Archive for The Chambermaid Lynn


Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2018 by dcairns

Probably good to not read anything about Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD before seeing it.

After seeing it, read David Ehrenstein’s take-down. It’s a necessary argument to have. I can’t gainsay it. Nevertheless, with reservations, I enjoyed the film itself.

I think, if this is “straightwashing,” it’s a chickenshit thing to do. I think there’s a possible reading of the film where Daniel Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock is NOT straight. I don’t really see the point of his “confirmed bachelor” line if he’s hetero. And given what his marriage turns out to involve, he’s definitely not vanilla. But Mr. Ehrenstein is the expert here, and if this doesn’t seem a possible reading to him, I suspect he’s right. I think his instinct, that the director and star don’t have the required insight into the minds of gay men obsessed with women. They can only do the latter part.

Let’s face it, the big secret about the Woodcock’s marital life revolves around a sort of fetish/ritual that I do not believe has ever been practiced by any couple, ever. And while one hesitates to rule any kink or twist of human behaviour beyond the bounds of possibility, this one seems like the auto smash fetish in the Cronenberg/Ballard CRASH — an imaginary syndrome that might one day come into being but isn’t here yet. Which is probably a good thing.

So, given that the movie raises the spectre of homosexuality and then chastely sweeps it under the carpet, and given that it devotes its considerable runtime to meticulously detailing the workings of a relationship ultimately revealed to be based on something ridiculous, why did I enjoy it? It’s that detailing. And the performances. And the loving recreation of time and place. And Jonny Greenwood’s music. And the acting, of course.

Is this a film about Hitchcock, in some way? A thin and angry Hitchcock? The name “Woodcock,” coupled with the name “Alma,” seem to suggest it. But then you’d expect a torturous makeover to be part of Reynolds’ relationship with Alma, which we don’t really get. But we do get a brace of shots brazenly quoting PSYCHO as Reynolds spyholes his own fashion show. So that seems like a nod. Alma really is Alma, not Tippi — she’s the woman who enables her husband’s life and art.

The third main character’s name, Cyril (Lesley Manville, all tight smiles but not entirely without warmth), is peculiar because it’s only ever a man’s name. This unmarried sister may well be coded gay. And Anderson may have thought of using the male-sounding but ambisexual name “Cecil,” but that wouldn’t do as that was Daniel Day-Lewis’ actual dad’s name (the poet laureate and author of The Smiler with a Knife).

I liked this film, really, because of scenes like the first post-coital (?) breakfast. I was crying with laughter. All the arguments are hilarious, especially the way Vicki Krieps resorts to just making contemptuous NOISES. PFF!

I first saw VK in the film PTA saw her in — THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN. It was submitted to Edinburgh International Film Festival, where I work as a submissions editor (I should be viewing screeners RIGHT NOW). In it, she plays a chambermaid who takes to hiding in guests’ rooms and watching what they get up to in “private.” She has one or two tippy-toe scenes in PT which reminded me strongly of this. I gave the odd film an A partly because of her astonishingly muted and natural performance. An A means the film gets passed up the food chain to somebody higher up… my memory was that it then got turned down, but I’m wrong — we screened it. I may have contributed something to the magnificent Fraulein Krieps’ career!

One of the things Krieps does, in her very first scene, is an apparently real, real-time facial blush. And apparently they kept her isolated from D-Day Lewis until it was time for this scene, so this was her actual first meeting with him. I can only think of two comparisons — (1) Lenny Montana, playing Luca Brassi, turns purple when he’s strangled in THE GODFATHER. They were thinking of getting Dick Smith to invent some kind of makeup trick for this, but the actor was a former wrestler with excellent breath control so he just DID IT. And (2) I’m told that Hume Cronyn could blush on command. “How did you do that?” “I just made myself blush.” A response that’s automatic in every other human being ever, was something that fine thespian could turn on and off at will.

Krieps doesn’t wear makeup most of the time in this film, and seems to flush  with ease. She’s a natural reddener.

As for D-Day himself, he’s excellent — more stylised than Krieps (who is practically playing Alma as a 21st-century woman gone astray in the 50s) but hitting wonderful and surprising notes all the time. Convincing in the moment even if his character adds up tp implausible contradictions and evasions. I guess he has to retire now before his hands get any hairier. Those are some very hairy hands.

The film may cop out of a truthful and frank portrayal of the real men (all gay) who were Britain’s top dressmakers, but it plays fair with its title: we get an actual phantom. It’s Reynolds’ dear old mum, standing with implacable solidity against a wall, visible to nobody but him. This is despite PTA and DDL being both father-obsessives — PTA named his company, Ghoulardi, after his horror-host pop, while DDL fled a West End production after seeing an apparition of his late father, the poet. That was HAMLET. This might be called OMELETTE. I wonder if Lewis advised on the correct appearance of spectral parents. She’s very compelling.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 18, 2015 by dcairns

Lynn 2

I got to write copy for five movies in the Edinburgh International Film Festival catalogue this year. Here are the opening lines of each entry.


Lynn is a chambermaid – so the title is honest, but that’s the one straightforward thing in this quirky, oddball, erotic, uncomfortable, amusing, touching and deeply idiosyncratic tale. Among Lynn’s quirks are dressing in guests’ clothing when they’re out, and hiding under their beds to listen in on their private activities.


Hard on the heels of artificial human flick Ex Machina comes Uncanny, a new film exploring similar ideas, clearly developed in parallel, the resemblances coincidental (or the influence of some replicant zeitgeist) and the differences fascinating. Here, the humanoid AI is male, and his robotic mannerisms, his low affect and his childlike social skills make him curiously similar to his tech-nerd creator.


To explore the psychology of the stand-up comedian, actor and comic Kevin Pollak has corralled a staggering line-up of comics. Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden represent the UK, but from America we have Jason Alexander, Richard Lewis, Martin Short, Janeane Garofalo, Jimmy Fallon, Whoopi Goldberg, Lewis Black, Penn Jillette, Greg Proops and dozens more.


Ruby and Josh meet one night in Hong Kong. They’re obviously attracted, but the timing isn’t right (Josh is in a relationship) and the evening doesn’t end well. A year later they bump into each other and the circumstances have changed – but maybe not enough?


The scandal of Taiwan’s “comfort women,” indentured into sexual slavery in the 1950s to service the armed forces, is one the country has been slow to acknowledge and deal with (as with Japan’s identical abuses during WWII). Paradise in Service does address this story, but using a surprising and indirect genre: the male melodrama.

Each piece is about three times longer than these extracts, which isn’t enough to say anything much. The goal is simply to attract audiences, so you can’t be too critical. This makes it tricky when the most interesting thing about a film is a flaw or misstep, which would be fun to get into but must be saved for another venue. I think I’m allowed to say that my favourite of these is THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN, which is quirky, deadpan, touching, funny, off-balance and askew in fresh and unusual ways. And I met a former festival director coming out of IT’S ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG which he’d enjoyed, so I’m reassured that my copy isn’t luring anyone in under false pretenses.

If you’re in town you can read the complete entries in the catalogue, which can be purchased at Filmhouse. If you’re a delegate you’ll get one for free.

That’s all for today as the opening party has left me with a slight hangover. New reviews tomorrow! Bruce MacDonald, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Carlyle.

Sun, Sand and Scuzz

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2015 by dcairns
A Marriage of Reason and Squalor Sky Arts © Justin Downing For Sky Arts 2015

A Marriage of Reason and Squalor
Sky Arts
© Justin Downing For Sky Arts 2015

Edinburgh International Film Festival is upon us (pictured)! Or almost — the opening gala is tonight, but the press screenings began on Monday and I am scurrying to catch up before the event has even opened.

I feel I should have an Edinburgh-themed banner, but haven’t gotten around to that either. I was thinking of photoshopping Greyfriars Bobby into the TRAINSPOTTING toilet, or showing a woad-daubed Adrienne Corri torching Sean Connery in a Wicker Man fashioned in the likeness of Alastair Sim.

We took a punt on THE MARRIAGE OF REASON AND SQUALOR, the debut feature from Jake Chapman, one half of the Chapman Brothers art-making entity, although getting in proved tricky when neither one of us could remember the title.

“That was exactly what I would expect him to have made,” Fiona said afterwards.

“As meaningless as its title. Although there was a marriage.”

“And squalor.”

“But no reason.”

The film is sometimes icky, as you’d expect from the guy who assembled child mannequins with sex organs for faces, and indeed from the brother of the other guy who did the same thing. It’s also sometimes funny, I have to admit. There is apparently a shorter TV edit, and that seemed like it would work better — the film’s more interesting ideas are overextended at feature-length. As a grotesque parody of Mills & Boon-style Gothic romantic paperbacks, it begs the questions Why Do That Now? and Do You Think That’s Edgy?

A very good perf from Sophie Kennedy Clarke, traveling to the beautiful but smelly island of Morass to marry her consulting surgeon Rhys Ifans, helps anchor the thing in some toehold of reality. The island itself is a mix of modest sets, un-sunny British locations, and CGI. It never achieves the stylistic wholeness of Stroheim’s Sternberg’s wholly artificial ANATAHAN. There are some terrific bits of percussive editing in the more experimental scenes, and lame editing in the dramatic ones.

I couldn’t quite work out why Chapman felt himself qualified to write this as a novel, and to direct it as a film/TV show, but needed Brock Norman Brock, he of the comedy name, to write the adaptation. “Maybe he’s not qualified to write a script?” Fiona speculated. “He’s not qualified to write a book or direct a film, but that didn’t stop him.”

I can be cruel, as Fiona will tell you. Actually, I’m kind of glad something as peculiar as this can get made, even if for basically silly reasons. (“He’s an artist! Give him a camera and he can be an artist with a camera!”)

Looking seriously forward to THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMPSON opening the Fest tonight, and to the press showing of Bogdanovich’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY earlier in the day. Also industry screening of THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN, which goes before the public on Friday — that’s one of the few I’ve already seen, because I got to write the catalogue copy — I’ll quote you a bit later. It’s lovely.