The (Extended) Making of The Shining

Extended Staircases to Nowhere

The full version of The Elstree Project‘s documentary about The Shining is now available online.

Stanley Kubrick’s famous horror was originally documented in a 17 minute short film, as part of the project designed to document the famous studios of Elstree and Borehamwood.

But now they have released a much longer version lasting 55 minutes with contributions from:

  • Brian Cook – 1st AD
  • Jan Harlan – Producer
  • Christiane Kubrick – Wife of Stanley Kubrick
  • Mick Mason – Camera Technician
  • Ray Merrin – Post-Production Sound
  • Doug Milsome – 1st AC and Second Unit Camera
  • Kelvin Pike – Camera Operator
  • Ron Punter – Scenic Artist
  • June Randall – Continuity
  • Julian Senior – Warner Bros. Publicity

They discuss many aspects of the film including the 2nd Unit footage shot in America, the different stages at Elstree, the use of Steadicam, the fire on set, and what Kubrick was like to work with.

> The Elstree Project
> Buy The Stanley Kubrick Boxset from Amazon UK
> Previous Stanley Kubrick Posts

Blu-ray: Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill Title

One of the best and most controversial films of Brian De Palma’s career is this macabre erotic thriller.

When a sexually frustrated housewife (Angie Dickinson) meets a tall, dark stranger in a museum, she sets off a series of events which involve a prostitute (Nancy Allen), her psychiatrist (Michael Caine) and her son (Keith Gordon).

Throughout his career De Palma was often accused of misogynistic violence and ripping off Hitchcock and this probably represents the apex of that period.

The debts to Hitchcock are clear: the shower scenes and narrative owe a debt to Psycho (1960) and the museum sequence is a straight homage to Vertigo (1958).

Despite this, I’ve long held the view that De Palma, at his best, is much more than just a Hitchcock imitator.

Although he channels the master of suspense, he adds his own signature touches and – at his best – the end result was different enough to justify accusations of mere imitation.

There are several memorable scenes: the bravura dialogue-free scene in the museum, a murder in an elevator, and a cat-and-mouse chase in a subway all provide ample evidence of the director’s skill.

He also manages to elicit some fine performances from his cast: Dickinson brings a glamorous, flawed grace to her part, Caine is suitably enigmatic, Gordon has a geeky, sly charm and Allen is excellent in what could have been a token prostitute role.

The only supporting performance that rings a little false is Dennis Franz (a De Palma regular at this time) as the seen-it-all New York detective, but even his character has an enjoyable twist.

This new UK release from Arrow Video is the full uncut version, which means the graphic opening showering scene and some of the violence and offending language is back in.

Although this was De Palma’s intended cut you can see why it triggered controversy at the time, principally amongst feminists and the gay community, as the film is a provocative mix of sex, killing and suspense that is artfully rendered.

When it was released in the UK it had the misfortune to open around the time of the Yorkshire Ripper killings, thereby increasing the backlash against it.

It still has a lurid atmosphere, though not a creepy one, and the stylised cityscape and shadowy interiors are all part of the way in which De Palma pushes the buttons of an audience. For some he pushed too hard.

Pino Donaggio’s lush score adds a rich texture to the film, with strings and piano cleverly offsetting some of the sleazy horrors on screen.

Dressed to Kill in some ways is the quintessential De Palma film: full of carefully constructed suspense, Hitchcock references and a sly gallows humour (what long time devotee Pauline Kael called the “alligator grin” in his work).

Although he would continue in this vein with Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984), he opted for larger scale crime dramas such as Scarface (1983) and The Untouchables (1987).

But there remains something distinct about this point in his career when he was allowed the creative freedom to put his vision on screen.

BONUS FEATURES

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature.
  • Optional original uncompressed Mono 2.0 Audio and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound.
  • Symphony of Fear: Producer George Litto discusses his working relationship with Brian De Palma.
  • Dressed in White: Star Angie Dickinson on her role in the film.
  • Dressed in Purple: Star Nancy Allen discusses her role in the film.
  • Lessons in Filmmaking: Actor Keith Gordon discusses Dressed to Kill.
  • The Making of a Thriller – A documentary on the making of Dressed to Kill featuring writer-director Brian De Palma, George Litto, stars Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz.
  • Unrated, R-Rated, and TV-Rated Comparison Featurette.
  • Slashing Dressed to Kill – Brian De Palma and stars Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon discuss the changes that had to be made to avoid an X-rating.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer.
  • Gallery of behind-the-scenes images.
  • Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh.
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Maitland McDonagh, and a new interview with poster designer Stephen Sayadian by Daniel Bird, illustrated with original archive stills and promotional material.

Dressed to Kill is out today from Arrow Video

> Buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Brian De Palma at the IMDb and Wikipedia

Gordon Willis Craft Truck Interview

Legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis recently sat down with Craft Truck for a lengthy interview about his career.

In the first video he discusses his work on such films as The Godfather (1972), Klute (1971), Manhattan (1979) and Annie Hall (1977).

Plus, he also talks about his thoughts on editing, the importance of simplicity and ‘dump truck directing’.

In the second, he talks about Stardust Memories (1980), The Godfather II (1974), lenses, Francis Ford Coppola, All the President’s Men (1976), Interiors (1978) and The Devil’s Own (1997).

> Find out more about Gordon Willis at Wikipedia
> Craft Truck

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation on DVD

One of the landmark films in cinema history is D.W. Griffith’s controversial Civil War epic, which still has the power to startle and shock nearly 100 years since it was made.

As cinema crawled out of the era of novelty and nickelodeons at the turn of the 20th century, it gradually began to embrace more sophisticated visual techniques.

One of the foremost pioneers of these new techniques such as the close-up and the pan, was D.W Griffith, whose film Judith of Bethulia (1914) was one of the earliest features ever to be produced in America.

But it was with his next film, an adaptation of Thomas Dixon’s play and novel The Clansmen and the result was a three hour epic set during the US Civil War.

Depicting the relationship between two families, the Stonemans of the North and the Camerons of the South, it explores the bitter divides that opened up during the abolition of slavery and the subsequent era of Reconstruction.

The film itself has continued to generate controversy: the use of white actors in blackface, the presentation of the Ku Klux Klan as heroic and the Northern armies as villains (remember they were the ones against slavery) looked appalling then and now.

Added to this was the real life rise in KKK membership and lynchings in the South due to the film’s massive box office success. (Another strange bit of trivia is that director John Ford made a cameo as a Klansman.)

So given all this horrendous back story, why should you see it?

The principle reason is that, despite all its odious qualities, the film dared to imagine that cinema could be something other than moving pictures on a screen.

More than that, Griffith managed to synthesise visual techniques into a coherent whole.

Like that other great pioneer Sergei Eisenstein, who directed cinemas’ next great landmark Battleship Potemkin (1925), he managed to lay the foundation for what we regard as modern cinema.

With the famed Russian director we got the power of editing to elicit emotion, but it was built on the tracks laid down by Griffith.

It is ironic that two cornerstones of the film industry were either racist (The Birth of a Nation) or communist propaganda (Battleship Potemkin) when it is associated with Hollywood and a global industry worth billions of dollars.

The Director’s Guild of America for a long time named their prestigious honourary award after Griffith, but in 1999 changed it because it had “helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes”.

One of the last winners of the award under Griffith’s name was Stanley Kubrick in 1997, who mentioned him in this speech:

The phrase ‘inspiring and intriguing legacy’ is an apt one.

Despite being lauded by directors such as Welles, Renoir and Hitchcock he ended up dying alone in a hotel, shunned by the industry he had partly helped create.

The Birth of a Nation retains that curious duality: it is a film that has to be seen despite itself.

> Buy The Birth of a Nation on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about D.W. Griffith at Wikipedia
> The Birth of a Nation at the IMDb

Operation Dirty Dozen

Operation Dirty Dozen

An old behind-the-scenes featurette for The Dirty Dozen offers a glimpse in how movies were marketed in a bygone era.

Long before DVDs, the internet and viral marketing, there were making of featurettes which were used to plug forthcoming films.

In a sense they were like short films, using B-roll footage and scripted voice-overs to describe the stars and production.

They seem like a long way from how movies are pushed to audiences now, with fans at Comic-Con lapping up news of projects yet to be made.

The Dirty Dozen remains one of the ultimate ‘guys on a mission’ film, a huge hit in 1967 that spawned numerous imitators such as Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and was a big influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Below you can see Lee Marvin filming the opening sequence and also grooving in 1960s London, along with Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes and Jim Brown.

N.B. Aldbury was the location of the first school I ever went to.

> The Dirty Dozen at Wikipedia
> The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid