragedy at the same time. I think there’s a missing bit of character development — it SHOULD come out in the closing shot, a tour-de-force sustained reaction from Micucci (more usually hired as a voice actor, now we discover that she is of course a stunning physical performer) — I think she needed one more note to hit the undertone of self-awareness gnawing at the edges of delusion just a touch more.

But even if I’m left feeling the episode doesn’t entirely come off, it feels like a remarkable set of experiments packaged together.

Lovecraft episodes drop today. My view is that Lovecraft has never been filmed in a way that feels remotely like Lovecraft or is good. So, everything to play for.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2022 by dcairns

From Criterion, Terry Gilliam’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, from Masters of Cinema THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI in 4K.

For Criterion, I got together with ace editor Chase Barthel to make a video essay charting the long and one would have to say STORIED history of Baron Von Munchhausen from real-life figure to literary character, illustration subject, movie star and even radio dialect comedian. Huge fun to do, allowing me to mess about with Mssrs. Méliès, Cohl, Zeman and Von Baky, as well as Cruikshank, Rowlandson and Gustave Doré.

CALIGARI is an upgrade from the earlier Blu-ray and ports over my earlier video essay edited by Timo Langer.

Another, smaller (but choice) Criterion announcement to follow soon.