Archive for the Politics Category

The Sunday Intertitle: The Slapstika

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on June 1, 2014 by dcairns

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In A FILM JOHNNIE, Mr. Chas Chaplin falls in love at the movies and, in the best celebrity stalker tradition, traces the starlet of his dreams (Peggy Pierce) to her studio, Keystone. Studio boss Mack Sennett being notoriously the cheapest man in Hollywood, the notion of shooting a film against the backdrop of his own studio must have been irresistible. Save money on locations and sets and petrol, and have a film that doubles as a commercial for the company.

The movie offers glimpses of many of Sennett’s roster of clowns, but what grabbed my eye like Dr. Ludovici’s lid-locks from CLOCKWORK ORANGE was the slate. Clapperboards are still called slates, a term which also applies to each set-up on a movie shoot, hence the cry, “Slate 1, Take 1.” In the silent era, there was no need for a clap, which is used to synch the sound afterwards, so the slate was just a little chalkboard upon which the slate and take number could be scrawled. Stick it in front of the lens, turn over for a second, and you had an ID tag for the bit of film you were about to shoot.

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The Keystone slate is… distinctive.

Yeah, it’s decorated with swastikas. I really have no idea why. But I’m always fascinated by Hollywood swastikas — Clara Bow wore one on her hat, and Marshall Neilan used one for his production company logo. At least this time, Hitlerian implications can be ruled out, since it’s 1914 and Hitler is busy getting an Iron Cross in WWI.

Since Sennett and Neilan were both of Irish descent, and Dublin had a Swastika Laundry until comparatively recently, I wonder if there’s some connection to the Emerald Isle. It appears that at this time the Sanskrit symbol had been adopted in the west as a good luck sign — so it does make sense to stick one or two on your slate to augur well for the coming scene.

It still makes for a weird moment though.

Everything that’s wrong with Stanley Kramer in one hilarious frame

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2014 by dcairns

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This bit from the opening titles of JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG reduced Fiona and I to hysterics.

I know, it’s unfair. Miss Dietrich must have her gowns, and they must be by Jean-Louis, who must have his credit. Under a swastika?

In a way it sums up the film’s aesthetic, which is elucidating the darkest crimes of the 20th century using movie stars and the apparatus of Hollywood. Can commercial movies tackle such subjects? It would be more shameful not to try, I think. Maybe, as probably Claude Lanzmann would argue, the result is bound to be obscene in some way, but maybe it’s better to have that kind of artistic failure than to remain silent. Spielberg following Jews into the showers to create tension, or here, Richard Widmark narrating death camp mass burials, is undoubtedly a high-risk game.

Visually there’s some nice work, with Kramer enlivening his testimonies with a moving camera that creeps around the actors, examining them warily as if they were recently fallen space debris. He’s also discovered the zoom, and gets carried away, though one early crash in on Maximilian Schell is so powerful it causes him to CHANGE LANGUAGE. This must surely be the origin of the move-in on Peter Firth (as a character called Putin) in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, a real coup de cinema in which Firth switches to English from Russian on the word “Armageddon” (the same in any language), just as the camera reaches an ECU of his lips…

Abby Mann’s script, it seems to me, affords Kramer some excellent opportunities — I think everything that’s not a trial scene is, essentially dilution and a mistake, but the trial — if you can forgive the dramatic contrivances and what are probably blatant violations of courtroom protocol — is often riveting. Montgomery Clift proves he could still do it — his character is falling apart, so it’s hard to be sure how much is acting, but I *think* he’s actually in control of his performance. He certainly isn’t depending on an editor to manufacture it out of the most acceptable bits, as reportedly happened on his last film. He may have required a lot of special care to nurse him through it — Kramer was adept at that, dealing with Spencer Tracy’s alcoholism and later his declining health — but he offers up astonishing moments here, and I think he’s USING his physical and mental frailty.

Clift’s stuff is emotionally devastating — I would challenge any Kramer naysayer to sit through it without a pang — and I think it eschews cheap manipulation. Judy Garland’s far simpler performance is equally effective. Each of them is like a raw nerve, sat in the witness stand, getting pinged by Maximilian Schell.

Schell is also excellent — he doesn’t have sympathy on his side, but he has complexity, as he tries to make his character comprehensible, motivated, and even in some ways RIGHT — even while he becomes our hate-figure, standing in for the broad mass of Nazi Germany that went along with evil rather than initiating it.

And then Burt Lancaster is terrif, not in a feat of great acting to rank alongside his fractured co-stars, but as a towering monument of charisma, gravitas and contained energy. Star quality, with every muscle tensed trying to hold it in and focus it.

Spencer Tracy is also fine, but I could do without most of the between-courtroom filler, because what he does best here is LISTEN.

So, if one can accept the kind of film that has gowns by Jean-Louis and atrocity footage and isn’t afraid to juxtapose them almost directly, the real virtues of the drama here can be commended.

The Easter Sunday Intertitle: God is Dead

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , on April 20, 2014 by dcairns

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“Father dies.” An intertitle from Elia Suleiman’s DIVINE INTERVENTION.

Remember, until tomorrow, when He resurrects, God is dead and we can all do what we like.

Meanwhile, over at The Chiseler, I look at Suleiman’s arresting film as part of a blogathon on the theme of Palestine, hosted both at The Chiseler and If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger…

Sutpen!

Matsui!

Chomsky!

Finkelstein!

Shapira!

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