Archive for The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The Spielberg Transition #1

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2019 by dcairns

One of the things Steven Spielberg vocally admires about David Lean is his imaginative scene changes, of which the most celebrated is the “match cut” in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Spielberg has emulated the technique a fair bit, often with enjoyable results. But sometimes he gets it wrong.

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK is the kind of thing Spielberg is supposed to do well, but it’s an oddly confused film, from its back-asswards title on down. I don’t think his heart was in it.

How do you know when there’s a tyrannosaur in your tent?

The first JURASSIC PARK is, on the whole, really good (haven’t bothered with any of the non-Spielberg sequels). It’s fairly faithful to Michael Crichton’s page-turner, though most of its departures are disimprovements. And while the novel is very clear that bringing dinosaurs back to life would be a disastrous idea, you get the sense that, even though this plot point is ported over from the book, deep down Spielberg thinks it would be awesome (which is why the park’s creator doesn’t have to die, despite being responsible for all the other deaths). I don’t necessarily disagree (there’s a weird meme in popular culture, particularly Doctor Who: whenever dinosaurs get revivified, the wonderment is promptly quashed by a sentimental death scene. Dinosaurs can come back, but only for a few minutes. It strikes me like giving a kid a toy and then taking it away again.)

Well, Crichton wrote a follow-up book that wasn’t worth filming, so screenwriter David Koepp threw it away and came up with a story that flatly contradicted the thrust of the earlier film: now Jeff Goldblum, the anti-dino rock ‘n’ roll chaos theoretician of the previous film, wants to save the poor T-rex, just about the scariest threat he faced (it ate a man on the toilet, ffs). The last tenth of the film abandons the titular location to run amock in America, a clear violation of the Platonic unities as well as various traffic statutes.

But the rot sets in early on: with the introduction of the hero, in fact. The threat is set up efficiently in scene one. Spielberg had listened to the criticisms of little kids (really?) who didn’t want to wait so long to see the thunder lizards, so he brings on some miniature CGI beasties to attack a child right at the outset (maybe he didn’t really take too kindly to the criticism?). Mom runs up and sees daughter in trouble, and SCREAMS ~

And we CUT TO Jeff Goldblum yawning against an unconvincing tropical palm background. The scream continues but now it’s something else: the roar of a subway train.

Goldblum steps screen left and the pan takes us away from his backdrop, now “revealed” to be a backlit holiday advertisement, and we learn he’s in the subway.

These kind of gags, where a background turns out not to be real practically never work, because the background practically never looks real. Our initial reaction is likely to be “That looks cheap and fake as hell,” and though the reveal provides an excuse for the phoniness, it fails to provide a pleasing surprise.

And the yawn? It’s hard not to see it as a gesture of contempt towards the material or the audience or both.

But the worst thing is the fanciness. Remember, the LAWRENCE cut has only a few elements, really. Lean doesn’t try to align the match with the rising sun, pictorially. The connection is merely conceptual: the desert is, in some way, like a flame that can burn you, and a man like Lawrence might enjoy that. The sound of Lawrence’s breath extinguishing the match carries across the edit. And that’s it.

Whereas LOST WORLD has the audio transition of the scream/subway, the visual match of the screaming woman/yawning man, and the fake background of blue sky and palm trees. It’s all busy, and all ugly, and all ineffective and fighting against itself. In the words of Dorothy Parker, “This isn’t just plain awful. This is fancy.”

There’s maybe an actual artistic principle here: the more artful a transition, the more simple it needs to be.

More Spielberg awful soon!

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Vlad to the Bone

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2018 by dcairns

Welcome back to Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with director Francis Coppola, in which Fiona and I watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA with director Francis Coppola.

We were talking about the intimations of homosexuality in the novel, and how the movies occasionally make this apparent. And, interestingly, the first line of the IMDb’s short plot synopsis reads “The centuries old vampire Count Dracula comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan” while the second line continues, “Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray and inflict havoc in the foreign land.” There it is — the flash of gay ankle followed by the chaste covering-up.

Now, let’s all don our pink shirts and join Uncle Francis.

I think a positive thing is that we told it as a love story. 

Coppola credits screenwriter James V. Hart (PAN) for “finding” the love story and “weaving it in,” and “finding” is in fact a very good word here as he’s swiped the reincarnation idea from Karloff’s THE MUMMY. But Coppola is talking about the story of Vlad Tepes’ love who killed herself.

I liked Sadie Frost, she was a very nice girl and appealing and pretty and sexy. I was sort of surprised […] we haven’t seen much of her.

We see quite a lot of her here. Including a huge close-up that doesn’t do her neck-wound make-up any favours, followed by a dissolve through the puncture marks to a wolf’s glowing eyes, which must be the worst transition ever (beating the cut to Jeff Goldblum yawning in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK by a lupine whisker). Van Helsing himself, Antony Hopkins, once cautioned against attempting humour in a segue (in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) but I think he’s wrong. What one shouldn’t do is attempt a completely ludicrous segue without any trace of humour.

Rarely is a movie shot 100% in the sound stage and I think this is.

Well you ought to know. (Later, Unc Fran will admit that it wasn’t.)

Clearly Lucy is being affected by her encounter with Dracula and has been affected in a way and infected I should say because she has the metaphoric blood of a vampire in her, which means that she too will be a vampire.

And by “metaphoric blood,” I suppose we mean cum.

Here was a scene in which we tried, Roman and I were very pleased to do this, tried to portray an early nickelodeon and on the screen are some very early motion pictures

And we get TRAIN APPROACHING A STATION — sometimes called the first horror film due to the consternation it inspired in audiences — appearing in synch with Oldman. Only it seems to be being projected in negative — which connects it to the literal Phantom Ride in Murnau’s NOSFERATU (for which Murnau must have had Graf Orlok’s black carriage painted white, and the black horses replaced with white ones).

The supposedly early porn doesn’t convince — wrong body types — and the assumption that such films were screened openly, with ladies present, rather than at secretive “smokers” shows how the movie really doesn’t get Victorian England. Looking more closely, there’s a suggestion that the porn is showing in a back room, curtained off, but it’s a mere dolly-ride away for Mina and the Count. In principle it could be a nice metaphor for him taking her to the dark side (of the cinema).

This shot, of Dracula literally sweeping her off her feet of course was a mechanical effect, he takes her and then they’re on a little trolley that is pulled. It was interesting, when I did this shot with her, just to show the kind of kid that Winona was, she looked at me, I mean she was a little too smart for her own good in a way, as a kid. She said, “Well, I’ve already done this shot once,” ’cause this was a tricky set-up, they had to step onto this moving thing, I said “Oh really?” she said “Oh yes, I did it with Tim Burton.” But I have always felt that Winona had a deeper well of talent than she was willing to dip into.

Nice back-handed comment, and strange segue. Coppola is apparently still smarting from the suggestion that Burton had anticipated him in any way. It’s clear that she was a touch resistant to his direction, including that one time he yelled “YOU WHORE!” at her to help her get into character. I have to assume that, since she got him the job in the first place when his career was pretty ice cold, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola, she just didn’t want to be directed LIKE THIS by THIS Francis Ford Coppola.

I want to give Uncle Francis credit where it’s due (family loyalty) but I’m on Winona Ryder’s side here.

Don’t ever try this with a wolf, by the way. This is not something that you wanna do. Again, it’s used to show Dracula’s seduction of Mina, the sensuality that lay under the skin of the vampire legend, it’s so confused with sex and romance and love and death, the two sometimes are difficult to separate.

“Well, that’s not two things, Uncle Francis, that’s a whole long list of things,” objects Fiona. She’s right, I counted them, that was definitely either four or six things.

LOVELY transition!

Now we introduce essentially a new character, Doctor Van Helsing.

Yep, definitely new. Though he did narrate the captain’s log montage earlier.

One of the good things about James V. Hart’s script (and there ARE good things) is that the writer is aware of lots of different resonances the vampire myth has, and has researched the period enough to find things that connect with the Victorians and also with those of us watching in 1992. In Van Helsing’s lecture we get stuff about the spread of syphilis which we can easily connect to vampirism and thus to AIDS. The bad thing about this is that he just sticks it in, in the form of a lecture. It’s inelegant, but I’m still kind of glad it’s there.

Cut to Keanu Reeves looking thoroughly drained.

“Shagged out… after a long squawk,” says Fiona. And then: “You don’t have to be naked to drain somebody’s blood,” she says, referring to the naked, smoochy Bellucci girls.

“But it helps,” I suggest.

Watching this with the commentary, sometimes you’re mainly focussing on what Uncle Francis is saying, sometimes on the pictures, and it feels like when you miss bits of plot it’s because the movie really isn’t interested in those things. For instance, somehow Keanu is going to escape from Castle Sitting Down Dracula. But I have no memory of how he does it. Doesn’t he sort of jump out a window and then land back in England?

Hopkins turns up in a shot which seems to be nodding towards THE EXORCIST, which may be a bit on the nose, but so’s everything in this film. Apart from Sadie Frost, who’s bit on the neck. Coppola explains that his big idea was that anyone who’s devoted his life to the study of vampires must be a bit crazy, so he instructed Hopkins to play it that way. “Whadda LOON!” Coppola guffawed on the set after one particularly fruity take.

I think Coppola’s logic is sound, but that this is still not a good way to play Van Helsing. I think Edward Van Sloan’s method was fine. Peter Cushing’s was brilliant. Jack MacGowran, playing a variant on the character for Polanski, was just fine in context. The character seems a great way to explore, consciously or not, the unpleasantness of being in thrall to medical professionals, and there’s a touch of that here. But it’s dissolved in a welter of ham theatrics.

Coppola credits the big window Gary Oldman shows up at to THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN. I like how he’s basically providing the whole filmography of influences for us. It’s a good reference, since the dream sequence in Capra’s film also seems to refer to the idea of the vampire seducer from the East. It is quite a 1930s-esque window, though, but they get away with it.

We brought in a singer, a vocalist, named Diamanda Galas to provide some very orgiastic and other feminine sounds of intensity to help us with this sequence.

“She’s only a child!” exclaims Van Helsing, which might not be my first reaction to a tits-out Sadie Frost, but we’re all different, which is one of the themes of this film anyway. He prescribes an immediate transfusion, which is of course risky as doctors at the time hadn’t figured out blood groups. He gets every male in the neighbourhood to transfuse into Sadie and miraculously they’re all the same type (Type O). Sadie’s type. (In fairness: I think that’s the way it is in the book. Coppola once shows the Dread Pirate Roberts donating, albeit without a blood test. But I’m assuming Withnail and the Rocketeer also get in on the act. The more the merrier.)

Interestingly, blood transfusion, another example of modern technology at the time, and we did it as authentically as we knew how, we tried to find out how did they do transfusions, and we did it the way they did, however, shows what a pansy director I am, it wasn’t really a transfusion, it was just a movie scene, however, the great director Clouzot, in one of his movies actually had the character get a blood transfusion and the actor showed up and they began to shoot the scene and he had brought a doctor and they did a real blood transfusion while they were shooting, and so I realise I’m not as I like to think I am, and Damn, why didn’t I have it be a real transfusion? and Clouzot was Clouzot and I don’t think I would have gotten away with it.

“He would have liked to, though,” suggests Fiona.

Clouzot transfused Bernard Blier in QUAI DES ORFEVRES, and did it again to Brigitte Bardot in LA VERITÉ, or at least he certainly had the needle in her arm. And, having gone that far, I think we all know he would have kept going.

Bad nipple continuity here: Sadie’s bosom has a strange now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t approach. The trick with getting away with continuity errors is to calculate where the audience is looking. Hard to see how anybody could miscalculate the centre of attention when Sadie is writhing about in what I believe is known as deshabille.

Coppola starts to tell us about Byron and Shelley and the Villa Deodata set in his own unique manner ~

Now these people in those days were sort of like the equivalent of, you know, Snoop Doggy Dog. They were the hip people of the day, as when I was young it would have been Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer and what have you, going off to Switzerland.

BWAHAHAHA I just can’t