Great Directors Made Little: The Little Fellow

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2014 by dcairns


Part of an occasional series of baby photographs of the great auteurs. Because.

Chaplin’s background of grinding poverty made family portraiture unlikely, but thankfully the nice people at his primary school in Kennington, in between beating him for being left-handed, took a memorial snap of the year’s waif intake.

Charlie is the one with a circle round his head and a cunning plan to get out of this.


Images from Paul Merton’s fine study Silent Comedy, about which my only complaints are (1) no Raymond Griffith and (2) insufficient Charley Chase. Merton hasn’t been able to see Griffith projected, and eschews tatty video copies, which is fair enough, and he’s not a Chase fan, which is something of a liability in the business of appreciating silent comedy. What he says about Chase is fair enough, there just isn’t enough of it — needs about twenty pages more.

Mind you, Walter Kerr, the greatest critic of silent comedy, doesn’t rate Chase that highly either, but his account of WHY is sharp and beautiful ~

“…and Charley Chase could be counted on to fill a release schedule with a steady supply of more that acceptable two-reelers. But there was no pushing Chase beyond a sprightly domestic base, or toward features: his trim face and manner had no fairy-tale excess in them, no line to invite a caricaturist’s ballooning, no mystery to be wrestled with. He would always be at his best as a faintly fussed Mr. Normal,  condemned–in his best comedy, Movie Night–to hustling his children to the bathroom across the resisting knees of patrons trying to watch the screen. At his less than best he would manufacture gags too transparent for surprise: having padded his thighs with sponge because he is going to play Romeo in tights, he carelessly–and really inexplicably–walks across a lawn covered with revolving sprinklers; as we expect, and as he ought to have expected, the sponge inflates wildly, providing him with the legs of an overfed frog. Chase was a craftsman, and would often be of help, behind the camera, to others on the lot, Laurel and Hardy included; but he was trapped between the arbitrary gagging of his Sennett origins and the sheer, not unattractive, ordinariness of his appearance.”

Maybe… BUT (1) only in the world of silent comedy could Chase’s bizarre elongitude be classed as ordinary, and (2) I am already laughing at the image of Chase with overinflated legs — and I haven’t seen that film. (One of Kerr’s skills is evoking visual gags for us).

This all leads, somehow, to Roger Corman’s monster-maker, Paul Blaisdel ~

“…Corman retained Blaisdell to make a mutated human horror for the film THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED.  Working from a pair of long underwear and carefully cutting, gluing, and painting pieces of foam rubber and carpet padding, Blaisdell produced the three-eyed, crab-shouldered “Marty the Mutant.” [ ...]  It was also in this film that Blaisdell had his first brush with death as a stuntman — during a rainstorm sequence, the foam rubber began to soak up water, causing him to collapse under its weight and nearly drown in the absorbed water.”


My Chaplin piece.

Click thru to explore the possibility of buying Merton’s fine volume: Silent Comedy

Day & Night

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on April 23, 2014 by dcairns


Titles by the great Pablo Ferro.

Hal Ashby’s LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER, a Stones concert film, suffers a bit from being ’80s product, a period probably nobody would say was the Rolling Stones’ finest. When I see old footage of Mick et al on Ready Steady Go, the air of danger and rebellion is so strong, the message is so clear — I can hardly imagine how transgressive they must have seemed. Conversely, in Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT, the message is “We’re still here. We do this.” But what is the meaning of this 1982 performance I see, with Mick’s leggings and jacket and sock-filled crotch bulge and Keith’s eyeshadow and fag and all the balloons?

Never mind. The arrangement of the songs, slathered in saxophone, isn’t too great either, though one can’t fault the marathon-like energy the band apply to them.


The film’s biggest filmic plus is that it’s an open-air stadium concert that starts in the last minutes of daylight and progresses into night, allowing for an ever-changing quality of light that creates a visual progression — something I believe all concert movies need. The masterpiece of the genre, Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE, achieved this by having the Talking Heads emerge gradually, one by one, building from David Byrne solo with guitar and drum track on a tape deck, to the full quartet plus backing musicians and backing vocalists — plus an elaborate and ever-changing lighting plan. Almost everything else I’ve seen throws the kitchen sink in right away, pyrotechnics and lights and inflatable pigs and dancing girls and diminishing returns.

Here, the diurnal structure helps, as do the nice colours, ’80s pastels of course but deepening as the sunlight goes orange then fades.

Ashby also is happy to throw away the first number on longshots, robbing us of Mick’s facial exertions and just showing off the remarkable space, a telefoto face-scape, an oscillating pointillist constellation of flesh dots, a great wall of the many-headed arrayed before us, spread flat on the screen by long lens distortion.

I want to say that Mick Jagger’s face is a panopticon. In the sense that a person standing anywhere on it would be able to perceive every other feature. Perched on the cro-magnon brow, he could observe the craggy gully of the mouth, blue in the distance, whereas from the promontory of a lip, he could gaze into those nasal caverns, on to the deep-shadowed hollows of the cheeks, the shimmering, glassy eyeballs, and the steep incline of the forehead, vanishing in a forest of sweaty locks.

Mediocre Time Girl

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2014 by dcairns


I’ve come to rely on Brit B-list director David MacDonald for at least one ludicrous moment per film. THE BROTHERS has a guy set bobbing in the ocean with cork tied under his arms, a fish in his hat to attract a passing sea-bird to swoop down and crack his cranium like an eggshell — a scheme served up as an alternative to murder. It’s not murder if a seagull does it. And DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS is a movie wholly composed of ludicrous moments.

Most of the mistakes in GOOD-TIME GIRL (1948), alas, are the kind that make it less fun. The story is narrated by Flora Robson to Diana Dors, a juvenile offender in need of a cautionary tale — this means that the mighty Dors is on screen for mere instants, and the rest of the flick concentrates on Jean Kent, who is OK but we can’t forgive her for not being Diana Dors. As a matter of fact, I often encounter this problem in real life: I’ll be talking to somebody, a shopkeeper, my bank manager, or the like, and I’ll think, “You’re OK, but you’re no Diana Dors.” It can sour a person’s whole life.

“I was present on the set of DANCE HALL,” said Alexander Mackendrick, “when Diana Dors was dragged away because you could see her nipples through her jumper, and she had to go away and have them stuffed with cotton wool, and her indignation at this was something to be seen.”

The film peaks early on with some whacky staging. Kent loses her job, and her drunkard father goes all MOMMIE DEAREST with a belt. As Kent cowers in bed, the hulking inebriate advances… and begins to lash the empty bit of mattress to Kent’s right. She screams! — in mystification, presumably, at this odd behaviour. I think we’d all feel like that if our father started taking his frustration out on the bed like that.

“I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”

There’s also Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Bonar Colleano, and the nice shot you see up top — a throwaway moment in a film otherwise free of style, and one that appears for just a couple of seconds, for no reason at all.

Still, I suppose Dors’ fleeting appearance gave her more free time to de-virginize Tony Newley, so it’s an ill wind etc.


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