Akimbo

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Fiona and I debated the merits of this shot in Milestone’s THE RED PONY. She at first admitted it was striking. The she said it was silly.

I argued that it’s practical. It’s not just a decorative Sid Furie flourish. The framing, while tricksy, gives us two performances for the price of one. In the Colonel Custer beard is Louis Calhern (Ambassador Trentino AKA the Walking Fontanelle), and the shot obviously shows his attitude by displaying his facial expression, or that part of it that manages to fight its way past his whiskers. With her back to camera is Myrna Loy, as beautiful as ever if you could see her. “You can’t see her performance,” says Fiona. No, but you get her attitude.

When I went looking for Milestone images online I immediately found this, from MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY ~

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Not the same shot, but again, an image that gets more value that an over-the-shoulder would. A shoulder rarely gives you much character. This angle gives sex.

The OS shot, seemingly invented circa 1919, possibly by Maurice Tourneur in VICTORY, is so fantastically useful it should only be used as a last resort. In my first short film, I didn’t have any because four of my six main characters were hunchbacks (the film was called, logically enough, THE THREE HUNCHBACKS) and the actors had pillows stuffed up their shirts to raise bumps that completely hid their heads from a rear view. So rather than a head and shoulder creating a convenient corner to frame another actor in, the camera would simply have seen obscuring mounds.

(I was coming home from the last day of shooting carrying the pillows, which came from my parents’ house. I didn’t have a bag for them, but pillows sort of ARE bags, so I just carried them by their corners. A drunk stopped me. “Can I ask why you’re carrying those pillows?”

“Well, I’ve just made a film about hunchbacks.”

“Fair enough.”

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9 Responses to “Akimbo”

  1. That image of a bearded Louis Calhern is remindful of his Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun — a part he took over when the great Frank Morgan died in pre-production.

  2. I watched the creaky, graceful White Zombie a couple of nights ago, in which Victor Halperin chose to film the traditional old-guy-explaining-stuff-to-distraught-fiancee scene in a single take, opening and closing on exactly this composition. Odd, very conspicuous, and despite the old man’s obviously failing recall of everything to be exposed we just plough on. As an interesting thing to do in an exposition though, I think I still prefer it to Vertigo’s let’s-sit-on-every-item-of-furniture-in-the-room game.

  3. Yes, but Halperin’s is more conspicuous, more likely to haul you out of the movie — if you were ever in it. In fact, it’s kind of accidentally Brechtian so that sort of flaw doesn’t count against it. Any form of strangeness is welcome.

    Annie Get Your Gun must be one of the most troubled productions MGM ever had!

  4. Indeed. It’s very good, but Betty Hutton had no fun making it as she was convinced everyone at Metro hated her for “taking” Judy’s part.

  5. I liked her very much in that Robert Osborne interview, but got the feeling that since her collaborators and her children alike had a problem with her, maybe she was “difficult” in ways she wasn’t entirely conscious of.

  6. That’s quite true. Her lack of self-confidence was as enormous as her talent.

  7. “We are curious Hunchbacks , we sing a happy song. So even though our backs be bent , our faces are not long.” ….thanks for that.

  8. An almost perfect rendition, after 23 years!

  9. Simon Fraser Says:

    When I’m very old and quite senile, I’ll be singing that in my nursing home. Much to the bemusement of the nursing staff.

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