Archive for The Red Shoes

In/Congruence

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on October 29, 2010 by dcairns

I’ve always felt that Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, stylised and willfully studio-bound as they are, owed something to the works of Powell & Pressburger… Corman, who’s usually frank and generous in crediting his inspirations, has never mentioned this to my knowledge (Fellini and Bergman get name-checked, though), but I still feel it’s there… I first got the impression from the climax of HOUSE OF USHER, where the mad Madeleine (Myrna Fahey), risen from the grave, scares the leaping bejesus out of Vincent Price. I thought, “Ah-hah, Kathleen Byron in BLACK NARCISSUS.”

But watching MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH again the other night, I was reminded during the psychedelic satanic ritual scene of THE RED SHOES by a quick shot of Hazel Court’s feet (or a balletic stand-in’s) running ~ here’s Moira Shearer’s version ~

And here’s Hazel’s ~

It has to be influence, otherwise why is Hazel running en pointe? It’s not just the quick-moving close-up track, but the way it’s incorporated into the sequence as a whole, struck me as a definite swipe (and I use the term with admiration, not pejoratively). Of course, cinematographer Nic Roeg, steeped in British cinema, may have suggested the idea, but he couldn’t have done so on HOUSE OF USHER. So, then I wondered if, really, THE RED SHOES was the overall influence. It just so happens that THE RED SHOES was one of my first Blu-Ray purchases, and so I ran it. (It was beautiful.)

Whadayaknow? It seems like Fahey’s impressive, pantomimic gesture with her bloody nails might stem from Moira Shearer’s moves in SHOES, and indeed, that Corman’s whole zombie-dream-sequence approach, borrowed to pad out almost every one of his Poe movies (and provide visual relief from the chatter), might owe something to Vicky’s nocturnal adventure in the demi-monde of TRS’s ballet scene…

USHER even features a fast shot following Mark Damon’s feet down a flight of stairs which seems to echo the spiral ironwork staircase shot in THE RED SHOES recently homaged by Scorsese in SHUTTER ISLAND.

I don’t for a second think Mr. Corman is trying to pull a fast one — it’s quite possible that THE RED SHOES exerted a subconscious influence, or that it was fresh in his mind when he made USHER and MASQUE, but is less so now. All I want to do is congratulate him on his excellent taste.

(Images aren’t taken from the Blu-Ray of TRS, because I don’t know how to do that.)

8a

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2010 by dcairns

Since I don’t think anybody managed to answer Question (8)a in the March film quiz –

“What connects CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, THE RED SHOES and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA?”

The Ondes Martenot! If you wanted electronica back in the forties, you had a choice between this and the erotic teasings of the theremin. Olivier Messiaen’s Oraison was composed especially for this plug-in wonder instrument. And my late friend Lawrie reported the excitement at the studio when the O.M. was brought in for use on CAESAR AND CLEO, the first film he’d worked on. I guess the alien sounds were considered appropriate for Ancient Egypt. In THE RED SHOES the sound evokes psychological dissonance and mesmeric compulsion, much as the theremin did for Ray Milland in THE LOST WEEKEND — Moira Shearer needs those shoes like a bottle of rye — and in LAWRENCE it stands for the pitiless desert sun, which incidentally is the only matte painting in the movie (you simply didn’t point your camera at the sun in those days).

CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA.

Books 5: The Deadly Companion

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2009 by dcairns

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Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion, and its sister book, Halliwell’s Film Guide, had a special place in my distant youth. In an era when a kid could not own a bunch of movies (even when we got VHS, I couldn’t afford the blank tapes for a big collection of off-air recordings) a big book was a way to have a swathe of cinema at one’s fingertips. It was similar to the attraction of heavily illustrated tomes like Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies. You gazed in wonder at all the movies you might never see. The difference was, Leslie Halliwell achieved this effect without pictures, just by marshaling facts and opinions.

It’s the opinions that are the problem. While I still keep copies of his books around (not the latest editions, since the IMDb has largely destroyed the need for such reference books, but still, having the facts in hard copy form is useful at times), I’ve learned to largely ignore the value judgements expressed in the capsule reviews.

When I first held the Film Guide in my hands (which was exciting), I was astonished to discover that Halliwell awarded 0 stars out of a possible 4 to Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, indicating that the film was, in his opinion, of no interest to the average viewer. That was the first of various dismaying discoveries.  In the edition before me, edited by John Walker, the film now gets 3 stars, but Halliwell’s review remains unchanged ~ “Intermittently lively, very violent, and interminably drawn-out Western with a number of rather hilarious stylistic touches.” Which suggests that Halliwell couldn’t recognise when Leone was being deliberately funny. My ten-year-old self had struggled a bit with Leone’s humour, but I eventually figured out the joke. Halliwell’s inability to do so might tell us a lot about the poor reception Leone tended to get from critics in his day.

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I soon learned that Halliwell was not to be trusted on any film made after the 50s, because he just didn’t like modern cinema. The most recent film to get 4 stars was BONNIE AND CLYDE.  As I grew more sophisticated, I perceived that he couldn’t really be trusted on earlier films either, since he tended to misunderstand even the great films he liked: he once wrote that the climax of THE RED SHOES seemed tacked-on, as if they couldn’t think of a way to end it. Which demonstrates pretty conclusively that, while enjoying and appreciating the film as the masterpiece it is, he totally missed the point of it.

I did discover that LH had a kind of negative genius for picking out films of rare interest, and roundly condemning them. Long before I saw the films reviewed below, I was drawn to them by Halliwell’s scathing denunciations, which seemed to promise the kind of corrupting and depraving adult entertainment every growing boy needs. See if you can identify the films ~

Despite undeniable technical proficiency this is its writer-director’s most outrageously sick film to date, campy, idiosyncratic and in howling bad taste from beginning to end, full of worm-eaten skulls, masturbating nuns, gibbering courtiers, plague sores, rats, and a burning to death before our very eyes… plus a sacrilegious dream of Jesus.

Couldn’t get my head round that at all. He says “campy” and “idiosyncratic” as if those were BAD things. And wnat’s wrong with rats? And he seems to enjoy the blasphemy in Bunuel, so why not here?

A repulsive film in which intellectuals have found acres of social and political meaning: the average judgment is likely to remain that it is pretentious and nasty rubbish for sick minds who do not mind jazzed-up images and incoherent sound.

Brilliant, I thought. I not only don’t mind “jazzed-up images,” I adore them! In fact, Halliwell’s denunciation was never the “average judgment” of this vert successful box-office hit, nor has such a view prevailed over time.

Not badly made but rather seedy film about appalling people.

Heh.

The most excessive and obscene of all this director’s controversial works, incapable of criticism on normal terms except that it seems unusually poor in production values.

Our man is being rather inconsistent here, since this film is by the same director as the first example. They can’t BOTH be his most obscene work, surely?

Appalling kaleidoscope of black comedy and the director’s own brand of uncontrolled cinematic zaniness, with echoes of Candide and Oh What A Lovely War! Just the way to alienate a paying audience.

Oh yeah, you keep Voltaire well away from our poor defenseless paying audiences.

The person who does the best job identifying these movies wins a copy of one of them.

halliwellEmil Jannings as Henry VIII.

So why do I still keep these books, and why do I cite them as influences on my becoming a cinephile? Well, for all his middlebrow curmudgeonly philistinism, Halliwell had certainly seen a lot of films, and he was happy to pass his experience on to the rest of us. I not only used his books as occasional references, I devoured them, cover to cover, soaking up information on the films that interested me, and locating many others that seemed worthy of pursuit. Leonard Maltin’s books, harder to find in the UK, contained fewer preposterous critical own goals, but also fewer cast and crew credits. Cross referencing between the Film Guide (movies) and the Companion (people), I could assemble a personal cinema history of the cinema I was interested in. While scorning Halliwell’s opinions, I nevertheless owe him a massive debt.

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