Archive for Vincent Ward

Titular

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by dcairns

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“No, wait, we made that,” says Tony Randall at the start of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? as he realizes that the film he’s introducing cannot possibly be called THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. And he’s right, of course. Because why would you make a film that was already made?

I know there are possible reasons or excuses. Maybe it was OK for Vincent Ward to make THE NAVIGATOR after Buster Keaton had already made THE NAVIGATOR, since even though that film is one of Keaton’s best, it’s not his best-known. But it was surely goofy of John Boorman to make THE GENERAL, under that title, since Keaton’s GENERAL regularly makes top ten lists. And indeed, you never hear about that Boorman film nowadays. Perhaps the only reason Ward’s film isn’t completely forgotten is that everything he’s done since has sucked so very, very hard.

Night Moves

And so to Kelly Reichardt’s NIGHT MOVES, which is excellent — saw it in Rotterdam — but did it need to be called that? Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES isn’t going away. In Reichardt’s film, the title is the name of a boat. Now, the boat didn’t have to be called that. In fact, Dakota Fanning actually lists a whole bunch of alternative boat names, although admittedly one of them, Gone With The Wind, might also have caused problems.

Still, quibbling aside, this is an excellent film. Fanning plays an aspirant eco-terrorist intent on blowing up an unpopular dam with the help of Peter Sarsgaard (a blithe bullshitter in the tradition of Bruce Greenwood in MEEK’S CUTOFF) and Jesse Eisenberg (wrapped too tight for Oregon). Fanning is touching, Eisenberg confirms his reputation as American cinema’s leading depressive, folding up into himself as the story unravels, like a man with ouroboros of the soul.

Reichardt and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond do the most amazing endings — usually bleak or at least potentially bleak, mysterious, uncertain, troubling. This one, laid in a sporting goods store, is the most inexplicably distressing retail experience since Anne Bancroft’s Harrods breakdown in THE PUMPKIN EATER.

Meek’s Cutoff [DVD] [2010]
Wendy And Lucy [DVD] [2008]
Old Joy [2006] [DVD]

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Albert Whitlock’s Edinburgh

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2010 by dcairns

Looking down on an artificial Greyfriars Kirk, with an artificial Castle behind it.

To entertain Fiona’s brother, Roddy, we screened Disney’s GREYFRIARS BOBBY: THE TRUE STORY OF A DOG, and wound up being hugely entertained ourselves. A surprisingly sophisticated, authentic and somewhat dark tale, it takes liberties with the historical record but serves up a rather neat tale. Don Chaffey directed, and the cast included Lawrence Naismith, one of Chaffey’s original Argonauts, as well as Donald Crisp, the bloke who bludgeoned Lillian Gish to death in BROKEN BLOSSOMS, and the face at the window that terrified Buster Keaton in THE NAVIGATOR. Both gents were superb.

The titular dog (given the Val Lewton treatment here) runs away from Gordon Jackson’s farm to follow his master, an aging crofter (Alex MacKenzie, THE MAGGIE, wonderfully moving) to Edinburgh. A city of torrential rain and loud drunks, then as now. The whole first act is watching this simple old man die, refusing a doctor. Impressively dour stuff for a family show. When MacKenzie’s buried, the dog refuses to leave his grave at night, and gradually the two old men who have tried to make Bobby behave like a normal domestic animal give in and help him to achieve his own lifestyle choice. For the dog is just as stubborn and difficult (in Scots we say “thrawn”) as his master was.

Kids appear, of course, played by the future editor of Paris Vogue, Joan Juliet Buck, and the talented Vincent Winter, who won a special Oscar for his role in THE KIDNAPPERS. Special Oscars were for children, cripples, and black people, you see. Winter’s co-star and co-winner, Jon Whiteley, went on to star in Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET and Roy Ward Baker’s THE SPANISH GARDNER. THE KIDNAPPERS is a fantastically charming affair, with one of the worst soundtracks I’ve ever heard, an insistent barrage of inappropriate noise (hang your head, Bruce Montgomery), whereas GB:TTSOAD has a lovely score by Francis Chagrin, possibly his career high point.

The artificial Grassmarket viewed from the artificial Cowgate.

And I love imaginary landscapes, so I was delighted to see my home city turned into a series of them, courtesy of Albert Whitlock’s matte paintings. Very much an authentic portrayal of the 19th-century capital: it was even disappointing when they used an occasional location shot. The matte paintings are augmented by Michael Stringer’s stylised sets, which use forced perspective and big backdrops and are thoroughly charming. He even builds a convincing replica of Greyfriars Kirkyard, the original of which can be seen here. I immediately looked him up to see what else he’d done, and found A SHOT IN THE DARK. I have fond memories of Herbert Lom’s office in that one, with a view out the window of a miniature Paris. This is one of the benefits of being a Parisian police chief: they give you a miniature city, so you can step out the window and rampage like Kong, or just tower over it all like Fantomas. It’s a wonder Lom’s so frustrated when his job comes with a perk like that.

This angle delights me because, even though there’s no reason for it to be a painting, it is.

There was a recent version of the tale, not an official remake but another riff off the historical account, and my costume designer friend from CRY FOR BOBO, Ali Mitchell, worked on it. When she saw John Landis’s BURKE AND HARE recently she was able to spot much of the same costumery hired for BOBBY, and a few things she’d had made herself. I like spotting props and stuff reappearing in different films, but I’m not expert enough to identify costumes, normally — except all the FORBIDDEN PLANET gear that gets reused in QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE and a dozen other B-flicks.

Buy the original for your kids (better quality than my frame-grabs) ~

UK: Greyfriars Bobby [DVD] [1960]

USA: Greyfriars Bobby

Apocalypse Pow

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by dcairns

Alex Proyas’s KNOWING had the rep of being one of those awful treacly and misbegotten Nic Cage movies that make you despair of the strange, droopy-faced action star (until something like KICK-ASS reminds you of what a funny and interesting presence he can be) but I wanted to give it a shot, since I always felt Proyas had some kind of talent and some kind of unfulfilled potential.

“Go towards the Ladd Company!”

How nice it would have been to be a lone voice of praise for the movie. The first half-hour, in fact, setting up its intriguing presence (a document written by a child in 1959 and sealed in a time capsule turns out to predict every major 20th Century disaster), is compelling and exciting, although there are aesthetic fractures peeping through the shiny veneer. In fact, maybe the shiny veneer is the problem: everything is so glossy and pretty, from Cage’s unnecessarily vast and gorgeous house, to his improbably beautiful dead wife (seen in home movie form). Proyas can certainly compose a striking shot, but as with his fellow antipodean Vincent Ward, he often seems to mistake aesthetics (literally, making visible, ie creating the perceptible form of an abstract thought or emotion) for prettification (and the CGI alien heaven at the end is horribly reminiscent of Ward’s WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, a dreadful milestone in the history of the trash afterlife). By the end, the movie had become a rather horrible exercise in post-9:11 apocalypse kitsch. If only they’d played to their strengths and marketed the film not as a CGI demolition derby, nor as a SIXTH SENSE boogeyrama, but as the film in which Nic Cage steals a door from a school gymnasium. Because you don’t see enough of that kind of thing.

The more attractive parts of the film are the mysterious ones, resistant at all attempts at neat wrap-up. The Men in Black characters never make any sense, which is pretty true to real-life accounts of such persons, but alas they’re not crazy in the evocative ways the real MiBs excel at.

“After grinning madly at me for what seemed like ages — but probably only a few seconds — the man’s whole body jerked, then he said, ‘Have you got insurance? Is it now?’ His voice was most odd. Like a robot’s — jerky and without feeling. Looking back, I’d say it was more like a computerized voice. You know, the sort that says, ‘Printing completed'”.

Adele thought there was something very peculiar about this (“Is what now?” she thought, mystified), but politely said that her parents would know about insurance but they were out, suggesting that he came back later to talk to them. At that he seemed, quite suddenly, to “sweat from every pore”, removing his hat to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand — revealing a completely bald, and totally white, head. The florid “complexion” was now revealed to be a thick layer of badly applied stage makeup, some of which came off on his hand. Still smiling fixatedly, he looked her in the eyes and said: “Can I see a glass? Of water?”

~ from The Mammoth Book of UFOs by Lynn Picknett.

Nothing in MEN IN BLACK or KNOWING or THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (the real-life accounts of which are swarming with MiBs — none appear in the movie) compares to this kind of Lynchian absurdity, which admittedly might be harder to deploy in a conventional narrative movie.

UK buyers: Knowing [DVD] [2009]

US buyers: The Mammoth Book of UFOs (Mammoth Books)