Archive for The Phantom of Liberty

Thinking like a screenwriter

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 16, 2019 by dcairns

I found the following text in a file on my work computer. I must have written it for a class but I don’t remember.

Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere says, “My job is to help the director figure out why he wanted to make the film.”

In fact, we could say that the preparation of a script – and the making of a film – is a process of finding out what attracted us to the idea in the first place. The theme is revealed (we hope) as the film slowly becomes the best possible version of itself (we hope). This will only happen if we’re curious.

We have to be alert to possibilities. In a good film or story, every element is working very hard. If you have a scene in a pool hall, you have to use the tables, the cues, the balls, the lights, otherwise the setting isn’t working hard for you. You probably have to use ideas of competition, of games, of skill, of cause and effect. These elements are automatically present and cannot be ignored. Some of them are objects but some of them are more abstract and thematic. They are all offering you clues about the ideal form of the scene, and the film.

We have to ask, “Why is this story happening here, and why now?”

We have to ask, “What is the universal significance of this story?”

Nothing is purely about one thing. The pool hall isn’t just a pool hall.

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Untaken

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2016 by dcairns

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I can recall my New york chum Jaime Christley, years and years ago before I’d actually met him, expressing dissatisfaction with Bunuel’s penultimate opus, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, arguing that with its endless parade of French stars, it resembles a gallic TOWERING INFERNO. I suggested instead that THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is the Bunuel film closer to the Irwin Allen-John Guillermin group jeopardy nonsense — a bunch of rich people in evening dress attend a swank party and are mysteriously unable to leave.

At any rate, I rather like PHANTOM, preferring it to the follow-up, THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, which I really think would be pretty desultory had not Bunuel fired poor Maria Schneider and happened upon the bold idea of replacing her with two unalike actors, who alternate throughout at random. It’s a terrific trick: you know he’s doing it, but it’s really hard to concentrate on the constant substitution, since the continuity of narrative and mise-en-scene keeps telling our subconscious that it’s positively the same dame.

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While OBJECT has a great story idea and a great casting gimmick, PHANTOM, like DISCRETE CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE before it, has a ton of ideas and a ton of gimmicks, many of them brilliant. It lacks the unifying conceit of its predecessor, it’s true (friends try to have dinner; fail) but the way it weaves its fragmented sketches together, and the way some of them return for encores, I find dazzling. Another skeptical friend dismisses it as “slow Monty Python,” but the leisurely pace for me is part of the charm, contributing to the deadpan effect. Skits unfold pedantically, as if nothing odd were happening at all.

The missing child scenario is probably the best — every parents’ nightmare gets played out perfectly straight, save for one rogue element — the missing child is right there all the time. Characters can see and talk to her, and she talks right back. But they still believe she#s missing. Bunuel and his co-scenarist. Jean-Claude Carriere, play this stuff out as naturally as possible, with just the one alteration to the norm which makes the whole ritual of questioning teachers and putting out an All Points Bulletin completely nonsensical.

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Best of all is the unexpected pay-off several sequences later when the detective attempts to explain how the child has been recovered. “This ought to be good,” we think, awaiting the impossible explanation. But some loud extraneous noise drowns the guy out as he reaches the crucial portion (after an incongruous opening about the inhabitants of a small town being awoken by a deafening blast). It reminds me of Leo G. Carroll’s spy plot exposition in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, which Hitchcock wisely smothered in aircraft sound to save the audience having to listen to some boring information. Information is not drama.

In Bunuel’s version, we really want to hear the explanation, which seems set to be very dramatic indeed, so it’s hilarious when he frustrates us. Like the hot-and-cold temptress of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT, the film keeps teasing us with narrative resolutions, then crosses its legs tightly when we get close to satisfaction.

The name’s Bunuel. Luis Bunuel.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by dcairns

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A VIEW TO A KILL.

If you’re like me, you often wish Luis Bunuel had directed a Bond film. One, probably anything’s better than Marc Forster directing a Bond film, and two, Bunuel was riding high during the heyday of 007, so why couldn’t it have happened?

Looking deeper, we see that Bunuel directed Bond girl Carole Bouquet in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, in which she played one half of the object, shortly before her appearance in MOONRAKER, and furthermore MOONRAKER bad guy Hugo Drax was played by Michel Lonsdale, seen getting his bottom thrashed in Bunuel’s PHANTOM OF LIBERTY back when Roger Moore was battling Scaramanga.

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“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

Like Bond, Bunuel’s characters, at least in his later films, are always impeccably turned out, and demonstrate perfect sang-froid even in the most stressful situations, whether it be alligator attack or the army arriving for dinner unexpectedly. Like Bond, they are famous for their discrete charm.

Bunuel’s enthusiasm for fire-arms is well documented. You can even see him shooting a mountain goat in LAS HURDES/LAND WITHOUT BREAD (well, you can see the puff of smoke from the right of frame just before the goat falls off the mountain). Don Luis’s enthusiasm for experimental weaponry had him making his own bullets, playing around with different charges, trying to develop a bullet with just enough momentum to leave the gun barrel before bouncing lightly off its target. This interest in fancy weaponry surely marks him out as the ideal man to bring Bond to life.

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“Do pay attention, 007!”

While Bond favours the vodka martini, Bunuel leans more towards the dry martini made with gin and angustura bitters, but that’s a minor point. The martini is a creative drink, also favoured by Busby Berkeley (a Busby Bond? Why not? But later.)

So it’s not an implausible idea, OK?

Scaramanga’s dwarf sidekick, Hervé Villechaise, would have been right at home in any of Don Luis’s films (dwarfs trot through SIMON OF THE DESERT, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY and several others), and Bond’s tendency to run up against scorpions, tarantulas and other obscure fauna would be quite in keeping with the action of a Bunuel. My Bunuel 100 Anos book (or, as I call it, The Boys’ Big Book of Bunuel) even includes a Bunuel Bestiary in the back.

So, Dan O’Herlihy as Bond. Celtic Bonds have been successful before, of course, and as Bunuel’s Robinson Crusoe, O’Herlihy got in plenty of experience in exotic locations. I’d love to see what he made of the part.

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Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Fernando Rey, suavely villainous in Hollywood movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, would make a great master-criminal. Could we resist Catherine Deneuve as Bond girl Anne Dalou, and could she resist playing it if the high priest of cinematic surrealism were in charge? Zachary Scott, fresh from THE YOUNG ONE, could play Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter. Oh wait, he died in 1965. Damn. OK, Bernie Hamilton then. Sean Connery always thought Felix should be black — I presume on the basis that it was the kind of thankless part where nobody would object, and therefore you should make the effort.

Ken Adam, I submit, would have had a great time building sets for Bunuel, who loved “secret passages leading on to darkness”.

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL would make a great title for a Bond. Imagine what Shirley Bassey could do with a lyric like that. Much better than QUANTUM OF SLOSH, anyway.

But let’s call our imaginary Bunuel Bond GRAN CASINO ROYALE. The globe-trotting narrative will take us through Spain, the U.S.A., Mexico and France. Bond will battle tarantulas, snakes and flesh-eating ants, and face enemies armed with razors, rifles, burlap sacks and buggy-whips. All in search of a mysterious box with undisclosed, buzzing contents…

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That Obscure Odd-Job of Desire.