Tuesday, February 8, 2011

THAS: Scene from 'Lifeforce' #1

#1 - Blocking - A frank exchange.

"Was it sexual?"
"... Overwhelmingly so. Loss of control!"

Here is a dialogue scene from Lifeforce. I derive much pleasure from it. You'll have to watch it to get the off-the-wall dialogue and Peter Firth, Michael Gothard, and Frank Finlay's stupendously cheeky characterizations, but for now you can get a load of this sexy blocking.

Firth (Col. Caine) enters into an established shot, which then proceeds to make six careful rearrangements to its frame and blocking within one single roaming take. These are marked (1)-(6), and the idea here is that no cuts are made between them:







Then the sequence closes with a character exiting the same way a character entered at the beginning of this sequence: at the left side of the frame, where the door totemically stands.  In fact, the roaming camera has now returned - relatively, at least - to its original position (the frame labeled (1)), effectively making the sequence a perfect sort of movement palindrome.

Perhaps this wouldn't seem more than mere intuitive scene construction, but it is followed by a highly specific dynamic shot that answers with a rightward flow to the sequence's previous left-enfolding:

[whip-pan, rightward]

[and right-face]

Finlay (Dr. Fallada), who in the previous shot containing him we saw standing up with motions going towards the left-leaving figures, now is figured into Firth's POV, their eyes catching each other briefly, with deep contemplations in both their minds, before Finlay turns and retreats rightward. [Notice how nicely the above frame and the below one - also next to each other in the film - geometrically, graphically compliment each other.]

The camera flows right with him, as he retreats along with the heavy insights he is about to divulge as the scene follows. Firth enters into the frame, actively catching up with the flowing camera, caught in the cascade of its curiosity about the "backwards-going" man and his surely tenebrous and abstruse knowledge. Effectively Finlay, then, becomes a part of the image background (mystery) as Firth (our stand-in) effectively becomes its foreground.

The rightward flow is capped off with Finlay's action of setting his cup of tea (or coffee) down behind him, and the camera takes one more step into the mysterious "rightness" and gives us a shot from behind Finlay, catching him turning and bringing his cup down onto the table and so functioning much more than as just a reverse shot. Briefly he speaks his arcane words to-Firth but away-from-Firth -- as if there's one further degree of esoteric thought he knows exists only between him and the teacup.

(Caine) "Is there?"
(Fallada) "What?"

"Life after death?"

"Do you really want to know?"

With a discernible pause and a gentle smirk, he replies:
"... No."
With another discernible pause, and an expressionless, vaguely snooty shrug of subtle disappointment, the other man replies:
"... But to answer your question, yes, I believe there is."

COMING SOON (but likely not too soon):
A full review of Lifeforce, a good picture that I think people underestimate the degree to which it does not make any sense, its biggest flaw.


Snoggett said...

I love Lifeforce. I saw it when it was first released in 70mm. What a cinematic experience that was. And being a lover of British Sci-Fi such as Quatermass, Dr Who and Hammer Films I understood exactly where Mr Hooper was coming from. But it wasn't only his great tip of the hat to sixties Sci-Fi that caught my attention. It was Tobe's stunning use of the camera and the wonderful visuals he and the late great Alan Hume composed. One of my favorites is the scene where the possessed nurse is walking across the field and the flock of birds take off in the background. Another is where Carlsen knocks out the guard and steals the car, all done from Caine's perspective. Neither overly complicated, but both stunningly realised. Apparently there was a screening in LA a few years ago with a sell-out audience and Hooper in attendance, where he stated he had recently supervised a new print of the film - so where is it? I have a 2nd draft copy of the script, and it is interesting reading what didn't make it into the film. Nicholas Ball who played Derebridge was quoted as saying most of his part ended up on the cutting room floor. Great Blog BTW. Really appreciated where you are coming from with this post and look forward to your review at some later date. All I can say is where is the SE DVD? - bring it on MGM!

JR said...

Wonderful comments, Snoggett! The way Hooper slips into this UK sort of tone and approach to sci-fi really is terrific (and no doubt with the British Alan Hume's considerable help).

And, as the tone, the visuals are also absolutely, wonderfully painstaking. Love that flock of birds moment, too. If you don't mind: http://tobehooperappreciationsociety.tumblr.com/post/8160210623/lifeforce-1985

I'm not sure what the second scene you mention is, though. Is this Carlsen stealing the car from the army base? If so, I truly don't recall that scene, and recall his stealing the car being all off-screen. I'm tempted to say it's not in the current 116-minute DVD of the film. Perhaps we can get to the bottom of this?

Thanks re: the post, LIFEFORCE has much more striking directorial moments that I hope to the find the time and energy to break down here. Cheers to that and most importantly that SE DVD(/BluRay)!

Snoggett said...

The scene starts with Caine talking to the Colonel in the tent and they are discussing the bombing of London. "We only have an hour and a half!". They are then disrupted by gun shots and hurry out of the tent. Hooper then dollies his camera along the side of the tent and catches up with Caine and the Colonel as they stride towards some soldiers who then proceed to explain how Carlsen overpowered one of the Guards, took his gun and took off in a Landcruiser. The whole scene is so well put together with Caine then requisitioning a gun and the keys to the Colonels car. The scene plays out so well, and is superbly edited together. I totally agree that there are so many other scenes that are so well done. Another that really works for me is the entire sequence where Caine is being pursued by zombies in a car, which crashes, then Caine is being chased by dozens of zombies, narrowly escaping due to a roof in an alley collapsing in on fire. A zombie rises behind him and he shoots it in the head. He then continues out into the street near the opening to the Chancery Lane tube station and the lifeforce flies overhead and travels down the escalator sucking the life energy out of dozens of the infected. The lifeforce then turns around and barrels out of the entrance igniting a double-decker bus on its way - all beautifully edited to Henry Mancini's brilliant music score.

Thanks for the screen garb of the nurse. I wonder how many takes they had to do to get the birds to take-off on cue. People fail to see the brilliance in Hooper's directing of Lifeforce due to the occasional silly piece of dialogue and the fact that it is such a loopy movie. But I think the film is slowing gaining the respect it deserves.

Recently I've found myself interested in the reason Tobe Hooper left the production of Venom - a film I rather like, but often wonder what would have been like if Hooper had completed it. I've not found much info on why he left - except that maybe he didn't get on well with Klaus Kinski or was suffering personal problems. No real info is forth coming from Piers Haggard on the audio commentary for the blue Underground release. Any ideas? I have actually purchased an old cinema trade magazine off ebay with an article and supposed pictures of Hooper on the Venom set - but alas the mag hasn't turned up yet.

JR said...

Ah, that scene (sorry, got carried away by all the talk of alternative cuts). No, I agree, it's delightful. Crisp and crystallizing of Peter Firth's crisp and crystallized way of moving as playing Col. Caine.

Firth no doubt gives my favorite performance in this film. Watch him bark everything he says in the scene in question. So good.

The London climax and many of the parts you mention really work towards the subtly comic. That moment when he shoots the zombie - it's hilarious, sublimely so. A moment close to this is the "lunging arm" scare with Carlsen in his jeep. Everyone reading this: watch that scene again. It is so fucking funny. Sublimely so.

Afraid I don't know too much about VENOM, nor have I seen it. I vaguely remember seeing a line from Kinski about his wish to drive Hooper off the set. I may have just made that up, not sure.

I've read a little bit more about the other film he got dropped from, THE DARK. He took too long to film a scene, one that I think is still in the movie, and that's when he got fired or something.

If you find out anything from that magazine, let us know! Very cool!

Snoggett said...

I got the mag, alas it had no info except that the film had been shooting for a week of an eight week schedule. It did have a good photo of Hooper standing with producers Martin Bregman and Richard St Johns, which I have scanned and posted onto the Tobe Hooper Fan Club page on Facebook. I had also heard of Klaus Kinski's boast. I looked Venom up on IMDb and there was a claimed made by someone who worked in the film industry at the time that Hooper was too drugged up. "I was living in London at the time, and working in the business, and the news quickly filtered around town... the (strong) rumor at the time was that Tobe was... shall we say... a little the worse for (chemical) wear. Sniff sniff?"

I've never seen The Dark. I have read where the producer wasn't happy with Hooper's methods of shooting, Hooper claiming that the producer, Ed Montoro, stifled his film language, or whatever. This seems to have been a problem all through his career. Interesting that his most successful film has been the one he produced and directed.

Jim Burtges who worked for Film Ventures had this to say about Tobe and The Dark: "Let's start with Tobe. At that time Tobe was having problems of his own. Early in the shoot Tobe took two days to complete a scene that took place in a phone booth. The production didn't have money or time to waste on that sort of thing, so producer Igo Kantor called in a director he'd worked with previously on Kingdom of the Spiders, John "Bud" Cardos."

Again, hints of drug problems? A pattern is forming. And of course Zelda Rubenstein claimed Hooper wasn't completely there when he made Poltergeist. It's interesting to look at photos of him pre-Lifeforce, as his look changed dramatically from Lifeforce onward. If you look at photos of him on the set of Funhouse and Poltergeist he is sporting rather black looking rings around his eyes. Of course he returned from his three year sabbatical wearing those Elton John style glasses.

As to Lifeforce, I've never really seen the shooting of the zombie in comical terms. The arm however is comical, due to the fact it looks silly. Was this the original intention? I'm fully aware that the film was meant to have a comic undertone to it. But Hooper claims the way the film was cut it turned what was originally black humor into camp. There was a really good making of Lifeforce posted on Youtube a while (alas, since removed) that showed Hooper directing these scenes. Hopefully this is something they will put on the SE DVD/Blu Ray when it comes out. Hopefully they'll also reinstate the excised footage and release Hooper's original 128 min cut, that he claims helps the film make a lot more sense, which I'm sure it does.

Firth is great, isn't he. "Oh, bloody hell!"

JR said...

Thanks for the report back (it almost slipped my notice)!

Appreciate the compilation of tidbits on the "fired films"... a lot of that is familiar from my own perusing. Doesn't shine too positive a light on Tobe, does it? Hooper himself is completely mum on anything approaching personal scandal and on this period of tarnished repute. Alas, I can't feign to uphold Hooper's unimpeachable professional habits (can't even do that for his professional skills). That said, it's all professional blemish, and shouldn't be too much a weight on the artistic dimension!

Re: Lifeforce, fair enough! My reaction to those moments show my belief that the film is highly geared towards a camp vision, but there's much worth in just saying, "My, that arm is one of the silliest looking things ever. Perhaps the moment's not so much thrilling, Mr. Hooper, as it is just stupid..."

I have my doubts we'll ever see that 128 minute cut. Perhaps as raw deleted scenes, but it already took long enough to get the 116 minute cut we have now, which I believe Hooper is pretty content with anyway (it was the cut released in the UK, and I believe fully Hooper-approved; Tri-Star just butchered it for the US release.) Don't get me wrong, of course, I pray undeliverably to the Hooper-Gods that we can get 10+ more minutes of LIFEFORCE.