Tag Archives: Shelley Duvall

STANLEY KUBRICK’S THE SHINING (1980)

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, which claims that telephoned author Stephen King shortly before filming commenced on The Shining (1980). Allegedly, Kubrick asked King: “Do you believe evil exists, as an entity?” “Yes, I do,” King answered. “Well, I don’t,” Kubrick replied as he slammed down the phone. According to the anecdote, King then knew his pulp novel had been “taken away” from him. His budding 1980 fan base agreed, feigning outrage at cinematic liberties Kubrick was to take. Despite King’s fans, The Shining was largely a hit with audiences and critics, though hardly unanimous. Since then, it has developed an epic cult reputation and is considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. As per the norm with extreme opinions, both views are off-kilter.

Underrated by literary critics and overrated by housewives, Stephen King was already a household name by 1980, and a film version of his novel about a possessed hotel was inevitable. What King was not prepared for was a forceful filmmaker with his own ideas. To be certain, this is Stanley Kubrick’s Shining, not King’s, and for that we can be thankful (King later proved the point in a dreadfully faithful 1997 television remake).

In Kubrick’s The Shining, the face of evil is not the hotel. Rather, it is the bourgeoisie husband/father Jack Torrance (), with the Still from The Shining (1980)hotel standing as an obvious symbol for man’s eternal evil. That very simple decision confused the hell out of its hyper-linear 1980 audience, although contemporary viewers seem less troubled by it. Yet, there are drawbacks; Kubrick does not make good on all of his promises. There is no substantial character arc for Jack. He is most interesting in the first half before being reduced to a monotone Looney Tune archetype. In sharp contrast, his wife Wendy () emerges from her bedside banality, like a figure jumping off a Symbolist canvas, to become a torrent. Channeling modernist painters (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Amedo Modgiglini) is a recurring Kubrick theme. Casting Duvall was shrewd. Footage from a “making of” documentary  reveals Kubrick was tyrannical when directing her. It paid off.  Unfortunately, the development of the patriarchal antagonist is not as layered. Kubrick fails to reign in Nicholson, whose character solicits identification and sympathy only from the film’s thug demographic (much in the same way that the Al Pacino’s Tony Montana does). In painting Jack two-dimensionally, Nicholson and Kubrick open wide the door of identification for simpletons. The film falters in allowing the ink to dry on Jack. The banality of evil theme is as subtle as the second half of Nicholson’s performance, but of course, Kubrick’s The Shining is not relegated to a single character.

Kubrick’s The Shining is a far more complex machine than the source Continue reading STANLEY KUBRICK’S THE SHINING (1980)

163. 3 WOMEN (1977)

“I’m trying to reach toward a picture that’s totally emotional, not narrative or intellectual, where an audience walks out and they can’t say anything but what they feel.”–Robert Altman (quoted in David Sterritt’s Criterion Collection essay)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Robert Fortier

PLOT: A young girl named Pinky begins working at a spa in California, where she eventually becomes roommates with her idol, Millie, who is a few years older. Millie believes herself to be popular, inviting people over for dinner parties and out on dates, but in reality nearly everyone avoids her except for Pinky. Then, after a near-fatal accident, Pinky undergoes a radical personality change…

Still from 3 Women (1977)
BACKGROUND:

  • Robert Altman conceived the picture after a dream he had while his wife was hospitalized: he dreamed the title of the film, the location, that it involved personality theft, and that it would star Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek.
  • 3 Women was made without a traditional screenplay. Instead, together with writer Patricia Resnick, Altman devised a 50 page treatment. The movie was then shot in sequence, with Altman writing out the next day’s scenes the night before, and the actors improvising much of the dialogue. Duvall wrote all of the diary entries herself.
  • The murals were painted by an otherwise nearly unknown hippie artist working under the name “Bodhi Wind.”
  • Duvall’s performance won her a Best Actress nod at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • The movie was not available on home video in any form until 2004 due to the distributors’ failure to negotiate rights for Gerald Busby’s avant-garde musical score.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The paintings that decorate the swimming pool walls: strange creatures with scaly legs and baboon faces, engaged in bizarre, violent courting rituals. A male stands with his arms outstretched and his stout penis hanging proudly between his legs while females scatter, looking over their shoulders and baring their fangs at him. Shots of these two murals, which inside the movie’s reality are painted by Janice Rule’s character, occur over and over throughout the film, including over the opening and closing credits. Oddly enough, the shot most associated with 3 Women—the one that illustrates the DVD cover and accompanies most reviews—doesn’t even occur in the film. The photograph of Sissy Spacek entwined in Shelly Duval’s arms as they recline against a fresco depicting one simian lizard creature strangling another was a promotional photo. 3 Women is that kind of movie: the type that’s best represented by something lying outside of its own boundaries.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: 3 Women is based on an uneasy dream suffered by Robert Altman, and incredible performances by Sissy Spacek and (especially) Shelly Duvall turn it into a collaborative dream. Although most of the movie is naturalistic, with nothing happening that could not quite happen in our reality, there is nonetheless a dreadful sense of illusoriness, as if we’re seeing events through a gauze.


Original trailer for 3 Women

COMMENTS: Tucked away on the long stretch of nowhere between Persona (1966) and Lost Highway (1997) lies 3 Women, the 1970s iteration Continue reading 163. 3 WOMEN (1977)

SHORT: FRANKENWEENIE (1984)

DIRECTED BY: Tim Burton

FEATURING: Barrett Oliver, Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern

PLOT: A young boy reanimates his recently deceased dog, but the undead pet is not a hit with

Still from Frankenweenie (1984)

the neighbors.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s not weird; in fact, it’s an extremely conventional, if awfully charming, Frankenstein parody.

COMMENTS: Tim Burton’s second effort is a surprisingly fluid and assured bit of storytelling that attracted some remarkable talent for a short film, most notably a post-Shining Shelley Duvall (who had some sort of sixth sense for locating and working for offbeat auteurs) as Mom Frankenstein.  Dad Daniel Stern was an established thespian who would go on to greater fame as a voice actor.  Actor/director (Death Race 2000) appears briefly as the science teacher who puts the idea of resurrecting the dog in young Victor Frankenstein’s mind when he demonstrates how to make an ex-frog’s legs jump by applying electrodes.  Despite the ability Burton demonstrated here to attract and manage top talent, Disney famously dropped the ball and fired him after seeing Frankenweenie, without letting him try his hand at a feature, complaining that the film was too scary and a waste of resources.  In hindsight, it’s difficult to see why shortsighted Disney execs thought that Burton was too weird and dark to work for the Mouse.  It’s hard to imagine anyone thought this childhood farce would give any but the most overprotected weenie kid nightmares.  (More likely, the studio believed that anyone who would voluntarily shoot a featurette in black and white was not to be trusted).  The subject matter is only mildly offbeat—it’s a cute, clockwork parody of Frankenstein, a acknowledged classic.  There are laughs that are mildly morbid—when stitched-together Sparky springs a leak the first time he laps from his water bowl, or when Dad Frankenstein muses, “I guess we can’t punish Victor for bringing Sparky back from the dead,” but nothing alienatingly weird.  The directorial style is utterly traditional: the musical cues come at the expected moments, and when you see Victor playing fetch with his dog Sparky by rolling a ball out onto the suburban street, you almost groan at the pedestrian foreshadowing.  That’s not to say the movie is bad; in fact, it’s charming in its familiarity.  Kids enjoy it, but not half as much as boomer grownups nostalgic for their “monster kid” days when they used to stay up late on weekends and watch Zacherley or Ghoulardi host a Frankenstein marathon.  It’s a droll adult view of a child’s eye view of a James Whale nightmare.

Burton has been promising to remake the short as a full-length, stop-motion animated feature for years.  A release date is tentatively set for 2012 but the project doesn’t appear to have progressed beyond the planning stages.  In the meantime the original short is available, together with the short Vincent, on the Nightmare Before Christmas DVD.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Frankenweenie captures perfectly the spirit of whimsy mixed with the grotesque that typifies the Burton oeuvre.”–Deeky Wentworth, Surfin’ Dead (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Maxwell Stewart.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)

DIRECTED BYRobert Altman

FEATURING: Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murhpy, Shelley Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, , Margaret Hamilton, Jennifer Salt, William Baldwin

PLOT: An oddball genius constructs a one man flying device in the basement of the Houston Astrodome, assisted by a sexy but murderous guardian angel.

Still from Brewster McCloud (1970)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Robert Altman’s showman’s understanding and appreciation of the circus influenced the presentation of this surreal satire with its unconventional plot, eccentric characters, and eye-catching production design.  Watching this colorful odyssey is like exploring a side road on the cinematic highway to Oz.

COMMENTS:  Five out of five stars all the way for this gorgeous, pensive work of art. In this strange black comedy, Brewster McCloud (Cort -“Harold” from Harold and Maude) is a likable misfit who lives in the fallout shelter of the old Houston Astrodome. He endeavors to build a mechanical flying suit which will enable his escape from an incomprehensible world to some unknown imaginative utopia. An eccentric angel adeptly played by the quirky Sally Kellerman strangles anyone who opposes Brewster.

Brewster McCloud has a humorously heavy ornithological thesis with a narrative lecture provided by an off kilter science professor. The instructor’s recitation of facts about the social and mating habits of birds provides a funny comparative commentary on human nature. Avian themes glue the plot points together and furnish continuity between a sequence of strange events as Brewster struggles to achieve his goal.

There are three subplots: a coming of age story centered around McCloud, a social commentary stemming from the exposition of similarities and differences between humans and birds, and a murder investigation. While the police attempt to determine why the strangulation victims are found plastered with bird droppings, Brewster tries to beat the clock and perfect his flying machine before the authorities close in. He must stay Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)

37. TIME BANDITS (1981)

“…Gilliam fearlessly brings the logic of children’s literature to the screen.  Plunging headfirst into history, myth, legend, and fairy tale, Gilliam sends his characters—a boy and six good-natured if rather larcenous little persons (i.e. seven dwarves)—careening through time-twisting interactions with Napoleon, Robin Hood, and Agamemnon (played, respectively, by Ian Holm, John Cleese, and Sean Connery).  The landscape is populated by the giants, ogres, and sinister crones of legend and fairy tale, all in the service of Gilliam’s weird, ecstatic vision.”–Bruce Eder, “Time Bandits” (Criterion Collection essay)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam

FEATURING: Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, , , Michael Palin, Shelley Duvall, Sean Connery, , Katherine Helmond,

PLOT:  11-year old Kevin is largely ignored by his parents, who are more interested in news about the latest microwave ovens than in encouraging their son’s interest in Greek mythology.  One night, a gang of six dwarfs bursts into his bedroom while fleeing a giant floating head, and Kevin is swept up among them and through an inter-dimensional portal in their scramble to escape.  He finds that the diminutive and incompetent gang is tripping through time robbing historical figures using a map showing holes in the space-time continuum of the universe that they stole from the Supreme Being; things get complicated when Evil devises a plan to lure the bandits into the Time of Legends in order to steal the map for himself.

Still from Time Bandits (1981)

BACKGROUND:

  • Time Bandits is the first movie in what is known as Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination” or “Trilogy of Dreams.”  It deals with the imagination in childhood; the second movie, the bleak Brazil (1985), with adulthood; and the third, Baron Munchausen (1989) with old age.  Gilliam did not intend from the beginning to make three films with similar themes; he only noticed the connection between the three films later, after fans and critics pointed it out.
  • Gilliam began the script in an attempt to make something marketable and family-friendly, since he could not find anyone interested in financing his innovative script for Brazil.  The success of the idiosyncratic Time Bandits allowed Gilliam to proceed making imaginative, genre-defying films.
  • The film was co-written by Gilliam with his old Monty Python’s Flying Circus mate Micheal Palin, who is responsible for the snappy dialogue.
  • Ex-Beatle George Harrison helped finance the film, served as executive producer, and is credited with “songs and additional material” for the movie.  Only one Harrison composition is featured, “Dream Away,” which plays over the closing credits.
  • Gilliam shot the entire movie from a low angle to give an impression of a child’s-eye view of the world.
  • Sean Connery was not originally intended to appear in the final scene, but was meant to appear in the final showdown with Evil.  The actor’s schedule did not allow him to appear when the battle was being shot, but Connery suggested that he could play a role in the final scene.  His second, quite memorable, role consists of two shots, filmed in an afternoon.
  • A low budget release, Gilliam’s film cost about $5 million to make but grossed over $42 million.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The avenging floating head of God appearing out of a cloud of smoke.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  As an utterly original blend of history, comedy and theology wrapped in Monty Pyhton-eque verbal sparring and presented as a children’s fable, Time Bandits starts with a weird enough design.  As the film continues and the bandits journey from history into myth, the proceedings get more mysterious and existential, until the flick winds up on a shatteringly surreal climax that is bleak enough to supply the most well-adjusted of kiddies with years of nightmares.  As the tagline says, it’s “All the dreams you’ve ever had—and not just the good ones.”


Original theatrical trailer for Time Bandits

COMMENTS: Sandwiched between the Biblical parody of Life of Brian (1979) and the Continue reading 37. TIME BANDITS (1981)

CAPSULE: TWILIGHT OF THE ICE NYMPHS (1997)

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Shelley Duvall, Frank Gorshin

PLOT: A prisoner returns to his childhood home on an ostrich farm in a

twilight_of_the_ice_nymphs

mythical northern land during the constant daylight of the summer season, where he becomes involved with two mysterious women.

WHY IT  WON’T MAKE THE LISTTwilight of the Ice Nymphs is plenty weird enough to make the List, although it can be such slow going that many folks will tune out before discovering it’s weirder points.  Twilight just isn’t good enough.  With several of director Guy Maddin’s more effective films already slated for inclusion, it makes little sense to allow a lesser effort, weird though it may well be, to take space away from a more deserving contender.

COMMENTSTwilight of the Ice Nymphs is set in a suitably colorful and mythic locale, an imaginary land with Nordic overtones and ostriches, but it’s dragged down by an uninspiring hero in an uninvolving storyline, ponderous dialogue, and uneven acting.  The protagonist, Peter (Nigel Whitmey), is subject to bouts of sleep-hunting, and also, it seems, to episodes of sleep-acting.  For most of the movie his emotional range is so low-key that it barely registers: he covers a scale from glum to mildly perturbed.  It doesn’t help that Whitmey’s dialogue was dubbed in by a different actor in post-production after what Maddin hints was a very nasty incident between the director and actor.  Peter strikes up no real chemistry with either of his potential lovers, Juliana (whose personal history is obscure) and Zephyr (a wandering woman three months pregnant with her lost husband’s child), so there is little for the audience to root for in this three-way romance.  Besides Peter, Pascale Bussières as Juliana is cute but forgettable, Alice Krige’s performance as Zephyr seems on loan from a BBC teleplay, and R.H. Thompson’s evil Dr. Solti is little more than a distracting, hammy faux-Russian accent.  Veteran movie actors Shelley Duvall and former Riddler Frank Gorshin put the others to shame, but unfortunately they are pushed into a background subplot.

That said, the film’s visual sensibilities are truly wondrous.  Maddin built his magical fairy-forest inside a Winnipeg warehouse, maintaining meticulous control over every aspect of his mise-en-scene.  Particularly noteworthy are his brash color schemes: he uses “jewel tones” throughout, and seems particularly fond of placing surrounding emerald hues with bright pinks, magentas, and tangerines, as in a sunset setting over a forest canopy.  This makes the movie effective as a slide-show of gorgeous stills; Twilight would probably work well on a big screen TV with the sound turned off as visual wallpaper for a hoity-toity wine-and-cheese party.

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is available on the DVD, “The Guy Maddin Collection” (buy), along with the feature film Archangel and the award-winning short The Heart of the World.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Maddin’s fictional world is… so infused with such a delightful weirdness, such a disorienting, overwrought absurdity, that its artificiality and peculiarity give it a marvelous flavor that is a real pleasure to savor.” -Keith Allen, movierapture.com