The Sunday Intertitle: Cunegonde

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2020 by dcairns

I was going to talk about CUNEGONDE HAS VISITORS, another Girls Gone Wild video from Il Cinema Ritrovato’s collection A Hundred Years Ago – Comic Actresses and Suffragettes, but that one’s not on VousTube. It’s another housewrecking short, in which relatives from the country help the vigorous Cunegonde clean house, in the process absolutely trashing the place (because they’re yokels and can’t do anything right).

vlcsnap-2019-12-29-16h59m44s341

Putting ducks in the bath is the least of it.

Though the film’s premise is dubious, seeing stuff destroyed is usually an agreeable cinematic experience, so it’s diverting.

vlcsnap-2020-01-01-12h17m19s296

Cunegonde, sometimes credited as Arabella, is listed as Little Chrysia on the IMDb, suggesting we don’t actually know who she really was. According to this tantalizing piece, the mystery has just been solved by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, but seems to be still a closely-guarded secret or something.

Here’s another Cunegonde. CUNEGONDE FEMME COCHERE. She drives a coach! Badly! And horsewhips a stage “Chinaman” and then pays the prices via sub-Melies jump-cut substitutions…

Since I can’t read Dutch, I don’t know what the original premise of the film is — we see the text of a letter but I dunno what it says. But we get to see her beat up a Keystone gendarme, embraced by a giant fox, and there’s an early trucking shot taken from a car (rare in comedies of the period, I think) and a single close-up at the end. Maybe TOO close?

She’s like the silent Kathy Burke — I think you’ll enjoy her.

A Matter of Life and Depth

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , on January 25, 2020 by dcairns

Fiona’s always intended to see Wolfgang Petersen’s DAS BOOT but somehow never got around to it. She’s not to keen on confined spaces, water, watery graves or icy death, so I reckon she had to steel herself a bit. Thirty-eight-odd years after the film was made, she felt more or less ready, so we popped it in the Panasonic and for the next two and a half hours her face was a horrified rictus.

It’s still far and away the best things WP has made — now, I haven’t seen the full WP filmography, but would it be fair to say that apart from IN THE LINE OF FIRE he hasn’t made anything remotely defensible? I wonder what his early stuff’s like.

We were reminded that the film was sitting there unwatched when a friend mentioned it and remarked on the crappy music and special effects. I had totally forgotten this aspect of it. In fact, I had a fairly specific memory of the very beginning and the very end, and in between just a general, but very sensorial impression of crawl-out-of-your-skin claustrophobia and creaking bulkheads that want to kill us all.

The special effects are, in fact, sort of adequate: everything underwater is kind of OK (no giant bubbles the size of weather balloons), the stylised depth charges are pretty cool actually, the process shots of Jurgen Prochnow and his chum up top are unconvincing but we just went with it, and there are some periscope views and other stuff that fall short of what’s needed.

The music is a different problem: composer Klaus Doldinger has furnished a stirring main theme, which we hear a lot. Maybe TOO stirring? One of the film’s interesting discomforts is the way it makes you root for the wrong side, kind of, but to do this just by putting the audience in their position is OK, but actively manipulating us with a romantic naval-martial score is pushing it a bit. It’s also cheap and synthy in its execution, something that never works. Despite the film being set in the forties, an actual shameless synth score could have worked — think DARK STAR — since we spend so much time in an artificial, dieselpunk environment. But synths trying to sound like orchestras never work, as I’ve learned to my cost in the world of no-budget short films.

The miracle is how little this all matters, since Petersen’s big choice, to eschew flyaway walls and treat the U-boat as a real location, or even a huge, film-engulfing prop, makes everything so solid and real and tactile, and the rushing shots that race the length of the ship, Jost Vacano’s camera operator risking a fractured skull at every hatch, somehow never get tired. And, having just endured 1917, I admired the way Petersen just cuts when he feels like it, even breaking up what were evidently sustained single-takes, short inserts dropped in as required. No long-take fetish, but I can see why David Lynch picked up the captain for DUNE — he must have loved the hissing, dripping, pinging industrial hell of this environment.

DAS BOOT stars Duke Leto Atreides; Robert Schumann; Faber; K, the psychopath; Fritz Knobel; and Guy of Gisbourne.

Dog Scoop

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2020 by dcairns

I have this heap of unwatched Woody Allen films dating back decades — I’ve only seen two films he’s made after DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Which makes it seem like at some level I believe the accusations against him and lost my desire to look at his work around that time. Which isn’t CONSCIOUSLY true. I don’t believe or disbelieve. What went on in that attic is like the inside of Schroedinger’s maybe-lethal cat-box to me. I can’t know.

But DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, which is quite a strong film, almost feels like a confession, Allen plays such a loathsome character. Around that time, he said that he could play two characters and be accepted by the public, an intellectual (“even though I’m not one”) and a low-life. Harry is both. And the low-life thing really emerges in the wake of the divorce acrimony, as if Allen intuited that a new characterisation had been fortuitously opened up for him.

So I have this suspicion that subconsciously I’ve been put off Allen even without accepting his guilt as fact. I’m not interested in relitigating it. I can’t CHOOSE to believe one thing or the other. But for some reason, I stopped watching his films. I had become a bit erratic at the time of BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, but looking back at it, that’s a good one too. Mysterious.

Anyhow, I pulled SCOOP off the shelf in a fit of perversity, having heard nothing but bad things about it. Boyoboy were those bad things on the money. But not very specific.

Overall, the typical “this is a dire comedy” type reviews are basically correct. But dire how? Well, it’s sloppy at nearly every level. Scarlett Johansson is introduced as an over-her-shoulder on some other guy and then we cut to a clean single of her ~

I guess it ought to work as his POV, but it’s impossible to express how wrong it feels in motion — you are completely convinced that the two characters are not in the same time, space or movie.

They must have been, though, because a couple of scenes later, they’ve slept together. In a clueless bit of writing, she’s talking quite lightheartedly about having been plied with drink and being unable to remember anything, the kind of development that wouldn’t have seemed worrisome maybe, oh, fifty years ago? Hard to imagine any modern woman NOT being seriously concerned at such an outcome.

But then, little seems to bother Johansson’s character — at the end of the film, the man she loves has turned out to be, not Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent, but Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE, merely played by Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent. But she’s not downhearted. If Woody Allen were her neighbour in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, her lack of emotional response would spark his suspicions.

But instead, Woody Allen is the Great Splendini, a stage magician. OK, the name made me laugh, and some of his crummy gags cracked me up through sheer exertion, though his timing seems a bit off. He used to have this strange gift for delivering jokes in a halting, stumbling way, while still nailing every moment that needed to be nailed to make the joke land. Here, his ums and ahs sometimes take the joke off at the knees.

Worse, his character is given no reason to tag along with Johansson, another instance of simply lazy writing. He’s against the whole thing. But he’s there. Participating. The thing is crazy. Hugh Jackman cannot possibly be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE. A scene later, when the evidence looks shakier, he’s certain that Hugh Jackman must be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE.

Running through the story is the on-paper amusing plot conceit of Ian McShane as a deceased reporter stumbling across a scoop while on the ferryboat to the afterlife, and apporting into Johansson’s presence to pass on the story. It’s the kind of charming fantasy Allen has succeeded with in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and some of his short fiction. But the relationship goes nowhere, maybe because Allen has shoehorned himself into the story and is using all the oxygen.

Everybody seems under-rehearsed, most of all McShane. ScarJo is fairly adorable and has learned her lines well enough to say them fast, which wins her major points in this creaky affair.

A shaggy dog with alopecia.

SCOOP stars Black Widow; Fielding Mellish; Wolverine; Lovejoy; Cassandra Mortmain; Grand Maester Pycelle; Rupert Giles; and Truman Capote.