Archive for Tommy

Ollie

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2022 by dcairns

Sergio Sollima’s THE BIG GUNDOWN led me to the same director’s REVOLVER, which led me to write a piece for The Chiseler about Oliver Reed. Here.

There’s so much to say about this guy. I didn’t even get around to my favourite story, about when the producers of TOMMY made the mistake of putting Reed and Keith Moon in the same hotel. The two substance abusers hit it off, and one time Moon knocked on Ollie’s door and asked for some help moving his waterbed. Now, a waterbed contains an insane weight of water, you simply CAN’T move them when they’re full, but Ollie was game to try, so he grabbed an end and wrenched. Succeeded in bursting it. The water flooded the room, which then collapsed into the room below.

You have to give him credit: many rock stars have been accused of destroying hotel rooms, but they generally only destroy the CONTENTS. They merely DEFACE the rooms. Here, Reed and Moon succeed in literally demolishing two rooms, and they weren’t even trying.

I should write more about REVOLVER too, and when I’ve watched more poliziotteschi, something on the genre, which is really interesting. Cop movies always have the ability to be progressive, though that path is strewn with pitfalls. REVOLVER is a bit sexist — how long does it take for us to meet a clothed woman? — but it puts the blame where it belongs.

The Noms

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2018 by dcairns

So, unusually, I have actually seen some of the Oscar-nominated films.

We saw THE SHAPE OF WATER. Fiona is a big Del Toro fan. I like him as a person on the movie scene, but usually wish I could like his films more than I do. I like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE best, the rest seem to miss the mark. I like the compromised MIMIC better than I like PAN’S LABYRINTH, which gives you some idea.

This one disappointed both of us, but all the reasons I could give you don’t mean much, because the real reason was we didn’t buy into the central relationship and as a result we weren’t moved. We were interested, but we didn’t get weepy, which we should have, surely, since this is basically E.T. (and SPLASH, but then SPLASH is E.T. too).

The romance seemed to consist of Sally Hawkins giving Doug Jones some hard-boiled eggs. I can imagine that Guillermo sees this as the highest form of love, and he might feel he would be tied by unbreakable romantic bonds to anybody who gave him some hard boiled-eggs, but I couldn’t relate to this. Now, if it had been cheese on toast…

The production design of Hawkins’ apartment, styled after Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (episode: The Drop of Water), is gorgeous. We didn’t buy the light from the cinema downstairs filtering through the floorboards, but we were willing to be indulgent. But then when Hawkins fills the bathroom with water, we stopped indulging. You can have a flimsy, permeable floor or an impossibly strong, almost-watertight floor, not both. And that flooding the house was a stupid thing to do when you’re hiding from the authorities.

(How I know about water and floors: there’s an anecdote from the filming of TOMMY. The production made what can in hindsight be seen as a mistake in putting Oliver Reed and Keith Moon in the same hotel. One evening, Moon knocks on Ollie’s door and asks for help moving his water-bed. Ollie is a very strong man: his party trick was to seize a bar-top and hold his entire body out horizontally. But he doesn’t know that it’s impossible for a human being to move a water-bed when it’s full of water. It weighs about twice what any strong man could lift. Still, Ollie has a try, and does succeed in ripping the water-bed, flooding the room with 200 gallons of water, not enough to fill a bathroom but enough to cause Moon’s hotel room to collapse into the room below. So I always laugh at stories of rock stars destroying hotel rooms. They merely destroy the contents of hotel rooms. Moon and Reed destroyed two actual rooms. This may seem like a digression but the film is called THE SHAPE OF WATER so it isn’t.)

Other bits of production design we liked: well, all of it, but the dais Jones is strapped to is borrowed from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

And the idea of a film set in a secret government lab but centering on the cleaners is lovely.

But I didn’t buy the baddies wanting to dissect their only specimen, I didn’t buy the Russians at all (what they wanted seemed to make no sense). I couldn’t invest because I couldn’t believe. The twist was cool, but the sudden miraculous powers bit kind of confused that. It seemed odd that a writing team wouldn’t pick up on each others’ mistakes more. But I’m sure if Del Toro asked me to co-write a film (ain’t going to happen NOW, is it?) I would be somewhat in awe of him and just agree with all his ideas even if I privately thought maybe they were silly.

We also saw THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. That has lots of entertainment value, and we did respond emotionally, and I think we’re all grateful Martin McDonagh isn’t trying quite so hard to be Irish. I did have qualms, but mostly some time after seeing it, so I can kind of recommend it as a cinema experience.

At first, when I heard people having an issue with the film’s treatment of race, I thought, well, that’s not really what the film’s about. Which I would stand by. But Sam Rockwell’s character is explicitly identified as a particularly horrible racist. And then he’s put through quite a lot, and tries to redeem himself. But racial awareness never plays any role in that character arc, that shot at redemption. He doesn’t seem to think about it, and nor does the movie anymore. Which I think is a problem. It does seem rather too urgent and serious an issue to drop into and out of your movie. Would it have been better to leave it out, or else deal with it more fully? How would they have done that?

By making Frances McDormand’s character black, I guess. Hmm, would that make it a more urgent, serious and meaningful film, all by itself? I think it might.

And we have seen GET OUT (no complaints, a masterpiece — so why didn’t I write about it?), THE DISASTER ARTIST (a wasted opportunity), I saw DUNKIRK, Fiona saw and liked LOGAN, we saw the STAR WARS and the BLADE RUNNER and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Gotta see PHANTOM THREAD! That’s the one I feel doltish for not having caught. But oh look, it isn’t out here. So I’m not stupid for missing it, yet.

Not Acting But Drowning

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Sport with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2017 by dcairns

I remember being disappointed by Ken Russell’s book Directing Film when it came out. Picking it up again, I was more impressed, but I could still see what bothered me originally — unlike the Lumet and Mackendrick books, which are masterpieces of the genre, Russell divides himself between general knowledge stuff about who does what on a film set — this stuff is suitable for precocious children interested in getting into the movies — and amusing anecdotes from his distinguished career. This is the stuff I enjoyed this time, because Mad Ken tells a great yarn (see below). But there’s so much the book doesn’t cover — the chapter on shooting says nothing about camera placement, camera movement, lighting, which is all stuff Russell knew about and did brilliantly, in collaboration with such cinematographers as Dick Bush, Billy Williams, Douglas Slocombe, David Watkin, Peter Suschitzky, Jordan Cronenweth… Only Ken could tell us how he approached actually filming those musical numbers, nun orgies, peyote trips… the editor should have insisted he write about this.

But the anecdotes are terrific, and some even teach valuable lessons, though what you take away from the one coming up depends on you and your moral compass. Ken has just finished telling us how me made the mistake of casting an actress in a supporting role for THE MUSIC LOVERS, without having heard her speak. She had a strong Canadian accent so he ended up cutting all her lines. We’re on to MAHLER. Now read on ~

Even so, the experience taught me to be well on my guard in future and to take an actor’s talents according to his CV with a large pinch of salt. Nevertheless such is the cunning of the average thespian that they are able to slip through one’s defences and pull a fast one. After all, they are ‘actors’ and learn their survival techniques from an early age, as I found to my cost on Mahler.

Casting the young Gustav was a bit of a problem owing to the fact that he had to ride, swim and play the piano. Most of the boys I auditioned could manage two out of three, but finding a contender who could handle the lot proved difficult. Finally I settled for Gary-someone-or-other, who assured me he was fine so far as his athletic abilities were concerned, but was a bit rusty on the piano. I watched him play and thought if I ever made a film of Frankenstein’s monster as a young piano prodigy, I need look no further than Gary. However, he read his lines well and looked remarkably like Robert Powell, who was playing Mahler the man. I should have remembered my experience on the Tchaikovsky film and been warned.

So, on the understanding that he practised the piano every day, I hired him. After all, he only had to play scales and I assumed he could manage that with ease. He was a bright boy, keen as Coleman’s, and desperate to do the part.

I stopped worrying and got caught up in the hurly-burly of pre-production, but still managed to phone him from time to time to see how he was progressing. Gary was never there; he was always down at the baths, according to his mother, who added reassuringly that the piano tuition was coming on fine. I guess I should have smelt a rat — a water rat — but I had far greater problems to sort out and missed the obvious.

What should have been obvious became horrifyingly so on choppy Derwentwater five weeks later. We had reached the point in the schedule where the young Mahler, wishing to show off to his school chums, attempts to demonstrate that he is as at home in the water as they are, by plunging into the chilly waters of the lake in  foolhardy attempt to swim across it. In the event he only manages a few yards before getting into difficulties and being ignominiously rescued.

So, imagine the scene. There we are, with me and my camera crew in a boat moored a little offshore, and young Gary poised on the water’s edge in his underwear ready to plunge in, swim into close-up, become exhausted, and start to drown. After a few seconds of this I’d say ‘cut’, and he’d be hauled safely on board. Everyone knew exactly what was expected of them and we were all keyed up for the take, when Gary’s forlorn little voice was caught up by the wind and whipped across the choppy waters towards me.

‘Mr Russell,’ he shouted through cupped hands. ‘I’ve got a confession to make… I lied to you, I can’t swim! I can only manage a few strokes.’ So that’s why he was always down at the baths when he should have been practising the piano, I thought, before shouting back at him.

‘Never mind, Gary, just do your best, swim out a few strokes — you needn’t even get out of your depth and then pretend to get into difficulties.’

‘But Mr Russell, I don’t want to, I’m scared.’

‘Nonsense! You can do it if you try,’ I shouted back with a touch of steel in my voice. ‘Ready now — roll camera, action!’

It’s amazing how that word ‘ACTION’ galvanizes the mind. Shout ‘Action’ through a loud hailer with command and conviction and you can get a ten-stone weakling to move mountains and pigs to fly. Even our Gary was galvanized sufficiently to wade into the water and take the plunge, for all the world like a cross-channel record breaker. He got all of three yards, started blubbing, and waded shivering and snivelling back to shore. This was disastrous. Defeat was staring us in the face. True, we’d got him in the water and starting to swim, but that was all in long shot. We still needed a few shots in close-up of him swimming and getting into difficulties. And the drowning scene was crucial to the film — we simply had to have it.

‘Great, Gary, we’ve got it,’ I shouted. ‘Now just jump in and we’ll row you out here to discuss the next scene before the light goes.’ He wasn’t happy, but before he could object an assistant director had bundled him into a boat and started rowing.

‘Here, Gary, let me give you a hand,’ I said as he was brought alongside. Trustingly he did so, whereupon I sort of lost my balance and poor Gary was hurled into the deep — as both boats pulled away from him like mad and the camera, primed for the crucial moment, purred into action. And what do you know? Gary managed to swim half a dozen strong strokes before giving up the ghost. It was the most convincing drowning scene I have ever seen on screen. The little bugger couldn’t ride a horse either — so we tied him to te saddle and whipped the stallion into a gallop — only kidding! HONEST!

Gary Rich was the young actor. He didn’t immediately take early retirement after this rough treatment, as I had feared, and was actually cast by Russell again in TOMMY the following year. A land-based role, thankfully. The following year he DID pack it in, but it doesn’t look like MAHLER was the deciding factor. Looking at the shots, I’m not quite convinced it happened the way Russell remembered it, which may be a relief to some of you.