Archive for Val Kilmer

The Animal Kingdom

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2017 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h34m55s114Finally caught up with Kent Jones’ HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT which is excellent, as you’d expect. I probably suffer a bit from overfamiliarity with the subject, but there were still new things to notice, and Fiona threw at me a hitherto unknown fact too — “Mrs. Bates,” upon ripping open the shower curtain, is in blackface, since it was the only way to make the silhouette dark enough. A blackface Mrs. Bates is an even more terrifying thought!

(At this point, Fiona looks over my shoulder as I’m typing and says, “You’d better check. I *think* that’s correct.”)vlcsnap-2017-02-05-22h35m16s708We also saw LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, a documentary by David Gregory which paints a sympathetic, even-handed portrait of the eccentric Brit’s attempt to make an extreme but faithful-to-the-spirit adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. Famously, Stanley was fired by New Line after just a couple of days’ shooting, and John Frankenheimer finished the film in typically combative style, wrangling Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer and pissing off everyone else.

The best-known stories are all present and correct, though weirdly there’s no mention of David Thewlis and how he came to replace Rob Morrow in the lead, though we hear all about the near-miss involvement of Bruce Willis and James Woods. Thewlis doesn’t take part, though he’s spoken about the film in the past (“I just hated, hated, hated the director,” he said, meaning JF nor RS, who he probably never even got to meet). Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider and various Aussie cast and crew make very affable guides to the madness, along with the now quite phlegmatic Stanley. Fiona went on a night out with friends once which included Stanley, who she thought was a very nice chap, and one can’t escape the feeling that he was rather shat on by this production.

My trouble is I like the resulting farrago a lot more than I like any version of Stanley’s HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL, which have nice things in them but also truly terrible things in them which seem wired deeply into the sensibility behind them. So I’m not sure I’d have preferred his version of MOREAU, even though it sounds like it had some really nifty ideas.

The MOREAU we have lacks key elements like the House of Pain, but it does have —

The Smallest Man in the World playing a tiny grand piano (can something be tiny and grand at the same time? Well, the SMITW can…) on top of a full-size grand piano played by an identically dressed Marlon Brando, in a moment designer Graham “Grace” Walker justifiably claims as one of the greatest in all cinema. he’s laughing when he says it… does that matter?

Val Kilmer dries, corpses, and walks off camera without finishing his line. I think he was in the midst of explaining how Moreau invented Velcro, a promising story angle left undeveloped…

Brando is sitting next to the SMITW when the SMITW puts his feet on the table. Brando breaks off in mid-line to say “No no no,” to the little fellow, and you can see the SMITW’s shoulders SHAKING in helpless mirth at this unexpected ad-lib.

David Thewlis has a fight with genetically-enhanced mice. Fiona also met one of the army of scriptwriters helicoptered in to vivisect Stanley’s material. “I *told* them that was a bad idea,” he said.

Thewlis has decided, according to his mood, to read every line with passionate intensity, or else completely flatly, as if off the plate in front of him (that dinner scene again).

Brando has decided to play it as the naughty vicar from The Dick Emery Show, only fat and painted chalk-white. When Thewlis asks for an explanation of the inhuman manimals surrounding him, Brando’s Moreau thinks he’s talking about his own alabaster features and launches into an explanation of his sun-block. “Look at these people!” clarifies Thewlis at the top of his voice. “Look at HIM!” he cries, voice rising to a hysterical falsetto as he gestures at the inoffensive SMITW.

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It’s not surprising that Thewlis, Balk and Hofschneider had a terrible time, since Frankenheimer evidently decided his job was to indulge Brando, Kilmer and the SMITW in their madness while venting his frustrations on everyone else. Brando et al could have fun mucking about, and those who felt a responsibility to embody their characters struggled to maintain credibility. Brando flat-out refused to discuss character with Balk. It’s not in the film, but Fiona got an anecdote from her screenwriter contact — when he wanted to talk to Brando about the film, Marlon responded with, “It’s NOT a film, it’s a PAGEANT.” Which it became, in truth.

The thing flat-out can’t survive the disappearance of Brando midway, and kind of lumbers to a halt like a speared mammoth, though without making the earth shake.

Frankenheimer used it to get a three-picture deal, then died two films later.

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A break from the norm

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by dcairns

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I felt kind of guilty that I hadn’t hurried to catch up with Francis Ford Coppola’s YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH and TETRO when they were new. I kind of bailed on him after Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, and saw no reason to bother with JACK or THE RAINMAKER. Uncle Francis was going to get paid whether I saw them or not, so they’d served their purpose. But I intended to give him another chance when he came back with more personal films, I just… never got around to it.

But now I’ve seen TWIXT and am right puzzled. Written by FFC himself, and proudly bearing the American Zoetrope logo, it seems like a personal project. And indeed it incorporates a tragic incident from Coppola’s life, the death of his son in a boating accident (here rendered as the death of a daughter because, as Poe says here, that makes it more poetical). But what it is, is a hoaky, creaky, incoherent gothic fantasy that plays like cut scenes from a video game and feels like it was written by an eight-year-old. Now, that may sound like a knock. In fact, even as it suffers from all these problems, it has some of the dopey charm of cut scenes and children’s writing: naivety can be attractive.

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The thing starts with considerable assurance: a spooky Tom Waits voice-over will kick anything off nicely. And the images of the small town are very atmospheric without, for the most part, pushing it: visually, the film is often splendid, with digitally manipulated night scenes that evoke Bava and Freda. As the movie goes on, the stuff set in “reality” becomes more and more laughably unconvincing, but the fantastical stuff has a bit of Lynchian weirdness and, although nothing in the movie makes proper sense, there are bits that seem to link up in an irrational, dreamlike way.

It feels harsh to criticise Coppola for using a personal tragedy in his story — after all, it’s his personal tragedy. He should be free to use it if he wants to. But it felt unresolved, unconnected, and curiously unfelt — maybe because we first see a photo of the dead child right after Kilmer’s done a Brando impersonation in a (quite funny) improv writer’s block bit.

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The acting is all over the shop. Val Kilmer works hard to anchor it. It’s lovely to see his ex-wife, Joanne Whalley, here playing his current wife — but she doesn’t convince in her bitchier moments. She’s just too nice. Then there’s Bruce Dern as Sheriff Bob LaGrange, who Coppola clearly believes can do no wrong. I saw Dern in Telluride talk to Leonard Maltin about his work in NEBRASKA, and giving a pared-down performance without any of his trademark “Dernsies.” Well, I think all the Dernsies ended up in this film. It’s a performance made entirely of Dernsies. Waste not, want not. I love Bruce Dern, he is an international treasure. But when he gives his name as “BOB LaGrrrraaaange!!!” he probably could have benefited from some direction. Who gets that excited about their own name? I think you can see similar stuff going on with Anthony Hopkins in DRAC, he keeps getting more ridiculous, waiting for the moment when his director will say, “Okay, maybe that was a little too much…” but the moment never comes.

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Oh, we also get Alden Ehrenreich, a Coppola discovery. He plays a ridiculous, Baudelaire-quoting vampire goth biker called Flamingo, and is as good as anyone could be under such circs. Ben Chaplin plays Edgar Allen Poe with an English accent, an odd/lazy choice. But he looks the part. Handsome yet still strongly Poe-like. And I always feel a burst of enthusiasm from somewhere or other when this guy shows up, a bit like with Rufus Sewell, you know? A Rufus Sewell kind of a feeling.

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I’m told, and it may not be true, that when Coppola screened DEMENTIA 13, his first attempt at the Gothic, for his producer, Roger Corman, a man not given to loud displays of emotion, Corman snapped a pencil. Which would be like a bomb going off, from Corman. So he got Jack Hill to rescue it. My own pencil-snapping moment came right at the end of this one, when it became clear that nothing was going to wrap up satisfactorily, that Coppola didn’t have a clue how to end the story, that he’d been making it up as he went along and filmed a first draft. And let’s be clear — it’s OK to end a movie with text on the screen saying what happened to the characters IF THEY’RE REAL. Or if you’re being funny. Coppola is clearly being funny some of the time here, but he doesn’t seem to have made a clear decision about when.

 

Afghan Stan

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2008 by dcairns

Voodoo Child

So, Edinburgh is playing host to Reel Afghanistan, the first festival of Afghan cinema and culture in the U.K. As part of this, filmmaker Richard Stanley gave a talk at my place of work, Edinburgh College of Art.

Jolly entertaining it was too!

Stanley’s horror movie career began when his script for HARDWARE fell into the hands of Palace Pictures while he was in Afghanistan filming the Mujahideen in the Afghan Civil War, using a couple of wind-up 16mm Bolex cameras (it’s a beautiful camera that doesn’t need electricity — I used it to shoot CLARIMONDE, while, more famously, Richard Lester used it to shoot THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL FILM). While the film company was trying to contact him to sign a deal on his cyberpunk splatterfest, he was attempting to transport his injured cameraman to hospital from the Hindu Kush.

‘It turned out he had exactly the kind of serious injury you want to have — his nerves were severed in his legs so he wasn’t in any pain, but none of his major blood vessels had been damaged. It was a miracle he got the use of his legs back though. We reached the hospital and my memory of it is like something out of GONE WITH THE WIND, with the stretchers spilling out of the building. That’s where I got the phone call and it was like, “Where the fuck have you fucking been?” and I was in a strange state because I’d been living with these very religious people so I was really offended by this language.

‘To get me to come back to the U.K., because I wanted to stay in Afghanistan to look for the third member of our team, who was still missing, they had to get an ex-girlfriend of mine to call me up and say she wanted me back. Then, because they weren’t sure how I would react when I found out this wasn’t true, they hired a private security firm to be there when she told me, so I got back to my flat and there were four strange men in the lounge listening to my records.’

Lust in the Dust

After HARDWARE was an unexpected hit (an $800,000 film that apparently made 70 mill) a respected British producer apparently abducted Stanley’s Afghan footage from the lab and threatened to burn the negative unless he signed away the rights to his follow-up, DUST DEVIL. After Palace Pictures went bust, Stanley ran up a $100,000 debt buying up the film materials and producing a single print of his director’s cut.

The debt was wiped out when Stanley was hired for, then fired from THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU.

‘What happened was that New Line finally read the script. The head of development had been away on pregnancy leave and didn’t read it until we were starting to shoot it. And yes, it had animal sex, and animals on drugs. And it was very expensive to fire me because I hadn’t done anything wrong. On other films I had done terrible things and it didn’t matter because they wanted me to make the movie.

Fractal skull

‘Like, on HARDWARE, I was in a strange mental state making it so soon after Afghanistan, and I got into a fight with this bloke, nothing to do with the film, about PROPERTY. He was hitting me and I hit him back and he went flying and hit his head on the mantelpiece. He was lying there and moving a little, and I didn’t know whether to call an ambulance or attempt to dispose of the body. So I called the production and they sent somebody who took him away, no problem. I didn’t ask after him but apparently he came out of his coma and was fine.’

So — returning to MOREAU — Stanley was fired and John Frankenheimer came aboard. Stanley had signed a contract saying he wouldn’t come within X miles of the location or have any contact with the crew, but camping out near the Australian location one night he saw lights, and found some crew members. ‘So I came back as a dog.’ That is to say, sympathetic crew-members loaned him a dog mask and he played a background monster (visible hamming it up in at least one scene) so he could watch as Frankenheimer and teams of new writers dismantled the script which had already been written by Stanley, re-written at great expense by Michael Herr and then re-re-written by Walon Green.

Eventually Stanley didn’t even need his dog disguise because all of the crew who knew him had been fired, and Frankenheimer had never met him. ‘He was a bad, bad man,’ said Stanley of the once-great director of SECONDS and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. ‘I don’t know what had happened to him in the years since he made those films…’ (Twenty years of alcoholism is part of the answer.) ‘He told people in Hollywood that Fairuza Balk was an intravenous drug user, which wasn’t true. She was probably seventeen at that time, and when he should have been in loco parentis, he was trying to destroy her. We were so happy when he died. It isn’t right to be that way, you should have respect for the dead, but we were dancing with joy.’

I read an interview with MOREAU star David Thewlis years ago where he said, ‘I hated, hated, hated the director,’ meaning Frankenheimer.

It’s a film that seems to attract stories. I once chatted to a New Line executive — I think he was about 14 — whose girlfriend had been involved in the shoot. He claimed to have seen weird rushes: Brando had it in his contract that the director wasn’t to interfere with his performance at all, and after Stanley’s departure he sabotaged the film. They would turn the camera on and he’d PAUSE until the film ran out. Ten minute pauses. Or else he’d goof around and do silly stuff. Some of this may be in the finished film. Certainly Brando plays an entire scene with an ice bucket on his head.

The Steel Helmet

What else is in the film:

Val Kilmer forgets his lines, laughs, and wanders out of shot.

Nelson de la Rosa, the smallest man in the world puts his feet up on the dinner table and Brando interrupts his own dramatic speech to gently say, “No no no.” For the rest of the scene the smallest man in the world can be seen shaking in helpless mirth.

David Thewliss has a fight with some very strong mice.

Fiona once met one of the writers brought in to reconfigure the movie after Stanley’s departure. He said, ‘I TOLD them the mice wouldn’t work.’

It seems unkind to suggest that the dogman’s-breakfast MOREAU is actually more fun that Stanley’s own, more personal and unified projects… but Brando had a way of making bad films fascinating (he could also mess up perfectly good films).  

Mini-Me

Austin Powers fans can be grateful to the film for giving us Mini-Me. When Mike Myers saw the tiny Nelson de la Rosa playing a toy piano on top of a grand piano played by an identically-dressed Marlon Brando, he said, ‘I have got to do something with this because that is the craziest thing I have ever seen.’

And Frankenheimer, that bad bad man, always expressed confidence that, “one day,” the film would be seen as “some kind of classic.”