Archive for The Idiots

Benshi in my Ear

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2014 by dcairns

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The sensation of having an Italian lady piped into my ear while I watch a film was entirely unknown to me a week ago. Now it’s second nature. I’m slightly discomfited when she’s NOT there. I would welcome her ministrations even when watching a film in English (OKLAHOMA! on the big screen — digitally restored — the only  50 30 fps DCP in the world? – yum! But surely an Italianate female voice repeating the lyrics after Duncan Gordon McRae would enhance it).

We nearly had a simultaneous audio translation in Cannes once, but arrived at the gala moments too late, had to wait for the cast and crew to pose for snaps on the steps, then got let in after the movie had started. A tinny voice could dimly be heard from the arm of my chair, but I had no technical means to connect the arm of my chair to my head. So THE IDIOTS was experienced untranslated, and seemed quite enjoyable. It wasn’t until I saw it with subtitles that I realised I hated it.

My first visit from the ear-fairy was with THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (aka LES MYSTERES DE NEW YORK, an even better title). They ran two episodes that had been preserved in Belgium, with French and Dutch intertitles. I came to imagine Pearl White, the star, as a hesitant Italian, and enjoyed the improvisatory nature of her performance. Directed George Seitz and Louis Gasnier (see elsewhere on Shadowplay) for Pathe a hundred years ago, this follow-up to THE PERILS OF PAULINE was great entertainment. The whole serial survives, but in hideous dupes from 28mm, so this was a unique event — even Kevin Brownlow had never seen it look like this. (A bit chipped off as it passed through the projector, and for a full minute stayed stuck to the image, a fragment of celluloid, sprocket-holes and all, pasted over the action. Never seen that before.) Yes, I introduced myself to Kevin Brownlow, who pronounced NATAN “terrific.” My chest swelled as if an alien was trying to get out.

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“You are responsible for my becoming a filmmaker.”

“You must be broke.”

“I am!”

“Join the club!”

The screening was also significant for me because THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE is one of the few films left illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Regular readers will be aware of my quest to see every film depicted in that tome, a quest entitled See Reptilicus and Die. I saw REPTILICUS, I didn’t die, and now I only have a few left.

Mr. Brownlow pointed out that a very young Creighton Hale appears in THE E OF E. I told him that Professor Joseph Slade, one of the antagonists in our film NATAN, wrote me that he believes, not only that Bernard Natan had sex with a duck onscreen, but, along with Kenneth Anger, that Creighton Hale had sex with a goat in a twenties porno, a rumour systematically discredited here.

KB: “You know someone asked Kenneth Anger how he did his research, and he replied, ‘Mental telepathy, mainly.'”

Denis Gifford’s book reproduces an image of a Jekyll-Hyde transformation. The episodes we saw included The Vampire, in which masked, hunchbacked villain The Clutching Hand attempts to drain Elaine of blood to transfuse into one of his accomplices. Though Elaine spent most of her time unconscious and getting rescued, she did start that episode by plugging said accomplice three times as he appeared at her bedroom window (the program notes observed that many of the serial’s dramatic situations implied some thinly-veiled sexual threat, and that the films were particularly successful with female audiences — back when thiny v’d sexual t. was just about the only kind of acceptable sex). The other episode had Elaine revived from a death-like trance (accompanist Stephen Horne switched to accordion to suggest lung-wheeze). All these jumbled horror elements (see poster above) suggest the serial was the Penny Dreadful of its day — but of course John Logan’s series and Seitz/Gasnier’s serial both take nineteenth-century sensational literature as their starting point.

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World’s Worst

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2009 by dcairns

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I joined Twitter 11 months ago, and thought it was time I actually did something there, so I asked everybody for their worst cinema experiences, figuring I could compile that into a simple blog post quickly, and it might be amusing. Then I put the same request on Facebook, so I could test which is better.

Facebook wins!

Via Twitter, regular Shadowplayer and cartoonist Douglas Noble writes,“Dundonian EXORCIST audience, no heating, film snaps, advice yelled to screen, stair-fall exodus. I think I’ve mentioned it before.” I picture the audience’s breath misting in the projector beam.

Whereas, touchingly, Elver Loho, one of the very first Shadowplayers EVER, Twittered back, “Worst cinema experience? Don’t think I’ve ever had a truly bad one.” If that’s true I’m moving to Estonia.

Now, the FaceBook landslide.

Mandy Lee, inventor of the Human Swastika, chimed in with the following lament: “THE CRUCIBLE in a multiplex. About halfway through, the film went on fire and started bubbling and melting on the screen – it was creepy and at first no-one really knew if it was a special effect or not, then we got evacuated. Sort of fitting though, bearing in mind the subject matter.” I’m picturing Philippe Noiret ablaze in the projection booth. I’ve seen that happen with THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY at Edinburgh University Film Society. Slightly alarming.

Musician Daniel Prendeville: “A Saturday night sitting behind Paddy Twomey in the Astor Cinema, trying to watch THE LAST WALTZ, while the sleeping Paddy, all 6’5” of him, shifted in his seat, obscuring my view for the entire film.

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Baris Azman: “One was with THE STRAIGHT STORY, which I saw in an arthouse theatre, where there were tons of old ladies in the theatre. Two behind me and my friends literally commented on almost every thing that happened during the film. “Oh my what happened?”, “Oh my, the lawnmower broke down. Oh my, he’s getting off. Oh my, there’s a truck …  coming.” And on and on and on, ’till I finally turned around and asked them to be quiet, we can all SEE what is happening. They then proceeded to call me “rude”.

The other one was where PULP FICTION was screened in a theatre in 2005, finally I was able to watch it on the big screen, finally after all those years. I’m enjoying the hell out of myself ’till there is a reel change somewhere around the scene where they have to clean up the mess they made with Marvin and what happens… the next reel us not only upside down, but in reverse. The projectionist had spliced one of the reels backwards.

We got our money back, but it screened only once.”

Michal Oleszczyk: “A very recent screening of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, with a group of teenage girls giggling at each Craig’s line (I’m still wondering what dirty double entendres did they get that missed me).” Sounds like an enhanced experience to me.

Filmmaker Timo Langer sympathises: “I have a simular one to Michal…Watched RUN LOLA RUN in Germany next to a guy which commented almost every exciting scene if not cut with the word “Phat”…the cool word at the time as I remember.”

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Celebrity guest Lara Belmont, star of Tim Roth’s THE WAR ZONE, volunteers: “THE THIN RED LINE, you know you’re in trouble when the nature shots are the only reason to stay, and even they end up driving you out of the cinema.”As a devout Malickite, I can’t agree, but I can understand. There are a lot of leaves in that film, and some of them have more screen time than George Clooney. 

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Regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider: “Well, there was always the midnight screening of David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS where the crowd was beery and numskulled and, when a face came onscreen who vaguely resembled Henry Kissinger, a male voice called out “Looks like a Jew!” … causing me to think “That’s my cue to leave.”” The Kissingeralike would be Joe Silver, also seen in RHINOCEROS, I think.

Brilliantly, filmmaker May Miles Thomas had an unpleasant run-in with the same film: “Years ago I went with my boyfriend to see SHIVERS at the Lyceum, Govan. Unfortunately boyfriend arrived stoned. Ten minutes in, he excused himself and never returned. I was about to leave when the usherette (50s, bespectacled) came up to me in a panic. I ran to the foyer and found boyfriend with his head embedded in a plasterboard wall. ‘Too scary for him’, opined the usherette. He claimed to have fainted on the way to the toilets.” Why this movie? Is there something strange about SHIVERS? Surely not.

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Brian Robinson: “AMERICAN PSYCHO – “Hee hee hee”, said the apparently disabled (but not physically so) man to my immediate right as Christian Bale slapped around two prostitutes during a bout of rough sex. And then his hand slipped into his trousers and I frantically searched for a way to get away without actually passing him. “Hee hee hee”.” Brrr.

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Two from Mary Gordon: “Watching KUNDUN at the Lumiere with the house lights up and remonstrating with the museum staff that Mr Scorsese mde it to be seen in the dark; watching an EIFF documentary, Armenian, no dialogue and someone behind me with a runing commentary with what was happening on screen (came close to being banged up in Cornton Vale that day).”

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Shadowplay informant Danny Carr: “Watching THE WIZARD OF OZ while a friend snogged my ex-girlfriend a row behind me. The film was tainted for years to come!” Ouch.

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Harriet Hunter: “Going to see WOLF CREEK and speding most of it trying to hide under the seat and wispering ‘I can’t watch this,I can’t watch this’,yet still watching It with one eye closed…not a great experience for the friend I was with.” Still, I’d say that was appropriate behaviour at a horror movie. Extreme, but appropriate.

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My producer, Nigel Smith: “My first cinema experience was part of a schoolfriend’s birthday party. What sort of parents would take a bunch of excitable six year olds to see Tommy Steele in HALF A SIXPENCE? That’s tantamount to abuse.” It is pretty bad, I remember that film. It’s quite hard to take on TV. On the big screen it would be like getting your brain opened with a Mantle retractor.

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But Mary suggests something worse: “Easy — WATERSHIP DOWN: I spent years after that checking for Nazi rabbits under my bed…”

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Filmmaker Johannes Roberts: “A teenage audience laughing everytime John Carpenter cut to a close up of a sweaty close up of the fat Baldwin culminating in a prolonged groan for his close up kiss with Sheryl Lee, in VAMPIRES.” I don’t know, that sounds like an enhancement.

Also debatable, Chris B’s use of refreshments: “Ahoy, I went to see ELOGE DE L’AMOUR at the cinema back in 2001/2002, a film that had falsely been advertised as a romantic comedy in the Julia Roberts vein (only, avec subtitles). The first odd occurrence in this rather yuppy district was a young man called his mother before the film began (which is ok) to tell her that he was watching a Godard film; clearly he felt some kind of superiority in this triumphant choice of screening and had to call his mum to join in on the celebration.

The film began and the audience, allowing it some leeway despite not being prepared for the film they expected, became a little restless; the guy sat behind me even said to his complaining girlfriend that “this is interesting, let’s give it some more time”, but she was having none of that and, maybe being a French film’n’all, must’ve felt that in order to “fill the void” that the film was leaving, became horny and began the process of fellatio. I must say, I was fairly familiar with ELOGE having owned and rewatched the DVD countless times prior to the 35mm announcement; so, and despite Godard’s eclectic and whimsical play with soundtrack, I knew that the wet slapping sound emerging from behind me was not part of the Dolby Digital output. This continued for some time until oral did not suffice and a move to full-on penetration would be the order of the day, albeit discretely(?). Well, as much as I enjoy people enjoying themselves, they were encroaching upon MY cinema experience and something had to be done. I waited until the first credit appeared (the film plays out until the very end); exited the room to buy a couple of large Cokes (with ice, please); returned; and threw my purchases all over the couple who were in no position to begin pursuit of the perpetrator! Was this a bad movie experience? I’m not sure thinking about it.”

As for me, I recall being physically threatened by an oddly aggressive stoner sitting behind me at a screening of BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS, which didn’t seem so funny, and there was a very weird screening of THE IDIOTS at Cannes where Fiona and I found ourselves crawling along some kind of balustrade to get to our seats (the festival had kept us waiting outside until the film started), not quite a science fiction film AIR VENT, but close, and then when we reached our seats we could dimly hear the simultaneous English translation whispering from the armrests, but couldn’t find any way to ACCESS it, so ended up watching the film in Danish with French subs, which actually improved it. If you can understand what they’re saying, that sure isn’t a very good movie.

I think the John Cleese movie CLOCKWISE was the worst, though. It just seemed like the death of everything precious in cinema.

This, of course, is your cue to offer up YOUR experiences.

The Williams Boy

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2008 by dcairns

 Robin Williams Syndrome

Lots of people have been reading the post “Roddy, Prince of Darkness,” apparently looking for information on Williams Syndrome. I feel kind of bad about this, because that post was just me venting some stress after our slightly horrific Christmas experience with my partner’s brother, an adult with this non-inheritable genetic condition. I also didn’t want to have to explain the story to everybody who asked “How was your Christmas?” so being able to say “Read the full story here,” seemed a good solution.

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But that particular tale is maybe not going to be that amusing for anyone with a Williams kid looking for insight and encouragement and hope, so now that the trauma has faded a bit I thought I’d try to write something more upbeat.

Fiona just got back from an emergency meeting called to try and tackle Roddy’s weight problem and phobias, and they seem to have put together a sensible plan, which involves Roddy going out to buy food with one of his care-workers every day. This provides a little exercise and fresh air, hopefully controls the amount of food brought into the house, and allows Roddy to get used to spending time outside, so his anxiety about falling over will be reduced. We’ve seen how his ability to handle stairs improves markedly within just a few days if he’s staying with us, so it could be that this new regime will produce positive results quickly.

So things are a bit better than they were. Like many people with learning difficulties, and many without, Roddy isn’t the most disciplined character, so he really needs encouragement to do what’s best under these circumstances. His natural instinct would be to glue his ass to the couch and hook three litres of full-fat milk to an I.V. So there’s a balance to be struck between treating him as the adult he is, and making sure he takes care of himself. I don’t know quite where one should draw the line, myself.

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But, MY MESSAGE OF HOPE: Williams Syndrome is a complex thing, and the way it manifests itself seems to vary. People with W.S. may share certain passions, phobias, skills, but they’re full of surprises. They are people just like anybody else. Part of the condition seems to often involve an outgoing, sociable nature (even when he’s trying his best not to leave the house, Roddy is chatty and charming with anybody who comes IN), so my advice would be to enjoy the person, appreciate them for the good company they are, and gently steer them to make the best of themselves (Williams folks may need to be encouraged not to hog the conversation or to interrupt others with their own little obsessions, but it’s fairly easy for them to learn this).

A Williams person will grow into adulthood, while retaining certain childhood traits. It’s unlikely they’ll “grow out of” their childhood enthusiasms (in this, they resemble a lot of film-makers). One of Roddy’s school report cards details an incident when he went missing, and was found in a field, looking at a tractor — his love of heavy machinery is as strong today. But he’s a grown man, even if some of his emotions are childlike (maybe ALL emotions are, and it’s just experience that allows us to focus them in “adult” ways?), and his literacy level is well below his verbal functioning.

The rules of thumb with Roddy is that he can do a lot of things for himself, but he needs a bit of supervision. It’s good to encourage him to widen his abilities and do all he can do, as long as you keep an eye on him. Once he’s learned the right way to do something, he’ll need a refresher course once in a while because he’ll let things slide, whether it’s personal hygiene or tucking his shirt in or getting a reasonable amount of exercise.

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Williams people don’t score too well at reading others, which makes them terrible liars. Roddy will try to avoid trouble by the tried and true method of DENY-DENY-DENY, but he’s not good at judging whether his account is at all credible. “Somebody’s spilled Coke,” he explained, when I came in the door one time. A bottle of cola, previously sealed, was now open. Some was splashed on the floor. The front of Roddy’s jumper was wet. He likes Coca Cola to an excessive degree. He was alone in the house.

“Was it you?” I asked.

“No.”

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It’s uncertain what Roddy’s future will be: he’s overweight and he has a dodgy heart, and there are other complications which can beset Williams sufferers. There has already been a bit of a drop-off in his functioning. But he’s still happy, he enjoys what he sees as a good quality of life. How anybody else might judge it doesn’t matter to him, and why should it? He’s made it to his late forties. He’s held down a part-time job for some of that time, and the U.K. system of “care in the community”, which has had some terrible failures when looking after the mentally ill, has been pretty successful with people with learning difficulties. Roddy enjoys a degree of independence that his parents would probably never have believed possible.

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Since this is supposedly a movie blog, a quick word about mental handicap in cinema: this is one of those things that movies nearly always get wrong. Lars Von Trier, in THE KINGDOM and to some extent THE IDIOTS, seems to believe people with Downs Syndrome are “gifted with innocence,” or are “holy fools,” a belief system that went out of style around 1500 AD. Sam Peckinpah carries on the “village idiot” approach with David Warner’s character in STRAW DOGS, whose “simple-mindedness” is all plot device and no diagnosis. Jaco Van Dormael’s THE EIGHTH DAY, much-praised for its “sensitivity,” is in fact a sinisterly sentimental tissue of lies with a eugenically-inspired ending where the Downs character thoughtfully takes himself out of the gene pool by rooftop suicide, and everybody sings a sweet song. It’s not “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead,” but it might as well be. The filmmaker, who has a sibling with Downs, is obviously struggling with some hostile feelings he is completely unable to analyse, and so they wind up expressed in a false and offensive way. Which makes the film a failure as a piece of art.

I think it’s pretty bad when the best handling of the subject comes from the Farelly Brothers, who at least recognise people will all kinds of handicaps as PEOPLE, and therefore suitable material for comedy — I don’t think they’re poking fun, they’re just having fun. But their decision to cast a “regular” actor as Mary’s learning-disabled brother in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY may one day look like the casting of blackface whites in earlier Hollywood films, since THE EIGHTH DAY did at least show that people with chromosomal disorders can still be good actors.