Tag Archives: Jim Clark

The Day of the Locust (1975, John Schlesinger)

The Day of the Locust is a gentle film, at least in terms of Schlesinger’s direction, Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography and John Barry’s score. The film’s softly lit but with a whole lot of focus. Schlesinger wants to make sure the audience gets to see every part of the actors’ performances. He also wants the actors to exist in this dreamland. It’s Hollywood in the thirties, it’s supposed to be a dreamland. Except everything is a threat, possible danger is everywhere. Only Schlesinger doesn’t break that gentle direction until the third act, so he has to figure out how to suggest that danger as gently as possible.

Luckily, he’s got great actors, he’s got Hall, he’s got Barry, he’s got editor Jim Clark who does an unbelievable job cutting the film. Day of the Locust is a film about terrorized people who don’t realize they’re terrorized until its way too late.

The film opens with William Atherton moving into a not great apartment complex and getting a job in the art department at Paramount. He’s got a rather attractive neighbor, Karen Black, who works as an extra. Black lives with her father, played by Burgess Meredith. The first twenty or so minutes of the film beautifully establishes the grandeur of thirties Hollywood through Atherton’s perspective. Once Meredith shows up, however, the film becomes more and more Black’s.

Eventually, as Atherton’s attempts to woo Black go unsuccessful, Donald Sutherland shows up. He’s not in L.A. for the showbiz. He’s an accountant and a delicate person, something Sutherland essays beautifully. The thing about the acting in Locust is all of its great, it’s just great in completely different ways. Atherton’s story arc, for example, eventually becomes entirely subtext. A long take on him here, a cut to his reaction somewhere else. His character development becomes background, even though he’s somehow always the protagonist.

Sutherland falls for Black too. Just like Bo Hopkins does. Just like Richard Dysart does. Black doesn’t convey malice or even indifference to her suitors, she just doesn’t return their affections. Waldo Salt’s script is extremely complicated in how it deals with Black’s character. She’s never kind, but occasionally gentle. She’s rarely mean when sober, but when drunk she’s vicious. Her character, just like most of them in Locust, is inevitably tragic.

The Day of the Locust‘s characters’ tragedies stem from their unawareness. They’re victims, whether they know it or not. And they only way to succeed is to victimize someone else, which can even be a mutually beneficial arrangement. It’s a rather depressing film. Of course, Atherton’s protagonist is never looking for happiness so much as he is for beauty.

Black’s performance makes the film. Sutherland’s great, Meredith’s great, Atherton’s excellent in a slimmer role than the others, but it’s Black who makes The Day of the Locust so devastating. At least until the final devastation, where Schlesinger and Salt shatter the already shattered dream. For all Schlesinger’s excellent fine, gentle filmmaking, when he unleashes at the end of Locust, it’s even better. And editor Clark ably handles it all.

The Day of the Locust is exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; screenplay by Waldo Salt, based on a novel by Nathanael West; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Jim Clark; music by John Barry; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Jerome Hellman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Atherton (Tod Hackett), Karen Black (Faye Greener), Burgess Meredith (Harry Greener), Donald Sutherland (Homer Simpson), Richard Dysart (Claude Estee), Bo Hopkins (Earle Shoop), Geraldine Page (Big Sister), Paul Stewart (Helverston), John Hillerman (Ned Grote), Pepe Serna (Miguel) and Billy Barty (Abe Kusich).

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The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975, Gene Wilder)

I didn’t know what to expect from The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, other than some of the principals of Young Frankenstein to reunite. As it turns out, Smarter Brother is Frankenstein’s younger brother. For his first directorial outing, Wilder basically just mimics Brooks’s direction of Frankenstein. There are the constant fadeouts and the same scenic approach to humor.

Unfortunately, Smarter Brother is nowhere near as good.

The third act of the film is full of these lengthy sequences absent dialogue–there’s a lengthy opera performance, then a sword fight, even the last scene in the film relies on music over characters conversing. It’s good music (John Morris also composed the Young Frankenstein score), but it’s clearly masking the absence of content.

The film only runs ninety minutes and, during that final scene, I realized how much better it opened than it finished. The present action of the first third is one night, introducing Wilder as the titular character, Marty Feldman as his sidekick and Madeline Kahn as the love interest and damsel in distress. Once that first night is over, however, the film flounders. Wilder’s script still has some really funny moments, but he’s clearly churning out whatever he can to keep it moving.

Dom DeLuise shows up in the second half and is funny. Leo McKern is mediocre but likable as the villain. Wilder spends too much time on him. Roy Kinnear is mostly annoying as McKern’s stooge.

The idea alone should have made a better film.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gene Wilder; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Jim Clark; music by John Morris; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Richard A. Roth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Wilder (Sigerson Holmes), Madeline Kahn (Jenny Hill), Marty Feldman (Sgt. Orville Stanley Sacker), Dom DeLuise (Eduardo Gambetti), Leo McKern (Moriarty), Roy Kinnear (Moriarty’s Assistant) and John Le Mesurier (Lord Redcliff).


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The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)

I don’t get it.

When I watched the film, I had no idea The Innocents was considered some masterpiece of British cinema. I’m actually rather surprised by the acclaim. Similarly, I’m shocked Deborah Kerr considered her performance in this film her best. It’s not a bad performance by any means; the plotting constrains it a great deal. I guess considering those constraints it’s a good performance. I was much more impressed with Megs Jenkins’s performance, seeing as how it was, well, unconstrained.

Perhaps some of my confusion is over a forty-year-old Kerr playing a twenty-year-old. I thought she was supposed to be playing a forty-year-old. I guess I can see it being different if her character is supposed to be twenty. Makes a backstory a lot less important (her character has no backstory, one of the major problems if you’re watching it with her being forty–and her age is never mentioned, so I don’t see as how it’s my fault).

Technically, it’s a good film. Freddie Francis had a lot of difficult shots to do in the dark and, while they aren’t the most successful things in the world (it’s not like Gregg Toland’s shooting this one), it’s a fine attempt. Clayton does get some really disturbing compositions in, but it’s never exactly scary. The film’s got two ways to go, either of them could be scary, but Clayton purposely ignores these options, so as to make the film… atmospheric without frightening.

Eh.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, with additional scenes and dialogue by John Mortimer, based on a novel by Henry James; director of photography, Freddie Francis; edited by Jim Clark; music by Georges Auric; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens), Peter Wyngarde (Peter Quint), Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Grose), Michael Redgrave (The Uncle), Martin Stephens (Miles), Pamela Franklin (Flora), Clytie Jessop (Miss Jessel) and Isla Cameron (Anna).


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Happy-Go-Lucky (2008, Mike Leigh)

I’m not sure how I feel about Panavision Mike Leigh. Dick Pope’s cinematography–and the film’s overall color scheme too–is very vibrant. Happy-Go-Lucky is a peppy, bright, Panavision Mike Leigh film. It’s got a loud–good, but loud–score (from Gary Yershon); the score’s peppy too. There’s a very definite arc to the film, with a predictable ending. It’s improvised like the rest of Leigh’s films, but it’s going for a different effect–it’s a comedy. If Hugh Grant showed up in Happy-Go-Lucky, he wouldn’t be at all out of place. In fact, he might even be a good addition to it.

The film has a deceptively small dramatic vehicle–always happy schoolteacher and all around nice person Sally Hawkins has her bike stolen so she has to learn to drive, introducing her to misanthropic driving instructor Eddie Marsan. Will Marsan eventually fall under her–unintentional–spell? I spent most of the film hoping not, since the driving scenes would only add up to something–other than just being Hawkins in driving classes, not an epical framework for a narrative–if there’s a culminating scene with Marsan freaking out and screaming at her for being so happy.

So happy-go-lucky.

The film presents Hawkins as a little annoying in her constant jubilance, but she is a good person. There’s a scene–maybe in the middle–where it’s clear Hawkins is such a good person, she sometimes puts it before her personal safety. So raising the question of her motives for her behavior in the conclusion and subjecting the viewer to a traditional romantic comedy self-reflective montage… it’s wrong. Happy-Go-Lucky spends most of its time meandering, only to get real close to attaining something special at the end, then decides to be a romantic comedy instead.

It’s a Mike Leigh movie with an intentional comic set piece. Sure, Karina Fernandez’s flamenco teacher is hilarious–but it’s a fake moment in a Mike Leigh film. It’s a good, fake moment, exactly the type of thing a theater-full of romantic comedy goers would love to see. I really enjoyed it, but it’s the type of thing where the followup joke involves Hugh Grant learning to flamenco.

Hawkins is great, no question, as is Marsan. She makes the character work, usually during the quiet scenes. The supporting cast is all solid–Alexis Zegerman plays her roommate (there are a few comments about the pair having a romantic relationship, but it’s all in jest… the movie might have worked better if it hadn’t been), Samuel Roukin’s her romantic interest (they have a lovely romantic comedy conclusion).

The stuff Leigh drops–the unique material Happy-Go-Lucky initially tries to discuss (racism, abuse)–is almost forgotten by the end. The lengthy comedy material makes it all disappear, swept under the carpet during one of the funnier scenes perhaps.

But Leigh also introduces the idea Hawkins’s innocence, her demeanor, will eventually land her in hot water. He exploits the viewer’s concern for the character, the concern he’s created for just that reason–to add tension to a number of scenes. It’s a standard move, occasionally honest, occasionally not, always with good acting from Hawkins. But the move’s a middling one, not the kind of thing I expect from Mike Leigh, lovely Panavision composition or no lovely Panavision composition.

Oddly, Leigh’s a great Panavision composer. His shots are magnificent… like he spent more time on how the shots look than what goes on in them.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Leigh; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Jim Clark; music by Gary Yershon; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Sally Hawkins (Poppy), Eddie Marsan (Scott), Alexis Zegerman (Zoe), Andrea Riseborough (Dawn), Sinéad Matthews (Alice), Kate O’Flynn (Suzy), Sarah Niles (Tash), Sylvestra le Touzel (Heather), Karina Fernandez (the flamenco teacher) and Stanley Townsend (Tramp).


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