Monthly Archives: January 2013


❝ If the 20 minutes he spent on the show are any indication, then Cruise never stops working because he apparently spends his every waking moment playing a character named Tom Cruise.

It’s a role that demands huge commitment, discipline and dedication. Most of all it means never letting your guard down, never giving anything away, never appearing out of control and, from the looks of things, never relaxing. ❞

On Tom Cruise’s role in Jack Reacher — or on Tom Cruise diligently playing “Tom Cruise” (which he does all the time) — from The Marlborough Express

If the 20 minutes he spent…


Plot structures in Polanski’s films | Leo Robson | The Guardian


☞ To say that most of Polanski’s films have one of three plot structures may sound too formulaic, but it is hard to argue against this article’s main contention. Polanski’s vision is not only in the recreation of bleak and unforgiving settings, or, according to Roger Ebert (!), in the recurrence of characters who, like Charles Manson, are “anti-intellectual, witless, and driven by deep, shameful wells of lust and violence.” It also lies in the reiteration of a restricted range of plot structures that run across many of his films. They are of course not plot formulas in the conventional or generic sense, but they also highlight the fact that, in spite of his films’ variety, Polanski does not engage in significantly new thematic departures in many of his films.

Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion. Photograph: BFI/Ronald Grant

The backbone of Polanski‘s body of work is formed by three kinds of narrative – the testing of an unequal marriage, the humbling of a complacent professional, and the crumbling of a lonely mind – and few of his films buck all trends to any significant degreeFrantic, for example, a cleverly exasperating thriller about a Paris kidnapping, has similarities with other humbling narratives – ChinatownThe Ninth Gate and The Ghost – including a tendency to frustrate a major star, this time Harrison Ford, in petty ways, but it lacks some of the things they share: a corpse in water, the sense of thwarted rebellion against one’s place in the food chain, a downbeat ending. The Pianist, one of two films, along with Oliver Twist, that deals directly with the personal experience to which Polanski’s other work gives oblique or allusive treatment, belongs to the lonely-mind genre only in its second half, once ghetto turns to wasteland. (Polanski started off writing his own films, or working closely with the authors of original screenplays, then, having found his formula, turned to adapting source material, much of it strikingly well-matched to his interests and strengths.)

But even these different narrative formations are telling, at bottom, the same story. Polanski has no favourite technique, favourite actor, or favourite genre; he does, however, have a pet concern, one that adapts well. If there are two men on board, both will indeed want to be captain, but it is the woman – a wife or girlfriend, never a mother – who decides which man, and the judging process is sure to be characterised by tickled malignity or scornful glee. (“The women we like,” Christoph Waltz tells Jodie Foster in Polanski’s most recent film, Carnage, speaking on behalf of men unnerved by feminism, “are sensual, crazy, shot full of hormones. The ones who want to show off how perceptive they are, the gatekeepers of the world, they’re a huge turnoff.”) Polanski’s film of Macbeth, which he adapted with Kenneth Tynan, is usually seen as his response to the murders at his house in Cielo Drive, in which his wife Sharon Tate was killed, but given that it involves a man who over-reaches himself at the insistence of his wife, it is easy to imagine him making it at more or less any point. (Of his adaptations of classics, it is more in line with his sensibility, and a stronger, more convincing performance, than Oliver Twist or Tess.)”

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The curse of the back-story


A scene from Table no. 21

☞ My latest entry on the main narrativeblog is on the back-story in revising a novel. This article is an interesting complement to it: on the endemic resort to the back-story in Hindi films.

“Indian filmmakers – specifically Hindi ones – have always, annoyingly, felt this need to ‘explain’ the story, using pointless dialogues to spell out every last detail about plot and character. In other cases – like Table No 21 – you have what you call the ‘back-story’, a smaller part of the narrative, used to explain character motivation, or to help put pieces of the jigsaw together. The back-story itself isn’t a problem; Thakur taking his revenge on Gabbar Singh in Sholay wouldn’t have been as rewarding if you hadn’t witnessed how brutally the dacoit killed his family.

However, in a film like Table No 21, which is supposed to be a straightforward, snappy thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for a little under two hours, to have a back-story is the worst idea possible, especially since it’s not required. Worse, it comes at a point when you want the film to come to a quick finish. You have invested over 90 minutes already, enjoying bits, not caring much about others, and want to know how the story ties up together eventually. Then comes the back-story.”

Review of The Girl | John Crace | The Guardian


☞ Since my previous post was a quotation from Toby Jones, on the challenge of acting as Hitchcock in The Girl, I thought I should quote from one of the favourable reviews of the television movie. Not everyone views the movie positively: some other reviewers, television viewers or friends of Hitchcock view the movie as a false portrayal of the director, and would question Crace’s assertion below that “it’s a fairly accurate account.” Again, the question of authenticity, although from a different angle, crops up.

Beauty and the beastly Hitchcock: a peerless study of sexual obsession

Picture from The Telegraph

“”Blondes make the best victims,” Alfred Hitchcock once said. The Girl (BBC2) was Tippi Hedren, the blonde who ultimately refused to be his victim and, as this HBO film was largely based on Hedren’s own interviews and Donald Spoto‘s Hitchcock biography, it is reasonable to assume it’s a fairly accurate account.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, it began with Hitchcock choosing Hedren, an unknown New York model, to star in two of his finest films, The Birds and Marnie. It ended with her frozen out of Hollywood for five years after a stand-off in which she refused to work for him and he refused to release her from her contract. As a study of Hitchcock’s peculiar and demanding directorial methods, together with some eye-catching early 60s Hollywood period detail, The Girl was a class act: as a study in sexual obsession it was peerless.”

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English: Toby Jones (Dobby)

There’s always panic when you’re playing someone as iconic as Hitchcock,… There’s that suspicion you might not have done that bit of research that would be crucial. I’m trying to make myself enough like that person so that it doesn’t become distracting.

Toby Jones on playing Hitchcock, in HBO’s The Girl


There’s always panic…

Animated and life-action character interactions: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


☞ While the discussion on the influence of an animated character on life-action characters is still fresh (see the discussion below on the television character Daria), let us go on to a film in which the interactions between animated and life action characters occur within the film itself: Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The animated characters in this film, or what are called toons, are not mere dispensable decorations, as in Mary Poppins, but form an essential part of the narrative. There is also a social structure in the film where the toons are discriminated against. As the article notes, the film represents a significant advance on earlier use of animation — or more specifically, animated characters — in life action movies.

✼ “The story’s ingenious conceit is that human-created cartoons, including some of the most recognizable characters in the animated species, coexist with Homo sapiens — off-screen and three-dimensionally, that is. These “toons,” as they’re called, make up a kind of movie-industry underclass that is exploited for profit-making laughs. That’s a pretty audacious motif in a work ostensibly for children, and when you add the superimposition onto the crowded thematic canvas of a top-notch spoof on film noir, you’ve got a movie working overtime in the ideas department.”

✼ “Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Vertigo, and especially Chinatown — Roger Rabbit borrows from them all. There’s even a great bit of economical storytelling lifted from Rear Window, in which we’re brought up to speed on Eddie’s entire history solely through photographs and newspaper clips.

The technical virtuosity is even more impressive. As director Zemeckis recently explained on Fresh Air, the animators devised a process that endowed each cel with the same lighting as in the corresponding live-action scene. The film also breaks a longstanding rule of hybrid human-cartoon projects by allowing the camera to roam. In films like Mary Poppins, Zemeckis said, the recording device was always static “because it would be so difficult to draw different changes of perspective as the camera moves.” But he shot the film “like I would any live action movie. And the animators actually found that it worked better by having the camera moving. That they were able to actually give more life to the cartoon characters and have them feel like they’re more integrated into the actual two-dimensional set.””

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This is not Hitchcock

From its opening shot of a dimming light bulb, the film defies expectations. According to 1930’s film grammar, a dimming light bulb signified only one thing: an execution. In the case of Sabotage, however, the bulb announces a widespread London blackout caused by the introduction of sand into a power station generator.

John Seal on Hitchcock’s Sabotage

BTW, Don’t ask me what film “grammar” is. But from the quotation above, I think I can figure out what is being said here: some convention that existed during that time. Anyway (just in case you’ve been away with John Carter on Mars for the past few months), the light bulb does not reveal that the guy on the left is not Hitchcock (just someone pretending to be him; see also, below).


From its opening shot of a dimming light bulb…