Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

Kanał [1956)

I feel like this film.

Every day.

But it might as well be today.

Trudging through excrement.

There is no kindly way to put it.

War.

I do not know.

Resistance.

I do.

Give me that wedding ring.

No thing of value will perish with you.

It is hard to keep your thoughts clear in a sewer.

Surely lighting a match is unadvisable.

But we only know the Merry Christmas war.

Shitter’s full.

The miserables.

Henry Miller may have imagined it too late.

As Robert Schumann said, you must only think of a melody and write it down.

Or remember a melody that no one else has remembered.

I don’t know.

It’s hard to think down here.

With these fumes.

Starved for oxygen.

But we have a real story.

Teresa Iżewska is all but forgotten in the English-speaking world.

What a shame.

Because she conjures a dying palliative.

Don’t open your eyes, Saul.

Let me describe it to you.

There is a Bechstein piano with the left front leg missing.

Kissing the ground.

And the composer goes to work.

The focal point of our story.

Władysław Sheybal or Vladek Sheybal.

He brings the movie to life along with director Andrzej Wajda.

Yes, I fell in love with Polish films because of Popiół i diament.

And now we come to Kanał.

The sewer.  Sewers.  Dante.  Hell.

“Piano music should only be written for the Bechstein.”  –Claude Debussy

But did he say it in English?

Surely not Polish.

And so we celebrate our heroes now in our resistance.

Andreas von Bülow, for instance.

And we turn our ear to the acoustics of this torture chamber.

Thanks to Hans von Bülow.

You probably know Sheybal (if at all) as Kronsteen of From Russia with Love.

Yes, the early Bond films had credibility.  Class.

Goldfinger employed Gert Fröbe (whom I should have mentioned for his small-yet-comedic role in Mr. Arkadin).

And now we still have great actors in the Bond films…Daniel Craig (yes, I believe he’s truly special), Jesper Christensen (an acting god!), Ralph Fiennes (another holy)…even Ben Whishaw when he doesn’t have shite lines.

And who doesn’t love Léa Seydoux?

But to this formidable ensemble was added the raw sewage/faux talent of Christoph Waltz.

Likewise, John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth…these four fell far short of the mark in Spectre that Jerzy Stefan Stawiński set with Kanał.

I mention Spectre because I have been reconsidering my harsh review of it.

But, dear friends, much of my revulsion concerning Spectre remains (even after a second viewing).

On the other hand, a film literally steeped in shit (Kanał) has stood the test of time for 60 years.

ATTN:  James Bond franchise (Eon Productions), Hollywood, et al.

Stop stopping at Hitchcock.

Sam Mendes.

Your rips of The Birds and North by Northwest did not go unnoticed.

But why not delve deeper into film history?

Wanna help bring down the surveillance panopticon?

Gonna have to try a lot harder than that.

The façade won’t crumble with half-assed efforts.

Start here, perhaps.

 

-PD

 

 

L’Avventura [1960)

Was Monica Vitti the most beautiful woman ever?

Probably.

Is Monica Vitti the most beautiful woman ever?

Yes.

That sounds better.

This.

This is the most disorienting film I have ever seen.

Mulholland Dr. is child’s play in this regard.

A sort of sweet, pleasant nausea.

A feeling I didn’t know existed.

Maybe.

Maybe John Hughes was right in this regard.

[Vingt regards]

uno

hair, always hair…blowing in the wind…like tall grass

good lord…

due

the birds are men…flocking on the jungle gym bars…as she silently tries to sneak from the schoolhouse

Noto…UNESCO World Heritage Site…Samba de Uma Nota Só

tre

a purring in my headphones…a Foley artist diabolico-subliminal…and yes she curls up like a cat…

Quattro

she seems to be bathing in money…but it’s just the floor pattern…sometimes…the floor looks best in red…

and there is always a woman…or a man…and you hate to admit it

cinque

dreadful…dreary…making love above the cemetery…a gazelle with blond hair…thank you Google…5’7″…an essential function for the, functioning of humanity

sei

Uh!  They’re all nudes.  No nudity here.  A goddess is clothed.  Not an alabaster ornament by the fountain.

sette

I wanted to like it.  Or I wanted to not like it.  Camus.  I said that.

otto

no man is an island…and no island a man…and no man a nomad…

nove

it all hinges (henges) on a funny face in the mirror…the genius…we create together…Vitti…Antonioni…Ferzetti

a bad habit I never caught…

dieci

andiamo…lots of andiamo…remarkable for a film with so little movement in such a big slab of its meat…

like formidable in French…Anna Karina…everything formidable…but that’s because she was Danish…speaking French…and her cute little accent…but before there was Godard Breathless there was Antonioni Adventure…like the second Television album…but moreover on Karina…before Vivre sa vie (I know…) there was L’Avventura…a little scene with a wig…and before that Louise Brooks…

undici

you think they will turn around nude

dodici

Nono, Luigi…it is the most intoxicating kiss…out of nowhere…WTF in excelsis…mamma mia!

tredici

David, del…frolicking…who says summer is over?!?  bangs…Fiat…leaping off the pavement (!)

quattordici

they told me to learn…sotto voce…or sotto nightgown…les cloches…loaves…and fishes…twenty, or vingt-et-un…Van Johnson…I really blew it…the architecture…and a dog with lunar metabolism…

quindici

you fuck…and then get fucked…that is, the circle of life…like a lion…and an impala…gazelle…przygoda…

sedici

he collects dolls…a man…faints [Truffaut]

diciassette

the first girl…is not Vitti…wait a while…count the seconds

diciotto

oops…now comes the swimming in money…my house in Rome…and the other in Milan

diciannove

Michelangelo…Sandro…I threw it all away…and no one is listening

venti

another day, another dollar…pardon me ma’am, but do you have natural nails?  I use a lighter.  Better still, until they go wrong.

it’s too packed full of dolphins

too many Bibles and Catholic eeriness

spring breakers…island hoppers

if it had ended

no

just give me macaroons and sports cars

il mio amore

-PD

Playtime [1967)

This took a lot of watching.  Rewatching.

Last night…so tired.

Watched half.  Then rewind.  Dozed off.  Watch same half again.

First time I saw this (years ago) was on the big screen.

It really makes a difference.

That janitor at the beginning.  His strange pause and crouch.  His peering left and right.  His broom and dustpan.

Very little sweeping.  Just clanking.

Yes.  Sounds.  Sounds.  Sounds.  (Zounds!)

The vinyl chairs which return to their shape after you sit and dent.  The strange sound.  The strange quality.

“Quality”

Tradition of quality.

It might lead you to ask:  what was Jacques Tati trying to say with this film?

Answering that is no easy task.

Sure, this seems like a simple, lightweight film.  In some ways it is.

It’s enjoyable.  It’s lighthearted.  And yet…

There is more than a smidgen of Modern Times here.  And Tati, with his pipe…  More than a pipe-full of Sartre.  Sartre with his publication Les Temps modernes.  Even Sartre apparently thought highly enough of Chaplin to work under an homage headline.

And so, Tati…lost in the supermarket.  Lost in the buildings from 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle.  Same year.  1967.  Paris.  In the banlieues.

And very few words.

As I said.

A movie of sounds.

Yes.

But images.

Reflections.

Illusions.

It appears.

Optical.

Illusion.

And its reflection.

Double.

Mirror image.

Flipped.

Paris.

It appears that the buttons have been switched.  Very nice, WordPress.  Now I am “publishing” every time I intend to merely “save” (and vice versa).

That is the theme of the film.

Thingamajigs.

No no no.  Take your time.  Uh uh uh…hold on.  [click click click click]  Ok, now rise.

We wait for the entire hallway to be traversed in an absurd observation of ritual.

And from above…the cubicles.

One needs must occupy higher ground to see the big picture.  All of these busy bees become lost in the fray.

Afraid.

True.

And so it is not farfetched to guess that Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards were influenced in their masterpiece The Party (1968) by Tati’s Playtime (1967).

But with Tati there is even more.  An industrial ballet.  The poise of the service industry (and its opposite).  [Both]

A constant counterpoint like a comic Górecki.

Perhaps I have been hitting the wrong button all along.

Have I been saying these things out loud?

Yes, we wonder.

Technology.

We grew up in a different time.

The chairs were different.

The doors were different.

And since we are quiet and meek we spend an eternity in the antechamber.  In the darkened hallway.

How do we get out?

Yes, Paris…even then, perhaps?  A drugstore?  Yes.  Too depressing for anyone to look each other in the eyes.

The hum.  The constant hum.  Like Alphaville.  Like Oskar Sala’s Trautonium.  The Birds.  Bernard Herrmann as musical consultant.  But those noises.  Mixtur.

And several waiters will salt the troutonium…and grind pepper…and spread the sauce…and the couple has moved.

The main course has stayed behind.

Heated.  Reheated.  Set on fire.  Jubilee.

Turbot.

And lobster boy just cares about his hair.

Nerval.  Hugo Ball.

But that humming…like Metal Machine Music way ahead of time.  But creepier.  Like Raymond Scott’s music for babies crossed with Erik Satie’s musique d’ameublement.

Waiting waiting.  That’s a theme.  And all the illustrious portraits of CEOs past.

Is it a job interview?

And that’s Orly?  It seems more like a hospital.  Little hummingbird nuns and swaddled kids.

But we shall always live in Barbara Dennek’s dimples.  It sounds weird to say.

But it is luck.  Bad luck.  And then good luck.

And random error.  Entropy.

Chaos.

Can anyone here play the piano?

Yes.  Yes I can!

And some half-rate Edith Piaf gets up to sing her long-forgotten hit.

Except no one has forgotten it.  Once a hit, always a hit.

More or less.

The new religion.

The hum of neon.

All the desserts look sickly.  Even to the “chef.”  Must hide his mystère.  An apple with some sputtery whip?  An upside-down coffee mug?

Mmmm…

William S. Burroughs would doubtless have approved.  The man in the gray flannel suit (book).  But taken to theatrical limits.  Choreography of male primping.  Like Cary Grant on hallucinogens.  A surreal ritual.

Ritual.

This is sociology.

Anthropology.

Paris.  The modern man.

See him in his natural habitat.

See her shop.  See her sell.

See him work.  See him drink.

If you travel, you will see the tourist side.

On a trip.

With a group.

Activities planned.

Like a cruise.

And God forbid you become separated from the group.

Yes.

That is our little romance.

And Tati is meek enough to barely suggest to suggest (x2).

That M. Hulot might find love.

It would be a random day.

He would get pulled this way and that.

And winding up in some crazy, unplanned situation he would become sweet on dimples.

See him in his fishbowl.

Before there was Mr. Bean, there was Monsieur Hulot.

Before there was Forrest Gump.

Tell me…where are the “fancy goods”?  Perhaps silk.  Hermès.

Always caught at the turnstiles of life…

-PD

Jamaica Inn [1939)

This film is even more disgusting than Psycho.  Disgust.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Moral ambiguity.

This is what made Hitchcock great.  Like Dostoyevsky, Hitchcock brought to life those personages who were between good and evil.

In the words of Henry Miller, “They were alive and they spoke to me.”

Authors.  Real authors.  Blood and guts authors.  Authors who left everything on the page.  Every shred of emotion.

Samuel Fuller would have been proud of such authors.

We must remember Fuller’s cameo from Pierrot le Fou.  His words are instructive:

“Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word . . . emotion.”

And though Hitchcock was perhaps the greatest film auteur to ever live, we must not neglect the source material.

Though auteur theory would argue otherwise, it was indeed Daphne du Maurier who concocted this perfect story.

And, as another affront to the politique des auteurs, we must acknowledge that this film would be far less powerful were it not for the all-world talents of actors Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.

For those wishing a parallel to Ian Fleming’s Dr. No (set in Jamaica), this film has absolutely nothing to do with Jamaica.

Jamaica Inn is merely the name of the roadside lodging in this period piece set in 1819 Cornwall.

But like a good James Bond film, a believable villain makes all the difference in sustaining the dramatic tension.

Laughton is just that villain.

Though Jamaica Inn is not as powerful and iconic as Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is (in my opinion) a strong competitor against his film Rebecca.  And why focus on these three films exclusively?  Because they were all from du Maurier stories.

What is more, I would argue that Jamaica Inn is every bit as good as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).  Why that comparison?  Because it featured the same duo (in the same year):  Laughton and O’Hara.

As for O’Hara, this was for all practical purposes her true film debut (in a starring role while assuming the screen name with which she would become famous).  For all of my effusive praising of Saoirse Ronan, it should be noted that Maureen O’Hara was a sort of Irish prototype for the panache Ronan would bring to the screen these many years later.

But nothing tops Laughton here.  Hitchcock was still honing his skills towards a mature style.  Laughton creates a character both laughable and hideous.  It is not the visceral aversion of the Hunchback, but rather an elite, condescending, corrupt local squire (and justice of the peace).  Laughton is the law.  He relishes his position as he savors his victuals.

Life and simulation.  In real life, Laughton fought for O’Hara…insisting she be given the lead role (and her first, as noted earlier).

It should be noted that past critics have eviscerated this film.  Let it be noted that their pretensions are largely unfounded.

-PD

Sudden Impact [1983)

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for cops.  That’s too bad.

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for the FBI.  That’s unfortunate.

Not a popular time to champion the CIA.  Pity that.

No love for the NSA.  Shame…

We get one version of events.  So much so that we chase after an alternative version.  Which is credible?

Police have a very sacred trust.  Once upon a time it was phrased as “to protect and serve.”

Abuse of power disgusts us.  The pendulum swings to the other end.

Jingoism breeds contempt.

détournement

There are several wars on in the world.  The U.S. is involved widely.

It’s not a popular time to say something kind about the military.  Bummer.

What is at issue in all of these parallel phrases?  Justice and compassion.

Efficacy.  Human rights.

Right and left.  Conservative and liberal.  Even the widely disparaged neoconservative movement.

I have been quick to find fault with the so-called neocons.  But there is an interesting fundamental point about them that perhaps few know:  they used to be liberals.

I am reminded of Realpolitik.  Kissinger.

The tendency creeps in to apologize for the shameless.

An apologist, after all, works in myriad ways.

It is good that all of these thoughts come to the surface upon viewing what many “serious” film critics would consider to be sub-par pulp.

Let me start (continue) by saying that Sudden Impact is a brilliant film.

There are moments when the balance between directing and starring (acting) seem to be too much for Eastwood, but those few moments are mostly on the front end of this picture.

Though it be, perhaps, sacrilege to suggest such, this is probably the best Dirty Harry movie.

The reason is directly attributable to Eastwood’s auteurish guidance.

Though the setting of San Paulo somewhat mirrors Bodega Bay from Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is mostly the same director’s Vertigo which provides a wellspring from which Eastwood draws liberally for the symbol-laden mood of this affair.

Sondra Locke is formidable as the Kim Novak character.  Though Callahan himself never succumbs to catatonia, Locke’s sister in the film does.  It reminds us of Jimmy Stewart’s incapacitation after seeing Madeleine “die” the first time (again with the Vertigo references).  Of particular note is the camera work which follows Locke’s first killing in Sudden Impact.  The circular, woozy pattern makes us think of Novak’s plunge into San Francisco Bay.

And that’s just it:  Eastwood had the balls and brains to drag Hitchcock into the Dirty Harry series (itself set in San Francisco).

What this film achieves is imparting humility to armchair DCIs (like myself) who think we have it all figured out.  Sometimes distance is good…for planning.  Sometimes you need to hear a few bullets buzz past your ears to realize that a hot war is on.  It’s not always easy to know who’s shooting…and from where.

There are multiple fronts.  I often ponder my own mental weakness.  Ultimately, no one has died in vain.  The challenge is for us as a nation and a world to get better…quickly.  It ends up sounding meaningless, but it’s about all one can say about this spinning globe of chaos on which we live.

-PD

Moonraker [1979)

This was Lewis Gilbert’s best Bond film (which isn’t saying very much).  This film straddles the line between good and bad filmmaking for its entirety.  At the end it’s hard to say just which has edged the other out in predomination.

Something tells me the director in question is less to blame for these debacles than I had previously thought.  It seems that there was an artless voice from above which was exerting pressure upon our metteur en scène.  Was it perhaps Albert Broccoli?

Enough with the finger-pointing.  Let’s talk about why this film is bad (and occasionally good).

The opening sequence is quite masterful.  It is, in fact, to these eyes more impressive than the feted ski jump from The Spy Who Loved Me.  And so, from the start, we are back in the company of dear old Jaws (Richard Kiel).  Any question as to whether he survived the fall from a plane sans parachute is answered quite quickly in the opening credits.  His name is prominent enough (comes quickly after the top-billed stars) that we assume (and correctly) that he did indeed live through the plunge.  It is just this sort of clumsy filmmaking which typifies Gilbert’s contributions to the series.  This daft touch even shows up at the end of the opening credits when the last chord of the song carries over like a maudlin, syrupy blanket into the shot of Q milling about in M’s office.  It is like we are watching Days of Our Lives.  One can hardly take such careless filmmaking seriously.

At least Holly Goodhead continues a string of success regarding the names of Bond girls.

Perhaps the most telling S.O.S. from Lewis Gilbert is the obvious homage to Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu.  As Drax and his hunting party are taking leisure in sportsmanship, his assistants are swatting at the tree trunks with sticks or canes to scare the birds into the air.  Only the finest of minds would work this deft reference into such an otherwise brutish series.

The bit atop Sugarloaf Mountain is generally delightful.  Perhaps Wes Anderson had this in mind when he plotted the funicular rendezvous in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Jaws meeting the buxom, bespectacled Dolly is just impossibly cute (with the strains of Tchaikovsky in the background).  In a final bit of touching panache, Jaws switches allegiances to help out Bond and Goodhead.  It is actually a masterful stroke in a series rife with pithy henchmen.  We even get to hear Kiel’s voice for once (after he pops a champagne cork by prying it off with his metal teeth).

The film really gets bad when it tries to not only relive the glory of Thunderball, but also tries to transpose that elusive magic into the milieu of Star Wars.  To say that the outer-space laser battle has not aged well would be a fairly grand understatement.  Of particular offence are the sound effects which make Oskar Sala’s noises from The Birds sound like Mozart by comparison.  The lasers sound so cheap and doinky that the entire mise-en-scène falls apart.

Gilbert didn’t really have a very persuasive Bond girl to work with either.  Lois Chiles has about as much personality as a wet rag.  Likewise, we are subject to “villain fail” once again.  Michael Lonsdale is merely a sweaty schlub who happens to have the same tailor as Chairman Mao.  Toshiro Suga is comedically unmenacing.  Corinne Cléry would have made a much better Bond girl.  At least her demise at the hand (paw?) of dogs was unique to the series thus far.

Truth be told:  Blanche Ravalec is the most attractive girl in this movie (with honorable mention to the redhead and the short-haired blonde in Drax’s “ark”).

But saving the most important for last, let us try and deconstruct after Derrida.  The positively worst, most abrupt cut in the entire series happens when Bond is ejected from the back of an ambulance onto a road in Rio.  With absolutely no segue, we next see him on a horse in full vaquero costume.  It is at this point that the movie becomes so absurdly bad and ineptly surreal.  In truth, the whole film hinges on this one amateurish cut.  And it is from analyzing outwards (concentrically) that I assume Lewis Gilbert was subject to a maltreatment akin to that suffered by Orson Welles post-Kane.  No director deserves to be so abused.

 

-PD

The Birds [1963)

Death from above.  That is the key to this movie.  But it is only one key.  It unlocks one very important door, but others remain locked.

I credit Jean-Luc Godard with finding this key.  In Histoire(s) du cinéma Godard draws a visual analogy between Hitchcock’s birds and WWII bombers.  This is the key which unlocks a very important part of the mise-en-scène.  The scene Godard chooses is that of the children running from the school.  Hitchcock was in his early 40s when the London Blitz raged on for 37 weeks.  At one point the capital was bombed for 57 straight nights.

But Hitchcock was not in London.  In March of 1939 he was signed to a seven year contract by David O. Selznick and the Hitchcocks relocated to Hollywood.  In April of the same year his film Rebecca was released.  It would be Hitchcock’s most lauded film till his canonization by the French New Wave.  Rebecca won, among other awards, the Oscar for Best Picture (then known as Outstanding Production).  The story was by Daphne du Maurier (whose novelette “The Birds” would form the basis for the film in question).

Foreign Correspondent would be released not long before The Blitz began (Mr. & Mrs. Smith at its height).  By the time Suspicion was released later in the year (1941), The Blitz had been over for some months.

So what?  The story was by du Maurier and Hitchcock was a successful filmmaker in Hollywood during The Blitz.  The answer is mise-en-scène.  Only a boy from London (Leytonstone, Essex) could have made birds so terrifying.  Perhaps.  We must remember that the Allied bombing of Hamburg (to use just one example) killed (in one raid) about 42,000 Germans:  approximately the same number killed over the entire 37 weeks of The Blitz.

To further stray…how would a resident of present-day Baghdad handle the filming of The Birds?  Or a citizen of northwestern Pakistan?  Or a civilian in modern Afghanistan?

To be sure, this is a horror film.  It is the only Hitchcock film I have seen which approaches the archetypal status (in that genre) of Psycho.  Hitchcock made a career of suspense–of thrillers.  The Birds is sheer terror.

Unlike many of the horror films by lesser directors which followed in the decades to come, The Birds succeeds is being both creepy and artful.  This tenuous balance is perhaps best epitomized in the scene where Tippi Hedren smokes a cigarette on the bench in front of the playground.  In a film with no proper soundtrack (save for the squawks and warbles of Oskar Sala’s Mixtur-Trautonium), it is the children’s voices singing “Risseldy Rosseldy” in the background which makes this scene both so spooky and so timeless.  Composer Mauricio Kagel would employ a similar effect (the use of children’s voices) in his haunting composition entitled 1898 (from 1973).

As an added irony, the special effects shots of the murderous birds were achieved through the indispensable help of Walt Disney Studios.  Indeed, it’s a small world after all.  And that, in some strange way, might answer the most pressing question of all:  why?

 

-PD