Archive for Tony Masters

An Odyssey in Bits: Dr. Smyslov, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Squirt

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2019 by dcairns

Complicated bit now. We’re moving through Kubrick’s 2001 in sort-of chapters. This one contains several sub-sections.

First, Kubes chops into The Blue Danube at an opportune moment, so the transition to the interior of the Big Space Wheel is neat yet abrupt. The grinding sound of the rotating chamber that introduces William Sylvester’s Heywood Floyd to the wheel’s security atrium helps as aural interruption. There’s another of those pretty stewardess types (Maggie London) in the room with him (it’s not quite an airlock, something like an elevator that doesn’t go up or down, just around… a revolving door you can sit down in), and then another (Canadian Chela Matthison) at the sort-of customs desk.

Floyd meets a faceless functionary, Miller, who has something to do with security, bland pleasantries are exchanged, blandly. The first dialogue of the film, discounting ape-grunts, is arguably the noiseless lip-flap of the characters in the TV show Floyd is sleeping through on his shuttle trip, but these encounters offer the first audible speech and it makes about the same impression.“Here you are, sir.” “See you on the way back.” “We haven’t seen you up here for a long time.” “Very nice to see you again.” “Did you have a pleasant flight, sir?” “Sorry I’m late.” “You’re looking great.” “It’s nice to have you back.” “Did you have a good flight?”

Let’s assume this is all deliberately dull. Science fiction writers believed for a long time that their stories should feature rather bland, standard-issue characters without distracting quirks, so that the strange situations could stand out by contrast and there would be a grounding in what they’d probably insist on calling “normalcy.” This was a false good idea, because boring cut-outs don’t help make a story credible. But there’s more to that going on in 2001. The functionaries we meet here are rather dull men and women doing, what are to them, dull, everyday things. The astronauts, later, embody what the filmmakers’ and actors’ research told them, accurately, astronauts would be like: flat and not very emotional. You don’t want hand-flapping hysterics piloting your interplanetary craft, you want Neil Armstrong.

There are two characters called Miller in this film. Which gives you an idea of the deliberate blandness. This one is played by Kevin Scott, whose immediately previous film credit was THE COOL MIKADO for Michael Winner. “I like to work with the best actors in the world,” said Kubrick. Worth repeating that every so often as we watch this film. But Kev is fine here, exactly right for what’s called for.Good to see that the Dutch are prominently represented in space travel.

I like the weird garbled stuff Floyd is forced to say by the security screen woman (Judy Keirn, who plays an actual stewardess in her only other film, Sidney Lumet’s THE DEADLY AFFAIR) for his voice print identification: destination, nationality, full name, surname first. So he has to say “Moon. American. Floyd. Heywood R.” Which is certainly the best line of the film so far.Then Floyd says he has to make a couple of phone calls, but in fact makes one: he tries to speak to his wife but gets Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, playing his daughter, Squirt. Is it an issue that she has an English accent, despite Heywood being a yank who lives in America? I don’t mind it: she’s so cute and the conversation has such a realistic awkwardness — the authentic feeling of talking to a distracted child via technology — and we can easily invent an explanation. Mrs. Floyd must be English, they must have lived there until recently…What IS a mistake is that the camera filming Squirt is able to pan right to keep her in frame during her hilarious and random postural contortions. A videophone wouldn’t do that, and if it had some motion-sensor capacity to do so, it would look more automated than Kubes’ spontaneous movement. But I guess he couldn’t bear to have a misframed daughter disappearing out of shot in his space epic. And the scene appears to have been filmed casually in the Kubrick home so it hasn’t had the rigorous thought put into it that you’d expect from S.K.

Vivian Kubrick later joined the Church of Scientology (I blame Tom and to a lesser extent Nicole) and is now completely estranged from her family. Horrible.Leaving the phone booth having been billed $1.70, which I guess was a lot of money in 1968, Floyd is ambushed by the Russians. It seems foolish of station security man Miller to have let HRF out of his sight like that, but maybe they actually WANTED this encounter to take place — because Floyd proceeds to bamboozle the Russkis, refusing to confirm the cover story his own people have leaked out, thereby making them think this story must be true. (To conceal the discovery of an alien artifact at the Tycho Clavius base on the moon, they’ve concocted a false tale of infection and quarantine.)

This scene features two actors who don’t quite fit the film’s pattern of nondescript performance. Margaret Tyzack would return in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, her plummy English solicitude acquiring a sinister edge. And Leonard Rossiter would nearly capsize BARRY LYNDON with the comic flamboyance of his performance. Here, he’s Dr. Andrei Smyslov, pumping Floyd for info as they all sit around on their comfy ’60s space chairs.

We should previously have praised Tony Masters, Harry Lange and Ernest Archer for their production design, and it’s a bit crap that I focus on them here where the design is noticable in a partially negative way. The curve of the floor, indicating that we’re inside that big wheel we saw floating in space, is fantastic. And the contrast of the white white set with the red furniture is really beautiful. But of course within ten years the chairs dated it. But then a little later we could appreciate how attractive they were, and by the time the year 2001 rolled round for real they seemed perfectly plausible space furniture.

This sequence, so soon after one of the great cuts of film history, contains the worst cut in 2001 ~

A jolting jounce inwards, not far enough to feel like a meaningful change, with a jarring continuity glitch in Rossiter’s stance. OK, not quite as bad as my frame-grabs suggest. And they make William Sylvester’s head-turn the focus, and preserve the continuity of movement there. But it’s the small size of the reframing that makes the whole cut ugly. Perfectionist, my ass!

This scene also has some beautiful pausing. If Harold Pinter was writing it, he wouldn’t even put “(a pause)”, he’d go all out and put “(a silence)”, indicating that the actors should really go for maximum discomfort. The seeds of THE SHINING’s creepy conversations are sown here.

Our latest two podcasts have a science fiction theme:

SPACE MADNESS

LET’S GET SMALL

Charles Aznavour’s Sex Dungeon

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by dcairns

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From THE ADVENTURERS (1969).

I’d read about this movie in two places — one was Robert Evans’ autohagiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, where he blames Paramount CEO Charlie Bluhdorn for choosing to make this bloated, old-fashioned Harold Robbins adaptation with untested star Bekim Fehmiu, much against his wishes. The movie tries to compensate for its dated approach by pouring in sex by the bucketload, with decorous nudity provided by the gorgeous Delia Boccardo and Leigh Taylor-Young, but to no avail. There’s a rather zany, zoomtastic sex scene with the former and Fehmiu which must have been startling stuff in ’69.

The other place I read of it is Lewis Gilbert’s autobio, All My Flashbacks, where he bitterly bemoans being removed from his dream picture, OLIVER! and forced to make this pile of tat. The fact that Carol Reed won the best directing Oscar for OLIVER! in his stead perhaps has something to do with the intensity of his regret: if Reed could win for the rather tired job of work he put in, surely an eager hack like Gilbert could do likewise.

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Gilbert seems to have put all he could into the turkey he was handed, stuffing it with orgies, battles, proto-disco fashion shows (with UV lighting and splitscreen) and star cameos. Claude Renoir shot it and Anne V. Coates cut it and it still sucks. “It was a bullshit story,” is Gilbert’s own, accurate, description.

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Also included — Charles Aznavour’s sex dungeon, a groovy, queasy palace of porn. Tony Masters, who had just designed 2001 (and would go on to DUNE), created the sets, and one feels Kubrick must surely have been watching. In fact, Masters creates an even more stylish, beautiful and sinister objectification parlour than John Barry (not the composer) would achieve for CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Both designers must surely have been influenced by the kinky sculptures of Allen Jones (in fact Kubrick admitted it and initially tried to buy Jones’ work) but Masters’ versions are BETTER — they throw in a Hans Bellmer influence, merging body parts and furniture together in a way HR Giger would approve of (the HR stands for Human Resources, in case you wondered).

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The groovy entrance hall gives way to a more dungeon-like stage, with soft screens hilariously distorted by mannequin breasts which press against them from behind, making pseudo-erotic bulges in the fabric. It’s a ludicrous and tragically mechanistic parody of sex, and fills one with pity and revulsion for Aznavour’s character — the thought of anyone going to all that trouble to so little effect. I have no idea if that was the emotion we are supposed to feel, but there it is. I don’t mean the red room with the white sculpture furniture, which would suit an erotomaniac Bond villain — we’d all like one of those. I mean the green-tinged dungeon stage set with the titty wall.

THE ADVENTURERS may be three hours of mainly tedium, and an embarrassment to everyone who worked on it (certainly to Evans and Gilbert), but you have to admire this one setting. Or maybe you don’t. I’m not you.

All My Flashbacks

The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Hollywood Life

The Adventurers

Moonstuck

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2009 by dcairns

MOON, directed by first-timer Duncan Jones from Nathan Parker’s screenplay based on Jones’s story, is a sci-fi thriller which is too slow to be thrilling and not slow enough to be 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Which it would very much like to be:

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Not only have they stolen designer Tony Masters’ hexagonal corridor from 2001, they’ve stolen the font seen everywhere in the Discovery spacecraft. It’s all over MOON, and it strikes me as a terrible miscalculation. I’m all for the odd little homage, but you should never forcibly remind the audience of a better film that the one they’re watching.

Continuing with the minuses, we have Kevin Spacey quite literally phoning in his performance as the HAL-9000-like computer, GERTY-3000. We have a ludicrous reason to be on the moon in the first place: a fusion plant consisting of sorta combine harvester things that somehow extract “the sun’s energy” from the dark side of the moon and can it up as “Helium-3” to send back to Earth. I imagine everybody on Earth speaking in a squeaky voice.

This slightly impractical solution to global warming comes by way of producer Trudie Styler, the eco-warrier famed for her tendency to fly everywhere by private jet — she must have a carbon footprint the size of Kitten Kong. If you’re capable of believing your lifestyle is doing more harm than good, you’re probably capable of believing in Helium-3.

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Derivative design aside, MOON looks handsome on a deceptively low budget, and if you can overlook questions like “Why does a one-man lunar base come equipped with an entire fleet of moon-buggies?” then the plot is fairly compelling and unusual. And if you’re going to do a movie where basically one actor is onscreen the whole time, this film makes a good case for that actor being Sam Rockwell. What a charming fellow.

Now, since the character/s  Sam plays is/are called Sam Bell (to say more would be unfair), you might be forgiven for thinking “Sam (Rockw)ell… Sam (B)ell… I  bet they tailored the part for him.” But I don’t believe this is the case. I think probably the character name called the actor to mind and they had the good sense to grab him. Here’s how I think the character was named in the first place ~

In 2001 Keir Dullea plays the hero, Dave Bowman.

The soul duo Sam & Dave creates a clear word association between the name “Dave” and the name “Sam.”

The London-centric expression “born within the sound of Bow bells” gives us the word “Bow” next to the word “bells.”

This explanation is so ingenious and intricate, I don’t believe the filmmakers consciously devised it. But I think that’s where the name came from nevertheless.