Film Directors With Their Shirts Off #6

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Benjamin Christensen in HAXAN gives himself the ultimate directorial walk-on, knocking Hitchcock into a cocked hat. (Was this another Paul suggestion? Somebody suggested it. Thanks, somebody!)

Well, I can now say I’ve sort ofseen Benjamin Christensen’s SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, thus taking me one footprint closer to having seen all the films depicted in Denis Gifford’s big green horror movie book. I say “sort of” because the version I watched, seemingly the only one available for love or money, had Italian intertitles, which were so badly cropped that even if I’d paused it and sprinted to Babelfish every time one appeared, I’d have been struggling to make sense of things.

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BUT! I’m not sure I want to make sense of things. Essentially a Scooby-Doo fake haunted house movie with more than a little in common with Max Linder and Abel Gance’s AU SECOURS!, Christensen’s 7F2S, as I’m now going to call it as if it were a damned summer blockbuster, is much more interesting for its weird-ass imagery than for the narrative underpinning it. As Creighton Hale and Thelma Todd make their panicky way through a mansion full of grotesques, gargoyles and gorillas, with friend indistinguishable from foe, things take on the ambiance of a David Lynch jaunt through the Black Lodge.

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As with Paul Leni’s THE CAT AND THE CANARY, the camera style and production design far outstrip the story in sophistication, which is why I felt I was possibly getting an enhanced experience by not having a clue what it was all about most of the time. The ending was fairly clear, though, and confirmed the essential corniness of the concept.

The music on the disc was perfectly OK, but on a whim I muted it and put on my old vinyl Franz Waxman compilation. As is normal with these makeshift film scores, the tunes sometimes sunk up with the action perfectly, and sometimes were gloriously awry, as with a tender love theme playing along with an ape rampage sequence, but that all helped the discombobulated feeling the film seemed to aspire to. And when Waxman’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN suite came on, things really kicked in.

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Waxman is the best.

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11 Responses to “Film Directors With Their Shirts Off #6”

  1. Saw a very good PBS show this past week on the German emigres in Hollywood during the war. Not just actors and directors, but composers like Waxman and Korngold. Fascianting stuff.

  2. Was this the one Christopher Hampton was involved in some years back, or something new?

  3. This is something new. I don’t believe Hampton was involve. Great stuuf about Lang, Zinnemann, Edgar G. Ulmer, Joe May and my favorite WWII hero, Marlene Dietrich. She personally helped German emigres escape to America in all sorts of ways, whetehr they were artists or not. A Goddess and a great woman too.

  4. Dave Kehr is getting in on your racket, by the way:

    http://www.davekehr.com/?p=218

  5. The Hampton show had some good stuff, since people like Curt Siodmak were still alive at the time. Wish I had a copy. But this new one sounds great.

    Powell is a funny shape! Wish I’d done that one first.

    I don’t like the look of the colour in that new AMOLAD DVD.

  6. Arthur S. Says:

    As narcissistic grande-dames go, Dietrich was far and away the most generous.

    Thanks for the link. I am surprised why ”Age of Consent” is dismissed by those folks there, as final features go, it ain’t ”The Dead” but it’s up there with ”Le Petit Theatre de Jean Renoir” and it’s totally personal and moving. And I TOTALLY disagree that Marius Goring was miscast in ”The Red Shoes” and he IS Conductor71.

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    In what sense does the color bother you?

  8. By absolutely bizarre coincidence, I happened to watch Seven Footprints to Satan last night.

    I found it a frustrating experience: besides the Italian intertitles, the print isn’t in the best shape, and the score bears no relationship to what’s happening on screen. That said, of course, I’d rather have it than not. My copy seems to have been sourced from a laserdisc, but I have no idea regarding the provenance of said disc.

    According to the the film’s listing at http://www.silentera.com, there’s also an extant print in the Danish Film Museum’s library. I’d love to know if it’s the same Italian print, or if they have pristine copies of both the sound and silent versions in English and are just hiding them from us in spite.

  9. We definitely need a nice official release of this film — even in the extremely degraded copy I saw, you can tell it’s a beautiful and strange-looking film. Given the reputation of Haxan, I don’t see why this well-known film isn’t out there.

    The color of AMOLAD bothers me because it isn’t rich. It doesn’t have the odd values of Technicolor at all in the frame grabs I’ve seen. Having seen the film projected, I find the DVD images terribly dark and rather murky.

    I love Goring in AMOLAD: “You are determined to get me…in the salad.” Niven, a considerable light comedian himself, plays off him beautifully.

    It’ll be nice to finally see a good copy of Age of Consent, since my VHS is cropped and rather fuzzy.

  10. The last time I saw AMOLAD it was a special screening a number of years back at the Museum of Aviation in Santa Monica. They turned an airplane hanger into a movie theaterofr the occasion. It was great watching this classic with real planes only a few steps away.

    Oh and Kim Hunter was there.

  11. Fabulous!

    I adore Kim Hunter. I remember having to explain to a student that she was a real American. Her clipped, elegant delivery sounds English to some Scots!

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