The Sunday Intertitle: DeMille’s Vision

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 17, 2019 by dcairns

Nyah, I seen better.

The LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD featurettes offer a lot of useful views of the film community in the twenties, and a lot of heavily staged vignettes of movie celebrities going about their business. The [TOP DIRECTOR/ACTOR] FORGETS HIS STUDIO PASS routine seems to have been a popular trope. Maurice Tourneur and Lloyd Hamilton both tried that one, though only “Ham” blacked up for it.

We are presented with DeMille’s luxury studio, then minutes later, with a shot of DeMille pondering his next screen story. An intertitle gives us invaluable background so we can interpret the image correctly.

But, for reasons best known to himself, C.B. has opted to play it not as “There is a lack of tension in the second act,” but as “I HATE MY LIFE.”

Figure 1 (above). He flips the heavy folder (around three hundred pages, by the look of it) closed with a contemptuous gesture, then stares at the binder as if contemplating throwing it at somebody’s head.

Figure 2. He gives it a really hard stare, as if to melt it with his heat vision. (Little-known fact: Cecil B. DeMille had heat vision. But it only worked on model boats. So he would always keep at least one model boat nearby in case he wanted to impress Florence Vidor with his heat vision.)

Figure 3. Cecil collapses in despair. He has realised that not only is his second act lacking in tension, but “Cecil” is an unimposing name and the dynamic initial “B” does not do enough to compensate, and anyway, heat vision is a rubbish superpower for a motion picture director, more counter-productive than anything.

Never mind, Cec!


This is the Universe

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2019 by dcairns

This National Film Board of Canada documentary was sort of Kubrick’s Bible when making 2001. It’s a short doc in which everything is fake but everything is true, and it’s part of the NFBC’s ongoing project to make me feel small. The special effects are really terrific — I’d argue that their Moon is even superior to Kubrick’s. If you’ve ever studied the reddish moon seen during an eclipse, when it’s not flatly reflecting the light back like Oliver Hardy, you’ll appreciate how in circumstances other than the norm, it has real heft and dimensionality so that you wonder how it can stay up there. The makers of UNIVERSE achieve that by building a biggish miniature Moon, whereas I think Kubes relied on (beautiful) paintings.

The VO should also sound familiar. After Kubrick had trouble finding an actor who could sound bland enough to be a computer (and blander even than his lead actors), he reached out to Douglas Rain, who recorded the entire role in under an hour I believe, wearing his slippers so he would sound really relaxed. That other space killer, Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, also did most of his work in carpet slippers, because the jackboots George Lucas had obtained were a really uncomfortable fit. If I ever get appointed Grand Moff, or even Ordinary Moff, I’m going to wear slippers all the time too, because who’s going to stop me?


Master and Computer

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , on February 15, 2019 by dcairns

The idea of a science fiction movie called MASTER OF THE WORLD emerging from Nazi Germany is an intriguing one… Harry Piel’s 1934 movie promises much, then delivers so slowly that most of your anticipation has curdled before its fulfilled. Every scene seems to last twice as long as it ought to: a gas explosion in a coal mine, staged with a real flame-thrower blasting fire in from out of shot, is impressive in conception, but editing so slackly that it feels like all they’ve done is take the clapperboards off, rather than generating pace so it feels like a continuous fireball spreading through the pit.


We’re promised robots, but for a very long time the only ones we see are inert. Finally, at the climax, the super-robot attacks — and then, afterwards, we get to see a whole army of robots working a coal mine, an impressive sight, but a weird thing to throw at us when the conflict has been resolved and the movie should be over.

The movie also has a super-naive conception of automation, with the corporations paying their obsolete workers to take it easy in bucolic comfort (it makes A NOUS LA LIBERTE look like SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING). The economics just don’t add up, here: the robots must cost SOMETHING, so the workers can’t be getting the same wages they scraped by on before… That stuff in METROPOLIS about the heart uniting the hand and head isn’t so very foolish, when you look at something like this.

Harry Piel did some decent stunt films, but his signature move as a director was real, life-size demolition of buildings. Lubitsch had his touch, Capra had his corn, Piel has his detonator.

The mad scientist (Walter Franck) is well cast, and well-lit.