Six Damn Fine Degrees #42: Embracing darkness: Richard Harris

Harris in the studio recording an LP in 1971 (Image: Jack Kay / Daily Express / Getty Images)

“There, I gave you the stuff about Harry Potter”, Richard Harris pointedly remarks to his interviewer at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2001, just before the world would change. “But try to use the rest of what I said as well. Because, you see, I don’t just want to be remembered for being in those bloody films, and I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen to me.”

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #34: Jacques Mesrine

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

If Goodfellas is about the glitz, and Donnie Brasco is about the grind, the Mesrine dyptich consisting of L’Instinct de Mort and L’Ennemi Public No1 illuminates the cruelty inherent in a life of crime. Jacques Mesrine is a hard man. Not in the more stylized De Palma vein but as the real deal. Often racist, sometimes misogynistic, and extremely violent. The political incorrectness is not inadvertent, nor is it glamourized. It is simply symptomatic of a type who does not give a shit about anything at all. Not about people’s lost or ruined lives, either directly through his actions, or by their consequences. He wants what he feels he is owed, no matter the cost. Though certainly clever, articulate, intermittently charismatic and even charming – he has his moments –, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) is a man of such staggering volatility and entitlement that he makes Tony Montana look like a parody.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #29: The Outsider

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

After the first two episodes of The Outsider, you might be forgiven for thinking it is meant as a meditation on relentless anguish. The cinematography alone is so bleak – if it isn’t nearly pitch black, it is almost sepia – you can almost feel the crushing weight of it, even with the sound off.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #21: Perspective and Memory: Dario Argento

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

“I like women, especially beautiful ones. If they have a good face and figure, I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or man.”

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #16: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

If there is one film, just one, that should be seen on the big screen in unadulterated 70 mm, it has to be Lawrence of Arabia.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #10: Ed Wood

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

Johnny Depp as Edward D. Wood Jr.

If there ever was a prime example of positive thinking gone awry, it has to be Tim Burton’s interpretation of Edward D. Wood Jr.

A filmmaker in the 50’s, an era of highly localized and diversified cinema where there was still a space for worse-than-B grade films, the real Ed Wood’s two best known films are Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. He is most noted for being voted the worst director of all time, posthumously, in 1980. It is clear he wanted to make extraordinary movies, but lacked everything, from money to quality control to, well, competence. But they do have… personality.

Note: spoilers below…

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #1: Body and Soul – John Garfield.

I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The president of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. It’s not just big names, it’s anyone. How everyone is a new door opening into other worlds. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet…

Welcome to our new weekly feature: Six Damn Fine Degrees. These installments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation, in the loosest sense. One contributor writes about the film Six Degrees Of Separation, to which we owe the partial quote above? The next piece might be about Will Smith, who is in it. Or Sydney Poitier, whose son Smith’s character claims to be. Or John Guare, who wrote the original play. Or even Pam Grier, who was snubbed for a Best Actress Oscar, as was Stockard Channing. And it needn’t be just people. It can be plays, music, books, films, video games, anything we, as culture baristas, feel we should write about. The only rule is that it connects – in some way – to the previous installment. We hope our readers will enjoy our forays into interconnectedness. As the man said: it’s a small world, after all.

Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Mildred Harris (1901)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

“You can’t use my name in your pictures!”, said Charlie Chaplin and charged.

At the Alexandria Hotel, on the 7th of April 1920, Louis B. Mayer stuck out his fist just in time for an irate Charlie Chaplin to barrel into it. Chaplin had ordered Mayer to take off his glasses to aim a punch: both men fell, and had to be escorted out. The reason for this kerfuffle, meanwhile, was 800 miles away, dancing the foxtrot with the Prince of Wales. The famously belligerent producer had signed one Mildred Harris Chaplin for the sum of 50.000 dollars a picture, plus a percentage, to be able to use the Chaplin name.

Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

When The Story of the Kelly Gang opened in Melbourne Australia on Boxing Day 1906, it was standing room only. Advertised by its producers as “The longest film ever made”, the reels ran over 1200 metres, about an hour. Today there are those who claim it was the very first narrative feature film ever made. Of course films were made before that time, mainly shorts; the Salvation Army, for example, had released many short biblical films in Australia by 1900. Whether they were Australian, American or European films, however, they rarely exceeded 30 minutes, or about 600 metres of film.

Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Lois Weber – Suspense (1913)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Even according to Wikipedia, J.W. Griffith “seems to have been the first to understand how certain film techniques could be used to create an expressive language”. Griffith is credited to have been “the first” to invent such innovations as intercutting, or even, absurdly, the close-up. However, he did not. There were many filmmakers before him to use such innovations, and during the span of his career, there were many others using these techniques to great, or better, effect. It is often difficult, seeing how much early film is lost, to determine who was “the first” to do anything. But it is certain that many early filmmakers used such techniques to “create an expressive language” before Griffith’s career was made by the massive, though controversial, success of his racist, excessive tour de force in 1915.

Continue reading