Monthly Archives: August 2008

Tennessee Brilliance

There isn’t a lot I can say about this picture that hasn’t already been said.

It’d been in my collection for a while so, as part of operation “plug in”, it got a play and I couldn’t have been more impressed. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) directed by Elia Kazan (One of my favourite directors) is one of those pictures where cast, director and story come together in perfect harmony to create something so natural and powerful, it completely takes your breath away.

Adapted from the Tennassee Williams play of the same name, Streetcar had been a hit on both Broadway and in London before it’s eventual adaptation for the screen, which Williams himself assisted with. In both respective productions the stars of the film had also played the same role on stage, Marlon Brando playing Stanley Kowalski in New York while Vivien Leigh played Blanche DuBois in the West End.

The picture follows the story of Banche DuBois, a southern belle and self proclaimed lady of higher standing who comes to stay with her sister Stella due to their family house being lost, the reasons for which Blanche is extremely vague about. Stanley becomes increasingly suspicious of Blanch and as he attempts to reveal who she really is, Blanche herself slips into a mental descent she’ll never return from.

These lead performances, are by no means the only examples of incredible acting in this picture. In fact, all 4 principle actors were nominated for Oscars in 1951 with Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden (Mitch) and Kim Hunter (Stella) all winning the prize. It seems incredible that Brando didn’t provide the clean sweep as his performance, for me, is more worthy of recognition than the actual winner that year, Humphrey Bogart in the John Huston film THE AFRICAN QUEEN (which I also love).


Viven Leigh: Best Actress Oscar 1951


Kim Hunter: Best Supporting Actress Oscar 1951


Karl Malden: Best Supporting Actor Oscar 1951


Marlon Brando: Shunned

It should also be noted that Harry Stradling Sr. missed out on the cinematography award which, judging by the images above and the clip you’ll see at the end, seems a bit harsh.

An Oscar award, as so often proven in the past, doesn’t mean the picture or actor was better than its competitors, ORDINARY PEOPLE getting the nod over RAGING BULL in 1980 for instance, I mean really. I’ve seen AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, which beat the film in the Best Picture category and, as mentioned earlier, Bogart in THE AFRICAN QUEEN. They’re both great but fall way short of STREETCAR for me.

I reserve judgement on A PLACE IN THE SUN for which George Stevens won Best Director…. It’s on my Lovefilm list.

The scene I’ve posted is probably the best for showing all 4 principles at work and in explosive form. Note the direction, blocking and pace. From Brando losing the plot to becoming the helpless little boy that Stella can’t help but love. This despite him giving her a (wonderfully shot off camera) smack for… Well, nothing really. Listen out for the line “Oh look, we’ve made enchantment” at the start which is wonderful. The scene is one of the most kinetic, powerful and passionate in cinema history.

Here at Journeys in Cinema I post about the films as I see them, so they’re fresh in my mind from the initial viewing (Except the Great Openings section) in the hope that I spark a desire in the reader to either seek these films out (they’re all available to rent at Lovefilm) or for the person who’s already seen it to revisit the picture. This particular picture I can’t recommend enough, it’s now in my top 3 of all time.

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It’s a Worry

So technology gets in the way…… The great helper………. also the great hindrance.

I thought, just for a change, I’d post some of my own work…. yes folks, I make films too. My latest film, A documentary titled THE LAST DROP, is being shown at the Edinburgh Filmhouse this evening at 6pm.

Feel free to pop along.

I feel it should be noted at this time, ……. Whoever god is, he has much to answer for.

Amen.

A Bunch of Phibes

With the exertions of PLASTIC over and done with until I can get into an editing suite, it’s nice to be able to absorb myself in some interesting cinema once again. I’ve had the DR. PHIBES films, directed by Robert Fuest, knocking about my collection for a while so thought it was high time they got a viewing.

Starring the amazing Vincent Price as the super villainous but super inventive Dr Phibes, the films chart both his mission to avenge the death of his wife at the hands of, in the opinion of Phibes, bungling surgeons and his attempts to resurrect the woman by transporting her corpse to the valley of the kings in Egypt in order to sail down the river of eternal life.

These films are fantastic!

In normal Price fashion, and you’ll know what I’m talking about here if you’ve see THEATRE OF BLOOD, his mission can only be accomplished by killing a whole bunch of people. Now, this isn’t done using the boring as hell Freddie Krueger or Michael Myers method, no way! That wouldn’t nearly as much fun as inventing a multitude of different ways to dispose of the people who have either wronged him, or are in some way obstructing his success.

THE ABOMNIBLE DR. PHIBES (1971) is the first in the duo and it is in this picture that we learn of Phibes obsessive, but rather touching, love for his wife, who’s death is the sole motive for all his horrific wrong doing.

Of course, there is a huge element of style on show here. For instance, Phibes doesn’t live in a run down cottage in the country, that just wouldn’t do. He resides in a palatial house in upmarket London. Not bad for a guy who’s supposed to be dead…… all is explained in the clip.

He also, bizarrely, has a clockwork band to entertain him and his beautiful (and painfully quiet) assistant, Vulnavia……


Frank Sidebottom anyone?


Vulnavia: The quiet, loyal type

The clip, in true ham horror fashion, explains the entire premise of the film. Check out our old friend Joseph Cotton as the head surgeon who finds himself at the top of Phibes’s list. Also take note of the way Phibes communicates…. Pure genius.

The closing chapter of this terrible tale is commonly known as:

In this picture, as I mentioned earlier, Phibes travels to Egypt to plan the resurrection of his dead wife and along the way, kills a lot of people in an array of elaborate methods. This picture is funnier than the last, the body count is slightly less but it’s a joy to eagerly anticipate the outrageously unlikely causes of death. One character gets trapped in a giant gold scorpion, then is stung to death by loads of real scorpions. Another guy has his face blasted off by a sandstorm….. that originates from the cigarette lighter of his jeep…… it’s great stuff.

I highly recommend looking at both films together as a double bill. Shown below is an example of Phibes incredible ingenuity….. Where does someone find a wind machine in the middle of the Egyptian desert?

I’ve been away

The usual cinematic musings have been on the coolest of back burners due to an unprecedented amount of time spent hanging about theatre types at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’ve been working with the 30 Bird production company on their fantastic show PLASTIC, which they asked me to film.

Theatre doesn’t get a lot of press on the blog, not surprising considering it’s cinematic allegiances but I have to say folks, if you’re in Edinburgh just now and are looking for something to go see, don’t go watching the usual ridiculous amount of comedy on offer, you can get that any time, get yourself down to the Pleasance Undergrand and check out what is a very unique visual experience. Mehrdad Seyf has created a piece which lingers in your consciousness long after you leave the space, which is not the norm for a fringe show. A special mention should go to my ex flatmate and good friend Claire Hicks who has produced the show, god that girl works hard. (She drinks tea in nightclubs you know)

Check a review HERE.

I can’t let the post pass without mentioning at least one flick. During some rare and much needed free time I took in the 1992 Robert Altman film THE PLAYER starring Tim Robbins as Griffin Mill, a hot shot Hollywood producer and features cameo appearances from…. well just about everyone. During the making of documentary, it’s revealed that had all the stars been paid their normal fee for appearing in a film, the picture would have cost in excess of $100m in salaries alone.

I make no apology for the size of the movie poster, it is HUGE though, there can be no doubt about that. I particularly like what this poster does, it actually tells you something about the picture. The strip of celluloid fashioned into a noose captures the nature of the film. Hollywood has no soul and no moral. No matter how powerful you may think you are, there’s constantly someone behind you looking to take your place by giving you enough rope to hang yourself.

The way that Altman uses cameo appearances from the likes of John Cusack, Angelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum and Burt Reynolds as themselves, casually seen dining in the restaurants that Griffin frequents, is a clever authentication of Griffin’s world. Richard E. Grant also turns up (with Dean Stockwell as his agent) playing a ridiculously overplayed but highly believable scriptwriter who’s trying to get his film made. The shallow nature of Hollywood is portrayed perfectly as initially, he’ll not allow his self proclaimed work of art to be altered in any way but later on in the picture, we find out he’s sold his soul to progress himself by allowing the studio to butcher his work.

The film is full of these little comments on the “system” of Hollywood.

The main premise of the film however is Griffin’s obsession to find a disgruntled writer who, in an effort to repay him for ignoring his (or her) work, sends him increasingly threatening, anonymous notes. This series of hostile correspondence unnerves the normally callous executive so much that he decides to seek out the perpetrator.



This element of the film, although the main focus, is probably the weakest. The comments and observations of the selfish movie merry-go-round are far more engaging and interesting than the search for the poison pen. There’s so much going on in this picture however, that you forgive this weakness in appreciation of what it actually accomplishes.

THE PLAYER could have easily been used in a recent essay I wrote on postmodernism in film. The first 8 minutes is one of the strongest examples of homage in cinema. (Gus Van Sant’s version of PSYCHO maybe takes that prize) Not only does Altman use the same one shot opening that Orson Welles used in TOUCH OF EVIL, he actually has the characters reference the film in conversation during the shot.

I’ve uploaded the full scene onto youtube for your enjoyment. Just for the record, he apparently used take 3.

Great Movie Openings: A Clockwork Orange

As movie openings go there’s none better than A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, a wonderful picture that caused Stanley Kubrick so much trouble and personal grief that he requested the studio pull it from cinemas and block it’s video release. I read the book when I was 14 and managed to get a look at a really grainy pirate video copy with shocking sound shortly afterwards. Watching it for the first time, I was thrilled when the FBI warning flashed up on the screen “shit, it’s the FBI!! If they find out about this we’re in for some REAL jail time” …….

Then the film started…….

The screen turns red and that music cuts through the air which, in some indescribable way, lets you know what kind of journey you’re about to embark on.

We’re introduced to the iconic figure of Alex, flanked by his droogs then there’s the seamless combination of a zoom out into a backwards track.

I realise that 99.9% of you will have seen this 2:16 of cinema many, many times. Kubrick, and Kubricks films however, never atain the status of boring. Any yes, I do include BARRY LYNDON and EYES WIDE SHUT in that statement.

Enjoy.

Thank you for the music

I was at my good friend Amy Lawlers’ last night for a bottle of wine and the obligatory flick. She hadn’t seen GARDEN STATE so, as it’s very nice and extremely girl friendly I thought I’d show her it.

It was on getting to the quarry scene that I was hit with just how perfect the music was. The film as a whole is filled with great tunes, all of which seem to compliment the mood. This tune, Simon and Garfunkels’ THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK is PERFECT which gives the scene a poignant, beautiful quality.

Ok, I was wrong…

I’ve never had a resistance to super hero movies. I can remember the first time I saw Superman as a kid sitting transfixed, wide eyed and amazed as Christopher Reeve, god rest his soul, went about his daily business in a rather gawky manner whilst saving the world in his spare time. Not only saving the world of course but reversing time. I’ve never once heard Steven Hawkings disprove that the Superman method wouldn’t actually work.

On growing a little older the genre lost its charm for me. Example after example of comic book adaptation was pumped into cinemaplexes with huge promises of never seen before action. It all came crashing to hard nosed conclusion for me on release of HULK…. I was a great lover of David Banner as a kid, this was the “you won’t like me when I’m angry” TV David Banner of course, played wonderfully by Bill Bixby with Lou Ferringo as the frightening yet lovable monster. The movie was, and I’m an admirer of Ang Lee, HORRIFIC.

My good friend and workplace adversary Matt Etheridge (He loves his Blu-Ray) convinced me, through his relentless enthusiasm for the release of THE DARK KNIGHT to revisit the superhero movie and, as much as I hate to admit it, he’s right.

Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of this particular character is bursting with depth, conflict and, most importantly, bloody good storytelling and filmmaking. It’s not often you get such a cast fitting so well together to make what should be a formula Hollywood film, but is anything but. Christian Bale is fantastic, if you haven’t seen RESCUE DAWN, then do. Herzog and Bale seem like perfect collaborators considering their collective fondness of the physical extreme.

Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman also feature prominently and to great effect, Kate Holmes manages to keep her face looking not too weird by resisting that Cherie Blair thing that she sometimes does but the one appearance that REALLY floated my boat was Tim Booth of Indie legends JAMES fame as a villain who turns up a few times in the picture but says NOTHING… He looks the part, granted, but I don’t know if Gotham City was frequented by mancunian indie frontmen which was maybe a reason for having him mute. By the way, as I was googling Tim, I for some reason put an “e” at the end of his christian name and ended up at, what is probably the most boring website in the world….. see it here.

The scene below is one of my favourites in the film and really gives a sense of what I’m talking about in terms of craft. Bruce Wayne meets Ducard for the first time which proves to be a turning point that will change Wayne’s life forever.

Roll on Dark Knight……..