Archive for Truffaut

Shadowplay Goes West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 1, 2021 by dcairns

Two more video essays —

For Arrow, I wrote and narrated and Stephen C. Horne edited a piece for the MAJOR DUNDEE restoration, entitled inevitably I suppose MOBY DICK ON HORSEBACK. If R.G. Armstrong’s famous phrase causes you to picture a top-heavy, untenable situation on the brink of collapse, that would not be entirely inappropriate. MAJOR DUNDEE is major Peckinpah but universally acknowledged to be flawed. But Peckinpah’s flaws are always interesting.

The main thing I wanted to avoid with this piece is weighing in too heavily on whether Peckinpah’s vision of the film would have resulted in a triumph had he been allowed to finish it the way he planned. I always get a bad feeling when anyone pretends to know whether footage none of us have seen would transform a film. It’s legitimate to ask whether perhaps the Indian raid intended to open the film was poorly filmed owing to time pressures, but unless you have awfully compelling witnesses — and even then — I don’t think you can draw any conclusions for sure.

My other western vid essay is on JOHNNY GUITAR, as contrasting a subject as you could hope for. Chase Barthel is editing this one. I was in the process of planning this one when I woke up one morning from uneasy dreams, mulling over how I was going to make Plasticine models of the characters. As I slowly woke up fully, I realised this would be madness.

A little while later, I decided to do it.

Well, Truffaut calls JOHNNY GUITAR “a dreamed western.” This will be in part a dreamed video essay.

The Luminous Dong

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2019 by dcairns

SKIN DEEP is a weird one. It felt consistently not good enough to me, but at the same time it has lots of proper laughs and is definitely about something. Casting may be the problem. Blake Edwards never found anyone as suitable as Dudley Moore again. In THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN, the late Burt Reynolds, a good light comedian who had major ambitions in that direction — he wanted Cary Grant’s career, not his own — comes across as creepy, which is exactly what that character needs to not be. Truffaut’s original didn’t have that problem, and he cast a guy who’d literally played Bluebeard.

John Ritter in SKIN DEEP is hampered by a beard that is sometimes real and sometimes not. Obviously he finished the picture, shaved, then got called back for reshoots. Big problem. When a minor continuity problem comes up on set, the director will sometimes say “Well, if the audience is looking at that, there’s something wrong.” But you can’t really use that argument when the problem is on your leading man’s face. The beard is a problem anyway, because it says “yuppie creep” to me, and since a lot of this movie is Ritter letching after women, and he’s supposed to be flawed but charming, the very thing one’s skin ought not to be doing is crawling. I caught mine writhing towards the nearest exit on several occasions, which took me out of the movie, or part of me.

BUT — there’s a scene where he’s overdosed with electric shocks, on an unconvincing pretext, and he does some terrific physical comedy, spasming down the street. Jerry Lewis would approve. Frame grabs just don’t do it justice so I won’t bother.

AND ALSO BUT — everything Nina Foch does and says, as Ritter’s surly ex-mother-in-law, is really funny. Michael Kidd proves to be excellent surprise casting as a glowering therapist. In fact, the characters who disapprove of the hero are the most welcome. The tsunami gag — taken from Edwards’ real-life experience of being hit by a killer wave while meditating, suicidally depressed, upon the failure of DALING LILI, is pretty astonishing. Though the conclusion, “God is a gag writer!” is something Blake Edwards would think and say but not necessarily something Ritter’s character would say as he’s supposed to be a novelist, not a comedy director.

Even at the time, aged twenty-one, I thought the glow-in-the-dark condom scene sounded like it was trying too hard, but it does allow Edwards to stage a bedroom farce with the action reduced to sort-of abstract shapes. Abstract enough to pass the censor, anyway. He’d frequently used lights going off, or characters leaving the room where the action takes place, being reduced to sound effects without physical presence, so this idea of reducing his surrogate to a glowing prick wagging in the void seems a natural development.

Whereas this doesn’t make any sense to me:

Sothern Fried

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2018 by dcairns

Alert! Time for me to explore the works of Pat Jackson (if you’re nasty).

Jackson was a graduate of the GPO Film Unit, the UK postal service’s own film production arm, which also employed the great Cavalcanti, the obnoxious-sounding Harry Watt, and made the famous NIGHT MAIL. He then had a distinguished sojourn at the Crown Film Unit making war docs alongside Humphrey Jennings. He made his feature debut at MGM (as “Patrick Jackson” because “Pat” isn’t distinguished enough for a classy joint like MGM) with SHADOW ON THE WALL, a disjointed psychodrama starring Congo Maisie, Monte Beragon, Fanny Trellis Skeffington at aged 2, Gavin Elster (yay!), Sheriff Al Chambers and Nancy frickin’ Reagan.

Ann Sothern for once plays a villain, managing to incorporate some sympathy into a twisted character, and some subtlety into an intense, melodramatic story. But the film seems unable to decide WHO it’s about. We start on a wide of a lovely house, which is revealed to be an elaborate dollhouse, the first of many in the story. Andre Previn’s music veers from playfully childlike to sinister, then manages to dissonantly suggest both tones at once. We meet little Gigi Perreau, and then her dad, Zachary Scott, and discover through his eyes that his young wife (Kristine Miller, very glam indeed) is cheating on him with Tom Helmore.

While we’re pondering whether one should marry Monte Beragon and cheat with Gavin Elster, or vice versa, murder rears its antiseptic Hollywood head: Helmore was engaged to Miller’s sister, Ann Sothern, and she shoots her scheming sibling dead shortly after Miller’s stunned Scott by striking him on the nose with a hand mirror. When he awakens, he’s been neatly fitted up for murder, and will spend most of rest of the movie on death row, waiting. What nobody realises is that his little daughter witnessed the murder, but is in a state of shock and can’t tell anyone.

We now divide our narrative mainly between Nancy Davis/Reagan, a therapist trying to cure little Gigi, and Sothern, who’s trying to kill her. Much of Sothern’s business is internal, though, as she agonizes about her fear of being caught, culminating in a hilarious hallucination at the hairdressers —

 

There are some other nicer directorial touches. Jackson uses simple wide shots effectively, isolating our child non-protagonist (Gigi has no active goal, so she’s basically a nut for Nancy to crack). There are two major child jeopardy situations, one in which Gigi and a playpal debate which of them is to drink a glass of chocolate milk which Sothern has poisoned. The script milks (sorry!) this a good bit, but Jackson doesn’t do much with it. Probably a mercy.

But then Sothern tries to drown the moppet in the hospital’s hydrotherapy room, and all stops are pulled out, heaped up and set fire to. Looong lurking shot in the corridor, waiting, waiting, while infanticide is attempted behind closed doors. Merciless. Let’s remember that Truffaut said that jeopardising the life of a child in a drama was virtually an abuse of cinematic power (he did it in SMALL CHANGE, but he had reasons and had thought about it). Bruce Robinson, writing IN DREAMS for Neil Jordan, had felt unable to threaten a child’s life, despite the fact that he was writing a thriller about a child killer. This posed a problem. “It took me three months to solve it. It took Neil Jordan three minutes to fuck it up.”

Jackson had no such compunctions, it seems: he’d be back threatening children in cop drama THE GENTLE TOUCH a few films later.

I suspect Jackson didn’t find MGM a comfortable home — at any rate, he was soon back in the UK and back to being Pat. More on him soon.