Double Feature: “The Lady and the Duke” and “Escape from Tomorrow”

Fenster writes:

I wrote here about a double feature screened at home.  I picked up Cool Hand Luke and The Paperboy just because they were both available at the library and found that they had a lot in common, including a blowsy wench in a blue dress arousing prison folks with her antics and men in old-fashioned white underwear.  So when I do the occasional at-home double feature now I like to ask myself if there are connections to be made.

On screen at Cinema Fenster recently: Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke and Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow, both selected without any particular plan.

They didn’t have a lot in common on the face of it.  One is a fairly literal adaptation of the memoirs of an aristocratic Scotswoman who lived in Paris at the time of the French Revolution.  The other is a story of a suburban dad coming unglued, and then some, when visiting Disneyland with his family.

What they do have in common is a certain odd aspect.  They are both peculiar films.

The Lady and the Duke does have a certain Rohmerish quality.  It’s talky.  And as a faithful adaptation of a real life situation, what it gains in verisimmilitude it lacks by way of traditional three-act dramatic structure.  Rohmer’s other films, while not adapted from real life, often follow the contours of actually lived existences, even when they purport to be moral tales.

What is odd and even off-putting about The Lady and the Duke, though, is its visual quality.  Much of the film takes place outdoors at the time of the Revolution, with Paris and environs depicted by matte paintings, with the actors darting in and out of the “set”.

But these are not matte paintings as we tend to know them, striving for verisimmilitude (there’s that word again!).  Here’s an recent example from LOTR:

the-lord-of-the-rings-matte-painting2-by-yanick-dusseault

By contrast here is Rohmer’s Paris:

l-anglaise-et-le-duc-de-eric-rohmer-2001_630633

In the film he sets groups of people loose inside the obviously painted surfaces.

The tension between the obviously painted background and the little people moving through is creepy, sort of.

And when you put real people close up to the obviously staged backgrounds:

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Even more strange.

The movie uses interiors a lot, too.  These are actual interiors and not matte paintings–Rohmer apparently opted not to go whole hog with a stage-set look-and-feel.  But they do have a distinct and off-putting quality to them too, a function in part of the blue-gray/tan dominant color scheme.

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When the film came out (2001) critics noted that old man Rohmer was embracing digital–yay! (“Grandmaster Eric Rohmer embraces the digital age with youthful excitement”–Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly.)  And yes, the film was shot in digital format.  But it was still put together on a relative shoestring, a half or a third the cost of other fairly well-known French films from that time.  The shoestring shows from time to time, too:  chunks of the legs of people walking across the matte paintings can flicker on and off.  That part is a bit crude, but perhaps in keeping with the revolutionary theme: off with their legs!

At times it is hard to picture this film as having come out in 2001.  Visually it tends to look like it is from an earlier era.  Consider the font and design aspects of this still from the trailer:

duc

Seems like a promo piece from a Technicolor extravaganza from the late 1950s, with a typeface that is from another time, like this:

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Anyway, I truly enjoyed the film.  Yes it was odd and in some ways crude, but it was nonethless visually striking and unique.  And it has all of the good things about a Rohmer film, especially dialogue, which I really enjoy seeing done well.

I pop Rohmer out of the DVD player and switch to Netflix streaming, where I decide on Escape From Tomorrow as the second film in the double feature.

The film concerns a harried dad visiting Disney World and, as mentioned above, coming unglued.  This is the film that was noted for having used guerilla tactics to film a kind of horror movie under the radar screen so as to avoid the wrath of control freak Disney staff at the park.  It is shot in black and white, mostly using Canon SLR cameras so that the film crew would blend in.

Despite using SLR cameras that go for between $1000-$2000, the film looks like a million bucks.  Well, the budget was $650,000, so it cost about 2/3 of a million.  But I expect a big chunk of that went for special effects processing in Korea after filming.  It is amazing what people can do these days with inexpensive equipment.

And the use of black and white–deemed a necessity by the filmmakers–was turned into a virtue since it was able, with some processing after the fact, to impart an interesting Lynchian quality to the Disney experience.

escape-from-tomorrow escape_from_tomorrow_-_trailer Image-21

Escape From Tomorrow is visually off-putting.  It has that in common with the Rohmer film.  Both films were made on shoestrings and made the most of their budgets to create compelling, though quite different, visual universes.  Other than that, they were oil and vinegar, and made for a tasty double feature.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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9 Responses to Double Feature: “The Lady and the Duke” and “Escape from Tomorrow”

  1. peterike2 says:

    I had totally forgotten about “The Lady and the Duke.” Saw it some years ago, the trailer reminded me that I had seen it. Yes, really interesting with the sets. I don’t mind all-fake or all-realistic. What drives me crazy is when you have a movie that’s filmed largely on location, and then suddenly there’s a moment in the scene with an obvious fake backdrop, then back to location. Hitchcock does this all the time, even in the middle of a highly suspenseful scene. You see it in classic Westerns often too. That wide shot of the Western plains, and then suddenly John Wayne is rolling around in a fight on an obvious set, with fake cacti everywhere.

    I know I should suspend disbelief and all that, but I find it immensely distracting and annoying!

    Never heard of “Escape From Tomorrow,” but the trailer looks awesome. I might queue that one up tonight.

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    • Fenster says:

      Funny you should mention that disjointed feeling when filming on location suddenly gives way to the fake, or a set. You’ll see that in Escape from Tomorrow. It is off-putting in its own right.

      The Disney World scenes, at least the ones taken outdoors that are not enhanced shots of the rides to make them scary, are clearly taken in a real setting. People walk by in obviously unstaged fashion. It looks just like a home movie. Then, a scene will shift so that the real Disney footage is in the background, 1950s style, with actors obviously placed in a soundstage environment in front. “Visitors” walk by here, too, in the stage set, but when they walk by you can tell they are actors and not regular tourists. So you have some tourists walking by in the back, looking like regular people, and some “tourists” wallking by in the foreground, obviously extras in a movie.

      You mention that this technique disrupts your suspension of disbelief. I get that. I have a big problem with sudden deflations of disbelief. But here it worked the other way for me, sort of like Hitchcock, as you mention. Yes, my disbelief was suspended in a way but the shift from real to staged also helped the film get under my skin, a not totally unpleasant fingernails and chalkboard experience

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  2. peterike2 says:

    So I watched “Escape from Tomorrow.” Thank you!

    The first hour is great. It does go off the rails at the end, but what else could it do? It’s one of those scenarios that can’t really have a satisfying conclusion. But there was something incredibly compelling about Disney World filmed in black and white. I adored the vibe of the film. And some of the creepy stuff early on was genuinely creepy and disturbing. The first 15-20 minutes are a great ride. Pity the pay-off wasn’t quite there. It also has it’s share of hot scenes.

    You’ll notice that everything starts to go wrong when the wife (who is pretty attractive) refuses to kiss her husband on the ride. After that it’s all psycho-sexual spiraling out of control.

    And did he really have sex with that other woman? It’s starts to get vague between reality and his hallucinations. In any case, she was the sexy and willing doppelganger to his frigid and denying wife. Though really, fix his wife up a bit, put her in a sexy outfit and a push up bra, and she’s similarly attractive. A very interesting thought experiment on the emasculated American married male disenfranchised from his own sex life by corporatism.

    My biggest question: how is it that the notoriously thin-skinned Disney Corporation ever allowed this to see the light of day?

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  3. I was chuffed to find someone else putting “Escape From Tomorrow” in queue as a double-feature. My impulse was to Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder” — something I hope to explore a little further (can’t say when that will be, tho. Summer, and all).

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