Archive for Val Guest

Too Darn Hot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2022 by dcairns

It seemed like a good time to rewatch THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. Val Guest was on fire himself in the early sixties, providing us with one of my favourite crime films, HELL IS A CITY, and the pop satire EXPRESSO BONGO. I need to give 80,000 SUSPECTS, STOP ME BEFORE I KILL! and JIGSAW a fair try.

Guest, originally a writer of music hall influenced comedies, more or less alternated these thrillers with daffy comedies and other lighthearted stuff, which were generally less interesting. And he was also clearly concerned with getting a bit of sex into British cinema — he had continental flair, with his beret and his nudes — surprise glimpses of Janet Munro, Claire Bloom and Diane Cilento show that the British censor could sometimes be more lenient than his US counterpart, if a filmmaker was willing to take the risk.

Co-written with Wolf Mankiewicz, TDTECF presents an intelligent, stylish apocalypse drama — it largely gets around the inherent problem that the human characters are given little to do in the face of a planetary crisis, in fact it makes a suspenseful virtue of their separation from the real action — the earth is tipped towards the sun by atomic tests — maybe it can be course-corrected by further nukes? — meanwhile our protags are simply trying to live their lives, and reporting on it all from Fleet Street, care of the Daily Express (an actual tabloid whose actual recently retired editor, Arthur Christiansen, appears, more or less as himself).

The movie depends a lot on grainy stock footage of various disasters, and on paintings and photographic backdrops of London (FX by Hammer’s Les Bowie) which depict the effects of a heat wave in ways that may feel familiar to those of us currently experiencing life on earth (I assume most of my readers are experiencing life on earth — apologies if this excludes anyone). Edward Judd is an acerbic, alcoholic hack, the first in a series of somewhat unsympathetic sci-fi heroes he’d essay — he’s a fantastic jerk in THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, but I can’t remember if either INVASION or ISLAND OF TERROR holds the rightful place as third film in an Obnooxious Bloke Science Fiction Trilogy.

Though Guest is European in his sexual frankness, his sensibility also skews American in his respect for genre conventions, and so this is a fast-talking reporter film in the Hollywood vein, with Judd, Christiansen and the always excellent Leo McKern barking out their dialogue as if commentating on a steeplechase. And the talk is well filmed, especially in those newspaper room scenes, with complex blocking and overlapping dialogue.

Add in the novelty of the opening and closing minutes being tinted gold, which has an authentically claustrophobic, hot, stifling quality — with b&w, you can mentally paint in your own colour, but tinting takes away that possibility. And that ending, a classic, and a very ballsy move. I think the two headlines idea — one saying EARTH SAVED and one saying EARTH DOOMED — is brilliant, and could have supplanted Judd’s final monologue, and the closing shot on a crucifix has to be a cynical sop to those Hollywood conventions, which always seemed to reference the deity in the last minutes of an sf movie — and anyway, Guest was Jewish (Valmond Maurice Grossmann). So, call it showmanship.

The whole thing’s on YouTube, but for how long?

Partner Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2019 by dcairns

The final day — officially, anyhow — the Day of the Dead — of PROJECT FEAR. we have survived the efforts of our crazed cult leader to crash us out of the EU, like the Rasputin guy piloting the Siberian Express off a cliff in Sergio Martino’s HORROR EXPRESS. Instead, we’re lingering on a siding, waiting for the zombie cossacks to dismember our institutions. I did what I could.

First up, Tim Concannon turns his steely gaze — a braver man than I! — upon Val Guest’s AU PAIR GIRLS. Is this British soft-porn “romp” a European horror film? Tim argues YES. Go check it out.

(Also, you should hear his podcast. Amazingness! And a big influence on a certain other podcast.)

My friend Martin Allison wanted to contribute something but couldn’t decide what, so I sent him two random films. One was Bertolucci’s PARTNER, which I still haven’t watched but I knew that (a) it uses the Doppelganger theme, hence the uncanny is present and (b) Pierre Clémenti at one point does a Max Schreck impression. That was enough for me.

Martin’s “rant” as he called it is very interesting to me because his objections to the film are exactly those of Bertolucci himself, who felt he was too much under the Godardian influence and needed to break free from it, which was why he gave the Paris-based professor in THE CONFORMIST Godard’s phone number and then murdered the guy.

Here’s Martin:

On my first viewing I didn’t even realise this film was directed by Bertolucci, this in many ways sums up what you need to know.

To paraphrase Mr. Burns, at first glance this film feels like it was made by a bargain-basement-Godard.

The clear lifting of Godard’s visuals is very confusing. Considering how Godard’s films are so detached from emotion, character and plot – and therefore solely rely on images to relay arch themes in an obtuse way – copying this style without having a clear purpose is absurd.

Godard’s images are an attempt at embodying the platonic ideal, the image of something physical stands in for something metaphysical; an idea.

In a very strenuous and lazy summary; to Plato a bed was a representation of an idea, rather than a physical structure, therefore a painting of a bed was a representation of a representation.

What we have with Partner is an imitation of a representation of a representation.

Having a quick glance at the surprisingly high IMDB rating, it looks like any positive reviews have confused the merits of Bernardo Bertolucci with the merits of this film. The conceit shines through in any review above 5/10 saying something along the lines of “As an experiment, Partner is more of a success than a failure.” – the problem being it’s a film, not an experiment and must be judged accordingly.

The narrative (little that there is) concerns a guy who encounters a double of himself and then they have some obtuse and ponderous interactions where one stands at one end of the screen and the other stands at the other.

The film comes in a strange place in Bertolucci’s filmography – between thematically (and in many ways stylistically) similar Before the Revolution and The Conformist, which both deal with the idea of a character being seduced by an ideology, fascism to be specific.

We go from disconnected scene to scene, none of which actually slot together meaningfully.

It is curious as Bertolucci’s films before and after this one successfully work with meandering plots and non-chronological scene progression. Of course, with both of those films, there is a clear purpose to why they are structured as such – revealing information to the audience in a meaningful way, forming an arc to the films as a whole. Which can only strengthen my assumption that Godard was being ripped off, but without understanding
why his films were made that way.

A handful of his new wave films have fairly disconnected scenes, but manage to come together to form a whole (Vivre Sa Vie), whereas in Partner it feels like a lazy structural device, without any justification.

Two bizarre scenes I think worth mentioning are one in which our main character uses an artificial cobweb gun at this acting forum he appears at (there is a cool shot of cobwebs over small trees, fitting for this time of year).

And a scene in which a 60s campy euro-pop track with the word ‘Splash’ repeated over and over plays over the main character and a woman who took her bra off for some reason earlier in the film dancing around a washing machine and half-undressing, rolling around in the bubbles from the wash – before the protagonist strangles her. The problem here being I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be satire or sincere, either way it’s poorly realised, self-indulgent, confusing and embarrassing.

What bothers me about any positive reviews for the film on IMDB is that they have nothing to do with the film, as it simply isn’t very good and doesn’t work. Just because a good director was involved, it feels like there is an extra level of projection and open-mindedness granted to the film, an un-deservingly huge benefit of the doubt can be the only explanation for these ratings.

The film is loosely based on The Double by Dostoyevsky – but you wouldn’t know it.

There is an examination of the duality of man going on thematically, but it’s so on the nose I’m angered it’s been overlooked by all these apologists on IMDB, as it’s by no means subtle.

When did ‘experimental’ become a convenient way to excuse something that is bad, which just happens to have a more academic fan base?

Visually the film does have some interesting frames to offer up, as well as bright primary colour palettes similar to those found in Godard films.

A couple of scenes display enjoyable ideas – a parody of the Odessa steps from Potemkin and a scene where large piles of books move around (little carts underneath) spookily as our protagonist sits in place afraid.

I found a concise summary of this film on IMDB, as I doubt I can write one so well, read it for yourself.

From user ‘Darth-Chico’;
“Exuberance carries this film half way, after that it degenerates into an exercise in employing old art film clichés. Though he bases his movie on the Dostoyevsky story ‘The Double‘, Bertolucci apparently has no message, and no original way to present it. By the end this movie has dragged you through a tedium of stupidity and indulgence. This is the kind of
film that gives art movies a bad name. 4/10 “

Deliberately Buried

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2019 by dcairns

Guest Shadowplayer Bruce Bennett contributes a piece which ties in neatly with my ongoing exploration of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Many thanks to Mike Clelland for connecting us up, and to Bruce for letting me run this. Any questions can be raised in the comments section. Over to you, Bruce ~

During a visit with Film Comment magazine’s editor Nic Rapold last spring I proposed an article that would document what was, in my opinion, a largely overlooked shadow of influence that a handful of prior films cast on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I offered to put together a proposal outlining some of the films and ideas and connections I wanted to get into and a month or two later I finally got around to whipping up a pdf on the topic(s) and sent it along. We talked about it a bit but I got busy with other stuff, Nic had a dozen other writers to shepherd, and ultimately 2001’s Golden Anniversary year ended with neither me writing nor Film Comment publishing the piece I had in mind. Here, then, is the thing I sent Nic – not an outline nor an article nor, god help us, a listicle – just some frame grabs (and one downloaded image from the WWW) and notes intended to give the reader an idea of what I was onto and cue me in further discussions and woolgathering. If nothing else, I guess, it’s a proven example of how not to pitch Film Comment…? Enjoy.

2001: A Magpie Odyssey

In the not too distant future, a spacecraft shuttles a space agency PHD bearing details of a secret mission to an orbital space station.

  “Conquest of Space” Byron Haskin – 1955

Talking points: The strange case of George Pal’s espoused distaste for 2001 (per Frayling) having nothing to do with his own film having been apparently co-opted in 2001’s creation. A short history of Conquest’s star-crossed production, resulting not-for-the-faint-of-sensibility grotesquerie & a love sonnet to Hal Pereria’s Paramount art dept.

*

Objects liberated from gravity float, fly and couple across a spinning 2.35 frame in a weightless ballet set to Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz.

    “Trapeze” Carol Reed – 1956

Talking points: The long arm of aesthetic influence that Krasker & Reed’s collaboration extended to filmmakers of SK’s generation. Ditto Krasker and Anthony Mann’s films…?

*

Onboard an orbiting space station, space travelers exchange somewhat tangled sentiments with loved ones home on Earth via videophone.

“Conquest Of Space”

*

Upon arrival, an unctuously bland bureaucratic space agency PHD shocks subordinates with secret mission orders.

  “Conquest Of Space”

Talking points: Compare, contrast the exquisite blandness of William Sylvester’s Dr. Floyd (perhaps, and this is a difficult to value to assign, the single most remarkable performance from 2001’s North American ex-pat cast) vs. William Hopper’s Dr. Fenton. Some further discussion of Conquest’s uniquely off-putting qualities being as challenging, in their way, as 2001’s were…

*

Zero gravity enables a spacecraft crewmember’s wall walk.

  “The Quatermass Xxperiment” Feature version – Val Guest – 1955

Talking points: Why, in all the untold hours of interviews and DVD commentaries he’s done, including a 200+ page published memoir, did Val Guest himself never make this connection?

*

Puzzled scientists and officials descend a ramp into an ongoing excavation of an extra-terrestrial artifact that’s been buried for eons.

  “Quatermass and the Pit” BBC TV version – Rudolph Cartier – 1958

“Quatermass and the Pit” Feature version – Roy Ward Baker – 1967

Talking points: The curious case of production of the ’67 Pit taking place more or less at the same time and in the same studio as 2001, with some crew crossover.

*

The exposed, now energized extraterrestrial artifact ominously and noisily awakens.

  “Quatermass and the Pit” (1967 feature version)

Talking points: Nigel Kneale’s close proximity to Arthur Clarke original short story, The Sentinel.

*

Tasked with repairing his space craft’s antenna mid-flight, an unsuspecting astronaut dies, his lifeless body cast into the void of space.

      “Conquest Of Space”

*

The most committed member of an interplanetary space expedition goes insane and threatens the lives of his comrades.

“Conquest of Space”

*

A seeker’s journey crosses a threshold into an alien yet abjectly familiar white environment that’s outside time, space and logic.

 

  “The Ladies Man” – Jerry Lewis – 1961

Talking points: Hal Pereira Superstar redux. Jerry’s anecdote about turd polishing…?

Bruce Bennett