Sunday, 25 October 2009
There's a hole in the world like a great black pit and it's filled with people who are filled with shit! And the vermin of the world inhabit it...
Director - Tim Burton
Tim Burton has created a nice little niche for himself. I love the man, I love his films, I love his style and I love his directorial vision but he does have a very distinctive style. Gothic fairytale with aspects of horror. Which is usually delivered in a style which isn't too horrific. Burton's full on Gothic nightmares are few and far between. The only other one I can really think of is Sleepy Hollow. This is the first one which revels in the gore and pain and torture. This is Burton at his darkest and most intense.
This is also a far more complex musical than Corpse Bride. I am a massive fan of Danny Elfman (another very distinctive artist with a very recognisable theme), however he cannot compete with the richness and complicated styles of Sondheim. The songs in this are a beast to play and an utter nightmare to sing.
Yet, despite these challenges the film is a quintessential Burton film, and drips with familiarity. Take the opening titles. In fact, take the opening titles of any Tim Burton film. They all convey a journey. Seriously. Go and watch one, they really do.
In this film we follow the trail of blood from the barber's chair to the Thames.
The only difference is that in this journey we're not accompanied by Danny Elfman's scores. Instead we have the epic instrumental of The Tale of Sweeney Todd. This makes me a bit sad because it is my favourite song in the play (full of pomp and OTT operatics) but did not fit the world that Burton had created.
The world of the film is savage. I have seen the film a few times and have been fortunate enough to see a couple of different stage versions, however I'm still surprised how dark the tale is.
With theatre it is subverted, you cannot show. You mostly imply. Cinema does not have these limitations.
The film has a very muted palette, dirty greys and muddy sepia tones. Broken only by the vibrant red of blood. The blood is so bright and so red that it never looks real. It is just an over exaggerated version of the horror. And oh what horror.
The characters themselves are all horrible, but almost all of them are fantastic to watch. I wish to begin with the exception. Anthony and Joanna - the young love interest. It seems almost traditional that the love interest will have the weakest songs. But it also has the weakest characters. Anthony is a massive wet drip, considering he is a sailor you'd think he was a tougher person. Not only that but Jamie Campbell Bower seems far too young to play the part. He is a very baby faced 19 year old. Joanna doesn't have much to do in this film besides get locked away in places (bedrooms, asylums, chests). The two are not very interesting. Contrary to that is the fabulous cameo character of Pirelli.
Sacha Baron Cohen truly shines as the exaggerated idiot of an Italian. But it plays to his strengths, and he is genuinely witty and a primping showboating joy to watch. It takes a lot to steal the show in a film so laden with talent that the mighty Anthony Stewart Head only gets one line, but steal the show he does.
Moving on to a trio of death eaters who also shine in this film. Starting with the baddies. The Beadle, played by Timothy Spall with a horrible sleazy, cowardly, vermin style which seems to characterise his more recent cinema outings. He is fabulous, his every movement almost dripping - he is so gloriously hateable. Moving on to Judge Turpin. Whilst not so outwardly and aesthetically repulsive (his wardrobe alone makes me wish I was a wealthy Victorian), the film takes great pains to illustrate just how cruel and perverse he is. A rapist, a bully, a sexual deviant. He is not a nice man.
On the other hand, Alan Rickman is a genius and plays the character with such subtlety. He comes off as bitter and tired and self centred. Whereas he could have come off as a cliche villain. But that is because Alan Rickman is brilliant. I hope you all love Alan Rickman.
We come to the last of our Harry Potter trio and to the beginning of the central pairing. Helena Bonham Carter always seems to get stick for her roles in her husband's films. As if she hasn't earned them. She is wonderful in this (again I think she is wonderful in a lot of things - one of the real highlights of Harry Potter) and her character is beautifully complex. The mix of wanting to make things better for Sweeney, but also trying to seduce him. The strange sensual, pitiful, grimy quality of her character. Watching her character blossom throughout the film. See By The Sea, for a rare splash of vibrant colour (plus Burton favourite of black and white stripes) and for Mrs Lovett's characterisation coming out in full.
She is a wonderful character and her death is the most horrific of all.
This film benefits from the fabulous cast (and the fabulous deaths). I've spoken about most of them but need to mention the most familiar part of any Tim Burton film, the mighty Johnny Depp. Depp is a formidable actor, and initially I was worried that he might be going a bit too Jack Sparrah in his role as Todd, but that was a massively misplaced fear - based on nothing but a cockney accent.
However Todd's character is beautifully displayed. I don't want to sit and recite the entire plot, but you have to accept that no one in this film has a good time, it is nothing but tragedy and woe. There are some amazingly sad single moments (such as the part where Todd is reunited with his wife and daughter without realising) but the true tragedy is Todd's descent.
With the exception of the flashbacks, Todd is never truly happy. He begins the film bitter and angry and hellbent on revenge, a surly ashen man with a lot on his mind. Gradually he lets the blood lust over come him. By the point he kills Mrs Lovett he is almost a demon, his blood smeared face glistening in the roaring fire.
The horror does not come from the (almost caricature) blood.
The horror comes from Todd's insanity.
Friday, 23 October 2009
The film really celebrates the journey of the children. It follows them from the beginning where they are prim and proper and under the thumb of their parents and their headmistress, the fabulous Joan Cusack. Throughout this film she is played as the much misunderstood authoritarian of the piece, however throughout it all I could hear was Jessie. Which is the problem with voice casting.
Gradually though, Jack Black helps the children find their individuality, their confidence, their sense of fun.
The most important part of the film is the final gig. Here you can see how fabulously the children work and play together. Following their journey, the final scene is a real goose bump raising heart warming moment of pure joy. I like to think that each child designed their own outfits and helped to create the real sense of unity and strength which shines from the film.
You can watch it in isolation and it is still really fun.
But it isn't as fun as seeing it in context...
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
I am sorry to bother you, but I could not tell no one else. I do not know no other woman who gives her body so frequently...
Director - Bob Fosse
Last year an invitation fluttered electronically onto my doormat. My Facebook doormat. It was an invitation for the New Sheridan Club's Christmas party and the theme was painfully precise. Weimar Berlin it shouted out. I was confused, I contacted outside help. "Oh!" came the exasperated sigh of a reply "Just watch Cabaret".
So a year later I did.
The film follows two friends/lovers as the parade through the decadence of Weimar Berlin and their scrapes and escapades throughout. What I like about this film is that the majority of the film is as flippant and as flighty as that sentence. Then it changes, after all... you can't have 1920's and 1930's Berlin without having a bit of a Nazi rise to power.
But before we speak of such things, let us look at the magic of the titular Cabaret.
The most important name to mention is Fosse. Him of the jazz dance wizardry. As we enter the world of the Cabaret, we are hit by Fosse's choreography with a full and enormous force. Scantily clad women thrust and dance and whirl, the camera is lost with flashes of colour and sequins and fish net tights. It is a gloriously dizzying experience which Moulin Rouge! also tries to emulate, and which I live in perpetual hope will be emulated every time I go to a burlesque.
That is the other reason why I love the scenes in the Cabaret. I'm a sucker for a bit of Burlesque.
As well as the scantily clad women, we are introduced to one of the finest characters in this little ensemble. The over made up, over camp, over fabulous Master of Ceremonies, played by the wonderful Joel Grey. His ridiculous accent matches his flitting through languages. He is a joy to watch and he appears in almost all of the musical numbers.
Just watch the song 'Money makes the world go round'. This song not only shows why I like the MC so much, but also why I like the film as a whole. Sublimely ridiculous with quite base humour, slinky dancing, fantastic clothing. It is just too much for a wannabe dandy like myself.
I have begun to talk about songs, for yes this is a musical (in case you didn't know) - but unlike traditional musicals, it has a well thought out structure. For all the songs are performed in the Cabaret itself, and are therefore neither illogical or necessary. If you really truly utterly hate songs in films, you can skip them and not miss anything.
The only song not performed in the Cabaret is 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me' which is such a gloriously chilling number, and such a clever way of showing the influence and power of the Nazi party. It is quite a difficult piece to watch. Watch it in all its wholesome aerian creepiness..
For whilst this is a love story between Sally (Liza Minnelli - I'll talk about her later) and Brian (Michael York, or as I like to call him... Basil Exposition) it is also a story about the dangers of the Nazi party. As Brian knows when he tries to fight them in the streets and ends up a broken man.
So intercut amongst the decadence and the cavorting and the champagne are moments of chilling brutality and beginnings of the prejudice and hatred towards Jews. There is a whole subplot about the romantic difficulties of a Jewish couple. I loved that couple because they met at an English lesson and despite both being German only speak to each other in very formal broken English, it is cute.
Throughout the story, these little Nazi moments leave a bitter taste in the viewer's mouth and the final scene seems quite potent to. In it, we emulate the first scene, with the MC's introduction to the cabaret and a pan across the audience, through distorted glass, so that the audience are all unfocused. Only this time, in the centre of the picture and totally in focus rests a swastika.
....If I had any journalistic sense I would have edited this blog better. That is the kind of edgy sentence you want to FINISH on... but I still have a little bit to say on Miss Liza Minnelli and her character Sally.
Mainly, I found Sally very annoying. I didn't like the way that she is constantly fishing for compliments. I didn't like the way that she says things solely to be seen as shocking or scandalous. I don't like the way she ALWAYS has to be the centre of attention and sulks when she isn't.
However all of that is forgiven when she dances.
Because she is one HELL of a performer on that there cabaret stage.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Director - Robert Zemeckis
Sometimes, you rewatch films from your youth and realise that they should not be children's films. Some films are far too harrowing. Others are far too adult. I'm sure I enjoyed the cartoons in the real world or the bright colours but I don't think I appreciated Roger Rabbit till I became an adult.
This may be a PG, this may be a world populated by cartoons. But this is a genuine film noir. The only thing that isn't in this film is serious swearing or violence. But swearing and violence is there in moderation, as is sex, death, blackmail and scandal. There are also some moments of true horror.
We are in Hollywood, circa 1946. A fabulous time (made even better by all the cartoons) Eddie Valient is a private eye. He used to be a private eye for 'toons. Until a 'toon dropped a piano on his brother and killed him. He has never gotten over the death of his brother and has become an alcoholic. A shambling joke of his former greatness. Oh yes... This is not a fluffy film. This is not sugar coated.
The film then becomes a classic tale of blackmail and double crossing. All orbiting the classic cartoon staple: Acme. Marvin Acme is bumped off. Marvin Acme owns the rights to Toon Town. The film is a race to find the will.
With a surprisingly twisty complex plot in place, the film's real charm is in the effortless way that real life interacts with the cartoon characters. This is made even better with the excellent use of characters. Characters from Disney and Warner Brothers and a myriad of sources hang out and banter together. This is highlighted with the utterly bonkers game of one up manship in the 'Pen and Ink Club'.
Intermingling within this smorgasbord of famous faces are the new characters. Who are almost all genius. Roger is a wonderful little bundle of emotion. He is adorable, but he pales in comparison with some of the other figures shown within the Roger Rabbit Universe (mainly because my dislike of Charles Fleischer clouds my judgement. I just find him VERY annoying). Firstly, the excellent Baby Herman - there is something distinctly 'wrong' with Baby Herman, with his 50 year old's lost and a 3 year old's pee pee. I like watching him smoke his cigars and be all misogynistic. It is funny. Whilst Baby Herman is inappropriate for a kid's film, he is not a touch on Jessica Rabbit. The impossibly proportioned femme fatale who is simply dripping in sex. Her every glance and silky step is insanely sexual. She is the ultimate cartoon fantasy. Apparently this is what she'd look like in real life. Scary and wrong. I'd prefer to assume she looks like Heidi Klum or Miss Diamond Blush. From her first sashay onto the stage with the Ki-Ora crows through to her every appearance as the red herring villainess, she is so sexual, so inappropriate. She rules.
The greatest figure though is Judge Doom. Firstly, Christopher Lloyd is a champion. I love him. He is a fabulous figure and Judge Doom is a sheer nightmare. A genuine figure of HORROR. His presence is menacing, vile and hateful, and his complete lack of 'a fair trial' is the most horrible part of the whole film.
See how we are introduced to DIP... A completely innocent character (albeit a weird squeaky shoe) is executed for no reason but to prove a point. It is chilling and menacing and so so cruel. I don't know how Doom didn't fuck up a generation of kids.
But... if Judge Doom doesn't fuck you up as Christopher Lloyd, he will as an evil evil toon. I don't think I've ever seen anything which unsettles me as much as Judge Doom being run over by a steamroller. I can't find that scene on youtube. But go hunt it out. Yes, it is obviously stop motion but it is still the most chilling and unsettling concept. Brilliant.
I'm also really interested in the wild speculation which is on the web with possible sequels and playing about with dimensions and perception. Very interesting.
Why should he get to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants? Why should everything work out for him? What makes him so goddamn special?
Director - John Hughes
I have been proved wrong. Toy Story was not my hundredth blog. Don't Look Now was.... I have been erroneous. I apologise.
This weekend I have enjoyed the delights of the London Film Festival and have been fortunate to see three fantastic films: The Road - bleak, harrowing and full of hope. Fantastic Mr Fox - Gorgeous anarchic excellence. Cold Souls - quirky and slow burn and lovely. However none of them are on the list (though the next time they do one, The Road should be there) so I won't dwell on it.
This morning, well... this afternoon... I dragged my broken hungover body off to watch films and watched this genius snapshot of John Hughes brilliance.
This film is brilliant because of the bizarre presentation, actively breaking the fourth wall as Ferris discusses his thoughts directly to the camera. Plans on how best to skip school, his thoughts on Cameron, his best friend. His worries about new school. Rather than a narration, every seen is punctuated by Ferris talking straight to camera, or looking straight to camera. This is a film where the lead allows us to share the joke, where the lead acknowledges that we are in on it.
It also helps us to relate quickly to Ferris, who is instantly likable - though it may be early on, this is a career best performance from Matthew Broderick. Ferris is charismatic, witty, brave and impossibly cool. IMPOSSIBLY cool. Like, so cool that the film becomes a fantasy - there is no way Ferris would get away with the shit he pulls. But he does. With aplomb. It is not a serious situation. It is a fantasy and Ferris is pure wish fulfillment.
Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.
I mean - just look at the twist and shout scene. That is fantasy. That is not real life,
Whilst Ferris is fabulous, the other cast are equally exciting. Firstly, I wish to discuss Ed, the dean of Ferris' college, played by Jeffrey Jones. I was about to say that he is another figure of excellent 80s and 90s cinema (especially playing satan in Stay Tuned) who is no longer prominent. However... IMDB informed me he is in Deadwood. Another reason to check it out.
As the principal of the school, Ed seems woefully unprofessional. Skipping school in order to spy on someone who he believes (correctly) is truanting. Rather than go through the official channels, he decides to break into Ferris' home and spy on him. Cue hundreds of hilarious hi jinks as he gets gradually more bedraggled, attacked and ridiculed.
John Hughes did not treat his teacher characters kindly.
One teacher that does get away without looking ridiculous is the Economics Teacher played by Ben Stein. I really like Ben Stein's performances in films. He is so monotone and dead pan. His constant repetition of Bueller is a tiny but hilarious scene.
The final, important character is Cameron. He is so fabulous. His transformation from uptight to relaxed and joyous to his final angry desperate breakdown. He is the pivotal character in this film. It is about the power that Ferris has over his friends - it is wonderful.
The most moving scene in the entire film is the moment where Cameron looks at "A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat. The editing is done so wonderfully and Alan Ruck's performance is so moving. It is lovely to watch.
This film is all about Cameron. Cameron and his father's fabulous fabulous car. It may be Ferris Bueller's day off, but it is Cameron Frye's film. He is the one who is changed. He is the one who has the experiences. He is the one who has the development. He is also the one who trashes a potentially priceless car and has the most repercussions to deal with.
Ferris doesn't change - he is just a flighty breeze. Strutting through life with a confidence and brazenness which no one else can touch.
Like I said.... Ferris Bueller is impossibly cool!
Friday, 16 October 2009
Director - Nicolas Roeg
Once upon a time, in 2005, I went to Venice with my University. It is a beautiful city filled with shops full of beautiful masks. However, during our travels we went on a gondola trip. A cheap gondola trip. We learnt a valuable lesson. Don't trust a cheap gondolier. It was not long before we were completely lost and wandering the back streets of the slowly sinking city.
As we got ever lost in the twists and turns of the residential area, a small girl ran out wearing a red mac. We nearly imploded in fear. This is the lasting effect that this film has.
It is not right to call this film a horror film, though it does deal with very real horrors. There is one scene that is probably more famous (and more parodied) than any other scene, the great twist, shock revelation at the end, which is a shocking and horrific moment. However I would like you to cast it from your mind and look at the rest of the film.
Rather than jumps and scares, this is a slow, long, lingering look at oppression. It is filled with symbolism which I won't even pretend to understand and which has the bleakest final message I have seen since The Fog.
The film begins with the death of Christine Baxter as her parents sit and relax in their main room. It is here that we also see the film's sporadic editing. Spilt glasses cut to balls dropped in ponds cut to wine smudging slides cut to water over the face of a drowning child. It is all very very graceful and makes the whole drowning section feel dream like and fractured. Like distant memories of the event rather than a depiction of the event itself. It also shows some amazing grief. Donald Sutherland (who looks spectacularly 70s throughout) is near paralysed with emotion and wails and wails to the sky. It is an incredibly powerful piece of cinema.
Not content with offing one of their children in the first 10 minutes, John and Laura Baxter send their son off to boarding school and jet off to Venice.
It is whilst in Venice that the film begins to play with imagery and the concept of fate. This film is about John Baxter's inevitable march to his own destruction. What I find really disturbing is the film's introduction of the paranormal and the really strange sisters. I think a certain element of the sisters are a red herring. Notably the fact that they appear EVERYWHERE. They provide solace to Laura by talking about Christine but they are a source of annoyance to John, for whilst Laura needs to remember, John needs to work and hope to forget.
The whole film seems to be presented like thoughts. Where the initial scene was fractured and broken, the rest of the film seems very very oppressive. Almost every person met in the film is painted in a sinister light, as if they have some kind of hidden ulterior motive. When this combines with the increasing number of near death experiences, or murders which occur it helps to show the exact frame of mind John is in. Another very brave way to show this is through the medium of sex scenes. Again the editing gets to show us the true depth of the scene, as by alternating between them having sex and them getting ready, happy. It shows a frantic grab at normality, at being a couple.
And that's what is truly remarkable with this film, there are so many layers and so much hidden depth all to tell the tale of a couple trying to overcome their depth.
It is cruel that at the one point where John thinks he may have found a resolution he is destroyed. Rather than bringing hope, he has brought along his own destruction and be it a real angry dwarf, or fate, or symbolism in context within the film, the ending is still shocking.
Monday, 12 October 2009
And this is the Buzz Lightyear aisle. Back in 1995, short-sighted retailers did not order enough dolls to meet demand.
Director - John Lassiter
Times are changing when it comes to children. Where Toy Story begins with a cardboard town and a toy western, Toy Story 2 begins in the vivid landscapes of space. A fully functioning, Jetpack flying, laser blasting, forcefield toting Buzz Lightyear adventuring their way to defeat the evil emperor Zurg. Only to be blasted to smithereens. Game Over. Welcome to the world of computer games. The geek in me is impressed that this is all played on a SNES (excellent graphics).
This film is impressive because it continues the themes of Toy Story, but inverts the story. So, where Toy Story was about fear of rejection and Buzz realising he is less than he initially thought, Toy Story 2 continues the fear of rejection but is about Woody realising he is more than he initially thought. A collectors item.
The film also continues ideas that were only slightly hinted at in the first film. Here Al's Toy Barn moves from being a fleeting advert for Buzz Lightyear, to becoming the pivotal surroundings as Woody is stolen to be part of a Woody's Round Up collection sold to a museum in Japan. This also gives us the films new characters.
The collection of Barbies add a fun slightly scary dead eyed perma-grin addition to the toy canon. But... as we all know from Small Soldiers. There is nothing scarier than living Barbie dolls.
However the real joyous new additions are the Woody's Round Up Gang of Jessie, Bullseye and Prospector Pete. They continue the franchise's theme of rejection. Pete is a bitter toy, still mint in box, he's never been played with and he believes that children just destroy toys. He tries to corrupt Woody by telling him that though Andy may care for him now but he will grow up, and Woody WILL be neglected. This is just strengthened by Jessie's story (which, I'm ashamed to say, I found the dullest part of the film in 1999 and still do, 10 years on). The idea of a child outgrowing their toys is also (I believe) the theme for the upcoming Toy Story 3.
However, what really shines about this film is just how silly it is - and it is REALLY silly. The film is self referential (a longstanding Pixar tradition) - playing with the concept of the Buzz Lightyear dolls selling out in 1995, including Geri from Geri's Game as the toy fixer and bringing back an arrogant ridiculous Buzz. This time with utility belt.
But the real thing that is odd about this film is the sheer number of movie references from outside Pixar's canon. From the first scene where musical blogs play the introductory tones of 2001. Through to Mr Potato Head using is bowler like Odd Job or Rex being used for a cheap Jurassic Park pun - the film is full of homages. However, the best one is the excellent, almost frame for frame, version of Empire Strikes Back using Utility Belt Buzz and Emperor Zurg, even down to fake James Earl Jones voices. Why is it only the Buzz Lightyear range that fail to realise they're toys?
But most ridiculous of all - is that Andi Peters has a voice cameo in it. I find it really weird, even though it is one line it always jars in the film. Find the one British voice in Toy Story 2. Andi Peters.
This is a film which covers a lot of the themes and plot points of Toy Story but expands on them further. It is about the lengths one would go for friendship. It is about overcoming the fear of being rejected and neglected. It is about co operation and loyalty.
But mostly it is about the importance of being loved.
One minute you're defending the whole galaxy, and, suddenly, you find yourself sucking down Darjeeling with... Marie Antoinette and her little sister.
Director - John Lasseter
Yes indeedy... this is my 100th film. It as taken a pitifully long time to get this far. I almost feel ashamed. But I'm trucking along at a much better pace now. We're gathering up steam and we'll hit 200 before you know it! I promise ya.
My Sunday ended up being delightfully Pixar-tinted. Starting with this, their first feature film, followed by Up - which has a delightfully poignant introductory sequence followed by 90 minutes of Looney Tunes style insanity and finally a really interesting South Bank documentary on Pixar.
Naturally - I'll be following it up today with Toy Story 2. Makes sense.
It makes me feel disgustingly old to think that Toy Story came out 14 years ago. 14 YEARS ago. That is just strange. I remember going to see it at the cinema and the excitement of seeing the Disney logo appear in glorious CGI. My how things have changed now....
All it takes is the Disney castle to show you how CGI has developed in the last 15 years, and yet Toy Story still feels surprisingly modern. Yes some parts have visually dated. Especially the organic stuff - the humans feel a bit dead eyed and vacant and Sid's dog Scud is just rubbish in comparison to the new dogs who appear in Up, however elements like the shiny plastic toys still could compete against other, non Pixar, films.
What really impresses about Toy Story though, is the story and the characterisation. Whilst the CGI may have been the initial draw (back in 1995) it is Pixar's amazing depth of character and richness of story that keeps the viewer interested. It is also the bravery of their films. Toy Story may well be a buddy movie told using toys, but it is also far more than that - it is a film about rejection and the fear of replacement. It is a film that addresses the fear of feeling inferior and helps you to tackle it. It is a very strong message told with such lovable characters, letting us see childhood favourites become smart ass shit stirrers and creating new childhood favourites.
As well as tackling rejection and the story of cooperation (after all Buzz and Woody learn to work together), Toy Story tackles some pretty dark moments.
Firstly Buzz's breakdown at the realisation that he isn't a toy. Going through moments of hysteria, despondency and finally realisation. At times it is pretty tough to watch.
The moments where Buzz realises he is a toy is the beginning of Pixar's tradition of putting immensely moving performances into their cartoons. Considering how ridiculed he is, and how odd some of his songs are, Randy Newman's work works really well in the film and this sequence is quite the tear jerker.
As are the dark moments. For Pixar don't shy away from the potentially scary (in what is, after all, a kid's film). Sid's toys are twisted bastardised mutants but are also a prime example of Disney's main message - Don't judge a book by its cover. These twisted mutants have hearts of gold - and Ducky is the most stupidly genius character in the film. Mainly because I love Pez dispensers.
However, Woody's final plan to save Buzz and stop Sid is dark. Through and through. Zombie dolls lurching out of the mud... Woody even evokes the spirit of the exorcist. The poor child will be traumatised forever.
But he is a bully - so fuck him. After all, for everybody else the film ends happily and the toys are more contented at the end of the film then they ever have been before.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films - these things matter.
Director - Stephen Frears
Narration is a tricky cinematic feat. It is perfectly normal for a book to be written in first person, or to be written in a style that directly targets its audience.
"You may be wondering, dear reader, why I - a humble plumber from Constantinople did blah blah blah...."
However this is a very difficult thing to convey in filmic terms. A narrator and breaking the fourth wall is a very risky move. Which can sometimes work and sometimes feel like a lazy inability to convey emotion.
Rather than a narration, we have a protagonist who is also the narrator. The riskiest of risky moves as he flips out of the film to tell the viewer something, whilst surrounded by oblivious co-stars and extras.
This film presents itself as a story of love and music, but it isn't. It is a story about lists. John Cusack's Rob has a near-autistic obsession with lists. He loves music and records, OBSESSES over music and records because it can be compartmentalised, put into lists. Top 5 side 1 track 1s, Top 10 live performances between 1969 and 1973 etc etc. This film is also about his inability to grasp relationships and romance. He represents it as this big, oppressive, confusing entity which he can't grasp - because he can't organise it.
I would not be surprised, ladies and gentleman, if Mr Rob Gordon is perhaps on the autistic spectrum.
It would also explain his store which is deliberately elitist, difficult to find and rude. The only reason people go there is it is the only place with the records they need in stock.
I find it hard to like Rob for a lot of these reasons. But mainly because he feels that he deserves better, that a better life should be handed to him. He spends 90% of the film complaining. Breaking down former situations and focusing on the negatives, bitching, moaning and being infuriatingly 'woe is me' about everything.
The film basically follows Rob after he has been dumped and he dismantles his top 5 worse break ups and revisits his exes to get closure. Slowly he starts to realise that he isn't the destructive force he feared he was. That the relationships ended naturally (or in one excellent scene, that he himself ended the relationship).
Each moment is introduced with a flashback of the relationship, and they are faultless. I don't if it is the genius of John Cusack as an actor or if it is excellent use of make up and wardrobe. But, teenage Rob and Mid 20s Rob all the way up to present day Rob. Each is a perfect and real feeling snapshot. Even the kid they get to play 14 year old Rob looks and acts like John Cusack, it is a really impressive feat.
I also love that there are some really weird choices for cameos which motivate Rob on his journey. Firstly Tim Robbins as Ian, the man whom Laura (Rob's most recent ex) has left him for. Despite the cameo in Anchorman, I still see Tim Robbins as a SERIOUS ACTOR - mainly, I think, down to Shawshank Redemption. So I found it really odd to see him appearing as this middle aged business orientated - new ager full of self importance and pomposity. I went to uni in Brighton. I know the type.
His cameo also leads to one of the best scenes. Due to the fact that this film acknowledges it is a film (through John Cusack's to camera narration) it means that a singular scene of fantasy can be forgiven. When it is as brilliant as this - it is more than forgiven, it is LAUDED.
The only other flight of fantasy in the film is the excellent cameo from The Boss himself, Springsteen - who tells Rob to go on this journey of self discovery. That cameo is excellent because Springsteen is excellent. Like a Boss.
These individual reunions help him to discover something. He is still in love with his current ex and finally Rob's character begins to deepen.
He seems to spend the entire film expecting the worst. He expects the worst from his relationships so he's always on the look out for a better option (which naturally leads to his relationships failing). So the finale of the film is great because it proves him wrong on so many levels.
Firstly - he gets back together with Laura and the film's journey of reunions showed him that the 'fantasy woman' doesn't exist and that he does love Laura and he does want to be with her.
Secondly the 'no good punks' who clutter up his kids are talented musicians and people like their music. So he promotes them.
Finally (and most refreshingly, for me as a viewer) - after an entire film of mocking his colleague Barry's band. They play and they are excellent. Barry is the scene stealing dervish of arrogant chaos that is Jack Black - and Rob is convinced that his band, Sonic Death Monkey, will be awful. Laura asks them to play a gala event and Rob tries to get them to back out.
Luckily the band is fab - and Rob's reaction is the most important part of the film.
This is not a film about music. This isn't even about lists. It is about realising there is more to the world than the impossible dream and to embrace the good that surrounds you rather than focus on the flaws.
Friday, 9 October 2009
You have exactly eight hours and fifty-four minutes to think about why you're here. You may not talk, you will not move from these seats.
Director - John Hughes
I was going to watch this film months ago. As a fitting tribute to the late great John Hughes. However I don't own it. It arrived today and I watched straight away and I had forgotten how spot on it is.
The film follows a bunch of teenagers who have been sent to detention on a Saturday and who all conveniently all into stereotypes. So we have Andy, the Jock, played by Emilio Estevez. Claire, the Prom Queen, played by Molly Ringwald. Brian, the Nerd, played by Anthony Michael Hall, John, the Criminal, played by Judd Nelson and Allison, the Basket Case, played by Ally Sheedy. Together they make up the titular Breakfast Club.
The thing is, this film embraces the stereotypes. Wants the stereotypes. It is asking you to begin the film with preconceptions about the characters, because each character has preconceptions about the others. We know that High School (American more so than British) is a very cliquey place. See exhibit one or two for further evidence. Cliques do not intermingle and therefore would not know the others in any real detail. Each person is stuck in a room with strangers and their own personal prejudices and preconceptions.
The first half of the film and the characters play up to their stereotypes. Andy is uptight and angry and aggressive. John is a destructive dick. Claire is prissy, snobbish, stuck up. Brian is trying SO hard to get along with everyone and make everyone behave whilst Allison is just weird.
Then slowly, the group bond and the film becomes so much deeper. The characters get to know each other (and get progressively stoned). They begin to enjoy each others company and begin to tell home truths. There is a sort of 'prison' essence to it all "why are you here"... after all this is detention. The confessions for what they did and why they did it are so beautiful and poignant. This film may begin as a silly school romp with stereotype characters but before long we're exploring the deepest darkest recesses of the teenage psyche. Looking into their longing for attention and the massive pressures they get from teachers, parents and their friends and social standing.
John Hughes is an amazing writer and an excellent director. To create something that is so deep from such a light and fluffy premise. During his golden period, when he was king of the 80s, he really understood the teenage mind and how to truly explore it.
Each member of the group takes a while to become accustomed to their new found social circle. By the time everyone is friends, Claire openly admits she would still ignore them at school. This is not a film where *click* everyone gets on. This is full of all the stupid little hang ups that follow teenagers. Full of arguments, shouting and tension. But resolving in an amazing friendship of 5 people.
That's what makes the film genius.
So... I've never summed up my views on a film so quickly. I'm clearly becoming a bit more concise. There are some other things I want to mention.
Firstly... there is nothing really cinematic in scope in this film. There is very little in it which isn't set in the library. This could easily be a play. Yet, despite this it remains a captivating and filmic study of character and a wonderful slice of 80s. That is down to excellent direction though.
Secondly I think Brian is easily the best character. His pathetic neediness throughout is balanced shockingly by the admission of his attempted suicide - though he accidentally buys a flare gun which goes off in his locker.... hence his detention. He spends the whole film desperate to be liked and desperate to rebel (see how quickly he runs to join the people smoking weed at the back of the room). Brian is a hen pecked nerd who finally gets the chance to live through his new friends. It is a shame he gets stuck writing an essay whilst the other 4 pair up. Poor little Brian.
Thirdly... I know people are probably supposed to find Molly Ringwald more attractive, however... I think Ally Sheedy is really pretty in this. She looks lovely after her makeover from Claire at the film's conclusion, however she does lose some of her allure. There is something in her strangeness, her black eyeliner and scraggly clothes that just makes me fancy her quite a bit...
So there you have it... This is a film with one big message. Do not take people at face value. It doesn't try to be anything cleverer than it is, and because of that it delivers the message with elegance and dignity whilst painting the judgemental adults as complete violent pricks, and the non judgemental adults as genuinely kind. The Janitor doesn't take the kid's shit, but doesn't patronise them, whilst Mr Vernon gets angrier and angrier and more ridiculous throughout the film.
It also provides banging musical numbers. Sound quality is rubbish but you get the idea. Here is a better version of the song (only without the choreography).
Whilst I have you (my what short paragraphs I'm writing), if you haven't seen this yet, check it out. I know John Hughes died in August, but this is first of his films I've seen in the challenge and this is a stunning stunning tribute.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Director - Alan Parker
I love Paul Williams. The man is a legend. He wrote some of the best songs of the 70s and is brilliant in every medium. From cartoon to performing with Muppets. Nothing can phase him and he played the greatest crap villain ever.
Despite how much I LOVE Phantom of the Paradise, Bugsy Malone is Paul's real high point. A superb film and the greatest school play ever. I wanted, more than anything, to be Fat Sam - I certainly had/have the physique for it. However our school never did the show, so I just watch the show and enjoy the sheer bonkers wonderfulness.
The genius behind this film is the juxtaposition with children and the gritty film noir of the 20's gangster era. It is the same with Who Framed Roger Rabbit - it is a brave move to show this gritty world and both show the world as dark and gritty. The children or cartoons just make it all a bit more palatable.
In this film - all the gangsters and citizens are children. This opens up moments of necessary tweaking. My personal favourite are the cars. They putt and puff and sound like proper 30s cars, though they are pedal powered. It is a silly little touch - and adds a lightness to the car chases and drive by shootings which occur during the film.
However... the main change is also the films strongest selling point. Splurge Guns! I can't think of a single person in the world who wouldn't want a splurge gun. Splurge guns are excellent and not only add a fabulous level of mess, but also provide a useful bypass to gun violence and blood shed. If you get cream in your face (from a pie or a splurge) then you are OUTA THERE.
Cue many a pie face montage and general creamy madness.
Whilst the film brilliantly tackles aspects of gangster life, there are some elements which will never be comfortable when acted with children. Namely the dolly girls dancing in the speakeasy. My Name is Tallulah is one of those overtly sexual songs that just seems weird when performed by children.
Whilst we're on the topic of Tallulah let me cover an important point. Jodie Foster's breakout role was in the same year as Iris in Taxi Driver. As oddly sexual the Tallulah scenes are, they're not a patch on playing a child prostitute dating an abusive paedophile pimp.
The other thing about Jodie Foster is the degree with which she outshines every child actor in this film. The problem with children is they're not the best actors. For every awesome natural child you get a lot of freaky robot adult-kids or people who are just pants. Scott Baio may have succeeded with Happy Days and other TV shows, but I think it is clear why Jodie Foster is the only one with a big film career. She slinks and simmers in every scene and steals the camera from every person.
There isn't a single person in Bugsy Malone who out-performs Jodie Foster.
The strange acting isn't helped by the bizarre lip syncing used in the film. Whilst the children voice the characters for the majority of the film, they lip sync to adults during the songs. Most of the time this feel very very strange. See Fizzy, the sweeper, performing Tomorrow. It feels weird hearing cracked and sultry tones come from Albin Jenkins' slight frame.
However, at times it works just superbly. The ridiculous and comic nature of Bad Guys is only made better by the disproportionately deep voices used throughout the song. The voices suit the dances, the comedy and the tone of that song.
The film flits from serious songs to fabulously slapstick songs and whilst the tone changes effortlessly, the voices don't always blend so well.
The songs are also fab. Fab fab fab. the final song - the reprise of Bad Guys leading into 'Give a Little Love' sets the moral for the film. The film does have a moral, work together instead of fight. The whole film highlights this without being preachy. The film's tone is adult but childish, sensible but fun. Whilst there are a lot of flaws in the film (at one point... the extras are staring directly INTO the camera), the flaws are outshone by the quirks, idiosyncrasies and the fabulous tone of the film.
It is a film that aspire to. I don't think Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes are the only adults who have wanted to use their position to recapture the fun.
It injects a joi de vivre into the viewer. A sense of fun that everyone wants to capture.
That was why the mighty quadrophobe always used to cover Bad Guys. Just to see that child like smile grow across those cynical drunk faces.
THAT is the power of cinema ladies and gentleman!
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Enter my lord. Come from your prison. Come from your grave, for the moon is a risen. Welcome, my lord.
Director - Jack Clayton
Is there anything more scary than weird children? There are so many films that focus on children being possessed, or acting unusually or developing cruel and manipulative powers. The mix of evil with innocence is a terrifying but intoxicating and you can understand why it is such a popular subject. It is also a timeless subject, for whilst the acting may have dated in this film, the chills certainly haven't.
This film follows Miss Giddens, the new nanny for two children (Miles and Flora) who appear to be going through various stages of weirdness and may or may not be possessed. Flora seems the more innocent of the two, her unusual behaviour mostly being running away to dance in unusual places. Miles, however, is an odd little bundle. He seems adult before his time. He speaks to Miss Giddens in an odd patronising manner, full of 'darlings' or 'did I startle you my dear', which, whilst it fits the tone of the Victorian era, does not fit the tone of a 10 year old boy. I haven't even begun to talk about the flirting and innuendo and, at one point, sexual advances he brings us with Miss Giddens. He has been raised by his terrific cad of an uncle (the superb, and hilarious, cameo from Michael Redgrave - just get past the credits to see how excellent he is, I aspire to him) but even so... a child of 11 or 12 wouldn't act that way. Specially not in those days. It just wasn't Victorian.
But look at Miles, he was also one of the children from the Village of the damned... imagine being typecast at such a young age (though he does do posh and creepy so very very well).
Miss Giddens becomes obsessed with the unusual behaviour she sees from the children, but also from figures which appear around the building. Figures she discovers are Miss Jessel, the former nanny who committed suicide and Peter Quint, the stable boy and Miss Jessel's lover, who slipped in the ice and died.
For, this is a good old fashioned ghost story and a fabulous one at that. With a script co-written by the Mighty Truman Capote, it smacks of quality and class. Whilst some of the acting and the incredibly plummy accents may feel dated, the film's impact hasn't aged as it doesn't use special effects. The ghosts don't fade, or walk through walls. One minute they're there and the next minute they're not.
As things get progressively worse, the film becomes genuinely chilling. I draw you the scene in which Nurse Gidden searches the corridor for the source of a mysterious voice. This scene is scary. Most horror films don't retain their chills. I find old horror films to be a bit hokey, mainly down to the make up and special effects which have dated. But this... this is unnerving.
You can see how this film has influenced many modern horrors, The Others is almost an all out homage to it (with fabulous subversion) and whilst visually he is very different, Del Toro uses the same sense of weirdness and unease in the ghost films he directs and produces.
The only negative thing I have about it is that the film sets up an excellent 'what if' which is never really exploited. Everyone talks as if, perhaps.. there aren't ghosts. What if Miss Giddens is imagining it all - what if it is SHE who is a danger to the children, rather than the other way round.
Whilst this is implied at times, the evidence in the film is too overwhelming... She starts hearing and seeing ghostly deeds before knowing of the ghosts.
Despite not reading it (though I will now hunt it out) I have heard that the book, The Turn of The Screw, on which this film is based, manages to keep it a lot more ambiguous. But that is something far more easily done on the printed page. I think if the film ended without a clear answer of whether ghosts were involved or not... we'd be dealing with a far darker and far more interesting film.
Despite that it is still worth watching and is a marvellous film. It is enchanting, even though every scene with Miles will make you feel uncomfortable. The boy is a wonderful tightened spring of barely concealed malice and inappropriate sexuality.
PS - I can't believe I essentially finished this blog without talking about the clothes. I love the Victorian era. Love love love. Go back up there and watch the video with the Uncle again. Isn't his outfit swell! I wish I could dress like that all day every day.
Monday, 5 October 2009
Director - Tim Burton
All has been rectified. I have watched the last of the four Batman films to be in the list, and indeed the earliest.
However, don't let the title fool you. Despite everything, this is not a film about Batman. This is a film about Joker.
The film begins in the deep, Gothic and fantastically murky architecture of Gotham City. The criminals and hoodlums are nervous there is talk of a vampire bat stalking the streets and picking off the muggers. We are introduced to Gotham after the establishment of Batman and we will not get anything like an origin story, besides a flashback of Bruce Wayne's parents getting shot at. That is all the motivation Batman seems to need. But considering how dull (once again) the character of Batman is in Burton's world, it doesn't really matter. This film follows one man. Jack Napier aka The Joker.
Jack Nicholson's Joker is an odd character. It seems that his insanity is only there for show as when he is 'behind the scenes' with his goons he becomes a lot more serious and grounded. He isn't as manic and unpredictable as he could be. Instead he is a very powerful goon with the trappings of a clown.
Whilst we're not given a Batman origin, we are given The Joker's origin as the powerful mobster, Jack Napier is dropped into chemicals he emerges, mutilated, white faced, green haired and laughing like a loon. I can only think of one bleachy type chemical that makes hair green - so I assume it was chlorine he fell into. I think the acid story is a bit silly, and whilst I promise not to continually compare with Heath Ledger's Joker, I find the concept of a villain who chooses to wear make up, far scarier than a mutilated one.
Saying that, we do not know JUST how mutilated the Joker was at the start. The Joker is obscured to the villain until after reconstructive surgery. The surgery scene is probably the darkest and most chilling moment in the film. A beautiful piece of cinema with with the grimy hospital visuals and The Joker's chilling laugh. It sets up a lot of potential for The Joker to be this genuinely scary clown faced psycho. Sadly, Burton goes down the more jokey 'zany' route which kind of cheapens a lot of his scenes. Specifically the art gallery scene. I found it really disappointing to see The Joker with his minions dancing around to Prince with a ghetto blaster and matching Joker branded outfits. It just seems very tacky.
However, that scene drives home a big point. This is not a re-imagining of Batman. This is taking the existing camp and brightly coloured batman world and putting it into a darker environment. Joker has the same minions and brightly coloured cars that he had in the hyper bright original. He cavorts with mimes and clowns and is generally a cartoon. There is not a huge difference between Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero. Just more graphic violence.
This is Tim Burton's take of the old Adam West series. He has not recreated the characters. Just made them a bit crueler, a bit savage, a bit more Gothic.
I haven't really got much to more to say - as I covered a lot of the Tim Burton Batman universe in this morning's blog. However there are three points I wish to bring up.
Firstly... I believe Danny Elfman's theme may be the greatest thing he has ever written. Even better than the Simpsons or Nightmare before Christmas. It is justifiably iconic. It is very good.
Secondly... Alfred is still amazing and Michael Gough is still the best thing in Wayne Manor (even Kim Basinger can't best him).
Finally, The Joker is meant to be Batman's permanent foe. The never ending threat. His very opposite. Killing him off at the end feels cheap.
We want The Joker to return, and mess things up again, because Batman and The Joker share a lot of history.
Director - Tim Burton
Ah Television... Teacher, Mother, Secret Lover. Also, ruiner of all my attempts at plan and order. Last night whilst scanning the chans I was delighted hear twinkly twinkly music box tones of Danny Elfman, and the see the Penguin's wicker pram prison floating into the sewers.
So yes! I know it is a sequel but I'll sort that out in my own time thank you very much... right now I was going to talk about why I love Batman Returns so very much.
Gotham city suits Tim Burton's mentality and visual aesthetic. The crumbling, decaying, vandalised shadow of former art deco resplendence. It is the same pseudo-Gothic streak which has appeared in almost every film Tim Burton has ever made. The difference is that in the original Batman, Burton worked with the Joker - a dancing prancing explosion of vivid purples and greens. Joker thrusts himself in the lime light, he is not the shadow dwelling outsider which Burtons uses so frequently and comfortably.
Luckily, in Returns we have some amazing villains. This is a film where Catwoman and Penguin steal every scene they're in. Let me begin with someone who is (in my humble opinion) the (very close) second greatest movie Batman villain ever.
Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin. Tim Burton's depiction of the Penguin is a very brave departure from the comics. The orginal Penguin getting his nickname from the fact that he was short, fat, had a beaky nose and wore a tuxedo. His character was solely a mobster, with a fashion sense that I approve of.
In Burton's universe, the Penguin gets his nickname from his malformed flippered hands, he has grown up all his life in the sewers and abandoned pools of Gotham Zoo, raised by penguins.
It gives the character more of an obvious motivation and hatred of mankind. It also means that we get a fabulously grotesque villain.
There are a few things about the Penguin that I never understand. I love the fact that he was raised by a bunch of circus hooligans (including the omnipresent Vincent Schavelli who has been in every film or TV show ever) as a freak bird boy and that e therefore has a deep loathing for normality and the outside world. I think his motivation and his physical deformities are perfect... I just don't think his plan (to steal the first born male of every family in Gotham) is ever really explained. To me it seems that Oswald plays a bit at being Mayor and when that fails he tries to steal all the children, but more on Penguin's grand finale later.
The other thing I don't understand is just how rich Oswald Cobblepot is supposed to be. I'm aware that the Cobblepots are a wealthy family, second only to the Waynes. However, Oswald is their rejected son, left in a sewer to die! He will not have inherited this fortune. Neither would he have acquired any major skills in life whilst being raised by penguins and circus freaks. Yet... despite all this, The Penguin has an impressive armoury of weapons to hand, all adapted from umbrellas - including a bloody helicopter umbrella. He also has a rubber duck hydraulic car and a toy Batmobile (fully functional of course). Now, I'm no fool - if you are a rich and powerful mobster in Gotham you can probably afford to have all these toys made for you. But.... THIS MAN LIVES IN THE SEWERS. He shouldn't be able to afford such ridiculous fripperies nor should he have the technical know how to hack into the Batmobile and take it over. Because, I believe.... that the Batmobile would be a pretty well fortified.
So whilst I love The Penguin on an aesthetic level, and love Danny DeVito's depiction of him, I think his criminality leaves a lot to be desired.
At least Catwoman's criminality is never called into question. Oh yes, cast aside all thoughts of Halle Berry, (well... maybe not ALL thoughts. Her Miss Stone will always have a special place in my pre-adolescent memories) Michel Pfeiffer is where it is at in her scandalous rag tag home made catsuit.. Selina Kyle is killed by her boss and revived by cats. Her motivation is simple. Kill her boss and cause a lot of chaos along the way.
Her only reason to hate Batman is that he got in the way of her fun. She is gloriously petty, but I'm pretty sure she is also solely the reaction of a nervous breakdown. The few times we see Selina, post death, she is not the confident lithe figure with a voice like honeyed velvet. She is frazzled, often talking to herself. Jittery, jumpy and scared. Look at the scene which creates Catwoman, that is a depiction of complete traumatic mental collapse.The poor girl is seriously fucked up. I love that it ends with the flickering HELL HERE... which sums up the entire transformation.
It is only during her flirting with Bruce Wayne, that some of Catwoman's sexuality creeps into Selina and we see her out of her catsuit but retaining the confidence. However I think it might have been better to omit that from the film. The complications that come from Batman and Catwoman fighting whilst Bruce and Selina date needed a lot more screen time. Catwoman isn't the primary focus of the film, this is Penguin's film with Catwoman as a subplot. Bruce Wayne's date with Selina is the subplot of a subplot and whilst the point where they both realise their alter egos is a lovely moment, the whole subplot is show in too little detail.
I think Tim Burton knew this. For whilst The Penguin dies a bloody drowning mess, Catwoman escapes with one of her nine lives in tact. Perhaps setting her up for a future film. Perhaps with Billy Dee Williams' Harvey Dent from the original Batman film.
The final villain that needs to be mentioned is Mr Max Shreck (named, one would presume, after the legendary horror actor Max Shreck), the ruthless business man who is trying to steal power from Gotham and decides to do so by helping The Penguin get into power. He also killed Selina Kyle. He is your typical ruthless super rich business man. he is Christopher Walken with the most ridiculous white haired wig.
He is manipulative and twisted and he dies in a suitably gruesome way. Electrocuted and burnt to death whilst kissing Michelle Pfeiffer.
I realise I have got this far into the film without really talking about Batman. That is because he is BORING. Certainly the most boring element of the film. He isn't given much room for depth or characterisation. This is a showcase for the villains.
The most exciting part of his crime fighting arsenal is the mighty Michael Gough as his butler Alfred. That man is a legend and must be celebrated thusly.
And so... we come to the end of my blog and to my biggest gripe with the film. The Penguin's final scheme.
To kidnap babies using brain washed penguins with rocket packs.
WHAT?! That is nonsense! I know that (unlike the Nolan eras) this has no semblance at being grounded in reality, but even so... there is a line, and it has been crossed.
The stupid nonsense of the final evil deed leads me to make a bold and heartbreaking final point.
Tim Burton is responsible for getting the ball rolling which allowed Joel Schumacher to fuck up the franchise!
Sunday, 4 October 2009
It's money and adventure and fame. It's the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o'clock tomorrow morning.
Directors - Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack
It was difficult to find out who directed King Kong... couldn't find it in the credits at all. For these are the 30s baby! Where producers manned the loudhailers and called the shots.
There are several films in this blog which have begun at BFI Southbank's Museum of the Moving Image. In the 'Golden Age of Cinema' section, we were graced with the King Kong animatronic. Or a replica of it. Either way, it was fascinating to watch the film and relate the beast on the screen to the mass of faded wires and fur I had seen at MOMI. It is even more impressive when you realise that the film is 75 years old!
Whilst King Kong isn't the first big monster film it is probably the most famous of the early ones, and may be the most famous of all time. What is really impressive is the level of scale and imagination within the film. You'd think that there would be set constraints about what wasn't achievable in 1933. Technology or budget would have hampered the film and yet the set pieces are amazing.
Lets begin by talking about the spectacular special effects, which means we have to talk about Kong. Kong is an incredible triumph, testament to Willis O'Brien's genius (this is, after all, the man who inspired Harryhausen to go into stop motion) created from a wire frame scale model, a giant (full size) head (for emotion shots and biting shots), hand and foot for close ups. The full size replicas are a bit naff, especially the goon like grin of Kong's face, but he moves and acts like a Gorilla. As dim as his face may be, his characterisation is wonderful. What is also impressive is the degree to which Kong interacts with his environment. It is obvious (to our modern eyes) that the human cast are super imposed over the stop motion, however... the film uses this trick in so many ways and so many times that it is frequently impossible to figure out what is real and what is animated.
I imagine it would have pretty much exploded the minds of 1930's cinemaphiles! The film would have been terrifying at times. Even today I found it shockingly violent. At one point a bunch of sailors are shaken off a log and they plummet into a ravine where they crunch savagely to the ground. I presume they were using rack dolls to film the falls, but with the added sound effects it is quite shocking seeing people bend and snap and crash into the ground.
But more impressive than the techniques used to animate Kong, is the scale of a film. I know I have already said this point, but it blows my mind. This was made 75 years ago and yet we get:
- Giant apes
- Sea monsters attacking ships
- A giant Ape FIGHTING A T-REX!
- Apes scaling the empire state building and fighting biplanes
- People plummeting to death down massive ravines.
- Kong's rampage in New York including derailing a train.
- A hundred foot wall.... that must have been an actual physical set.
There appears to have been no compromise, no backing down. In an era where CGI makes everything possible, then we expect this level of set pieces. But in the 30's it is an impressive feat. A breathless rollercoaster of action and adventure. Far more action appears on screen than I ever anticipated, and that I ever thought would have been even possible. The train derailment was a particularly brilliant added treat - it didn't add anything to the plot but my goodness it was cool!!!
I want to focus initially on the T-Rex fight. It is a lengthy piece of cinema with long lingering shots of the action. It seems strange that as CGI gets more realistic, cinematography becomes more frantic - making it more difficult to take it all in. Here we get to see the full fight between dino and beast and it is a fantastic piece of stop motion.
What I love particularly is that it would have been far easier to cut away for an exciting 3 minute stop motion section. However, throughout the entire fight we have Faye Wray at the front. Screaming. This gives us a human anchor in what would be a completely bonkers set piece (Kong punches the T-Rex on the nose!!!) but is also a fabulous showcase of their special effects.
Ironically, the film is more dated outside of the special effects rather than during the action pieces. The film has a very poor mentality as there is racism (oh Charlie you velly velly funny comedy chinaman) and sexism and animal cruelty all over the shop. Also Fay Wray doesn't get much to do besides scream and look pretty. She screams fantastically (and a lot) and does manage to instill a beautiful fragility into her character with moments of pure gutsyness. However, any chance of giving her character any characterisation is crow barred in at best. Her love story is a joke.... in about 30 seconds the ship mate goes from hating her, and all women... to being engaged. Ridiculous. She also has the occasional moment of overacting that lingers on from the days of silent movies.
The biggest surprise though was the emotion I felt towards Kong... he is a tragic anti hero. Only an enormous furry one. It is best described in the speech Denham gives at the theatre after capturing Kong and bringing him to New York.
He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive - a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.
How unbelievably cruel... He is ripped from his home and treated as a curio manacled to a crucifix (essentially) and the people of New York are shocked when he gets angry and goes on a rampage. This is as much a horror monster film as it is a warning to people to leave nature alone. The poor ape only wants to be left alone but is dragged from his world and forced to perform for fatcat Americans. When he escapes he is shot down by Bi Planes and Denham comes up with his most annoying sentence in the whole film.
Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.
No Denham. It was you! You and your greed. You who went to his remote island where he lived in isolation. You who destroyed the island in order to capture him. You who brought him to New York. You who allowed the press to dazzle him with flash photography and you who arranged for him to be shot.
What is most annoying is that throughout the film Denham has no learning curve. He is an arrogant money grabbing bastard at the start and he is an arrogant money grabbing bastard at the end.