Archive for January 14, 2008

Quote of the Day: Mann!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 14, 2008 by dcairns


Rusty Castle and friend

James Millican plays General Rusty Castle (lovely image).

Jay C Flippen plays the guy who says: 

“Oh, you’re the boys who drop the A-bomb.”

The General says, “Well, I hope not.”


Euphoria #18: Did you ever happen to hear…?

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2008 by dcairns

Marlene Dietrich’s Hot Voodoo number from Josef Von Sternberg’s BLONDE VENUS, suggested by David Melville (who writes as David Wingrove). An intravenous shot of pure Silver Nitrate Euphoria (a drug whose addictive properties are well documented).

Where did Josef Von Sternberg’s aesthetic sense come from? It’s like nothing on earth.

Part of the answer may be found, along with much else, in Little Jo’s autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, which serves as a kind of Rosetta Stone to his filmwork, cluing the reader in to sources of imagery, philosophy and incidents in the films. Crucially, Sternberg, as a child, lived next to Vienna’s famous Volksprater:

“Hundreds of shooting galleries, Punch and Judy and the inevitable Satan puppet, chalk-faced clowns in their dominoes, boats sliding from a high point down into water with a great splash, leather-faced dummies that groaned when slapped, pirouetting fleas, sword-swallowers, tumbling midgets and men on stilts, contortionists, jugglers and acrobats, wild swings with skirts flaring from them, proving that not all females had lost their undergarments, a forest of balloons, tattooed athletes, muscle-bulging weight-lifters, women who were sawed in half and apparently spent the rest of their lives truncated, trained dogs and elephants, tightropes that provided footing for a gourmet who feasted on a basket of the local sausages with horse-radish that made my mouth water, graceful ballerinas, grunting knife-throwers with screaming targets whose hair flowed down to the hems of their nightgowns, hatchet-throwing Indians and phlegmatic squaws, double-headed calves, members of the fair sex, fat and bearded, with thighs that could pillow an army, magicians who poured jugs of flaming liquid down their throats, drum-thumping cannibals and their wiggling harems, a glass maze from which the delighted customers stumbled with black eyes and gashed heads, hypnotists who practiced levitation and passed hoops around the dormant females swaying five feet from where they ought to have been, and the central figure of a huge Chinese mandarin with drooping moustaches longer than the tail of a horse revolving on a merry-g0-round to the tune of Ivanovici’s Donauwellen — what more could I have asked?”

When Fiona and I visited the Prater, it was mostly shut for the winter, so we shared the off-season experience of Cotten and Welles in THE THIRD MAN and Fontaine and Jourdan in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.

Wheeling and dealing

train of thought

I like to think the fun of the fair, with its gaudy, venal and surreal hubbub, planted a seed in the young Jonas Sternberg.

Of course, a sensitive child in this environment could equally well have turned into Fellini. I tend to think that the interaction of genetics and environment is so complex, nobody could ever predict the outcome upon a single human being. Certainly not a human being like Sternberg. One possibility that occurs to me is that he is recreating this tatty, gaudy and vulgar spectacle in his work, but imbuing it with all the beauty and ecstasy and fear that a child would feel upon being exposed to the funfair for the first time.

life is ein cabaret

Russian lark

cry for bobo

Footnote: re-watched NO DIRECTION HOME last night, and Dylan’s childhood memories of the travelling fun-fair are the most evocative thing in it — and directly inform the last sequence of Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE, in turn the most evocative sequence of that movie.

Footfootnote: Sternberg passed on some of his funfair impressions directly in THE CASE OF LENA SMITH (1929), a film which is now lost, apart from stills and a single four-minute fragment recovered by Hiroshi Komatsu of Tokyo’s Waseda University.

 Get it on Youtube, Hiroshi!

A Noir is Born

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2008 by dcairns

 Front row centre

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, 1940, seems to be one of the earliest pure films noir. Peter Lorre plays a deranged killer, Elisha Cook is a fall guy. There is a slightly awkward plot, driven by coincidence and tearing loose from logic, structurally odd, peppered with flashbacks and fantasies and capable of swift turns into unexpected territory. The photography by Nicholas Musuraca (CAT PEOPLE, OUT OF THE PAST) delivers all the expected noir tropes, and a lot more.

This is a year before THE MALTESE FALCON and far more of the expected genre elements are in place than in that film, and the style has a dreamlike expressionist hyperintensity — especially in the expressionist dream sequence.

The Patsy

The story isn’t up to much, perhaps, but it ticks so many boxes, boxes that don’t officially exist yet: it’s driven by irrationality and paranoia, like Cornell Woolrich’s pulp fever-dreams. The IMDb lists Nathaniel West as an uncredited script contributor, perhaps gathering Hollywood material for Day of the Locust.

Director Boris Ingster hardly directed anything else, being more active as a screenwriter and TV producer (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.). I’m inclined to assign the best qualities of this film to the great Nicholas “I think we all use too many lights” Musuraca. His dream sequence is like a Will Eisner comic strip: the shots are nearly all static and the actors strike poses, freezing in creepy tableaux vivants as soon as they have found the best dramatic effect:

The Prisoner

Only me.

I love these crazy cut-out images! Musuraca was a true shadowplayer. Few noir films have shots as exciting and stylised, it’s just a shame this one doesn’t create more compelling drama from its disjointed narrative. The two best actors in the film, noir icons Lorre and Cook, playing lunatic and patsy, have little screen time and never share a scene, so we have to make do with interacting with duller characters, and the plot moves in fits and starts, making no particular point, squandering its delirium. But at 64 minutes the thing is over before you know it, and its zigzag shadowshow hangs around your head like a haunted hat. It’s a twitchy little pulp that DREAMS of being a great noir thriller.

if the headline is big enough it MAKEs the news big enough

I read the news today oh boy

“Pope Killed by Inferior Wine!”