Archive for the literature Category

Taking the Curse off It

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2014 by dcairns

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“Taking the curse of it” is a writing/filmmaking term meaning to prevent something getting too sententious or ponderous by undercutting the serious with the comic. When misapplied, you get that ghastly formality at the Oscars where the host will make some lame wisecrack as soon as somebody’s said something a bit political or potentially meaningful. But in general it’s a very good method for keeping the tone varied, which you probably need to do “to stop ‘em falling asleep,” as Olivier might put it. Preston Sturges, whose tone was recklessly varied at all times, was the master of it: see the end of CHRISTMAS IN JULY.

Which brings us again to screenwriter and playwright Charles Wood. After blogging about his plays, I was thrilled to be put in touch with his daughter Kate, and through her the Great Man himself, and beyond thrilled to hear that he liked what I’d said.

Since then I’ve ordered a collection of his plays, because having read a copy of ‘H’, or Monologues in Front of Burning Cities, I felt the need to own it and have it handy for reference. Dealing with the Indian  Mutiny of 1857, it’s a sweeping epic full of grotesque humour, tragedy and spectacle (I’m intrigued as to how they staged the elephant at the National Theatre). Although Wood’s later play, Veterans, is somewhat inspired by characters and events from the filming of CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, which Wood scripted, it’s written as an imaginary account of the making of an imaginary film of ‘H’.

A highlight for me is this prayer by an army surgeon:

SURGEON SOOTER: On my knees, I sink to Thee my

Lord, that Thou shalt find a

way to Guide Me that I May

Not Kill,

that Thou shalt keep Thy high

bright sun from in the wounds

of those under my care,

that Thou shalt take from the

Poor Skill in my hands

all that which is Clumsy

and Poison,

that Thou shalt Protect

my bandages from rust and

rot, and Thou shalt Stop

my ears to sighing and cursing

under my knife, that Thou shalt

spare my coat tail from the

plucks of those that know they

are Dead, that Thou shalt bring

me to those made Strong in their

Faith, that I might tell them

they die and thus bring them

to Life, this pleasant deception

give me . . . for I have

never, angry in voice denounced

Thy Disease,

Thy Wounds,

Thy Sickness,

Thy Filth in which I Labour.

Thou hast set me to labour in

the realm of Ignorant Science,

give me some sparing,

as Thou hast spared me in other

times, other conflicts of man

and death; keep me Sane and keep

me Unaffected.

Use plenty of brown soap. (He adds as an afterthought of advice.)

The whole thing is quite brilliant, moving and strange and particular. As with THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, the use of language is an imaginative evocation of Victorian speech, inspired by writings of the time and answering the sensible question “Why should we make them talk like us?” The last line, which segues dazedly from one kind of formal speech (prayer) to another (doctor’s orders) strikes me as quite wonderful, and my inability to express why is part of what I like about it.

I have been unable to learn if brown soap was commonly used for any particular medical problem.

Glamorous Glynis

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2014 by dcairns

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Antony Darnborough produced three compendium adaptations of Somerset Maugham stories — QUARTET, TRIO and ENCORE. I watched the third one first, because I was interested in the contribution of director Anthony Pelissier, who seems to me an intriguing stylist. But in fact the real fascination proved to be elsewhere.

Three stories and, unlike the previous entries in the series, three different directors. Pat Jackson helmed a story about the hostilities between respected businessman Roland Culver and his ne-er-do-well brother Nigel Patrick. I like both actors, but this didn’t have too much to commend it either as cinema or story.

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The Pelissier episode stars Kay Walsh as a spinster and a bore, enlisting on a winter cruise to the Bahamas and ending up as the sole passenger. She’s driving the crew to distraction with her inane prattle, so they try to arrange a love affair with the attractive young French steward to give her a distraction and hopefully shut her up. It’s a comedy with the potential for heartbreak but the unexpected pay-off is rather brilliant — feminist, even.

Pelissier’s nicest moment is a montage in which Walsh’s chattering voice seems to drivel from every funnel and porthole on the ship. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to offer him much scope for the feverish expressionism he could bring to his work, and it definitely suffers from following so soon on the heels of a story which similarly concentrates on a series of variations on a single comic theme.

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But then we get Harold French’s story, scripted by Eric Ambler, which is a thriller. Glynis Johns and Terence Morgan are a daredevil act performing at a Monte Carlo hotel. In fact, he just announces the feat and she performs it, diving fifty feet into a tub of water which has been lit on fire with petrol. The crisis comes when Glynis comes to doubt her partner’s devotion and consequently loses her nerve. A lovely retired pair of circus artistes, Mary Merrill and Martin Miller, are on hand, and she, a former human cannonball, attests that when a couple of daredevils have a quarrel, it’s suicide to go on with the act.

This is all a very nice set-up for drama, and French surprised me with some vertiginous POV shots (I’d always thought he was kind of staid), but what sends it over the edge is the fearful intensity of Glynis J’s performance: for whole scenes she just STARES at whoever’s talking, and you know she feels like she’s staring Death in the face. It’s a look I have seen on the faces of those in the grip of acute anxiety.

While Glynis the light comedian is a treasure — we recently enjoyed THE CARD in which her voice, that delicious throaty gurgle, achieves a kind of apotheosis, echoing from within a partly submerged removal van, and she sounds like a baby coming back to life — Glynis the dramatic actress is also a force to be reckoned with, and something I must investigate further.

Three Films By Somerset Maugham – Trio / Encore / Quartet [DVD]

The Monday Intertitle: Moonday Intertitles

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2014 by dcairns

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Thanks to Gregory Robinson for a review copy of his book All Movies Love the Moon, Prose Poems on Silent Film.

Said poems are inspired by intertitles, which we like here at Shadowplay. It’s a very handsome book, though as a purist I prefer the authentic intertitles to the recreations — but I guess there’s a copyright issue there, and also a certain pleasure in being able create new versions of old title cards. As for Gregory’s additional words, they are very poetic indeed ~

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HOW IT FEELS TO BE RUN OVER (1900)

It begins with an accident, the inevitable result of both ten thousand objects both real and imaginary cosmically tumbling, colliding at the nexus where silver meets secondhand meets skin. The burst of light is the birth of movies.

Before you, a dirt road. A carriage passes, then a cyclist, both stirring a cloud of dust that settles on an automobile. The car is far angrier, making mad S shapes in the road, darting forward like a shark. Logic says move, but you have grown too heavy in this dream and the car is impossibly close. It breaks out of its world into yours, a pharaoh crossing over, a moth errant unto light, and Oh! Mother will be pleased.

A pause. Here is death, an old woman whispers over popcorn. I knew it would happen like this. In movies mortality makes your acquaintance, inscripting your bones.

The one on CITY LIGHTS at the end is particularly fine.

Another plug, while I’m here. Friend of Shadowplay Paul Clipson is not just (just?) an experimental filmmaker, he’s a projectionist, and his limited-edition book of projectionist’s drawings, REEL, shows a creative solution to a practical problem: identifying approaching reel changes.

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You can buy it here, if there are any left.

 

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