Archive for The Reckless Moment

Tomorrowsday #5: Our continuum is rather a frost

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2018 by dcairns

Anticipating ufologist Jacques Vallee by decades, Gore Vidal ruled in his 1955 television play, Visit to a Small Planet, or perhaps his 1957 stage play, Visit to a Small Planet, that flying saucers are transdimensional rather than interplanetary craft, and to hell with the Carpenters, who wouldn’t put forward their contradictory theory until 1976. Meanwhile, in 1960, because time is “all one thing” — “a trapezoid” — Jerry Lewis starred in a film version of either the TV or stage play, adapted by Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson. (Beloin has numerous Bob Hope credits, a couple of Lewis ones, an Elvis movie, story credit on DONOVAN’S REEF; Garson is one of several writers on THE RECKLESS MOMENT and collaborated as a duo with Beloin on his other Lewis movie and his Elvis. They’re not negligible talents, but they’re not fit to lick Gore Vidals seven-league boots.)

Excitingly, the alien Kreton was played by Cyril Ritchard (above) on TV and stage — the lecherous artist from Hitchcock’s BLACKMAIL. Not exactly a Jerry Lewis type, though I believe Lewis could have stretched himself to play the part as written if he’d been offered it or if director Norman Taurog had any ambition to deal with ideas. The movie is a sad travesty of the play, without any coherent reason for existing. It’s only intermittently funny, but it’s stupid all the time. However, let’s see what we can find to admire.

The copy I was able to track down has German credits, allowing us to learn that the German title is JERRY, DER ASTRONAUTEN-SCHRECK, which seems odd to me. Is “fright-astronaut” a common German term for what we would call a little green man or bug-eyed monster? It’s a nice compound word, anyway.

Special effects are by John P. Fulton, a long way from James Whale and Alfred Hitchcock. But they’re excellent. The film tries to get laugh with them, and fails, because they don’t have comic timing. That’s not what you hire John P. Fulton for.

The physical effects are good too.

Excuse me while I do a spot of time-travelling myself — my memory is that I didn’t see this film in 1974, only the ending — I have a vivid memory of Lewis’s space pod and him running about like a lunatic, one of several memories of UFOs that are far more vivid than the movies they appear in — ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN and DALEKS: INVASION EARTH 2150 form a kind of trilogy with this one. But, watching it this week, I was struck by the image of Lewis sticking an entire pack of cigarettes in his mouth and lighting it. I’d seen THAT before. So maybe I saw the whole thing and then just erased it. Maybe I erased my childhood recollections, like Johnny Mnemonic, to make room for interesting facts about Anthony Mann’s filmography?

At any rate, Fulton’s UFO is memorable. I’ve proved that, by remembering it for forty-odd years. The film features both nifty opticals and impressive practical effects — a levitating dog, a car that slides sideways into a parking space, an invisible barrier that surrounds Kreton (taken from the play but given vivid visual form). Maybe that’s what earned it an Oscar nomination for Best Production Design, which makes little sense otherwise (it lost, and rightly so, to THE APARTMENT).

Fred Clark, great dyspeptic patriarch of the fifties, is perfectly cast as TV pundit Roger Spelding. Joan Blackman is perky as the love interest. Farmer/boyfriend Earl Holliman is much more of a jerk than in the play, which is a silly change to make because they’ve already got Lewis. Lee Patrick, recently enjoyed in VERTIGO, is Clark’s ditzy wife, and John Williams plays a fellow alien, his role greatly expanded from the play, partly because if they filmed the play as written, Lewis wouldn’t enter for ten minutes, which audiences in 1960 would not have stood for. So we begin in space, in a weird studio afterlife of dry ice, Paramount’s attempt to visualise Vidal’s suggestion of another dimension.

The movie also features Miles Archer, Talkie Tina, Dr. Eldon Tyrrel and Grandma Walton (also from VERTIGO).

Ye-es… at one point, Joan Blackman takes Jerry to a beatnik joint, the Hungry Brain. In Virginia? I don’t know that much about your Earth Culture, but I’d always assumed beatniks were more of a coastal thing. A salt water bi-product. OK, it IS the best bit of the film, with Joe Turkel freaking out at Jerry’s out-of-this-worldliness, Jerry’s simultaneous translation of a scat song, and Barbara Lawson’s dance with Jer. Although the presence of a beat club in this movie is completely unforgivable, a more efficient solution would be to junk the other, less entertaining bits of the movie and come up with a whole new story set in New York where Jerry could “plausibly” visit a beatnik place. There’s no reason why the film should be set in Virginia, though the source play did have its reasons.

Much of the movie is pure Mork & Mindy avant la lettre. Kreton’s spaceship isn’t quite an egg, but it’s tending in that direction. If you were going to morph Klaatu’s big saucer into Mork’s egg, Kreton’s capsule would be the midway point.

OK, update, I’ve now read the whole play. It’s only mildly amusing by Vidal’s standards, but it at least hangs together. It’s Gene Roddenberry’s #1 plot from Star Trek: God is an astronaut, and he’s a lunatic, an idiot, a child. Did Gore invent this trope? Vidal’s Kreton is a moral imbecile, escaped from supervision for the day. He was hoping to witness the Battle of Bull Run but arrived a century late and so decides to start WWIII instead. So there are reasons for Virginia (handy for the air force too), and it all ties together, whereas the movie is a big ball of loose ends. Intriguingly, in the movie, we do learn that Kreton was somehow responsible for the extinguishing of all life on Mars, but this is brushed aside, a throwaway gag. We’re not meant to hold genocide against him.

Gore Vidal wrote three mysteries under the name Edgar Box, about a crime-solving metrosexual PR man, and they’re excellent. It seems he could turn his hand to anything, including Mork & Mindy.

Orangey the cat, fresh from his roles in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, drags up as Clementine, voiced by cartoon favourite June Foray. (Kreton talks psychically to the cat, called Rosemary in the play, but we don’t hear her responses). The movie invents a dog also, but whoever does his voice is unlisted on the IMDb.

My favourite gag that’s original to the movie: whenever anyone tries to tell the world about Kreton, he zaps them and all they can say is “Mary had a little lamb,” sung in falsetto. When the movie’s hysterical ufologist (not in the play) snaps a Polaroid of Kreton in spaceman attire, this is how the pic comes out ~

Vidal’s notion that the aliens have moved beyond sex (“Our continuum is rather a frost,”) is spun off into lots of creepy business about Lewis wanting to watch the romantic leads making out. If you want that NOT to seem creepy, you need someone other than Lewis, whose manchild act is not devoid of lechery. The funniest thing in the play, for me, is that the young lovers had been planning to check into a motel with fake luggage to avoid suspicion — a valise full of phone books. Kreton learns of the plan and somehow imagines the phone books are an essential part of the proposed loveplay. (Ah, kids these days don’t know what lovemaking IS… because they don’t know what phone books are.)

Vidal’s Kreton is quite camp in his touristic enthusiasm — his enthusiasm for war turns him into Bud Cort in my imagination, in that scene in HAROLD AND MAUDE where Harold tries to freak out the general by being TOO pro-war. “Zero hour is almost upon us. I’m getting all shivery.” The sad thing is, Jer could have done all that brilliantly, if only they’d wanted him to.

Here is a picture of director Norman Taurog. Hahahaha he has a funny face. His career runs from Larry Semon to Elvis Presley, with Jerry near the end.

I guess VTASP served as a comedic break in the 1974 sci-fi season where I saw it, or part of it. Allowing us to gather ourselves before the strong meat of THEM! But also following neatly from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which it subverts (though a faithful rendition of the play would have subverted it even better).

 

 

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In Possession

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2013 by dcairns

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A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN — the genteel title suggests that this ghost story is going to be more DEAD OF NIGHT than THE FRIGHTENERS — in fact, it’s even more restrained than that. Made in 1945, the same year as Ealing’s scarifying ghost omnibus, it’s the product of the notoriously racy (for their day) Gainsborough Pictures, yet the supposedly sedate Ealing made by far the more overt, shamelessly terrifying film. But the lesser-known one does have its points of interest.

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The film gathers together several of the studio’s top stars — Margaret Lockwood, the Wicked Lady herself, a very young and skinny Dennis Price, and James Mason, who plays way older than his real age in a slightly comical wig and whiskers, for no reason other than it’s the best role and it allows him to use a version of his native Yorkshire accent for once (Mason could be very good with accents — Paul Duane tells me his Irish one in THE RECKLESS MOMENT is pitch-perfect). Retired businessman Mason and his wife Barbara Mullen, who lost both their children in infancy, move to the country and buy one of those suspiciously cheap houses one is always coming across in ghost stories. Then they engage Lockwood as a lady’s companion. And then the haunting begins, and Lockwood is possessed by the spirit of a dead, possibly murdered, former inhabitant…

The film, from a novel by Osbert Sitwell, is a little inert in its narrative — people are always saying “We must do something!” and the ghost, reportedly manifesting via the servant’s speaking tube, says “Fetch Doctor Marsham,” in act one but it’s act three before anybody thinks to attempt this — but director Bernard Knowles, a former director of photography for Hitchcock (THE 39 STEPS, SABOTAGE, etc) works hard to compensate for this with complex, fluid and dynamic camera movement, taking frequent advantage of the large mansion set, with its staircase and surrounding gallery. The tracking shots and crane shots, the whip pans and elaborate blocking of the performers, is quite dazzling. Sadly, I get the impression Knowles abandoned this approach pretty quickly — I recall nothing of interest in the other Gainsborough picture of his I’ve looked at, JASSY.

Knowles is doing a Scorsese before there was a Scorsese to do!

Marsham, when he shows up, is impersonated by Ernest Thesiger, which is very good news, but his appearance is practically subliminal — a minute of screen time with not a single closeup and most of his lines delivered with back to camera. And the pay-off is something that would probably work better in a compendium short story rather than a feature. One might also regret that Ms. Lockwood’s possession falls rather short of the gold standard set by Linda Blair with the active collusion of Mercedes McCambridge. MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS, another Gainsborough flick that year, used split personality to allow demure Phyllis Calvert to unleash the kind of pent-up passions the studio delighted in unleashing, and offered the British public what was likely their first cinematic glimpse of what could be taken for a female orgasm. Whereas here, Lockwood falls deathly ill, and under the influence of the ghost, who is also deathly ill (or, rather, is reliving her own mortal illness), resulting in one layer of wanness being overlaid upon another — a shame, with such a vibrant performer to hand.

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Interestingly, both Knowles and MADONNA helmer Arthur Crabtree went rather psychotronic in their late careers, with Crabtree bringing us FIEND WITHOUT A FACE and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, which neither Ealing nor Gainsborough ever dreamt of, and Knowles taking charge of FROZEN ALIVE (cryogenics) and SPACEFLIGHT IC-1 (see yesterday’s posting).

Things I Read Off the Screen in “The Shining”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by dcairns

To Edinburgh Filmhouse (last week) to see ROOM 237: BEING AN INQUIRY INTO THE SHINING IN 9 PARTS. Rodney Ascher’s essay film is a perpetual joy, cunningly assembled from (sometimes manipulated) bit of Kubrick movies and other (tangentially) related films. Six obsessives describe their theories about the “true” meaning of Kubrick’s horrorshow, which range from “secret, encoded study of the Holocaust” to “secret, encoded meditation on the genocide of the American Indians” to “secret, encoded confession to a role in faking the Apollo moon landing footage.” Despite the eccentricity of some of the claims, the evidence the offscreen voices cite is really there, and most of it seems to be there on purpose to signify something. My only problem was, “If THE SHINING is ‘really’ about the moon landings, why does it have all this stuff about the Holocaust? And if it’s ‘really’ about the Holocaust, why does it have all this stuff about the Indians?”

Each of the film-analysts is focussing very selectively, and each of them is somewhat guilty of the intentional fallacy, assuming they can read Kubrick’s intent, although one does helpfully acknowledge this fallacy and admit that what Kubrick may have intended is unknowable to critics and doesn’t, ultimately, matter.

While one commentator was talking about the partially occluded Indian heads on the cans of Calumet baking soda in this scene, I started scanning the other containers in the b/g to see if I could find anything else of interest. I did!

PIMENTO PIECES. SLICED PEACHES. TOMATO KETCHUP.

All these references to “pieces” and “slices” are deliciously pointed, considering that Jack is working up to trying to dismember his family (which we already know because of the example of caretaker Grady before him). And that is likely the reason the Indian heads are all chopped up by the composition — think also of the spectral party guest with the split head — and rogue English accent. In fact, why are the 1920s flashback/visions populated with Englishmen (Grady himself is the very British Philip Stone)? Only Lloyd the bartender is a red-blooded American. Since Kubrick is shooting in England but dragging Albion up as Colorado, it seems odd that he should so nakedly display the falsity of the premise — but it’s in keeping with the various ways in which the insistently real, textured banality of the hotel set is made to behave in an unreal, Escher-like way, folding in on itself with dream geography so that little Danny can cycle round a corner and find himself one story up.

One interesting lacuna not addressed by any of the commenters, but noted by the mighty Michel Ciment in his Kubrick book, is that Grady the waiter/caretaker has two names to go with his two jobs: we’re told about a Charles Grady, but then he gives his name as Delbert Grady. Why? Maybe it’s part of duality (“You know, the Jungian thing?”) — two names, two jobs, two daughters…

The most obvious things to read in THE SHINING are the titles, in a typical Kubrick sans-serif font, but with a glowing, modern look that suggests sci-fi rather than Gothic (which is apt: the film’s denial of dark shadows miffed Pauline Kael). And then there’s the intertitles, which start explicatory and wind up pretty confusing, another random element hurled in to throw us off-balance — they more closely resemble the title cards of early Bunuel, which make perfectly sensible statements like “Sixteen years ago” and “In Spring,” yet become darkly funny and absurd because of the context they’re spliced into.

Then there’s Jack’s novel, which some poor bastard had to type up — it matters that this doesn’t look photocopied, every page is different, complete with typos — “All work and no play makes Jack a dull bot.” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull bog.” “All work and no play makes Jack adult boy.”

Students of the life of John Barrymore will recognize where Stephen King got the inspiration for this freaky revelation. It also reminds me of a plot point from Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme, which sadly never made it into Robert Fuest’s tasty film. One of the novel’s MacGuffins is a book written by the American astronaut who spent the longest time in space. When finally obtained, the voluminous manuscript turns out to consist of the single word “ha” repeated a great many times.

“That madman business” — Shelley Duvall is reading The Catcher in the Rye, favourite reading material of crazed loners. Also, the book, favoured by John Lennon’s killer (and later by Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassin) takes its title from a Mondegreen, the lead character’s misapprehension of a song lyric. Stephen King took the title for The Shining from the lyric “And we all shine on” from the John Lennon song Instant Karma.

In the background of the Torrance kitchen we can see a bottle of Joy. The fact that advertisers chose to name a cleaning product “joy” displays baldly the sheer blistering contempt they held for housewives.

Off to the Overlook!

The KEEP THIS AREA CLEAN sign is darkly amusing, in context.

PLEASE PUT CUPS AND OTHER GARBAGE IN THE BINS PROVIDED

Oddly aggressive tone to this notice, don’t you think? Why is my cup garbage?

During this scene, where the chair behind Jack playfully vanishes and returns between reverse angles, the scrapbook in front of Jack also executes a neat unseen page-turn, although it maintains perfect continuity during the vanishing chair sequence — which is intriguing, because if we try to explain the missing chair by suggesting one of those shots was a pick-up, filmed weeks later, it’s hardly likely that the scrapbook continuity would match so perfectly. The scrapbook calmly bides its time until a wide shot gives it the opportunity to flip on a page or two.

The scrapbook is significant — Jack is researching the Overlook’s past, and when he meets Grady he recognizes him from his picture. I think there’s more of this in the book, whereas at least in the UK edit it’s unlikely anybody would notice the book and understand what it was there for.

NEWSWATCH. 10 GLENN RINKER. WPLG Miami.

Kubrick filmed this shot with the newly developed “ScatCam.”

Weirdly, the show is announced as “Newswatch 10” but the title just says “Newswatch.” Then anchorman Glenn Rinker is introduced, and the caption says “10 Glenn Rinker” which is just weird. It does actually seem like a moronic mistake, as if the captions guy had a scrap of paper with “Newswatch 10 Glenn Rinker” scrawled on it and he decided to break it up in the wrong place. Although it may be a veiled reference to Professor Ten Brinken from Hanns Heinz Ewers’ horror classic Alraune (filmed twice with Brigitte Helm).

The shorter UK edit (prepared by Kubrick himself after the American release) omits all the cartoons viewed by Danny, but we still have numerous cartoon characters in the form of stickers (with the vanishing Dopey), the Bugs Bunny-derived nicknamed “Doc,” and the presence of Scatman Crothers — but everybody is too polite to say “Weren’t you Hong Kong Fooey”?

In ROOM 237, much is made of Kubrick’s slow dissolves, particularly an early crossfade from hotel exterior to interior in which a stepladder echoes the point of the hotel’s roof. I agree that this is deliberate, and I think it may also be a tribute to Max Ophuls, who tracks past a stepladder in a hotel lobby at the start of THE RECKLESS MOMENT (another stepladder pops up earlier in Ophuls’ DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO — I think he liked stepladders). Kubrick admired Ophuls and dedicated a shot in PATHS OF GLORY to the German director, on the day he learned of his death.

Fiona pointed out that in a later dissolve, Jack on his writing “throne” seems to acquire a matching “crown,” actually a light fitting bleeding through from the incoming scene. Again, this seems deliberate.

Kubrick insists, here and in EYES WIDE SHUT, that it is possible to perform oral sex through a full-face mask. “How much sex did Kubrick have?” pondered Fiona. Still, this is an impressive early appearance by “furries,” those creepy sex fetishists who get off on dressing up like cartoon animals. But it’s not the earliest!

This is SUPERBITCH, aka SI PUO ESSERE PIU BASTARDI DELL’ISPETTORE CLIFF? with Stephanie Beacham as a high-class escort giving the five-star treatment to a rich perv. I guess the furry fetish probably originated with fancy dress parties — alcohol, dancing, dressing up, can sex be far away? Then again, for some the connection may stem from early sexual fantasies being formed in childhood, while surrounded by cute imagery of talking chipmunks.

BTW, sorry my SHINING stills are 4:3. That’s the format Kubrick insisted on when his films first had their DVD release. Perfectionist, my ass!

“I don’t particularly like writing on the screen.” ~ Stanley Kubrick.