Archive for Un Chien Andalou

Slipping one past the goalie

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2016 by dcairns

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Marsh and Pertwee of the Yard. Needless to say, there are no “tableaux” being enacted at this juncture.

I have to take my woolly hat off to Val Guest, who devoted a long, long lifetime to slipping sex and nudity into British movies. Of course, when it suddenly became easy to do so in the seventies, the practice became redundant and Guest gave us the charmless, gormless CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and the very weird THE AU-PAIR GIRLS. (I’ve long held that the seventies British sex comedy was a government conspiracy to wipe out the working class by putting them off sex forever. Operation Prole-Wipe failed only because Robin Askwith is slightly too talented and not quite memorable enough, so that plebeian copulators did not have his gurning countenance superimposed over their vision as they went at it by night.) Guest claimed that WINDOW CLEANER would have been hailed as an art film if it had been foreign — I suppose in a sense it resembles Paul Verhoeven’s TURKISH DELIGHT as made by a nice old man. That niceness of course removes the closest thing to a point the Verhoeven movie could be claimed to have. AU-PAIR is creepy and peculiar and doesn’t even try to be funny most of the time. Some lovely girls, including Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle, are served up in a lumpen, unerotic way, which typifies this genre, the only variation being when older, less shapely character actresses are also induced to submit the camera’s cold, unflattering gaze.

But the early, naughty years see Guest pulling off some surprising coups de cinema. For 80,000 SUSPECTS, Claire “most beautiful woman in the world” Bloom hand-picked her body double, then decided she had nice breasts and did it herself, in  blink-and-you-miss-it-and-regret-it-forever nip slip moment that is so fleeting it feels genuinely accidental. Guest fills the screen with basically topless dancing girls in highland (un)dress in ESPRESSO BONGO, and showcases an unclad and very shiny Janet Munro in THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. And it’s a good job most 11-year-olds don’t have heart conditions or my schoolfriends and I wouldn’t have survived our visit to see WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.

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MURDER AT THE WINDMILL is a fairly duff comic whodunnit, enlivened by solid comic playing by Garry Marsh and a young Jon Pertwee, and its setting at the Windmill Theatre in London, celebrated in MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS. “We never closed,” reads a sign, referring to the fact that the nude revue managed to stay open during the Blitz. The Lord Chamberlain, the theatre censor at the time (if you picture a dusty, cobwebbed octogenarian with an ear trumpet you are probably bang on) for some reason ruled that nude girls were artistic if they stood very still in tableaux vivant, but would become pornographic rape triggers if they trotted about. Oddly, he may have had some kind of a point: I finally figured out that Jesus Franco films don’t strike me as sexy because of the odd passivity of his female characters — they generally either stay still, or move about emotionlessly, so as to seem not quite human. And I am only attracted to humans.

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So cockneys were able to see naked girls behaving like naked statues. But this only applied to the stage. In British movies, nobody (except maybe the occasional baby) was nude, right? Not quite so — Patricia Roc goes skinny-dipping in the freezing North Sea in THE BROTHERS, invoking the seldom-cited “only in extreme longshot” ruling (see also Claudette Colbert in FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE). But most of MURDER AT THE WINDMILL is as full-clothed as any bluenose could wish. There’s one fan dance, which would never have been allowed at the Windmill — she’s MOVING, for God’s sake! The girl’s obscene!

But in the opening number, Guest decorates the stage with a couple of naked female statues who look surprisingly lifelike. Later, when the police reconstruct the boring crime (audience member shot from somewhere on stage), the statues’ places are occupied by identical girls in dressing gowns. Surprising! The old fox actually seems to have featured full-frontally nude adult women in a 1949 commercially-released movie.

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They seem to have managed to find naked girls without generative organs, like Linnea Quigley. I always assumed that nudes of the Pamela Green era of British smut had been airbrushed into featurelessness, but the movies did not possess airbrushing technology in those days — unless you could THIS shot in UN CHIEN ANDALOU —

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But Guest is moving the camera, so  dab of vaseline in the appropriate place wouldn’t do it on this occasion. We are forced to the conclusion that the girls must be wearing some form of fleshings, a conclusion I have resisted until this last sentence because I don’t like the word fleshings.

Black Lies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Here’s a press release about a new novel by Josh Frank, Black Francis (of the Pixies) and with illustrations by Stephen Appleby.

Excitingly, the novel features Bernard Natan as a character. Since I have co-directed, with Paul Duane, a film, NATAN, which seeks to draw attention to this forgotten giant of French cinema, I’d normally be extremely happy about anything shining a light on Natan’s neglected career.

Unfortunately, the novel appears to recycle Vichy-era untruths about Natan’s rumoured involvement in pornography, specifically crediting him with production of LA BONNE AUBERGE (THE GOOD INN), “France’s first pornographic film.” The film, also known as SCENE PORNOGRAPHIQUE and A L’ECU D’OR, is thought to have been made in 1908, and so it’s the earliest surviving porn film from Europe, but given the low rate of survival of this kind of material (ordinary films have often been preserved; porn films have been actively destroyed) it’s highly unlikely to have been the first. Natan was in Paris at this time, and he was convicted of some kind of involvement in stag films a couple of years later — but absolutely nothing in the way of evidence connects him to this film.

A few years after his porn conviction, the French police dumped a load of seized film cans in the Seine — as they did so, they were arrested by other policemen for pollution. This farcical incident, much reported in the press, probably marks the destruction of Natan’s illicit film work, whatever it may have been.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t say how accurately the press release reflects its content. The screening of Melies’ TRIP TO THE MOON with UN CHIEN ANDALOU suggests a slightly loose approach to history, though — those two shorts, produced twenty-seven years apart, have nothing artistically in common — it would be like tying TAXI DRIVER together with FINDING NEMO.

Of course, it’s a historical novel, not a work of historical research. But I think there IS a responsibility to be accurate where there’s a danger of misleading the reader. We know that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a vampire hunter, but most people do not know who Bernard Natan was, and are prepared to believe anything about him if it sounds remotely plausible. And when you’re dealing with a man whose reputation was deliberately destroyed by anti-Semites, as part of a campaign that ended with his deportation to Auschwitz and death, repeating those lies strikes me as… not a nice thing to do. Especially when he still has living relatives.

So I really hope the book isn’t as distorted a view of history as it appears to be. If it is, I hope we can grab some of the limelight to tell prospective readers just what kind of fiction it is. How much is fact, how much is speculation and how much of it is recycled antisemitic propaganda? If you’re in London on the 7th, please go along to this event and ask awkward questions.

On a happier note, Thomas Doherty, author of the magisterial Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939, who introduced a screening of NATAN at Brandeis, has written an overview of the facts which is probably the clearest and most complete I’ve seen. So the truth, as someone once said, is out there. Here.

Joyeux Bunuel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 21, 2013 by dcairns

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Time for our traditional Shadowplay Xmas cards. I thought Luis “Thank God I’m an atheist” Bunuel would make an inspirational subject.

I call this next one “The Holly and the Ivy and the Agony and the Ecstasy,” or “I Saw Santa Whipping Mommy Raw.”

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“What’s in the box, Don Luis?” Do not open until Christmas!

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