Archive for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Geeks Bearing Grifts

Posted in FILM, literature, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2021 by dcairns

Got our copies of THE HANDS OF ORLAC and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD a while back. The Wiene film is a really great package, with Fiona and I’s video essay, Extremities, joined by a plethora of extras. My favourite is Tim Lucas’ study of the film’s ongoing influence, and on the works of original author Maurice Renard.

I just recently read The Light of Other Days, the award-winning sci-fi story by Bob Shaw, which deals with slow glass, a scienti-fiction substance through which light passes very slowly, so that you can see things that happened on the other side decades before. Shaw’s story uses an affecting tale of bereavement to dramatise the concept — a man can still look at his wife and children, who died years ago — but he says, in How To Write Science Fiction, that he first considered a murder story, where the killer fears that his guilt will be discovered when the light finishes its glacial journey.

Well, according to Lucas, Maurice Renard got there first, in Le Maître de la lumière, which has the murder and the slow glass, here named Luminite. But I suspect this wasn’t plagiarism, but what they call parallel development. Every idea will occur to multiple people, unless the first iteration becomes so universally famous that nobody thereafter can think they’re the first to come up with it. Renard’s own big idea in his novel Les Mains’ D’Orlac, the hand transplant where the recipient imagines his new parts retain their owner’s (murderous) impulses, was not wholly original to Renard. I’m quite chuffed that Fiona and I were the only extra-makers on this disc to dig up the earlier version, Mortmain, by Arthur Cheney Train. You can read it online. It’s terrible.

This film adaptation has been lost, last seen at The Cozy.

In other news, the stack of discs I’ve worked on now comes up to my nose.

But not up to Richard Kiel’s

Further reading: a few stories from the collection Far Out by Damon Knight, the first of which, To Serve Man, became a celebrated Twilight Zone episode. It’s a fairly dumb story on some levels (even assuming the titular cookbook has no giveaway illustrations, the idea that the title could be translated before any of the contents is a preposterous distortion of how translation works) but the idea is fun. Idiot Stick, the second story, is a variant on the same “too good to be true aliens” idea, and while the premise proves to be equally illogical (aliens want to blow up Earth to create an asteroid belt as a barrier), the human solution to the alien invasion is awe-inspiring. I think maybe it was Theodore Sturgeon who defined an sf story as “a scientific problem with a human solution.)

Reversible Mayonnaise

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2021 by dcairns

PETE ‘N’ TILLIE, directed by Martin Ritt, scripted by Julius Epstein, from the novel Witch’s Milk by Peter de Vries, has some of the feeling of one of those Neil Simon films Walter Matthau made so many of but which Carol Burnett, his co-star here, somehow avoided. Even though it’s shot by John A. Alonso of CHINATOWN fame so the Frisco locations look nice. The material just doesn’t seem to permit any striking stylistic choices, unless we count the late Rene Auberjonois’ impersonation of Tillie’s gay best friend. Based on this and the casting of Michael Hordern as a “queer” in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, I don’t think Ritt had highly developed gadar.

The main stylistic departure from reality lies in Matthau’s jokes about his job in “motivational research.” He describes this as a business of finding out what the public “is looking for in the way of an automatic contaminator or an aftershave mint.”

Burnett barely smiles. “Anything else?”

Deadpan: “Well, we’ve just completed a survey for a dietetic shampoo and are now helping to launch a reversible mayonnaise.”

Burnett remains equally deadpan.

“Maybe you could help us out,” continues WM, “There’s a new men’s cologne that’s coming out, they’re looking for a name. I suggested ‘Armpit.'”

Not a titter. And I think these are GOOD JOKES. Does Tillie lack a sense of humour, does she just not relate to these particular jokes, is she really good at holding it in and doesn’t want to give Pete satisfaction of laughing at his quips (she has him pegged, not incorrectly, as a bit of a chauvinist lout)? If the couple-to-be don’t share a sense of humour, I wouldn’t have expected the relationship to last out the running time of this movie, which, spoiler alert, it at least comes close to doing.

Oh stylewise: to prove this is a proper movie, Alonso makes the car interiors seriously dark. Although the lighting suggests a fairly brilliant dashboard light. Gordon Willis would have just sat them in total darkness except when another car passes going the other way.

PETE ‘N’ TILLIE is pretty good — tragic bits, comic bits. Pete and his son play a prank on neighbour Henry Jones by secretly siphoning fuel into his gas tank to give him impossibly good mileage, which reminds me of the fantastic gag with the incredible expanding tortoise I may have told you about previously…

The Spy Who’s Coming Soon

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 3, 2021 by dcairns

Eyebrows raised — I have two projects finished/more-or-less finished at Arrow, and I can’t talk about what they are as they’re not announced, but now I have a project at Eureka! Masters of Cinema which we start editing this afternoon but which is already advertised — a video essay on THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD.

Lots of added value in this one — after making a feature doc, going back to simple video essays that are just me talking seems unsatisfying, so this one will feature location shots from three different countries (more if I can get them) guest voices (at least five) and whatever else we can dream up in the edit.

So that’s why you’ve been seeing a bit of Martin Ritt (pictured, with a shadowy Burton) on here.