Archive for Tony Scott

Last Train

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by dcairns


UNSTOPPABLE, Tony Scott’s last film prior to his unexplained jumping from a bridge — his brother was supposed to be the depressive one — is pitched somewhere in the quieter end of his frenetic, acid-coloured, shakycam style, meaning that fans of DOMINO probably don’t find it interesting enough and I can just about bear it (the way I tolerated CRIMSON TIDE and DEJA VU, which were both enjoyable stories). It’s also uncharacteristically benign, with only one death — which is at least intended to have some emotional impact — and no out-and-out villains. There’s a mild anti-corporate stance although everybody ends up not making too much of a fuss because they want to get on in life. It’s not very rock’n’roll. But it’s inoffensive — and I often find Scott’s films shockingly unpleasant and inhumane.


It was Fiona who spotted the orange dot just ahead of the train — a woodland critter which kind of FLOWS across the tracks like a sheet of newspaper in a babbling brook — “They must have been SO EXCITED when they caught that!”

There’s a runaway train full of toxic chemicals and this time Jon Voight ISN’T at the wheel quoting Nietszche, if you remember RUNAWAY TRAIN — worse, no one’s at the wheel, and only Captain Kirk and Malcolm X can stop this mile-long juggernaut from destroying Stanton. Part of the film’s overall sweetness is that it trusts its audience to care about a town of less than a million inhabitants. Why, in ARMAGEDDON Michael Bay had to obliterate Paris just to show he meant business.

Working class heroes are welcome, Denzel Washington’s laid-back charisma compensates for Pine’s callowness, and incidentally DW gets to show why he’d be impossible to defeat or fluster in an argument — the film could’ve as well been called UNFLAPPABLE.


Scott’s credit comes over an unfortunate image.

I remain agnostic about Scott’s imagery — I did feel a bit claustrophobic from all the colour-manipulation going on, which boosted the orange-and-teal nightmare from which American cinema has yet, it seems, to awaken, into something even more hallucinatory and queasy, which I guess is better than just using it normally without thinking. I grew to loathe Scott’s tobacco filters, so this is at least something else. Maybe that’s his redeeming cinematic trait — amping up worthless techniques until they become interesting through sheer excess — no longer fit for the banal purpose they were designed for, they suggest some ungraspably alien higher intent. Scott, I feel, would have been the ideal man to make SUB SUB, the imaginary rock ‘n’ roll post-apocalyptic caveman movie described in Theodore Roszak’s cinematic conspiracy novel Flicker — a film so  virulently “cinematic” that it could sterilize mankind. Is that a respectful thing to say about a recently death-plunged filmmaker? Possibly not, but it seems the right kind of compliment for his kind of cinema.


Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2011 by dcairns

Untitled from David Cairns on Vimeo.

To be honest, I’m not so much surprised that Ambrose Bierce’s work has inspired so many filmmakers, as I am surprised that it hasn’t inspired more. I guess the fact that he eschewed long form storytelling (as a matter of principle, to hear him tell it) is a factor, but so for the most part did Poe and Lovecraft, who are much more frequently filmed. I can’t account for that.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was most famously adapted by Robert Enrico, and the resulting short became, somehow or other, an episode of The Twilight Zone, exposing it to a much wider audience that Enrico’s other two Bierce films, CHICKAMAUGA and THE MOCKINGBIRD. But for my money, Charles Vidor’s version, entitled THE BRIDGE, is much much better.

It’s available on the extraordinary box set UNSEEN CINEMA, which you should all immediately buy.

The bit that really grabs me, in a film full of fascinating visual ideas, is the superimposition of the drumsticks beating the skin over the hero’s chest. Two images united to create more than one idea and emotion — by showing the drum and the man at the same time, anticipation is heightened, but the beating of the drum comes to stand for the racing of the man’s heartbeat, evoking something a silent film can’t make you hear, or feel. That’s CLEVER.

Some imaginative trope of that kind was surely required when Tony Scott filmed ONE OF THE MISSING, another of Bierce’s Civil War horror stories, but although he pulls off some good angles and generates a fair bit of suspense (you can see this short on the CINEMA 16 collection) he never gets near evoking the striking passage in Bierce’s tale where the soldier, trapped by rubble with his fallen rifle pointing straight at his head, primed and ready to fire, imagines the sensation of the bullet passing slowly through his brain…

Vidor really displays moments of similar zest in GILDA (the giant dice in the opening shot) and I guess in COVER GIRL, also LADIES IN RETIREMENT and BLIND ALLEY. When the project roused his enthusiasm, he was quite an expressionist.

Further reading: The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

Of course, Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionaryis wickedly funny, but less known than either his supernatural tales and his war stories are his grotesque, jet-black tall tales, which are quite incredibly sick and extremely amusing.

Further further reading: more from me at Limerwrecks here, here and here. What rhymes with TINGLER?

Further viewing: Unseen Cinema – Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 An amazing treasure trove of obscure fragments of wonderment.

Playing games with the faces

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2011 by dcairns

I was sort-of tolerant, but not particularly generous towards Duncan Jones’ MOON — I felt the plot and science didn’t quite hang together and the film’s slavish devotion to the 2001 design aesthetic promoted cuteness over originality. But then two things happened, neither of which should influence my feelings about Jones’ latest, SOURCE CODE, but who knows, maybe they do.

(1) I saw Jones tearfully accept a BAFTA, and his emotion wasn’t the typical award-winners’ schmaltz or the feedback of a well-stroked ego going into overdrive, but a sincere reaction to, as he put it, the realisation that he’d found what he wanted to do with his life. There are limits to even my curmudgeonliness, and I warmed to him.

(2) Belated discovery that some of the crazy and implausible-sounding science in MOON is actually authentic. I could be difficult, and say the film’s job was to convince me, rather than relying on me recognizing the truth when I see it, but again, there are limits.

Like MOON, with its 2001 and BLADE RUNNER borrowings, SOURCE CODE wears its influences not so much on its sleeve as dangling round its neck, on top of its head, and winking like neon signs everywhere else, but the plot logic hangs together at least a bit better — there are unanswered questions, but they seem like fertile brain-nourishment rather than nagging chasms.

You know the story? That nice boy Jake Gyllenhaal awakens without memory on a train and finds he’s got somebody else’s face and ID, and then the train blows up. It turns out that a secret military program has devised the means to project his consciousness into the short-term memory of a passenger who died in this terrorist attack. The memory is only eight minutes long, so he has that much time to identify the bomber and prevent a subsequent, far more large-scale atrocity. Philip K Dick has finally and fully conquered Hollywood.

(Interesting that the plot turns on a dirty nuke, that media bugbear we were all supposed to be scared of a few years back. The script even contains the line “Do you have any idea how many people would die?” to which the answer, I believe, is “None” — the initial blast might take out a few, but the probability is that evacuation could take place before the radiation did any serious harm to anyone else. Still, Chicago would be uninhabitable for a while, and SOURCE CODE makes Chicago look very attractive, so that would be a shame.)

This gimmick allows the movie to mimic some of the patterns of game-playing — if you die, you just go back in and start again from shortly before you snuffed it. It’s the big factor separating games from real life: the permanent second chance. Interestingly, and necessarily, SOURCE CODE uses the idea to make things worse for the hero, not better — he’s trapped in a purgatorial scenario where he must re-live a traumatic event over and over again. The fact that he’s ex-military adds an undertone of post-traumatic stress disorder to the whole sisyphean situ.

The movie nods to TV show Quantum Leap with an audio guest-spot by that show’s star, Scott Bakula (Yay! Scott Bakula!), and there’s also the spectre of DEJA VU haunting the movie. You may get deja vu for DEJA VU. But while Tony Scott slathered his trademark “look” all over the Denzel Washington vehicle, with the aid of the Bruckheimer millions, he also messed with the plot, infusing it with his trademark stupidity. SOURCE CODE is defiantly smart, and has a heart.

(DEJA VU is still a more enjoyable movie than you might expect. One amusing attribute is that the time travel process depicted is extremely expensive — when you realise that Jerry Bruckheimer is attracted to stories in which vast sums of money are spent at the flick of a switch, you learn something about his reason for being. Each of his movies amounts to flashing his wad, showing off how much money he can afford to flush, basically waving his wallet in the faces of the people who buy tickets and enable him to live in a giant oxygen bubble scented with the fumes of burning banknotes. Each of his movie is a flickbook made from thousand-dollar bills.)

Unlike DEJA VU, this isn’t time travel, or looking through goggles at another time (a kind of reverse clairvoyance), but “time reassignment” — nothing Gyllenhaal does within the “source code” virtual universe sprung from a dead man’s memories is supposed to have any real-world effect — so the people on the train are all doomed. Or are they? Well, Hollywood doesn’t like its heroes powerless, so something will have to be done about that rule. I’m not 100% certain the film’s ending makes complete logical sense, but it doesn’t fall apart in your hands the way MOON’s did for me — instead I found it pleasingly bendy, open to different interpretations and, as Fiona remarked with terrific enthusiasm, genuinely quantum.