Archive for Chimes at Midnight

Mondo Kane #5: Chairman of the Board

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-10-25-22h49m08s59 Whereas George Coulouris’ makeups predicted how he would age with uncanny accuracy, Everett Sloane just shaved his head and that was it. Not a flattering discovery for an actor in his thirties to make. But he gets the benefit of the baldness by being able to expressively wrinkle his scalp all the way up to the crown of his head, unlike Joseph Cotten, whose bald cap cracked every time he raised an eyebrow.

CITIZEN KANE’s middle two interviews/flashback frames are its warmest, with both Everett Sloane and Joseph Cotten playing rather lovely old men. Sloane as Bernstein is affability itself, plus he gets the great monologue about the girl in the white dress, Welles’ favourite thing in the picture, and a piece he was quite happy to credit to its author, Herman Mankiewicz. It’s tempting to assume that Welles at twenty-five didn’t have the life experience to come up with something like that, but it would be a mistake to generalize. All we can be fairly sure of is that Mankiewicz at forty-three DID. That nostalgic and philosophical speech lulls us into liking Bernstein, even though as he’s Kane’s toady we should see him as guilty along with the boss-man of all Kane’s cultural crimes.

Indeed, the flashbacks where we see Kane taking over The Inquirer portray Kane, Cotten and Sloane’s characters as horrible brats, gleefully tormenting the aged editor. Erskine Sanford’s overdone huffing and puffing is arguably a necessary bit of comic distance to stop us empathizing too strongly with the victim of the scenes (just as Kubrick encouraged his supporting players into grotesque mugging in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, thus leaving Malcolm McDowell as the only person on-screen we could identify with, despite his abhorrent actions). Interestingly, in the manic TOO MUCH JOHNSON, just rediscovered, Sanford’s performance is one of the quietest. vlcsnap-2013-10-25-22h51m33s223

Oh, and there’s a very daring cut around the camera axis when Kane and Leland enter the Inquirer office, as Leland swings around a pillar — our eye, drawn to the movement, is able to keep us oriented as the angle suddenly jumps across the line.

The second scene, with Sanford’s office transformed into Welles’ dining room, is the bit where Pauline Kael said that Welles had “obviously” been caught by surprise by the camera in mid-snack and good-naturedly kept the footage in the film. As Peter Bogdanovich observed, this does indeed betray an appalling ignorance of how films are made, and a basic inability to observe — the shot is a minute long, near enough, with several carefully timed reframings as Sanford blusters around the little room. Thinking that a camera crew can do all that on the hoof is a bit like thinking the actors are just making up their own dialogue, and the story, wearing what they like. Kind of makes me glad Kael didn’t usually watch movies more than once, because her observations sure don’t get any more astute when, as presumably she did for her Raising Kane piece, she makes repeat viewings.

The question of how much critics need to know about the actual practice of film-making is, I guess, open to debate. But the trouble with Raising Kane is that it comes on like a piece of film history, even though Kael hadn’t researched it the way any historian would, by talking to all the principles — notoriously, she didn’t speak to Welles, even though he had given the publishers the rights to the script and so was presumably contactable. Kael writing film history is like Wilhelm Reich investigating orgone and cloudbusting — taking an approach which seemed adequate to one discipline and applying it to another where it has no place (Reich, like Freud, makes up shit about how the mind works and calls it science — everyone is duly impressed, until he starts saying why the sky is blue based on the same imaginary evidence ). Anyhow, this is all old stuff, but I think Raising Kane should be dug up and kicked every so often as a warning to others. Kael is perfectly entitled to be wrong or “wrong” about RAGING BULL, that is the domain of the critic, but her guesswork and opinion masquerading as research is indefensible.

Back to the film.

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Bernstein, though we love him, is a little shit here.

This time round I’m struck with the ambiguity of Cotten’s performance as he asks to keep the original of Kane’s Declaration of Principles. This could get grotesquely over-earnest as he supposes the piece of paper might become another Constitution, another Declaration if Independence, but he also allows a slight mocking tone to come in, consistent with his status as best pal. Best pals are never over-earnest.

Of course, Leland will eventually throw the D of P back in Kane’s face to shame him as a hypocrite, and is it too much to imagine he already suspects he might have to do this? As with Prince Hal in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, maybe the future betrayer already knows on some level that he will betray, in the name of a greater cause. And Cotten’s choice of his own principles over his friendship with his best buddy IS something Welles would presumably regard as a betrayal, given his regular pronouncements on the primacy of friendship (see the second Georgian toast in MR ARKADIN, and remember also that Welles realized, while giving an interview, that he couldn’t wholly sympathize with Joseph Calleia as Menzies betraying Hank Quinlan, despite the pressing moral reasons for doing so).

Check out Kane’s appalling handwriting — as with the “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper” note, it’s a childish scrawl akin to the gnomic pictograms of Graf Orlok’s correspondence in NOSFERATU. I would assume that Kane cultivated that illiterate scratching to annoy Mr. Thatcher.

Most of the flashback sequences in KANE start light and end dark, and Bernstein’s remembrances begin with everything larks — staying up all night to remake the front page four, no five times, seems consistent with Welles’ tireless work in the theatre, as he generously attributes his own virtues and vices to the character he’s playing. It’s of course a gross mistake to conflate Welles and Kane, who is designed as a kind of anti-Welles, but it’s also a mistake to regard them as completely separate. Kane is a stick Welles through out into space, which boomeranged back.

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Circulation war! And one of the first of Welles’ artsy reflection shots (good ones in AMBERSONS and TOUCH OF EVIL — further evidence that this is all happening inside the snowglobe) — but wait, Bernstein in his office talking to Thompson casts a nifty image in his shiny desktop.

Snazzy photo-transition and we’re into the musical number — yes, the musical number!  (Why didn’t Herrmann do a musical? JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH originally had songs, it’s true, but Herrmann didn’t get to write them, and so they were un-good and so they were cut from the film…) And here Leland worries that the Chronicle’s staff will change Kane, as if he were such an admirable figure to begin with. Well, sure, he’s been crusading against slum landlords, but he’s also been crusading against poor Mr. Silverstein whose wife has “probably” been murdered.

Note the plethora of cartoonish-extreme camera angles — Welles invents MTV. KANE’s long-take technique is flexible enough to be dropped at a moment’s notice, and Welles can bring a Russian montage influence to bear with the same insouciance and the same monumentality he applies to sequence shots. Fiona spends this scene in hysterics at Welles’ “dancing.” We need a compilation clip of this, Oliver Reed in BEAT GIRL and Ed Harris in CREEPSHOW. The anti-Astaires.

Bernstein is very much the court jester / fawning toady here. And it’s arguable that Leland’s later description of Kane as a man who believes in nothing save himself, is more true of Bernstein. But Bernstein doesn’t even believe in himself — he’s nailed his colours to Kane’s mast. And yet I think we like Bernstein more than we like Kane. Kane buys the world’s biggest diamond for his bride-to-be, neatly anticipating Burton & Taylor.

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Kane’s bashful scene — did Welles ever play bashfulness on the screen ever again? There’s that blushing Aw-shucks that Hank Quinlan assumes when his detective’s intuition is praised, but that’s a political pose rather than a sincere emotion. (Quinlan is, among many other things, a great Texas down-home-style bullshitting politician in the tradition of George W. Bush.) Certain aspects of Welles’ performance have drawn too much attention, arguably (his old-age performance perhaps relies too much on Karloffian lumbering) and little moments like this not enough, It’s a beautiful study in an authority figure suddenly way outside his comfort zone and forced to admit humanity.

We leave Bernstein’s memories with a clear romantic cliffhanger, to be taken up again shortly… Back to the framing story, and now it’s dark. The rainstorm arranged outside the window is over, the sky has blackened, and the miniature cityscape is all lit up like fairyland.

Check out the imperceptibly slow creep back from the two figures standing under Kane’s gargantuan portrait. The slow diminution of Mr. Bernstein has something to do with death.

“Just old age. It’s the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don’t look forward to being cured of.”

The Sunday Intertitle: Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2011 by dcairns

Illa Meery in Richard Oswald’s CAGLIOSTRO – LIEBE UND LEBEN EINS GROSSEN ABENTEURERS.

Known in English as THE ADVENTURES OF CAGLIOSTRO, it charts roughly the same narrative course as the Orson Welles BLACK MAGIC, despite being based upon a different novel. The conflicted attitude to the protagonist causes different but comparable problems in both films — Welles’ movie (partially directed by the Great Man himself) sets Cag up as a heroic revolutionary with a legitimate grudge, before transforming him into an out and out villain. Oswald’s portrays him as something of a scamp, but his slimy scheme to start the French Revolution a year early, motivated only by personal pique, renders him utterly unsympathetic, especially as he escapes the consequences and leaves Meery, his confederate, to take the rap –

Since my copy is a truncated English translation, I can’t tell if this is a shorthand version of a deleted scene, or just a lonely intertitler’s perverted fantasy.

Cagliostro is played by the unnaturally handsome Hans Stuwe, and expensive and imaginative production design (Lazare Meerson!) and striking expressionist photography result in a sumptuous visual spectacle, still dimly apparent in this shortened and fuzzy print. Oswald’s oeuvre, which includes the bold, sympathetic gay rights film DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS, and the epic LUCREZIA BORGIA, could do with restoration and reappraisal. He’s nothing if not resourceful, visually, taking particular pleasure in Cagliostro’s magic tricks.

German cinema’s first disco ball. It would not be the last.

A Wellesian flavour — see the title sequence of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, soon to be re-released.

Cagliostro’s magic is a lot of balls…

…crystal balls, that is.

The Vox Project

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2010 by dcairns

Presenting, a new and exciting, if somewhat mythical, Shadowplay Project.

For a while I was fascinated by Marina Vlady in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. Well, actually I still am. But when I saw La Vlady in Godard’s TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, something seemed different. The voice, of course. Welles was happy to use Jeanne Moreau’s own hoarse, sexy tones for her characterisation of Doll Tearsheet (with the logic that, since the British were always fighting the French, and armies have camp followers, there would be a lot of French tottie knocking around Merrie England) but Vlady plays the lady wife of Henry Hotspur, and had to sound plummily English.

So, somebody else provided the voice, and for once Welles couldn’t do it himself (I imagine he’s responsible for Fernando Rey’s and possibly Walter Chiari’s dubbing in this film). The question that vexes me is, who?

The throaty vibrato has a slight air of Fenella Fielding about it, and this is lent weight by the fact that we know Fielding has done a spot of revoicing in her time: she dubbed Anita Pallenberg as the Black Queen in BARBARELLA. But this voice isn’t quite AS extreme. I’m thinking Joan Greenwood, who perhaps is more Shakespearian.

But I don’t know! And it frustrates me.

Nor do I know for sure if that’s the voice of TV comedy legend Richard Briers issuing from beneath the mustache of Jean-Pierre Cassel in Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS. It sure sounds like him (and Briers had worked with Raquel Welch in FATHOM) but it could conceivably be Ian Carmichael. But neither one has any certain connection with Lester. (NB — the IMDb confirms Briers as the voice artist responsible.) Nonetheless, I am morally certain that’s Michael Hordern providing vocals for the captain of the musketeers, played externally by Georges Wilson.

Lester’s films are full of overdubs — the Greek chorus narrating THE KNACK… AND HOW TO GET IT certainly seems to include Dandy Nichols, who appears briefly, and Arthur Lowe, who doesn’t. Both would later perform in THE BED SITTING ROOM.

Fellini’s English language movies contain similar mysteries: in CASANOVA that’s certainly Robert Stephen’s uniquely fluctuating fruitiness emanating from the aristo who hosts a shagging contest in his court. Which makes me suspect that at least one of the crystal-sharp lady’s voices in the film stems from his significant other, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW’s Patricia Quinn. Several of them sound like her.

Film history is full of anonymous voices whispering slyly from the lips of faces famous and infamous and unfamous. And the few people who know the truth aren’t getting any younger. So, without any resources or any free time to devote to the problem, I’m nevertheless launching the Vox Project. All I want is for anyone who knows anything about famous dubs to let me know so I can put it on the record. It would be particularly interesting to hear from people in the industry with direct knowledge of this. Let’s not let this important and sexy information disappear from history.

Spread the word!

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