Archive for October 23, 2010

Overcompensating?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2010 by dcairns

Another funny movie logo is Edward Small Productions — the contrast of the monolithic proportions with the name “Small” always makes me chuckle, and wonder what sort of fellow E.S. was. Did he have a sense of irony? I’m thinking maybe not.

The logo was attached to many films, but the one I just watched was THE CORSICAN BROTHERS. I wish I’d seen it as a kid, it’s the kind of simple, unpretentious swashbuckler I’d have enjoyed more then. As an adult, I was noting the influence on THE PRINCESS BRIDE, enjoying Akim Tamiroff as the baddie, and one more thing ~

The late F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre once told me in an email that he couldn’t work out how the filmmakers had achieved the scene where Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. fights himself. I was keeping an eye on the twin special effects throughout the film, and in my view, the fight is not the most mysterious part.

Here’s the two Dougs, meeting for the first time. Throughout, the filmmakers use different techniques to double Doug, so that we don’t settle into thinking we know how it’s being done. In this kind of locked-off shot, we might expect split-screen to be the answer, but the actor smack in the centre of the frame disproves that idea. And then one Doug extends a hand and has it clasped by the other.

A slight awkwardness about the way the hand extends suggests the answer. It’s coming from somebody else. If my copy were higher definition I suspect the join might be rather distinct. I think the Doug on the right is standing in front of a rear-projection screen, on which the other characters and the background are projected. If we could see that original shot, it might be rather amusing — everyone reacting to a brother who isn’t there, while a crouching stand-in thrusts forth a costumed arm at the appropriate moment.

Here’s the mind-blower ~

A cinch to do if you’re David Cronenberg with a motion control camera and Jeremy Irons, and even easier today with computers and all that. But this tracking shot, where two Dougs amble along together, was technically NOT POSSIBLE in 1941. So my assumption is that a different technique altogether has been used: not split screen, not matting, not rear-projection. Just a really good stand-in.

This fits in with Michael Powell’s advice that the correct way to use a double is not to have him skulk around, partially obscured, like Ed Wood’s dentist in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, but to have him boldly stomp through shot in plain view. It will never occur to the viewer that the fellow on-screen is not the fellow who was playing the part a second ago. I must say, if I’m right, they’ve found an excellent looky-likey for Doug.

This explains the fight scene later, where the Dougs circle one another, something that would be impossible if any trick effects were involved. But the shot above is actually much more striking because it’s closer, and slower-moving. Kudos to Gregory Ratoff for having the nerve to attempt it.

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