Archive for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Tenth

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2011 by dcairns

Just re-reading the 1910 installment of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and reading for the first time the new 1969 episode, and am surprised to find a “Mr. Simon Iff” in it — this being a character from Aleister Crowley’s novel The Moonchild, a stand-in for the Great Beast himself. One of Moore’s amusing conceits is to suggest that all film & literature’s pseudo-Crowleys — Oliver Haddo in THE MAGICIAN, Julian Karswell in NIGHT OF THE DEMON, Mocato in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and the suspiciously-similar Adrian Marcato in ROSEMARY’S BABY (remind me to do a whole piece on the occult significance of names in the movie) — are the same person, endlessly faking his own death and reinventing himself via metempsychosis — a word from Ulysses which Moore doesn’t use but which popped into my head due to the fact that I’m reading Joyce. 

Anyhow — this week’s installment of my inexplicably unproduced feature script sees us visit a location familiar to movie buffs: GREYFRIARS BOBBY: THE STORY OF A DOG and THE BODY SNATCHER recreated the place on sound stages, while THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE shot there for real. 

The idea of a surreal intermission is clearly swiped from Lester’s HELP! and the line inscribed on a tree is from HELLZAPOPPIN! so I must have been invoking Hel, Norse goddess of the underworld, for this appropriately funereal episode. 

Now read on…

EXT. GREYFRIARS CHURCHYARD – NIGHT

The little bronze statue of feared hound “Greyfriars Bobby” is garlanded with onions and adorned with a suspicious rabbinical beard.

The shadowy figure of If sweeps through the ancient cemetery scattering Scots Porridge Oats from a packet.

MR. IF

By the Endymion moon above, arise, my proud beauties! In the shadow of the bronze pup, I give life to these clay puddings.

Mist rises from the ground in an unnatural manner.

MR. IF

Get born, you terpsichorean terrors! Your master calls you, with whistle and lyre!

He blows on a silent dog whistle and strums a washboard.

A slender feminine hand bursts through the lawn at his feet.

MR. IF

That’s it, Pansy! This world welcomes careless girlies! The night is young and we’re all so beautiful!

Two more hands spring forth, clutching at the night air.

MR. IF

Come, Prancer, come Fido, come Barbara and Steve! Come Nervo, come Brando, come Compo and Spock!

Six young BALLERINAS in dog masks emerge from the earth.

MR. IF

My Borzoi Ballet! Our bridal gowns shall be plywood and paint. In a chariot of frozen milk drawn by four daffodils, we shall storm St. Giles’ Cathedral and force the city rat catcher to pronounce us man and wives. But first, a word from our sponsors.

He thrusts his porridge pack at us and we CUT TO:

EXT. GREYFRIARS CHURCHYARD – DAY

PRIEST

Amen.

A group of MOURNERS, many of them in police uniform, including a squad standing in formation with rifles.

The PRIEST is in full drone.

PRIEST

…although Inspector Shinty’s life was not so much cut short, as prolonged beyond all reason…

DI. Turner and Mr. Netherbow are among the group.

Netherbow, hat clamped on head, sneaks a look at his watch.

Turner spots a cloaked figure lurking behind a tree. Squinting, he sees that it is just a tattered black bin liner caught in the branches. He smiles ruefully.

PRIEST

…with the full ceremonial honours befitting an officer of his extraordinarily long service.

MR. NETHERBOW

And speaking of extraordinarily long services…

The squad raise their rifles and fire into the air as one.

As if in reply, a harpoon WHUNGS out from behind the bin bag tree, and a policeman crumples, impaled.

The squad turns as one man and blasts away at the tree. Branches and chunks of bark fly through the air as half the tree is destroyed.

At length the guns fall silent and Turner hurries over to the shattered elm.

Rounding the tree, Turner finds a spray-painted graffita written down the length of the trunk:

HA HA YOU MISSED ME YOU NEED GLASSES.

Trotting over to the grave side, Turner finds Netherbow kneeling by the slain copper. The curator is examining a slip of PARCHMENT attached to the harpoon. His pinched face is a study of superstitious terror.

MR. NETHERBOW

“Egg tower mouth doo go jet wren.”

High in the branches of the bullet-ridden tree… high, high up…no, higher… that’s it: a bird’s nest. In it, an egg. Closer. The egg cracks open to reveal a brass dog statuette.

A melodramatic LAUGH echoes as we go to:

TITLE: INTERMISSION.

Scratchy black and white film stock of hands working at a Potter’s Wheel. The hands gently shape the blob of wet clay until it has formed an approximation of an erect male organ.

TITLE: WE NOW RETURN YOU TO THE MAIN PROGRAMME.

EXT. GREYFRIAR’S CHURCHYARD – DAY

Netherbow and Turner stand over the slaughtered cop.

MR. NETHERBOW

Monstrous insolence! The fiend!

PRIEST

And I thought the service had gone rather well until…

TURNER

Don’t blame yourself, Father. Still, I wonder what that note means…

INT. COMPUTER ROOM, EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY – EVENING

The Prof examines an unusual computer printout. Strange.

PROF

I wonder what it means…

The binary data is arranged to form a picture of a hen.

A distant barnyard CACKLE echoes…

To be continued…

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My City 4: The Brodie-Snatcher

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by dcairns

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE.

Miss Jean Brodie and her girls are spied upon by Robert Stephens from his artist’s garrett as they walk through Greyfriars Churchyard. This is a key location in all versions of GREYFRIARS BOBBY (where the wee dug sits by his master’s grave) and also in Val Lewton and Robert Wise’s film THE BODY SNATCHER, which conflates the Burke and Hare story (as filtered through Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictionalization) with that of Bobby, who is disguised under the stage name Robbie. The low-budget Lewton makes do with an establishing shot of some other church and then plunges into the studio.

The real churchyard (or kirkyard, if you want to be sectarian about it) is quite a place, although difficult to capture on film — the real frissons come from extreme details of the weathered stonework, angels and deathsheads with their features eaten away by wind and rain. But it’s also a useful place because you can look in all directions without much chance of seeing anything too modern.

Fiona and I used to live on Forrest Road, overlooking the cemetery just like Robert Stephens, although I starved one flight up, rather than in a garrett. Trilby, Fiona’s then cat, and my current avatar, once escaped out the window, over another rooftop, and into the hallowed grounds. She returned unharmed the next day, which was a relief, since she was a housecat unused to the ways of the exterior. I don’t know what she’d have done if she’d met Greyfriars Bobby’s ghost — and remember, according to the ancient Egyptians (generally reliable) cats can see the spirits of the departed. You know when you catch your cat staring fixedly at nothing…?

A strange feature of the place, just about visible above, is the way some of the grave markers are actually built into the walls of residences surrounding the graveyard. Also, many of the graves are enclosed in little stone buildings with gates that lock, which is largely a protection against body-snatchers. St John’s Churchyard, a short distance away on the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road, even has a watch-tower to allow a guard to keep an eye out for nocturnal speculators armed with shovels.

The cemetery was used again in BURKE AND HARE: THE MUSICAL, a film I wrote sometime in the last century. Had Burke and Hare ever actually engaged in graverobbing (which is unknown — they were arrested for mass murder, having followed the simpler practice of generating fresh corpses rather than harvesting them from the earth), Greyfriars would probably have been their local place of work.

We were allowed to plant little wooden crosses so we could pretend to dig up a fresh grave. The cemetery is apparently full of unmarked graves, including that of William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet (an influence on both WC Fields and Spike Milligan). It seems likely the grounds may have once been peppered with pauper’s markers. To fake the grave-robbery, a fake mound of earth was erected — no hole was actually dug. The corpse here is played by Simon Vickery, a talented cameraman.

A prostitute who winds up on a slab is played by genius director Morag McKinnon, whose feature debut may be getting released this year (I hope so!). And the director of B&H, Stephen Murphy, now earns a living in special makeup effects, notably on the HARRY POTTER films. Meanwhile, I have a screenplay to write, so —

[sound of echoing footsteps diminishing in the distance]

My City #3

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on January 16, 2010 by dcairns

Ronald Neame’s very lovely film of Muriel Spark’s THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE is actually one of relatively few major movies to prominently feature Edinburgh locations. TRAINSPOTTING was shot mainly in Glasgow, so apart from the opening sequence you don’t get to enjoy sunny Leith and its slums. A shame, because there’s a subtle difference in style of bad area from one city to another, although the social problems don’t vary that much.

The Neame film is another kettle of fish: while there’s certainly a dark side to it, the surroundings are more on the charming, “genteel” side, which is in keeping with the reputation Edinburgh inexplicably has. Also inexplicable: the fact that so few films come here when you can still achieve a shot like the one above: just say “1932” or whatever and choose your angle carefully and you can pretend it’s any period you like. The distance from London and the lack of studio facilities are the only two explanations possible, but they seem inadequate to account for Edinburgh’s cinematic neglect.

Maggie Smith’s accent, or “eccent,” which she’s still getting good mileage out of in HARRY POTTER, and which others, such as John Hurt in ROB ROY, have taken off the peg and deployed from time to time, doesn’t correspond to any accent I’ve ever actually encountered in my life. But it seems to have some kind of historical existence as a mode of speech favoured by the blue-rinsed old ladies of Morningside, who would have been schoolgirls in 1932, so I guess it’s authentic.

And it has given rise to the following “joke”. Not quite sure it’ll work in print though, unless you read it aloud and do the voice.

A schoolteacher in Morningside addresses her class: “Cless, I em going to name some cepital cities, and I want you to tell me which countries they ere in. Peris.”

“Frence,” chant the class.

“Medrid.”

“Spain,” chant the class.

“Ostend.”

And they all get up.

Think I can probably squeeze a few more posts out of this movie’s scenery. US buyers can get the DVD here:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie