Archive for The Three Hunchbacks

Dudley

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 21, 2018 by dcairns

I was very sad to learn to learn of Dudley Sutton’s recent passing — not only was he a great character actor, but a generous man who appeared in my first proper short film in 1990 for almost no money, traveling to Edinburgh without even being sure how we were going to put him up. (It was OK, we had a self-catering flat for him.)

I met him — I remember this being on the street, not in the station, so I don’t know how we arranged that. “I’m so glad to be back in the People’s Republic of Scotland,” he began, “Because here, you not only SAY you don’t vote for her, you DON’T vote for her.” (At the time, Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative party had hardly any seats in Scotland.)

He was pleased to hear I was both writer and director: “Good, you’ll know what you want.” (But I was a first-timer, so that wasn’t quite true.)

The film was based on an authentic medieval comic tale — the only funny one, ever — THE THREE HUNCHBACKS. Dud played the fourth hunchback, the main one. We had worked out how to assemble medieval garb for our ridiculously large cast of characters, borrowing the best bits from Biggar Theatre Workshop and Edinburgh College of Art’s much-missed costume nook. The impossible bit was medieval shoes, but I had a plan. As I wasn’t shooting closeups of feet, we would only ever see them in wide, full-figure shots, and on 16mm there wouldn’t be much detail. So the actors would wear normal shoes, with socks pulled over them to add bright colour. Cardboard “buckles” painted silver would be taped to the socks, and the toes would be filled with cardboard cones to make them pointy in that Robin Hood style. Dud didn’t blink an eye at all this.

The first morning was chaos. I lost my binder with all my storyboards and was wandering around the various vehicles (we had a minibus and a car, at least, and about a ninety minute drive to the location) asking for it. “That’s the director?” Dud asked, apparently. “Welcome to the house of pain, Dud,” said the AD.

(Later, the cinematographer would observe me standing in a field in long hair, long coat, long scarf and wellingtons, and remark, “Oh my God, Christopher Robin’s directing the film.”)

Dud gave ME a valuable bit of direction on his very first shot of the film. “Never ask for effects. If you ask for effects, that’s all you’ll get.” I knew nothing about directing actors and thought if I just spoke clearly and said what I wanted, that’d be fine. It took me years (and some reading and some trial and error) to work out why that’s wrong.

Dud rewrote and vastly improved his first speech, getting the first biggest of the film: “What if I just told them to fuck off?” “Might be a bit harsh,” I dithered. “Well, I could say, ‘Fuck off out of it’? That’s a bit gentler.” We went with option #1.

“What’s on at the local art cinema?” he asked one night. “Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF.” “Oh, I was in one of his. He cut out all my lines, but I’m still in there.” I hadn’t been able to see CASANOVA at this point, and there was no IMDb to list his credits. I knew him from THE DEVILS, everyone else from Lovejoy. When he showed up, they were all, “Why didn’t you SAY he was Tink in Lovejoy?” THE LEATHER BOYS didn’t enter into anyone’s thinking back then, alas.

I didn’t get to hang out with Dud too much because we were always filming. After losing one of his four days of shooting to a camera malfunction (sixty foot of film concertina’d all over the floor) we had to pick up the pace to complete his stuff in time. “I’ll say this for you, when you do get going you don’t hang about,” he remarked with gruff approval.

So just occasionally I’d catch the tail end or the middle of a story while fetching Dud for a shot. “Of course the best films for drugs were the Disney films,” was one memorable sentence. And, “The crookedest film I was ever in was A TOWN CALLED BASTARD.” Apparently he also spoke about being expelled from RADA for smoking dope.

Dud competed his work, went home, and then we found two shots were out of focus. We replaced them using a hastily contrived “double,” who was thirty years younger and Japanese, but it didn’t matter because his fake hump concealed his head completely from the back. This was all a great introduction to filmmaking.

“I keep seeing Dud out the corner of my eye,” I remarked to Stuart, the producer.

“So do I!” he replied.

The film won third prize in a contest and we sent Dud a share of the money and he wrote back saying he’d have a nice dinner on that. “It seems just yesterday that we were all running about in the mud in our cone-filled socks.”

Yes it does.

 

 

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Akimbo

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 19, 2014 by dcairns

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Fiona and I debated the merits of this shot in Milestone’s THE RED PONY. She at first admitted it was striking. The she said it was silly.

I argued that it’s practical. It’s not just a decorative Sid Furie flourish. The framing, while tricksy, gives us two performances for the price of one. In the Colonel Custer beard is Louis Calhern (Ambassador Trentino AKA the Walking Fontanelle), and the shot obviously shows his attitude by displaying his facial expression, or that part of it that manages to fight its way past his whiskers. With her back to camera is Myrna Loy, as beautiful as ever if you could see her. “You can’t see her performance,” says Fiona. No, but you get her attitude.

When I went looking for Milestone images online I immediately found this, from MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY ~

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Not the same shot, but again, an image that gets more value that an over-the-shoulder would. A shoulder rarely gives you much character. This angle gives sex.

The OS shot, seemingly invented circa 1919, possibly by Maurice Tourneur in VICTORY, is so fantastically useful it should only be used as a last resort. In my first short film, I didn’t have any because four of my six main characters were hunchbacks (the film was called, logically enough, THE THREE HUNCHBACKS) and the actors had pillows stuffed up their shirts to raise bumps that completely hid their heads from a rear view. So rather than a head and shoulder creating a convenient corner to frame another actor in, the camera would simply have seen obscuring mounds.

(I was coming home from the last day of shooting carrying the pillows, which came from my parents’ house. I didn’t have a bag for them, but pillows sort of ARE bags, so I just carried them by their corners. A drunk stopped me. “Can I ask why you’re carrying those pillows?”

“Well, I’ve just made a film about hunchbacks.”

“Fair enough.”

A Gala Day Is Enough For Me

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2013 by dcairns

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Rosey Grier and Ray Milland in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS.

Because I didn’t read to the end of David Robinson’s welcome note to guests at Pordenone, because I am an idiot sometimes, I was unaware that the closing gala was a ticketed event. I had been cheerily breezing into films all week, waving my pass, and suddenly discovered that wouldn’t work here. And it immediately became clear that I had not a squid’s chance in OLDBOY of getting a seat.

This is a blow since (1) Not only are they showing Harold Lloyd in THE FRESHMAN, which I’ve actually seen extracts from, but (2) they’re showing it with an orchestral score conducted by Carl Davis and (3) they’re prefacing it with a newly-discovered, extended alternate cut of Buster Keaton’s THE BLACKSMITH, with accompaniment by Neil Brand. Amazing. But I’ll never see any of this, unless a particularly ruthless miracle occurs.

I’m about to become an unsympathetic character in this story so bear with me.

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The people at the box office, who are not unsympathetic, say something about “It’s in your welcome pack,” which I don’t have with me, so I race back to my accommodation to rummage through it. It’s five minutes to curtain and the flat I’m in is five minutes away. I make it there in two, wheezing and sweating, and rifle my paperwork. Sure enough, there’s Robinson’s note warning me to buy my ticket well in advance. That would have been very helpful a few days ago.

I race back to the Teatro, now further behind in the queue/crowd waiting for return tickets than ever. My only hope now was to either throw my weight around, using my “status” as one of the few living filmmakers with a movie in the fest (I think there were about four of us), or collapse sobbing on the floor and hope they take pity on me. Also, I’m slightly inspired by a story the great animator Don Herzfeldt told about getting to see his heroes, the Monty Python team, perform live, just because he had the optimism to walk through an open door that should’ve been shut. Nothing ventured…

I see Mr. Robinson in the foyer. Breathless, I explain the situation. And at that moment a festival volunteer shows up with an envelope, obviously containing a ticket and marked “David.” David Robinson explains my problem to this guy, to see if anything can be done for me, there is a moment which may in hindsight have been confusion, and the guy offers me the envelope. An expressions flits across Mr. Robinson’s face which may, again in hindsight, have been horror. I take the ticket, thanking him profusely.

I go in, and find I’m sitting in something of a place of honour, next to 91-year-old Jean Darling, the festival’s most important guest, a co-star in the OUR GANG films from 1927-1929. Three separate people try to persuade me I’m in the wrong seat. I tell them Mr. Robinson gave me his ticket, but I’d be happy to sit somewhere else. David Robinson appears and introduces me to Jean Darling, who has already started chatting to me. I don’t perceive any subtext that he’d like me to stand up/get out — either he’s happy for me to have the seat, he’s too much of a gentleman to say he’d appreciate a seat at his own festival, or he’s giving me signals I’m too autistic to read. In this life, it’s not only survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most crassly insensitive to social nuance.

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THE FRESHMAN begins, and I find myself identifying, with unusual intensity, with Harold’s struggle to find the his place in life.

“Comedy is tragedy,” observes Jean Darling.

***

Afterwards, I locate Mr. Robinson and anxiously ask if he found a seat at his own festival. A bit late, but it’s apparently my evening for being a bit late with things. He assures me he was fine. I tell him that when he was director of Edinburgh FIlm Festival he screened my first short (THE THREE HUNCHBACKS) and it got a special mention at the Chaplin Awards before the final screening. And I couldn’t afford a ticket so I wasn’t there to hear it. And so in a way, I feel like I have finally kept my appointment with that Closing Gala.

***

THE CONFRONTATION, the lesser of two Miklos Jancso films at Cannes ’68, is addressed by Scout Tafoya over at Apocalypse Now. A lesser Jancso is still a Jancso…