Archive for The Tin Drum

Physician, eel thyself

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2021 by dcairns

I’d been curious to see A CURE FOR WELLNESS since it came out in the benighted year of 2016 but not curious enough to, you know, see it. But it’s on Netflix now so I finally did.

First impressions from the trailer confirmed: it’s a very handsome film. It was shot by Gore Verbinski’s regular guy, Bojan Bazelli and designed by Eve Stewart, who does Tom Hooper’s films, which I dislike on sight but which undeniably always have “a look.”

It didn’t scare me, but it sometimes repelled me, and I have a fairly strong stomach, being Scottish. There’s some dental abuse, done with ECU CGI relish, but it was nowhere near as disturbing as MARATHON MAN’s famous (drill) bit, which made do purely with terrific performances, creepy pacing, disturbing angles and surprisingly Pinterish dialogue. No magnified teeth were needed.

What’s with the eels? There’s an explanation of sorts, but it’s strangely unimpressive. I find I’m not as disturbed by eels as Verbinski and his team want me to be. They’re good and repellent in THE TIN DRUM, writhing from a horse’s head washed up on a beach. Even when they’re administered orally to the film’s anti-hero (Dane DeHaan, whose character — a shitweasel of the first water — I never liked, but whose performance was rather admirable — I hope his career continues) in a passably revolting moment, they didn’t really bother me. Maybe the CGI effect is to blame: the prosthetic beasts laid out in an alchemist’s lab seemed more upsetting. Things with real textures have more power.

The film is damn long — on the one hand, I appreciated the measured pace for its novelty, on the other hand I found the intrigue at the spa insufficiently intriguing, the revelations not startling enough, so it dragged a bit.

I believe we can trace this one back a long way. Back in 1999, Verbinski was fired from the cannibal romp RAVENOUS. Antonia Bird took his place in a hurry and turned out an entertainingly daft thriller. Maybe my favourite of her films, since I don’t respond too well to social realism, and I always found fault with her camera choices — whirling round an embracing couple with the sun flaring into the lens; close-up on hands clenching together in a sex scene, cliches not wholly redeemed by the novelty of the same-sex relationship portrayed (the film is PRIEST). It’s a shame the film that impressed me most was a relatively impersonal one, and had AB’s life not been cut so tragically short I’m sure she’d have made something I could honestly love.

Verbinski gave some interview somewhere about having wanted to make of RAVENOUS “a modern ROSEMARY’S BABY,” which is baffling, considering that the eventual movie was so essentially just a bit of gory froth. But with WELLNESS (rubbish title: wants to sound sinister but just sounds bland), he’s done his best to fulfill that early ambition. The slow pace; the accretion of details that largely spells out the plot for us but leaves us wondering if it’s all in the mind; the conspiracy and the supernatural history and all that.

[THIS IS ALL WRONG: SEE COMMENTS!]

But the exotic look of it robs it of the quasi-realism that makes Polanski’s film of Ira Levin’s novel so creepy. I just didn’t believe in the film’s world. There’s no credible reason, after all, for the isolation tank, setting for a major eel attack, to be the size of a reactor cooler. The locations are stunning, and their reality does help the film, but it all feels far more like a fairy tale than a psychological thriller, and fairy tales are usually short and speedy rather than prolonged and lugubrious. I can’t prove that Verbinski’s approach couldn’t have worked, I can only attest that for me it didn’t work.

But it’s a gorgeous looking film, and the bigger-than-usual-for-this-sort-of-thing budget lifts it out of the regular categories, even though that’s kind of regrettable because the movie’s underperformance probably cost us Del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.

Page Seventeen II: Cruise Control

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2021 by dcairns

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Thalberg was awestruck with Universal City. It was a virtual world unto itself, a self-contained municipality devoted exclusively to making motion pictures. There were restaurants and shops and even a police force, but most impressive were the production facilities. Universal’s largest shooting stage was 65 feet by 300 feet–roughly the size of a football field–with another stage at 50 by 200 feet. Both were enclosed and electrically equipped; in fact, a dramatic moment during the studio’s dedication in 1915 had been the activation of the electrical system by Thomas Edison, Laemmle’s former nemesis, who supervised the wiring of the plant. Besides the enclosed and open-air stages, the street sets and “back lot” for location work, there were extensive auxiliary facilities, from film processing labs and cutting rooms to prop and costume shops, construction yards, and even a zoo to supply supporting players for some of Universal’s more exotic productions.

The various government departments were unable to agree on either the details of what had taken place or an explanation for it. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, announced at a press conference on 25 February that the raid had been a false alarm. He admitted that the west coast of America was now vulnerable to enemy attack and suggested that any vital factories or other manufacturing facilities by the sea should be moved inland.

Only way to protect yourself against this horrid peril is to come over HERE and shack up with Charybdis… Treat you right kid… Candy and cigarettes.

So what I am, is a photographer: street, holiday park, studio, artistic poses and, from time to time, when I can find a client, pornographic. I know it’s revolting, but then it only harms the psychos who are my customers, and for the kids I use for models, they’d do it all down to giggles, let alone for the fee I pay them. To have a job like mine means I don’t belong to the great community of the mugs: the vast majority of squares who are exploited. It seems to me this being a mug or a non-mug is a thing that splits humanity up into two sections absolutely. It’s nothing to do with age or sex or class or colour–either you’re born a mug or a non-mug, and me, I sincerely trust I’m born the latter.

Superficially, there seemed little to it — the story of a young photographer, obviously successful, who has become detached from reality. Happening on a pair of lovers meeting in a deserted park, he snaps them. The girl chases after him, desperate to have the film, but he refuses her and takes it home. As he develops the shots, and progressively blows them up, it appears that a murder may have taken place, what looks like a body is lying beneath some bushes nearby. It is never made clear whether this is reality or illusion — a dichotomy which is the central enigma of a flimsy plot.

After saying all this, my grandmother heaved a gentle sigh, but it was enough of a sigh to make the uniforms ask what there was to sigh about. She nodded towards the fire, meaning to say that she had sighed because the fire was doing poorly and maybe a little on account of the people standing in the smoke; then she bit off half her potato with her widely spaced incisors, and gave her undivided attention to the business of chewing, while her eyeballs rolled heavenwards.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from different books lying around my house. I was excited to discover that the first page of chapter one of my battered Bleak House lands on page seventeen, because I love that opening and page seventeen is my page of choice here. And of course it was high time Burroughs made an appearance, since he and Brion Gysin pretty much invented this kind of thing.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens; The Genius of the System: Hollywood Film-making in the Studio Era by Thomas Schatz; Unsolved Mysteries of World War II by Michael Fitzgerald (not the producer); The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs; Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes; Blow-Up and Other Exaggerations by David Hemmings; The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass.

Night Hair Alley

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2008 by dcairns

Possibly THE GREATEST MOMENT EVER CAPTURED ON CELLULOID.

12-year-old Mark “OLIVER!” Lester throwing rocks at a dead dog in a swimming pool.

It doesn’t get much better than this, people!

“Corrupt voyeuristic weirdie which has to be seen to be believed.” ~ Halliwell’s Film Guide.

It’s called NIGHT HAIR CHILD (wtf?) A.K.A. NIGHT CHILD (better, but still weird) A.K.A. CHILD OF THE NIGHT (this is starting to make sense) A.K.A. DIABOLICA MALICIA (nice!) A.K.A. DIABOLISCH (too much like DIABOLIK) A.K.A. LA TUA PRESENZA NUDA (sounds kinda smutty) A.K.A. WHAT THE PEEPER SAW (rather declassé, don’t you think?) A.K.A. DER ZEUGE HINTER DER WAND (don’t know). Whew!

I’m calling it NIGHT HAIR CHILD because that’s the (inscrutable) title I always heard, and it’s the name of the novelisation by Mai Zetterling (!) I once saw in a second-hand bookshop. It maybe “has to be seen to be believed” but it’s quite hard to see, mainly due, I suspect, to the skin-crawlingly uncomfortable pedophile leanings of the script.

A moment Britt probably doesn’t talk about much these days.

This is not, I should stress, actual child porn. Really, it’s not. But this movie would certainly not be made in any English-speaking country today, not for reasons of legality but for reasons of taste. The tale of a perverted 12-year-old and his decidedly off-kilter family relations, it’s the kind of thing that could only happen in the ’70s, when the questioning of society’s traditional morals and mores had gone about as far as it was going to…

“Now, you’re going to be hearing a lot of talk about panties.”

Mark Lester, aged about twelve in real life and now no longer cute at all (“I always found Mark Lester creepy,” says my friend David Wingrove, and it’s like the scales have been lifted from my eyes) plays, ineptly, an eerie rich kid called Marcus who may have killed his mum and may be planning on killing his new stepmum, Britt Ekland, after he’s finished watching her bedroom “acrobatics” with Dad, Hardy Kruger. Britt finds her new charge somewhat alarming, especially when he grabs her britts as she’s on the phone to hubby. Investigating, she finds evidence of (1) his pathological lying (2) his thieving (3) his truancy (4) his peeping (5) his animal mutilation. To get him to tell her about his mother’s death, she agrees to strip for him. One has to question her parenting skills at this point.

The filmmakers appear to have stepped in here to protect their star’s innocence and replaced Mark Lester with either an older stand-in (a dwarf? Kenny Baker in a fright wig?) or possibly a mannequin.

This is all (1) strange (2) creepy, in a BAD way (3) somewhat badly put together, in a GOOD way. Since the dialogue is weak, and poor Britt is acting in a vacuum (Hardy is oddly disconnected, perhaps trying to mentally disassociate himself from the sleaze around him, Lester is simultaneously wooden and repellent, like a mahogany pustule), bizarre narrative leaps and ellipses and baffling unmotivated behaviour actually make it a lot more interesting to watch. At one point, the camera tilts up from Britt in bed and simply looks at the ceiling. Why? Cut to Britt going upstairs to the attic. “Ah, the camera was following her thoughts,” explained Fiona. “That seems a risky strategy, following Britt Ekland’s thoughts,” I mused. “I wonder how many cameras they lost.”

(But this is unfair as Britt is good in this film, with her odd Swedish line readings working quite well in the name of naturalism. For her more intimate scenes with Little Markie, she either deserves a medal for bravery or a short prison sentence.)

Even after it’s over, it’s not 100% clear what was going on some of the time, or why. The ending, a double-twist in the LES DIABOLIQUES tradition, is very nice, but that’s the only generic bit that works.

The other stuff is at its most effective when totally confusing, like the long psychiatric hospital sequence where Britt is trundled about in a wheelchair by a nurse who’s trying very hard not to look at the camera (Fiona says: “Yeah, she needs a wheelchair because when you’re mental you can’t walk, apparently.”) having visions — flashbacks? fantasies? delusions? — of attempted murder, attempted pedophilia, and attempted something-or-other involving a dog. I really wasn’t sure what I was seeing by now. She’s sent there, incidentally, by a very assured and well-preserved Lilli Palmer, one of those movie shrinks with an office full of primitive art. Or at least, I think that’s what the weird crash-test dummy in the corner must be. It’s giving a livelier performance than Mark Lester.

But one has to feel sorry for the lad. This is one disturbing film. Either it destroyed his career, or he made it because his career was already destroyed. Either way, what a horrible way to make a living. No wonder he’s now befriended Michael Jackson…

I suppose there’s nothing in this film as questionable as the child sexuality in THE TIN DRUM (which I doubt you could make nowadays, without changing a few scenes) but this seems much more upsetting and sleazy. It’s just a big, brimming flagon of wrong. While the filmmakers undoubtedly know that this stuff is taboo, and that it’ll make the audience uncomfortable, it’s not clear whether they’re aware HOW taboo it is, or why they’re even doing it. Just when things are getting TOO WEIRD TO LIVE, there’ll be some new piece of terrifying ’70s leisurewear modelled by Mr. Kruger, or some new lounge version of the (great) theme tune by Stelvio Cipriani, or Britt will disrobe again in a new and ever more uncomfortable scenario (she’s at her skinniest here, yet looking impossibly sexy when clothed) or there’ll be an abrupt scene change before we’ve worked out what the last scene was about, and somebody will be doing something unexplained.

Ah, the ’70s! Age of loud shirts and kiddie-fiddling.

Just about worth seeing, but be warned, there may be moments when your eyeballs start singing “La la la, I’m not looking!” and your brain tries to shut itself down by scraping itself raw against the inside of your skull. Other than that, it’s quite diverting.

Make it a Fever Dream Double Feature with: BABY LOVE, in which a fifteen-year-old Linda Hayden infiltrates and then shags her way through Keith Barron’s entire family.