Archive for The Island of Dr Moreau

Pg. 17, #17

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2020 by dcairns

Going to the cinema as if it were a lover’s date or a dangerous adventure inside a Stagecoach driven by a hero whom we follow blindly through every metamorphosis.

*

How could a guy enjoy dirty movies with females present? We knew there had to be a catch. There was. This wasn’t an American movie. It was French. That’s why it cost so much. A whole dollar. More than Tempest Storm. Our doubts grew stronger when one of my companions perceptively noted, ‘It says subtitles.’ He made the observation as if he’d discovered a dubious clause in the small print of a contract. ‘That means they put all the talking in words at the bottom of the screen.’

*

A silent film without music — he could have found no better way of describing the weird world in which he now moved. He looked at passing objects and people, but they had no colour, vivacity, meaning — he was mentally deaf to them. They moved like automatons, without volition of their own. He could hear what they said, he could understand their words, he could answer them, even; but he did this automatically, without having to think of what they had said or of what he was saying in return. Therefore, when they spoke it was as though they had not spoken, as though they had moved their lips but remained silent. They had no valid existence; they were not creatures experiencing pleasure or pain. There was, in fact, no sensation, no pleasure or pain at all in this world; there was only himself — his dreary, numbed, dead self.

*

What did he want with the beasts? Why, too, had he pretended they were not his when I had remarked about them at first? Then again, in his personal attendant there was a bizarre quality that impressed me profoundly. These circumstances threw a haze of mystery around the man. They laid hold of my imagination and hampered my tongue.

*

He brought back a male orangutan named Tarzan to serve as the sperm donor. He also revised his plan, deciding to seek out female volunteers. Remarkably, he got a few. One woman cheerily wrote to him that she was willing to surrender her body to science because, “I don’t see any sense in my further existence.” Once again, though, fortune did not favor Ivanov. Tarzan died of a brain hemorrhage in 1929 before the experiment could start, leaving Ivanov apeless. The next year Ivanov was swept up in one of Stalin’s political purges and shipped off to a prison camp. He was released two years later, but died soon thereafter. This, as far as we know, brought an end to his research programme.

*

Soon psychopathology replaced ethnicity as the critical demographic determinant. There were no longer Italian neighborhoods, or Cuban neighborhoods, or Irish of Greek neighborhoods. There were Anorexic neighborhoods, and Narcissistic neighborhoods, and Manic and Compulsive neighborhoods. There was no longer a Columbus Day parade or a Puerto Rico Day parade; there was an Agoraphobics Day parade. Fifth Avenue lined with police barricades, traffic diverted. But, of course, the designated route was empty, utterly desolate, because the paraders, the spectators, even the Grand Marshall himself — agoraphobics each and every one — had all stayed away, each locked within the “safety” of his or her own home.

*

One reason for psychoanalyzing Hitler was to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Stanley Lovell seized upon one of Langer’s ideas — that Hitler might have feminine tendencies — and got permission from the OSS hierarchy to see whether he could push the Führer over the gender line. “The hope was that his moustache would fall off and his voice become soprano,” Lovell wrote. Lovell used OSS’s network to try to slip female sex hormones into Hitler’s food, but nothing apparently came of it. Nor was there ever any payoff to other Lovell schemes to blind Hitler permanently with mustard gas or to use a drug to exacerbate his suspected epilepsy. They main problem in these operations — all of which were tried — was to get Hitler to take the medicine. Failure of the delivery schemes also kept Hitler alive — OSS was simultaneously trying to poison him.

*

The final seven passages from seven page seventeens in seven books, reached down from quite high on my shelving.

Bertolucci by Bertolucci, by Donald Ranvaud & Enzo Ungari (whose authorship kinda makes a liar of their title); Flicker, by Theodore Roszak; Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton; The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells; Elephants on Acid and other Bizarre Experiments, by Alex Boese;  My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, by Mark Leyner; The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control, by John Marks.

The Animal Kingdom

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2017 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h34m55s114Finally caught up with Kent Jones’ HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT which is excellent, as you’d expect. I probably suffer a bit from overfamiliarity with the subject, but there were still new things to notice, and Fiona threw at me a hitherto unknown fact too — “Mrs. Bates,” upon ripping open the shower curtain, is in blackface, since it was the only way to make the silhouette dark enough. A blackface Mrs. Bates is an even more terrifying thought!

(At this point, Fiona looks over my shoulder as I’m typing and says, “You’d better check. I *think* that’s correct.”)vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h35m16s708We also saw LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, a documentary by David Gregory which paints a sympathetic, even-handed portrait of the eccentric Brit’s attempt to make an extreme but faithful-to-the-spirit adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. Famously, Stanley was fired by New Line after just a couple of days’ shooting, and John Frankenheimer finished the film in typically combative style, wrangling Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer and pissing off everyone else.

The best-known stories are all present and correct, though weirdly there’s no mention of David Thewlis and how he came to replace Rob Morrow in the lead, though we hear all about the near-miss involvement of Bruce Willis and James Woods. Thewlis doesn’t take part, though he’s spoken about the film in the past (“I just hated, hated, hated the director,” he said, meaning JF nor RS, who he probably never even got to meet). Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider and various Aussie cast and crew make very affable guides to the madness, along with the now quite phlegmatic Stanley. Fiona went on a night out with friends once which included Stanley, who she thought was a very nice chap, and one can’t escape the feeling that he was rather shat on by this production.

My trouble is I like the resulting farrago a lot more than I like any version of Stanley’s HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL, which have nice things in them but also truly terrible things in them which seem wired deeply into the sensibility behind them. So I’m not sure I’d have preferred his version of MOREAU, even though it sounds like it had some really nifty ideas.

The MOREAU we have lacks key elements like the House of Pain, but it does have —

The Smallest Man in the World playing a tiny grand piano (can something be tiny and grand at the same time? Well, the SMITW can…) on top of a full-size grand piano played by an identically dressed Marlon Brando, in a moment designer Graham “Grace” Walker justifiably claims as one of the greatest in all cinema. he’s laughing when he says it… does that matter?

Val Kilmer dries, corpses, and walks off camera without finishing his line. I think he was in the midst of explaining how Moreau invented Velcro, a promising story angle left undeveloped…

Brando is sitting next to the SMITW when the SMITW puts his feet on the table. Brando breaks off in mid-line to say “No no no,” to the little fellow, and you can see the SMITW’s shoulders SHAKING in helpless mirth at this unexpected ad-lib.

David Thewlis has a fight with genetically-enhanced mice. Fiona also met one of the army of scriptwriters helicoptered in to vivisect Stanley’s material. “I *told* them that was a bad idea,” he said.

Thewlis has decided, according to his mood, to read every line with passionate intensity, or else completely flatly, as if off the plate in front of him (that dinner scene again).

Brando has decided to play it as the naughty vicar from The Dick Emery Show, only fat and painted chalk-white. When Thewlis asks for an explanation of the inhuman manimals surrounding him, Brando’s Moreau thinks he’s talking about his own alabaster features and launches into an explanation of his sun-block. “Look at these people!” clarifies Thewlis at the top of his voice. “Look at HIM!” he cries, voice rising to a hysterical falsetto as he gestures at the inoffensive SMITW.

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It’s not surprising that Thewlis, Balk and Hofschneider had a terrible time, since Frankenheimer evidently decided his job was to indulge Brando, Kilmer and the SMITW in their madness while venting his frustrations on everyone else. Brando et al could have fun mucking about, and those who felt a responsibility to embody their characters struggled to maintain credibility. Brando flat-out refused to discuss character with Balk. It’s not in the film, but Fiona got an anecdote from her screenwriter contact — when he wanted to talk to Brando about the film, Marlon responded with, “It’s NOT a film, it’s a PAGEANT.” Which it became, in truth.

The thing flat-out can’t survive the disappearance of Brando midway, and kind of lumbers to a halt like a speared mammoth, though without making the earth shake.

Frankenheimer used it to get a three-picture deal, then died two films later.

Renault Capture

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2015 by dcairns

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DR. RENAULT’S SECRET is a pretty fine 1942 B-movie horror, really — I watched it some time ago as part of my mad, ever-receding quest to see every film illustrated in Dennis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Finally I got around to showing it to Fiona.

The film deals with a mad scientist (George Zucco) in a French village who has fashioned a man — well, J. Carroll Naish — from an ape, in the best Dr. Moreau style. There’s some boring love interest and inappropriate comedy relief from comedy drunk Jack Norton. The real relief — and surprise — comes when Norton gets offed in the night. Then we get Arthur Shields as a detective, who has a great face for horror movies, and Mike Mazurki, Hollywood’s greatest brute-for-hire.

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Detective Shields

The 4F leading man’s name is Shepperd Strudwick, which cracks me up. He’s credited as John Sheppard, though, so he sounds like a lead, looks like a lead, but can’t attract interest like a lead. And the script sabotages him by having him stand by disapprovingly as poor monkeyman Naish is bullied by the villagers. Why doesn’t he intervene? His character has the same problem as many “heroes” in horror movies, from the worthless bystanders in FRANKENSTEIN (John Boles) to the male leads in the early Cronenberg films — he’s basically irrelevant to the action, and if he were able to intervene effectively, there would be no movie. He’s there so that we can have someone “relatable,” as if audiences were known to prefer impotent bores to sneering mad scientists and shambling ape men.

Naish does quite well — “Noel” the “throwback,” now thrown forward up the evolutionary ladder to the putty-faced level of John Mills in RYAN’S DAUGHTER, is a very sympathetic character, despite his occasional murderings. And though the slightly out-of-shape thesp struggles to convey the athletic prowess of a simian superman, the rather weird, uncanny quality Naish always had — you couldn’t cast him as human beings, really — works well here.

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Zucco’s photo album of his experiments is unfortunately a bit more comical than terrifying.

Every five minutes or so there’s a really striking closeup. Director Harry Lachman, on his last movie, did intermittently beautiful things throughout his career, the most famous being the 1935 DANTE’S INFERNO with its astonishing hellscape (at 51.53).

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