Archive for the Sport Category

The Wedding Marx

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2014 by dcairns


For our anniversary, Fiona and I ate out and then decided to astonish the world by watching a movie. Yes, a year already. It seems to be lasting. Of course, we’d been together for twenty years before we got hitched. It’s a good system: a lot more marriages would last until death us do part if the couples waited until they were nearly dead before making it legal.

We considered various movies to watch for this special occasion — things that got us both interested in movies in the first place, like KING KONG and Ray Harryhausen, classic science fiction like FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, classic horror like FRANKENSTEIN etc. But in the end we plumped for the Marx Bros, and the one I proposed was HORSE FEATHERS (1932), just because we’d never watched it together. It’s the Paramount one without Margaret Dumont, which was why Fiona always chose a different one.

But HORSE FEATHERS is very good, even if it doesn’t have the Grande Dame herself. It has Thelma Todd, and it had been so long since I’d seen it that this time I recognised a lot more people, like Robert Greig, the butler from SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, partially eclipsed by his beard, and Vince Barnett standing at a bar with no lines (somebody thought another comedian might come in handy), and Theresa Harris (as a maid, of course) and Nat Pendleton.


If the faces hadn’t previously registered, the dialogue was mostly etched in memory. Groucho’s address to the college, his address to the class, the password routine, And Groucho’s perfect response to a threatened musical interlude from Chico, stepping up to the camera and telling us: “I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason you folks shouldn’t go out in the lobby until this thing blows over.” I actually like Chico’s recitals, it’s Harpo’s that make me tired.

Just watched a documentary on clowns produced by the estimable Lobster Films. It tells the story, at one point, of Harpo’s trip to the USSR. His baggage containing various pistols, daggers, prop bombs and sticks of dynamite (all part of the act) he was detained and interrogated by the Soviet police, a scenario for a play if ever I heard one (to be entitled So You Won’t Talk, Huh?)


HORSE FEATHERS has a big slapstick football game climax. I hate sport. I am to sport what Richard Dawkins is to religion. And while I admire Keaton’s COLLEGE and Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN, I don’t like the way the bookworm turns and beats the jocks at their own game. It isn’t realistic, and it’s a betrayal of their identity. So, although it isn’t so very funny, I quite like the way the Marxes just destroy the whole concept of a rues-based competitive sport, racing to the touch-line by chariot and producing a whole series of balls to raise their score.

Marx Bros films usually fizzle out, being predicated upon nothing and defying narrative structure, but this one has a good, if arbitrary ending, with all three brothers (Zeppo may be there, but he’s wisely framed out) marrying Thelma and then aggressively clambering aboard her as the Wedding March blasts out, applying to the rules of matrimony the same freeform approach taken to football.


 The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection

Dutch Treat

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2014 by dcairns


From right — James Benning, Richard Linklater, Gabe Klinger.

From Rotterdam –

Gabe Klinger had the right idea: when he couldn’t afford to see as many movies as he needed to see, he became a critic so he could see them for free. And now he’s made film for the best possible reason: to be able to see a film that wouldn’t exist if he didn’t make it.

About time. DOUBLE PLAY is all about time. Juxtaposing the work of friends James Benning (durational experimental films framing empty places as the seconds silently tick by, or revisiting environments and inhabitants after decades) and Richard Linklater (three films that follow a couple across ten years, and one that was shot over twelve years to show its child characters grow up for real), Klinger explores a friendship and two contrasting oeuvres, unified beautifully under a temporal umbrella. It’s particularly impressive to see him intercut different Linklater films — samples from a prolific and eclectic career — so that they all seem to merge into one big continuum, an uber-film containing both WAKING LIFE and THE BAD NEWS BEARS, SLACKER and BEFORE SUNRISE, making it seem possible that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy might at some moment round a corner and pass a pixillated/pixelated stoner from A SCANNER DARKLY.

And then there’s the central relationship, which is fun to be around and contains just enough contrast and disagreement to stop it becoming a love-in (and therefore tedious). I mean, I like King Vidor’s film about Andrew Wyeth, THE METAPHOR, it’s impossible to dislike, but its mutual admiration society set-up, Vidor loves Wyeth who loves Vidor, means it’s hardly a-crackle with tension. Benning seems to have enough inner steel and fire that a certain mild, agreeable tension is felt whenever he’s around.

Discussing tennis with Danny Kasman before the show — I remark that the sport seemed to have kept Richard Lester fit into his eighties and Norman Lloyd going strong at 99. A very early image of DOUBLE PLAY is Linklater peppering a court with stray balls as he faces off against an implacable tennis ball machine. We exchange glances. This sequence is good news for Linklater fans.

TEN SKIES by James Benning.

BTW, Gabe is a friend, but seeing as we live on different continents, I’m fairly sure I could have gotten away with NOT writing about his film if I didn’t like it.

The Monday Intertitle: Victor McLaglan is stalking me

Posted in FILM, literature, Sport with tags , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by dcairns


So I’m reading Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, the last of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books that I’d yet to read — I read them all out of order and with decades between the first batch and the second, I’m afraid — and there’s a reference to heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, a man much disliked by his opponents, partly out of racism. But Fraser, for balance, quotes actor Victor McLaglan’s memoir, Express to Hollywood (which sounds like it’d be a worthwhile read). Before his acting career, VM was a boxer, as his face amply testifies, and he fought Johnson, of whom he writes, he “fought like a gentleman,” and “was undoubtedly the hardest man to hit whom I’ve ever met.”

I like the genteel “whom” — and the inference that McLaglan presumably tried to hit every man he met. I can believe it.


But the very same day, I received in the post my copy of the marvelous Lost & Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive, published by the good people at the National Film Preservation Foundation. And featured amongst the treasures (all deserving of the name) is a trailer for STRONG BOY, a presumed-lost John Ford film starring McLaglan himself. Indifferently reviewed at the time, the film looks mouthwateringly desirable to us today, and the trailer itself offers up exciting clips and some charming animated title cards.


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