Archive for The Exterminating Angel

Stan By Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2017 by dcairns

ME AND MY PAL begins with Oliver Hardy saying “This is the happiest day of my life!” so we know it’s going to end in total ruination. Sure enough, if you jump forward to the end, you’ll see this ~

The film contains a great example of the boys using pure surprise, even if the rest of it has a kind of heart-sinking inevitability.

Ollie: Don’t you realise I’m about to become a big oil magnate?

Stan looks a bit confused.

Ollie: You know what a magnate is, don’t you?

Stan: “Sure. A thing that eats cheese.”

Here, the dialogue furiously signals one kind of misconception — we happily expect that Stan is thinking of the word “magnet” and will simply describe one. We don’t really need the joke to be any better than that. But Stan’s mind has taken him somewhere else altogether — perhaps he’s thinking of a mouse. (But “a thing that eats cheese” is a very poor description of a mouse. It would work just as well as a description of this writer.) So he’s confused magnate with magnet and magnet with mouse. This is a brilliantly abstract joke, because the nature of the confusion isn’t definitely clear. We really don’t know what’s on Stan’s mind. It’s a meaningless punchline that works only because (1) it’s dumb and (2) it’s not the punchline we’d expected.

MY AND MY PAL is like Laurel & Hardy via Buñuel. In fact, we know Buñuel was in Hollywood in the early thirties, supervising Spanish-language versions of American films, and we know the boys made several foreign-language versions of their movies (to French, German and Spanish audiences perhaps it made perfect sense that the two numbskulls spoke terrible, phonetic French, German and Spanish). Couldn’t we just suppose that Don Luis collaborated anonymously with Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, to their mutual enrichment?

Ollie is preparing for his wedding to the daughter of his boss, Peter Cucumber (James Finlayson). But Stan brings a jigsaw puzzle to the house as a wedding present and both men become engrossed in it. The taxi driver called to transport the groom gets sucked in too, as does the cop come to complain about the abandoned cab, and some guy delivering a telegram. Finlayson’s violent intervention succeeds in breaking up the puzzle party, but turns it into a full-scale riot. All is lost.

It’s a great example of the use of slowness — the trouble develops gradually, and considerable fun is wrung from Ollie not being able to believe that Stan is better at jigsaws than he is. Stan, though dumb, has a gift for it. We can all remember feeling this kind of resentment, I think — when we were little kids. So unfair.

The story unfolds like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, a slide into madness and anarchy from simple and civilized beginnings. A final, gratuitously cruel twist of the knife is delivered via that forgotten telegram, since it’s apparently not enough that Ollie has missed out on an advantageous marriage, lost his job, and had all his furniture smashed to bits. These things have to be done thoroughly.

One slight regret: Ollie’s angry switching-off of the wireless prevents us hearing Stan’s opinion of technocracy. I found I very much wanted to hear that.

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Foleydelphia

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2017 by dcairns

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Set my first year students a sound effects project, which they just finished. They got to choose from three scenes, from which I’d removed the soundtrack. The scenes were: 10.30 PM SUMMER (Jules Dassin), the opening murder; THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (Luis Bunuel), the crawling hand dream; ERASERHEAD, our first meeting with Henry.

All the students did interesting work and in places sometimes surpassed the illustrious filmmakers they were “collaborating” with. A really interesting case was ERASERHEAD, which has an undeniably immersive and oppressive soundscape by Lynch and regular collaborator the late Alan Splet (whose very name is a magnificent sound effect). But in choosing to privilege a throbbing industrial atmos, the filmmakers naturally sacrifice a degree of individual detail. As Henry traverses a series of heaps of waste material (slag?), all we hear is the urban rumble.

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One group of students chose to dub in extremely precise dusty footsteps for Henry’s journey. The effect was riveting. A closely synced sound always draws our attention to the object concerned, and by honouring actor Jack Nance’s gait, and his little hesitations and skids as he deals, not too nimbly, with the more “mountainous” areas, the foley work actually ADDED PSYCHOLOGY — it put us into Henry’s shiny black shoes, and made us experience his every step.

As I remarked at the time, I always like it when I learn something in a class — especially when it’s one I’m teaching.

 

Untaken

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2016 by dcairns

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I can recall my New york chum Jaime Christley, years and years ago before I’d actually met him, expressing dissatisfaction with Bunuel’s penultimate opus, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, arguing that with its endless parade of French stars, it resembles a gallic TOWERING INFERNO. I suggested instead that THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is the Bunuel film closer to the Irwin Allen-John Guillerman group jeopardy nonsense — a bunch of rich people in evening dress attend a swank party and are mysteriously unable to leave.

At any rate, I rather like PHANTOM, preferring it to the follow-up, THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, which I really think would be pretty desultory had not Bunuel fired poor Maria Schneider and happened upon the bold idea of replacing her with two unalike actors, who alternate throughout at random. It’s a terrific trick: you know he’s doing it, but it’s really hard to concentrate on the constant substitution, since the continuity of narrative and mise-en-scene keeps telling our subconscious that it’s positively the same dame.

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While OBJECT has a great story idea and a great casting gimmick, PHANTOM, like DISCRETE CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE before it, has a ton of ideas and a ton of gimmicks, many of them brilliant. It lacks the unifying conceit of its predecessor, it’s true (friends try to have dinner; fail) but the way it weaves its fragmented sketches together, and the way some of them return for encores, I find dazzling. Another skeptical friend dismisses it as “slow Monty Python,” but the leisurely pace for me is part of the charm, contributing to the deadpan effect. Skits unfold pedantically, as if nothing odd were happening at all.

The missing child scenario is probably the best — every parents’ nightmare gets played out perfectly straight, save for one rogue element — the missing child is right there all the time. Characters can see and talk to her, and she talks right back. But they still believe she#s missing. Bunuel and his co-scenarist. Jean-Claude Carriere, play this stuff out as naturally as possible, with just the one alteration to the norm which makes the whole ritual of questioning teachers and putting out an All Points Bulletin completely nonsensical.

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Best of all is the unexpected pay-off several sequences later when the detective attempts to explain how the child has been recovered. “This ought to be good,” we think, awaiting the impossible explanation. But some loud extraneous noise drowns the guy out as he reaches the crucial portion (after an incongruous opening about the inhabitants of a small town being awoken by a deafening blast). It reminds me of Leo G. Carroll’s spy plot exposition in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, which Hitchcock wisely smothered in aircraft sound to save the audience having to listen to some boring information. Information is not drama.

In Bunuel’s version, we really want to hear the explanation, which seems set to be very dramatic indeed, so it’s hilarious when he frustrates us. Like the hot-and-cold temptress of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT, the film keeps teasing us with narrative resolutions, then crosses its legs tightly when we get close to satisfaction.