Archive for Tiny Tim

Cox’s Orange Pippins: “…and lose the name of ACTION!”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2022 by dcairns

Quite enjoyed DJANGO THE BASTARD — the other vengeful ghost spaghetti western. Anthony Steffen is quite a compelling wraith-hero. As with this film’s unofficial twin …AND GOD SAID TO CAIN, there’s a certain loss of tension when your hero is an unkillable ghost and everyone else is a baddy. Best of the bad men is bleach-blond epileptic madman Luciano Rossi, doing the Kinski thing, as “Hugh Murdok.”

Director Sergio Garrone made a bunch of westerns and also some of those noxious Nazisploitation films. I was inclined to hate him, but couldn’t quite manage it in the face of his sheer misguided enthusiasm for wanky directorial gimmicks. His direction is lively but random. Cox picks, as an egregious example, an aerial view tracking Steffen’s hat — a shot that must have taken considerable trouble, and is over before it’s made an impression, replaced with something equally throwaway and meaningless. But I like the hat shot — it’s attractive. Some of Garrone’s other angles are just silly, but as I say, they’re lively. The kind of thing I get cross with Kenneth Branagh for doing in HAMLET, but can accept in something that is after all called DJANGO THE BASTARD.

Then we watched KEOMA together on our larger screen and that was… kind of impressive. My first Enzo G. Castellari film. I don’t know why but Tarantino’s championing him always put me off, somehow. QT’s enthusiasm can be sort of repellent, but in fairness the films he enthuses about are usually at least interesting. (I think BLOW-OUT is a poor film, personally, but it’s not devoid of interest, even just from a pathological viewpoint.)

Enzo is having fun with this very late spag western — it barely rates a mention in the Cox book because he takes the view that there are no good post-1970 Italian westerns, but this is very nearly a proper movie. Castellari’s flourishes are better-motivated than maestro Garrone’s, as when hero Franco Nero holds up four fingers in front of four opponents, a moment you can enjoy in the lengthy trailer.

Weird hearing Nero with his own accent, especially since Keoma is a halfbreed Indian. With his beard and bare chest and wolf-cut hair, FN is a new kind of gunfighter for a new-ish kind of western. Bits seem post-apocalyptic, prefiguring the genre Castellari and all the other genre hacks would dabble in after MAD MAX, other bits seem medieval — there’s a plague ravaging the land, ffs.

Woody Strode has quite a bit to do and has an extraordinary last scene — it is possible that Castellari was a bit too uncritical of his performers, or else urged them to “give it both knees” in Billy Wilder’s phrase when more restraint would have been advisable. But it’s the kind of mad choice that seems acceptable in a nutzoid oater like this.

Spaghetti westerns, unlike most of their American counterparts, always TRY to be progressive about race, though they often slip up in hilarious/uncomfortable ways, due to naivety — the spaghetti west is all like Kafka writing the Statue of Liberty with a sword in her hand: EVOCATIVELY WRONG — and a certain insensitivity that comes with the genre.

The era of Morricone and Morricone-influenced scores is over, as we also saw in FOUR FOR THE APOCALYPSE. This one also has songs — a female vocalist warbling at a high pitch like the bastard daughter of Joan Baez and Tiny Tim, and a gruff, growly man (Nero himself) who mainly sings about what is actually happening in front of us, which gets very funny. (“How did I get in this meeeeeessss?”)

KEOMA — which also has supernatural-Gothic-Shakespearian vibes — led us to JOHNNY HAMLET, originally developed by Corbucci and intended to star Anthony Perkins, but was passed to Castellari and Andrea Giordana. The real star turn in this one is Gilbert Roland, as “Johnny Hamilton’s” chum, “Horace.” The first time Horatio has been the coolest and most impressive character, and the only time a real Mexican appeared in an Italian western (according to Cox — seems legit).

A Perkins Hamlet, even a wild west one, would have been something. An Andrea Giordana Hamlet is just fair. His green eyes look good in Leonesque ECU — this is an insanely colourful film at times — the dream sequence in which the ghost appears is pure Corman, or impure Bava. Funny how Castellari, seeking to present the sequence in a way that doesn’t violate genre conventions — no ghosts in cowboy films — except the aforementioned ones, and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and Elvis at the end of FLAMING STAR I believe — and he ends up with a sequence that has absolutely nothing in common with western aesthetics.

Elsewhere, there’s a cemetery in a cave — comedy gravediggers seem ready-made for an Italian western, with the strong antecedent of the coffin-maker in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.

Castellari mounts the camera on a wheel as Johnny H realises the time is out of joint —

There are capering actors, so that we can have snatches of the bard, and an anticipation of Agnes Varda —

Kind of funny how the Shakespearian character who can’t make up his mind becomes this angst-ridden action hero who’s constantly shooting people and getting in punch-ups. Most of this action doesn’t much advance the plot, but neither do the Shakespearian soliloquies they replace (WH Auden observes that Hamlet is unusual in that the big speeches are all standalone bits of philosophising that work just as well out of context). It’s also funny to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern transformed into sadistic henchmen from the rather ineffectual stooges of the original. What “Claude Hamilton” needs in his camp is a deadly Laertes type, but none is forthcoming, though there is, instead, this guy:

A major spaghetti trope I haven’t mentioned — DISGUSTING EATING. Leone’s giant mouth closeups in DUCK, YOU SUCKER! are the apotheosis of this, but in both THE BIG SILENCE and this one, men deliver dialogue through half-masticated facefuls of chicken. There should, now that I think of it, be a spag western called A FACEFUL OF CHICKEN. In this movie the chickenlover is a Mexican bandit called Santana who seems to have no connection to the source text, which means he can do what he likes, so he does.

Johnny, like Steffen in DJANGO THE BASTARD, has just returned from the Civil War, fighting on the side of the South. Cox observes that this is unusual in Italian westerns, which aren’t suckered by the lost cause myth. Cox then embarks on his worst bit of pontificating, throwing out the right-wing talking point that the War wasn;t really over slavery, but over the southern states’ right to secede. I assume somebody fed this line to Cox and he didn’t question it further. But, as sf writer Theodore Sturgeon advises, we should be prepared always to Ask the next question. WHY did the southern states wish to secede? Turns out maybe the Civil War was about slavery after all…

This Hamlet does not go mad, or feign madness, nor does he (spoiler alert) die at the end, though most of the other characters do. These departures from the source text make this not really a version of Hamlet at all. One wonders if Corbucci, who conceived the idea, would have been more faithful, not so much to the play, as to the IDEA. What’s the point of doing Hamlet as a spaghetti western, after all, if you don;t actually follow through? And, while the opening dream sequence (deleted in America) is wonderfully outside the stylistic Overton window of the genre, an insane hero and a tragic ending (as with THE BIG SILENCE) seem perfectly suited to the revenge western. In place of all this, Castellari has his hero crucified — a ballsy move in a production of Hamlet, but rather standard for an Italian western (see also DJANGO KILL! and, in fact, KEOMA) — so that he has to tie his pistol to his hand for the final shootout, a variant on DJANGO. A shame — instead of throwing overly-familiar business at us, under the guise of a Shakespeare update, Castellari could have used the concept to hit us with material that would be genuinely unfamiliar, but perfectly in keeping with the revenge western format. A miss, a very palpable miss. But EGC is a fun stylist, and I’m perfectly willing to see more of his stuff now.

Further Adventures

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by dcairns

INSIDIOUS is from James Wan, who made SAW, but we went to see it anyway. We didn’t mind SAW — haven’t seen the sequels — apart from Cary Elwes not being up to the job, and the “poor man’s process” night driving scenes being hilariously/ embarrassingly unconvincing.

This one certainly delivered lots of shocks, and a fair bit of suspense. The screening got off to a bad start with a couple noisily conversing and making out — we moved seats to get out of earshot, but could still hear the jangle of belt buckles, unfastening of velcro, weirdly loud conversation, so we got them thrown out. They were OUTRAGED.

This unsettled us, which was probably ideal for the film, which, once we could concentrate on it, was pleasingly scare-filled, if daft. The early stuff is a little too eager to get in there and freak us out, but once the slender plot was underway, the anxiety of home invasion by non-living entities from beyond was pretty intense.

Wan and regular screenwriter Leigh Whannell nearly screw things up by bringing in some bickering nerd parapsychologists, out of The Big Bang Theory by way of GHOSTBUSTERS. Of course, psychic investigators are great fun, and who can resist the chance to invent goofy ones, but in a movie that’s trying for domestic realism as an environment for supernatural scares, these guys are fatal. The team in POLTERGEIST, which INSIDIOUS is very heavily derived from, are both less sitcom-quirky and more in keeping with that movie’s big-budget elephantine bombast, so they work.

Lin Shaye, as the medium, however, is another matter — a strikingly convincing portrait of a genuinely good woman, and the only character in the film I could imagine actually meeting. So the near disaster is diverted, although what with the psychic gas mask and other peculiar techniques, and guff about the astral domain known as “The Further”, the movie starts to get much closer to being ridiculous.

There’s also a demon, for no pressing narrative reason, whose favourite tune is Tiptoe Through the Tulips as sung by Tiny Tim. And now things get spooky —

The morning before the cinema trip, I was singing Tim Brooke-Taylor’s I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue rendition of the lyrics of Girlfriend in a Coma to the tune of Tiptoe Through the Tulips. The plot of INSIDIOUS involves a comatose child. How weird is that?

If the film is emotionally a good roller-coaster/ghost train, and plotwise a mere string of creepy incidents, how does it fare thematically? Is there anything INTERESTING to take away afterwards? Well, one thing is that it does seem to be the only American film released lately WITHOUT resonance, conscious or otherwise, pertaining to the war in Iraq, or 9/11. If it resonates with anything, it’s the idea of stranger-danger — the plot focuses on sinister persons who want to get into our children. The Tiny Tim reference makes sense because TT probably fits mainstream America’s idea of what a deviated prevert looks like. The play with baby monitors and burglar alarms, frightening in itself, taps into an anxiety about intrusion and assault, a fear that is all over the news (whose chief purpose is to scare us into buying stuff) but generally neglected in fictional forms of mass media, because without the supernatural dressing up, it doesn’t seem very entertaining. The demon, who is entirely surplus to narrative requirements, ties in with the Satanic abuse meme to goose middle America a little more.

Worth seeing if you like jumps: the red devil lurking just over a character’s shoulder in a breakfast table chat is a fantastic out-of-the-blue shocker.