The Film Preservation Blogathon Intertitle

I was puzzling over how to locate an intertitle which would connect closely enough with the week’s themes, the Film Preservation Blogathon and film noir… (donate here). I was going to look at the movie theatre at the start of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE to see if there was any sign of an intertitle in that. I considered looking at silent versions of movies remade as noirs, or even early thirties versions which sometimes had intertitles — maybe the previous versions of THE MALTESE FALCON or THE GLASS KEY would have something suitable?

And then I remembered what should have been obvious — the film noir that’s all about silent cinema, SUNSET BLVD. Which contains extracts from QUEEN KELLY, including an intertitle which may well be the most influential since William S. Hart’s “When you say that — smile!”

It’s clear that SUNSET BLVD is a favorite of David Lynch — MULHOLLAND DR. references it in its title and in its plotline, and it seems to cast a shadow into INLAND EMPIRE also. Well, that intertitle feels very Lynchian — it invokes a mystical feeling, an attempt to exorcise a dream, a dream which has possessed someone (not something dreams are routinely described as doing). It seems to encapsulate the whole Laura Palmer storyline from TWIN PEAKS. Partly it does so because it’s so evocatively isolated from its surrounding movie — in choosing this scene, Billy Wilder created an ecstatic snapshot of silent cinema, which one might imagine to be full of grand statements like “…cast out this wicked dream which has seized my heart…”

Maybe the reason I still haven’t watched QUEEN KELLY is that I don’t want to know the solid and narrative-based facts that lead Swanson’s character to make that statement. Like Lynch, I love a mystery.

20 Responses to “The Film Preservation Blogathon Intertitle”

  1. Oh you must watch Queen Kelly — or rather what would have been the first part of Queen Kelly had Stroheim been allowed to continue. It’s really very lovely.

  2. The circumstances of his firing strike me as fascinating — one suspects him of engineering it out of some self-destructive impulse, and on the other hand, it’s entirely possible that he just thought Swanson wouldn’t mind somebody drooling tobacco spit on her, if it was “for the movie”…

  3. Well it was a tad more than that. The blushing innocent she plays in the film’s first half becomes a cynical Madam in the second. One wonders if Von showed Gloria only the first half of the script and sprang the rest of it on her and her backer-paramour (Joe Kennedy) half way through the shoot. Stills exist of some of this material.

  4. The Siren recommended Swanson’s autobiography a while back, and I’ve been meaning to peruse. I’ve seen Swanson in interview claiming that the tobacco incident was the last straw, but it may well be that the build-up to that was one of slow disenchantment.

    The fact that they both were happy to work together again on Sunset Blvd is part of that film’s mystery and wonder.

  5. David Boxwell Says:

    The best thing about QK is the outrageous performance of the whip-brandishing Seena Owen (GS’s attempt to be a dewy convent girl in the first half is notably unconvincing). The film’s blatant racism in the African part is predictably appalling.

  6. An inspired choice, David. Thanks for your stalwart support all week!

  7. Ever stalwart!

  8. QUEEN KELLY is von Stroheim’s most expressionistic film and thus a *must* for any fan of the expressionist mode. It’s also arguably a proto-noir (but then, so is GREED). Its incompleteness and the resultant lack of coherence only adds to its dream-like quality. Neo-expressionist painter Stacy Lande identifies it as one of her primary inspirations. See it soon!

  9. Christopher Says:

    see Queen Kelly…it won’t disappoint !..the parade of soldiers and underwear scene!
    I love it in SB when they’re watching Queen Kelly and they cut to Max running the projector.What must he be thinking?..

  10. OK, this is going to happen, and soon. Since the movie is incomplete, even if I lose the mystery of that one scene and intertitle, there’ll be a net gain in additional mysteries left by the truncated narrative.

    Ah, Stroheim was always a great underwear fan. Wilder had to reject the suggestion that he be seen ironing Norma Desmond’s panties.

  11. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dcairns and Debbie Hayes, Ayesha . Ayesha said: "The Film Preservation Blogathon Intertitle" and related posts […]

  12. kevin mummery Says:

    ***Ah, Stroheim was always a great underwear fan. Wilder had to reject the suggestion that he be seen ironing Norma Desmond’s panties.***

    I read somewhere Von Stroheim was actually ironing the dead chimpanzee’s panties, which would have been much more intriguing, and Wilder is all the bigger a fool for rejecting this fine suggestion. Sometimes you have to question the judgment of a man who’d refrain from using such an idea.


    My piece for the blog-a-thon is up. It’s about a film that’s kind of like a film noir Stroheim might have made had he made movies in the 40s. It’s directed by one of the original audience of the long version of GREED

  14. Superb! You capture the film’s ecstatic delirium nicely!

    The chimp’s undies? Might have been good, especially if they were black satin trunks like those worn by the giant chimp in Walsh’s Thief of Bagdad… he’d have to use a very low temperature iron though.

  15. david wingrove Says:

    QUENN KELLY is a majestic, monumental and deliciously demented experience that must be seen not to be believed.

    In fact, Seena Owen as the deranged whip-wielding Ruritanian queen (“Who do you think you are? This is my palace! Mine! MINE!”) comes much closer to Norma Desmond than Gloria Swanson ever does.

    For the surviving first part of the movie, Gloria is making a none-too-convincing effort to impersonate blushing, virginal innocence. If only she and Joe Kennedy hadn’t pulled the plug on the second half…

  16. I suspect Joe Kennedy found himself on the verge of achieving something good and cancelled the movie to avoid blemishing an otherwise spotless record of evil and chicanery.

  17. Von Stroheim was the Orpheus of the Undieworld.

  18. “Orpheus of the Undieworld” — That’s a quote from the delicious, criminally underseen and underrated comedy by Joseph McGrath, The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (describing a brassiere manufacturer played by Lord Richard Attenborough).

  19. Ahah! Been meaning to see that. My efforts to obtain more rare McGrath have been largely frustrated, although I’ve enjoyed his John Lennon poetry skits filmed for the pop show Ready Steady Go! and I do have a copy of his threadbare sex comedy Girls Come First, featuring an all-star cast of Burt Kwouk.

  20. […] surprise that shouldn’t have surprised me — the clip that turns up in SUNSET BLVD to illustrate Norma Desmond’s movie career — about the only commercial purpose those […]

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