Archive for The Exorcist

The Sunday Intertitle: Chimproper Behaviour

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2020 by dcairns

SUDDEN CHIMPACT

LE MANOIR DE LA PEUR (1927 or thereabouts) chimpressed me no end. Though the story of Alfred Machin & Henry Wulschleger’s thriller is fairly naive, mainly an opportunity to exploit the services of chimpanzee actor Monsieur Schey, the photography (by Mario Badouille), design (unknown), editing (maybe the directors?) and performances are terrific.

A mysterious stranger moves into the MANSION OF FEAR (turn left at the cemetery). Soon, the village is plagued by a crime spree. But we’ve already been shown who’s doing it: the sinister stranger’s servant (Cinq-Leon) has been training a lab chimp, Hello (Monsieur Schey), to burgle the burghers. He chalks a kind of HOBO SIGN on the door of each home to be ransacked, then dispatches the chimpetuous Hello to do his hairy bidding.

Cinq-Leon, a self-described wretch, is a remarkable presence. Every part of him is in an advanced state of decay, from his teeth to his face to his walk, a scuttle that’s equal parts infantile, senile, rodent and crustacean.

He seems to be playing his part in English, as you can see his hideous mouth parting wide in a repeated exhortation of “Yes!” as he instructs his chimpressionable protege. I imagine this being delivered in a fervent, Ben-Kingsley-in-SEXY-BEAST manner.

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Hello chimplements his crimes with chimpetuous chimpiety. What are they gonna do, lock him up?

Look how beautiful the photography is, though.

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Most of this joint is location-based, but we get some terrific interiors when we visit the town hall, which has seen better days. Unsightly ducts, heaps of neglected books, and a massive fissure in the ceiling. Plus terrifyingly tall doors. It’s expressionist in its exaggeration, but very solid and tactile and real at the same time. And we’ll probably never know who was responsible.

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SLIDESHOW!

The mayor gets his flunky to check the town’s history to see if something like this has happened before. And you know what? Something like this has happened before! Only that time, the stranger was the devil and they got rid of him by burning him in the town square. Simpler times.

I was struck that this plot idea — a demonic force descending periodically upon a small town, its backstory discovered in the archives — anticipates Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (and Stephen King’s It, but we know where HE got it from).

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One of the wacky and advanced things about the film is the sudden appearance of the Devil and the scary house during the opening titles. Spliced in without warning. They ought to be subliminal flashes I suppose, but the filmmakers didn’t quite have the nerve for that. But you could argue the non-diegetic and pseudo-subliminal Satan anticipates THE EXORCIST. Or I’ll argue it. Hold my coat.

Dig that zigzag

Hello the Chimp has been trained in one more trick — when Cinq-Leon is worried that he’s going to be unmasked, he sends his chimplacable avenger out with a bottle of poison to spike the ale of his potential denouncer. But Hello goes astray, murders a signalman instead, thus sending a locomotive hurtling towards a collapsed viaduct… Cue exciting rail chase…

So there’s a lot going on here. It’s a film of sensations. Many of them involving a chimpanzee. I really want to see more by this team. They all collaborated with the versatile Monsieur Schey in LES HÉRITIERS DE L’ONCLE JAMES (1924 or thereabouts) but alas that isn’t readily available. But I’ll let you know what I find.

Vlad to the Bone

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2018 by dcairns

Welcome back to Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with director Francis Coppola, in which Fiona and I watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA with director Francis Coppola.

We were talking about the intimations of homosexuality in the novel, and how the movies occasionally make this apparent. And, interestingly, the first line of the IMDb’s short plot synopsis reads “The centuries old vampire Count Dracula comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan” while the second line continues, “Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray and inflict havoc in the foreign land.” There it is — the flash of gay ankle followed by the chaste covering-up.

Now, let’s all don our pink shirts and join Uncle Francis.

I think a positive thing is that we told it as a love story. 

Coppola credits screenwriter James V. Hart (PAN) for “finding” the love story and “weaving it in,” and “finding” is in fact a very good word here as he’s swiped the reincarnation idea from Karloff’s THE MUMMY. But Coppola is talking about the story of Vlad Tepes’ love who killed herself.

I liked Sadie Frost, she was a very nice girl and appealing and pretty and sexy. I was sort of surprised […] we haven’t seen much of her.

We see quite a lot of her here. Including a huge close-up that doesn’t do her neck-wound make-up any favours, followed by a dissolve through the puncture marks to a wolf’s glowing eyes, which must be the worst transition ever (beating the cut to Jeff Goldblum yawning in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK by a lupine whisker). Van Helsing himself, Antony Hopkins, once cautioned against attempting humour in a segue (in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) but I think he’s wrong. What one shouldn’t do is attempt a completely ludicrous segue without any trace of humour.

Rarely is a movie shot 100% in the sound stage and I think this is.

Well you ought to know. (Later, Unc Fran will admit that it wasn’t.)

Clearly Lucy is being affected by her encounter with Dracula and has been affected in a way and infected I should say because she has the metaphoric blood of a vampire in her, which means that she too will be a vampire.

And by “metaphoric blood,” I suppose we mean cum.

Here was a scene in which we tried, Roman and I were very pleased to do this, tried to portray an early nickelodeon and on the screen are some very early motion pictures

And we get TRAIN APPROACHING A STATION — sometimes called the first horror film due to the consternation it inspired in audiences — appearing in synch with Oldman. Only it seems to be being projected in negative — which connects it to the literal Phantom Ride in Murnau’s NOSFERATU (for which Murnau must have had Graf Orlok’s black carriage painted white, and the black horses replaced with white ones).

The supposedly early porn doesn’t convince — wrong body types — and the assumption that such films were screened openly, with ladies present, rather than at secretive “smokers” shows how the movie really doesn’t get Victorian England. Looking more closely, there’s a suggestion that the porn is showing in a back room, curtained off, but it’s a mere dolly-ride away for Mina and the Count. In principle it could be a nice metaphor for him taking her to the dark side (of the cinema).

This shot, of Dracula literally sweeping her off her feet of course was a mechanical effect, he takes her and then they’re on a little trolley that is pulled. It was interesting, when I did this shot with her, just to show the kind of kid that Winona was, she looked at me, I mean she was a little too smart for her own good in a way, as a kid. She said, “Well, I’ve already done this shot once,” ’cause this was a tricky set-up, they had to step onto this moving thing, I said “Oh really?” she said “Oh yes, I did it with Tim Burton.” But I have always felt that Winona had a deeper well of talent than she was willing to dip into.

Nice back-handed comment, and strange segue. Coppola is apparently still smarting from the suggestion that Burton had anticipated him in any way. It’s clear that she was a touch resistant to his direction, including that one time he yelled “YOU WHORE!” at her to help her get into character. I have to assume that, since she got him the job in the first place when his career was pretty ice cold, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola, she just didn’t want to be directed LIKE THIS by THIS Francis Ford Coppola.

I want to give Uncle Francis credit where it’s due (family loyalty) but I’m on Winona Ryder’s side here.

Don’t ever try this with a wolf, by the way. This is not something that you wanna do. Again, it’s used to show Dracula’s seduction of Mina, the sensuality that lay under the skin of the vampire legend, it’s so confused with sex and romance and love and death, the two sometimes are difficult to separate.

“Well, that’s not two things, Uncle Francis, that’s a whole long list of things,” objects Fiona. She’s right, I counted them, that was definitely either four or six things.

LOVELY transition!

Now we introduce essentially a new character, Doctor Van Helsing.

Yep, definitely new. Though he did narrate the captain’s log montage earlier.

One of the good things about James V. Hart’s script (and there ARE good things) is that the writer is aware of lots of different resonances the vampire myth has, and has researched the period enough to find things that connect with the Victorians and also with those of us watching in 1992. In Van Helsing’s lecture we get stuff about the spread of syphilis which we can easily connect to vampirism and thus to AIDS. The bad thing about this is that he just sticks it in, in the form of a lecture. It’s inelegant, but I’m still kind of glad it’s there.

Cut to Keanu Reeves looking thoroughly drained.

“Shagged out… after a long squawk,” says Fiona. And then: “You don’t have to be naked to drain somebody’s blood,” she says, referring to the naked, smoochy Bellucci girls.

“But it helps,” I suggest.

Watching this with the commentary, sometimes you’re mainly focussing on what Uncle Francis is saying, sometimes on the pictures, and it feels like when you miss bits of plot it’s because the movie really isn’t interested in those things. For instance, somehow Keanu is going to escape from Castle Sitting Down Dracula. But I have no memory of how he does it. Doesn’t he sort of jump out a window and then land back in England?

Hopkins turns up in a shot which seems to be nodding towards THE EXORCIST, which may be a bit on the nose, but so’s everything in this film. Apart from Sadie Frost, who’s bit on the neck. Coppola explains that his big idea was that anyone who’s devoted his life to the study of vampires must be a bit crazy, so he instructed Hopkins to play it that way. “Whadda LOON!” Coppola guffawed on the set after one particularly fruity take.

I think Coppola’s logic is sound, but that this is still not a good way to play Van Helsing. I think Edward Van Sloan’s method was fine. Peter Cushing’s was brilliant. Jack MacGowran, playing a variant on the character for Polanski, was just fine in context. The character seems a great way to explore, consciously or not, the unpleasantness of being in thrall to medical professionals, and there’s a touch of that here. But it’s dissolved in a welter of ham theatrics.

Coppola credits the big window Gary Oldman shows up at to THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN. I like how he’s basically providing the whole filmography of influences for us. It’s a good reference, since the dream sequence in Capra’s film also seems to refer to the idea of the vampire seducer from the East. It is quite a 1930s-esque window, though, but they get away with it.

We brought in a singer, a vocalist, named Diamanda Galas to provide some very orgiastic and other feminine sounds of intensity to help us with this sequence.

“She’s only a child!” exclaims Van Helsing, which might not be my first reaction to a tits-out Sadie Frost, but we’re all different, which is one of the themes of this film anyway. He prescribes an immediate transfusion, which is of course risky as doctors at the time hadn’t figured out blood groups. He gets every male in the neighbourhood to transfuse into Sadie and miraculously they’re all the same type (Type O). Sadie’s type. (In fairness: I think that’s the way it is in the book. Coppola once shows the Dread Pirate Roberts donating, albeit without a blood test. But I’m assuming Withnail and the Rocketeer also get in on the act. The more the merrier.)

Interestingly, blood transfusion, another example of modern technology at the time, and we did it as authentically as we knew how, we tried to find out how did they do transfusions, and we did it the way they did, however, shows what a pansy director I am, it wasn’t really a transfusion, it was just a movie scene, however, the great director Clouzot, in one of his movies actually had the character get a blood transfusion and the actor showed up and they began to shoot the scene and he had brought a doctor and they did a real blood transfusion while they were shooting, and so I realise I’m not as I like to think I am, and Damn, why didn’t I have it be a real transfusion? and Clouzot was Clouzot and I don’t think I would have gotten away with it.

“He would have liked to, though,” suggests Fiona.

Clouzot transfused Bernard Blier in QUAI DES ORFEVRES, and did it again to Brigitte Bardot in LA VERITÉ, or at least he certainly had the needle in her arm. And, having gone that far, I think we all know he would have kept going.

Bad nipple continuity here: Sadie’s bosom has a strange now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t approach. The trick with getting away with continuity errors is to calculate where the audience is looking. Hard to see how anybody could miscalculate the centre of attention when Sadie is writhing about in what I believe is known as deshabille.

Coppola starts to tell us about Byron and Shelley and the Villa Deodata set in his own unique manner ~

Now these people in those days were sort of like the equivalent of, you know, Snoop Doggy Dog. They were the hip people of the day, as when I was young it would have been Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer and what have you, going off to Switzerland.

BWAHAHAHA I just can’t

The Reluctant Revenant

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2016 by dcairns

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My trawl through the less-explored Minnellis continues — thanks to David Wingrove for recommending this one. Introducing Martin Scorsese’s personal Technicolor print of THE BAND WAGON in Bologna, Ian Christie remarked that Marty considers Minnelli to be still an underrated auteur. Very well, I say, let’s take him seriously, which means looking for themes and stylistic motifs in his lesser films as well as the acknowledged classics.

GOODBYE CHARLIE, modestly opened-out from the play by George Axelrod (THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH and others of note), has maybe the most transgressive plot premise of any Minnelli. Pair it with ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER and call it his Diptych of Reincarnation (doesn’t Eddie “Rochester” Anderson get restored to life at the end of CABIN IN THE SKY? Could we call this an informal trilogy? This auteurist is drooling at the thought). Charlie, a hypermasculine screenwriter rake/heel, is shot dead when caught in flagrante with a movie producer’s wife, falling into the sea — only to emerge, post-funeral, in the form of Debbie Reynolds. (One wants to say “alluring form,” and one could, as Debbie is cute as a button, but one does get the impression the script has something more like Jayne Mansfield in mind.) Best buddy Tony Curtis has to deal with the fallout.

I wonder how this worked as a play? It doesn’t work as a film, in strict plot terms — audience identification is split between best buddy Tony Curtis and his back-from-the-dead transgender pal; subplots tantalise with the possibility of Reynolds actually getting intimate with (another?) man; a homicide detective turns up to make Tony nervous, but why? On Broadway, was some immoral element explored that had to be chopped from the movie script, leaving lacunae and shapelessness? I’m not too bothered, because what’s left is highly entertaining and quite peculiar.

Opening credits — director’s name revealed in the purple interior of a yawning clam. Well well.

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Scene 1 is part of the opening out — it shows how Charlie met his maker (but not how he gets remade). Minnelli, perhaps assuaging the nervous hetero element in the crowd, gives us generous footage of a Playboy Playmate doing the twist, a dance which mostly seems to involve shaking her tits (I had never thought of the twist this way before). Fiona admired her dress. I admired the way her breasts jostled for supremacy (partly) within it.

Minnelli accompanies this action with strange handheld lurches, leering in on several of the characters, which at first seems like a subjective drunkenness effect, then like a seasick thing, then becomes completely inexplicable, resembling the mad bursts of handheld frenzy in LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN or TRAGIC CEREMONY — handheld disorientation served up purely as a stylistic garnish.

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A very Minnelli widescreen shot. Burstyn on the right.

Then we’re into ninety-very-odd minutes of typically elegant Minnelli mise-en-scene, with occasional outbursts of excess pizzazz. Tony Curtis confirms his status as capable farceur, and Reynolds is fantastic, not overdoing the butchness or underselling it either. Astonishment: there’s Ellen Burstyn (before she took that name), playing comedy with gusto and skill. This could maybe form a duologue for her with THE EXORCIST: both are insider Hollywood stories in which a girl is possessed by a male identity and the solution is arrived at by defenestration.

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Further astonishment: the manslaughtering movie producer, clearly based on Alexander Korda (he’s a Hungarian and a knight) with maybe a side-order of William Randolph Hearst (jealous yacht-based assassin), is played by Walter Matthau. Old scrotumnal-face had mainly been making his living in hero’s pal or sneaky villain roles, but I guess ENSIGN PULVER had just unveiled his comic chops (and what chops they are!). However, the manic silliness of his work here is beyond anything he’d attempted on the big screen to this date, making even his most excessive moments in A NEW LEAF seem restrained. His “accent” is a wonderful creation all his own, owing nothing to any set of sounds previously mouthed by modern man. One has no idea whether his self-description “not unattractive” would have been so hilarious if anyone else had played the role — Matthau, of course, is an extremely attractive player, but for him to play a man who uses that phrase is priceless.

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Another highlight is Pat Boone. Enjoy that sentence as this is likely the only chance you’ll ever get to read it. Boone plays the mother’s-boy son of a millionaire businesswoman, mollicoddled since conception. He falls for Charlie immediately, based on her looks (she’s naked when they meet) and her knowledge of sports cars. There’s a spectacularly smutty exchange of double entendres about Boone’s malfunctioning Maserati.

Jesus, did Boone know what he was doing to himself with this role? “I do drink on special occasions: mother’s birthday, or the election of a Republican president.” Curtis gets a scene where he almost necks with Reynolds, and comes to his senses feeling squicky, but Boone actually kisses her/him. And the mother obsession is astonishing — mother is apparently absent attending to her many businesses, but when Pat leads Debs down to the wine cellar we half expect to find momma mummified in a corner. At one point, Minnelli jump-juts straight down the line on mum’s portrait, as if she were the Frankenstein monster or the eyeless farmer-corpse in THE BIRDS.

Boone was either completely clueless or a very good sport — I hate to give him credit, but I think he was at least somewhat aware. He gives really good stooge, and you can’t do that unknowingly in a comedy.

If you can manage it, I highly recommend seeing this crazy thing. You get Minnelli’s playful/transgressive side given freer reign than even in TEA AND SYMPATHY. You get his undiminished suavity as a master of camera blocking. This is probably his last good movie. It’s not wholly successful, but all the disconnected bits are good — we’re back to the FRANKENSTEIN metaphor again.