Friday 17 December 2010

Life Outside These Walls?

Looking forward to catching up with some of my old screenwriting friends this evening for some pre-Christmas drinks.

Writing is a horribly solitary activity, as many others have said before me. I'm not necessarily the most outgoing person there is (some might call that a whopper of understatement but I can have moments of irritatingly loud behaviour) but working alone, with almost no feedback, makes it seem like I'm floundering in the dark and wasting my time. Talking face to face with other sufferers of this affliction know as "the writer" reminds you that you're not alone and there just might be a point to what you're doing.

And talking movies with other self-confessed film geeks is just about my favourite type of conversation.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Snow Day Means Movies

Being pretty much snowed in and therefore having more time on my hands, that old chestnut called "discipline" rears its head and I realise how little I apply the practice. As much as I prefer to write in the evening, I need to do it when any time is available. So instead I sat and watched three films in a row on TV yesterday. But the positive is that I was consciously aware of analysing them as I watched them. Not just whether I liked the film or not, but applied screenwriting techniques to what I was seeing. It got tougher as the day went on, though, as the films seemed to almost descend in quality as I watched them.

At least movie posters have moved on from the 80's Photoshop style. Yes?

The Pick Up Artist (1987, James Toback) was mostly enjoyable. It started well - from the word go we are int he protagonist's world and scenes serve on more than one level, which is something I'm trying to get right myself. In the first 10 minutes of a film we need to know as much as we can about the person whose eyes we are are seeing this new world through and Robert Downey Jr's Jack Jericho (awful name which sounds like it should be a villain in a Tango & Cash sequel) is a surprisingly likeable character, even though he could so easily be an asshole due to his overt attempts to womanize. But what we also see are the other aspects of his life; he lives with and looks after his grandmother and he is a good teacher and very popular with his kids (nice little cameo from Robert Towne as his Principal).

But I felt it fell to pieces towards the end. There are too many scenes of him chasing Molly Ringwald (although my 80's self would have done the same...) while the stakes are rising, as though the Toback is forgetting about why the characters are there in the first place (gambling debt's owed to Harvey Keitel's mobster pimp). Downey Jr keeps chasing the girl while folks could are in danger of getting whacked.

Next up was Sea Wife (1957). Again, it started out not bad but descended into silliness and repetition, especially Richard Burton's constant cries of, "I love you, Sea Wife". Joan Collin's keeping the fact she was a nun secret from Burton made very little sense and since that was a major driving force for much of the conflict between her and Burton, it made me far less patient with the film than I could have been. "Get on with it!" is the internal cry I heard in my head the most. Basil Sydney's racist Bulldog was pretty flat and predictably villainous (but without much obvious moustache twirling) and Cy Grant's Number Four tried to fill in a few gaps, privy to Collins' secret and siding with the audience in our frustration at her decision. I'm not sure how brave the film was in its depiction of racism at the time of production but at least it tried.

But once the I reached the end of the film the whole endeavour seemed rather pointless. I wasn't sure what the film was really about and neither did the filmmakers, I suspect. Folks stuck in a life raft at sea has obviously been done before (it would be remiss not to mention Hitchcock's Life Boat) and while it might have been tempting to imitate Hitchcock's rising tension between his characters, there was very little suspense to be had here, with very little effort put into the tensions between our trapped four in this case. It could have been a lot more believeable given the qualities given to each character without having to go the same route as Hitchcock.

I ended on Party Girl (1958) which, it turns out, is the first Nicholas Ray film I've seen end to end. While it looked lovely (even if FilmFour did seem to cut the CinemaScope aspect ratio, even on a widescreen TV. Give us the full frame, you numpties!) the story was so hum drum and "seen it all before" I had trouble giving a toss. Set in the 1930's prohibition era but obviously filmed in the 50's (the women's hairdo's seemed pretty much of the time), Robert Taylor's mob lawyer (but with a heart, you understand) falls for dancing girl Cyd Charisse while trying to get away from crime boss Lee J. Cobb (masticating his scenes with all the manners of Henry VIII). A rogue young punk wiseguy causes all sorts of problems when he conveniently appears (almost out of nowhere) in the middle of the film and Taylor has to choose between helping Cobb again or dealing with Cyd's lovely features being spoiled by a bottle of acid. All the stuff of by the numbers melodrama but trying to be a Noir (and a damn colourful noir at that). In fact this is the only "noir" I can think of where the action seems to stop for not one but two dance numbers, allowing Ms Charisse to show off the reason why she was famous in the first place. It reminded me of a Marx Brothers film where everything stopped for a big stage number or where the hero serenaded his girl.

By the end either Taylor & Charisse will cop it or Cobb will but Taylor is so stiff and uncomfortable in defending these thugs we know which way it'll go (another example of crime never being allowed to be seen to pay off by the Hollywood moral standard bearers). And the climax is heralded by an explosion of machine gunfire that Cagney or Muni would have been proud of, but instead of falling to the hail of lead, Cobb somehow manages to pour the acid on his own face - seriously, he stands by a pillar and raises the bottle over his face, almost deliberately, as though seized by a sudden desire for suicide and then tumbles out of the window.

Taylor and Charisse live happily ever after and I wonder how come it took me almost 3 hours to watch the 100 minute film.

But, a rule of mine is to take as much as I can from a film positively, no matter the quality (but there are a few exceptions...) so yesterday was by no means a waste of time.

Monday 6 December 2010

White Shit

It's everywhere. Scotland is snowed in. I'd say the UK but some places only have a light dusting. I lost almost an entire week's worth of wages last week due to the weather (at my temp evening job) and am now going to miss the whole of this week as well. It's Christmas in less than 3 weeks. Fun.

I should add, however, that I utterly hate my evening job which doesn't pay very much at all and eats into time due to the distance and useless public transport involved. So, the positive has to be (and I force myself to do this instead of wallowing) that I have more time to write in the evenings, which is when I can be arsed the most.

At least our dogs love it. It's almost 2 and a half feet deep in the park and it's fun to see them almost swimming in the snow.

I did have a dream, last night, that it rained overnight and all the snow was gone. I woke up, looked outside and one word popped into my head:


Skip to the End

Act 2. Still posing me problems. But I know what happens in act 3. I know where and how the hero winds up in act 3 so I'm remembering a little advice a few screenwriting teachers and gurus have offered before and that's to start writing backwards, from the points I know about. Odd, I know, but it makes sense.

The destination is all ready and I know exactly how things end. It's just getting him to the points where he will have to act on his previous experience and where everything is a consequence of what has come before. These are the themes and ideas resolved. It's like writing an essay when you are asked to explain an idea or theory and have to read up and learn about how these things occur.

The big fear is that act 2 will be boring. I need to create situations where the hero is tested further while not testing the audience's patience. I need to keep an old phrase in mind through all of it: What will happen next?

So everything in the second act will have to play a part in creating the climax while still maintaining excitement and keep steadily building the odds.

Thursday 2 December 2010

That Old Act 2 Thing

Completely re-writing act 2. What a nightmare. But you know what I'd almost forgotten? I wasn't making things hard enough for my protagonist.

He's in a situation where he thinks he's in control. Due to his inexperience and surrounding forces, he's not. Well, not as much as he thinks he is. Conflicting ideas and people are gathering around him in such a way as to make his quest damn near impossible. And these are the elements which spark further change in him. Qualities he already possesses deep down, unbeknownst to him, will come to the surface and overtake his outward appearance. His petulance and impetuousness, which he regards as positive in the first half of the story, will be smashed by the very characters he is trying to impress and/or help. Good thing too as their own behaviour will prove to be their undoing as they make the protagonist stronger by underestimating the hero and bringing his better qualities to the surface.

So I need to make it harder for him. Disappointment, realisation of hard facts and eventually an extraordinary calamity have to make him the man he will be. He wants to be a man; he just doesn't realise what it takes to really become one in the world he lives in.

But there is always a cost, or should be in some way, I feel. Possibly losing some kind of attachment, be it a friend, lover or object. I think a protagonist, in this traditional sense at least, should be able to find some kind of balance at the end of a story, finding their way by shedding certain elements of their life, voluntarily or not. Luke Skywalker might rescue Princess Leia, blow up the Death Star and become a hero of the Rebel Alliance but he still loses his family (Owen and Beru), best friend (Biggs) and mentor (Obi Wan) to the enemy.

Loss of innocence is a good one, I think, especially in this instance. What I'm writing isn't just a historical epic or period adventure or a love story. While it's all three of the above, at it's heart it's a coming of age tale, all centred around a boy who is finding the world is not what he was taught it really was and that not everyone is who they claim to be. It's got to be seen through the eyes of one person so the audience can learn about the complicated world as the hero does, experience those changes and emotions as he does, without getting bogged down in the horrid exposition that plagued the previous draft.

I know what the protagonist has to lose to find his way in this story. It's getting to those parts which is the task at hand. But how much of a shit can I be to my character?

Taking this on board, it's back to act 2 and hopefully something resembling a finished draft.


George Lucas created Star Wars. You perfected it.

Thank you, Mr Kershner. And sleep well.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Back Again

My god, I'd almost forgotten.


Well, yes, I've been severely slack with the blog in the past few months. A few interesting things have occurred. I mended a friendship. Did a very short bit of stand up during the Festival (yes, they laughed with me not at me) but had to down a pint to do it on a friend's prompting.

The Howard Hawks thing has continued but recently fell to the wayside. I have seen a few more of his films and will blog about them them soon.

So I'm going to do the blog more often, As other folks say, even writing a blog on a regular basis helps if you're a writer. I haven't felt like one lately. A bit of a fraud, yes. But I need to remind myself that I am.

Monday 28 June 2010

Hawks Blog - "Whaddaya mean ya think I'm funny?"

The title line of this blog was not uttered by Joe Pesci, as might be obvious to some (well, me until recently) but Paul Muni as incestuous and brutal gangster Tony Camonte in Hawk's Scarface, predating Pesci's terrifying Tommy DeVito but some 60 years or so.

Ages ago I set out to try and see as many of Howard Hawks films as I could and the reader could well be forgiven for thinking that I'd let the task fall to the wayside. But no, it's just taking a while to obtain the films, see them and have the time to blog about it.

So, since my last Hawks blog I've managed to squeeze in a few more. Unfortunately I missed an opportunity to see The Crowd Roars, Hawks racing drama with James Cagney and Joan Blondell, so that will have to wait for another time. But before that I did get a look at Hawks' Scarface.

One of the earliest and well regarded gangster films of the wave which hit in the 1930's, it was stopped at the gates for a few years after production owing to a disagreement between Hawks and producer Howard Hughes about which ending to use. Hawks' original ending, where Muni's Tony Camonte goes out in a hail of bullets after killing his sister, was re-instated after Hughes' alternative involved Camonte giving himself up to police, going before the judge and being hanged, all without a glance at his face as none of the shooting involved Muni. The alternative ending is available on the DVD and is just rotten but does provide an little insight to the fear some filmmakers might have felt at the time about the violence they were portraying; no one could go out with a bang and justice had to be seen to be dealt out by society.

With that in mind, the end of William Wellman's The Public Enemy, where James Cagney's character of Tom Power's bound corpse (it seems wrapped up like a mummy) looms dramatically into frame as his brother opens the door, is far better in my mind, a pretty startling end that didn't give in to the moral authorities demands that they be seen to be dealing with the problem. Death is death in these matters and the unseen but well expected effect Cagney's character's death would have on his mother has far more impact than the weight of the law ending his life.

But then again, I'm biased as I'm a Cagney fan and love The Public Enemy. The theme of the film, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, was a song my grandfather used to sing to me as a very small child (he died when I was 3) and hearing the version used in the film gives it a brilliantly horrid but touching edge. The enduring love of a mother for a son she has brought up but who has become something evil. Nice and tragic balance.

Muni, on the other hand, is effectively greedy and brutal by turns but seems to be overdoing it a lot of the time as well. His accent makes the Italian Chef from The Simpsons look like the antithesis of the stereotype, wandering into the comedic at times. But one of the things I like about Scarface is its balance, or possible lack thereof, between the brutality of Camonte's activities and the absurdly comedic. His secretary, Angelo, is a comic relief character bordering on the ridiculous at times, providing a levity in the proceedings I can't imagine the moral authorities tolerating much at all. But things like this can emphasise the sudden switches to violence, giving Camonte a sense of unpredictability that, say, Cagney's Tom Powers might not have possessed.

"Hey, Moe, why you no speaka witha your old accent a-no more?"

Boris Karloff, refreshingly not playing a monster, gets a wonderful demise in a bowling alley in another of Camonte's almost gleeful sprees.

Visually, Hawks has fun. The opening scene is an extended tracking shot, moving into a night club as Camonte, unseen by us, starts the killing which will elevate him to the top. The whole opening five minutes or so done in one take, moving into buildings and through walls, witnessing the killing and then moving back out again. The X which appears above the doomed is also a nice if slightly overplayed little device (the moment where we see it above George Raft's head is a cracker), but I suppose, given the time the film was made, this was brand new stuff, along with the brilliant idea of having a machine gun seem to shoot the pages off a calender, forcefully showing the passage of time as Camonte continues his reign of terror.

It's all pre-Code stuff, pretty damn violent for its time and the more than hinted at incestuous feelings Camonte possesses for his sister are quite surprising too, leading to an ending that is derived less from a sense of moral outrage but more from human flaws and desires. Camonte's end is entirely his own doing.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Metal Thrashing Mad!

I usually prefer to blog about film related stuff but I have to mention last night's experience in a cinema. And it was in no way connected to the movies.

The Sonisphere Rock Festival, presently doing the rounds in Europe and soon to hit UK shores, has just included the best line up a stoopid metalhead such as myself would remove any limb of preference to get a swatch at - The Big Four of Thrash Metal, namely Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax all on the same bill.

Awesome doesn't quite cover this one.

Reducing much of the awesomeness of this is the fact that this line up seems to be exclusive to Europe and will not be hitting the UK next month. In fact, they're not even doing it in the US.

Rebuilding a fair bit of the awesomeness was the forward thinking of the organisers to broadcast the gig live (well, almost live. No 20 minute gaps between sets) in cinemas all around the world. So I went with my good mate Chris, a fellow veteran of the Edinburgh Metal scene, circa late 80's/early 90's. Oh, how me miss Madisons and The Mission. And damn, did we have a good time? Hell yeah. Someone had a decibel meter on an iPhone. 98dBs. Oh yes. In a cinema. Full of metal heads (with a good age range from teens to 40's by the look of it.).

Anthrax came on first and were just amazing, not losing an iota of their energy after all this time. Another major plus was that Joey Belladonna, lead singer through what many believe to be Anthrax's best years and albums, had recently rejoined. I think this was his first gig with them and he just kicked ass in a fucking superb way. Even during the "Wardance" bit from Indians, he rushed out onto the stage with a native American head-dress on, as though no time had passed since Among the Living had come out. They just look like they have so much fun and I want to see them live more than ever now.

Megadeth. I like the music but they're a bit dull onstage. At least Dave Ellefson was present, so he'd obviously patched things up with the mercurial Dave Mustaine. They sounded fucking bang on but, as I say, not a huge amount to see live.

Slayer. The band I'm least acquainted with but still know their most famous songs. Absolutely brutal. Tom Araya provided all the smiles while Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King did their thing looking as mean as possible. Kerry King's solos were like being confronted by a blast furnace and the cinema audience went absolutely ape-shit when Reign in Blood started.

Metallica. What else is there to say about this band? Amazing live and a blistering show. Full on pyros during the opening bars of One. They knew how to entertain the audience and every song bar one was a classic from their first five albums, the exception being Cyanide from Death Magnetic, which I reckon is a return to form for them (let's not mention Load or Reload).

A decent couple of tribute pieces to the late Ronnie James Dio as well, who was due to perform before he took the ultimate Holy Dive recently. Loads of Dio metal hand signs went up in the air.

And then James Hetfield did what I prayed would happen. Brought the other bands out on stage, with the exception of Slayer's Hanneman and King (enough with the feuds, guys) and Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and half of Slayer proceeded to jump into Am I Evil.

I've never heard people make that kind of noise in a cinema before. Quite a sight to see metallers head banging and jumping for joy in perfect silhouette against the screen.

Just about all of the playlists read like greatest hits compliations buyt that's why we were there. A simply fucking awesome night, save for the fact I was sober and driving. Actually, me, beer, metal. That would likely have been a messy affair, possibly reducing today as a write-off.

And now, back our (ir)regularly scheduled witterings...

Tuesday 22 June 2010

"Will You Join Me On The Veranda?"

Wow. Been a while. I need to get this blog thing regular again.

This year's Edinburgh International Film Festival is in full swing and as usual, I'm can't get to see much, if anything. A busy weekend just past, however, ended with with the premiere of Donkeys at the EIFF, which I am glad I managed to get to. It was directed by the brilliant Morag Mackinnon and written by the equally brilliant Colin McLaren, two good friends with whom I've shared some wonderful alcohol induced and occasionally shameful times. All good.

So, while I'm friends with the filmmakers, I'll try and be as objective as possible.

Donkeys has been a while in the making but it was worth the wait. Telling the story of Albert (James Cosmo), a man who has reached that time in his life when he sees that the end may actually be in sight and sets about trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Kate Dickie), involving his old mate Brian (Brian Pettifer) in certain questionable ways. The film treads a fine line between tragedy and the blackest, sharpest comedy and is a brilliant example of how we deal with that eventuality in life that does not involve taxes. The tone shifts beautifully from bleak and sad to sidesplitting almost guilty comedy, an achievement hardly any films seem to either attempt or pull off these days and the entire proceedings are drenched in just the right kind of no-bullshit pathos I've seen in their work in the past and it's about damn time Colin and Morag got their chance at a feature.

It also features, to paraphrase festival director Hannah McGill, the funniest assisted suicide scene you'll ever see, but which is also handled beautifully. As well as laughter, there are a few tears. And a brilliant use of Demis Roussos' Una Paloma Blanca. A great film about that one certainty of life and the other bits that come along with what makes us human.

It's hilarious and touching stuff. I can't wait to see what they get to do next.

I'm going to see if I can get to a couple of things at Best of the Fest this Sunday, particularly Monsters, a film I've been wanting to see for some time, but circumstances always seem to stand between men and the EIFF. That and the fact it's so damn expensive these days if you want one of the event passes.

But tonight is all about seeing metal's Big Four on the big screen as Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth all perform at Sonisphere in Bulgaria tonight and the whole damn thing is being shown live. Bring it.

Monday 26 April 2010

Still Here

Well, a while since my last post. A necessary but horrible part time job in the evenings (imagine hammering the same nail for four hours without a break...) combined with a mammoth case of writer's block (now evaporating), a slightly scary reliance on booze (it's doesn't work when trying to be truly creative) along with a general malaise have conspired to keep me away from the blog and writing in general.

Something to recommend to fellow writers is an hour long video featuring Robert McKee at The Unknown Screenwriter, a site for screenwriters I cannot recommend highly enough.

Some people find McKee hard to deal with, some worship at his grumpy altar and some, like me, try and find what's best amongst his writings. It might not change your world view but I think it's worth a look even if to just help recharge some creative batteries.

Now Avatar is released on DVD today. Dare I? In fact, I think I've a bit to say about it's different elements. Watch for a post on it soon.

Monday 1 March 2010

Neil One Year On.

I'm still due my Scarface write-up/thoughts (remember, no in depth analysis!) and more Hawks stuff but real life gets in the way sometimes.

It's been a funny week. Within the space of one day, a friend lost his young brother in law, we marked a year since the passing of Neil and my friends Dan and Elaine Starborg became proud parents.

Last week, we remembered the first anniversary of the death of my friend, Neil Platt. His wife, Louise, had decided we should spread one third of his ashes, according to his will, up on Arthur's Seat which, for the uninitiated, is a large extinct volcano sitting smack bang in the middle of Edinburgh. And so we all trudged up the hill, in the piddling rain and freezing cold, each taking a sip of his favourite tipple, Guinness, and then each took a turn at sprinkling the ashes. There were some tears to begin with but, as he would have had it, these were vastly outweighed by alcohol and laughter. A short pub crawl in some of Neil's old student haunts in Edinburgh brought back good memories and we found some amusing alternative uses to the red boas the Jagermeister girls were handing out in Maggie Dickson's; red being the colour of blood, in the hands of fans of stupidly violent films. Give us a camera and we'll make the best fools of ourselves.

It's affirming to know there is such a strong groups of friends around. Even after all this time, we've not changed all that much. Some of us (including myself) are still as self-indulgently infantile as ever and I thank the Powers That Be for that.

Good times inspired by a good friend.

But the story doesn't end after a year. Louise has updated their blog, The Plattitude, with her thoughts and feelings about loosing Neil to Motor Neurone Disease one year on in a letter to Neil she has decided to share with everyone. It's touching, sobering stuff and brings home just how cruel, unremitting and painful in many ways MND is.

I still can't believe he's gone.

Anyone reading this blog, please try and continue to help raise awareness of MND.

The Motor Neurone Disease Association

Friday 19 February 2010

Drop It Like It's Hawt..

Every now and then, it's amazing how clear things can become when you're writing.

Every now and then.

For ages, I struggle with a kind of grey muddy vision of things and when I decide to drop one story element that has been serving as a back story to the main character (after resisting it for a long time) things become much more simple (relatively, that is) and a new and more streamlined back story seems to propel the character into the story far more effectively.

Now I feel I can get on with the business of actually telling a ghost story, of dreaming up scary moments and ideas that are directly related to the character and his situation at the beginning of the story.

One little decision makes the morning worthwhile.

Monday 15 February 2010

Stripping it Back

Away from my Hawks Hunt, I'm still trying to get to grips with a story I've been faffing* with for 10 years, now no longer faffing but molding it into a screenplay.

But even after 10 years, I'm kind of faffing, not by fiddling or wasting time (or am I?) but by trying to get ahead of myself. Consequently, this has resulted in some false starts and reinforces in me the need to get everything clear from the beginning. By refusing to look at things from the ground up, my story does move forward but then stops and finds itself with nowhere to go, specifically concerning the ending.

So, I'm stripping it back down to its roots and separating all of the elements so I know exactly what their place is in the grand scheme of things. And, hey presto, things start to become clear again. Avenues I'd forgotten about reappear and more story possibilities are, well, possible.

And most importantly, by reminding me that I can back out of a blind alley by carefully reversing, it makes me get excited about it all over again.

Lesson learned - don't get ahead of myself and keep it clear.

Coming soon, my thought on Hawks' Scarface. And then I'll be watching The Crowd Roars.

Hawks and Cagney. Love it.

*I'm surprised to discover "faffing" is recognised by the Google spellchecker.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Kids in Canvas Coffins...

My Hawks Hunt continues with The Dawn Patrol.

I did not expect to like this film as much as I did. In fact there were moments I simply loved. Hawks' first Talkie tells the story of two friends in the First World War as they fly out on bombing sorties in bi-planes over war torn France. The Hawksian theme of brothers in arms and male friendship is apparent from the get go. Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks Jr play Courtney and Scotto with what appears to be real warmth. The sense of camaraderie is convincing amongst the men as they face death in the sky with each other, none of them knowing if they'll ever return each time they take off. The men drink (a lot), laugh and sing songs in their makeshift little bar at the airfield, waiting for the next batch of orders to be delivered by Neil Hamilton's Major Brand.

Brand and Courtney are points of antagonism for each other; Brand is a ball of anxiety, receiving orders, under protest, from the higher ups that will send young and inexperienced pilots out to their likely doom. And he has to deliver these orders personally to the squadron, led by Courtney, who does not realise Brand's own conflict over it all and subsequently a huge rift exists between the two men. Mention is made of them falling out over a girl in the past, but this seems unnecessary and is rarely if ever mentioned again. All we need to know is that Courtney thinks Brand is sending these kids out to die himself and hates him for it. Until the tables are turned and Courtney finds himself on the other side of the desk when Brand is promoted. Which in turn leads to a rift between Courtney and Scotto. Circles and circles...

One of the main things that struck me about this was the performances. And subsequent reading up about the film has filled me in. There is a natural feeling to the three main performances. I've only seen Richard Barthelmess once before in Michael Curtiz's The Cabin in the Cotton and I did not like him in that at all; let's be honest, it's really Bette Davis' film. And so when he appeared in The Dawn Patrol, I sank a little. But he's great in it. I've since learned that Hawks actually had a little trouble with the studio over the performances not being...well, loud and stagey enough. It seems that the world was used to and expected over-acting and non-natural sounding dialogue and Hawks received studio notes suggesting that no one would believe the film or its performances. They were dead wrong and the film received an Academy Award for best story.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr has come in for a little stick about his performance but I liked him. He lent the proceedings an air of needed joviality at times, with a hairdo that preceded Jedward by some 80 odd years. I've not seen colour pictures of Fairbanks from the period, but something in me says he had red hair during this time. Just an odd and pointless observation from me.

I;d only ever known Neil Hamilton from somewhere else and it took me some time and brow-furrowing before I realised he played Commissioner Gordon to Adam West's Batman in the 1960's. I don't know if he was trying, but there seemed to be a slightly Scottish lilt to his voice. The other accents in the film vary, with no one truly trying to do any sort of British accent except for the actual Brits onscreen. But the dialogue did seem geared toward that, without going over the score with any "Tally ho's"! One performance that did stick out was William Janney as Scotto's doomed younger brother. He was simply rubbish. The gee whizz factor emanated from him like nausea inducing sun rays.

Obviously, the major selling point of a film like this is the aircraft action. And in fact it took a while for that to really kick off onscreen, and with good cause. Even though it's clear Courtney is the main character, when the planes take off, we stay with Brand, anxiously downing drinks with his head in his hands, waiting for the sounds of the returning planes, counting them in. These were effective moments, boiling the weight and responsibility on Brand down to pretty intimate moments of a man counting the deaths he feels responsible for. And when Courtney takes over, we already know what he's in for.

Great shots of the rickety planes taking off, landing and crashing lend it all a sense of authenticity that is only broken by the fact that the airfield seems to be amongst the scrub of the Californian desert and not Northern France. I love the back projection shot, mixed in with the footage of the aircraft. I don't know, I just like back projection. Even James Cameron got away with it in Aliens. A beaut tracking shot of the planes as they prepare to take off lingers in the mind, Hawks love of aircraft very evident. And the fragility of these planes also comes across as they bounce back to the ground, offering the men inside a brittle security. But Hawks does not concern himself with the politics of war, just the lives of the men who fight it. In that respect, it reminds me at least a little of The Hurt Locker.

All in, a thrilling and compelling take of the realities of those who dare and do. Loved it.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Geek Disclaimer

I watched Hawks' The Dawn Patrol last night. I'll do a little write up about it later today. But before I do, I want to make something perfectly clear.

I am not a critic.

Sure, you say. Everybody's a critic.

Well, I'm not a film critic. So don't take anything written here to be an attempt at proper analysis. I was rotten at that kind of thing at film school (I find over-analysis to be...passion killing). I'm just a geek who loves movies in general and this is about improving and educating myself. Getting it down in written form on the blog will likely make it clearer in my head, which is usually about as clear and navigable as a sticky swamp in the middle of the darkest night whilst hidden under a black tarpaulin and blindfolded by Black Meg, the sight stealer.

Yes, I like Blackadder.

So, my thoughts on Hawk's first talkie later today. Before that, I have a script to be writing.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Remaining Silent Hawks

Well, my search for the rest of Howard Hawks silent films has drawn a blank. I can't even find clips of them. Some of them are available somehow.

Again, bugger.

There are still plenty of articles and reviews about some of them around so at least I can make some progress. However, there's loads still to see.

Up next, The Dawn Patrol.

Fig Leaves

I wasn't able to get a hold of Howard hawks' first film, The Road to Glory (1926), as it seems it doesn't actually exist anymore.


So, next on the list is Fig Leaves, produced in the same year as Hawks' debut. Unfortunately, and as can be the case with silent films, I've only been able to see about the first 30 minutes of what looked to be an amusing battle of the sexes comedy. And I'd better get The Flintstones references out of the way before I carry on; just about every article I've read in the film so far makes mention of the obvious connection. The film is book-ended with scenes set millions of years ago featuring Adam (George O'Brien) and Eve (Olive Borden) dressed, naturally enough, as cavemen. But no primitive fires and huddling in wet caves for this pair - life is lived in much the same way as it is during the film's contemporary scenes. Nice little gags involving coconut-dropping alarm clocks run by sand instead of clockwork and buses pulled by dinosaurs (large scale mechanicals by the look of it, or with performers inside). Yes, yes, yes, so far so Flintstone. I wonder what Hawks' reaction to Hanna and Barbera's cartoon was. Quiet amusement, I imagine.

The prehistoric scenes frame a modern day story (1920's) about a very similar couple, also named Adam and Eve and played by the two leads mentioned above. Eve wants to go out and work, but he's having none of it. Arguments ensue and slithery, serpent-like characters neighbour Alice and fashion designer Andre appear on the scene, each plotting to steal Eve and Adam respectively for themselves. Alice's devious nature is already suggested by her original appearance as the serpent in prehistoric Eve's life but, instead of tempting her, they gossip.

That's about as far as I was able to get given the limited scenes available to me. Themes about the predictability of the attitudes of the sexes to each other and their particular wants and desires are presented in ways very much of their time but Hawks' general representation of women throughout his career is established early on here, an example being Adam insisting on a seat on the dino-bus from a young lady (what a gent!) and her subsequent "We'll get our rights one day" line. If anything, the men do appear dafter, including the Troughtonesque Heine Conklin as Adam's assistant, who provides some laughs in a scene where he tries to convince Adam to get firm with his woman and squirms away when Eve shows up.

But the most Hawksian element, even in a silent, is the quick fire dialogue. We don't always hear what they saying but we know exactly what it is, regardless of the title cards. And Hawks also has some fun with his cards, giving a drunkenly childish Adam a great visual moment by playing around with the font. I actually laughed out loud at one moment where Adam, in response to Eve mentioning a fig leaf sale, replies, "Somehow I can't get hysterical over that".

A funny little film which I like to see the rest of sometime.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Doing Hawks

No, it's not an obscene riff on raptors.

I've decided to learn more about Howard Hawks, my interest having recently been aroused by a book of interviews with him (his mildly amused reaction to the passion of Nouvelle Vague interrogators Truffaut et all is interesting). He's someone I've know about since a kid, hearing my childhood film heroes talking about his influence on them and, having already seen a couple of his films in the past, I'm now on a mission to see and learn as much about him as I can.

Oddly enough, I'm not a fan of his later westerns (all the same film, it would appear) but I hope to see them more in context with the rest of his work; Rio Lobo and Bringing Up Baby are a million miles apart to me. Maybe it's Hawks' versatility that is the most interesting thing of all.

From what I've already gleaned, some of his earliest films, particularly the silents, may be tricky buggers to track down and I want to do this as chronologically as possible. Any help or info would be lovely.

There are some fragments of his first film, Road to Glory, somewhere. Here we go...