Archive for December 19, 2010

Intertitle of the Week: Highland Reels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2010 by dcairns

ANNIE LAURIE was the rattiest recording of anything I’ve looked at lately. The movie itself had a big timecode stuck on it, and the disc I was watching had evidently been produced by somebody with a video camera filming a TV screen playing the movie on VHS. At first I was irked, thinking the anonymous pirate ought to have at least used a tripod, even if he couldn’t simply connect the VCR to a DVD recorder. Then I surmised, from the timecode, that the movie was probably the property of some archive, and the intrepid crook had smuggled a handicam into a little screening room to filch the movie’s image. Of this, I heartily approved. Archives are great things, preserving the physical substance of cinema history, but too often it’s difficult for us mortals to access the goodies within, for geographical locations, and the archives make it difficult or impossible for us to get our hands on recordings, for copyright reasons. So larceny is the remaining option for cinephiles with hungry eyes.

Credit to the mysterious source: whenever his arm got tired, resulting in violent jostling of the image, he would rewind the tape in order to get a better version of the ruined sequence. I presume he intended to edit the faulty “takes” out, but never got around to it. A shame there was no soundtrack though — I can imagine a score making deft/cheesy use of not only the title song, but also “The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” and “Auld Lang Syne”.

Anyhow, the movie posits Lillian Gish in the Scottish Highlands, as the titular Annie, she of the beautiful ballad heard in both Elia Kazan’s A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and Takeshi Miike’s THE BIRD PEOPLE OF CHINA. So, I was of course thrilled at seeing La Gish impersonate one of my countrywomen. And then I was doubly, triply, quadruply thrilled that this studio Scotland was a dank, papier maché affair highly reminiscent of Orson Welles’ MACBETH. I doubt it was an actual influence — I prefer to think that both films accurately reflect the way denizens of Hollywood imagine my homeland — heaps of muddy canvas draped over boxes, molded pulp mountains, crooked castles of permanently wet clay. Come to think of it, that’s often how *I* think of the place, and I live here.

The story is set at the time of the Campbell-MacDonald feud, leading up to the infamous massacre of Glencoe, when the English-loving Campbells treacherously murdered a batch of sleeping MacDonalds. Lillian plays a Campbell who falls for a MacDonald, leading to kilted Romeo & Juliet antics.

Wouldn’t be surprising to see a trio of witches atop this outcrop.

Gish is more than usually pert and perky and pixieish here. One saucy scene has her serenaded by her effete Campbell beau, while she sits on the castle wall and smiles down at her rough, manly MacDonald suitor, who’s sitting on a rock amid a babbling brook. It’s surprising to see Lillian so fickle.

By the film’s climax, the Campbell’s have pretty much disgraced themselves via treachery, except for maybe Lillian’s Walter-Brennan-like grizzled protector, so she jumps ship and heroically lights a beacon to call rescuing clansmen. The climax is really thrilling, helped by the fact that both history and Gish’s rep as a tragedian really push us to fearing the worst possible outcome. In the end, this follows the MGM model and averts disaster, so we get a lovely two-strip idyll instead of heaps of corpses. Whatevs!

Colour hasn’t aged too well, alas. But by a happy coincidence, the MacDonald tartan uses the same hues as Two-Strip.

Praise to John S Robertson (a Canadian, probably with Scottish roots) for spectacular battle/chase action. We can see his film technique has grown more sophisticated since his (excellent) Barrymore DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE.

Leading men — Norman Kerry (Lon Chaney’s strongman rival in THE UNKNOWN) is a dignified MacDonald, triumphing over a deeply-scooped waistcoat which allows his nipples to peep shyly forth. Creighton Hale (THE CAT AND THE CANARY) is a suitably poncified Campbell. He may be best known today for Kenneth Anger’s completely unfounded allegation that he fucked a goat in a porno movie. All the more reason for joy at the liberation of this charming curio from its dusty canister.

The End of a Perfect Week

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 19, 2010 by dcairns

Thanks to everybody for their contributions!