Archive for The Monolith Monsters

Monochrome Monsters

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , on June 21, 2018 by dcairns

“After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth… Grant Williams and Lola Albright.”

For each film in my Tomorrowsday season I’ll be doing some follow-on viewing. In the case of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN I figured it was weird that I had no memory of seeing star Grant Williams in anything else. Of course, maybe he was too small for the naked eye, or just hiding behind a barstool or something. I resolved to seek him out.

(I had forgotten about his brief turn in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, which I saw in Bologna last year in a Technicolor print — thanks to David E. for the reminder.)

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS was his follow-on film from TISM, and in terms of his role it’s a bit of a come-down. He plays a staunch geologist with a nice schoolteacher girlfriend (Albright), working in a small California desert community. Although his expertise is called on, and he gets to show a bit of bravery I guess, the film doesn’t supply the kind of destructive testing of character you get in his iconic earlier role. So he just plays it nice in the relaxed scenes and intense in the tense ones. You’d never know what a good actor he can be.   

TISM director Jack Arnold has a story credit on this, but for reasons I don’t know, it’s directed by John Sherwood, a former assistant director who also helmed the Arnold-derived THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US. (I nearly typed “AROUND US” which would make for a less confrontational movie I guess. It’s late.) Sherwood does a perfectly creditable job, especially with his “monsters.” Actually, the best thing about the movie is the unusual nature of the threat — it’s a Ballardian abstract menace, not monsters at all, but exponentially expanding crystals that can petrify human beings. Sherwood gives the meteor crater where the crystals originate its own signature shot — a menacing slow zoom, not used elsewhere. And the giant crystals are always shot in slomo, like Godzilla or Lou Ferrigno. They mimic icebergs in their constant crumbling, constant regeneration.

Crystals ARE kind of weird things, the way they grow like organic lifeforms. You can see why primitive societies of exotic dancers regard them with awe. These ones definitely don’t have any healing properties, which makes them just like the terrestrial kind. They differ in their Tribble-like propensity for massive population growth, which soon threatens the whole town.

Williams and Albright get able support from Les Tremayne as the town newspaperman — newsies help evacuate the town, proving their vital importance to civilisation. Bu the best acting scene is from B-movie supporting specialist William Schallert. You might say he phones in his performance, since his whole role is to play a weatherman consulted by telephone to find out how long the current rain will last and when it may rain again (the monoliths get nasty when wet — it’s all quite GREMLINSesque, and indeed Schallert would become a regular Joe Dante supporting player). And yet, what a masterclass! Schallert looks out the window to try to make his mind up about the precipitation, and his dithering is so entertaining that the movie doesn’t leave when he hangs up, but stays to watch, awestruck, as he takes a couple of antacid pills — or possibly sedatives. (His performance is so specific we can safely narrow it down to those two options.)

In the end, salt water proves to be the Kryptonite heel of these meteoric menaces, and Grant dynamites a dam in order to flood them with salt water. He has to get the governor’s permission, but the governor can’t be located. Leading to the best line — apart from “Look at the dog – he’s as hard as a piece of granite,” that is. Williams blows the dam and, looking out upon the destruction, muses, “I hope the governor makes the right decision.” I laughed like crazy at this, in genuine admiration at its nerve, but Williams betrays no irony. It’s the fifties. He really does hope the governor makes the right decision.

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The Sunday Intertitle: The Greenaway Way

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2010 by dcairns

(More of a subtitle, really, from 26 BATHROOMS.)

Peter Greenaway stared at the multiplex with his perpetual air of being offended by a smell. “Of course, in ten years, this will all be gone,” he mused.

The above scene, described to me four or five years ago by a member of staff from Edinburgh Film Festival, hints that perhaps Greenaway is not the world’s greatest prophet, although only time will tell. I guess only time will tell if he’s going to kill himself at aged 80, like Ruth Gordon in HAROLD AND MAUDE, as he promised to do in the Guardian this week. But the quote that really excited my interest comes from his piece in Saturday’s Independent, talking about his new film, NIGHTWATCHING, which deals with Rembrandt’s painting The Night Watch.

“In the film we very deliberately skirted the trap of showing Rembrandt paint the masterpiece; no one would believe us – any possible suspension of disbelief would entirely collapse. Martin Freeman was not bad at handling a brush with some conviction, but nobody would ever believe he could paint a Rembrandt.”

What throws me for a loop here is the suggestion that Greenaway is remotely interested in suspending our disbelief, something that never even occurred to me before. It seems flatly contradicted by his statements that “the only thing we never believe in films is sex and death” and that sex and death are the only subjects worth talking about in films. I remember being impressed by his statement that he generally avoided camera movement because it increased audience involvement, and thinking that I would bloody well move the camera in order to involve the audience. The reality is a bit more complex than Greenaway’s statement, but then it always is. “He’s a man of bold, spurious statements,” my friend at the Film Fest said.

I don’t have much time for the man, I must admit, though I wouldn’t go so far as Mr. Alan Parker, who once threatened (or offered?) to take his children to be educated in America if Peter Greenaway made another film here. Those two chumps deserve each other.

(I can, in fact, see a case for both filmmakers, but I’m equally out of sympathy with both also. Greenaway started his feature career with a genuinely unusual work, THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, unlike anything else in British cinema and made on a near-shoestring. Unfortunately, he has followed it with more of the same, until the eye aches at the repetition. A similar repetition mars Parker’s altogether different cinema. The Greenaway I like best is the above-illustrated 26 BATHROOMS, a little documentary on an alphabetical theme. Because each bathroom corresponds to a letter, it’s very easy to tell how far along we are in the film, which is only half an hour long anyway. Also, filming in confined spaces prevents Greenaway from making every shot flat and symmetrical, and using real people speaking their own words rather than actors speaking Greenaways results in a welcome change from the glib marionettes he usually dangles before us.)

The one Greenaway film I’d like to see doesn’t exist. It was suggested by Greenaway’s evocation the TV show CSI to describe his forensic approach to Rembrandt’s work. His admiration for the series put me in mind of JG Ballard, who likewise expressed his pleasure at the show’s complete lack of human emotion, which echoed that of many of his own novels. Greenaway filming a Ballardian apocalypse might be quite nice, and his interest in digital technology, expressed back when Roland Emmerich was still blowing up dollhouses with firecrackers, would stand him in good stead filming the likes of The Crystal World.

Although THE MONOLITH MONSTERS is already a pretty good version of that, with its B-movie cast and Z-movie dialogue providing a more tolerable version of Greenaway’s arch alienation.