Saturday, 28 July 2012

Drifting Clouds Cinema Blog: "Nuts4R2 Reviews Roger Corman's Not Of This Earth"

Earth Every Penny

Not Of This Earth
US 1957
Directed by Roger Corman
Shout Factory Region 2

Warning: A few mild spoilers here 
if you are worried about such things.

The end of an evening for a young couple as a girl is driven to the edge of the park where she lives. Her boyfriend wants to take her to her door but she protests, wanting to do the last bit through the park on her own in case her dad sees them. So the boy drives off and she walks through the park only to be confronted by a large man with a typical 50s “man in black” UFO image... wearing the suit, a trilby, dark glasses and carrying a briefcase. The man takes off his sunglasses as the girl screams and, as we find out later, the man burns her eyes out with his thoughts and turns her brain all gooey. He gets down beside her, opens his briefcase, taps one of her veins with a needle/tube and starts filling the four vials inside with the girls blood. Is this man a vampire? A vampire from space, perhaps?

One thing's for sure, he’s... Not Of This Earth!

And then the opening credits roll and... well actually I really enjoyed this less than stellar slice of 50s sci-fi. I was looking forward to something really quite bad, to be honest, considering that Corman directed this little piece of space vampirism in the same year that he directed his amazing, has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed Attack Of The Crab Monsters (see review here). To be fair, it is quite bad but the story concept is quite respectable, 1950s sci-fi novel fodder (and therefore early 21st Century movie fodder, mark my words) and the movie is a lot more competent than what you would expect if you’ve seen that other movie.

After using what I can only call his special “eye-powers” to thought control a doctor, Mr. Johnson, the big, dark glasses wearing guy from the opening sequence, has a new long-term guest in his house in the form of the doctor’s young nurse, who has been sent to give Mr. Johnson his vital daily blood transfusion. Fortunately for the audience, Nadine the nurse is played by Beverly Garland, who is a typical 50s B-movie honey, which means she’s not hard to look at, and who I last saw in The Alligator People (reviewed here). When she gets there, she finds a few things about “Mr. Johnson” a little odd... like his surprise that she doesn’t want to be locked in her room overnight, which to him means she has a secure environment. Or why he hires a petty criminal as his personal assistant. And where do all his dinner guests, like the three homeless men he invited to dinner, suddenly disappear to?

When her boss doesn’t want to discuss certain details of her new patient, it’s down to her, her petty criminal co-worker and her policeman boyfriend to solve the mystery. When it turns out the mystery is killing humans for blood and sending it through matter transport beam to a planet dying from a nuclear war, with plans to subjugate the earth... things seem to be taking a turn for the worse. But things are going bad for “Mr. Johnson” too when a fellow alien lady (with characteristic dark glasses) comes to earth through his basement communication beam and tells him she escaped his dying world. Like him, she needs regular blood transfusions so he breaks into the doctor’s office with her to dose her up... not realising he’s accidentally got the “rabid dog blood” by mistake... I promise I’m not making this up. Chases and sequences of suspenseful B-movie terror ensue.

Yeah, okay, it does sound kinda bad and, truth be told, it’s not the most sophisticated B-movie I’ve seen... but this pulled a lot less clunkers than I was expecting and I could see someone like a very young Philip K. Dick getting into similar kind of territory in his short stories and early novels. The direction and cinematography seems a lot more palatable than the same director’s aforementioned Attack Of The Crab Monsters too and Ronald Stein provides another “broad strokes” sci-fi/horror score which ably supports the on-screen action. And when I say ably supports, I mean over-the-top as hell but, then, that is the perfect musical complement to this kind of movie.

The ending of the movie, too, was something I found pleasing on the eye (as corny as it is) and I have to say I was much more satisfied by this ending than I have been by a lot of other movies of this ilk. Although, the movie did miss a trick after the alien lady was infected by “rabid canine plasma” where they had her just dying rather than have her foaming at the mouth and tearing the sleepy town of Dullsville USA apart in a weird alien rampage. Maybe the budget was as non-existent as a lot of Corman’s other features at the time. I’ve just found out, though, that  it was remade twice more over the years... one version even starred the notorious Traci Lords... so maybe the budgetary constraints were lifted a little on the later versions (probably not, but I’m going to do my best to track these versions down). Maybe they even have a rabid, alien, dog-crazy attack in them... who knows?

If you’re looking for a sophisticated entertainment to challenge your brain for an hour or so then stay away from this one at all costs, you won’t find that kind of stimulation in this movie. If, however, black and white 50s sci-fi movies with “white contact lenses standing in for insidious alien eyes that will burn your brain right out of your head” are the kinds of movies you enjoy... then you’ll probably get a kick out of watching this movie. It’s not as awesome as the sheer rubbishness of Attack Of The Crab Monsters... but the dialogue does weave a certain charm which will take you back to more innocent times. Enjoy.


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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "Acting Weird"



The actor should always allow the context within which the scene takes place to do it's work.

Below is an extract from the script for our new short film, Will It Stop Raining In Summer. Beryl is married to Maurice, but having a secret affair with Roger. In the scene below, Roger and Beryl have met up for a drink but Maurice has co-incidentally turned-up at the same cafe, and so the three of them sit together, and chat. The surface action in the extract below is pretty innocuous, but it is the context which gives the scene it's strangeness and complexity.


Maurice is driving the conversation and Roger is going along with whatever Maurice does in order to keep the peace, and maintain  a sense of normality. The point is, the actor playing Roger need never indicate further that what is taking place in the scene is weird or complex – because the context already infers this. The more powerful acting choice, is to play Roger stoically, showing as little as possible, being disciplined – this allows the audience to project their own imagination onto the scene, and their own strangeness and complexity on to it, which leads to an infinitely richer experience than explaining what is happening in the scene through indication or characterization (eg – Roger flicking a moody, “I-can't-believe-this”-look over to Beryl*, which basically amounts to trying to control what the audience think. Much better to infer than to show.


* This is also true for the cinematography – to use it in such a way as to point to the meaning of the scene, say cutting to close-ups - I intend to shoot the scene as one master shot.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Drifting Clouds Cinema Blog: "Round Tables in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee And Cigarettes"


The Great Acting Blog: "The Future Of Acting"


“we have to be optimistic. The moment actors start thinking otherwise, they're dead. You simply have to believe you have a future.” - Peter O'Toole.


Peter O'Toole is a god of acting, he is a great actor, his performance in Becket is one of my favourite of all time, so when he speaks, I listen. However, I was quite shocked by the statement above, it never occurred to me that somebody as fabulously successful and bravura as O'Toole ever had to worry about having a future as an actor, certainly I would never have guessed that he would ever have had to place his chips on being optimistic.


I've never really liked “optimism”, it's similar to “being positive”, it just seems desperate, as though we are powerless and can only accomplish anything because of luck, or because of some outside force doing us a favour. I much prefer to try to see things as they really are, then plot a course of action in response to the conclusions of my analysis, and proceed from there. Optimism is linked to the frustrations of the casting process, where the actor is having to appeal to someone, whilst knowing there are dozens of other actors lined up behind him, waiting to do exactly the same thing – then after the casting, the actor is left hoping he is the one who will be picked, and if he is passed over on this occasion, then he must hope something else turns-up, and the process starts all over again. The actor copes with being demeaned in this way only because it is the accepted norm. The point is however, we can easily see how the actor is reduced to sitting around trying to be “optimistic” about the future. The trouble is, optimism is only a hop, skip and a jump away from wishful thinking, and wishful thinking is, we know, the opposite of hard thinking – but wishful thinking is what keeps people volutarily participating in a system which does not necessarily serve their own best interests, ie: “I have absolutely no control over what is happening to me, but I'm sure something'll turn up”. Wishful thinking is thinking that one day you'll have a career like, well, like Peter O'Toole, even though you may not possess the capability to actually make it happen. As I mentioned in my blog on Why Actors Quit, without a concrete and energising goal (and for the goal to be concrete and energizing, accomplishing it needs to be within the actor's power), the actor will not be able to overcome the obstacles he will inevitably encounter – he needs powerful reasons to keep fighting – optimism, positive thinking, wishful thinking, self-help mantras, vague hope, are not concrete, and they are not energizing, they may, like cigarettes, seem to offer momentary relief, but ultimately they are empty and lead to self-deception



For my own view, the acting world has changed radically from the days when O'Toole was coming up. The last 10 years has seen an explosion in the number of people going into acting, and arguably there has been a dimunition in the volume of work available. Like the rest of our culture, getting a decent education and working hard is no longer enough. We are moving into an era when eveyone needs to be an entrepeneur, and that includes actors. Infact, in the case of acting, I think we will see the emergence of more and more “actor-auteurs”, wherby the actor is the unmistakable author of the work, such as Charlie Chaplin or Woody Allen. This will happen largely because of the reason I mentioned above, that there is just so much more traffic on the old career paths than there used to be and actors will be forced to be more innovative, but also it will happen because it's now doable: the cost of production has been coming down and down and down to the point where a professional quality feature film can be produced with a literally zero budget, and then we have the emergence of micro-distribution, where an audience can be found and nurtured. The actor doesn't need to believe he has a future, the actor needs to create one for himself.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Drifting Clouds Cinema Blog: "Nuts4R2 Reviews EA Dupont's Piccadilly"

Piccadilly. 1929. UK. Directed by E.A. Dupont. BFI DVD. Region 2.

Okay then. Second post but first post proper.

Finally got around to rewatching this very welcome Christmas present, the silent movie Piccadilly starring Gilda Gray and Anna May Wong. A tale of jealousy and murder revolving around a night club (actually a restaurant) in London. Although the actual murder only takes place about 20 minutes before the end of the movie.

This is not a bad transfer of a slightly ropey print, although it has to be said that it’s in a very much restored state here. What doesn’t need restoring is the quality of the majority of the actors and actresses performances, which are great. Every time I watch a silent movie I get stuck into that old trap of expecting overly dramatic, showy displays of acting when most of the time, and Piccadilly is an example of this, the reality is that the acting is certainly not as “stagey” as a great many of the early talkies which had started debuting a couple of years before the release of this movie.

In this incarnation of Piccadilly, the film has been tinted, as it presumably was on its first run, in alternating shades of blue, yellow and pink with the only purely black and white sequences being short flashbacks during the courtroom sequence at the end of the picture. So that’s one of the good things about this restoration.

One of the bad things is, if the quality of the original opening certification is anything to compare to, that the intertitles have so obviously been recreated and placed back in. I don’t know who’s to blame but the amount of widows and orphans in the intertitles is extremely distracting and perhaps a reduction of such occurrences may have been what the movie doctor ordered. I don’t know if these annoying typographic barbs were in the original intertitles but I’d like to think they were and that this is an attempt to recreate these exactly... otherwise someone’s got a lot of explaining to do.

Another minor gripe with what is actually a superb DVD presentation is an annoying and newly commisionned score which does no favours to the power of some of the stunning visuals in this film... being perhaps a little to bland and, dare I say it, “out of place” for a movie such as this. I think I’d possibly recommend that people who are easily distracted by such things view the movie as “purely” a silent movie and turn the volume down on their TV.

That all being said... Piccadilly is a very entertaining movie for those who value the history of film and the evocation of a certain period of time in various locales of London which it attempts to capture.

There’s a lot to like in this movie and when you first fire it up the big surprise, to this viewer anyway, is a properly designed title sequence which consists of the credits of the movie as posters on the side of trams which make their way past the camera. An innovative example of title design from an age when the medium was less associated with it than it is now. Saul Bass would have been proud.

Another thing which might surprise viewers less accustomed to watching pre-talkies is the freedom of movement with the cinematography. Like most silent films, the camera is truly liberated to move and dolly and track along and there is a strong sense of camera movement in the first dance scene highlighting one of the characters which takes on almost Scorcese-like proportions. Unlike the early talkies which were pretty much static due to the technical difficulties of having to box up the cameras so the noise from them wouldn’t impact on the recording, the silent films of the times (and especially these later ones when silent films were almost completely eradicated) were getting very creative with the language of cinema and many critics of cinema at the time were very vocal and quick in their denouncement of talking cinema as the death of the form as a creative art.

Creative too are the various interesting shot set ups and some very interesting shot transitions. There’s a very Eisensteinian moment, for example, when a shot of a small statuette of a nodding buddha is juxtaposed with a minor character nodding his head in the following shot.

And of course, Anna May Wongs vamp like sexuality alone is worth taking a peek at this DVD for.

While there is much to recommend in the BFI DVD of Piccadilly I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to novices of the silent screen (a better place to start might be The Lost World, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari or Nosferatu if you really want to get hooked) but I would certainly recommend putting it on your list if you’re familiar with the mood and tone of silent cinema and want something entertaining and worthy of study to wrap your eyes around.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "Actors Need To Reclaim Acting - Lessons From EA Dupont's Piccadilly"



EA Dupont's silent era masterpiece, Piccadilly, is set in a fashionable London nightclub, and is about an exotic dancer, played by Anna May Wong, whose routines lead her to become the toast of Jazz-Age London. She also becomes the erotic obssesion of the her boss Valentine Wilmot (played by Jameson Thomas), which in turn, pushes the nose of his former lover and star dancer, Mabel Greenfield (Gilda Gray), out of joint, all of which sets off a chain of events leading to tragedy. Piccadilly features some simply breathtaking cinematography, which your eyes will hardly believe, and if anyone is any doubt about the credentials of early British cinema, then they need not look any further than Dupont's film. Joyously, we are also treated to an early Charles Laughton performance, credited as “nightclub diner”, where he complains about a dirty plate. However, it was by the acting generally, that I was piqued – I would not be exaggerating to say that I have simply never seen so many masterful performances all in the same film.


I could single out the sheer intensity of King Hou Chang, but that would be unfair to the provocative and piquant Anna May Wong, and to the grace and technical execellence of Thomas and Gray. The acting in this film is beautiful. The performances are made up of small moments possessed with a perfectly distilled meaning, serving a very precise purpose, and executed with a consummate control. In some respects, a silent film gives us a clearer view to the actor's work, similar to when watching a subtitled foreign film, because we don't have potential distraction of the sound of what the actors are saying, and which is particularly distracting when the actor speaks the lines falsly. Certainly in Piccadilly, some of the power of the performances would have been lost if we had been able to hear what the actors were saying – it was just such a rich experience observing their movements and facial expressions. As with all great performances, we are treated to witnessing the truth of the actor's personality, and that was no different in this film, where the honesty and lack of self-consciousness meant that the actors revealed themselves, made themselves vulnerable, which, in turn, rendered the film's love triangle truly heartbreaking – a human being defending their position with everything they've got, is indeed a powerful sight. In the end, the performances in Piccadilly attain the highest point in acting; they show us that the human face can be poetic.


All of which left me confused. Surely the acting in silent cinema was no match for our all-dominant contemporary “naturalism”? Aren't pre-mid 20th century actors supposed to be false, “theatrical”, mechanical? And yet, Piccadilly, and other films from that era, have proved to be such rich viewing experiences, especially when compared to today's work, so much of which seems trivial, cynical, superficial and self-serving (I've found this to be even more the case in theatre). It's generally thought that acting changed around the middle of the last century, that what had gone on before that period was no longer acceptable - a new, apparently idealistic new generation of teachers and directors, ushered in a new modern era of “realism”. It's hard to see how acting has changed in that period, but what is certainly true is that actors have become completely dominated by directors, and subservient to teachers, even to the extent that the actor himself is marginalised within his own performance (eg – directors or teachers getting the acclaim for great work done by an actor). More broadly speaking, the stature of actors has diminished, with less of them now in control of companies, or even being perceived of as capable of running companies (would the establishment of an institution such as the National Theatre be put in an actors hands today?). Donald Wolfitt set up his own touring company because nobody would give him a chance to play Hamlet, and in early cinema, there was no director: the cinematographer took are of the pictures, and the actors took care of the acting. Could it be then, that there never was anything wrong with the way acting was done, but that it was attacked by directors and teachers in order to create the space for them to have careers, ie – directors and teachers shove actors off their own work, then take responsibility for it, and, voila!


Masterpieces like Piccadilly, show us that there never was anything wrong with the way acting was done, infact, there is strong evidence to suggest that perfromances were (and are) generally stronger when the actor left alone to get on with his work, in the best way he sees fit, taking responsibility for all aspects of it.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Drifting Clouds Cinema Blog: "Full trailer for our film noir, Phone Box Gun, is now up!"


Vincent and Bob stick up a jewellery store to raise money so Vincent can get down to Mexico, and visit his long lost sister, who he didn’t even know he had.

Written and directed by James Devereaux, and featuring James with Alfie Black and John Giles, Phone Box Gun is a short tragi-comic film noir, minimal and shot in black and white, which looks at the nature of friendship, storytelling and the imagination.

lick here to read "Why The Panic Set In", actor Alfie Black's thoughts on working on the film.

Click here to read about the acting style of the film

Click here to view still images of the film

Drifting Clouds Cinema Blog: "Full trailer for our film noir, Phone Box Gun, is now up!"


Vincent and Bob stick up a jewellery store to raise money so Vincent can get down to Mexico, and visit his long lost sister, who he didn’t even know he had.

Written and directed by James Devereaux, and featuring James with Alfie Black and John Giles, Phone Box Gun is a short tragi-comic film noir, minimal and shot in black and white, which looks at the nature of friendship, storytelling and the imagination.

lick here to read "Why The Panic Set In", actor Alfie Black's thoughts on working on the film.

Click here to read about the acting style of the film

Click here to view still images of the film

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "Authenticity"


A few weeks ago I watched Milos Forman's debut, Audition. An early example of the Czech New Wave, shot in 16mm, the film is essentially a faux-documentary split in two parts; the first centres on the rehearsals of  a group of amateur musicians preparing for the annual brass band championship. The second part, involves a series of auditions, where a string of young hopefuls perform a pop number, it's a sort of Iron Curtain X-Factor, and it is a performance from this second part that I was particularly struck by, that of Vera Kresadlova, and specifically her performance in the scene shown in the clip above.

Kresadlova's  here, is utterly captivating. She's charming and attractive for sure, however, she's not trying to be anything, she's not trying to be sassy or cool, she's not trying to project an image of herself, or control what people think, she is simply trying to perform the song as well as she can. She's honest. One of the reasons we have become so cynical about contemporary pop stars and movie stars is because their performances are merely the supply of pre-determined effects, no actual creation takes place – for example; on X-Factor we watch the young wannabee perform his song, and somewhere during it we will see him “getting off on it”, marked by some sort of squeal coupled with a grimaced expression, but none of us believes the wannabee is actually getting off on it, we know his squealing is part of some pre-planned routine to make him seem like the real thing, to make him seem as though the music actually means something to him.

There is no more an uplifting sight than someone taking real pleasure in what it is they are doing. Miss Kresadlova seems genuinely to love the song she is singing, seems to love singing it, and seems to love presenting it to the audience. And from this love, comes a certain humility, she respects her opportunity to perform, as she does the audience, not viewing them merely as an appendage to her career, and the net result is that we all benefit from a true performer-viewer exchange. The alternative is a plastic simulcrum of the exchange, fake squealing, where we go along with the ruse but are hardly enriched by it. That's why it's important as an actor not to become a jobsworth, even if that is all that is demanded of us, instead we must find the power and werewithal to do more,  otherwise the audience becomes anesthetized to our work and follow  the performance simply because that's what they always do. We are all energized by the great artist, whereas few have been inspired by the jobsworth.

The joy of Vera Kresadlova's performance is that it is authentic, and it's authentic because she is doing something that she genuinely loves.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "Why The Panic Set In, by Alfie Black"

Alfie Black is a London based actor.


Throughout my career I have never really suffered any panic  attacks whilst performing. That was of course until I filmed the pivotal interior scene from Phone Box Gun. Even though I originally met the writer/director James Devereaux whilst working on a Theatre production some time ago, it is safe to say over the years we have become firm friends and the director/friend line may now have blurred. It was with this wrong way of thinking I approached his latest project. Knowing he had written the role for me, I got lazy and showed up at school without doing my homework. I half heartedly learnt my lines and I did not research the structure of the script. Not being too harsh on myself anyone who has memorised Devereaux’s dialogue, knows this is no easy feat. His tricky wordplay is not supposed to be a breeze, just like the man himself, nothing is ever straight forward. I could make excuses,  blame it on personal problems, lack of sleep and heavy drinking. No excuse in the world will save you when the Mike Tyson of acting comes charging out of his corner towards you. My simple lack of preparation was my major downfall. Once I had the added pressure of the camera rolling, it was fully clear I did not know my lines 100%, which is why the panic set in. When you start to worry about each word not arriving it destroys the flow of the acting. The Director who demands truth from a scene was witnessing a fake performance. I threw myself into the deep end and even though I was treading water, the shore was a long way out of sight. I am a fighter myself and I never give up, I was determined not to quit. With each take my confidence grew and I began to find my balance and fight back.  I managed to use the fear and stress I was feeling and turn it into something real. Battling hunger and frustration we got to the end of what was a difficult shoot. Even though I had disappointed myself with a lack of professionalism, I was proud of what we achieved that day. I will never forget the terror I had during the filming and I know I grew stronger as an artist because of it.