Archive for Welles

Euphoria #46: The fluffer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2008 by dcairns

orifice space 

Brick by brick, our towering edifice of magical movie moments reaches towards the skies. When we reach fifty, we will have penetrated Heaven her/him/itself. And then we’ll really be in trouble.

Ace film-maker and hairless German dude Timo Langer supplied a great list of modern movie highs for me to choose from. I spoke to him last week in Blimey Productions’ base at the G.R.V. — an oasis of creativity in Edinburgh’s bustling Museum District — expressing my NEED FOR GLEE, and he just emailed a list which included the following:

“big lebowski anything with john goodman but especially his vietnam and jewish chat, john tutorro’s dance and so many other moments…

“army of darkness. well hello mr fancy pants and hail to the king

“bubba ho tep president chat with ossie davis

“clerks 2 jay does the silence of the lambs dance!

“damn forgot the others.

“I am sure I had more from good films as well but funny bits often come from the more peculiar films I guess.”

All choices I could find something to say about, but the one I particularly felt like honouring was THIS:

“Boogie nights 36 min. in william h macys wife has sex in front of a party crowd and he says my wife has an ass in her cock instead of the other way around because he is angry”

(Contains language [English] and sexual situations. Come to think of it, you never hear about amoeba documentaries coming with a warning: “Contains asexual situations.”)

There’s something engaging about the strategic line-fluffing. It’s always sympathetic and human, even when it feels maybe scripted, like here. I always appreciated the way Ophuls would keep little dialogue mistakes in his films, and it happens more often in long takes, as here. Check Barbara Bel-Geddes falling over her words for one nanosecond in the long take in scene one of Ophuls CAUGHT, or Anthony Perkins getting lost for a moment during the massive shot that more-or-less begins Welles’ THE TRIAL.

The pitfalls lie in the fact that an actor genuinely stumbling over dialogue often sounds different from a Real Person stumbling over speech, and scripted can sound phoney. This one feels a little prepared to me, but it’s still a fresh and interesting way to get the character’s emotion across.

A brilliant, bizarre one, occurs in Charles Woods’ script for THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT. Michael Crawford, a schoolteacher, has been told that his class’s behaviour leaves something to be desired. Defensive, flustered, and suffering from terminal sexual frustration, M.C. blurts back:

“MY class? Her class was doing the behaving! That’s what I behaviour.”

I adore that last line, with the missing word. NOT the kind of mistake anybody would ever make in speech, it feels more like an authorial jump-cut. A surreal quirk that gets the emotion across in a non-naturalistic way, just as with the BOOGIE NIGHTS fluff.

Euphoria #18: Did you ever happen to hear…?

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2008 by dcairns

Marlene Dietrich’s Hot Voodoo number from Josef Von Sternberg’s BLONDE VENUS, suggested by David Melville (who writes as David Wingrove). An intravenous shot of pure Silver Nitrate Euphoria (a drug whose addictive properties are well documented).

Where did Josef Von Sternberg’s aesthetic sense come from? It’s like nothing on earth.

Part of the answer may be found, along with much else, in Little Jo’s autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, which serves as a kind of Rosetta Stone to his filmwork, cluing the reader in to sources of imagery, philosophy and incidents in the films. Crucially, Sternberg, as a child, lived next to Vienna’s famous Volksprater:

“Hundreds of shooting galleries, Punch and Judy and the inevitable Satan puppet, chalk-faced clowns in their dominoes, boats sliding from a high point down into water with a great splash, leather-faced dummies that groaned when slapped, pirouetting fleas, sword-swallowers, tumbling midgets and men on stilts, contortionists, jugglers and acrobats, wild swings with skirts flaring from them, proving that not all females had lost their undergarments, a forest of balloons, tattooed athletes, muscle-bulging weight-lifters, women who were sawed in half and apparently spent the rest of their lives truncated, trained dogs and elephants, tightropes that provided footing for a gourmet who feasted on a basket of the local sausages with horse-radish that made my mouth water, graceful ballerinas, grunting knife-throwers with screaming targets whose hair flowed down to the hems of their nightgowns, hatchet-throwing Indians and phlegmatic squaws, double-headed calves, members of the fair sex, fat and bearded, with thighs that could pillow an army, magicians who poured jugs of flaming liquid down their throats, drum-thumping cannibals and their wiggling harems, a glass maze from which the delighted customers stumbled with black eyes and gashed heads, hypnotists who practiced levitation and passed hoops around the dormant females swaying five feet from where they ought to have been, and the central figure of a huge Chinese mandarin with drooping moustaches longer than the tail of a horse revolving on a merry-g0-round to the tune of Ivanovici’s Donauwellen — what more could I have asked?”

When Fiona and I visited the Prater, it was mostly shut for the winter, so we shared the off-season experience of Cotten and Welles in THE THIRD MAN and Fontaine and Jourdan in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.

Wheeling and dealing

train of thought

I like to think the fun of the fair, with its gaudy, venal and surreal hubbub, planted a seed in the young Jonas Sternberg.

Of course, a sensitive child in this environment could equally well have turned into Fellini. I tend to think that the interaction of genetics and environment is so complex, nobody could ever predict the outcome upon a single human being. Certainly not a human being like Sternberg. One possibility that occurs to me is that he is recreating this tatty, gaudy and vulgar spectacle in his work, but imbuing it with all the beauty and ecstasy and fear that a child would feel upon being exposed to the funfair for the first time.

life is ein cabaret

Russian lark

cry for bobo

Footnote: re-watched NO DIRECTION HOME last night, and Dylan’s childhood memories of the travelling fun-fair are the most evocative thing in it — and directly inform the last sequence of Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE, in turn the most evocative sequence of that movie.

Footfootnote: Sternberg passed on some of his funfair impressions directly in THE CASE OF LENA SMITH (1929), a film which is now lost, apart from stills and a single four-minute fragment recovered by Hiroshi Komatsu of Tokyo’s Waseda University.

 Get it on Youtube, Hiroshi!

Euphoria #11: “Pier Paolo Pasollliiiiiniiii!”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2008 by dcairns

 put on a happy face

11 entries in and still going strong! How much euphoria IS there in film history? Finite or otherwise? Will we still be here a million years hence, trying to find a less-miserable bit from SALO or THE PIANO TEACHER to stand as our latest entry?

No signs of running dry yet: regular Shadowplayer and filmmaker Chris “Dovzhenko” Bourton, nee “Chainsaw Massacre”,  suggests a rather different Pasolini flick, HAWKS AND SPARROWS, specifically the opening credits (it’s the first title sequence we’ve had nominated as euphoric). You will smile your face off when you see:

Chris says: Yeah, the sung credits are sublime (and what I’m recommending). “Pier Paolo Pasooollliiiiiniiiii”

Music by the renowned Ennio Morricone, who also scored another of Chris’ near-choices, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Maybe we’ll have that crane shot later on.

The most remarkable thing about this sequence is of course the fact that the credits are rendered IN SONG. As striking as this is, it is not unique, for the closing creds of Otto “Mr Freeze” Preminger’s SKIDOO are also sung. Let the great man explain:

‘…it is very frustrating for a director, when he has credits at the end, to see the audience walk out. They walk out because (let’s be honest) the public is interested only in who played the parts, the stars and the actors, and perhaps the director and the writer. But then the technicians, who wants to know who was the chief electrician except the chief electrician himself, who likes to read his name, and his family who wants to read his name? I was sitting in my office one day with a composer, who is a very talented young man, and had all this list of names before me, and I felt very bad about it. I said to him, “How would it be if we wrote a song with these names?” He started to “ad lib” right there, and we did it. Then a young, new designer worded the titles for me visually, and it turned out very well, I think. Nobody leaves. I say “stop”, freeze the frame, and then it becomes quite an amusing ending.’

~ from The Cinema of Otto Premingerby Gerald Pratley.

(Read more about the fascinating SKIDOO at Tim Lucas’ Video Watchblog.)

Pasolini did it in ‘66, Preminger in ‘68. Has anybody done it since, and if not, why not?

Precursors: Orson Welles’ spoken credits (nobody walks out during the end titles of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS either), and HELP! which has the Beatles humming along with the score, and George Harrison reciting his sole songwriting credit.

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