Archive for The Ghost

Paroxysm

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2010 by dcairns

“Freda’s THE TERROR OF DR HICHCOCK has an extraordinary funeral sequence. Black-clad mourners in black umbrellas walk under a silvery glitter of sunlit rain; they pass bright flowers; the grain of the coffin is warmly visible in the sun. The living wood… As the procession passes a row of silhouetted, green-tinged cypresses, a shaft of sunlight pours down on them and for a split second is broken up by the camera lens into all the colours of the rainbow. ‘Artificial’ as it is — the human eye wouldn’t see it — the effect ‘fits’, because it lifts to the level of paroxysm the tragic irony of sunlight at a young woman’s funeral.”

~ Raymond Durgnat.

Ashamed of how long it’s taken me to appreciate just how splendid his writing is. I corresponded with the Great Man late in his life, but I was mainly concerned with buying some rare movies from him (Michael Powell’s BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE), and I thought his prices a bit steep. Then he misattributed some garbled nonsense to me in his PSYCHO book, a work which I think betrays slightly his ill-health at the time of writing.

Now that I’m seriously reading The Crazy Mirror and Jean Renoir, I’m overcome with admiration for Durgant’s zestful and gripping way with both ideas and language, and also the bracing manner in which he shifts from high to low cinema without giving a hoot about class distinctions.

Riccardo Freda, on the other hand, is someone I already appreciated somewhat, having picked up a VHS of LA DOPPIA FACCIA in Berlin. David Wingrove encouraged me to see more, and TRAGIC CEREMONY was a mindblower. Freda isn’t as consistently gorgeous visually as Bava, but hits memorable highs and maybe takes a more intellectual approach. Although this manifests itself very oddly. HICHCOCK never even tries to make sense, and despite borrowings from both SUSPICION (nasty milk) and PSYCHO (doubled identities and schizoid delusions) it markedly refuses to wrap itself up with a cosy epilogue, despite a hero who’s studied under Freud and seems custom-written to perform such a function.

(Since the next draft of the script Fiona and I have been working on has to incorporate changes that don’t seem to make rational sense, which is worrying to my pedantic side, I should probably immerse myself in Italian horror, which follows what Dario Argento calls a “non-Cartesian” dramatic logic, and appeals to what Keats called negative capability — one’s ability to appreciate something without wholly understanding it; in fact, one’s ability to appreciate an object for its mystery.)

Freda’s career stretches from big Mussolini-era costume flicks, to the fantastical works he’s best known for, to his sidekick act opposite Bertrand Tavernier (an odd couple indeed). Tavernier managed to put together D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER for Freda to helm, aged 83, but Sophie Marceau seems to have had him fired, forcing Tavernier to complete the film. Boo! I read an interview with Marceau where she said she was dissatisfied with the resulting film because it should have been more about her. Marceau probably ought to make like her more talented namesake and keep her damn mouth shut.

Enjoying HICHCOCK so much has put me in the mood to re-see it’s quasi/pseudo/non-sequel, THE GHOST, which transports Dr. H (who conclusively died in the previous film) to sunny Scotland…

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Ghost Writing

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by dcairns

What to call Polanski’s latest? In America it’s THE GHOST WRITER, a rather pedantic and factual title with nothing evocative or provocative about it. Here in Britain it’s THE GHOST, a title it shares with Robert Harris’s novel, a title reflected in the film, where the nameless hack played by Ewan McGregor refers to himself as “your ghost.” So the shorter title should be the preferred choice, right? But it’s obvious from the film’s artful end credits that THE GHOST WRITER is the name it’s been produced under, and the tacked-on main title at the start betrays Polanski’s obvious intent to start the movie without any titles at all.

Whatever we decide to call it, it’s a very fine film. I’m not sure Polanski would see it as a political film, although the backdrop is politics and it takes a jaundiced view of certain very recognizable real-world figures. Certain qualities, like the savage joke of an ending, can be seen both as evidence of the director’s earnestness or his flippancy. Certainly the behaviour of the hero at the end, and the readiness of the antagonists’ response, do not promote a view of the film as fundamentally realistic, but a movie can enter the paranoid mindset of the genre thriller without abandoning political engagement… I’m just not sure.

None of which hampered my enjoyment of the film, especially the playing. McGregor is having a very good year, and Olivia Williams should rise to preeminence on the back of this. Pierce Brosnan has always been a funny guy, and he’s hugely enjoyable as the intellectually lazy former PM, avoiding any hint of impersonation (we have Michael Sheen if we need a precise copy) and insisting on his character’s reality within the film, rather than depending on Tony Blair’s outside it. None of which is intended as any disrespect to Sheen.

“Don’t grin,” says Williams to Brosnan’s image on TV, and I can imagine Polanski saying the same thing to McGregor, a likable thesp who has tended to fall back on his shiny teeth a bit too much. Actually, Brosnan on TV is the only wrong note: he’s slurring his words strangely, in what must be intended as his “statesman” voice, perhaps meant to sound like Albert Finney as Churchill in The Gathering Storm, but coming off more like Albert Finney in THE DRESSER. Weird.

The other weird notes I thought were quite good, really. When McGregor finds some old photos of Brosnan at university, the images are pathetically photoshopped and deeply ludicrous, but it seemed sort of apt that Tony Blair should have a past constricted via Stalinist revisionism, retouched photos of a retouched life, something from 1984. And it’s his world we’re living in, so the digital sky replacements, adding smudgy watercolour greys to every background, not quite convincingly, added something too. Blair/Brosnan has brought the English weather with him.

Of course this Blair is called Adam Lang, and the movie begins with a nice swipe from THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE, a single unmoving car among many mobile ones signifying the death of its occupant. But generally Polanski avoids Langian flourishes, maintaining the more relaxed, fluid and unshowy style he’s inhabited since THE PIANIST. His actors and slow trickle of conspiracy plot are more than enough to hold the attention.

Back to those actors: an amusing scene with Scotsmen McGregor and David Rintoul both pretending to be English. Irishman Brosnan plays Scottish, Tom Wilkinson plays American (as a sort of sinister Robert Osborne) and the only person who’s unconvincing is Kim Cattrall, playing English — despite the fact that she IS English. I quite like KC, but she does sometimes mismatch the pitch of her perf to what’s going on around her: BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES was another case where she was a notch or two more shrill than everyone else, which was a seriously bad idea in that movie. Keep your head down and hope nobody spots you, would be my advice.

Rintoul, who was in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, is further evidence of my theory that Polanski casts Brits he remembers from 60s/70s horror movies. This probably started with Jon Finch in MACBETH, and Finch’s VAMPIRE LOVERS co-star Barbara Jefford was in THE NINTH GATE. Not a coincidence, since she makes so few films. Add Peter Copley (OLIVER TWIST / FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED), Frank Finlay (THE PIANIST / TWISTED NERVE) and Roy Kinnear (PIRATES / TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA) and it starts to look like some kind of strange plan

Other welcome faces this time: Timothy Hutton, Jim Belushi and Eli Wallach. Wallach is a special joy. When viewing a very elderly actor, especially one as explosive as he, I generally have two slight fears: that the actor will overplay uncontrollably and embarrass us both, or that he’ll just kind of keel over in mid-sentence. Neither happens here. Result! Better yet, Wallach reminds us how exhilarating and intensely focused a performer he is.

Meanwhile, this is a very fine film, with interesting connections to CHINATOWN (Lang’s oriental servants, the drowning death of a witness…) and a measured control of pace that continually pays off in viewer fascination. My favourite little moment was probably when McGregor pauses midway through the intractable manuscript, looks out the window, and sees the Asian help loading beach debris from the porch into a wheelbarrow, while the wind blasts it out as soon as he turns his back. A perfect analog for the creative process on a bad day.