Archive for The Truman Show

At the Mountains of Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2020 by dcairns

From the hardboiled classic You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up by Eric Knight (a Yorkshireman who moved to Hollywood, author of Lassie Come Home). The main speaker is flamboyant filmmaker Quentin Genter, engaged in a drunken evening with the narrator, Dick, and movie star Jira Mayfair:

“You see, I’ll tell you a secret. No one is sane here. No one is sane and nothing is real. And you know what it is?”

“Sure, it’s the climate,” I said, kidding.

“That’s it–exactly,” he said. His eyes were going sort of funny in the middle, and he was shouting in a whisper. He got real excited. “Dick, you know, you’re the only one man besides me in the whole world who’s discovered it. It’s the climate–something in the air. You can bring men from other parts of the world who are sane. And you know what happens? At the very moment they cross those mountains,” he whispered real soft, “they go mad. Instantaneously and automatically, at the very moment they cross those mountains into California, they go insane. Everyone does. They still think they’re sane, but they’re not. Everyone in this blasted state is mad. I’m mad. You’re mad. So is Jira. We’re all perfectly, gloriously mad.”

“You know,” he whispered again, real low, “we see things. Do you see things?”

“Sure,” I kidded. “I’ve never acted right since I’ve been here.”

“That’s it. It’s the climate. Now look, you see those mountains?”

He pointed out to where the hills went up, blue-black against the darkness, and with lights winding round on the roads like fire-pearls.

“Sure,” I said.

“There! That proves it,” he said.

“Proves what?” I asked him.

“Proves you’re mad,” he said.” You see those mountains there just like I do. And you know what?”

I shook my head.

“They’re not there,” he whispered. “You only think they’re there. And they’re not. It’s just a movie set. If you go round the other side of that mountain, you’ll see nothing but two-by-fours that hold up the canvas.

“And you see this restaurant? Well, it isn’t here. It’s a process shot. All Hollywood is a process shot. It’s a background just projected onto ground glass. And the only reason nobody knows that is we’re all mad.”

The novel was written in 1937. At some point, David Lynch was interested in filming it. It’s a slender volume, 134 pages with intro in my edition, but packed with incident. Each chapter could probably fill half an hour the way Lynch paces things, and they’re mostly about four pages long. I like the Mad Hatter reference here, and the whole phildickian fantasy reminds me of the early draft of THE TRUMAN SHOW, in which Truman prepares to go on holiday and the showrunners build fake pyramids a short distance from his hometown.

An Odyssey in Pieces #2: The Dawn of Man, Day One

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2018 by dcairns

Oh yeah, I was blogging my way through 2001, wasn’t I? Or at least, I said I was. My first post on the matter is here.

How can you have a dawn divided into days one and two? Well, that’s what we’re doing. After all, it’s not a literal dawn, even though there’s literally a shot of the dawn as the caption appears. One of the things I recall about my first ever viewing of the film, aged 11 or so, is that this seemed slightly on the nose. I may have snorted back an inaudible laugh. On the other hand, this vista connects us to the sunrise in space we’ve just seen.

It’s also a day in the life of a tribe of ape-men, subdivided into little blackout sketches. They get up and potter around, rather aimlessly, until one of their number is attacked by a leopard (the life of a caveman is boredom interrupted by flashes of bloody death). Fade-out. They engage in a territorial shouting match with another gang by the waterhole. Fade-out. Night falls and they huddle nervously by the shelter of a cliff. Fade-out.

What do these hirsute ladies and gentlemen eat? We see tapirs foraging fearlessly among them, evidently not regarding themselves as even potential prey. Yet there are a lot of bones about. Maybe leopard leftovers. But the ecology is a little nebulous.

This sequence arguably features the best special effects of the film: I find it impossible to conceive that all the ape-man footage is shot on a front-projection stage with plates of the African desert being shone behind the costumed mimes. And while I know in my heart that the ape-men aren’t real, they’re able to interact with baby chimpanzees without either set of primates looking like impostors. (The little chimps had make-up applied to make them look more like their screen parents, but they licked it off one another: this is the cutest fact I know about 2001.)

I once saw the film miss-projected so you could see off the top of the frontpro screen: a bunch of scaffolding poked out from behind the African skyline. The effect was like something from THE TRUMAN SHOW. The setting remained insistently REAL.

There’s a shot at dusk of a leopard reclining beside a slain zebra, and I simply don’t know if it’s a shot taken in Africa along with the background plates, or a studio mock-up using the trained leopard and a stuffed zebra. Probably the latter. But YOU CAN’T TELL. I suppose the fact that the setting sun is behind kitty, but kitty’s eyes are reflecting something BRIGHT, might be a clue. But not one that triggers conscious doubt until you overthink it like me.

British cinematographers were known not so much for an individual style, though we’ve had a few distinctive DOPs, more for their technical mastery and ability to deliver any style of photography the film in question demanded. Geoffrey Unsworth does seem to have been something of a soft focus specialist — see SUPERMAN, for instance. But there’s no diffusion here. The crispness of this film is one of its signature qualities.

Kubrick struggled to get his prehistoric protohumans to be convincing, and it seems to have been the input of Daniel Richter as “Moon-watcher,” the lead ape-man, which made the whole show come together. Richter’s training in physical performance allowed him to adopt convincing mannerisms, and his thinness, combined with his insistence on a tight monkey suit to perform in, lifted the creature design out of the fake gorilla tradition which Charles Gemora had helped inaugurate. It seems really important that these guys not remind you of previous faux apes you have seen.

(But Jon Finch at the end of THE FINAL PROGRAMME is still the best simian-human cross I have seen. I can’t figure out whether he’s the work of Alan Boyle, Ann Brodie, or someone else.)

I love how, in the waterhole dispute, an ape-man turns and yells right at us at the end. We might compare it to Malcolm McDowell’s insouciant toast at the start of CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And to the Starchild’s restful gaze at the end of this film.

The only unconvincing bit is the night sky, blatantly a blue-filtered day sky. Given the FX budget, a starscape might have been considered, added over a desaturated African desert shot, but maybe Kubrick didn’t want an image that a real camera couldn’t capture. Stars could be photographed in 1968 only using a long exposure. A cloudless sky might have been better, though.

This sequence feels long but isn’t, really. It’s the effect of plotlessness, wordlessness. I suspect that, had Kubrick not originally intended to plaster his film in ponderous voice-over, he might not have thought of such a slow beginning. VO would have added “interest” in the form of information, and made it crystal-clear to us why we were being made to look at these things. It would have removed all mystery, and ruined the sequence’s poetry. Often the very best things in cinema seem to come from catastrophic mistakes, spotted and averted in the nick of time.

One thing the film can’t do, really, is make Moon-watcher into a character distinct from his tribe. Deprived of dialogue, looking the same as everyone else, and behaving the same as everyone else, Richter’s excellent performance blends into the surrounding savages, so that we don’t attribute an individual identity to him until the next bit of action (in my next chapter), where he, alone of his tribe, has a Transfiguring Experience.

By making us live through a typical missing link day, Kubrick prepares us for the shock of change, an unexpected intervention.

 

Euphoria #6

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2008 by dcairns

Craig Keller nominated this way back and it’s taken me and age to watch the film and then get the scene up on VousTube. Nice film, nice scene, Craig!

[Oh, the subtitles didn’t load, so you can (a) learn French before watching it, which will probably be useful in later life, or (b) watch it without understanding all the dialogue, which will, I promise, STILL be a sweet and blissful experience.]

Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel project is one of cinema’s most intriguing undertakings — a study of a fictional character from childhood on through life, like THE TRUMAN SHOW brought half a step closer to reality. One can’t help wonder what additional Doinel stories Truffaut would be telling now had he lived. Of course it’s inconceivable for anybody else to pick up the baton and continue the character’s adventures: that’s why France is not America and Antoine Doinel is not Inspector Clouseau.

As the series progresses, one can’t help but notice a certain loss of cohesion: Doinel began, in childhood, as a Truffaut-substitute, “the author in disguise” to use Alan Bennett’s charming phrase, but as fictional and real life went on, they diverged: once it became clear that Doinel was not going to become a celebrated film director, large areas of Truffaut’s life were excluded from the films. In a way, LA NUIT AMERICAIN / DAY FOR NIGHT is more of a direct sequel to the first Doinel film, LES 400 COUPS than any of the later Doinel films: here, the character has split in two, one half growing up to be the film director played by Truffaut himself (seen in flashback as a kid committing a very Doinellian petty crime), the other has become leading man Jean-Pierre Leaud, the actor who personifies Doinel in all the films.

Anyhow, one consequence of the divergence between auteur and creation is that the films immediately get lighter. The Doinel episode of LOVE AT TWENTY (and is there any chance of somebody releasing the rest of this fascinating-sounding compendium film?) lacks the tragic undertones of LES 400 COUPS, and BAISERS VOLES, the first feature length sequel, is basically an amiably disjointed comedy. As such, it’s delightful, and I could nominate a few other scenes for Cinema Euphoria status — the mini-documentary about the pneumatic tubes beneath Paris (Wow!) and Delphine Seyrig’s moving proposition to Doinel, for instance. Michel Lonsdale’s first scene doesn’t quite qualify, perhaps, but it’s uproariously funny in its cockeyed peculiarity. Lonsdale for president!

Thanks to Craig for recommending this one, I had fun re-seeing the movie, having forgotten many of its quirks and twists. It’s encouraged me to have another look at some of the later films in the A.D. cycle too.