Archive for Louise Brooks

Dixie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 8, 2013 by dcairns

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Alice White and her… zombie beatnik chorus?

When you’re feeling poorly, a pre-code can be a tonic, or else it can be about all you can handle. Although some of them are rather spicy, and some (THE BOWERY) even toxic, so you have to watch out. Fiona had a very good week, during which we ventured out of early thirties Hollywood and ran L’AUBERGE ROUGE, but then she’s had a couple of bad days so we ran for cover into the soothing crackle of Vitaphone.

A SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD is a 1930 Warners dramedy, or dromedary if you will, with an interesting history. The character of Dixie Dugan sprang from two novels by J.P. McEvoy (IT’S A GIFT), was adapted into a comic strip with Louise Brooks serving as model for the showgirl’s design, and then found her way to a Gershwin-scored Broadway play (Ruby Keeler in the lead), and thence to the screen, embodied by Alice White in 1928’s SHOW GIRL (which I haven’t managed to see) and its sequel.

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Gargantuan clown weeps chorines: a staple of entertainment in the ’30s.

This being 1930 means the studio with the most pre-code paprika hadn’t quite hit its stride — Mervyn LeRoy directs, but he lets everybody take their time (even Herman Bing, though playing a character called Bing, just does not bring the Bing), and everybody being somewhat miscast and the material being somewhat thin, the film kind of just lays there. Still, it’s interesting.

One reason for this is the behind-the-scenes stuff, which we’ve been wallowing in lately. Though the movie isn’t particularly abrasive in its portrayal of Hollywood, it does feature a musical number interrupted by shots taken from inside one of the soundproof booths, which means they must have crammed TWO cameras in there, one filming the other. The motor whir is pretty loud, alright. This fine post covers most of what I’d have said about that.

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Another reason is Alice White, who fascinates. She has natural oomph, and it’s not that she can’t act, exactly — she just seems to not know what’s going on around her most of the time. Her quicksilver shifts of facial expression are enticing, but not strictly tied to anything in the scene, they’re more like hats being tried on for size. A more intelligent performance might have focused and injected fizzle into what are often quite flat scenes. It’s not really clear if Dixie is a gold-digger, a ditz, or what, and White’s reading of the snappier lines is uncertain enough to suggest Dixie is repeating things she’s overheard, rather than minting her own witticisms.

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Third reason is Blanche Sweet, in one of only three early talkies she made, rather cruelly cast as a past-her-prime actress. “I’m thirty-two,” she confesses, though Sweet was actually a little older. Still, point taken — Hollywood’s search for the new, the young, is a merciless thing. Sweet had a perfectly good voice, in fact she made her living in radio and on the stage when the movies stopped calling, so her decline can be credited purely to the changing of fashion. I guess when movies began yapping, people were excited to see their favourite stars give voice, but less-celebrated players couldn’t compete with imports from the New York stage or elsewhere, who could be marketed as the next big thing.

Bridge Too Far

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on December 6, 2011 by dcairns

Late Roscoe Arbuckle. Directing under the name “William Goodrich.” I could have tormented your retinas and imaginations with WINDY RILEY GOES HOLLYWOOD, which is also late Arbuckle and furthermore late Louise Brooks — two veterans of the silent screen washed up on the shoals of the talkies, but I decided to show mercy. The thing is hugely unfunny and his direction is as wooden as her acting — here we see the true reason old movies are flammable.

But BRIDGE WIVES fascinates. Arbuckle moves the camera with some of his former facility (he was a brisk, capable filmmaker) and if the thing isn’t exactly hilarious, it’s bizarre enough to be eye-catching. The homicidal and suicidal tendencies on display are also kind of interesting, in the context of Arbuckle’s life, and the “from poverty” aesthetic works in a vaguely REEFER MADNESS kind of way. There’s enough speed to stop it choking on its own cheapness, so the lack of production values just adds an endearing patina of decay.

I also dig the very high walls ~

By this time, “Fatty” had returned to the screen as star in some two-reelers, having been forcibly retired (officially banned by the Hays Office) for almost ten years. I can’t find any evidence that his directing pseudonym, William Goodrich, had a middle intial B at any point, making it stand for “Will B Good.”

The year after BRIDGE WIVES, he died.

Buy Fatty!

The Sunday Intertitle: When Buster Met Boris

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2011 by dcairns

Screened Keaton’s THE GENERAL for students, along with clips of Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon, Charley Bowers and of course good old Raymond Griffith. And this time, projecting my Kino DVD on the big screen, I noticed something new –

That’s Boris frickin’ Karloff there, as a northern general! Front left.

I’m not the first to spot this: the IMDb has him down as “unconfirmed”, but after watching him carefully, I was pretty much convinced. Not only does the northern general have Boris Karloff’s face, but at one point he makes a Boris Karloff face. You know, one of those faces Boris makes when he’s acting. He has several.

That makes THE GENERAL the 11th film Boris made in 1926, including also THE BELLS, where he’s a sinister mesmerist. I find it apt that the great monster makes his one noted appearance in a silent comedy burning the hero’s elbow with a cigar.

Louise Brooks noted that one shot of Buster hiding under the table in this scene was so beautiful it took her breath away. She lost the ability to laugh for a good ten minutes, so awe-struck was she. “Why didn’t he cut the shot?” she wondered. But in fact, as Richard Lester pointed out, what makes THE GENERAL “a masterpiece of economy” is that you can’t remove a single shot without the sequence collapsing, nor a sequence without the story collapsing. What this means, of course, is that if a single shot had failed, Keaton would have no film. But then, he was working in an age when, if a shot didn’t come out right, you could just go back and do it again: everybody was under contract, so all it would cost you is raw stock and petrol.

Unless you want to do something like THIS –

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