Archive for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

Jack-the-Vlad

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2018 by dcairns

Cast list for Mario Puzo’s DRACULA —

Al Pacino — Dracula

Diane Keaton — Mina Murray

Robert Duvall — Jonathan Harker

Marlon Brando — Professor Van Helsing

John Cazale — Renfield

Duvall’s Dr. Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION is a worthy predecessor to Keanu Reeves’s Unconvincing Victorian Gentleman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. OK, on with our amazing journey through Francis Coppola’s director’s commentary, billed excitingly as Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula With Francis Coppola. Let’s! Oh, do let’s!

A pause in the commentary allows us to enjoy Keanu’s accent. It’s not that the accent is awful, or even too extreme — some posh Englishmen probably talked much posher in Victorian times — it’s that the accent has taken over the performance and is occupying all the actor’s concentration. Plus, I guess if you’re known for being Keanu Reeves, which Keanu Reeves was at the time, your English accent had probably best be quite subtle and discreet, which this isn’t.

Winona’s “It’s just that I’m so tebbly worried about Jonathan,” could give Keanu a run for his money, though. The line is kind of pathetic (I’m guessing the film wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test — Winona & Sadie’s scenes are all useless drivel, women waiting for men to show up so something can happen) but the delivery feels positively parodic.

The garden is built into the swimming pool that was Esther Williams’ swimming pool.

OK, that clarifies what Uncle Francis said earlier. Suddenly it’s NIGHT, in the best Edward D. Wood tradition, and the girls are looking off camera, slightly upwards, and the sky is full of Gary Oldman’s eyes, and NONE of this works.

You know, he’s on his ship, in his coffin, buried in his soil of Transylvania, and it’s beginning to influence even those girls in England.

It’s hot, you’re sweating, now here comes Julius!

Now Francis embarks on a stream-of-consciousness monologue in which what he’s trying to say keeps getting interrupted by what he’s looking at, because he can’t help say what he’s looking at, like a child going “Dog!”

This is a sequence trying to express the crates of boxes of Dracula’s belongings, including himself in a kind of almost embryonic state in the box and of course the movement of the ship on the water is now translated even to the girls in their garden and maze trying to unify the turmoil of storm that is about to, um, reach them… […] As though the earth of this English estate is moving, and the animals in the zoo are all becoming like a boat. […] All hell is breaking loose in the asylum because the coming of the boat again the metaphor is that the boat is expressed by boat-like movement even in a rock-solid place like an asylum.

The Joycean quality of the above does kind of suit the sequence, which is a very exciting one. John Boorman praised it for being a new form of cinema… Coppola admits he got it from Abel Gance. I think the few static shots here are a shame though. Ken Russell would have found a way to keep the madness going.

He’s getting so stoked, Renfield.

Well, it is BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

Coppola credits the pixilation shots, like a speed-freak version of the EVIL DEAD’s shakicam, to his son Roman, and speculates that the technique may have been developed and named by experimental filmmakers in the San Francisco Bay Area. As far as I know it’s Norman McLaren’s term, but I may be wrong.

Please, this isn’t what it looks like!

Then Dracula in the form of a big werewolf is shagging Sadie Frost and even Coppola seems bemused.

I’m a little surprised by this movie, I haven’t seen it in such a long time, but… it never stops doing stuff. It’s hard for me to talk about it, because normally, doing a commentary — oh yeah, he’s actually seeing the blood coursing through her veins — these are all ideas that we hoped to do when we planned it out and then of course we had to find ways to be able to do this imagery… and some work really very, very successfully, and some, uh, not at all, but you can see that it was a production that was full of ideas…

I like that he’s on the point of explaining why the film is hard to commentate on because crazy shit keeps breaking out, when he has to cut himself off because some more crazy shit just broke out. He then invokes Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a mistake, I feel. Surely he’s thinking of Charles Band’s PHANTOMS.

This sequence is actually shot with a Pathé camera, hand-cranked camera. I wanted to shoot much more of it with the camera but the photographer was less than interested.

Michael Ballhaus is emerging as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, isn’t he? It’s a lovely moment, and for once, it DOES feel like we’re back in the past.

Maybe the British actors and Ballhaus and, oh, everybody else who wasn’t a relative, was having trouble figuring out what this film was supposed to be because Coppola, as we’ve seen, doesn’t express himself very precisely with words. But he does express himself expressively. I recall Clive James quoting, I think maybe it was Bruce Beresford — “There’s an interview where Coppola says he doesn’t make films for the hoi polloi, when he means the intelligentsia.” Coppola would naturally want to use the term hoi polloi because it sounds snooty, something a toffee-nose would say, even if it doesn’t mean what he wants it to mean.

Well hello.

Coppola points out the clever effect where Oldman seems to catch a falling medicine bottle at knee level, then all at once has it at eye level — in an unbroken shot. THIS is the kind of “Did I see that?” sleight of hand that’s perfect for making the character a touch uncanny but not obviously strange.

(My friend Kiyo said “But… he’s obviously strange,” as Jude Law romanced the heroine of TALE OF A VAMPIRE, and then Fiona and I use it every time a Gothic movie attempts to sell a character as seductive when in fact you’d run screaming into the night if you ever met him.)

Fiona points out that Oldman is unlikely casting as a sexy Dracula, but admits that he is rather splendid in his man about town garb and shades.

I’ve always had the theory that a man loves the same woman all his life even if she takes the form of different women but ultimately from Day One a man loves the same woman and she is him.

Does this line work on the long-suffering Eleanor, I wonder? Oh, I’m such a bitch.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Taking of Studley Constable

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2015 by dcairns

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One could wish that author Jack Higgins had invented a Norfolk village with a less silly name than Studley Constable as the setting for his war adventure The Eagle Has Landed, or that Tom Mankiewicz, adapting it, had switched the location to somewhere with more dignity. Scratby, perhaps, or East Runton.

The John Sturges movie based on the book must have seemed a bit old-fashioned in 1976, but as I recall there was a certain market for that kind of thing at the time, as an alternative to the prevailing direction of Hollywood cinema — the IMDb’s list of ten “most popular” films for that year doesn’t feature a lot of romance — things tend to end as they do for Kong and Dwan, or Travis and Betsy, or Sissy Spacek and bucket guy — making Jenny Agutter and Donald Sutherland — the English rose and the ungulate Casanova — the screen’s sexiest couple of ’76. She even consented to do clothed scenes, but only because they were essential to the plot.

They genuinely are good together. Sutherland plays one of those sympathetic IRA men beloved of Hollywood (in a film crowded with sympathetic Nazis), and Agutter is twenty-five playing “almost nineteen,” a village girl smitten with the romantic newcomer. And she sells it. I don’t know if that was a difficult task — maybe she just defocussed her eyes and imagined chocolate eclairs — but she seems to be spectacularly interested in everything that dribble of a face is doing. Fiona finds Sutherland devilishly attractive, in a deeply weird way. The scene where he orders a bartender to suck his thumb had her all a-tremble.

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While Sutherland has never really mastered an accent in a film, and essays an extreme and wonky brogue here,  he does have fun in the role, grinning satanically and boozing a lot. He’s the only one with good dialogue. And he’s the best Irish Nazi since Stephen Boyd in THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS. Michael Caine (Jewish Nazi) tries to talk in a slightly clipped way suggestive of being German, and Robert Duvall (another no-hoper when it comes to accents, except for a rather good blue-collar New York which I was surprised to discover wasn’t his native idiom) lays it on thick, though not as badly as he would playing Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION the same year. I would love to see a movie where Sutherland does his FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY English, and Duvall does his Watson, but I think I should go mad watching it.

Caine has a line near the end about no longer driving events but being driven by them, and it’s very apt indeed, but it could apply to everything that happens in this movie from the start. Plot dictates every move, and people keep shifting out of character to allow the plot to get done. Jenny Agutter becomes a murderer — WHAT? Larry Hagman (very amusing) is at least set up as a knucklehead desperate for glory, but that’s an example of a character being machine-tooled and dropped into position to fulfill a narrative function. Spectacular accidents occur in order to move things along more briskly.

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The whole thing is swiped from …WENT THE DAY WELL? which is a much better movie. Higgins even began his novel in a post-war English graveyard, like Cavalcanti’s film, though fortunately the movie dispenses with this pilfered prologue. What Higgins added is the Churchill kidnap plot, which makes it high-concept, and the idea of the Germans as heroes, which is dicey at best. Proving that Caine’s character isn’t anti-semitic in an introductory scene smacks of special pleading, and the efforts to make Duvall’s Colonel likable count for nothing — he would have been just as effective as a bastard, since what the audience cares about is What Will Happen? We aren’t, after all, rooting for the Nazis to win, we are merely concerned by a scheme.

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Higgins reports (in his foreword to the book) that he did encounter resistance to the idea of Nazis as leads, but says that his dealings with German soldiers in the fifties had made it clear to him that “most of them were just like us.” That should worry you, Jack!

Studley Constable (that name!) cemetery is full of gravestones that wobble when anyone touches them.

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The real studly constable (right).

Final Festival Round-Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2008 by dcairns

E.I.F.F. 2008.

Today was Best of the Fest day — or “What prints are still in town?” day, to give it its informal name. But there was plenty of good stuff on, so I tooted over to Filmhouse, discovered that my press pass had officially expired, and shelled out some cash for movies for the first time in ten days.

WALL-E was first. I felt guilty about seeing something non-rare like this at a festival, but quite good about missing all the ads that will precede it when it goes on general release. I started to wonder if I was in a fragile emotional state as it went on, as I found myself having an exaggerated response to EVERYTHING. I spent much of the film close to tears. Then i decided that, no, I’m no more fragile than usual, it’s just a deeply beautiful film.

It’s kind of sweet also that Michael Crawford finds himself in one of the biggest films of the year, without actually doing anything (he appears in the clips from HELLO DOLLY, Wall-E’s favourite/only video). Opening in space, with Crawford’s voice ringing out, before descending towards a litter-strewn Earth upon with only North America is visible, Andrew Stanton’s extended C.G.I. homageto Douglas Trumbull’s SILENT RUNNING actually has a beautiful, live action, ’70s long-lens, misty, smoggy look, like the titles of SOYLENT GREEN, for all its terrestrial scenes. Roger Deakins consulted on the virtual lighting, and expressed his astonishment in Edinburgh at the joy of position virtual lights in a virtual set and not having to worry about hiding them.

Did I like all the film equally? No, but things don’t have to be perfect. Enough of this was. And it was interesting to see Fred Willard spoofing President Bush: “Stay the course!” This must make Bush the first U.S. president to have been slammed by Disney while in office, unless I’m forgetting something major.

Pixar’s hit-rate is so high it could almost get monotonous. I seriously dig how they mainly avoided dialogue here and would suggest they get even braver and make an entirely wordless feature next.

*

I jumped from Filmhouse to the Cameo, grabbing a sandwich, and plunged into the art deco world of MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, a ’30s farce which fails as a comedy (for me) but which seemed to just about hang together as drama. The material is far from the level of Wodehouse, although the story is acceptable. The dialogue and situations fail to deliver the expected comedy (although the audience I was with laughed kindly a few times). Director Bharat Nalluri, from high-end Brit T.V., avoids overkill and restrains the visuals, but there’s neither a refreshing, modern attitude nor any evocation of an old-fashioned film style. and the performances refuse to gel in a way that’s kind of fascinating.

McDormand and Adams.

The extras — several terribly over-eager perfs from background artistes, something you don’t often see.

The stars — well, there aren’t any big ones, which ought to mean Nalluri had the pick of non-famous thespian talent at his disposal, with no commercial pressure, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Frances McDormand — a talented comedienne, as we’ve seen before, here she can only manage to generate a few warm smiles, and most of those are snatched solo. Whenever she has to interact with fellow performers, she’s hampered by the unevenness of tone. Any scene with more than two co-stars leaves her torn between wildly different acting styles, since she’s the only performer paying close attention to her fellows. But she makes an appealing Pettigrew and that sympathy holds the proceedings together at least somewhat.

Amy Adams — plays the whole thing in a fake Marilyn Monroe voices which in 1939 had yet to be invented. Anachronistic and more than a little annoying. She’s CONSISTENT, but her tropes get shopworn fast. There’s talent there, but it lacks guidance.

Tom Payne — another terribly self-conscious British prettyboy. I didn’t like his HAIR — was any man wearing it that long? He’s ruinous to any scene of farce that requires timing. He has appeal, and may well become a decent actor, but asking him to do anything that requires precision is madness. He gets all the script’s Bertie Wooster archaisms, as if all the movie requires is one character who talks ’30s. He gets away with the “don’t you know, what?” stuff better than anyone could reasonably be expected to when surrounded by non-period-specific speakers, so he deserves some credit for that.

Lee Pace — from his first scene I thought he was a truly horrible actor. By the end I kind of liked him. Then I discover he’s American, which I hadn’t suspected. Suicidal of the filmmakers to have saddled themselves with yanks in Brit roles. They’re already attempting farce, which rarely works on screen, and ’30s screwball reconstruction, which generally dies like a dog (AT LONG LAST LOVE?) so they didn’t need to kneecap themselves before even starting. What’s odd about Pace is that although he seems awkward and out of place, he seems exactly like an awkward out-of-place Brit. He doesn’t slot into place with the others because he’s too naturalistically gawkish for the milieu. Interesting but wrong.

Ciáran Hinds — really sweet. The only actor who can talk to one character and then to another without making himself or them seem like a stray alien. His perf is so low-key and gentle it almost disappears before you, but he’s the one you remember.

Mark Strong — he was the best thing in Polanski’s (rather good) OLIVER TWIST, as the usually-deleted character Toby Crackit. Here he could actually get away with going more O.T.T. as he did there, but I don’t blame him for holding it in, surrounded as he is by erratically varying styles and pitches. He makes a good cad though — I need to check out some of his other work (SYRIANA, STARDUST).

Shirley Henderson — is a very dangerous woman. Versatile to the point of omnipotence, she can produce effects beyond the range of any earth-creature. Being fallible like the rest of us, she’s quite capable of making bad choices though, and playing them to the hilt so as to torpedo a whole movie, as in DOCTOR SLEEP. Here she does her Cruella-type villainess as if on helium, which is wildly impressive (if it were anyone else I’d assume she had computerized assistance, but NO, this is Shirley we’re talking about) as a technical feat, slightly distracting much of the time, but serves as a possible clue as to how all the other roles could have been played — with gusto, speed and sharp timing. Is this really so impossible today?

I’m usually a sucker for WWII stuff — MRS MINIVER slays me and the novels of Patrick Hamilton lay about my heartstrings with rusty saw-blades, but this fest I’ve seen two flicks set around wartime, this and THE EDGE OF LOVE, and neither really got me at all.

*

Out of PETTIGREW, bagel across the road, then back into the Cameo for my third helping.

ELEGY is directed by Isabel Coixet, whose episode of PARIS JE T’AIME was quite enjoyed round our place. This movie seems to relate quite closely to it in plot terms, too. But I.C. needs to wean herself off the V.O., which doesn’t add anything to this movie AT ALL.

Nicholas Meyer scripts. Remember him? As a novelist and film director he had a definite personality, tackling romps like TIME AFTER TIME (H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper in his time machine) and THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (Sherlock Holmes teams up with Freud). He also managed to make a going concern out of the STAR TREK franchise, directing entries 2 and 6 (remember, the even-numbered TREKS are the good ones). In this movie he’s adapting Philip Roth, and there’s nothing to relate this to his earlier films — but quite a lot to connect it to THE HUMAN STAIN, another Roth adaptation by Meyer.

Sir Ben Kingsley, who will always be Handhi Bendhi Gandhi to me, falls madly in bed with Penelope Cruz, whose breasts he declares, not unreasonably, to be the best in the world. A lot of this film revolves around those breasts, so it’s a good job they were able to cast such a convincing pair. There is actually a surprising chemistry between the two stars. Sir Ben is on top form, managing to be real and surprising at the same time. Why hasn’t he played Picasso? He has a big bald head and his torso, which he staunchly parades here, is a dead ringer.

Ben can’t believe his luck with P. Cruz, which leads him to sabotage the relationship. Bad Sir Ben! It probably doesn’t help that he’s getting his romantic advice from Dennis Hopper. There might possibly be better people to listen to. What’s Robert Blake up to these days?

“Do you know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking GUN.”

So the beautiful Cruz missiles go out of his life, only to return with a tragic twist (ouch). The perfs are exquise, the situations adult and interesting, only the cinematic qualities descend to cliché. Walks on the  beach: the couple together, then, morosely, Bendhi alone. That bloody voice-over. I have nothing against V.O., but try taking it out and see what happens. My guess: nothing. Erik Satie on the soundtrack. I was just watching Welles’ THE IMMORTAL STORY, as part of the Moreau retrospective, and thinking what a shame the Gymnopedies have been so overused since then, and here they come all over again.

Just before the festival a student asked me “What does ‘cinematic’ mean?” During the festival I heard various people debating it. Generally we agreed it was a tricky word with no set meaning. In ELEGY, Sir Bendhi quotes A.E. Houseman’s line about not knowing what poetry is, but recognising it at once when he sees it.

ELEGY is well-acted, written, and photographed, but I don’t recognise it as cinematic.