Archive for The Boy Friend

Pretty as Paint

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2017 by dcairns

So, I picked up Twiggy’s autobiography, just to see what she had to say about Ken Russell and THE BOY FRIEND. She seems to have enjoyed the experience.

Amusing story ~ they’re restaging the famous girls-dancing-on-plane gag from FLYING DOWN TO RIO and Ken decides he wants the biplane to be silver. This will involve painting it overnight.

But the next morning the plane is white. The man responsible explains that there was no silver paint to be had and so they thought Ken would be OK with white.Ken explodes, which was one of his talents. “Do you know who I am?” Twiggy quotes him as saying. Usually, the answer to that question ought to be “An arsehole?” but here it would be more properly rendered as “Mad genius enfant terrible scourge of the boring and unambitious British cinema,” perhaps adding “and a man who very much wants a silver biplane.” Ken settled for “I’m the director of this fucking picture!”

The man is sent off to get silver paint. He comes back with a lot of little eggcup-sized cans, the kind sold in model shops. About 500 of them, in a van. The only silver paint to be had in London. (The ’70s were crap, in some ways.) You ever used that stuff? Tiny tins, and you can never get it to come out silver. The idea of painting an entire plane with it…

I love the art department, as I may have mentioned before. A can-do art department marks the difference between an efficient, fun shoot, and a slog.

I always remember this story from Ed Naha’s The Making of Dune. David Lynch has invented a scene not in the script (and it’s HIS script!) in which Kyle McLachlan trains his Fremen warriors to destroy a rotating black cube thing with sheer lung power. I can’t, off-hand, recall if the scene made it into the finished cut, which always seemed most lacking in what should be the second half of act 2. Suddenly it’s the climax!(The scene exists, but the “box” Naha describes is a pyramid. Did they reshoot it with a different Platonic solid shape-thing?)

Anyhow, Lynch has twenty minutes left to get the shot when he notices a speck of white on the black cube. He calls for an art department guy. The guy walks up to the blemished space cube and delivers a daub of black paint from a paint-pot.

Lynch is dumbfounded. “Now I have brush-strokes up there!” he exclaims.

Lynch’s eyes dilate even further as the worker returns with a ladder and proceeds to repaint the entire top of the black box… with a brush.

“OK?”

Lynch stares at the box. “No! Not OK! It looks fifty times worse! One hundred times worse! Can anyone see if they can find a can of black spray paint?”

One feels for him. It’s a scenario right out of some Hollywood spoof, with the director (jodhpurs and megaphone) driven to apoplexy by some incompetent underling (Marion Davies, Peter Sellers), jumping up and down and tearing his hair out. Or as Lynch confides in the documentary Lynch, while shooting part of INLAND EMPIRE with an inexperienced team, “You wonder what kinda heavy burden Einstein musta carried. Surrounded by fuckin’ assholes.” It’s also a lot like Lynch’s scenes of Kafkaesque bumbling accomplices: there’s a good filmmaking one in INLAND EMPIRE. The first is probably Paul (a favourite Lynch name: DUNE was meant to be) in ERASERHEAD, the buzzer-happy pencil manufacturer.

A little later, in Naha’s book: “That guy? Our painter? He’s usually very good.”

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Hellraiser

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2016 by dcairns

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Enjoyed Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils.

Richard Crouse has done a fine job putting together research materials and interviews, some of them original, to tell the story of Ken Russell’s masterpiece. I have only three issues with it.

  1. There are some awful, contorted sentences. Not necessarily incomprehensible or grammatically wrong, but ugly: “Just as the beautiful design of that film is an abstraction of German society and urban condition, Jarman’s designs for The Devils would be both a reflection of French society and an abstraction.”
  2. There’s a chapter on “context,” which is basically capsule reviews of other films that opened in 1971.
  3. Very oddly, there seems to be no mention of the film’s brilliant cinematographer, David Watkin.

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Production designer Derek Jarman had some issues with Watkin — but when Watkin learned how unhappy Jarman had been, decades later, he contacted him to apologise. And the creative clash is quite illuminating.

Jarman had offered to show Watkin the model of the set under construction, to give him a chance to plan his lighting. “I don’t need to see any model,” said Watkin, perhaps rather brusquely. Watkin always had strict limits as to what he would or wouldn’t do, and seemingly looking at models wasn’t in his repertoire. Saying that he could light the set no matter what it looked like, he declined the sneak preview and turned up on day one of shooting to find a city of white brick.

“I can’t light this. It’s white.”

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White tends to photograph as an unpleasant, featureless glare. The whole set had to be repainted with a faint greyish tone so it would photograph AS white, but with visible detail.

Another bit of trivia: Watkin took the job after Douglas Slocombe, who shot THE MUSIC LOVERS for Ken, turned it down.

In the nineties, Slocombe shot a Kwik-Fit garage commercial in Scotland (I know, I know) and a friend worked on it and spoke to him. Slocombe described being offered a lot of money to do THE DEVILS. He sat down in his garden on a summer’s day to read the script. After just a few pages he threw it away in disgust. His wife picked it up, gently reminded him of the whacking fee involved, and got him to read on. A few pages later he threw the script away again, and this time didn’t resume reading.

(Slocombe had balked at shooting Glenda Jackson’s naked lower abdomen in THE MUSIC LOVERS, telling Russell, “You need to get someone to photograph this who can stand looking at it. Russell operated the camera himself for that shot.)

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Returning to David Watkin, he and Russell evidently got on well enough for him to be asked back for THE BOY FRIEND. Jarman would return, separately, for SAVAGE MESSIAH. Watkin’s stunning work in THE DEVILS — in an interview appendix, Guillermo Del Toro notes that those fantastic sets couldn’t have been easy to shoot — includes probably the most camera movement of any Russell film, and those artful shots where out-of-focus background characters have their outlines eaten into by the glaring light, a technique used to strongest effect in Watkins’ work on MARAT/SADE in 1967.

Though in his book, Crouse suggests that Derek Jarman’s sets make him the film’s co-auteur, I would like to include Watkin, composer Peter Maxwell-Davies and costume designer Shirley Russell as equally significant contributors.

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Crouse includes some good stuff on Oliver Reed, of course, but not too much — it must be hard to know when to stop. I recall a bit of behind-the-scenes footage that struck me as revealing. Reed, on trial for witchcraft, denounces the prosecution’s use of love letters to smear his character, calling them “things put aside for a day when he would need to be reminded that he was once loved.” In the film, Reed yells the first part of the line, reaching the whole court, but drops to a whisper for the last five words. Stunningly effective — and a typical Reed trick. Richard Lester used to kid Reed: “I know what you’re going to do: you’re going to whisper two lines and shout the third.”

But in this outtake, Reed yells the whole speech. I think because the camera is far away.

Reed has calculated: to hell with continuity. They’re either going to use the wide shot, in which shouting to be heard is the only thing that makes sense, or they’ll use a closer view, and I can whisper for that.

I mentioned this as an example of Reed varying his performance, and Lester said, “Yes, Ken could get him to do that. He had a special rapport with Ken, because… they were the same, in a way.”

Despite some disagreements with Crouse’s book, I’ll always be grateful to it for reproducing a passage from a Time magazine article ~

“One long-suffering colleague, when asked what kind of childhood Russell had, rolled his eyes to the ceiling and said, ‘He’s having it now.'”