Archive for The Wizard of Oz

The Hands of Ingrid

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2015 by dcairns


I know, I know, enough with the Halloween postings already! But this one isn’t that spooky. Curiosity prompted us to watch John Frankenheimer’s live TV version of The Turn of the Screw, a piece which only survives because Frankenheimer himself paid to kinescope his shows as they went out (a highly technical procedure which basically involves aiming a movie camera at a TV screen). This paid off, since the director was able to preserve his early work, and also refer back to it, which he found useful when making big movies. Our naive first efforts are often revealing to revisit.

The script for this adaptation of Henry James’ renowned novella is by James Costigan, with a heavy lit-crit emphasis on sexual hysteria as a cause of the ghostly manifestations: even more so than in Jack Clayton’s famous film version, THE INNOCENTS. Incidentally, both filmmakers rely on long lap dissolves for atmosphere, which makes one wonder if Clayton somehow caught the Frankenheimer airing (unlikely), or if something in James’ prose somehow suggests the idea (intriguing).

Recalling the way the BBC’s live Quatermass productions instill a kind of terror through the sheer flop-sweat of the cast struggling to make it through the broadcast without flubbing, corpsing, drying, breaking legs or dropping dead, I was anticipating some agreeable tension here, but Bergman is cool as ice, totally professional, and the kids are so eerily good they chill more for precocity as performers than as characters. Apart from one slight line-stumble early on (which feels quite natural), it’s amazingly slick, and somehow less scary for it.

I got distracted by technical considerations since the drama wasn’t fully engaging my mind. How did Frankenheimer manage scene changes in a narrative where the same character is in nearly every sequence? Here’s a doozy ~




Dissolve from governess closing French windows to governess’s hands, pressed against the glass of the window as rain pours down outside. Cut to Ingrid at the window.

It seems so simple, yet it’s completely impossible to do live, since during that dissolve Ingrid is literally required to be in two places at one: standing outside in a medium shot, and standing inside at the window with her hands in ECU (plus it has to be simultaneously dry and rainy).

So, I’m thinking Frankenheimer must have had a hand double already in position for that close view. And while it was on air, Ingrid must have sprinted from her position outside to a different window, positioned her hands to match her double’s, and picked up the scene from there. The first televisual hand transplant has been carried out!

I mention this trick over coffee to my editor friend Stephen Horne, and he says, “Ah, kind of like the two Dorothies in WIZARD OF OZ.” Now, I’ve lived with/in OZ all my life, almost, and precisely for this reason, I guess, I’ve never fully unpicked what goes on when Dorothy crosses the threshold from sepia farmhouse to Technicolor Munchkinland. To begin with, she’s apparently sepia, but since this trip is accomplished with a moving camera, we can exclude matte shot trickery. So she’s not filmed in sepia, she actually IS sepia. Some poor stand-in has been spray-painted brown from head to toe, along with the farmhouse door (I wonder if she got sick like Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Woodsman who was poisoned by his lead face-paint). There’s even a sepia Toto, created using the same technology as the horse of a different colour you’ve heard tell about. As we move through the doorway into the gaudy fantasy kingdom, the camera loses sight of the brown Dorothy, and when she re-enters frame she’s a full colour Judy Garland. The magic of movies!

I wonder who came up with this? Must check my Making Of book. Definitely not Victor Fleming, the credited director — I think we may have to chalk one up for the Genius of the System. It’s the kind of thing a bunch of heads of department spitballing and brainstorming, or brainballing and spitstorming, would come up with together.

I don’t know which is more amazing, the OZ substitution, which effects a change of film medium from b&w to colour, or Frankenheimer’s, which went out live to an unsuspecting nation.


Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2015 by dcairns


Managed to largely ignore the Oscars again this year. My overall take on the awards is that they can pretty much be guaranteed to go to the wrong people for the wrong films. If an award-worthy actor gets a little golden swordsman, it will be for the wrong film, probably in the wrong year. I have to be careful here because I have a great good friend who has three of the metallic minions, and he totally earned them. Maybe I can make my rule work by saying he should have won his 2001 award in 2003, his 2002 award in 2001, and his 2003 award in 2002. Yeah, that makes sense. Good.

I have a sort of perverse respect for the tradition of the Honorary or Special Oscar. Why should the year’s great accomplishments be forced to fit into a set of more or less random categories? Traditionally, these went either to children, black people and the disabled, or, by some special dispensation, to Walt Disney, who got three. Maybe because he made children’s films, and although he was neither black nor disabled, he was a racist, which is a kind of disability which relates to people of colour.

Prepare to cringe: at 3:14 Clooney utters the most disappointing words of his life (apart from, I guess, for some, the words “I do”). Disappointing since he’s supposed to be smart.

If you’re an able-bodied actor pretending to be disabled, obviously you can get a normal Oscar. Confusingly, Harold Russell got a Special Oscar AND a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Although they don’t actually manufacture a special Oscar with hooks for hands, or a child-sized Oscar struggling to see around the bloody great broadsword. So it’s sort-of special, but not THAT special.


Still, though there’s a certain amount of confusion about how Honorary Oscars work (James Baskett got one for playing Uncle Remus, but Hattie McDaniel got a regular award for playing Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND: she just had to sit at a segregated table away from her colleagues on the production), I think the tradition should be expanded upon. Anything that makes the Academy more ridiculous and self-parodic is to be encouraged, so that the awards can be enjoyed but not taken too seriously.

There should, upon occasion, be an award for Best False Nose, and this should be presented not to the actor or to the makeup artist but to the actual nose. The acceptance speech would be gratifyingly short. To avoid any sensation of anti-climax maybe Rick Baker could rig up some kind of air pump so the nose could sneeze its gratitude.

There should be an award for Best Dead Person Left Out of the Obituary Montage. This might have to be annual and there might have to be multiple winners.

Rather than giving honorary gongs to people who have never won fair and square and who are now approaching death, they should randomly pick a young up-and-comer each year and give it to them, on the understanding that the Academy can henceforth ignore this person’s work without feeling guilty about it. A sort of pre-emptive Lifetime Achievement Award. If we’d given that to Michael Keaton for NIGHT SHIFT, imagine how much better we’d be feeling now. Or MR. MOM, or JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY!

Look at how well it’s worked for Roberto Benigni.

The honest thing to do, now that we recognize that going “Awww” in the form of an Oscar isn’t an appropriate response to children, ethnic minorities and the disabled (although, given the Academy’s reluctance to hand out awards to any of those groups, why not give ’em a chance at a patronizing consolation prize at least?), might be to give Special Oscars to people who have been humiliatingly dumped by their celebrity partners. Jennifer Aniston is overdue for this. The poor woman STILL seems to evoke sad-face sympathy reactions ten years post-Brad, despite her wealth and success and constant visibility. It’s as if she had invisible hooks for hands. She deserves a medal — or an Oscar. Hmm, who could present it, to drive the point home?

There could be award for people who have contributed greatly to the cinematic culture by stopping making films. If he just took a short sabbatical, Michael Bay could qualify, and let’s face it, what other chance does he have?


Imagine this guy in gold!

No person of diminutive stature has ever won the Oscar for anything — clearly an insulting mini-Oscar should be gilded in preparation for the moment when Time has whittled the surviving Munchkins down to one. Treat it as a tontine — the Oscar goes to Last Dwarf Standing. The Academy — nay, the industry as a whole — has a proud history of insensitivity and bogus good intentions — there’s so much to live up to.

Your suggestions are welcome.

Because of the Wonderful Things He Does

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by dcairns


OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL should be seen for the fab 3D — Sam Raimi has always been a 3D filmmaker anyway, punching at that screen with his little girlish fists, trying to smack the audience in the face as if it were one of his beloved Stooges, and now he can finally do it, if only virtually. There are some really gorgeous effects here, particularly the snowflakes, which had us all swiping at the air like babies encountering soap bubbles for the first time. And during the Academy Ratio b&w opening sequence, Raimi keeps breaking the frame by having things like a fire-breather’s blazing puff burst out of the edges of the shot and into the auditorium.

There are, admittedly, some problems with the drama. There isn’t a lot of what you might call thrilling action, the non-period dialogue is irksome, and the mechanics whereby James Franco’s Oz actually destroys a decent character are troubling — he can never really be redeemed from this, and certainly doesn’t deserve to get the girl. If you watch this and then watch the 1939 original, the bit where Oz sends Dorothy to kill his ex-girlfriend will strike you as tonally rather off.

And an early scene where Oz, a Kansan magician, is threatened by an audience because he is unable to cure a crippled girl, is just peculiar. These may be hicks, but it’s unlikely they would expect a stage magician to perform actual miracles of healing. The scene could only make sense if Oz were a snake-oil salesman or faith healer, and I can only presume somebody thought that was too unsympathetic. But the character is pretty hateful at this stage anyway. He’s just ineffectively hateful.

My thoughts on the film seem to be whirling around like uprooted picket fence posts in a cyclone: let’s just sit by the window and check them out as they drift past. However — the movie may be best experienced knowing nothing about the story, so be aware there are a few spoilers below, and maybe avoid reading until you’ve seen the movie, if you plan to.


The movie is a remake of Raimi’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. It is. But the ending is swiped from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. (“Revenge of the Big Face.”)

All along I had a problem with Franco, who can play a phony but can’t play calculation, insincerity and confidence-inspiring baloney. Fiona initially disagreed: “I liked him, I thought he was fine.” “They turned down Robert Downey Jnr.” “WHAAAAAAAT???!!!”

Michelle Williams is the best: the only character you always believe, for every line and look. There’s never any doubt with MW. And she’s playing the Billie Burke role, for God’s sake. It doesn’t exactly strike one as a gift to the actor. But she embraces the challenge of making Goodness and Strength interesting. Raimi has always had a touching faith in sweetness in women (and a corresponding fear of female sexuality).

Raimi’s connection to Oz goes back at least to the animate trees of EVIL DEAD, though his are considerably nastier than those Dorothy Gale tangled with.

Bruce Campbell gets hit with a stick, so that’s fine. By the dwarf from BAD SANTA: you get extra points for that.

Raimi’s still casting all his kids in crowd scenes, but he doesn’t shoehorn in irrelevant dialogue for them this time, as he did in SPIDER MAN III.

Fiona reckons Mila Kunis must look scary in real life, since her eyes are somehow bigger than the head that contains them. I was wondering how she would manage to the transformation from spherical to pointy head. Maybe she’d end up looking like a Sputnik. But the makeup is quite effective. Nobody can be Margaret Hamilton except Margaret Hamilton, though.


The main reasons I liked this a lot better than Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which had the same producers and also a by-the-numbers Danny Elfman score:

1) You can’t turn Lewis Carroll into a parable of good versus evil, and only an idiot would try. It’s about sense versus nonsense, or ordinary logic versus strange and sublime logic.

2) Fewer curlicues in this one.

3) Burton had no ideas for 3D whatsoever, and seemed unable to focus pull or edit without throwing the viewers’ brain out of whack, since what your eye was led to by the 3D was never consistent with the other filmmaking choices.

4) Admittedly, nobody in OTGAP is as good as Anne Hathaway in AIW. But nothing is one tenth as bad as Johnny Depp’s dance.


China Girl is a really great SFX creation. Too bad they couldn’t have left her sweet and sentimental: the more raucous humour spoils the character a bit.

The Munchkins attempt a song, making this the fulfillment of Raimi’s dream for the ill-fated CRIMEWAVE: “I wanted to make it the Ultimate Film of Entertainment.”

(Is this the modern cinema experience in a nutshell: a big, bloated, yet oddly uneventful event, miscast and indifferently written, yet winning a measure of our respect just by virtue of presenting a slight variation on the usual form of spectacle? But wasn’t it ever thus? But isn’t it more so now?)


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