If you are not me as you are reading this page, then I say "How the hell did you get here?"

Nov 26, 2009

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno - feel the burn and watch it turn deadly...

On Sunday night November 22nd, I had my first opportunity to visit the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD along with a few friends as we celebrated a birthday. We attended a screening of the new documentary L'enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot which offers a look at L'enfer, his unfinished penultimate film project from 1964.

The link below features Richard Peña from the Film Society of Lincoln Center explaining the backstory of the abandoned project.

The story featured a love triangle between Marcel -a  moody jealous husband portrayed by Serge Reggiani, his wife Odette as played by Romy Schneider, and Martineau a lover played by Jean-Claude Bercq. This unfinished exercise in fun, frolic and internal psychological fear was to be played out upon a scenic resort hotel location next to a lake and an immense bridge which dwarfed everything which existed below it.

L'enfer was intended to be a film that mixed black-and-white with color footage as the story would dictate.
This still shows an example of the monochromatic day-to-day story. It is not only an exterior location, it is also a graphic statement of the overarching complications that plague Marcel in an external representation.


The depiction of Marcel's jealous nature, his arousal, his interior thoughts and obsessive and disturbing moody point of view would be subjectively conveyed in color as in the frame below.


In the shot above from the L'enfer camera tests, Romy Schneider is standing against a visually dynamic, electrically-charged mosaic background.

This brings to mind a similar shot of Tippy Hedren in Hitchcock's Marnie
(also from 1964 but obviously a completed film released to the public).
In the frame below we see Marnie making a bit of a turnaround in her life.


Marnie's husband Mark Rutland (Sean Connery)
discovers that she is missing from their cabin and
he is seen running alone aboard the exterior levels of the cruise ship.

He finds her floating face down and lifeless upon the surface of the swimming pool on the top deck, and he
dives in to rescue her from drowning.

He is equal to the physical demands of lugging her torso under his left arm, and as they ascend the pool ladder, he then places her body upon the mosaic floor lying facedown.
He pumps her back a few times to expel the water from her lungs and turns her over to the right.

Tired but grateful and slightly chiding her latest act of rebellion as if a parent to his child, Mark asks her

" Why the hell didn't you jump over the side?"

Marnie replies " The idea was to kill myself not feed the damn fish."


The action in the frame above where Mark saves Marnie is a visual reversal of fortune from the opening scene of the film where we are introduced to a mysterious woman as seen from behind.


Here we are seeing Marnie in control; hidden inside her closed purse is the money, power, and dominance that she has stolen from the helpless men that she has swindled and duped.

In a morality tale, no matter where you place the locus of a businessman upon a scale of reference as to good and evil, the conceit of  "money means everything" strikes a universal chord in the audience. Like men have always lived their lives, because Marnie controls the gold, she makes the rules of the game - and she always walks away a winner. The loot is safely tucked away under her protective arm.

This symbolic representation of Marnie's character via the color and shape of her purse, this containment of her repressed sexuality, and her personalized reconfiguring of the male-female power struggle is yet another example of how Hitchcock and the screenwriter in his films are able to make a statement of an idea which is endlessly visually fascinating to the audience.

As a point of visual reference, it willingly leads the viewer into the story and into the distance of the exterior train station framing.


In the extreme distant background of the film frame, just prior to the cut to the next scene, if we examine it closely we see a tiny suggestion of a story point to ultimately be reached by the character and viewer alike.

What appears to be a circular red sign with a signal light is visible just to the right of Marnie's shoulder.

This form is slightly smaller than the circular off-yellow form of her purse under her left arm.

The lines that inform the frame and create a visual sweep towards a vanishing point in the background are pointing towards a pair of choices for this character to make.

The faded line that Marnie walks upon as she moves away from us,
leads our eye directly past the luggage that she has placed on the platform.

The line leads our eye beyond the luggage to the red circular signal.

To the left of Marnie's shoulder is a signal with a green light.

Marnie stands to the left of the red line.

Marnie leads a dual life and as human beings we all have choices to make.
Perhaps the colors of the signals are a subliminal indication of the choice she will be making as she reaches her destiny.

If we return to the shot of Mark saving Marnie in the pool, to the upper left of frame we see a pale red life saver.


The meaning of the color red has a special significance for Marnie. These scenes and the circular forms within it contain traditional methods of providing stepping stones toward overall comprehension as both the viewer and Marnie follow her path towards an ultimate desire; a journey that is assisted by the compassionate love of her partner, on a conversion towards finding wellness at the end of the film.


                                                                             DOWNTOWN BALTIMORE CIRCA 1963-64

I have not read Winston Graham's novel Marnie which was the source material  for the film, and I don't know if there was a suicide scene in a swimming pool.

It is common knowledge among film fans that Clouzot beat Hitchcock to the punch when Hitch lost out on buying the rights to film Diabolique, and Hitchcock was a  big fan of Clouzot's film.

Perhaps the use of the pool was not only an item of interest or convenience in creating the screenplay of Marnie, but it was also a way to acknowledge an element used in Diabolique and a suggestion of the mutual admiration society that Clouzot and Hitchcock shared.

In this frame below from the opening minutes of Marnie, art director Robert Boyle has placed a framed print of an oil well upon Mr. Strut's office wall that references the current state of mind that Strut is in. It suggests money and power and - to my eye - an icon from Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.

oil well pring strut office

Clouzot became lost in his obsessions and personal demons on L'enfer, and despite his having the luxury of a large budget with no oversight, three top camera crews and other devoted personnel, he suffered a heart attack and the project was soon dropped after three weeks.

If you are a fan of thrillers and you appreciate the expertise he employed in The Wages of Fear and Diabolique, his best known films, when you see what has crept out of the vault in this documentary, you can imagine how powerful the finished product might have been.

Rather than just read about this historical miscue, thankfully we get to see some possibilities being fleshed out; the documentary intercuts recently shot footage of two actors performing scenes from the script along with some of the camera tests, interviews with crew members and production footage that was shot back in 1964.

Serge Bromberg as the writer and co-director along with Ruxandra Medrea have given us a gift by allowing the notion and nature of the lost film to be resurrected from the grave.

There will always be dream projects which are never completed.

Prior to his death Sergio Leone was putting into place the financing and crew for a project about Leningrad which ultimately might have been entitled Once Upon a Time in Russia - being Leone, it could have been epic with a capital "E."

When Stanley Kubrick died he left behind a body of masterworks and a handful of abandoned projects including a massive amount of research on the life of Napoleon which he was unable to film.

If you are feeling flush with cash to the tune of $700 US, you can buy the limited edition book at Amazon which is entitled "Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Film Never Made."

Hitchcock had his share of unrealized projects including his version of The Wreck of The Mary Deare.

The one that hurts the most as a Hitch fan is the obstacles he encountered in making Kaleidoscope Frenzy.

Had he been able to go ahead and make the picture, it appears that Hitchcock would have made a critical and financial comeback from the failures of Marnie and Torn Curtain at about the same time as the release of Bonnie and Clyde or In Cold Blood.

Some of the ideas that originated in his failed Kaleidoscope project were reworked a few years later in Frenzy.

Clouzot has often been referred to as "the French Hitchcock," and like Hitch with Frenzy, apparently this is also what happened with Clouzot when he employed some of his L'enfer ideas in his final film from 1968  La prisonnière.

Two of the films on my must-see list are La prisonnière and the Claude Chabrol 1994 release of L'enfer which is based on Clouzot's original 1964 script.

We take it for granted that there is a freedom and ease with which we can create fantastic visual effects in 2009 on a home computer which are clearly more modern than the visual experiments that we observe in the L'enfer camera tests. But our technological advantage does not completely erase or obscure the efforts of those who have gone before us, especially a man like Henri-Georges Clouzot.

The psychedelic, dreamy and weird visual forays in these tests show the current influences of modern art from the early 1960's but although they are artifacts of that time, they still convey introspection, perplexity, and a twisting of time and meaning for the character and the observer to parse.

The fires of L'enfer may have consumed him but the real life story of this production is another classic example of an artist seeking a breakthrough at a great cost to himself and to the backers. It seems to me he lived out his nightmare and his dream at the same time.

In the production footage of L'enfer, when we see the scenes of a man running along the road towards the tracking camera that observes his pursuit, as the background of his past flows away we can see and feel the urgency of the quest.

Whatever he is running away from, and the unknown that he is running towards are the bookends that contain Henri-Georges Clouzot as he is being driven to find whatever it was that he was looking for.

When we see the camera tests, I think within these tests he had found "it" or parts of it, but in his devotion to his quest he could not see whatever was right with what he had found and he lost it again.

Stranger things have happened but I think it would be wonderful if somehow in our lifetime, the existing footage of L'enfer could be made available to purchase  as a software game or puzzle. It could provide entertainment and artistic self-discovery to the film fan - a means to exploring editorial decisions for fun in your own home. Cue up the Talking Heads "Burning Down the House" and let the Disco Clouzot Inferno home game begin....

The documentary score composed by Bruno Alexiu was just right; a moody rainy day jazz score which I found to be a perfect match for this wandering work of art. A cd release of the score needs to be released and it would provide a perfect complementary rememberance of Clouzot and L'enfer.

Nov 10, 2009

Tuneage alert...checkout WABC77 Channel on You Tube

I have had a lot of fun listening and watching the You Tube channel of WABC77 tonight and I highly recommend it.

While we are all familiar with seeing videos online of a person placing a 45 on a turntable and playing the record, this guy has a nice collection of relatively clean sleeves and singles and he (usually) takes the time to show you the catalog number and the credits prior to playing the disc. There is just enough lead in groove static and noise crackle before we enjoy the audio experience of vinyl.

Tonight I heard I Want To Hold Your Hand, Rare Earth - Get Ready, Tom Jones - She's a Lady, The Grass Roots - Midnight Confessions, Creedence - Sweet Hitchhiker, The Sutherland Bros. and Quiver - You Got Me Anyway, The Animals - Don't Bring Me Down, The Beatles - You Can't Do That, and I laughed till I cried when I "played" The Electric Indian - Keem-O-Sabe - 45 RPM - ORIGINAL HOT MONO MIX.

I guess it is the loving presentation of each 45 which nicely sets up the satisfaction of hearing the song on this channel.

As I say goodnight, here is a track from RAM.

Paul and Linda McCartney - Too Many People MONO

As the saying goes - Rock on dudes and dudettes...

April 19, 2010
You Tube suspended the account for WABC77 so these links are g-a-w-n ....GONE.

April 1, 2011
It looks like WABC is back on You Tube so I corrected the links to work again.

Oct 19, 2009

The Action - I'll Keep Holding On ----- Rating? Dyno-mite!!

I just got finished listening to a very old song that I was not familiar with, and yet I was.
It is a cover of a Marvelettes song called I'll Keep Holding On as performed by The Action. The appeal for me is the vocal, the period sound and arrangement, a kindred spirit of early Who and the drumming which aspires towards a higher similar style like Keith Moon of The Who or Bobby Elliott of the Hollies. I especially like how the insistance of the drums is emphasized in the final minute of the song.

Taste and enjoy the original by The Marvelettes

Here is the cover by The Action

I'm definitely hooked. I keep playing it and I hope I won't grow tired of it. If I had bought this as a kid back in 1966, my 45 would be hot from being played over and over again.

It was (according to wikipedia ) their highest charting single at #47.

The Action existed at the same time as some other mid-60's Mod bands who were left behind in the wake of the success enjoyed by The Who. Despite having been signed by George Martin, they did not reach the success they may have deserved.

It hits a nice positive groove that is really comfortable; I feel that I can recognize a little bit of the same mood in this uptempo song being applied in a slightly slower fashion in the treatment given by David Bowie and Tony Visconti to their cover version of Neil Young's I've Been Waiting For You on Heathen -his wonderful effort from 2002 . If this particular song from Heathen is not the one that reflects the connection I make, it may be the mood of Heathen (or possibly Reality the follow-up cd) that I link between Bowie and The Action cover. Why wouldn't he have that sense of feeling? He was recording and releasing singles between 1964 and 1966 trying to find his groove before the success to come in the 70's.

Here is David Bowie's Neil Young cover from Heathen

The production of this song is very cinematic and powerful - I love it.

It's nice to "rediscover" something you missed the first time around...

Oct 5, 2009

My brief backstory...

RRA - My backstory

The only thing I can claim to truly be an expert about would be the history of my life. I would never claim to be an expert on anything else. I am a big fan of popular culture. In some respects my attraction to music and film and comedy and visual content has allowed me to inhabit a world which has offered me shelter and a place to exist happily. I feel like I have always learned from what I have observed and been entertained. The singers and the musicians, or the films and their filmmakers, or the actors and the writers have spoken to me in such a way that I have formed an emotional bonding with their art.

The web is allowing everyone to express themselves and my point of view and my insights about what I am seeing and trying to understand when I see a film are certainly valid to me.

Oct 2, 2009

The Untouchables and De Palma and production design use of numbering in the train station sequence

Think of an especially tense, suspenseful scene or scene sequence from a movie....

How do you think the scene or scene sequence's length contributed to the suspense of the scene or scene sequence?" A few weeks ago, those questions were offered up to the students in an online writing class for consideration as a topic for a brief discussion. I selected the train station sequence in Brian De Palma's 1987 film The Untouchables. I started thinking about that scene and my love of De Palma's films and Alfred Hitchcock and even though I could only share a few sentences about that topic in the discussion area, I kept writing things down for myself. I have been a big De Palma fan ever since I watched Blow Out when it was released back in 1981. The movie was so engaging that my life was changed forever by the profound effect that it had upon me - it was like a religious experience.

Last week on September 7th, 2009, the Cinema Viewfinder blog page began a De Palma blog-a-thon that will conclude on Sept 16th. I submitted an overly long piece a day or so ago and I hope that they might choose to add some of my observations to the celebration. Like a child waiting to be embraced, or in my seeking that feeling of internal happiness that occurs when another person smiles back at you, I decided that I wouldn't -or couldn't-wait any longer.
I also realized that because I did not have a blog, I could only comment on other submissions. So back on Monday night, I started this blog so I can share my thoughts.

No matter how imperfect or juvenile the style, no matter how fawning I may inadvertently appear to be, regardless of the potential unpleasantness of the sickeningly sweet taste of my words to a reader who might consider it to be a puff piece, I'm going to paddle out into the water with my mind, an alphabet, and my heart and start riding the tides....


Part One
A quick look at the train station shootout sequence in Brian De Palma’s film The Untouchables

The production team -

Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Art Linson
Written by David Mamet
Original Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Stephen H. Burum
Film Editing by Jerry Greenberg and Bill Pankow
Production Design - Patricia Von Brandenstein

What follows is an attempt to provide some personal observations about De Palma’s use of numbers and visual storytelling in The Untouchables. My favorite De Palma films tend to be the ones that he has written and directed. I enjoy his work in general. I have always felt that De Palma has been mistreated, mischaracterized and discarded in print or online without being recognized for using the gifts and talents that he employs in his films.

We all know the line about opinions being like @$$holes because everybody has one.
My agenda, if there is one, is to offer a sincere appreciation of his communication skills as a filmmaker. An artist's work should speak for itself. No matter how gifted the creator may be, if the audience does not bring intelligence and an open mind to the encounter with the art, or a willingness to think about and try to understand what they are seeing or hearing, negativity ensues. If the audience is a co-creator in the creative dialog with the artist and they shirk the responsibility of thoughtful analysis, then meaning becomes meaningless and we all lose. I believe De Palma is a terrific artist who continues to be deserving of a much greater recognition and appreciation within his lifetime by film lovers throughout the world.

Sep 30, 2009

The Night Digger - old fashioned filmmaking and a chance to let the audience viewer to imagine how great the danger on screen might be.

I am a big fan of Bernard Herrmann because of the quality and emotional scope of his music and his contributions that empowered the films of Orson Welles, Hitchcock, and De Palma.

Last night - September 29, 2009 - on TCM they showed The Night Digger (aka The Road Builder) directed by Alistair Reid.

I bought the soundtrack sometime in the mid-1990s, and it was pretty cool to finally get to see it.

The music in the mix appeared to be subdued ( at least it was on TV) which would be in keeping with the overall mood and tone of the film. You immediately know when you are hearing a Herrmann score and he tends to be powerful and you wouldn't want to allow it to dominate the film at the expense of the story. I would like to see it in a theatre. Alistair Reid's direction of the film was restrained, deliberate and methodical. It was very old fashioned and pleasing just the same. His suggestion of ideas and the moments when we are to consider the pleasure of the flesh is not too chaste, it is just clearly and briefly offered.

Sep 25, 2009

10-2-09 Dollars to donuts to de palma. My final revision is now in place for my De Palma train station appreciation.

I am now ready to move on from further revisions of  my opinion piece about Brian De Palma and his use of numbering in The Untouchables train station sequence.

That sequence came to mind as an example of a successful suspense scene. Numbering and the use of shapes and forms in films are a fascinating aspect of making content to be perceived. It is one of the standard methods employed by directors and their production designer/art director team; a specific strand of the fabric of cinematic communication in films and certainly used by Alfred Hitchcock.

Throughout the piece I have tried to free up my voice about the bum rap that Brian De Palma has gotten over the years. Although he doesn't need me to defend his art, I appreciate how hard it is to get anything done in living life. If you love film and you have been inside the working of the machinery at any level, you can really understand how hard it is to accomplish anything.

No artist is immune to criticism or negative evaluations, and there are moviegoers and critics alike who will routinely reject out-of-hand the possibility that De Palma has something to offer in his art. I grimace at the drubbing that De Palma receives in print or online. Most opinions make absolutely no attempt to appear balanced or indicate any reasoned understanding of what is taking place in the storytelling, and overall they fail to make any indication of having seen anything of value.

Brian De Palma 's biggest box office success to date has been Mission Impossible, according to Box Office Mojo.

Click this link to see...........  De Palma box office numbers

The films that he has made as a director and writer (or co-writer) - Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, Body Double, Raising Cain, Obsession and Sisters, I find to be his most interesting and they have fared less well at the box office. From the same site they list his total numbers for the 17 films dating from Redacted back to Obsession as: Lifetime Gross Total (17): $636,033,843.

Artitstic content has never been a variable when creating a tally of gross receipts for box office rankings.
The audience continues to vote with their wallet and their vigorous involvement with Netflix and the internet. The new obstacle to avoid is when the audience can kill a film by electronic word-of-mouth with instant messaging direct from the theatre as the film is in progress which can sink any film before it has a chance to find the intended audience.

There was an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times about the limitations on a film's success when the
producers have forgotten to include advertising dollars into the overall strategy for the release of the picture.
Link below...

Every person should be honest in forming a personal opinion of their reaction to a film, but they shouldn't kill it before someone else has a chance to form their own opinion.

Below are two quotes attributed to Stanley Kubrick regarding meaning in a film.
"I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other,
 as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself."

Here is a famous exchange from an interview of Stanley Kubrick by Joseph Gelmis.

Gelmis was inquiring about 2001.

Gelmis - "What are those areas of meaning? "

Kubrick - "They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded. "

Sep 20, 2009

copyright info

The copyrights for films mentioned in these blog posts do not belong to me but belong to the various studios and copyright holders.
The writing and opinions and configured image in these posts are by Randy Aitken.
All screengrabs featured in these posts are being used as a point of reference to illustrate the artistry of the filmmakers and their films.
I encourage everyone to seek out and purchase legitimate DVD copies of these films for further edification and enjoyment.

Randy Aitken 2009

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