Archive for November, 2008

Intertitle of the Week: “What’s this?”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2008 by dcairns

My last post of Shadowplay Year One!


Comic redundancy in Abel Gance’s AU SECOURS! (HELP!), starring comedy immortal Max Linder.

Here, in a shot borrowed from a Griffith gangster melodrama, a street Apache lurks in wait for the unsuspecting Max, who’s on his way to the club. Cut to:


This shot milks the audience for poignancy/dramatic irony, since we can see both the lurking threat and the approaching victim, who’s all unawares. Classic split-composition suspense. But, spotting something on the ground, Max stops in the nick of.


Amusingly, the shadow of the arm with the knife rises and falls like a clockwork automaton at a seaside show (I’ve never been to a seaside show with clockwork automata and you probably haven’t either, but just think of Lindsay Anderson’s O DREAMLAND). The artificiality of the gesture calls attention to the melodramatic tradition that’s being mocked here.


In the best Hitchcock manner, though Hitch has barely started his career, Gance goes to a closer shot of Max’s reaction, which adds context both to the POV shot, and also to the upcoming intertitle. Mainly, of course, it allows us to observe Max’s reaction, which is concerned, yet still suave.


The zinger. I’m pretty sure the filmmakers’ are aware of how fatuous it is to spell out the situation like this, and that’s the joke. It certainly works. Looking at some of Gance’s talkies, it’s possible to wonder if he’s in on the joke, but the visual sophistication of his silent work speaks for itself (although he did pioneer incoherently fast cutting, so he has a lot to answer for — but the snowball-fight in NAPOLEON is still vastly preferably to Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS, let’s face it).

Asides from lots of lovely moments like this, AU SECOURS! features ghosts, sauciness, wit, daring, ’20s melodramatic stylings, experimental camera techniques, surrealism, slapstick, and amazing work from the man Linder, who goes from dapper man-about-town to sobbing wreck in a manner that’s actually TOO convincing for comedy. The film isn’t hysterically funny, or at least its effects aren’t unified in purpose the way they might be in a Keaton… a lot of the biggest laughs stem from the sheer weirdness and inappropriateness of the imagery, which has the quality of nightmare at all times — moments like the one above contribute greatly, by giving the thing an amateur-dramatics stiltedness which closely approximates the dream-state: see CARNIVAL OF SOULS for more examples of this effect.

Part One:

To Be Continued…

On second thoughts, leave it on his shoulders.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 30, 2008 by dcairns


Alfredo Garcia rears his ugly head in HAUT BAS FRAGILE.

I started watching a not-entirely-perfect DVD of Jaques Rivette’s 1995 musical-mystery HAUT BAS FRAGILE, and noticed a strange effect. At various points the action would sllloooow doooowwwnn, then abruptlyspeedupagain, as if it had fallen behind and needed to catch up. My first two theories were that (1) the film had been shot on elastic instead of celluloid or (2) Rivette had been possessed by the wandering shade of Zak Snyder.

Then I decided the disc had come from a faulty original of some kind, and while the soundtrack seemed to run at a consistent speed, the picture would periodically lose synch and then snap back into place. It’s not a phenomenon I’ve ever observed before.

Rivette — always the innovator.

Doing my best to ignore the abrupt decelerations and accelerations of the cast, I was then surprised and delighted to find a character called Alfredo Garcia, in tribute to Peckinpah, the master of slomo. It seemed like fate was at work. Then, to my further delight and under the influence of M. Garcia, the plot dovetailed briefly into Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club. Since I’ve nothing better to do (apart from nod to the presence of screen goddess Anna Karina in this elegant and unusual movie), I’ll quote you my favourite bit from the book ~

“You say truly that you are in the dark,” remarked Mr. Malthus with more animation. “Why, my dear sir, this club is the temple of intoxication. If my enfeebled health could support the excitement more often, you may depend upon it I should be more often here. It requires all the sense of duty engendered by a long habit of ill health and careful regimen to keep me from excess in this, which is, I may say, my dissipation. I have tried them all, sir,” he went on, laying his hand on Geraldine’s arm, “all without exception, and I declare to you, upon my honour, there is not one of them that has not been grossly and untruthfully over-rated. People trifle with love. Now, I deny that love is a strong passion. Fear is the strong passion; it is with fear that you must trifle, if you wish to taste the intensest joys of living. Envy me — envy me, sir,” he added with a chuckle. “I am a coward.”


Digital camera goes wonky in presence of wonky DVD playing on TV.

Film Directors with their Shirts Off #3

Posted in FILM with tags , on November 29, 2008 by dcairns

Number Three in an occasional series.


One for all you chubby-chasers out there. Francis (Ford) Coppola dares to bare.

Next week: Istvan Szabo in a thong.