Archive for The Godfather

Vlad Hair Day

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2018 by dcairns

Yes! It’s time once again to play Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Francis Coppola, from the comfort of your own home.

there’s a lot going on here because of these various killing and awakening of Lucy. So yes, doing a collection of actions simultaneously happening and edited together in parallel with a ritual is reminiscent of the time I did it first in the baptism sequence in THE GODFATHER

The big intercut is probably the closest thing Coppola has to a signature. The ending of COTTON CLUB, where the movie starts suddenly pulling together instead of pulling apart, is another.

Fiona is overjoyed to see Keanu has turned grey after his terrible experience with the naked ladies, because she has been transitioning to grey hair and has just gotten a haircut a lot like his.

“My terrible experience has just been life.”

Here’s Fiona as Jonathan Harker ~

Coppola tells us that he originally shot the wedding in an abstract set with just shadows, but then decided to reshoot in a Russian Orthodox church in LA — abandoning his own idea of using minimalistic sets. He also says that as a result of shooting the scene there, Keanu and Winona were actually married for real. Can this be true? Anyhow, this is the only location shot, it seems. (Apart from the sea, the moon, a few other little things.)

Sadie Frost gets finally killed by a wolf, in bed — kinda looks like she’s cuddling a big friendly dog — and tsunami-gouts of blood splash in from all sides. Curiously, the bed seems to be empty. Well, wet dogs smell pretty awful, and stage blood never dries, so you’d have had a big red wet dog, FOREVER, I guess. I don’t know what Sadie Frost smells like wet, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

That’s clearly an hommage to Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING

“Yes, and you shouldn’t have done it,” admonishes Fiona. It’s not her favourite bit of THE SHINING anyway. The gory shagging also makes me think of ANGEL HEART, which is a sensation I resent. Alan Parker wrote in the script for that, “They make love, as fluid as a flight of birds,” which deserves some kind of bad sex prize.

As a child I just loved Snow White because she had beautiful black hair like my mother and I never could forget the glass coffin

And of course Snow White is raised from her coffin, as Sadie Frost will be… that’s a good hommage. Of course, in this scenario, Richard E Grant is Doc, Bill Williams is bashful and Cary Elwes is Dopey. Stoker doesn’t give Lucy’s suitors much more characterisation than Disney provided his dwarfs. But I like how Williams enhances his role by trying to stand in the back, out of the light, almost as if he didn’t want to be seen. The above is probably the clearest view we get of him, tucked behind the mantel, and we still can’t see his jet-pack.

Now that Sadie is dead, Eiko Ishioka has finally been able to crowbar her left tit back into her costume, which comes as bit of a relief. It was a bit too much of a scene-stealer, that breast.

I must confess, and this maybe sounds disheartening, but when I look at this and I think of all the work it is to make a movie, any movie, I have to say that unless it’s a theme or subject matter that you have to make, because it says something that has never been said before or just is in your soul and you have to get it out, I can’t see any point to wanting to make a film at all. The way it’s been set up, and the way the whole profession has gone, it’s like, you have to tolerate so much stuff, you have to work on this movie for so long, under such unenlightened directives from the company financing it, and when it’s all said and done, they publish in the newspaper like the sports scores how much money it did, and they show it in a theater that’s like a box with ten other theaters and you have to not only hear the battery of critics that rightly or wrongly say their opinion, but absolutely everybody else

uh oh

it seems to me that the only reason to make a movie is because it’s something that’s never been made before and is really part of your feelings about life and that therefore it should be something that you should finance as well as make, because that’s the only way that you can have the same rights that a painter has when he paints a picture or a poet has when he writes a poem or to a large extent a novelist has when he writes a novel.

Not necessarily disheartening, just true. “No amount of money is enough to pay you to direct a movie,” says Scorsese, meaning there has to be creative satisfaction otherwise it’s just WOES. On the other hand, following Coppola’s ideas means we can only make low-to-no-budget movies, unless we’re fabulously well-to-do like him.

The apotheosis of Sadie Frost. Coppola tells us that the two-year-old she’s carrying was genuinely terrified and it took great effort to calm her enough to even get her on the set, She was scared of the fangs. Yet Coppola shows no inclination to go look her up and give her a present, which he was so keen to do with the baby Gary Dracula brings to his wives.

Fiona says that Sadie’s ferocious vamp act (she’s the one cast member who really paid attention during Uncle Frannie’s trip to the zoo, and the reverse-motion is fantastic, the costume is divoon), “It’s her best scene in anything, ever, the best scene in this movie, and one of the best scenes in any Dracula movie.”

“If Sadie Frost had done all her movies backwards, she would be bigger than Garbo,” I declare.

“No she wouldn’t,” reasons Fiona.

If everybody in this film gets a bit where you sort of cringe in embarrassment for the actor, which I submit is true, then this is Cary Elwes’ bit. He’s just so happy to see Lucy so ALIVE and WELL and HERSELF AGAIN…


Sadie opening her eyes and getting up, rendered backwards as Sadie lying down and closing her eyes (with frock wranglers tugging her dress about on invisible wires) is a stunning uncanny moment, almost ruined by the gratuitous EXORCIST knock-off blood puke, and then the cut from her decapitated head (shouldn’t that really be decorporated head?) to the Sunday joint being carved. The first is a bad idea because it’s just meaningless grossness — in THE EXORCIST that was the point: demons seek to remind us of our base physicality. And vampires treasure blood, so why is she barfing it all over Tony Hopkins? The meat shot is beneath contempt. True, trashing Sadie Frost has long been a popular British pastime, but we’re supposed to like her character and feel sad she’s dead.

Winona Ryder was really thrilled with the cast […] In a way it was her idea, she’s the one who gave me the script and I was very attentive to her wishes. But she had a friend, Keanu, just a friend, who she liked very much and thought was a very nice person and I did too, so we cast Keanu in the role.

The dinner ladies at my college are very nice people, if you’re ever casting something, Mr. Coppola.


We’re just coming up to Keanu’s best bit. The line “I know where the bastard sleeps,” can be said to justify his whole miscast, ridiculously well-intentioned and serious performance. It’s not good for the film, but it’s a wonderful moment of wrongness. The way he rises a few millimetres in his seat and sort of wiggles on his arse, like his English accent is finally taking over his entire body. A marvel.

Just before that, Winona does a great, complicated, funny, sweet bit, where Keanu has to say that he DID NOT drink the blood of those women, and Winona looks ashamed for him, proud of him, relieved, tender and embarrassed in quick succession. It’s a masterclass in Advanced Winona.

As the surviving cast light their torches and pull up their tights for an excursion to scenic Carfax Abbey, Coppola tells us that he had originally planned to direct MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN also but got to asking himself ~

what am I wasting my time for? I should be reading books or something and of course turned over that project to Kenneth Bra-nag.

He did suggest Bra-nag should cut the first twenty minutes of the movie and get to the creation faster, not a terrible thought in principle. We’re not told if he did actually read some books.

Coppola still insists that when this movie is shown on cable, they cut Tom Waits’ entire performance, something that makes no sense to me. He’s the best-cast actor in it (and we have to give Uncle Francis credit for that).

It’s not because of anything other than to make it fit into their time schedule.

Couldn’t they have cut some of the useless Winona & Sadie blather scenes?

Dracula as green fog slipping into Winona’s bedsheets is an in-camera effect via Roman Coppola, we’re told, which is why it doesn’t feel like CGI. Double exposures and reverse-action. But having him waft out of the covers like a Dayglo queef was probably a bad idea.

If you goof it up and it doesn’t work and you’ve already developed it, you’re sort of dead.

Like Dracula, who outs himself as a walking corpse to his lover. “Winona’s pretty good in this scene,” says Fiona. But, as so often in this movie, the best bits of her perf are right next to the worst, so we get the line “Take me away from all this… DEATH!” which is her version of knowing where the bastard sleeps. The way she curls her lips in distaste on the D word. Promoting the film, Winona listed the exciting elements of the Dracula story and when she got to “erotic” she did a little involuntary lip-curl which was very cute.

Winona later said that doing the press interviews to promote BSD was the greatest acting challenge of her life.

I think if I was going to shoot a big elaborate sexy scene involving so-called sexual activity I would hire a fight co-ordinator to do it

And his reasoning is actually really sound.

Everybody seems to have decided that Winona’s non-Victorian VPL is in no way a problem.

The foam rubber nipple of Gary Oldman! Where is it today, I wonder? Melted down to make Winston Churchill’s jowls, probably. A shame, I’d like to make a Frankensteinian assemblage using Nicole Kidman’s false nose from THE HOURS and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s prosthetic vulva from ANTICHRIST (you can glue the clitoris back on, it’ll be good as new) and so on. The Oldman teat would be a valuable addition.

I think it was Orson Welles who said the two most difficult or convincing things to show in a movie are people praying or people making love.

He probably didn’t say it in quite those words. And I haven’t heard it before. But I’m willing to sort-of trust Uncle Francis here.

“Keanu’s hair suddenly looks like Widow Twanky’s!” Or maybe the farmer’s wife in the painting American Gothic. It’s back to “normal” in the next scene but here it’s all bushy and centre-parted, a literal fright wig. Maybe it’s turning into Vlad’s bum-head hair.

When my Japanese friend Kiyo saw this scene, with Oldman in his batsuit, he said, “But he hasn’t got a pennis.” The slight mispronunciation made it very funny at the time, and we quote the line almost as much as his “But he’s obviously strange.” The two arguments might go together, supporting one another.

I remember this now also… I really blew my top once in rehearsal, because we’re trynna stage this scene and I’m saying, “OK, you’re in the wolf suit but like you’re not in the wolf suit because we don’t have the wolf suit, but you get up on the bed and of course they’re all frightened because you look like a bat, or whatever it is you look like,” and he starts to get very, you know, he’s a very good actor and a very intelligent person, but he started saying to me in this very early stage of rehearsal, “How can I go up on this bed and be this weird creature when I’m not IN the weird creature suit?”

“Just pretend! You’re an actor!” says Fiona.

And I said, “Well just pretend you are!”

“I’m in agreement with Uncle Francis.”

And he started to get really, “How can I do it blah blah blah” and I just lost my cool and kicked the chair across the room

“The cat knows how to get mad.” – Gregory Hines on Francis Ford Coppola, referring to a hole Uncle F once kicked in a door, as high as his head.

and I left and said “Forget it, goodbye,” and left the rehearsal.

My memory — and I can’t remember if I’m correct for sure and if I got this from Coppola’s diary in Projections or some other source — is that the bat costume was devised to ANSWER Oldman’s question, “How can I dominate this group of people who ought to just rush in and beat the shit out of me?” But the answer, really, should be, you’re Dracula. Toshiro Mifune could just stand there and everybody else could look scared to go near him. Christopher Lee or Robert Ryan or Danny DeVito could do it. But those are super-confident screen dominating presences, and kind of tough guys. Oldman has presence, but maybe not the same physical confidence, which may mean he’s miscast… which I’ve been suspecting all along.

Super-hilariously, while the Dread Pirate Roberts has a duelling pistol and the Rocketeer his Bowie knife, Withnail, being a psychiatrist, is brandishing a steaming test tube. I really really want to know what’s supposed to be in it. Richard E Grant is acting like it smells really bad. I would guess garlic, but it’s red and glowing.

This *might* be the scene where Coppola yelled “You whore!” at Winona, to “help” her with her character. Or that might be later. But it definitely happened. The kind of thing a director COULD perhaps get away with, if it were done purely for motivational purposes, but as is apparent from this commentary, Coppola doesn’t really like Winona very much. Which makes me sad. How can you not love Winona, Uncle Francis? She has such cute ears.

“Oh, I’d forgotten about that, that’s GREAT” — Gary just turned into “a man-shaped pile of rats.” It’s not a talent everyone has. It’s such a brilliant coup de cinema — he backs into the shadows so only his eyes are visible, glowing like a WB cartoon character when the lights go out, then the illuminate him, and he’s made of rats, a sort of rat king gestalt figure, which then collapses to the floor as individual constituent rats — I wish he WASN’T a bat because that’s over-egging it. From human to rats is much stronger. There’s TOO MUCH good stuff in this film and of course also too much BAD STUFF. Just TOO MUCH STUFF. But God love ’em.

“Of course, if I were doing it, or Tex Avery were doing it,” says a cartoonist friend, “all the rats would have Gary Oldman’s face.”

The rats flee the room. All of them. To think, if Withnail or the Rocketeer or the Dread Pirate Roberts had managed to stamp on just one of them, Dracula would have ended up reconstituting himself without a knee, or a chin, or something.

Coppola does a really bad Jack Nicholson impression, which is something I never knew about him.

what Gary was telling me was that my attempt to stage this in rehearsal was futile because he wasn’t in his rat suit, and I was saying, “We know it’s going to be something interesting and horrendous, so let’s just work it out for the movement.”

I love how it’s morphing from bat to wolf to rat in Uncle Francis’s lively mind. I mean,Dracula keeps changing, but not as much as Francis’s mind. Sometimes he just says “beast,” and is correct.




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.

Warren Beatty’s biscuits

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2016 by dcairns


Warren Beatty’s biscuits are brought to you by MICKEY ONE, successfully bringing you Warren Beatty’s biscuits since 1965.

It’s a fascinating piece. The opening sequence, which unfold like a really great fashion spread of the sixties, only with moving parts, had me convinced this was going to be great before the director credit. And then I got progressively less convinced, but still impressed.

Mickey One titles from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Arthur Penn, fabulously squandering the goodwill generated by THE MIRACLE WORKER, goes all out to create an American art film, which is not a form native to America. I think the ultimate cargo cult art film may be Frankenheimer’s STORY OF A LOVE STORY, which dutifully assembles a bunch of talents with impeccable arthouse credentials and then sits back, well pleased with itself, while the already-sparse audience shuffle out. Penn likewise has a leading lady and a cinematographer with nouvelle vague references, and an actor from THE SEVEN SAMURAI (I was thinking I know that guy for the longest time, simply assuming he was Japanese-American, but NO, they imported him), but to his credit his film is also 100% American, with a particularly strong sense of time and place.


The very young Warren Beatty plays a stand-up comedian on the run from the mob — in the third act he reverses his course and tries running TO the mob, which is the main bit of plot development. There’s intriguing support from Franchot Tone (looking like he’s been in another fight), Hurd Hatfield and Jeff Corey. Alexandra Stewart is the Cahiers-approved leading lady.


On the minus side, Beatty’s material isn’t funny, and he isn’t funny doing it; the plot is paper-thin but not really meant to be otherwise; the film wants to be Felliniesque but only Fellini could pull that one off (is there any other great filmmaker whose influence on US film was so overwhelmingly negative? Fellini has an especial appeal for filmmakers who don’t want to do the work of telling a proper story — I think it’s significant that just as Picasso knew how to draw a credible realistic human figure, Fellini was a master storyteller who moved beyond storytelling); the attempts to do quirky, ludic filmmaking with undercranking and stuff are mainly a bit embarrassing.

On the plus side, fabulous imagery is thrown up all the time, working best when it arises naturally from the settings rather than being some kind of surreal conceit. And the movie has the most glorious dissolves: scenes melt into one another, frequently resulting in Beatty sharing the screen with himself (which I’m sure he loves). One time, driving a car, Beatty turns his head as if reacting to something, and a second landscape bleeds through in just the spot he’s looking at, followed by a second Beatty, peering uncertainly from the back of the first one’s head. The brilliant editor was Aram Avakian, later a fine director.


Two Beattys #1: ethereal foreground Warren looks at background Warren seemingly walking through fire.


Two Beattys #2: Warren 2 looks out the back of Warren 1’s head.

(In his autohagiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans says he fired Avakian from THE GODFATHER for manoeuvring against Coppola, trying to steal his job. It may be true, But Avakian had worked with Coppola before [YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW], was Coppola’s guy. Evans, on the other hand, was manoeuvring against Coppola (it’s kind of what some producers see their job as — stop the film from being too individual a creative expression) and I suspect him of simply trying to weaken Coppola’s band of followers. He couldn’t easily fire the cinematographer, but editors are easy to snip out of the picture, privately.)

More acting with himself: it’s kind of hilarious the number of scenes Beatty plays with other actors who won’t talk to him. Little Kamitari Fujiwara never speaks at all, and Tone and Hatfield and the rest spend long scenes just staring balefully and refusing to answer Warren’s impassioned questions. “Why does nobody want to talk to Warren?” I asked.


The ending is a would-be Fellini trope that rather irked me, but there’s a bit where Beatty tries to perform his act in the spotlight’s glare with the strong sense that he’s about to be killed — he performs to the light, as if meeting his maker, and it does achieve the existentialism the film is clutching for. The trouble is, it happens TWICE, at roughly the two-thirds mark and at the end, which rather dilutes the effect. But I could see the potential — Micky’s Kafkaesque contract, which may or not exist, makes him a man under obscure sentence of death, like the whole human race. Pompous and self-serious, maybe, but evocative, especially in black and white.