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:
By contrast here is Rohmer’s Paris:
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:
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.
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:
Seems like a promo piece from a Technicolor extravaganza from the late 1950s, with a typeface that is from another time, like this:
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 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.