Another week, another short before the film! This week’s was De Artificiali Perspectiva (also known as “Anamorphosis”) by the Brothers Quay. The film was less a film than a history lesson, which brought us through various examples of forced perspective in (Renaissance?) art.
For instance, the wall above has St. Francis on it if you look from a steep enough angle.
Another example shown is this one (The Ambassadors, by Holbein) where the bizarre skull on the floor is visible when viewed from the side. Of course, it’s not exactly hidden, either. I imagine that anybody looking at this painting would think to themselves, “Gee, what’s that bizarre thing on the carpet? I don’t know, but it kind of looks like a stretched-out skull!” Needless to say, there were more subtle, and hence more satisfying, examples. A basic, documentary overview of anamorphosis was all the film entailed.
The feature presentation, brought to us by Kevin O’Connor, was a 1966 British film called The Wrong Box. It was directed by Bryan Forbes and had an all-star cast (Michael Caine, Dudley Moore, and Peter Sellers among others) in a zany comedy adapted from a novel of the same name by, of all people, Robert Louis Stevenson.
The plot revolves around a tontine, a particularly odd form of lottery (or for those involved, “investment scheme”) wherein several parties jointly invest money – in some forms of the tontine the return on the investment was paid (in an updating ratio) to all surviving parties, whereas in the tontine of the film, the entire amount including interest was retained, to be paid to the last surviving party. A group of thirty children were vested in a tontine at the beginning of the film, and we were subsequently treated to short scenes watching some of them die in sometimes gruesome, sometimes inventive, and always very British ways. Finally, a letter arrives to the home of the elderly Masterman Finsbury, informing him that only two parties remain: he and his brother Joseph.
As revealed by Masterman’s doddering and drunken butler, the two brothers haven’t spoken in over forty years. Masterman, under the pretense that he is dying, sends his grandson and heir, Michael Caine’s Michael Finsbury to Joseph’s house to ask Joseph to come to his bedside. He intends there to kill Joseph so that Michael can inherit the entire fortune. This appears pretty necessary, as Masterman’s estate has withered away, they are selling possessions left and right, and Michael, though he is studying to be a medical doctor, appears to be pretty much incapable of it. Michael agrees to fetch Joseph and heads over to Joseph’s house.
It’s directly next door. They share a wall.
Unfortunately, Joseph is out of town, but the event finally gives Michael the occasion to talk to Joseph’s niece Julia, whom he has been secretly in love with for no particular reason other than that he sees her walk by on the street from time to time. Fortunately, she’s in love with him too for the same reasons and they hit it off immediately.
Michael’s fear that their children will be polydactyl retards is alleviated by Julia’s confession that she was adopted. It turns out that (quelle coincedence!) so is Michael…so what was he worried about in the first place? No matter. Just note that Michael and Julia play the non-money-grubbers in the film (so you know they’re going to get the money).
When word gets to Joseph that his brother is dying, he and his two money-grubbing nephews return to London. We finally realize why it is that Masterman and Joseph haven’t spoken in forty years – it’s because Joseph is a tedious bore, capable of spouting random facts for hours on end. It’s what he does. But, really, he doesn’t seem a bad guy, just a bit irritating and completely absent-minded. On the train to London, Joseph escapes his nephews’ attention and enters another car which is occupied by (we are to learn) the infamous Bournemouth Strangler. Joseph steps out for a smoke, leaving his coat in the Strangler’s compartment, and while he’s sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom, there is a terrible train wreck.
Apparently, the only casualty of the wreck is the Bournemouth Strangler, who, on account of having put on Joseph’s coat, is confused by the nephews as Joseph. They fear they will have lost the tontine just as Masterman was about to die, so they sneak off the body and hatch a plot to make it appear as if Joseph was alive until after Masterman’s imminent (they believe) death. First, they box up the body and send it to their residence, for later procurement at the appropriate time. Next, they call upon an old, addled doctor with questionable morals.
The doctor provides them with a signed but undated death certificate which they will use to provide evidence that Joseph outlasted Masterman. Meanwhile, Joseph has ambled off and caught a ride to London, nearly annoying the cart driver to death along the way. Joseph goes to visit Masterman, who fails to kill him in various slapstick ways without Joseph knowing the better of it.
Anyhow, the box with the Strangler in it gets mixed up with a box being sent to Masterman’s place, Michael finds the body and also believes it to be Joesph due to the coat – he figures that Masterman has killed him…well, the story basically goes on from there in whatever ridiculous paths it can take. In the end, everybody turns out alive (at the funeral of the 3rd place finisher in the tontine), the brothers decide that the inheritance is going to Michael and Julia (who are suddenly to be married), and the nephews apparently claim credit (and the reward) for the death of the Bournemouth Strangler. It’s kind of nonsensical throughout, and feels a bit like the British response to It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, at least to me.
Most notably to me, Masterman Finsbury is a spitting image of good old crazy Milan, proprietor of the fabulous Dobra Zemlja winery. Check it out with the picture above, it’s pretty awesome.