Archive for The Running Jumping Standing Still Film

Stark reality

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2011 by dcairns

THE SPY IN BLACK (above), is notable not just for being the first screen collaboration of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, nor for being a nifty wartime thriller with Conrad Veidt as a surprisingly sympathetic Nazi spy — it’s also the first known screen credit of one Graham Stark, seen at screen right — the larger bellboy.

Yes, that familiar soft, chewing-gum face, surmounted by a huge, angular cranium, like a baby snail peeping from under a cardboard box, is familiar to us from numerous Blake Edwards and Richard Lester films, the common link being Stark’s friend Peter Sellers.

Stark plays Inspector Clouseau’s sidekick, Hercule LaJoy in A SHOT IN THE DARK, for my money the funniest of the PINK PANTHER sequels, and he’s Auguste Balls, supplier of theatrical costumery and disguises in several later PP movies. He nearly bookmark’s Lester’s career, showing up in the early TV work and THE RUNNING JUMPING & STANDING STILL FILM, and again in the silent comedy credits sequence of SUPERMAN III, as a blind man with a runaway guide dog.

In TRJ&SSF, he’s recipient of the world’s greatest and most profound visual gag (starting 9 mins and 10 secs in) ~

He’s also directed a couple of nice silent comedy inspired shorts, and one feature film, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN DEADLY SINS, which is mainly, uh, not great, but has a nice Spike Milligan scripted chapter on the theme of sloth, a sepia-tinted silent which shows his true strengths — a shame Eric Sykes and Graham Stark didn’t get to make wordless feature films, their shorts were rather popular.

Graham Stark is still with us at 89 — a few years back, a student of mine tried to recruit him for a short film — he was up for it, but his wife wouldn’t let him come out and play. Still, he remains a grand old man of British comedy, part of a noble troupe who enlivened backgrounds or embodied inane stereotypes at the drop of a bowler hat, performing an essential service all through the fifties and sixties.

Addendum: RIP, Graham Stark.

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Afghan Stan

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2008 by dcairns

Voodoo Child

So, Edinburgh is playing host to Reel Afghanistan, the first festival of Afghan cinema and culture in the U.K. As part of this, filmmaker Richard Stanley gave a talk at my place of work, Edinburgh College of Art.

Jolly entertaining it was too!

Stanley’s horror movie career began when his script for HARDWARE fell into the hands of Palace Pictures while he was in Afghanistan filming the Mujahideen in the Afghan Civil War, using a couple of wind-up 16mm Bolex cameras (it’s a beautiful camera that doesn’t need electricity — I used it to shoot CLARIMONDE, while, more famously, Richard Lester used it to shoot THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM). While the film company was trying to contact him to sign a deal on his cyberpunk splatterfest, he was attempting to transport his injured cameraman to hospital from the Hindu Kush.

‘It turned out he had exactly the kind of serious injury you want to have — his nerves were severed in his legs so he wasn’t in any pain, but none of his major blood vessels had been damaged. It was a miracle he got the use of his legs back though. We reached the hospital and my memory of it is like something out of GONE WITH THE WIND, with the stretchers spilling out of the building. That’s where I got the phone call and it was like, “Where the fuck have you fucking been?” and I was in a strange state because I’d been living with these very religious people so I was really offended by this language.

‘To get me to come back to the U.K., because I wanted to stay in Afghanistan to look for the third member of our team, who was still missing, they had to get an ex-girlfriend of mine to call me up and say she wanted me back. Then, because they weren’t sure how I would react when I found out this wasn’t true, they hired a private security firm to be there when she told me, so I got back to my flat and there were four strange men in the lounge listening to my records.’

Lust in the Dust

After HARDWARE was an unexpected hit (an $800,000 film that apparently made 70 mill) a respected British producer apparently abducted Stanley’s Afghan footage from the lab and threatened to burn the negative unless he signed away the rights to his follow-up, DUST DEVIL. After Palace Pictures went bust, Stanley ran up a $100,000 debt buying up the film materials and producing a single print of his director’s cut.

The debt was wiped out when Stanley was hired for, then fired from THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU.

‘What happened was that New Line finally read the script. The head of development had been away on pregnancy leave and didn’t read it until we were starting to shoot it. And yes, it had animal sex, and animals on drugs. And it was very expensive to fire me because I hadn’t done anything wrong. On other films I had done terrible things and it didn’t matter because they wanted me to make the movie.

Fractal skull

‘Like, on HARDWARE, I was in a strange mental state making it so soon after Afghanistan, and I got into a fight with this bloke, nothing to do with the film, about PROPERTY. He was hitting me and I hit him back and he went flying and hit his head on the mantelpiece. He was lying there and moving a little, and I didn’t know whether to call an ambulance or attempt to dispose of the body. So I called the production and they sent somebody who took him away, no problem. I didn’t ask after him but apparently he came out of his coma and was fine.’

So — returning to MOREAU — Stanley was fired and John Frankenheimer came aboard. Stanley had signed a contract saying he wouldn’t come within X miles of the location or have any contact with the crew, but camping out near the Australian location one night he saw lights, and found some crew members. ‘So I came back as a dog.’ That is to say, sympathetic crew-members loaned him a dog mask and he played a background monster (visible hamming it up in at least one scene) so he could watch as Frankenheimer and teams of new writers dismantled the script which had already been written by Stanley, re-written at great expense by Michael Herr and then re-re-written by Walon Green.

Eventually Stanley didn’t even need his dog disguise because all of the crew who knew him had been fired, and Frankenheimer had never met him. ‘He was a bad, bad man,’ said Stanley of the once-great director of SECONDS and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. ‘I don’t know what had happened to him in the years since he made those films…’ (Twenty years of alcoholism is part of the answer.) ‘He told people in Hollywood that Fairuza Balk was an intravenous drug user, which wasn’t true. She was probably seventeen at that time, and when he should have been in loco parentis, he was trying to destroy her. We were so happy when he died. It isn’t right to be that way, you should have respect for the dead, but we were dancing with joy.’

I read an interview with MOREAU star David Thewlis years ago where he said, ‘I hated, hated, hated the director,’ meaning Frankenheimer.

It’s a film that seems to attract stories. I once chatted to a New Line executive — I think he was about 14 — whose girlfriend had been involved in the shoot. He claimed to have seen weird rushes: Brando had it in his contract that the director wasn’t to interfere with his performance at all, and after Stanley’s departure he sabotaged the film. They would turn the camera on and he’d PAUSE until the film ran out. Ten minute pauses. Or else he’d goof around and do silly stuff. Some of this may be in the finished film. Certainly Brando plays an entire scene with an ice bucket on his head.

The Steel Helmet

What else is in the film:

Val Kilmer forgets his lines, laughs, and wanders out of shot.

Nelson de la Rosa, the smallest man in the world puts his feet up on the dinner table and Brando interrupts his own dramatic speech to gently say, “No no no.” For the rest of the scene the smallest man in the world can be seen shaking in helpless mirth.

David Thewliss has a fight with some very strong mice.

Fiona once met one of the writers brought in to reconfigure the movie after Stanley’s departure. He said, ‘I TOLD them the mice wouldn’t work.’

It seems unkind to suggest that the dogman’s-breakfast MOREAU is actually more fun that Stanley’s own, more personal and unified projects… but Brando had a way of making bad films fascinating (he could also mess up perfectly good films).  

Mini-Me

Austin Powers fans can be grateful to the film for giving us Mini-Me. When Mike Myers saw the tiny Nelson de la Rosa playing a toy piano on top of a grand piano played by an identically-dressed Marlon Brando, he said, ‘I have got to do something with this because that is the craziest thing I have ever seen.’

And Frankenheimer, that bad bad man, always expressed confidence that, “one day,” the film would be seen as “some kind of classic.”

Haynes’ Pandemonium Carnival

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2008 by dcairns

he's not here 

My head is an incredible jumble! I feel like I have been melted down by the Button Moulder.

I start lecturing again tomorrow (and we’ll see how I keep this blog going once THAT happens) so I started preparing my first lecture, on Jack Clayton. I love THE INNOCENTS especially and THE PUMPKIN EATER and am pretty wild about most of the others, and I’ve never done a talk about him so it seemed like fun. I was looking at THE GREAT GATSBY (featuring the infant Absolute Beginner Patsy Kensit) again, trying to choose extracts, and I got sucked into it and suddenly realised I’d better stop and go and see I’M NOT THERE, as had been my plan for the day.

Off to the Cameo!* This is a legendary Edinburgh art-house/fleapit. My parents saw THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM along with THE SEVEN SAMURAI here (an unlikely pairing). It used to be run by a wild entrepreneur and showman called Jim Poole, who would turn the heating up for desert films, and other feats of William Castle-style Sensurround legerdemain. Yet I can’t see any obvious reason why, for this film, the auditorium was freezing cold and smelled of wee. These sensations disappeared as the film began though, returning with renewed intensity as the end credits rolled (to the sound of “Like a Rolling Stone”) and I realised I’d been in a state of sensory suspension for the whole film, absorbing only what the film’s makers delivered to me through my ears and eyes. 

I don’t feel equal to delivering any kind of useful thoughts on this film just yet, which is a Phantasmagoric Cavort through various aspects of Bob Dylan’s life and art, because a) it’s pretty complex and b) I don’t know much about Dylan and c) I have managed to amplify the rather weird state the film induced in me by way of artistic overload:

On the bus home, I had the gated drums of Siouxie and the Banshee’s Peekaboo and the lovely Charlotte Gainsbourg singing to me on my Nano, while I read a little memoir by Ralph Richardson (favourite role: Peer Gynt) and the illuminations of the Balmoral Hotel and Edinburgh Castle glowed, and I thanked my lucky stars again for living in the city where W.C. Fields first tasted whiskey.

Then home, lighting a fire and finishing off THE GREAT GATSBY, which has marvellous people and moments, even if it doesn’t entirely grip. Fitzgerald is referenced in Haynes’ film, but I thought on the whole that SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, a marvellous film made by Clayton and partially unmade by the suits at Disneycorps, is closer to Haynes’ film, which has a definite flavour of the Fellini-esque about it. EIGHT AND A HALF is the big stylistic cue for the Cate Blanchett scenes, but then this circus flavour invades the Richard Gere sequence, supplanting most traces of Peckinpah (though the presence of Kris Kristofferson as narrator provides another reminder of PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID). I guess the blend of Americana and the carnivalesque is what brought Clayton’s film to mind.

all I see are dark eyes

dusty old fairgrounds

You can probably expect more on the neglected Clayton, and hopefully some more ordered thoughts on Haynes’ film, which I kind of loved, soon. Or soon-ish.

ONE thought: Cate Blanchett has rightly had much favourable attention for her work here, but I think she has an advantage over her co-stars because drag is pretty well always interesting. Not that she isn’t remarkable. But I want to say that Marcus Carl Franklin as “Woodie Guthrie” is also a true Star — when he’s on it’s like someone pierced the celluloid and let a VERY BRIGHT LIGHT shine through.

MC Franklin

*One very nice thing about this picture house is that there’s generally one of my students or ex-students working there. This time it was Clair. Hello, if you’re reading this!