Monthly Archives: October 2008

Almost There!

The end is in sight, the edit on PLASTIC is almost over. The blog postings have been sparse of late to say the least, please bear with me dear readers; normal service will be resumed shortly.

I was thinking the other night, as I sat glassy eyed staring at Final Cut Pro wondering how the hell to solve a problem I had, that this play, at 40 minutes long, has pretty much been like editing half a feature. A short feature all the same but Woody Allen managed some good stuff in 80 minutes, ZELIG was less. I’m getting right into editing but will be happy to hand the baton to someone else for the upcoming short I’m making. A rest is as good as a change they say….

So all this editing has got me thinking about great editing in movies. I’m reading the Walter Murch book THE CONVERSATIONS just now and the man is inspiring. He demonstrates that there can be far reaching intentions in an edit, that the practice goes way beyond the mere splicing of film. Now that may be obvious to most of us but how many can name 10 editors that have won an Oscar? Walter Murch of course has cut many fine pictures. The directors cut of TOUCH OF EVIL for instance (what an honour that must have been) or APOCALYPSE NOW.

So great editing in pictures, pictures I remember being particularly well edited….. First up has to be:

Thelma Schoonmaker was tremendous on this film and of course, won an Oscar for her efforts. This clip isn’t the best, being youtube, but it gives a sense of the kinetic cutting that lends so much weight to the scene.

My second example is:

I love this film for so many reasons but none more than the editing. The Soviets were at the top of their game in the 20’s and the impact of that cinematic revolution can still be felt today. Dziga Vertov made MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA in 1929 and it still stuns me to this day. The way he marries cuts perfectly to the pace within the frame, which is often very fast, is breathtaking.

If you haven’t seen this film, please do. The small clip below doesn’t begin to do it justice but it gives you a taste of what could be…… enjoy.


Doin’ It For The Kids

And who said it was only high-brow French cinema that gets a nod on this blog. Shame on you!…..

So winter has hit Scotland after the four weeks of slightly warmer rain we like to call summer. This is traditionally a time for mass movie going for Lauren and I as there’s precious little else to do indoors in Edinburgh that generates any real fun, there is only so many times you can walk round that damn castle.

Last weekend we took in the new animation feature IGOR, which features the voices (because it’s all about the voices) of John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard, Jennifer Coolidge, John Cleese and Jay Leno, amongst others. I have to say, I found this to be a nice little movie. British film critic Mark Kermode said it’s “a Tim Burton movie with all the Tim Burton bits removed” and while I can kind of see where he’s coming from, I think there’s enough in this film for it to stand on its own two feet, albeit just.

The film, like most contemporary mainstream animation, attempts to work on two levels by providing engaging material for both kids and their long suffering parents. The movie delivers some nice slapstick in the form of Scamper the suicidal rabbit who is voiced by the perfectly cast Steve Buscemi, there’s just something wonderfully defeatist about Buscemi’s delivery which works to great effect in this film. The nice touch here is that the rabbit is not actually suicidal but is just tired of living after being made immortal by the brilliant but totally ignored Igor, voiced by John Cusack. The third character in the trio of friends is brain that is simply a brain in a jar but ironically, is thick as mince in the neck of a milk bottle. Brain, like scamper, is the result of Igor’s inventive, but hidden talents.

The film is based in the fictional city of Malaria and follows Igor’s quest to prove to the world how clever he is by winning the annual science fair, this has been tough due to the fact that Igors are expected only to be bumbling servants to the ego maniac scientists that litter the city. It could be said that the Igor’s are held back because of the way they look, talent means nothing as long as you have an ego and beauty, very fitting when considering this alongside our X Factor obsessed society. Igor’s master is voiced by John Cleese and for me is the best drawn character in the picture, of course it’s this aesthetic that leads to the Tim Burton comparisons but I like it all the same.

On seeing his master blown up by his own stupidity, Igor seizes the chance to enter an invention, dressed as the work of his dismantled oppressor. Great hilarity ensues as Igor creates a Frankenstein woman who instead of being evil, is programmed to act like an actress. There’s a bit of a twist at the end that again, is more aimed at adults and goes as far as saying the government is corrupt and creating a smokescreen that leads to the population having a fear of what isn’t really there…… Sound familiar? This message isn’t too subtle either which led me to like the movie even more. Not that this is a great film, it’s only just reaching good, not a bad way to spend some time with your kids on a horrible Scottish afternoon however.

What REALLY gets on my nerves now is how little choice there is for kids under 12 these days. Back in the golden age of “the code” kids could pretty much go and see anything. You’re lucky if there’s 2 features specifically for kids at any one time in mutiplexes these days, and those are usually advertising vehicles for merchandise, this begs the question, where can modern children develop a love for cinema? If their parents aren’t pumping them full of old Marx Brothers, Preston Struges and Ernst Lubistch pictures, they’ve no real grasp of how wonderful the cinema can be…… I despair.


The main focus of this term at the film school of eca is experimentation and experimental film. I can’t say I was a fan of the genre as a stand alone entity (there are obvious examples within dramatic cinema) until our tutor Matt Hulse, who is himself a BAFTA winning experimental filmmaker, took us on a journey of discovery in order to prepare and inspire us for our upcoming projects. You can take a look at Matt’s TAKE ME HOME…… here.

One prominent name who’s work has me completely taken aback is Jan Svankmajer.

As I’ve only just got a hold of his film anthology, there’s not a lot of information I can give about this amazing artist right now. What I can do is (re)introduce you to his work via the gift of Youtube.

The following sections of film are from his piece DIMENSIONS OF DIALOGUE (1982) It’d be interesting to find out what you think as I think this is amazing work. Of course, this is only a small piece towards the end of a longer film. The Youtube uploads fall apart due to the fast moving animation but it’s easy to find the whole piece on the interweb should you feel like it.

Bargain Therapy

It’s been a strange and none too pleasant couple of days.

My daughter Lauren and I were in HMV this afternoon, buying a birthday present for a friend of mine when I found a little gem that has gone some way to lifting my spirits. Browsing the shelves for something interesting I could call a gift, a plain white box with plain black lettering and a Hollywood legend’s face shown in close up without any decoration came into view. It was THE EDWARD G ROBINSON COLLECTION, 3 discs for a mere £10.

Not bad I thought…. It was on discovering what 3 films were contained within that the excitement kicked in.

First up is:

THE RED HOUSE, Delmer Daves (1947)

I’d been looking for this film since seeing it referenced in the essential Martin Scorsese documentary A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES and was finding it impossible to source, that is until the good people at Elstree Hill Entertainment saw fit to put this neat little set together. My only previous exposure to director Delmer Daves has been the excellent DARK PASSAGE which “stars” Humphrey Bogart, although you don’t actually see his face until half way through the film. It had got the point where I was going to watch THE RED HOUSE in it’s entirety on Youtube, which should always be the last resort, and only employed by people doing serious time in jail with no access to a decent selection of DVD’s.

SCARLET STREET, Fritz Lang (1945)

I know very little about this picture other than it’s a remake of Jean Renoir’s LA CHIENNE, which I’ve also not seen. I’ve done a little research and there seems to be a raft of opinion that this is one of Robinson’s finest performances. This coupled with Fritz Lang at the helm should make this interesting viewing. Talking of Fritz Lang, I read a while ago that the lost sections of METROPOLIS had been found in the archives of a tiny cinema in Argentina. Exciting stuff as, for the time, METROPOLIS is genuinely stunning.

THE STRANGER, Orson Welles (1946)

This is Welles’s third feature (discounting JOURNEY INTO FEAR) following CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. It was apparently his first commercial success with Robinson again turning in a fine performance. The synopsis makes for interesting reading…
“Wilson of the War Crimes Commission is seeking Franz Kindler, mastermind of the Holocaust, who has effectively erased his identity. Wilson releases Kindler’s former comrade Meinike and follows him to Harper, Connecticut, where he is killed before he can identify Kindler. Now Wilson’s only clue is Kindler’s fascination with antique clocks; but though Kindler seems secure in his new identity, he feels his past closing in”

……. So. Daves, Lang and Welles for only a tenner. Maybe the world isn’t such a bad place after all.

It’s NOT What It Says On The Tin

Do you remember this movie poster?

It’s for Roger Corman’s TEENAGE CAVEMAN (1958) a picture that appeared in the “MOVIES I’D LIKE TO SEE ON THE BIG SCREEN” section of this here blog.

Well I’ve now seen it, not on the big screen but I’ve seen it nonetheless and let me tell you this…..

The movie poster is slightly misleading.

Now that’s not to say I don’t love this film, It’s a nice piece of work, and I suppose they’ve got to advertise the thing somehow but at no point in this picture, nowhere at all, does ANYTHING REMOTELY like the scene in the poster take place….. In saying that, they do get chased by some hungry looking dogs, yes dogs, the household type. In fact if you look close enough, I’m sure you can spot a collar.

The film stars a young Robert Vaughn as the “rebel”. Vaughn is best known for his long run in the hit 60’s show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. but also revered for his turn as the fiendish Ross Webster from SUPERMAN III…by far the worst villain name in movie history.

A hairdresser in Bedrock?

Being prehistoric times (or is it?) the characters don’t have names. Vaughn is “The Symbol Makers Teenage Son”. His dad, not surprisingly, is “The Symbol Maker”. They are members of a prehistoric tribe governed by ancient rules that basically prevents them going “beyond the river”, as the first clip will explain. Despite food being scarce on their side of the water and plentiful on the other, they must not cross for fear of encountering “The god that brings death with its touch”, that’s another thing I adore about this film. It’s like Corman wanted every character to have a name that takes a fortnight to say.

There’s also unspeakable horror to be found with monsters, dogs, bears, big squirrels and “earth that will take you”, or quicksand to the layman. It’s great stuff.

This first clip sets things up nicely. Pretty much all of this picture is shot on one location which would have helped with the time and budgets they had. Look out for the first signs of the perils that lie beyond the river whilst admiring the script and acting.

Vaughn, full of rebellious teenage energy, leads a mob of hardy (yet incredibly weedy looking) lads beyond the river to search for food and possible future prosperity for the tribe. Trouble was bound to come his way and doesn’t let him down when he finds himself faced…… well, not actually “faced” with two VICIOUS looking monsters. I’ve uploaded this delightful scene for you to feast your eyes on. Not only are the beasts rather nice, check out Vaughn’s girly spear throwing technique. It’s a thing of beauty.

Tribal retribution comes his way following this reckless jaunt across the water as his nemesis, protector of the old ways and tribe hate monger “The Black Bearded One, seeks to have the curious lad strung up for bringing evil upon them, this guy is for me the strongest character in the movie and could either be a representation of the Soviets, or maybe the republican party. This film is loaded with cold war metaphor. It could have just left you to work this out for yourself but the last 3 minutes of the picture are devoted to a voiceover telling you EXACTLY what you’ve watched and EXACTLY what it means. Kind of like the moral telling off you used to get at the end of the He-Man cartoons.

The Black Bearded One: He’s got a beard, and it’s black.

I’m dying to tell the rest of the plot which involves a nice twist at the end surrounding “The god who brings death with his touch” but it ain’t in the tradition of this blog to do so. At only 65 minutes it’s not a huge time investment. These films were made for teenage drive-in audiences so they’re just damn good fun. Let’s not take anything away from the filmmaker however. Roger Corman knew how to get movies made, and how to get young talent working.

I’ll leave you with the weediest part of the film. As I’ve said, Vaughn doesn’t really pull off the “rebel” character for me; he’s more like a member of the prehistoric Young Conservatives. I think this scene demonstrates it perfectly…… Just check out how RUBBISH his bow and arrow is. It is a great little film though, if you notice it on some strange cable channel at 4 in the morning, I recommend you stay up and have a look.

Desert Island Discs

Picture the scene….. The FED EX plane you’re travelling in has been struck by lightning, causing it to plunge into the ocean. You get washed up on the beach of a nearby island which is apparently without habitants. Instead of a football for company you find a 50 inch plasma TV with attached DVD player which was miraculously wrapped in waterproof packaging. Somehow you discover a power supply and are delighted that 10 movies have escaped unscathed in the over the shoulder folder holder you had on your person at the time of the tragedy.

These are the 10 films that will prevent you going insane whilst you wait for McDonalds to discover this is the one place they don’t have a restaurant….

My picks are:

REAR WINDOW, Alfred Hitchcock (1954)

THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Joel & Ethan Coen (1998)

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Stanley Kubrick (1968)

HEAVEN CAN WAIT, Ernst Lubitsch (1943)

MEAN STREETS, Martin Scorsese (1973)

MANHATTAN, Woody Allen (1979)

RASHOMON, Akira Kurosawa (1950)

RIFIFI, Jules Dassin (1955)

IF…., Lindsay Anderson (1968)

PAN’S LABYRINTH, Guillermo Del Toro (2006)

This was a really hard thing to do, and the selections could well change as I think about it more. There’s no Welles, Antonioni, Bergman, Ozu, Lynch, Powell & Pressburger…. God, the list is huge. These are the 10 films that tick as many boxes as possible whilst being infinitely watchable. I also think that each of these 10 films gives you something very different, from the half an hour of silence during the robery scene in Rififi to the technicolor joy of HEAVEN CAN WAIT. Although there are many other top ten lists that could be made, these movies would keep me going for a LONG time.

Although this post could be considered cliche, arbitrary or even downright lazy, there are rules…..

Trilogies are allowed, maximum of 4 (no more than a trilogy though, so you can’t select the POLICE ACADEMY series, not that you would…. I hope)
TV shows aren’t.
Box sets aren’t (unless it’s specifically a trilogy)
I say DVD, this of course includes blu ray. (That’s for Matt, the high def philistine )

So over to you good people. The ten movies that would keep you happy in times of hardship, let’s have it.

The Guest Spot # 1: Office Space

My friend and budding sports journalist big Al (Alistair Watt on his birth certificate) watched a movie recently and felt compelled to pen a review. He reads the blog with religious regularity, and occasionally throws in a comment, so I felt it appropriate to give it an airing here…… Over to you Al.

Liam Gallagher is not renowned for being a merchant of profound wisdom. However, he put it quite beautifully in the Oasis anthem ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ when he posed the question ‘Is it worth the aggravation, to find yourself a job, when there’s nothing worth working for?’. If you haven’t faced this dilemma before, you’re either lucky or brain-dead.

It was after yet another day of grim monotony at the insurance company for which I work, that I purchased Mike Judge’s ‘Office Space’ for 3 Scottish pounds. And, perhaps with the exception of the sausage supper I devoured barely an hour ago, it was the best 3 quid I’ve ever spent.

The film revolves around the day-to-day frustrations of Peter Gibbons (played by Ron Livingston), a reluctant employee of Initech corporation, a soulless technology company in Texas. From the very beginning the tone is set with Gibbons’ agonisingly slow commute to work followed by a dressing down from his obnoxious cretin of a boss, Bill Lumbergh (played by the excellent Gary Cole).
Lumbergh, a character derived from David Van Driessen in Judge’s more famous animated series ’Beavis and Butthead’, is a magnificent portrayal of the arsehole boss. Full of empty pleasantries and an arrogant swagger typical of certain types found in middle management.

The resentment that Lumbergh, and the general tedium of working for Initech, generates in the workforce is hilariously displayed by leading character Gibbons and his two colleagues Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman). Samir is furious that no-one can pronounce his name while Michael cannot bear having the same name as a famous 80’s singer.
Eventually, the trio embark on a plot to steal money from the company after Samir and Michael find out they are to be fired. But the aggression that working in a crap job can build up is best delivered in this scene where the disgruntled threesome take it out on a dodgy printer.

However, Office Space’s main strength is its wealth of other brilliant characters. Joanna (played by Jennifer Aniston) is a dippy Texan waitress who becomes the girlfriend of Gibbons, after they discover they share a love for kung-fu. Aniston’s role is brief but very enjoyable. The stressed out, paranoid Tom Smykowski (Richard Riehle) and mumbling Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) help to humourously complete the bleak picture of office life while Gibbons’ straight-talking neighbour Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) is equally funny. But my personal favourite, or favourites, are the two Bobs (played by Paul Willson and John C. McGinley) who are brought in to Initech to ’clear the decks’ of any deadwood. This scene sees the duo name and shame the soon to be sacked employees.

To conclude, Office Space is something of a hidden gem. Its comical take on the mediocrity often encountered in modern working life will strike a chord with anyone who has worked in a job they hate. And even for those who haven’t been so unfortunate, it’s a damn good watch.