Archive for The Shining

The Dada Book

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2014 by dcairns

babadook

Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK is getting lots of favorable attention, and the low-budget Australian horror deserves it, though we weren’t wholly captivated. But the minus side — too much generic running around, recycling of tropes from Mario Bava’s SHOCK and THE SHINING*, neglecting the unique possibilities of its original ideas, like the scary pop-up book — is pretty well balanced by some strong pluses.

I’m going to play the game of not spoiling the storyline, but you might pick up hints from the following, and if you want to see the film with a virginal mind, see it first before reading the rest.

babadoo

The title is really delightful — Fiona was convinced she’d heard this word before, which is testament to the word-sound’s grip on the collective unconscious. It’s like onomatopoeia for something that doesn’t exist.

The performances, particularly the two leads, are just extraordinary. Little Daniel Henshall Noah Wiseman has one of those wildly expressive, photogenic faces, eyes like fishbowls, porcelain skin, and disconcerting FANGS (like he hasn’t quite grown into his teeth, or like they just grew into him) — he transfixes the camera. Essie Davis as his mum is just perfect too, maintaining sympathy as long as possible as things start to get really, really bad.

The movie is playing an elaborate game with the genres of psychological and supernatural horror, so expect some slide between believing the Babadook is a real monster and thinking it’s all in the mind. Some of this journey is rocky, with promising avenues closed off too soon, and the part of the film where it comes down strongly on one side gets kind of dull and uninvolving — we feel we’ve lost sympathy, and for all the running around, this can only end really badly, which is depressing. But then the movie pulls off an eleventh-hour recovery and goes somewhere quite unexpected and possibly unique in the genre.

baba2

Fiona: “Magicians are scary. Child magicians are very scary.”

Basically, the Babadook — a crow-like caped man with dagger-like fangs, somewhat Tim Burton-like — also a mysterious hand-crafted children’s book with some highly inappropriate content — comes to have a very clear metaphorical significance. He’s the embodiment of a repressed emotion, and ultimately the way of dealing with him seems quite apt and may even have helpful real-world applications for the viewer. Grief isn’t dealt with by violence, and it can’t be effectually shut away and forgotten, and it is a dark, all-consuming monster… I can say no more.

The movie has a jittery, juddery, propulsive editing style which keeps you nervous most of the time. Mom walks towards the front door — the sound of the door opening breaks in before she gets there — we cut to her midway through opening the door, now shot from outside — which smooths over the jumps just enough to feel like smooth continuity, but has an undercurrent of nervous anticipation. This is kept up, which means the film doesn’t get to creep us out much with slow, building suspense, but it’s also a world away from the traditional, conventional 1-2-3-BOO! approach of teen horror. It has its limitations but it’s at least a fresh approach.

*Anyone who has seen LET US PREY, co-written by Fiona & I, will be able to point triumphantly to a lot of SHINING-influenced business in that one, but we already have our answer worked out, which is to deny all responsibility for anything you don’t like, okay? As long as we can take credit for anything you DO like. The ultimate powerlessness of the screenwriter has to confer SOME advantages…

Mr Smith Goes to Town

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 1, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-12-31-20h57m14s161

THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971) by Nelson Lyon Myers — this scene, near the opening, feels like it must have had an influence on CLOCKWORK ORANGE, right? Though the movies came out within a few months of each other. Still, I believe that if there were an influence, it was probably Lyon influencing Kubrick not the other way around, even though Kubes has a substantial filmography and Lyon has, basically, this one film.

Kubrick, through his contacts at Warners, probably got to see movies before they came out. And it’s interesting that his portrayal of the cat lady is a fairly substantial departure from Anthony Burgess’ source novel, which he’s otherwise fairly faithful to. In the book, the cat lady is a typical crazy cat lady. Making her run a health spa and have a large collection of erotic pop art was Kubrick’s idea. He also uses this to make her a shrill, middle-class lady and robs her of the pathos Burgess left her (which was never drawn attention to, you just felt it if you wanted to).

Also, Kubrick was kind of a phone freak (“Why should we spoil a perfectly good telephonic relationship by meeting?” he asked Boorman) and I think he’d have responded to the film’s creepy, impersonal brand of sex comedy.

Anyway, THE TELEPHONE BOOK is now available on a snazzy Blu-ray much more handsome than the ancient VHS rip I watched. Lyon has real cinematic flair and wit, and his sex farce is less obnoxious than comrade-in-arms and Kubrick connection Terry Southern’s. Although ditzy heroine Sarah Kennedy is constantly propositioned, obscene-phone-called or indecently exposed at, her innocence allows her to rise above it all. And she’s not stupid, just kind of space-y. And the movie doesn’t seem sadistic, it actually seems like it’s on her side.

(Kennedy receives the world’s greatest dirty phone call and spends the movie trying to track down the caller, one “John Smith”, convinced he’s the love of her life. Twisted, yes, but oddly good-natured. Misogyny is present, but it doesn’t seem imbued in the film, just floating around some of the characters, which is as close to realism as the film needs to get.)

Because it has a Warhol person (Ultra Violet) and is in b&w and has a sort of underground, Robert Downey counterculture vibe, it feels like a sixties film, until the naked ladies come on and then it’s, I guess you could say, timeless.

There’s also this, which is unmistakably Kubrickian, kind of the missing link between the droogs and that furry guy in THE SHINING ~

vlcsnap-2013-12-31-20h57m59s93

The Telephone Book (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)

A Ghost Story for Christmas

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on December 31, 2013 by dcairns

The BBC has a long tradition of televised ghost stories at Christmas time, often involving M.R. James adaptations. Mark Gatiss has happily revived the idea this year with his version of The Tractate Middoth.

But here’s one from the ’70s, (heyday of this activity) made by commercial television, and it’s at least as good as the Lawrence Gordon Clarke movies the Beeb were turning out, while running about a third of the length. James is such an economical writer and most of his stories so simple that it’s no squeeze at all, and in fact the film feel’s leisurely. But the sting in the tale is powerful — it even gets away with depending on special effects, which work precisely because they’re so unexpected after the low-key exposition. It feels like the film itself has been invaded by another reality.

Interesting to see a maze played for terror before THE SHINING. Our director, Tony Scull, who, like his film, has existed without leaving any trace upon the IMDb, exploits the ragged and decaying hedgerows so he can film through them and get what we call Sid Furie shots, where the camera seems to be spying on the actor, implying some sinister presence. Sadly, this stops him from doing what Kubrick did, moving the camera through the maze giving us the subjective impression of being lost and enclosed. True, he wouldn’t have had access to a yet-to-be-invented steadicam, but hand-held could work just as well — wobble and lurch can add to our nervousness.

But he scores at the end, particularly when the credits start to rise before the VO has finished wrapping up the plot — this sounds like it could be messy, but it’s beautifully effective, capturing attitude of the uncaring universe as embodied by the TV schedule — we have to move on, and we can’t worry too much if some poor chap has just had his nerves shredded. And how are your nerves? Feel any urge to look behind you and check that no malefic presence has materialized through the floorboards while you were intent on your screen?

BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas (Expanded six disc set) PAL ONLY

STOP PRESS: we’re told that this short is an extra on this DVD: Casting the Runes [1979] [DVD] Maybe if a few of you click through and buy it I’ll feel less guilty about inadvertently pirating something that was commercially available! The main feature is a TV adaptation of the same MR James story that became NIGHT OF THE DEMON…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 540 other followers