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Pin-Up of the Day: Louise Brooks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2008 by dcairns

This is what happens when you try to photograph Louise Brooks off your TV set. If you’re not George Hurrell it’s just not going to work. Let’s see what I can leech off the internet…

Plenty of gorgeous photographs, including some nice early nudes if you want to go Google ‘em, but not much of her in her superhero costume. She’s really a daredevil girl who leaps off a mile-high ladder into a tub of water, soaking a happy Victor McLaglen (he’s always happy), but with the cape she really ought to be a costumed vigilante, perhaps going by the name of Sexygirl, fighting the forces of evil by shagging them into submission, which was pretty much Brooks’ mission in life at this time anyway.

She’s a prototypical Hawksian woman — self-driven, smart and sassy, but the plot has her down as a gold-digging bitch. Wisely, Hawks, who penned the storyline, avoids giving her any kind of downfall: she simply pockets McLaglen’s life savings, then drops out of the film altogether, presumably to fleece another cheerful sucker in another film. McLaglen returns to the meaty embrace of Robert Armstrong, just as happy as before, neither sadder nor wiser.

It amazes me little has been done to examine this vein of homoeroticism in Hawks, actually… but at the same time I’m totally NOT amazed. Somehow the films both welcome this reading — Hawks spoke openly of “a love story between two men” — and render it irrelevant, by foregrounding it and shrugging “So what?”

While the pummeling, two-fisted punch-ups serve as a substitute for more intimate man-on-man action, somehow there’s no real frisson of naughtiness in it. By contrast, in an Italian western like Bava’s ROY COLT AND WINCHESTER JACK, the fist-fights are more or less explicit acts of love between men who can’t express their feelings any other way, and in Cottafavi’s LEGIONS OF CLEOPATRA, poor Cleo (Linda Cristal) is reduced to the status of beard, watching irrelevantly (or not even present) as male protagonists wallop seven shades of shit out of each other to demonstrate how very masculine they are… Truly, Italian popular cinema of this time just reeks of repressed passion, which is fascinating considering the kind of culture it’s emerging from.

Oh, alright then:

UK residents can check out Brooks’ work here:

Diary of a Lost Girl [1929] [DVD] [2007]

Dr Gilliam, I Presume?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 14, 2008 by dcairns

The Imaginarium of Doctor Gilliam is the most complete retrospective of Terry Gilliam’s work ever assembled, here in Milan. They even have the excellent TV show The Last Machine, on the origins of cinema, which Gilliam presented.

In case of bumping into the reformed Python and BRAZIL auteur, I boned up by watching TIDELAND at last before I came out here. It was quite impressive, and made up for the rather sour taste left by the Weinstein-Gilliam “collaboration” THE BROTHERS GRIMM. I identified with TIDELAND’s child heroine, since she has a collection of dolls’ heads, like me. Here’s mine:

And here is Djeliza-May’s in TIDELAND:

Festival organiser Ben ushered me into The Presence of Greatness and I shook the mighty hand (Gilliam has a mighty head, shaped like a dodgem-car, and mighty gnarled and chunk hands. If Ernest Brgnine was a pair of hands, he would be these. “You were pointed out to me in your T-short and shorts,” he said, “They said, ‘He’s from Scotland, he thinks this is NICE weather.’ I do too!”

We discussed the Filmmakers’ House, which I recommended he visit. A leaking art-deco meat market (“The film business!” he chortled) seems like a Gilliam kind of place. So maybe he’ll show up to party later (he has more stamina in his 60s than I do at 40, it seems).

And in other news, they’re showing my film in the park by the castle tonight at 10.45. The weather seems to have been improving slowly all day so I hope it’s a sunny night.

Bizarre, Bizarre

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2008 by dcairns

A Fever Dream Double Feature.

Being as MILLION DOLLAR LEGS stars W.C. Fields as the president of a tiny Ruritanian country, there’s an obvious temptation to pair it with DUCK SOUP, which stars Groucho Marx as etc etc. But that might do a disservice to MDL, which can’t compete on the laugh-count with the unstoppable comic juggernaut of DS.

Instead I propose Marcel Carné’s DROLE DE DRAME (A.K.A. BIZARRE, BIZARRE) which has approximately the same demented whimsy and unsettled forward momentum, pitching one aberrant situation after another at the punchy audience until end titles set in. Both films are premised on the idea of government, police, and all human institutions being fundamentally cock-eyed and probably malevolent, but do so without anger but with instead a shrug, wink and surreptitious extrusion of the tongue at authority. Neither film gets that many belly laughs, but both score heavily on peculiarity and brimming reserve of absurd ideas.

W.C. Fields is prez of Klopstokia because he can arm-wrestle any man to a stand-still. His nearest rival, Hugh “woo-woo” Herbert (who somehow manfully restrains himself from saying “woo-woo” at all in this film) is plotting against him with the aid of the entire cabinet and a spy, Ben Turpin, who remains a silent comedian throughout, popping up in various disguises and hiding places, his pupils aiming across each other at opposite edges of the screen. Jack Oakie, that large, shiny, alternately simpering and beaming fellow, is a brush salesman smitten with Fields’ daughter, who seeks to win pop’s approval by solving the nation’s financial crisis. This entails entering the Olympics, a promising plan since everybody in the country is a superhuman athlete (also, all the women are called Angela). The Hugh sans “woo-woo” plots to sabotage the team using Mata Machree, the Swedish siren, whom no man can resist.

The story is by Joseph Mankiewicz, and mines levels of silliness not to be found in any of his later films as auteur. There is also uncredited throughput by Ben Hecht, who certainly did have an antic side, and credited scripting by Nicholas T. Barrows, a man with a substantial Keystone Studios pedigree, and Henry Myers, who would later co-write DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. The result is much as you might expect if you stirred all those authorial voices into a soup.

It’s not exactly hilarious but it’s consistently amusing, and frequently eye-popping. Should be seen (to be believed) and luckily can be seen as it’s in the superb and essential W.C. Fields DVD box set, along with the truly great Fields films and plenty of other oddities.

A year or so ago there was virtually no Fields commercially available. Now virtually all of it is. And some people will say there’s no such thing as progress, as the planet slowly boils to a crisp.

DROLE DE DRAME, made before Carné and Prevert’s, like, immortal classics,  is one I need to revisit as I can barely recall the specifics of it (I first saw it on faded VHS with illegible subtitles, and have yet to check out my shiny new DVD). I know that Michel Simon plays an expert on the mimesis of the mimosa. Jean-Pierre Barrault plays a bicycling madman. Louis Jouvet plays the Bishop of Bedford in a kilt. My favourite moment is when Simon, who’s suspected of murder, returns to his home in a false beard, worried that the police may be tearing the place apart. They ARE, but not in the way he expected: they’re just MUCKING ABOUT like little kids, pushing each other around on a drinks trolley, etc. Delightful.

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