Archive for Regeneration

Putting Pants on Raoul

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2014 by dcairns

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Enjoying very much Raoul Walsh’s autobio, Each Man In His Time. The accounts of Walsh’s early days as a sailor, cowboy and assistant to a doctor and an undertaker in Utah are extremely diverting, full of rowdiness and black comedy just like a Walsh film. How truthful they are is hard to assess, but a clue may be found in the account of the making of REGENERATION, Fox Pictures’ gangster epic which Walsh directed, the first gangster feature film (possibly).

Walsh has fun recounting the filming of the ferry fire sequence, for which a ragged army of volunteers were rounded up at the docks: their role, to leap into the water from the deck of the ferry. Walsh says he hired a couple of ruffians to ensure that everybody evacuated as planned — headfirst if necessary. The men did their job so well they even chucked the Fox moneyman overboard, pay-satchel and all, causing Walsh to fear for his neck if the cash were lost and he had nothing to pay his unruly and sodden background artists at day’s end.

This all happens in a chapter entitled The Censor Will Hang Us, and the reason for that title is soon supplied. When the rushes are viewed, it became apparent that numerous of the ladies leaping into the drink were without underwear. Walsh claims that the shots were too intricate to simply trim out the offending frames, and in desperation he rushed the footage to a specialist “negative doctor,” who told him at once that the job was impossible.

“‘Nothing’s impossible,’ I barked at him, ‘Do you remember the time Dolly Larkin ripped her blouse and her tits fell out? You fixed that one.'”

Walsh reports that after working all night, the visual effects artist successfully superimposed undergarments on all the bottomless leapers, ‘except some of the women looked as though they were wearing diapers.’

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This story struck me as unlikely, though I recalled learning from The RKO Story that traveling mattes were employed to conceal some of Jane Russell’s cleavage in THE OUTLAW after the censor objected. But a cursory glance at REGENERATION shows that the extreme long shots of leaping ladies show no billowing skirts, no nudity and no underpants, superimposed, hand-painted or otherwise. I expect probably there was some troublesome footage, and I expect it was simply deleted. Walsh the storyteller couldn’t leave it at that, and how many people were going to see a copy of REGENERATION and catch him confabulating?

vlcsnap-2014-06-11-10h21m44s12My second below-the-belt piece in as many days. What’s that all about?

The Sunday Intertitle: Pig Alley Revisited

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2012 by dcairns

Raoul Walsh’s (or R.A. Walsh’s, to go by credits) REGENERATION was brought to my attention by Paul Merton’s show on the origins of cinema last year — it was the least familiar thing excerpted, and looked pretty exciting.

Allowances must be made — it’s 1915, and Walsh is essentially trying to be Griffith, though it’s already clear that his interests lie elsewhere. What gets him excited is the lowlife life, the enthusiastic Donnybrooks, the plug-uglies and the backstreet epic of clotheslines and tenements and violent rivalries.

Unfortunately, much of what transpires in the plot follows the inspirational title, and is sententious and sentimental. Rockliffe Fellowes is distinctly Brandoesque as long as he’s playing a street tough, with his distended lopsided labial sneer, but as soon as he gets religion he falls to barnstorming, and there are no barns to storm. Anna Q. Nilsson is more consistent, but her character’s no more exciting.

The Griffith resemblances go past the civics lesson plot and innocence imperiled climax — Walsh films rooms like a cutaway dollhouse, editing so we can assemble the whole edifice in her minds, from a single camera angle. Griffith did this so consistently, that THIS amazing thing became possible, ninety-nine years later.

REGENERATION may need restoration — Decasian fauna roam its flickering nitrate alleys.

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