Tag Archives: Stanley Kubrik

JE T’AIME CINEMA by PAUL LAIGHT

JE T’AIME CINEMA by PAUL LAIGHT

I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat.  I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television.  I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as:  Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.

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The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.

Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as:  Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.

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While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut.  Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.

Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV.  Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.

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Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set.  Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation.  Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me.   Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.

While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen.  But is it better than the cinema?  Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS!  Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.

The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.”  Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).


And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot.  Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema.  It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!

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SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES – #1

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES – #1

Cinema, historically, is seen as a visual medium telling its’ stories via wonderful imagery and sequences spliced together to traverse the collective vision of an omnipotent director.  And there have been some incredible filmmakers who have created fantastic visual landscapes to be marvelled at such as: Stanley Kubrik, David Lean, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Andrei Tarkovsky and er. . . Michael Bay.  Yet, as much as I love the films of such ‘epic’ filmmakers you just can’t beat a brilliantly written piece of dialogue created by a screenwriter and delivered by an actor committed to the character and performance.

Bad dialogue will be on-the-nose, telling us the story specifically and reveal half-baked emotions from paper-thin characters; while great dialogue will tell us about character, theme, and subtext as well as make the audience laugh, cry and most importantly feel emotion.  I love dialogue which is both funny and dramatic and reveals the nature and dynamics of characters’ relationships; especially scenes where characters verbally abuse each other or have gone into meltdown mode.

So, here’s a random list of some of my favourite dialogue scenes and why I like them so much. But, of course, the dialogue would probably be nothing without some fine performances too.  I’m certain there’s many, many more scenes or monologues I’ve left out but as Osgood says to Jerry in SOME LIKE IT HOT – in one of the greatest final lines of any movie – “Nobody’s Perfect!”

(SPOILER ALERT and assumptions you have seen these films. If not, why not!?)

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

 “Nobody’s Perfect!”

Voted one of, if not the best comedy ever by the American Film Institute this scene is a gimme. It is genuinely the funniest ending to a great comedy.  The dialogue is both hilarious and nails the characters’ personas right to the end. Cool heartthrob Joe (Tony Curtis) gets the ultimate blonde bombshell, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) while hapless loser Jerry’s (Jack Lemmon) plan to marry for a big settlement backfires splendidly.  Lemmon was one of the greatest screen actors ever as he was able to do comedy, pathos and drama with wonderful timing and he shows that in this highly witty scene.

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

 “Why Am I Mr Pink?”

I love Tarantino’s dialogue. For me he’s the closest you’ll get to a 20th Century Shakespeare.  All his films – apart from Death Proof (2007) which I hate – have wonderful characters, casting and set-pieces. Most of his scripts tend to be a tad overlong  e.g. Kill Bill (2004) could and should have been one film. Therefore, because of its’ economy, muscular writing and fast pacing, Reservoir Dogs (1992), remains a major favourite of his ouevre.  I love the temporally jigsawed order, testosteronic cast and above all else, the hard-boiled dialogue. It’s lean, bruised and biting; spat out by unreconstructed men who are destined to die a violent, painful death.

The Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) ‘I don’t tip’ scene deserves to be on this list but the one where they all get their names from big Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) is a  diamond in a cluster of sparkling rough.  Industrial language crackles from the screen and the hilarious argument that ensues further sums up Mr Pink’s petty-minded character. Interestingly, this scene was not in the original screenplay and was added to the film during shooting.


MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

“If you can’t trust a fix. What can you trust?”

The opening scene of Miller’s Crossing – like the whole movie – perfectly encapsulates the 1920s/1930s language of America as represented by, not actuality, but the works of noir novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Coens’ postmodern vision creates a world of violence, dames, sluggers, double-crosses and prohibition-led organized crime. The scene begins with a speech by Italian gang-leader Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who espouses his “ethical” modus operandi on fight-fixing to soon-to-be-rival Leo (Albert Finney). While the dialogue crackles and pops; the scene also foregrounds all the key characters on screen at the time and those to appear later in the movie – notably John Turturro’s slimy bookie Bernie Birnbaum. You could probably do a Top 100 of great dialogue scenes from Coen Brothers’ movies and this is certainly up there with the best of them.

Johnny Caspar:  I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell. Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics. It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin’ on chance – and then you’re back with anarchy, right back in the jungle.

MISERY (1990)

“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!!”

Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. Stephen King’s Wilkes’ is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme. This scene reveals more, in some ways, than the memorably gruesome ‘hobbling’ scene. It shows Wilkes’ skewed understanding of narrative by revealing her disgust at ‘cheating’ cliffhangers of Saturday morning serials.  While her language is funny, the delivery and anger in Bates’ performance is very unnerving as demonstrated by Caan’s stunned reaction when he realises he is in the company of a very disturbed individual.  Lastly, I actually agree with her!  They always cheated in those TV shows!

WITHNAIL & I (1986)

“What’s your name – Mcfuck?!”

Definitely in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, WITHNAIL & I simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners and speeches.  I recall being incredibly drunk following a birthday party and watching this scene over and over again and almost choking on my own laughter.  It’s still quite early in the film but the relationship between permanently inebriated cowardly ‘thespian’ Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the eponymous ‘I’ (Paul McGann) is perfectly crystallized in their exchanges with the dangerously lubricated Irish barfly.

Withnail not only reveals his ineptitude in facing physical confrontation but is more than happy to stitch his companion up in a scene which is later mirrored during their run-in with a randy bull. Moreover, the scene slyly sets up the character of Monty (Richard Griffiths) and the disastrous trip to the country, demonstrating great writing in burying such exposition within the comical encounter.  Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I again unfortunately. But his screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time.

ANNIE HALL (1977)

“I have to go Duane – I’m due back on Planet Earth.”

Arguably the most brilliant and prolific screenwriter/directors ever, Woody Allen’s movies – especially his ‘early, funny films’ – are jammed with gags, slapstick and cracking one-liners.  Allen’s cinematic art would mature and his hilarious romantic comedy Annie Hall forms a creative bridge between the joke-driven all-out comedies and the more dramatic works featured in Allen’s oeuvre. Annie Hall is obviously still of full of punchline-led scenes as it tells a classic boy-meets-girl-boy-breaks-up-with-girl-boy-analyses-where-it-all-went-wrong tale, only Allen could pull off.

I could’ve picked any number of great scenes from Annie Hall but one I always remember features the majestically intense – even as a youngster – Christopher Walken. It’s his only scene but he still stands out as Annie’s brother, Duane: a psychotic loner with suicidal tendencies.  His short but very dramatic monologue is perfectly delivered as Duane confesses a desire to kill himself in an automobile accident. Comedy arrives by virtue of Allen’s squirming reactions in the car with Duane and the final pay-off is an absolute treat.

BRIDESMAIDS (2011)

“I feel bad for your face!”

I love this scene because it really sums up Kristen Wiig’s unhappy-go-lucky-loser-status in the film.  Wiig’s Annie suffers a severe case of arrested development throughout and in the squabble with the young girl she should really be mature and know better. Annie’s in negative equity romantically and forever in the shadow of other more successful women and just as things cannot get any worse she enters into a ping-pong argument with this brattish teenager that escalates WAY out of control. It culminates in a wonderfully rude topper of a punchline that left me laughing my head off.  There’s also an element of wish fulfilment in there too as I would love to have let rip in a similar fashion during my time in customer service.

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – (1992)

“Fuck you! That’s my name!”

In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays the character Blake, almost earning the silver-tongued raconteur an Oscar for the role. He’s in ONE scene. ONE scene, yet because of David Mamet’s mercurial speech he steals the whole film.   This is no mean feat given the cast contains an annual Oscar Best Actor nominee list: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce.  Blake’s speech is a rallying call for the sales team to raise their game, full of acronymic inspiration and cursing and flat-track bullying. It quickly turns to a litany of threats, abuse and monetary grandstanding as the sales guys just don’t respond to Blake’s aggressive personality.  I fucking hate sales jobs and they suck because of guys like Blake who do not care about the customer – just the dough!  Although having said that if I’d heard Mamet’s speech delivered by Baldwin I’d be ready to sell snow to the Eskimos.  He’s that good!

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968): STANLEY KUBRIK’S MASTERPIECE IN VISUALS

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY:  A VISUAL REVIEW

A picture is worth a thousand words.” – Old Chinese Proverb**

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Thus, having seen Stanley Kubrik’s poetic space opera at the cinema last week I thought it unnecessary to write what can be said better with images.  It is a work of absolute art which gets better on every viewing.

An influence on pretty much EVERY science-fiction film since its inception this film MUST be seen at the cinema. It’s on at the BFI at the moment so go before their brilliant sci-fi season closes.

What does it all mean?  Something about life, death, future, past, present, humanity, aliens, peace, violence, Artificial Intelligence, technology, religion, heaven, hell and pretty much everything else.  It’s up to the viewer to decide.

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**Although there is some doubt on the Internet as to whether it was Russian author Turgenev who invented this phrase or whether it was an early 20th copywriter Fred Barnard trying to sell cars who coined this phrase.  But who cares – just look at some pictures and be in awe to the genius of Stanley Kubrik and his filmmaking team.