Archive for Vincente Minnelli

Absence of Chalice

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2023 by dcairns

“Why do I do these foolish things?” asks Pier Angeli in what I am choosing to call Part Three of THE SILVER CHALICE, and Paul Newman misses a trick by not replying, “Because they remind you of me?”

Meanwhile the art direction takes a quick step sideways from Gerald McBoing-Boing and lands amid Terry Gilliam’s Python cut-outs.

Imagine, a film about the Holy Grail in which the hero’s quest is to find Albert Dekker. Well, it’s different, you gotta say.

Asides from that, Paul “Basil” Newman is torn between good girl Angeli and bad girl Virginia Mayo — who was also his childhood sweetheart back when she was Natalie Wood, which is unusual for a bad girl. Another way in which TSC is different.

“He’s as gentle as a lamb when he’s lamb-like,” says Mayo, speaking of JACK FUCKING PALANCE. It’s dialogue that straddles the line subsequently identified by David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel as separating clever from stupid. On the face of it, it’s a stupid thing to say, but it’s possible some higher wisdom lurks within. But not the way she says it. The way she says it is while wearing ludicrous false eyebrows, like a glam metal Groucho.

There may be circumstances under which a line like “Be comforted, my Basil,” could be gotten away with, but this film does not provide such circumstances. It doesn’t even hint that they may be arriving anytime soon.

“Why waste such a trophy on a multitude of sun-baked barbarians in Jerusalem?” Mayo is getting all the memorable lines. She should have gone on strike for less memorable lines.

Pier Angeli’s difficulty is her English, which is occasionally uncertain. “Jerusalem held a great ac-traction for you,” she manages to say. Since her father and grandfather are played by Americans, it’s hard to see why her character should be struggling with the language. If it weren’t for that, occasional flubs would be human and amusing, and Basil Newman could point them out and they could both laugh, which might be nice. Like when George Brent teases Kay Fwancis about her lisp in LIVING ON VELVET. Also, her name is Deborah, so it’s Basil and Deborah.

They get married in the next scene, a sham marriage (in a sham film) amid much rumbling and clanking from the camera dolly and the crew. “Rubber-soled shoes, what did I tell ya!” It’s not quite on a level with Mel Brooks’ parodic camera moves in HIGH ANXIETY, but shading towards it.

A character refers to Newman as “the artist who is called Basil,” which gives me Prince vibes. Then the Christ cup gets stolen so the film can finally be a grail quest. Although hopefully Albert Dekker will also turn up.

Then there’s a dramatic camel-mounted fight scene. Which has a few well-staged moments, a few lapses of basic continuity, and is sabotaged from below — it’s hard to look like you’re fighting for your life while mounted on something that persists in making Kenneth Williams faces. Joseph Wiseman has been making those faces all through this movie, and now, adding to the confusion, he’s atop a camel. A Wiseman on a camel is very fitting for a biblical-marginalia epic, but if I blinked rapidly I could convince myself the camel was atop Joseph Wiseman.

Rome! And a pretty fun orgy — sex can only be suggested by having vaguely exotic dancers, but the great trays of bizarre foodstuffs being hefted past an indifferent Nero (indifferently played by Jacques Aubuchon) get the idea over. Who but a colossal perv would eat “succulent dormice, saturated with poppy juice”? This is the biggest set yet, advancing designer Rolf Gerard’s Big Idea — expansive yet simple. The Muppet Show type niches create a not quite convincing impression of the lavish — I presume the statues within are repeating sets of photographs.

Special guest star Norma Varden (above, right) — the lady Robert Walker nearly chokes to death at a party in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN turns up here and avoids getting the same treatment from Jack Palance. Amazing that a bit player could have regular work as party guests, back in the day. Not actually the best job to have, since you don’t get to eat the food or drink the booze (which isn’t booze). Still, at least that allowed Norma to skip the dormice.

(On LES VISITEURS DU SOIR, filmed during WWII with serious food shortages, director Marcel Carne was so concerned that his starving extras would destroy the banquet by eating it before he could get all his shots, he had the food sprayed with poison before their very eyes. A props man friend tells me that today, to stop extras drinking from their glasses, he’s seen the “wine” distributed with fingers stuck in the liquid. A less disturbing variation of the same device.)

Palance’s magic tricks on this occasion consist mainly of producing large quantities of snakes, which reduce Nero to hysteria. I’m not sure snakes are THAT funny. The tricks depend more heavily on jump cuts than any illusion since the days of Melies — how Palance is supposed to be editing the film while he’s in it is a trick unexplained. Obviously, short of actually training Palance in legerdemain — and it would take a ballsy magician to attempt such a feat — David Blaine ain’t gonna cut it — the filmmakers could have used hidden cuts to create the illusion of stage magic, instead of conveying so blatantly to us that either Palance is the real messiah (“And what rough beast” indeed) or that he has the assistance of a member of ACE, which he has. The man’s name is George White, and I guess these are his scandals.

SILVER CHALICE is populated by people on their way up or on their way down (and out) — like any film, I guess, only more so. White cut THE NAKED SPUR and numerous films of Vincente Minnelli, from THE CLOCK on. If the film seems indifferently put together, I’m inclined to blame weaknesses in the material. White went straight from this into TV and B pictures: WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET and MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE lie ahead.

Magical duel! Palance is to challenge the apostle Peter to a battle of the wands, commissioned by Nero. I am definitely down for that: it promises to be terrible. Since Palance’s slight-of-hand is augmented by jump-cuts, what special effects wizardry will be drafted in on Peter’s side?


Unstarry Nights

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2021 by dcairns

Maurice Pialat’s VINCENT is, for some reason, the first Pialat movie I’ve gotten around to. I’ve owned the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of it, and POLICE, for ages. This should prompt me to watch more.

I mean, one could complain — the movie is long and often slow and one ends with no huge sense of understanding the main character — it’s not clear whether he’s ill or mad, his eventual suicide comes out of left field, and although he was clearly not a happy man, there’s no obvious MOTIVATION behind him suddenly shooting himself. So any desire for narrative neatness is defeated.

Pialat in interviews seems obviously complicated, a tricky customer, but he never says anything that would help guide you through his movie. He never discusses the large fictional elements he inserted into VVG’s life. Some of the movie’s deleted scenes seem like they might have helped a little, and that may be why they were deleted.

But it seems churlish to me to complain about the movie’s length (it’s not THAT long but it does SEEM quite long) when so much that’s good in it wouldn’t be there if there was a serious attempt to chip away everything that doesn’t look like a story. In the hostelry where VVG has taken a room, we see people in the back bar, and then a big hay cart comes by the window, VERY CLOSE.

(Had to photograph it off TV because I can’t frame-grab Blu-rays currently.)

“That’s amazing,” I said.

“I was about to say that,” said Fiona. But neither of us could decide exactly WHY it was amazing. The reverberant trundle and rattle of the cart in the night street is part of its gentle ominous loveliness. Certainly it relates to one of the film’s major strengths, its evocation of time and place. Without trying to transform the landscape into a Van Gogh painting, as Minnelli and Kurosawa in their own ways do, it creates an immersive beauty. Paul Verhoeven once said that when you make a period movie, you often can’t afford to pan an inch to the left or an inch to the right for fear of exposing something modern (CGI has almost removed that problem). Pialat’s filmmaking makes it feel like the painter’s world surrounds us completely, and everything we see is real.

He seems to have had a fair bit of money, but there are no Parisian street scenes, so the budget wasn’t unlimited. He’s just really good. The performances are startlingly informal, they feel present-tense but at the same time they’re never anachronistic (the prostitute singing Carmen with da-dum da-dum raunchiness). It puts you inside Van Gogh’s world but can’t or won’t put you inside his head. But it succeeds so exceptionally at the former that it still impresses no end.

It’s not blood, it’s red

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , on June 28, 2021 by dcairns

Watched two Vincente Minnellis this week, without having planned it. BELLS ARE RINGING (top) was a rewatch. The combination of the timeless and simple source material — Cinderella — clever-clever screenwriter/songwriters (Comden & Green) — a crazed aesthete for a director — and the comedy powerhouse that is Judy Holliday — make this one that shouldn’t be missed if you like any of those kind of things.

We’d never seen LUST FOR LIFE. We didn’t initially take to Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh, although he certainly looks the part. He rants a lot, and it feels like the usual Kirk schtick amped up to eleven, rather than anything new or insightful. We admitted the thing was extremely beautiful. We pondered at the fact that Vincent’s letters to Theo (James Donald) were read on the soundtrack by Donald, not Douglas.

Slowly, the film gets better, or its better qualities come to dominate. Donald is the emotional centre, the one who can enlist our sympathies most strongly, so that’s why he gets the VO. And there’s more going on with the imagery than “just” beauty or even an attempt to mimic the look of specific Van Gogh paintings.

When VVG, close to his first crack-up, sits in a gloomy bar, Minnelli shows us his tormented face and then his POV.

We don’t know yet that Minnelli plans to use the image of the lamp as a symbol for when VVG’s mind overheats. It returns later, precipitating the ear-lopping.

What it does here, instead, is suggests the artist’s ability to find beauty in unexpected circumstances. Combined with Kirk’s glowering features, it suggests that he’s oppressed by this ability.

And then the ravishing landscapes, the film’s incessant picturesqueness, start to take on an added value. They go by too fast for us to really study them, seize them with our minds. We feel like the artist, struggling to capture fleeting beauty before it vanishes forever. (No replay function for real life.)

The lantern having assumed a prominent role, Minnelli can simply pan away onto it when VVG is about to make with the straight razor. Exactly as Tarantino does in RESERVOIR DOGS.

Lacking the ability to make Kirk’s ear disappear, Minnelli has to simply avoid shooting him on one side after the bandages come off.

Fiona remembers her art teacher inveighing against Don McLean’s song Vincent and its bogus sentimentality. I remember my art teacher answering a question about why VVG cut his ear off with the line, “He wanted to see what it looked like.” Quite a logical answer. He was an artist, he painted self-portraits… Not true though.

Kirk quietens down in some scenes. James Donald continues to quietly engage. Anthony Quinn brings the entertainment, and doesn’t overact. And he makes things a bit less formal.

The ending had an unexpected emotional impact, especially for Fiona, bringing back her feelings at her own brother’s death. “My poor brother,” says Theo, which is simple and absolutely right. What else can you say?

We’re inclined to look at some more cinematic Vincents. There are lots! The Richard Curtis Dr. Who episode is the worst thing ever, though — way beyond Don McLean.