Archive for Fritz Lang

The First Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by dcairns

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Over at the always exhilarating Observations on Film Art, David Bordwell, whom I finally met in Bologna along with his lovely partner Kristin Thompson, summarises the Cinema Ritrovato experience by writing up a single day’s viewing, thus giving us a sorta-kinda idea of what the overall buzz is like. I thought I’d steal the idea, as a way of reliving the glory and because there are plenty of enjoyable screenings that wouldn’t quite make a full blog post on their own.

I got into Bologna — or at any rate the outlying suburb-thing of Pianora, on the Saturday the fest began, late at night, so I missed such goodies as BEGGARS OF LIFE (recently enjoyed in Bo’ness) and Aleksandr Ford’s THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM, acclaimed as a masterpiece by those who saw it, and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE on the big, big screen in the Piazza Maggiore. And finding a bus on a Sunday to take me into town proved troublesome, so by the time I’d arrived and registered and had a cappuccino alongside new best pal Jonathan Rosenbaum and met longtime correspondent Neil McGlone and fellow Scotsman Mark Cosgrove, it was 12.15 and the only thing to see before the long, civilised lunch break, was the program of musical shorts previously discussed here.

Said program also featured YES WE HAVE NO… (the missing word is BANANAS), a silhouette-film seemingly directed by the ludic Adrian Brunel (it was found in his collection, anyway) and produced by Miles “He won’t be doing the crossword tonight” Malleson. A cartoonish treatment of the torment inflicted by catchy earworms, popular songs of the moronic variety that burrow into your consciousness and jam the controls on “REPEAT.”

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After lunch with the man I really must stop calling J-Ro, who gave me some useful pointers for stuff to see, I made perhaps a mistake and went to see a William Wellman double feature instead of THE TEMPTRESS, which looked extremely alluring, was only on once, and proved to be one of the hot tickets of the fest, the kind of thing for which the safety inspector averts an eye as the aisles fill up with perspiring bodies. But the Wellmans were good/interesting — YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN starred Clive Brook, Florence Vidor, El Brendel (ack!) and Lowell Sherman, whose villainous smoothy is excellent value. Wellman starts with a spectacular building site disaster. A labourer rescues the chic Vidor from cascading scaffolding. Sherman steps in and takes the swooning beauty from his muscular but filthy grasp. “I think I can do this sort of thing better than you,” he suggests, via intertitle, and proceeds to take credit for saving her life.

The story goes on to be a backstage melodrama with Clive Brook as jilted lover, Sherman as interloper, El Brendel as a colossal pain in the ass even without dialogue, the whole thing a warning as to the inconstancy of woman. But it’s not nasty about it or anything.

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THE MAN I LOVE was an early talkie, and showed Wellman struggling, sometimes inventively, with the new technology. Sometimes he has three cameras running on a scene but they’re all badly positioned for the action as blocked, so the editor’s attempts to maintain audience engagement by shuttling from one bad view to another come to naught. But sometimes he throws the microphone aside and shoots mute, as in the boxing scenes, which have some impressively RAGING BULL-esque movement and vigour. And sometimes he simply stays on a decent shot, and lets the actors, a mulish Richard Arlen and an uncertain Mary Brian, wreck things for him.

Just up the hill at the Cinema Jolly, I could see UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE and LA CHIENNE, so I did. I’d never seen the latter, so comparing it to Lang’s remake, SCARLET STREET, was extremely interesting. Obviously the original is not a noir, and has a weird serio-comic tone of its own which leaves some strange moments undigested in the Lang, particularly the big punchline of the dead husband’s return. And Renoir is able to end the film in an anti-moralistic way: with a change of emphasis Lang could have his hero cheat the law and get away with murder, but be nevertheless destroyed by his guilt, and by the fraud already perpetrated against him. But in Renoir, the protagonist may be down on his luck, but he no longer cares. To society, he would seem to have been punished most severely, but he’s a perfectly happy guy. That’s much more unsettling.

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UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE is a masterpiece, of course.

Jonathan R had recommended Paradjanov’s SAYAT NOVA, which I had always known under its Soviet-imposed name of THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES, so I clocked in for my last show of the day at 9.30 at the Sala Mastroianni. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen all of it before — it’s that kind of film. But the familiarity induced by the abrupt ending convinced me I must have, probably in Derek Malcolm’s Film Club on BBC2 or something. Probably a VHS recording of same, in fact.

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A film about a poet that is in itself poetic is a rare thing. In fact, it’s very hard to tell whether Mr. Nova was any good as a poet — much of his verse is presented solely as title cards in Cyrillic, so you can’t even tell what it would sound like. And the bits that are translated have an almost adolescent whining tone — “I’m a really unhappy guy. Life stinks. Everybody hates me.” The one line that stuck out was “The world is a window.” Which is, you know, GREAT. Especially with Paradjanov’s stunning images as accompaniment.

Worrying about the poetry turned out to be part of a pattern with me — the last film of the day was usually one I had trouble getting into, owing to tiredness (with two magnificent exceptions — THE MERRY WIDOW and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT.)

The film, now restored in its Ukrainian version, is so fantabulous that it’s quite wrong of me to want to use it simply as a stick with which to beat Peter Greenaway. The temptation still arises, though, because it would make such a terrific, all-annihilating stick.

Shang a Lang

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , on June 16, 2014 by dcairns

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On drums — Fritz Lang. Saxophone — Brigitte “Bleeding Gums” Helm. And on keyboards, vocals, and National Socialism, Thea Von Harbou.

The Sunday Intertitle: McTropolis

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on June 15, 2014 by dcairns

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To St Andrews Square in the heart of our fair city for an outdoor screening (part of Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Film in the City event) of METROPOLIS, Giorgio Moroder version. Don’t ask me why they screened this one. I guess they didn’t have a three-hour slot for the restoration, or they thought this version would go down better with the kids, who are into all that Queen and Bonnie Tyler and Adam Ant stuff.

Fiona quite likes this version because it’s how she first saw the film. She defends Moroder slightly — “He wanted to show the film to a new generation.” But that’s Ted Turner’ colorization argument — you get more people to see the thing, but what they’re seeing is NOT the thing. Still, he did put out a version of the film that restored Von Harbou’s plot, which had been moronically rewritten in English-language territories. (The female robot is presented, in that rewrite, as “The worker of the future,” and the city’s ruler has her incite riots for no discernible reason. Complete nonsense, concocted by some Hollywood Pat Hobby who felt the original story was “silly.”) Moroder’s electronic scoring is acceptable, though I think a little disappointing considering how good Moroder was at film composing when he had a living director to collaborate with. The songs are bloody awful. The tinting is overenthusiastic. The synth sound effects just work as score so they don’t upset me. The end titles that credit Fritz Raspe’s character, “the Thin Man,” as “Slim,” are acceptable. It’s a valid translation, with noir resonances just as strong as the more familiar one…

The Moroder version actually begins with a title announcing that much of Lang’s footage has been lost, “probably forever,” delightfully announcing its obsolescence with its opening frame. Kind of poetic: Lang’s movie triumphs over time, time triumphs over Moroder’s edit. I give Moroder enough credit to believe he’s delighted to be proved wrong on this occasion, so everyone’s a winner.

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Fiona enjoyed the show, I mainly read Raoul Walsh’s autobio, the clouds threatened rain but held off until later, and there was applause when evil Maria’s eyes opened, and when the film ended. So, even under rather odd conditions, Lang’s film still impresses.

Buy the right version (UK): Metropolis [Reconstructed & Restored] (Masters of Cinema) [DVD] [1927]

And US: The Complete Metropolis [Blu-ray]

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