Archive for Tony Scott

I still don’t know how a pharaoh talks

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2021 by dcairns

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is this giant Ridley Scott biblical epic and although it’s not ludicrous it somehow doesn’t impress either. You don’t know what’s real and what’s just pixels until finally you assume it’s all pixels. In fact they built quite a lot. It’s all colour-corrected to within an inch of its life, or beyond. Watching the extras was a breath of fresh air, suddenly things had their own colours and existence, of which they’re deprived in the movie itself.

The cast seem either clinically depressed or else just underused. Aaron Paul is introduced as a man who feels no pain, and then this never comes into play again. Sigourney Weaver has nothing to do. Christian Bayle — does he exist? His lack of personhood really comes across onscreen: maybe his best casting was VELVET GOLDMINE, which imagined its Bowie-figure as a shapeshifter with a void at the centre. In his interviews in the extras, Bayle speaks with the same gruff mockney accent he uses for Moses and which Russell Crowe used in GLADIATOR.

Joel Edgerton’s Ramses is based not on the Book of Exodus or Yul Brynner but on Joaquin Phoenix in the earlier hit. Phoenix’s confrontation with his father, Richard Harris, already echoed BLADE RUNNER’s meet-up between replicant Roy and his progenitor Tyrrel. It’s hard to decide if the echoes are deliberate, a recurrent theme as beloved of auteurists, or simply a case of Scott repeating a commercial formula that worked.

The movie is dedicated to Tony Scott, who took his life in 2012. As a tale of brothers, E:GAK is an odd tribute. Firstly, they’re not really brothers. Exactly as in GLADIATOR, the pharaoh (John Turturro)/emperor (Richard Harris) has a young warrior he wishes were his son. His natural son is a twisted egomaniac, lacking the competence of Moses/Maximus. The script’s only addition to Biblical lore that seems to resonate with the Scott brothers’ lives, in a way that isn’t grotesque, is Moses/Ridley trying to save Ramses/Tony from the annihilating Red Sea tsunami, which in this context would represent whatever depression or despair led Tony Scott to jump. But I don’t know if this was a conscious echo.

I also don’t know to what extent the film is deliberately right-wing. Scott films often seem to land in such terrain, but you can never get a sense of intent. Still, the movie is more concerned with the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, rather than their founding of their own land, so the film’s semi-namesake Preminger film is not evoked, and the film stops just short of being nakedly Zionist in a modern sense.

Scott in interviews appears tongue-tied, unfamiliar with basic figures of speech, at sea in anything resembling abstract concepts. His brains only work at full capacity when directed through his eyes, and then his design sense and imagery are often dazzling. But his colour sense, which always tends towards filtration, desaturisation, monochrome, has overlaid everything in a deadening glaze. Admittedly, this would be less of an issue in 3D, and I ought to have gone to see it on the big screen, if the lovely dimensional-environmental work in THE MARTIAN is anything to go by. But THE MARTIAN was far more involving on a human level.

The dialogue is functional. They avoid making the past seem like another country, they’re trying to make it seem like wherever we are now. I’m not sure this is a good call. I feel shortchanged — like I paid for a holiday and the plane never took off. The characters don’t feel like people you could know, which would be the advantage of robbing them of ancient world alienness. They just feel like movie cliches.

The real false good idea — apart from remaking De Mille, which apparently didn’t inspire the public with the desire to submit to spectacle — is the idea of demythologising the good book. The plagues of ancient Egypt are presented as natural phenomena. Moses communes with God via dreams, and even then, the burning bush doesn’t speak. Somebody stands in front of it and speaks. The dreams are quite scary and Lynchian, but devoid of magic. And the parting of the Red Sea is a tsunami where the tide goes out and rushes back in. Well staged, but you don’t get suspended walls of water. I think, just as the public wasn’t particularly drawn to Sir Rid’s dowdy ROBIN HOOD, a dowdy, unswashbuckled version with a chunky Robin, they weren’t enchanted by the idea of a Red Sea that doesn’t part, but just goes away.

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS stars Patrick Bateman; Tom Buchanan; Barton Fink, Jesse Pinkman; Orson Krennic; Lucrecia Borgia; Ellen Ripley; Mahatma Gandhi; Halliday 7 Years Old; Freysa; Maya; Shansa; Saladin; Selyse Baratheon; Qotho; and Spud.

Last Train

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Occurrence

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.