Archive for The Third Man

Bear Jams

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2018 by dcairns

Since we’re nothing but a pair of abject slugabeds, it’s taken Fiona & I this long to catch up with PADDINGTON and PADDINGTON 2. Had we realized that director Paul King was responsible for directing The Mighty Boosh on TV, we’d have gotten into the swing of things sooner. As it was, our interest took a while to get kindled.

The news that the producer of the HARRY POTTER series was making a CGI Paddington initially sparked revulsion. I have very fond feelings for the BBC series, which had a lo-tech look that seemed more charming and more in keeping with the innocent flavour of the thing. I even made this tribute. And Fiona has a history with Michael Bond’s original books — when she was very small, her teacher would end the class by having Fiona read a bit of Paddington, as she was an advanced reader. This was done for the sadistic pleasure of seeing her try not to crack up at stories she found irresistibly funny, while the rest of the class, dullards to a man, stared on blankly.Anyway, as the world now knows, the PADDINGTON movies are lovable triumphs, true to the spirit of the original while also folding in a lot of hyperkinetic action and gags and quite a bit of the cuddly Britishness of Aardman animation. But a very inclusive Britishness — the Peruvian bear may speak with an English accent (what accent would be more believable to you, smart guy?) but the films have a theme about welcoming immigrants that’s highlighted by the musical choices including a calypso band, D. Lime, who pop up whenever needed, like the troubadors in CAT BALLOU. Too bad such a message doesn’t seem to stick. How many families who enjoyed these movies also buy the Daily Mail?

Director King’s TV work had a beautiful stylised look, but the lifting of budgetary constraints have allowed him to splash out in a joyous and cineliterate way. He knows when to go all THIRD MAN ~

And a Chaplin reference — Paddington drawn through the cogs of a clock tower — ends with him wiping off a sooty mustache that neatly tips the derby to another Londoner, another immigrant ~

Like the Harry Potters, the films are jammed with the cream (or creamed with the jam?) or British and Irish acting talent, with one Aussie, Nicole Kidman. Actually, it’s the villains of the films that pose slight difficulties: the movies are so sunny and good-natured, really investing in the dream that a benevolent bear can turn hostility and suspicion into love and acceptance, that they don’t quite know what to do with their baddies. Kidman’s nasty taxidermist actually comes complete with a heartbreaking backstory — she has simply learned entirely the wrong lesson from her father’s tragic downfall. Great as NK is at playing a hush-voiced, plummy vamp (spoofing her ex’s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE stunts), I wanted to see even her redeemed by the bear’s goodwill. Her comeuppance is fittingly mild for this kind of movie — forced to work in a petting zoo is a modest enough punishment for attempted murder — but she carries in her a bitterness that’s a far darker fate than this kind of movie can bear (sorry).

Hugh Grant — doing a wicked impression of Edward Fox — goes the opposite way in the sequel. He’s not punished at all, in that he enjoys his punishment and turns it into his dream come true. Nor does he learn anything. Being a parody of an actor, other people are irrelevant to him, and he’s never cared one way or the other about our ursine hero. So the pay-off for his character, in a sense, cannot provide 100% narrative satisfaction — but it nevertheless turns into a triumphant end credits sequence that finishes the series on an all-time high.

Additional shout-outs: Ben Whishaw voices the bear with unapologetic sweetness; Hugh Bonneville is gradually establishing himself as the UK’s bestest thing; all of Sally Hawkins films will now be seen through the retrospective fish-eye of THE SHAPE OF WATER so all her swimming and interspecies activities here are hilarious; the kids, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, sprouting alarmingly from one film to the next; Brendan Gleason, the funniest recipient of a hard stare; national treasure Jim Broadbent; Simon Farnaby, who resurrects the comedy cliché that when men drag up unconvincingly, other straight men suddenly find them irresistible.

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The Drain in Brains Dazed Mainly Michael Caine

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2017 by dcairns

I nipped back to that nice book fair and was able to pick up two more Len Deightons. I’ve found I like Len when he writes the unnamed spy, but have yet to really groove to any of his books written in his own voice. It’s like this narrator figure was an act of ventriloquism that enabled Deighton to unlock something in himself that otherwise stays unexpressed. The other books I’ve read have no poetry and little humour. Maybe because the anonymous operative is constantly disgruntled, he can be interesting on any subject ~

It was the sort of January morning that has enough sunshine to point up the dirt without raising the temperature.

So now I’ve read The Ipcress File, which led me to review THE IPCRESS FILE, Sidney J. Furie’s film, scripted by W.H. Canaway (a novelist, o.a. of Sammy Going South, filmed by Alexander Mackendrick) & James Doran (and Edinburgh man with a mostly TV-based career). Furie, a Canadian who came to the UK because he loved our kitchen sink dramas, and promptly found himself making muck like DR. BLOOD’S COFFIN, and THE YOUNG ONES with Cliff Richard. But, while no film career ever ends well, there are such things as happy middles, and Furie got to make THE LEATHER BOYS, a seminal social-realism drama with Rita Tushingham and Dudley Sutton.

(And Furie is still making films, which is lovely.)

The Minister’s flat overlooked Trafalgar Square and was furnished like Oliver Messel did it for Oscar Wilde. He sat in the Sheraton, I sat in the Hepplewhite and we peeped at each other through the aspidistra plant.

Apparently, Furie hated Canaway & Doran’s script, starting the shoot by denouncing it to the whole cast and crew, throwing his copy on the floor and stamping on it. (Star Michael Caine presumes he must have borrowed someone else’s from then on.) The only way he could see to make the film tolerable was to shoot it in a highly contrived, eccentric manner — as if the camera and audience were themselves spying on the action.

This involves Deutsch tilts intended not just for the “something is wrong here” effect intended by Carol Reed in THE THIRD MAN (whose canted angles usually ARE literal POV shots) but also to artfully simulate the sense of a camera haphazardly placed by agents; occluding foreground objects that are allowed to dominate the frame (the notorious Sid Furie shot, even used for his signature credit); this gets extended to over-the-shoulder shots that are all shoulder.

(The Furie technique works like gangbusters here and in the similarly paranoid THE ENTITY, where invisible eyes really ARE watching. In THE APPALOOSA, when he films a distant Brando through the slit between a massive shoulder and a massive sombrero, the effect is inadvertently hilarious.)

There’s also a SYMPHONY OF LAMPS going on here, which David Bordwell makes good points about here. The lamp thing brings us into John Alton film noir territory — Furie and Alton are the only guys to regularly put their camera inside lampshades.

There’s also a red thing going on. Not just the fight filmed, counterintuitively, from inside a phone booth, and the London bus used as a shock plot twist, but regular danger-danger placements of red objects in this greyish urban world. At a climactic reveal, we get a RED LAMP blocking two-thirds of the frame as the film’s various motifs join hands.

It was interesting to read the novel and find how the movie invents whole characters (Gordon Jackson, who seems to have been lifted from the sequel, Horse Under Water) and invents most of the scenes and omits most of those in the book. There are a couple of key twists that are kept, because they’re so damn good, but the mode of exposition is way different — while the book is narrated by the unnamed spy, the movie has whole passages of spymasters Guy Doleman and Nigel Green batting exposition back and forth unblinkingly.

In some ways it’s certainly dumbed down, to make us know where we are (except in one key sequence) so that it doesn’t need to end, as the book does, with a long conversation that explains all the accumulated mysteries, which would have played like an Agatha Christie whodunnit, or the psychiatrist bit in PSYCHO. Sometimes this creates its own problems — when Caine deduces, with no real reason, that the bad guys are based in a disused factory (because one of them was arrested near it), it’s borderline confusing. The book spent a good bit of time explaining the reasoning that leads him to pinpoint bad-guy HQ in a suburban house.

Bent nail painted with finest Kensington gore by Hammer man Phil Leakey, assuming a proto-DON’T LOOK NOW glow

The unnamed spy now has a name, Harry Palmer. “Harry” is an alias briefly used in the book, and “Palmer” is marvelously apt — our man “palms” a bent nail to use as a tool, and injures his palm with it at the end — an oddly Christ-like image. Unlike the character in the novel (older and fatter), our hero is not only a cynic but a former crook — his antipathy towards his bosses is slightly greater if anything, since he’s only a spy under duress — the alternative will be a prison sentence. Caine’s insubordination to Doleman was judged so entertaining that Doleman’s character was maintained through the sequels — the spy has a different boss from the second book on.

The book’s Lebanese interval is relocated to an underground car park, which seems like a bit of a low-budget comedown on paper, but not the way Furie and DoP Otto Heller shoot it.

The brainwashing in the book might actually work — it’s basically psychological torture designed to produce a nervous breakdown, which is possible, if of dubious use. (Wild animals spend their entire lives avoiding death, but are apparently happy and healthy: it takes behaviorist scientists to reduce them to quivering wrecks. They can certainly do the same to us.) The film invents all this psychedelic lightshow stuff (ahead of the curve for 1965) and claims it produces amnesia. Needlessly silly, but it turns the movie into a treatise on free will — though Palmer’s choices are terribly circumscribed, since he’s an indentured civil servant of H.M. Gov. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD might be the most depressive of the anti-Bond films, but under Caine’s mordant wit and dumb insolence, behind the letching after “birds,” and seeping through the plangent wail of the sax on John Barry’s KNACK-style score, there’s a melancholic sense of defeat that felt perfect for election week in the UK.

PS: I’m on The Billion Dollar Brain now, and looking forward to revisiting Ken Russell’s surprisingly faithful movie version…

 

 

 

Build the wall

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2016 by dcairns

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If Trump becomes president, that wall’s going to be really useful to stop Americans fleeing to Mexico, isn’t it?

Another wall features in the film of Len Deighton’s FUNERAL IN BERLIN, scripted by Evan Jones (MODESTY BLAISE) and directed by Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER), which sets out to be as opposite to Modesty and Bond as it can be, and as close as possible to its illustrious predecessor, THE IPCRESS FILE. I was wrong earlier when I said Hamilton doesn’t attempt the Sid Furie style — although Otto Heller’s Teutonic camera only gets up close and personal with a lampshade on one occasion, and there’s a shortage of true hiding-behind-the-potted-palm angles, he does do plenty of crazy things to convince us we’re surveilling the action with hidden spycams.

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  1. Lots and lots of low angle shots, which make Michael Caine look heroic but also equalise everyone’s height, so they stop Michael from towering over his co-stars.
  2. Composition in extreme depth and extreme length (widescreen).

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3. Some over-the-shoulder shots that are all shoulder, the poor “subject” of the shot a distant dot, like Pluto.

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4. Occasional Dutch (or Deutsch) tilts.

Hamilton is fully entitled to go Dutch, since he was assistant director on THE THIRD MAN. Whenever Harry Lime passes through shot and we don’t see his face, it’s Guy doubling for him. Guy “satchel-foot” Hamilton, we should call him.

I haven’t read this Deighton (yet) but Jones clearly departs from the novel in delivering scenes without Harry Palmer in them. He’s the narrator of the book so he’s kind of obliged to turn up for each scene in it. He may also have added a touch more action — Deighton made it a rule never to allow violence to solve the hero’s problems, a fine principle which will make anybody’s writing better — try writing an action movie in which violence never achieves its purpose for the hero, and you’ll have something interesting.

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Hamilton, true to his Bondian experience, doesn’t distance and deglamorise the few bits of chop-socky or fisticuffs the way Furie did (shooting a punch-up from inside a phone booth while John Barry’s score noodles strange arpeggios of hallucinatory, Escher-like falling-yet-rising…). And John Barry does not return — instead we get, I must say, a very good and witty score from Konrad Elfers, suitably Germanic, but not as distinctive or cool as IPCRESS. Still, I kind of like the way this series kept changing its style.

Ken Adam is designer, another Bond connection. Few sets and no giant megalomaniac control rooms, but Adam follows the advice he got from Mike Todd and always thinks big — hence, the Berlin police station which Palmer cheekily uses as a recruiting office for crooks (“Tell me, is [such-and-such] the burglar still alive? And out of prison?”) seems to be a fucking cathedral. Why not? The East German equivalent is prison-like, windowless, dark, and apparently of limitless expanse.

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Oscar Homolka plays the jocular, avuncular, ursine Colonel Stok, who would return in Ken Russell’s follow-up, and there’s fine work from Guy Doleman (the series’ only other regular) and Gunter Miesner (Yay! Mr. Slugworth from WILLIE WONKA). Eva Renzi is the weak spot, not projecting the toughness her character, an Israeli agent undercover as a fashion model hunting a fugitive Nazi, should have. Reading that description back, it all sounds too exotic for a Harry Palmer film anyway. She also doesn’t sell the romance, but Caine and the script don’t work very hard on that score either.

The twisty plot is based around one fairly obvious trick buried within and confused by lots of other, more peculiar and hard-to-guess ones, all in the shadow of a big, nasty wall.

The only things walls should be for is to keep the wind off us.