A Year-Long Short

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2016 by dcairns

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Damned odd. I couldn’t work out what was the point of this strange, expensive-looking Snub Pollard comedy from 1922 until I realised it was a riff on Buster Keaton’s ONE WEEK. It has house built from kits, one of which ends up on a railway line, just as in the Keaton, and so it also has a time-based title and structure — for it was originally released as 365 DAYS. (home-cine print has been retitled for some damned reason.) It even has the same actor, Noah Young, playing the villain, only here they neglect to give him any real villainy.

Lots of things get neglected here — the plot hinges, somewhat creakily, upon the idea of a bunch of relatives living together for a year, but the action we see could easily be completed in a day. The magnificent setting, all those houses built from kits stacked on top of one another, seems ripe for comedy spectacle, and fairly boggles the mind, even with the fairly crude special effects balloon trip, but the gags don’t really exploit the large-scale potential.

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Still, Snub gets a bathing scene, and we are disconcerted to discover that the mustachioed funnyman has a body like Arnold Schwartzenegger. “A body like Arnold with a Snub Pollard face,” as Salt ‘n’ Peppa didn’t sing. Future comedy star Charley Chase directs. Although the set-up is, nominally, domestic, and Chase would be the champ of dom-com, everything is too elaborately fantastical to allow him to stretch his nascent situation comedy skills.

But there are some good gags, especially the accordion, and the whole thing’s odd enough to be worth watching.

‘Tec Ritter

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2016 by dcairns

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Good things on TV — BBC4 had Petula Clark presenting a guide to chanson Francaise, and THE GREATEST SHOWS ON EARTH, a phantasmagorical assemblage of circus footage — FREAKS fans will spot a couple of familiar fizzogs.

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Also watched — all thirteen episodes of Jessica Jones, a Marvel superhero series that isn’t, almost. Krysten Ritter, whom we like has the punching-through-walls strength (best wall-punching ever — unlike THE AVENGERS, it all seems to be physical) and the leaping-almost-flying (“It’s more like controlled falling”) but no costume or secret identity, and the other characters she meets from the Marvel Universe are similarly down-to-earth. So, did the showrunner Melissa Rosenberg really want to do a show about a self-destructive female private eye, and were they forced to accommodate superpowers to get it made? Ritter appeared in the wonderful Veronica Mars, and aspects of this show are comparable — both heroines have sexual assault backstories, and both are introduced spying on cheating couples fora living, a job which confirms their misanthropic, untrusting worldviews.

Where the show owns its fantasy element is the character of Kilgrave, essentially an evil hypnotist — everyone is compelled to obey his commands, and he has absolutely no conscience, combined with a devilish imagination for cruelty. Every episode pretty much features him committing some insanely hateful act using his powers of persuasion (like if Don Draper got caught in Bruce Banner’s gamma radiation shed, maybe?) and every episode thus amps up the overall series arc, which can be crudely defined as “Kill David Tennant! Punch his smirking head off!”

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Lee Marvin shrewdly defined the role of the Hollywood villain as being to do something so awful the audience wants to see you killed. Not since Andy Robinson in DIRTY HARRY has a screen bad guy chalked up so many outrageous offenses, stacking the viewer’s homicidal imperative so high you can feel the bloodlust coating your throat like Gaviscon.

I liked Tennant as an actor when he first appeared, but got tired of his bag of tricks — he was probably my least favourite modern Doctor Who because of the sense of strain and artifice (“You can smell the sweat,” complained Fiona) but he’s really good here — maybe letting go of the need to be liked has liberated him. He’s still tricksy, but we expect that in our villains — they have to be entertainers to compensate for our not being able to root for them, or not wholeheartedly. And, thank God, he’s not tricksier than usual — playing rapists and sadists, many actors feel the need to erect a wall of artifice so we won’t think it’s THEM up there — Robert Mitchum in CAPE FEAR (version 0.1) is unusual in seeming not to care about separating himself as actor from the scumbag he’s playing. Tennant isn’t as laid-back as that, obviously, but by his standards he’s pretty chilled.

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The show looks nice — cool greys, saturated neons and woozy focus — has a great supporting cast with good relationships — maybe has to spin its central conflict out a few episodes too far, without enough compelling subplots to take up the strain — has episodes directed by John Dahl and Michael Rymer — also three women directors, S.J. Clarkson, Uta Briesewtiz and Rosemary Rodriguez, plus a lot of women writers, which matters.

I could have watched ten pre-codes, but that wouldn’t have the compulsive more-ish-ness… TV or pre-codes? I think a break from TV to soak up more movies would be good…

The Sunday Intertitle: Toy Story

Posted in FILM with tags , on February 7, 2016 by dcairns

Protracted and charmless — like the regime itself — this Soviet animation purports to be directed by the great Dziga Vertov, though what his role actually consisted of is a matter for speculation. The drawing is OK, even ambitious, but lacks that mysterious quality known as “appeal,” and the humorous action consists of a bourgeoise gent eating everything in sight, and absorbing some floozy directly into his belly, and then getting stamped on by workers until he stomach cracks open and disgorges some tax money. I’m sort of in favour of the sentiment, as I understand it, even though I am a fat man who has just paid his taxes, but nothing about the presentation is exactly winning, is it? Even Ub Iwerks is cuter.

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The whole thing turns out to be, if my eyes do not deceive me, an advertisement for Soviet toys, little Capital and Labour action figures available for Christmas. The suggestion is that Russian tykes can amuse themselves by lynching capitalists in miniature.

God help me, I’m about to plunge into Soviet cinema — a video essay for a major Blu-ray release, and programme notes for the 2016 Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema. But the titles involved are considerably more prestigious and artistic than this weird junk, so it won’t be so bad… and I am cheered to learn that Vertov was an animator, even a poor one, as it illuminates his approach to some degree,,,

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