Archive for The Guardian

Co Inky Dink 2: The Zeno-Porthos Paradox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2022 by dcairns

So, on Monday I read an article in The Guardian in which actor Rory Kinnear talks about his father Roy’s tragic death on the set of RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS and the need for more careful control of stunts and/or health and safety risks on film sets generally.

As I always tell my students, when making films we always find ourselves doing silly things nobody would normally do, under pressure of time and money. The time pressure means people don’t think enough about what could go wrong and how to reduce danger. The money pressure means people are tempted to take chances, trusting the odds.

The information Kinnear fils provides is disturbing: his father had been terrified of riding a horse at full gallop over a stony bridge. A stuntman wasn’t engaged to double him. In spite of the fact that he was a poor horseman and in the original THE THREE MUSKETEERS he collided with a tree while trying to ride past it.

I’d heard Lester on the radio in 1983, discussing that scene, before Kinnear’s death made it unfit for joking. “I overheard Roy, shortly before he was to ride his horse into a tree, joking that ‘Dick always has me in his films. I don’t know why: I’ve never done anything to him.'”

But in another interview I read later, Lester spoke of his in-the-moment horror when Kinnear hit the tree, implying that it wasn’t planned in any way.

It’s in the film. I found it hilarious and amazing and wondered how on earth they achieved it safely. It’s not so funny now.

In RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS part of the bridge ride is also in the film, but it cuts before the accident. You can’t even tell it’s Kinnear on the horse, but presumably Lester would have covered the scene in his usual multicamera way and there’d have been telephoto closeups of the horsemen, so that’s why he felt he needed Kinnear in the saddle, not a stunt double.

With the blackest of irony, to finish the film (the accident happened halfway through the shoot) Lester was forced to double Kinnear extensively, as well as getting a mimic in to impersonate him for dubbing, grim tricks indeed. Screenwriter George McDonald Fraser reports rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work, problem-solving the issue of the suddenly-unavailable actor, a task like any other. But Lester and everyone else report it cast a pall over the filming. “I’ve blanked it.”

But oh yes, the coincidence. The same day I read The Guardian‘s article I screened VIVRE SA VIE for students. Unlike the other films I’ve shown, this was one I hadn’t actually seen. I knew it’d be good and would provide a strong sense of the nouvelle vague‘s 60s innovations. And I had the Criterion Blu-ray, collected from their closet in New York. And I could talk about meeting Anna Karina at Bologna Airport.

Near the end of Godard’s episodic film (which is great), Karina’s Nana Kleinfrankenheim is lucky enough to meet philosopher Brice Parain in a cafe, and he tells her about the dangers of starting to think late in life without having practiced. He uses the example of Porthos’ death scene from Alexandre Dumas’ Twenty Years After:

The scene is very worth watching. And my psychic ears perked up because RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS is a film of Twenty Years After / Vingt Ans Apres, the book Parain discusses. He recounts how Porthos, retreating from a bomb he’s planted in a cellar, gets lost in thought, wondering how movement is possible, the whole process of one step following another, basically Zeno’s Paradox of Movement. The bomb goes off and the roof caves in.

There are, however, problems.

In my youthful enthusiasm for Lester’s 1973 and 1974 films, I read all of Dumas’ Musketeers series. So I almost immediately realised that Porthos doesn’t die in Twenty Years After (or in RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS). There are a bunch of sequels that come after and he’s in all of them. Depending on how the work is divided, 20YA is followed by three or four more volumes. Everybody dies at the end of The Man in the Iron Mask, which has been adapted far more often than 20YA.

I couldn’t remember how Porthos dies, so I tried to find out online, and came across an account by one Vagn Rønnov-Jessen in The British Medical Journal which describes Porthos collapsing after a strong exertion, and which it calls the first description of vertebrobasilar insufficiency in fiction. Nothing about a bomb in a cellar or Zeno at all. And this is definitely an accurate account of the death scene in the book — The BMJ wouldn’t make a mistake about that, surely.

MAYBE the bomb-and-Zeno incident occurs somewhere, disconnected from Porthos’ death, but I can’t find any description of it — a Google search just brings up Parain’s scene in VIVRE SA VIE. Did Parain or Godard make it up, or did it come from another book and get misremembered as happening to Porthos? Too late to ask them.

Anyway, strange, that. You wait ages for a Vingt Ans Apres reference and then two come along at once, only one of them isn’t.

Gunn Play

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2021 by dcairns

Recap: James Gunn made SUPER, a low-budget superhero comedy with drastic tonal problems, and parlayed that into the surprisingly balanced GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films, which actually work on the level of fun. (The first movie is about saving Planet Israel, which has not been much remarked upon.) Going from a 2.5 million budget to a 200 million budget. Not bad. Then some tweets he’d made much earlier in his life were dug up (he’d made no effort to hide them) and the Marvel people, after some hesitation, kicked him out.

The tweets were pedophilia jokes, and not only that, none of them were funny (“That’s even worse news,” to quote Norm MacDonald). One of the Twitter personae weighing in against Gunn was Matt Gaetz. When it was pointed out that these tweets were intended as jokes rather than as documentary accounts of Gunn’s day-to-day activities, Gaetz said something like, “But how do we know he’s not just using that as a smokescreen?” I toyed with the idea if asking him whether his own condemnation of the mirthless tweets might be a similar smokescreen, which would have made me fucking Nostradamus, but I didn’t do it. Having any kind of contact with Matt Gaetz, however remote? I would sooner sit on Cthulhu’s face.

Gunn was immediately, I mean indecently immediately, snapped up by DC to reboot their Suicide Squad franchise. (My problem is not that he continued to work after making failed jokes, but that any pretense was made that something was being achieved by having him swap studios for one film.) I never saw the first film, SUICIDE SQUAD, but people seem to have mainly liked Margot Robbie in it. Seems reasonable. Gunn’s film is called THE SUICIDE SQUAD, the use of a definite article to distinguish comic book adaptations having been rolled out by WOLVERINE and THE WOLVERINE. This strikes me as pathetic and unimaginative, but this is a marketing department we’re talking about, so.

I decided to see THE SUICIDE SQUAD, Fiona decided to come to. I was curious.

The concept of the insanely violent, blackly comic comic-book movie was introduced, I guess, by the KICK-ASS and KINGSMAN films, then went more mainstream with the DEADPOOL films. So naturally The Guardian newspaper has a piece about this being a new development signalling the maturity, and imminent decline, of the genre.

Gunn is returning to his roots, making a tonally unsustainable bloodbath with multiple layers of incoherent irony and odd attempts at pathos. Some of these work surprisingly well. The balance of gore and slapstick and action and fantasy and sweetness is definitely better than in SUPER, but still made me queasy all the way through. The emotional moments are predicated on the criminal heroes (this is basically THE DIRTY DOZEN with superpowers, and none of the Aldrich film’s questionable elements have been resolved in the intervening 54 years) having been damaged by their traumatic childhoods, which is Gunn’s favourite theme (he was sexually abused as a child himself).

The jokes are pretty good. Robbie is no longer the best character, since Harley Quinn seems to be incapable of evolution, and the film has to work hard to prevent her psychopathic character from doing anything unforgivable. Idris Elba is pretty fine, and I’m so glad he’s using his own accent and not playing a stereotyped African-American as in PROMETHEUS. Daniela Melchior is his surrogate daughter. There’s no real reason for them to start the bonding process, but once they do it helps rescue the film from just being a relentless mayhemfest.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not just a DIRTY DOZEN remake. It’s an EXTREME PREJUDICE remake — someone actually says “Terminate with extreme prejudice!” and the “guys on a mission” plot delivers a twist involving the mission’s true purpose which echoes Walter Hill’s Tex-Mex bloodbath. It’s a SUICIDE SQUAD remake — instead of a humanoid crocodile, there’s a humanoid shark. It’s a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY remake — there’s a rodent, a big dumb guy, the aforementioned damaged personalities. Basically, everything Umberto Eco said about CASABLANCA that wasn’t true there, is true here — a bunch of familiar elements have been jumbled together to create a series of nostalgic glows, comforting familiarity, a sense of cultural connectedness. As when you hear a modern pop song and all the chords and lyrics and riffs are recycled, warmly recognizable even if you haven’t heard the originals.

Gunn deserves credit for the grace notes: some Kubrick-KILLING play with chronology, a soundtrack that isn’t just the same old songs (though the “original” score is just the standard set of thumps of w hich I am mightily tired), a reference to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese comics, some good laughs, and a sharp awareness of how Central American countries get eternally shat on by the US. Peter Capaldi gets to say “Unclutch you’re fucking pearls!” when other characters react to his human experiments. Instead of the MCU’s Stan Lee cameos, Lloyd Kaufman is wheeled on, slow-dancing with a hooker. Sylvester Stallone is effective, and we don’t have to look at him because he’s playing an animated shark (the other film is which Stallone works is ANTZ, where he and Woody Allen are the only actors with distinctive voices). This is probably the first time Stallone has been cute. Though he also bites people’s heads off. The lines “Hand,” “Bird,” and “Num-nums,” are the lines he was born to say.

Fans of excruciating violence will find a whole lot to enjoy. It’s almost as exhausting as BRAINDEAD.

I think this kind of thing, or LOGAN’s kind of thing, is destined to remain an occasional subgenre of the world-smashing superhero movie. It’s not going to take over and lead to the downfall of the costumed crimefighter flick. Only the audience demanding more variety from its family-friendly blockbusters can do that.

I’ve never read any Suicide Squad comics but John Ostrander, who rebooted it, also co-wrote, with fellow actor Del Close, the anthology Wasteland, which I admired. And he’s IN Gunn’s film.

When I was a kid, watching westerns on BBC1 Saturday nights, I would frequently get confused when the good guy and bad guy got into a fistfight, and would have to remind myself who was wearing what colour shirt. Same thing happened here.

The final boss villain is a character ripped-off by DC, back in 1960, from the Japanese scifi flick WARNING FROM SPACE. You can buy that on Blu-ray from Arrow, with some liner notes by yours truly.

From Angels to the Angel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on December 15, 2015 by dcairns


Off to London today for costume fittings — some of our lead actors in my new film, THE NORTHLEACH HORROR, will be trying on clothes, and it’s my first chance to meet a couple of them, Raechel McGinn and Freddie Fox. Fitting at Angels, the top cossie shop, and then off to the Angel, Islington, to crash on the couch of an agreeable ex-student. I’ll be back tomorrow around midnight. Maybe I’ll even have seen a movie I can write about.

Yesterday was spent on the set, where we are transforming a big square room in the old Royal High School into a subterranean laboratory in Gloucestershire in 1941. Thanks to amazing favours by location owners, props houses and a talented crew working for between nothing and next-to-nothing, work progressed well, apart from one poor volunteer gluing his thumb to his forefinger. With tragic irony, his attempts to signal the problem resulted only in an “A-OK” gesture.

He’s fine now — a little surgical spirit is the thing, if you ever get into this jam.

You’ll be hearing a lot about this film of mine in the coming weeks/months/years, but rather than bore you with that before we’ve properly started making it, here’s a link to a fabulous article on Bernard Natan, just published in The Guardian by Pamela Hutchinson of Silent London. It makes favourable mention of NATAN, the film Paul Diane and I made on the subject, which is available to order on