Archive for Yojimbo

Piss and Vinegar

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2015 by dcairns

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For some reason, even for a confused liberal like me, it’s often extremely satisfying to see a policeman protagonist smacking suspects around and GETTING ANSWERS. It’s something that seems to just work in drama, and it can even be amusing, which speaks to something dark and stupid in human nature. Also, maybe it’s pleasing because it acknowledges something we believe goes on, but which isn’t always admitted in reassuring fictions. Still, after the recent massacre in Paris, there was something satisfying about watching both of Claude Chabrol’s Inspector Lavardin films (POULET AU VINAIGRE and INSPECTEUR LAVARDIN), in which glinty, flinty Jean Poiret plays Dominique Roulet’s quirky copper (likes his eggs just so), beating up witnesses, letting killers off on a whim, stitching up those who may not be precisely guilty as charged.

“Life is absurd,” is Lavardin’s philosophy, and the films are charming and entertaining because of not despite their ethical shock factor — it’s liberating to see a character who cares nothing for the accepted rules of his profession and operates entirely according to his own sensibility. The disturbing undercurrent is the certainty that these methods ARE used, and are not so whimsically funny in real life.

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Lavardin is like Kurosawa’s Sanjuro character from YOJIMBO and SANJURO, upsetting the accepted codes of his genre and being so popular doing it that an immediate sequel becomes necessary. While Kurosawa boldly cast the same actor, Tetsuya Nakadai, as Toshiro Mifune’s opponents in both films, killing him off each time, and Sergio Leone repeated this trope with Gian Maria Volonte in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (even though FAFDM has nothing in common with SANJURO except that it’s a sequel to a version of YOJIMBO), Chabrol was not quite so shameless: he waited until Lavardin got his own TV show (Les Dossiers Secret de l’Inspecteur Lavardin) to recast ex-wife Stephane Audran.

The first film enjoys a slow, convoluted set-up, one of those things where one worries that the various dastardly characters, their dysfunctional relationships and covert schemes will never fully become clear, or that one won’t be clever or French enough to understand them. Lavardin enters quite late in the action, because the deaths don’t start until midway. It’s a familiar structure from movies like GREEN FOR DANGER or FARGO or the TV show Columbo or its antecedent, QUAI DES ORFEVRES. Whereas FARGO and Columbo show the elaborate set-up to a crime, concealing nothing, and QUAI DES ORFEVRES pretends to but keeps something up its sleeve, Lavardin’s first case echoes Inspector Cockrill’s (Launder & Gilliat wanted to star Alastair Sim in a whole series of Cockrill adventures after GREEN FOR DANGER, based on Christianna Brand’s delightful whodunnits, but the star refused to repeat himself) — we see and hear plenty, but not enough to fully understand the key elements. Then Lavardin comes along and not only catches up with us in record time despite everyone lying their heads off, he supercedes our understanding and cracks the case (and a few heads).

Enjoyable as this is (with a surprising number of plot elements from PSYCHO — crazy mother in cellar, car winched from ravine), the sequel is even better, starting as it does with a corpse on a beach (the word “PORC” etched on his chubby back). This means Lavardin is on the scene in an instant, and we discover the intricacies of the case through his beady, skeptical, humorous but reptilian eyes.

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I’ve heard it suggested that Chabrol came to despise mankind or at least his characters, but this does not quite seem to me to be true. There’s a bit of Clouzot’s wry affection (seeing mankind at its worst but rather liking it anyway) and there’s also the Coen defense, that these are genre exercises and the people AREN’T REAL. The filmmakers want their rats to not only run a maze, but an obstacle course. It’s all in fun, except when it’s not.

I’ve not quite decided if Chabrol’s latter-day authorial cynicism amounts to full-scale misanthropy. He seems too jocular for that. But if you want to see traditional detective stories reinvigorated by a change of attitude in the central character, Lavardin’s your man.

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To get both films you have to buy two box sets, it seems. But hey, that means more Chabrol.

The Claude Chabrol Collection – Vol. 2 [DVD]

In desperation, the pun “Poulet au Vinaigre” which means Chicken with Vinegar but also “vinegary policeman” has been substituted with the title COP AU VIN, which is easier for Brits to understand except it doesn’t really mean anything.

The Essential Claude Chabrol Vol. 1 (3 disc box set) [DVD]

Stand Back!

Posted in FILM with tags , on June 19, 2013 by dcairns

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Episode 10 of our serial photoplay, THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS, is entitled The Ape-Man, and unlike episode 9 it is NOT missing. But you may wish it was.

So, we’re in the palatial residence of the mysterious Wang Foo. Bumbling criminologist is about to get knifed between the shoulder blades by heroine Ruth Stanhope, who has been hypnotized and possessed by the soul of Zora the vamp. But the strange disembodied eyes intervene — somehow — and psychic control is broken off. Smartly, Carter first pretends he’s dead so he can biff a guard, then hides in the closet while Ruth pretends she’s still hypnotized and claims that Carter has escaped. (Similar to trick pulled in YOJIMBO. Maybe Kurosawa was a fan.) Wang Foo is not pleased ~

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“So, in other words, you DO allow your slaves NOT to fail–WITH punishment–so that they WON’T remember to fail again?”

Wang gets his cat o’nine tails out, causing Carter to give himself away — but he’s trapped in the closet, not an ideal tactical position. It’s fair to say the situation becomes fraught. The bloodthirsty Wang Foo-ites riddle the closet with bullets. For about ten minutes. Get out of that!

Meanwhile, as they say in the comics, Ruth’s dad, long feared dead, is in the American hotel when a fist fight breaks out between two rival factions — the rug merchant’s Satanists, and Raoul Bernay, who was also feared dead, and who has recently been caught impersonating Monsieur X. All clear so far? There will be a quiz later.

Dead dad spots dead Raoul and realizes neither of them is really dead.

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The fight is protracted, fairly violent, and largely hilarious, and nearly tears down the flimsy hotel set, which would leave everybody in a right pickle. You can’t enact a serial photoplay adventure on an empty sound stage amid a heap of matchwood. Adventure requires exciting backdrops. That’s basic, man.

Now Jan the Tunisian, the one who is obviously Monsieur X, turns up and plays a scene with Zora the vamp, just to let you know he’s still around. He also sports a nifty leather coat. He entrusts her with his stash of ceremonial daggers and asks her to meet him in Paris. So that’s exciting — we’re going to Paris.

By complete coincidence, the not-dead-Raoul, rattled by his scuffle with the Satanists, is also considering a trip to Europe.

Wang Foo orders Zora to go to Paris to rejoin and spy on the Satanists, which fits in nicely with her plans as she was heading that way anyhow. He tells her to meet him at No. 18, Rue Mort. I guess that would be in the 666th Arrondissement.

Monsieur X, who is definitely the Tunisian, tells Abboul the rug merchant that he’s been robbed of the daggers which we just saw him give Zora. He sends them to Paris too. All that’s needed is for some plot mechanism to send Carter and Ruth there too, once we establish how Carter’s survived certain death. Oh yes, and we need him to be faced with certain death again so the episode can end on a cliffhanger…

Ruth finally opens the bullet-ridden closet to find Carter GONE. A furious Wang threatens to throw her to his ape-man, Borno. And I suddenly realize that Borno is the little servant guy in the Tarzan costume. Not really an ape-man, then. More like a primeval jockey. Nevertheless, Ruth is again faced with a fate worse than death, though mercifully not worse than being chased around the room by a scruffy jockey. She pelts him with throw cushions, but still he advances, implacable yet minute.

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Carter to the rescue — after running all around the building, he re-enters the room via the trap-door he’d used to escape (and which Wang Foo, the homeowner, apparently knew nothing about). Disabling the rampant dwarf by throttling them and then hurling him across the room, he tries to reach Ruth, who has barricaded herself in the next room. But, seeing the door bulge inward as he batters it, Ruth fears the ape-man is still coming for her, and prepares to plunge a dagger into her breast, probably hoping that will put him off the idea.

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The Naked Lynch

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2010 by dcairns

David Lynch has generally presented himself as a kind of naif, and “no cinephile”, working more from inspiration than influence. While this is largely true, and offers a useful explanation of how his films end up in the strange and wonderful places they do, I’ve noticed over the years a few moments that definitely betray the influence of specific other movies, some of which are equally revealing of Lynch’s approach…

YOJIMBO — WILD AT HEART. The dog with the human arm in his mouth,whom I’ve named “Murdo“, trots out of Kurosawa’s evocation of a no-horse town in 19th century Japan, and into a Texas bank. Actually, since the arm is found in the bank, perhaps we need to posit the existence of a time-traveling hound who scoops up a banker’s forelimb and absconds back to Edo period Japan.

Could happen.

Complicating the matter is Murdo’s appearance in both THE NEW YORK RIPPER and the TV show Lost

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR — WILD AT HEART — TWIN PEAKS. This Blake Edwards thriller (!) is graced  by a wonderfully scary performance by Ross Martin, who has one intense scene intimidating a teenage Stephanie Powers which seems like an unmistakable influence on the “fuck me” scene between Willem Dafoe and Laura Dern in WAH. But the IMDb mentions other salient connections between this film and Twin Peaks which I somehow missed on my first viewing years ago — the score by Henry Mancini obviously strongly influenced the roadhouse theme in TP, and there’s an actual Twin Peaks road sign at the start of the movie. Furthermore, Martin’s psychopath character is actually called Lynch!

THE RAPTURE — LOST HIGHWAY. Robert Blake’s first, memorably unsettling appearance in LH sees him amble up to Bill Pullman at a party, dressed in black and with an air of Uncle Fester about him, and engage our hero in a strange conversation, during which the party music and background noise fade slowly to silence. Then he ambles off again and the normal sound resumes. In Michael Tolkin’s THE RAPTURE, Patrick Bauchau does exactly the same, only with different dialogue. His Uncle Festerishness is produced not by a close-shaved head and eyebrows, but by a priestly cowl, but his effect on the party atmos is identical. Everything that is said in the scene is quite different, but the general shape is the same. Of course, Lynch’s version is both scarier and funnier than Tolkin’s.

Incidentally, I once asked Lynch about The Mystery Man. He declined to say whether the MM, who turns up with a video camera late in the movie, was the one sending video tapes to Bill Pullman’s house. But he did say, helpfully, “He’s someone we’ve all met.”

This example feels like Lynch might have switched on his TV a few minutes into THE RAPTURE, caught this scene, become fascinated, and decided to use a variation of it in a movie somewhere, perhaps even switching the TV off and never learning the movie’s name… not wanting to spoil the intriguing little scene with context and explanation…

KISS ME DEADLY — LOST HIGHWAY. LH being a “twenty-first century noir,” movie references are perhaps more prevalent than in other Lynch films. The exploding shack which appears, destroying itself in reverse (creating itself) amid a retracting fireball during the striking sequence where Bill Pullman transforms into Baltazar Getty, seems to evoke the exploding house at the climax of Aldrich’s 1958 ne plus ultra of noir. In fact, Lynch’s decision to film the shack exploding was one of his last-minute on-set inspirations. Filming the climactic  reverse transformation later in the movie, which takes place in front of the shack, he suddenly flashed on the image of the building exploding. “So I asked the special effects guy what kind of really high-powered explosives he had. And he said that he had a lot, but that he could get more.”

THE KILLERS — OUT OF THE PAST — LOST HIGHWAY. LH repeats the noir plot device that when a man wants to disappear, he becomes a garage mechanic in a small town. Both Burt Lancaster, an ex-boxer, and Robert Mitchum, a former PI, manage this surprising career change. (A garage also features in BLUE VELVET, and both this film and LOST HIGHWAY feature disabled African-Americans among their staff. Not sure what we can make of that except that Lynch likes what he likes.)

THE WIZARD OF OZ — WILD AT HEART. This is really too obvious to need elucidating, and besides, the OZ references doubtless originate in Barry Gifford’s source novel. In fact, the Gifford-related movies tend to have more intertextual stuff than the others, however —

GILDA — MUHOLLAND DR. Not only does the amnesiac Rita derive her name from a poster for this movie, but the audition scene where Naomi Watts plays a scene of hatred as if it were a love scene is a clear paraphrase of a similar scene between Glenn Ford and Rita Hyaworth in the classic noir. SUNSET BLVD also seems to inform this film, but in a more diffuse way that’s hard to pinpoint through direct comparisons.

And now a weird one —

TALES OF HOFFMANN / KILL BABY KILL –Twin Peaks (last episode). In the spooky finale of his hit TV show, Lynch redeems the series from its second-season slump with a prolonged sequence set in the Red Room, or Black  Lodge. At the climax of this, the good Kyle MacLachlan is chase by a bad Kyle MacLachlan down a repeating series of red-curtained rooms and corridors. This seems to relate both to the chase through a single, endlessly looped room in Powell & Pressburger’s filmed opera-ballet exercise in pure cinema, but also to a chase through repeating rooms in Mario Bava’s delirious low-budget psychedelic period horror movie (which also inspired Fellini’s TOBY DAMMIT). The malevolent doppelganger also reminds me of the last episode of The Prisoner and the revelation of Number 1.

The one-armed man in Twin Peaks was originally written in as a throwaway nod to The Fugitive, but when Lynch realized what a great actor Al Strobel was, he enlarged the role greatly and made it (somehow) central to the series’ mythology.

Anyhow, these little references and influences point to a slightly different picture of Lynch than the usual one, although these examples are all from post-BLUE VELVET movies — I don’t think the earlier Lynch films reference cinema nearly so much. I suspect his childhood and personal fantasies supplied all the initial impetus he needed, and then the longer he’s worked in film the more movie quotations have seeped into his work in an osmotic fashion. The point is not to denounce him as a thieving swine, but merely to point out the more complicated relationship his cinema has with other movies.

Please jump in with any other examples you may have spotted!

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