Friday, 28 August 2015

DEMENTIA 13




d. Francis Ford Coppola (1963)

A rather murky tale of intrigue and murder set in Ireland, the plot revolves around that most baleful of storylines, the death of a child and the terrible, dysfunctional, psychotic effect it has on an already eccentric (and not Irish in the slightest) family.

The young Francis Coppola wrote and directed the film, the culmination of a short apprenticeship with producer and director Roger Corman that had seen him doing anything and everything from editing, dubbing and script writing to the washing up and driving. Corman worked his interns pretty hard, but he was also remarkably astute about talent and very generous with opportunities. When 'The Young Racers' concluded under budget and ahead of schedule, Corman decided to maximise the saving by giving Coppola forty grand, nine days and Samuel Beckett's favourite actor* to make his very own film - as long as it was a bit like Psycho**.

The script (written more or less overnight) is, perhaps not unexpectedly, a little uneven, and the direction is occasionally self-conscious but, overall, it's an impressive achievement, not least because of the atmosphere of sustained dread it creates and some nicely realised underwater shots. There's also a short monologue about a recurring nightmare and incipient madness that makes you stop everything that you're doing to listen to it, including breathing.

* I am referring, of course, to the amazing Patrick Magee, an actor with a sinister voice somewhere between a purr and a croak and an extraordinary intensity. I was going to describe him as immortal, but he died in 1982, and I thought somebody might write in.

** The opportunity turned out to be a parting gift: Corman hated the film, and Coppola went his own way after the test screening.

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