Archive for Trafic

Thing I Read off the Screen in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue: In Search of Meaning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2016 by dcairns



When Spanish director Jorge Grau decided, for reasons not known to me, to set a film in England, he chose for a hero a motorcycle-riding gallery owner and, with Martin-Amis-like playful obviousness, named him George. George Meaning.

THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974), or LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE — the Spanish title translates, with equal cheekiness, as DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE DEAD, opens with an ecological montage, interrupted by a naked chick streaking (it was the seventies — the British news was all a-jiggle with public displays of nudity), studiously ignored by all the drivers in their cars, captured TRAFIC-style with a documentary long lens — the film’s seriousness and flippancy are set out clearly from the start.

Though we’re in England, the cast are all dubbed. Arthur Kennedy, an unlikely Scotland Yard detective, MAY be doing his own voice with a lively if loose Irish brogue, but he’s still a bit out of sync, Whoever voiced Cristina Galbo has either decided, or been forced by circumstance, to play her in the style of a very poor dubbing artist. But the guy doing George Meaning (Italian-British actor Ray Lovelock), has made the bold choice of adopting a nasal Estuary twang reminiscent of a camp Ken Livingstone, to striking and hilarious effect.



Like DEATHLINE, the movie makes much of the mutual resentment between the middle-aged detective and the hippyish leading man. While the earlier film’s David Ladd — whom I only just realized is the son of Alan Ladd, holds his own ably in sparring with Donald Pleasence’s congested copper Calhoun, he lacks that ineffable quality of INTEREST which makes a star. Ray Lovelock doesn’t really have it either, but in combination with his anonymous voice artist, he attains it. The sexy-Jesus looks and the deglamorizing whine make an electric combo.

(It seems like a case of the voice actor simply taking the piss, as does the MANCHESTER MORGUE moniker — the movie never visits Manchester Morgue, though it hints it might.)


Lovelock/Meaning is introduced, via a meet-cute with Galbo, as a really obnoxious creep, (“You look like an Edna,” surely merits a slap, except that Edna is her character’s name so maybe she sees it as a compliment?) but he’s at least smart — he figures out the convoluted causes and half-life-cycle of the zombie plague in about ten minutes, whereas Detective Kennedy is still working on the belief that heroin gives you the strength of ten and can cause a woman to run mad and cave in her husband’s torso. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong there.



Grau builds on the movie science of Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and anticipates DAWN OF THE DEAD’s gory dismemberments. Like the first Romero (and unlike the sequels) the film offers a pseudo-science explanation for the dead rising, but by comparing the mishap to the recent DDT scandal, it connects more with something like SCANNERS, which tied its futuristic premise to recent real-life events (the unexpected side-effects of Thalydomide).

The ecological and anti-authority angles are clear enough, as is a gloomy portrayal of British society in general — the Old Owl Hotel is an uninviting shithole, despite the presence of an actual old owl.



In other respects, the film’s attitudes are more elusive. Why is Meaning so mean? And why is the movie? A hotel receptionist has her breast torn off, but it seems to be done in the spirit of all’s-fair-in-love-and-zombie-apocalypse, rather than as misogynistic exploitation movie sadism. Here, and in the casual inclusion of a child with Down’s syndrome as bystander to the drama, Grau’s meaning, as well as his Meaning, is tantalizingly ambiguous.

Your Moment of Zen

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 9, 2014 by dcairns

This is a short film by Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra — his first, incredibly. Beautiful images woven around a theme so simple it can be stated in the two-word title: EVERYTHING FLOWS.

I like this and I like KOYAANISQATSI. I met Godfrey Reggio in Telluride last year — he was very nice and he was eighty-seven feet high, which is probably what gives his films the lofty sense of perspective. He looks down at us and we are as ants scurrying about the earth. Now, some don’t care for KOYAANISQATSI, and I guess I sort of understand — the Monthly Film Bulletin summed its message up as an old hippy axiom, “Nature good, cities bad.” Which is pretty banal, I admit, but not quite what I get from the film — some of the city images in it are outstandingly beautiful — it is only some ASPECTS of the city that are bad. And that may be banal but it is also true, and it seems unfair to fault Reggio for the banality of the universe, especially when he expresses it so beautifully.

I admit — we have all seen too much time-lapse and heard too much Philip Glass since then.

But seeing and hearing them in such abundance and for the first time made a big impression on me. I was hypnotised. When I showed my college friend Simon he remarked halfway through that he’d just realised he’d been frozen in position for forty-five minutes. Since it large excludes regular people activities in medium shot, the movie offers no cues for the viewer to relax along with the characters.


So yes, I like KOYAANISQATSI, but the Reggio owes a debt to the Haanstra, which is even more beautiful.

Seeing the film, Pudovkin remarked that he always thought Holland had people in it. Haanstra modestly said he wasn’t quite ready for people.

Haanstra is probably best known for TRAFIC, on which he tried to collaborate with Jacques Tati but got silently elbowed out. SOme of his footage did make it in — by this time, Haanstra had started making observational docs with people in, and his eye for behaviour had convinced someone that he was a natural partner for the great French clown, a man with no partner and no place for partners. Let’s all get to know Haanstra’s own work.