Archive for Denis Gifford

Benshi in my Ear

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2014 by dcairns

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The sensation of having an Italian lady piped into my ear while I watch a film was entirely unknown to me a week ago. Now it’s second nature. I’m slightly discomfited when she’s NOT there. I would welcome her ministrations even when watching a film in English (OKLAHOMA! on the big screen — digitally restored — the only  50 30 fps DCP in the world? – yum! But surely an Italianate female voice repeating the lyrics after Duncan Gordon McRae would enhance it).

We nearly had a simultaneous audio translation in Cannes once, but arrived at the gala moments too late, had to wait for the cast and crew to pose for snaps on the steps, then got let in after the movie had started. A tinny voice could dimly be heard from the arm of my chair, but I had no technical means to connect the arm of my chair to my head. So THE IDIOTS was experienced untranslated, and seemed quite enjoyable. It wasn’t until I saw it with subtitles that I realised I hated it.

My first visit from the ear-fairy was with THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (aka LES MYSTERES DE NEW YORK, an even better title). They ran two episodes that had been preserved in Belgium, with French and Dutch intertitles. I came to imagine Pearl White, the star, as a hesitant Italian, and enjoyed the improvisatory nature of her performance. Directed George Seitz and Louis Gasnier (see elsewhere on Shadowplay) for Pathe a hundred years ago, this follow-up to THE PERILS OF PAULINE was great entertainment. The whole serial survives, but in hideous dupes from 28mm, so this was a unique event — even Kevin Brownlow had never seen it look like this. (A bit chipped off as it passed through the projector, and for a full minute stayed stuck to the image, a fragment of celluloid, sprocket-holes and all, pasted over the action. Never seen that before.) Yes, I introduced myself to Kevin Brownlow, who pronounced NATAN “terrific.” My chest swelled as if an alien was trying to get out.

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“You are responsible for my becoming a filmmaker.”

“You must be broke.”

“I am!”

“Join the club!”

The screening was also significant for me because THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE is one of the few films left illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Regular readers will be aware of my quest to see every film depicted in that tome, a quest entitled See Reptilicus and Die. I saw REPTILICUS, I didn’t die, and now I only have a few left.

Mr. Brownlow pointed out that a very young Creighton Hale appears in THE E OF E. I told him that Professor Joseph Slade, one of the antagonists in our film NATAN, wrote me that he believes, not only that Bernard Natan had sex with a duck onscreen, but, along with Kenneth Anger, that Creighton Hale had sex with a goat in a twenties porno, a rumour systematically discredited here.

KB: “You know someone asked Kenneth Anger how he did his research, and he replied, ‘Mental telepathy, mainly.’”

Denis Gifford’s book reproduces an image of a Jekyll-Hyde transformation. The episodes we saw included The Vampire, in which masked, hunchbacked villain The Clutching Hand attempts to drain Elaine of blood to transfuse into one of his accomplices. Though Elaine spent most of her time unconscious and getting rescued, she did start that episode by plugging said accomplice three times as he appeared at her bedroom window (the program notes observed that many of the serial’s dramatic situations implied some thinly-veiled sexual threat, and that the films were particularly successful with female audiences — back when thiny v’d sexual t. was just about the only kind of acceptable sex). The other episode had Elaine revived from a death-like trance (accompanist Stephen Horne switched to accordion to suggest lung-wheeze). All these jumbled horror elements (see poster above) suggest the serial was the Penny Dreadful of its day — but of course John Logan’s series and Seitz/Gasnier’s serial both take nineteenth-century sensational literature as their starting point.

Reptivoli

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2014 by dcairns

Pictorial history of horror films back

A long time ago, in the early Cretaceous period I think it was, I swore to see every film depicted in the pages of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. I have not so far succeeded. I called by quest “See REPTILICUS and Die,” and I had been holding off on viewing the Danish dino non-epic until I had successfully tracked down such features as THE DEVIL BAT and THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE. I have not entirely succeeded. It’s not so much that several of the “most wanted” titles may or may not be lost films, it’s more that THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET seems unwatchably dull, even more so that it’s Hammer remake (known locally as ANTON DIFFRING’S ARSE IS ON FIRE), and that BLACK DRAGONS is an incoherent mess that makes you feel unpleasantly stoned when you try to watch it. But I may get through them one day.

Braving the possibility of a vengeful deity striking me down for tempting fate, I plopped REPTILICUS in the laptop and perused it with Fiona from the comfort of the marital bed. At least we would be carried off together. An IMDb reviewer seems to have shared my concern: “This is the movie that we Danes can be proud of!! It is the worst movie ever made but it is so funny that I am about to die.”

“When nature defies its own laws…” Hmm.

82 minutes later (for we watched the AIP English dub, not the 92 minute Danish original) Fiona remarked, “That was really disappointing. Although I did quite like the way everyone spoke really slowly, and all the women looked the same.”

The people spoke slowly because they were Danes speaking a second language for the English version, not knowing that AIP would dub them all anyway.

Danes drilling for oil in Lapland strike dinosaur blood instead, preserved in a layer of what is technically known as “icy muck.”

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The film’s main title appears over a closeup of the man’s crotch and his bloody hands. Which is kind of strange when you think about it or don’t.

They exhume a tail, which isn’t what they were looking for but maybe works as a consolation prize, ship it to wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, and stick it in a tank of nutrients (I think they mean meatballs), where it begins to regenerate, like Oddbod Jnr in CARRY ON SCREAMING. The logic being, if a lizard can grow a new tail, why can’t a tail grow a new lizard? Hang on to that logic, for it is the last you shall encounter for some time.

Not anticipating that a rampant dinosaur in their capital city might cause traffic congestion, the Danes carry on feeding the tail while the American officer brought in to supervise the military side of the tail-feeding goes on a sight-seeing tour of the city. The Tivoli Gardens get much play, with even their own theme song, “Tivoli Nights,” (AKA “the love theme from REPTILICUS”). Prolific sci-fi scenarist and Scrabble tray Ib Melchior obviously included this scene to make us ache all the more heartily for the destruction of Denmark’s capital along with its entire population, and he succeeded all too well. The bloodlust emanating from Fiona as she lay beside me staring at the scenes of Scandinavian merrymaking with a look of cold psychopathic rage was positively alarming. But when the eventual sauropod rampaged through the scenic grounds, spitting acidic venom in all directions, I heard myself cheering alongside her.

Fiona did, however, feel that it was a gross dereliction of the monster’s duty to fail to bite the head off the Little Mermaid statue.

Don’t watch this song unless you have someone conveniently positioned to punch on the arm right afterwards.

The dinosaur itself is a… I think “puppet” is actually dignifying it too much. I don’t know exactly how they’re making it move — nor do I know how it’s actually supposed to move in the movie’s reality, since as Fiona pointed out, it has feet but no legs, is sort of dachshund-shaped — but I think it’s a basically inert figurine being waggled about by an offscreen “effects artist” holding it by the tail. In effect, what the Lap oilman unearthed was the monster’s handle.

Via Facebook, Jim Earp draws our attention to the unsung figure of the drawbridge operator, who panics and raises the bridge so that a score of panicked citizens can cycle over the brink into the deep. “One of the greatest interpretations of anguished, imbecile helplessness in the history of cinema.”

THIS song wasn’t in the version we saw, otherwise I believe we would both be dead. They would have to cut us out of the mattress. The “singer” WAS in the film though, in his Stephen King CREEPSHOW costume, providing the kind of laborious light relief that wouldn’t even work as relief if surrounded by autopsy footage.

Also, in the English version he doesn’t fly. Nor does he emit pathetic firecracker pops from his slack, rubbery jaws — clearly, AIP decided to mask what they considered an effect falling short of their high standards, by superimposing great snotty spurts of green goop. Or maybe they were worried that a fire-breathing dinosaur was inherently implausible. Yeah, that’ll never work.

At the end, the big guy is not actually killed, just rendered unconscious, his eventual destruction something the Danish authorities will presumably take care of offscreen, with the same wisdom and efficiency with which they grew him from a severed appendage and turned him loose in the first place.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the ocean, a severed dinosaur foot, blown off in an earlier skirmish, awaits its chance to emerge and stomp the countryside in a sequel as yet unmade. I have Gilliamesque visions of the foot, which has declined to regenerate another legless dinosaur, bouncing around Jutland on its own recognizance, while a moron in dungarees warbles disturbingly.

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“I don’t want this to be the last film I see,” said Fiona. So we watched IT CONQUERED THE WORLD.

 

Pictorial Beauty

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on October 22, 2012 by dcairns

A new piece by me at The Chiseler, outlining my demented and ongoing quest to see every film depicted in Denis Gifford’s big green book of monsters, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

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