Archive for The Devils

Church and State

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2022 by dcairns

OK, I’m on a Damiano Damiani kick now, so impressed was I by BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. And having liked IL STREGHE in the past. Encountering him via his unsuccessful collaboration with Leone was a false start, and misleading — he’s not a sub-Leone figure like Tonino Valerii, he’s his own artist, which is why they couldn’t work together. I’ll postpone his mafiosi and politziotteschi films a bit as I hoover up some outliers.

THE TEMPTER aka THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN aka IL SORRISO DEL GRANDE TENTATORE (1974) seemed like it was going to be a consolation prize for Glenda Jackson walking away from THE DEVILS after finding out the scene where Sister Jeanne’s severed head is worshipped after her death had been cut from the script, or an EXORCIST knock-off (the first?). It was a sensational, nutzoid Ennio Morricone score which does give it a groovy exploitation feel, but as often with this filmmaker, there’s something else going on.

What it really resembles most is ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. But Jackson’s Sister Geraldine is, though quietly malevolent, also a more complex and sympathetic character than dead-eyed psycho Nurse Ratched, and Damiani’s film eschews misogyny. Sister G is running a hideway for problematic persons — a Polish priest who collaborated with the Nazis, a Prince in love with his own sister, a Bolivian woman who arranged her torturer husband’s assassination, a Cuban priest too sympathetic to communism. Forbidden by the church from conducting confessions, she exerts her power through vicious group therapy sessions…

Claudio Cassinelli is an interloper, a young writer hired to help the Pole (Arnoldo Foà) with his exculpatory memoir. Sister Geraldine comes to regard him as the tempter… we may have similar suspicions of her. In fact, the only quasi-supernatural element is a shadow glimpsed in the chapel at a fraught moment.

Designed by Umberto Turco, the film looks amazing (but badly needs a restoration/transfer) mostly confined to this weird marble living tomb — a good self-isolation movie if you need one. Damiani had been a designer himself, and one way the film does resemble THE DEVILS is in its look — specifically it reminds me of the papal library, ironically one of the few location scenes in that film — Derek Jarman repurposed what was actually a prison.

THE TEMPTER stars Gudrun Brangwen; Jesus; Lizzie Kavanaugh; Emilio Largo; Johnny Spanish; Inspector A; Federico Arturo Von Homburg; and Goya.

THE INQUIRY aka L’INCHIESTA (1987) has a plot that sounds like a good airport novel: in the early years of persecuted Christianity, a Roman consul is tasked with locating the missing body of Christ. Soon put a stop to this resurrection nonsense. And the story is by two greats, Ennio Flaiano (EIGHT AND A HALF) and Suso Cecchi D’Amico (THE LEOPARD).

Keith Carradine is Tito Valerio Tauro and Harvey Keitel is Pilate. A year later he would be Judas for Scorsese. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride… Phyllis Logan is Mrs. Pilate and Sal Borgese turns up to add an echo of spaghetti western days.

It’s a riveting detective drama with a classical history setting. “Ay, Jesus, whaddaya doin’ makin’ crosses for da Romans?” is how a friend caricatured Keitel’s performance in LAST TEMPTATION. It never bothered me, the American accents. Carradine seems to sense that his Californian drawl could be a problem, and tries to smuggle in some Anglo vowels, which is mostly distracting. He still pronounces “stupidly” as “stoopidly.”

A good rule might have been to cast Americans as Romans and Italians as everyone else, but things get a bit mixed up. It doesn’t really do to get religious about these things: cast good actors in roles that suit them and all will be well.

As the investigation goes on, things get intriguing — could Christ have faked his own death? — the Laughing Jesus Heresy (my favourite!) is hinted at, and a miraculous catalepsy-inducing drug is tested — then things get crazy and mystical. Damiani, a Marxist apparently, is perhaps mainly interested in how old power structures can be destabilised by new ideas — Tiberius is right to be worried! — but the Bible stories still exert a hold. Travelling into the wilderness at risk of his life — deep undercover — Keithus Carradinus is at first mistaken for the Messiah — shades of LIFE OF BRIAN — and then momentarily becomes convinced he IS him. Offers to cure a leper or two. “What am I saying? get away from me!”

THE INQUIRY stars Will Rogers; Judas; Lady Jane Felsham; Lucky Luciano; Anna Magnani; Messala; and Henchman.

Dudley

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 21, 2018 by dcairns

I was very sad to learn to learn of Dudley Sutton’s recent passing — not only was he a great character actor, but a generous man who appeared in my first proper short film in 1990 for almost no money, traveling to Edinburgh without even being sure how we were going to put him up. (It was OK, we had a self-catering flat for him.)

I met him — I remember this being on the street, not in the station, so I don’t know how we arranged that. “I’m so glad to be back in the People’s Republic of Scotland,” he began, “Because here, you not only SAY you don’t vote for her, you DON’T vote for her.” (At the time, Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative party had hardly any seats in Scotland.)

He was pleased to hear I was both writer and director: “Good, you’ll know what you want.” (But I was a first-timer, so that wasn’t quite true.)

The film was based on an authentic medieval comic tale — the only funny one, ever — THE THREE HUNCHBACKS. Dud played the fourth hunchback, the main one. We had worked out how to assemble medieval garb for our ridiculously large cast of characters, borrowing the best bits from Biggar Theatre Workshop and Edinburgh College of Art’s much-missed costume nook. The impossible bit was medieval shoes, but I had a plan. As I wasn’t shooting closeups of feet, we would only ever see them in wide, full-figure shots, and on 16mm there wouldn’t be much detail. So the actors would wear normal shoes, with socks pulled over them to add bright colour. Cardboard “buckles” painted silver would be taped to the socks, and the toes would be filled with cardboard cones to make them pointy in that Robin Hood style. Dud didn’t blink an eye at all this.

The first morning was chaos. I lost my binder with all my storyboards and was wandering around the various vehicles (we had a minibus and a car, at least, and about a ninety minute drive to the location) asking for it. “That’s the director?” Dud asked, apparently. “Welcome to the house of pain, Dud,” said the AD.

(Later, the cinematographer would observe me standing in a field in long hair, long coat, long scarf and wellingtons, and remark, “Oh my God, Christopher Robin’s directing the film.”)

Dud gave ME a valuable bit of direction on his very first shot of the film. “Never ask for effects. If you ask for effects, that’s all you’ll get.” I knew nothing about directing actors and thought if I just spoke clearly and said what I wanted, that’d be fine. It took me years (and some reading and some trial and error) to work out why that’s wrong.

Dud rewrote and vastly improved his first speech, getting the first biggest of the film: “What if I just told them to fuck off?” “Might be a bit harsh,” I dithered. “Well, I could say, ‘Fuck off out of it’? That’s a bit gentler.” We went with option #1.

“What’s on at the local art cinema?” he asked one night. “Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF.” “Oh, I was in one of his. He cut out all my lines, but I’m still in there.” I hadn’t been able to see CASANOVA at this point, and there was no IMDb to list his credits. I knew him from THE DEVILS, everyone else from Lovejoy. When he showed up, they were all, “Why didn’t you SAY he was Tink in Lovejoy?” THE LEATHER BOYS didn’t enter into anyone’s thinking back then, alas.

I didn’t get to hang out with Dud too much because we were always filming. After losing one of his four days of shooting to a camera malfunction (sixty foot of film concertina’d all over the floor) we had to pick up the pace to complete his stuff in time. “I’ll say this for you, when you do get going you don’t hang about,” he remarked with gruff approval.

So just occasionally I’d catch the tail end or the middle of a story while fetching Dud for a shot. “Of course the best films for drugs were the Disney films,” was one memorable sentence. And, “The crookedest film I was ever in was A TOWN CALLED BASTARD.” Apparently he also spoke about being expelled from RADA for smoking dope.

Dud competed his work, went home, and then we found two shots were out of focus. We replaced them using a hastily contrived “double,” who was thirty years younger and Japanese, but it didn’t matter because his fake hump concealed his head completely from the back. This was all a great introduction to filmmaking.

“I keep seeing Dud out the corner of my eye,” I remarked to Stuart, the producer.

“So do I!” he replied.

The film won third prize in a contest and we sent Dud a share of the money and he wrote back saying he’d have a nice dinner on that. “It seems just yesterday that we were all running about in the mud in our cone-filled socks.”

Yes it does.

 

 

The Devils and Miss Jones

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2016 by dcairns

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I totally missed an excellent opportunity to interview Gemma Jones this week. I could have called in THE DEVILS and Miss Jones. It didn’t even occur to me to ask, as I was all geared up to interview somebody else — and the fruits of THAT interview will appear here soon.

I would have asked her all about THE DEVILS, of course — I’m pretty well totally ignorant about the rest of her career. But she manages an important and difficult task in that, her debut film (wait, hang on, just looking it up — yes, it WAS her debut film). She’s the least extreme character in the movie — and yet, surrounded by lunatics and scheming villains, she holds our interest. Though the movie seems at times to endorse a Catholic Madonna/whore schism, GJ’s character is neither — she has a perfectly healthy sex drive and the film respects her for it. She is puzzled and vexed by the challenge of living a good life according to the precepts of the Church, whilst surrounded by corruption and things that don’t seem to fit with what the Book says — as anyone might be. Besides marrying Oliver Reed (in a “blasphemous midnight nuptial,” my favourite kind), her main plot role is to ask intelligent questions.

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As madness takes over, Jones disappears from the movie, only to abruptly take over in the final shot, which is a stunner. I actually suggested this film to Sight & Sound when invited to write about a movie ending. This is surely the best of its year. I’m kind of glad I wasn’t tasked with writing a thousand words for publication on it, though, since I don’t know what I’d have said, other than raving on about its magnificence.

Well, maybe I’d have referred back to the two dream sequences — actually, masturbatory fantasies would be more accurate. Looks to me like these were shot in Russell’s beloved Lake District (Russell fans should totally go there — it’d be like TOMMY going back to the source at the end of his film), although the only non-Pinewood location listed is Bamburgh* — a stone’s throw from me! (But we know they also filmed in a prison somewhere, for Richelieu’s library, and some stately gardens for the King to shoot his Protestant crow in.) Russell always regretted not shooting both of these in black & white, for consistency’s sake. I say the hell with consistency — the vibrant red of Vanessa Redgrave’s hair is reason enough for colour.

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Vanessa’s Sister Jeanne has hair in these sequences as she imagines herself as Mary Magdalen, drying Christ’s feet with her hair — probably the sexiest bit in the New Testament — if you need porn and all you have to hand is the Bible, I recommend turning to Book One. The red is great, but admittedly what cinematographer David Watkin does with the b&w is also wonderful — printed on colour stock, it emerges with quite a strong indigo tint, and it has the blown-out highlights he discovered on THE KNACK.

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How does this reflect on the ending, in which Gemma Jones wanders from close-up into extreme longshot, through the broken walls of Loudun (up a hill of shattered masonry) and off along a narrow road lined with skeletons broken on the wheel. Well, that shot imperceptibly turns to b&w as it cranes up, helped by the lack of colour in the setting anyway, so that by the time we’ve risen over the wall to see the distant terrain, the world has performed a reverse Oz transformation, just in time for the end credits to appear in bold RED.

It’s beautiful and bleak, and it feels meaningful too, in a poetic way I can’t pin down. I want to suggest that the world has been subsumed into Sister Jeanne’s fantasies. Madness has won. Her perverted view of religion has triumphed even as the city walls came tumbling down. The connection is not really that literal, of course, since Russell does not use words to express it, only images, which speak more powerfully and more primitively to us.

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*Bamburgh Castle doubles for Loudun in the long shot near the film’s start, where Dudley Sutton and a Protestant slave gang is transporting a vast, grey, slug-like tarpaulin-swathed cart of demolition equipment across your basic blasted heath. It’s probably the same landscape from the final shot — I never knew it was Scotland! The castle and adjoining beach also feature in Polanski’s MACBETH, BECKETT and THE TEMPEST, directed by DEVILS’ designer Derek Jarman.