Archive for October 5, 2008

Intertitle of the week #1

Posted in FILM with tags on October 5, 2008 by dcairns

A new Sunday feature!

I bet if you assembled all the intertitles in my collection, shuffled them, and printed the results, you’d have one hell of an experimental novel.

Four Veils for a Frigid Corpse

Posted in FILM with tags , on October 5, 2008 by dcairns

Rare Lubitsch film discovered in Milanese tree hollow!

Looking through the vid-stores of Milan, in search of novelties to take home, my brain reeled and spasmed with joy at the many and varied titles. In Italy, John Huston’s HEAVEN KNOWS, MR ALLISON is known as THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH. With Robert Mitchum as The Flesh! How marvellous. And then there were the Italian films, many of them unknown to me. Here are a few I spotted:

APOSTLES WITH INKY SPATS

NO SCALLOPS FOR THE LADY IN GREEN

SWEET NIGHT OF THE BLOODY CHAMPION

A HARD MAN FOR A DOLLAR

RUSTY INFERNO

THREE SWINE IN A GLASS COFFIN

IF YOU SEE CANTATA, SHIT… THEN DIE!

DON’T BE UNKIND TO A SAPLING

LAST BULLET FOR A YELLOW FROG

FORBIDDEN MIMEOGRAPHS OF A CITIZEN BENEATH CONTEMPT

OK… I may have invented one or two of those.

From CORPUS DELECTI IS STILL MY NAME.

Jack Webb’s Blues

Posted in FILM on October 5, 2008 by dcairns

The only frame grab I was able to get from my slightly defective DVD.

PETE KELLY’S BLUES — I didn’t rush out and buy the new DVD because I’m broke but I eagerly accepted an offer of a disc ripped from the old VHS (widescreen, thankfully). It begins with that ugly old Warners Home Video CGI logo accompanied by the harsh synth fanfare, but when the film starts, boy do things get better.

Less punctuated and punchy and syncopated in its approach than Dragnet, the TV show that Webb attained big success with (though aspiring Webbheads might like to try his early radio shows), but unexpectedly lush and slinky. Every now and then, Dragnetwould step outside and cease the snappy shot-countershot Q&A style, letting rip with a big crane shot (as in the episode The Big Producer, where Webb soars over an abandoned movie backlot), and it’s this style that PKB builds on, pouring on colour and extreme widescreen. Webb still delivers gimmicky viewpoints from inside the pizza oven and behind the shelves, but he adds long take trackings shots and eccentric lighting effects — one primitive disco comes with its own optical mixer, wiping the screen red, green, blue…

Regular Dragnet scribe Richard L. Breen provides reams of snappy, poetic or just plain weird dialogue. When saxophonist Lee Marvin leaves the band, Webb tells him he’ll never find anyone who can “sit all the way down” in Marvin’s chair.

And then there’s production designer Harper Goff’s novel interpretation of a mental hospital: a bunker with a toy piano. Hollywood has delivered numerous takes on the snake pit idea, but this one, though concrete in its appearance, has to be one of the most expressionistically bizarre.

The institutionalisee is Peggy Lee, who sings and proves to be a superb actress, and for a bonus we get two numbers by Ella Fitzgerald. PKB was a labour of love by jazz enthusiast Webb.

A beautifully framed and designed New Orleans funeral in the opening credits starts a brief history of a cornet, until it lands in the hands of our protag. WWI is over and Pete Kelly forms an impoverished, minor league jazz band. He falls in love with a superb girl (Janet Leigh).

(That’s apparently Harper Goff on banjo!)

But then gangster Edmond O’Brien tries to muscle in, extorting 25% of the band’s takings and icing the drummer when he resists. When O’Brien tries to foist a girl singer on Kelly, suddenly the movie swims into focus as prime inspiration for Frank Tashlin’s THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, with O’Brien actually playing the same role. As if to cement the resemblance, a brunette Jayne Mansfield teeters into shot as a cigarette girl.

A girl, not helping it.

Webb and O’Brien are destined to square off, and they do, but that plot thread counts for little, in a film which is smooth and mellow and not really reliant on dramatic tension as it’s normally understood. Webb, “the coolest man in the world”, as Fiona declared him, commands attention without seeming to, and comes across as simultaneously tensely wound and utterly relaxed, which can’t be easy, except with him it’s as natural as breathing.