Archive for The Pumpkin Eater

Titular

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by dcairns

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“No, wait, we made that,” says Tony Randall at the start of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? as he realizes that the film he’s introducing cannot possibly be called THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. And he’s right, of course. Because why would you make a film that was already made?

I know there are possible reasons or excuses. Maybe it was OK for Vincent Ward to make THE NAVIGATOR after Buster Keaton had already made THE NAVIGATOR, since even though that film is one of Keaton’s best, it’s not his best-known. But it was surely goofy of John Boorman to make THE GENERAL, under that title, since Keaton’s GENERAL regularly makes top ten lists. And indeed, you never hear about that Boorman film nowadays. Perhaps the only reason Ward’s film isn’t completely forgotten is that everything he’s done since has sucked so very, very hard.

Night Moves

And so to Kelly Reichardt’s NIGHT MOVES, which is excellent — saw it in Rotterdam — but did it need to be called that? Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES isn’t going away. In Reichardt’s film, the title is the name of a boat. Now, the boat didn’t have to be called that. In fact, Dakota Fanning actually lists a whole bunch of alternative boat names, although admittedly one of them, Gone With The Wind, might also have caused problems.

Still, quibbling aside, this is an excellent film. Fanning plays an aspirant eco-terrorist intent on blowing up an unpopular dam with the help of Peter Sarsgaard (a blithe bullshitter in the tradition of Bruce Greenwood in MEEK’S CUTOFF) and Jesse Eisenberg (wrapped too tight for Oregon). Fanning is touching, Eisenberg confirms his reputation as American cinema’s leading depressive, folding up into himself as the story unravels, like a man with ouroboros of the soul.

Reichardt and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond do the most amazing endings — usually bleak or at least potentially bleak, mysterious, uncertain, troubling. This one, laid in a sporting goods store, is the most inexplicably distressing retail experience since Anne Bancroft’s Harrods breakdown in THE PUMPKIN EATER.

Meek’s Cutoff [DVD] [2010]
Wendy And Lucy [DVD] [2008]
Old Joy [2006] [DVD]

Mason jaws

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2011 by dcairns

Another scene from THE PUMPKIN EATER (see previous post here). What a pleasure to see James Mason outfitted with Harold Pinter dialogue. Beats playing a Chinese gangster.

Again, Clayton’s approach is a standard one in dramatic scene construction — he starts by establishing the space with a  mixture of wide shots and details (opening on a detail can become a tired trope if overused — note how tyro director John Sayles does it in every damn scene of RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN — also, has any director ever resisted opening a zoo scene with an animal close-up to take the audience by surprise?) before moving progressively closer as the scene builds in tension.

The difference is, Clayton goes a little further than is usual, until we’re weaving amid Mason’s crooked teeth like druids cavorting round Stonehenge. It’s not a subtle technique, although in Clayton’s hands its rather less obvious than Leone’s use of it in DUCK YOU SUCKER. What it does, of course, is dehumanize Mason, converting him into a giant mouth, spitting venom and vitriol, while adding to his power — the mismatch in shot sizes violates a tradition of shot-countershot filming, where usually each close-up is of a matching scale. The effect, if taken literally, would suggest that Anne Bancroft has sat down to lemon tea with the cyclops from SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Metaphorically, that’s not so inaccurate.

Anytime you start on the path of moving closer (by cuts, or camera moves, or leaning the actors in towards the lens…) you eventually reach a point where you can’t get any closer, so you have to break the tension for a moment and allow us to back off, lest the camera plummet through a skin pore and end up circulating round the thespian metabolism like Martin Short in INNERSPACE. Such breaks can easily be triggered by having an actor move, which is a dying art in modern cinema (Oh, they wriggle around in action scenes, but dialogue two-handers tend to the inert) — here, Bancroft’s panicked exit, in a riot of wildlife dissonance, resolves the fight-or-flight dilemma and allows us to escape the snarling jaws of Mason.

Yootha Runs Wild

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2011 by dcairns

Anne Bancroft meets Yootha Joyce at the hairdresser’s in Jack Clayton’s film of Harold Pinter’s script of Penelope Mortimer’s novel — THE PUMPKIN EATER.

This must have been an uncomfortably autobiographical book for Mortimer to write. The story of a woman married to an unfaithful, famous writer, seems to echo her marriage to John Mortimer who, apart from writing the Rumpole of the Bailey stories, worked on Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS and father actress Emily Mortimer and another daughter out of wedlock…

I find Clayton’s work as impressive as Neil Sinyard does, and he wrote a book about Clayton to prove his admiration. At the time, THE PUMPKIN EATER seems to have been dismissed by a lot of British critics as imitation Antonioni or something, but it’s uniquely English (even with American and Australian leads) and quite precise in its milieu… Pinter gets a lot of comedy of menace into it, Georges Delerue provides a truly heartbreakingly beautiful score (as he always did for Clayton) and Clayton’s handling is expressive, imaginative, forceful and not notably like anything else going on in British film of the period. The people are wealthy and in the media, so a movie like DARLING… would seem to be the nearest equivalent, but that makes for a pretty small sub-genre.

Anyhow, Yootha Joyce, best known here for her sitcom work (Man About the House and George and Mildred co-starring Ken Russell rep company fave Brian Murphy) is terrifyingly deranged. Directorially, the major device is the inexorable creep in, achieved with a slow jib in and down, which initially seems to be about progressing the intimacy, but soon serves also to impart menace to relentless Yootha. Then cuts take the strain, bringing us even tighter into claustrophobic proximity — at some point in this sequence, we may start to reflect on the brilliance of the setting, the strange no-escape tension of the scene, carried mainly by the social taboo against jumping up and shouting “Get this maniac away from me!”

And strange how the last angle on Bancroft in this scene makes her look like THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE.

Thanks to Chris Schneider for reminding me off this great scene.

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