Archive for January 15, 2012

The Sunday Intertitle: Tarzania

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2012 by dcairns

Gorillas looked different in the 20s. That’s evolution for you.

I took a quick shufti at Episode 1 of SON OF TARZAN, on the basis that I’d never seen a silent movie serial apart from Fieuillade. I was glad I did!

Atypically, this not only starts the adventure rolling (Tarzan’s young son, raised as a Greystoke in England with no knowledge of his jungle heritage, is abducted back to the Dark Continent by evildoers) but gives us a whistle-stop summation of the whole mythos, from Tarzan’s birth to his return to claim his inheritance. Since, by chance, we’d just seen most of GREYSTOKE on TV, it was fascinating to compare the two…

There’s something just WRONG about this sentence.

Both, weirdly, deploy the unconvincing contrivance of having Lord G/Mr T meet an ape of his previous acquaintance in London, with much jolly running amuck ensuing. And both are as charmingly unsophisticated as one another, though the serial is notably more efficient and dynamic.

Famously, Robert Towne slaved on his GREYSTOKE script for years, before being forced to sell it. He was so appalled at the alterations made subsequently, that he took his name off it and credited it to his dog, P.H. Vazak, something he always felt bad about afterwards, on behalf of the dog. And by the way, how cool is it that Towne’s dog has initials? I’m going to make damn sure my next cat has initials. Our current one, Tasha, is mononomic, possessing only a title, “the Terrible,” and that’s purely honorary.

Apart from the apes who don’t belong to any recognized species and whose ears wobble about EXACTLY like rubber (how hard would that have been to fix, seriously?), GREYSTOKE has a startling lack of action (a nice Conradian bit with sinister Europeans fizzles out in an expensive conflagration rather than delivering the brutal set-to we were anticipating), but it does have Ralph Richardson’s penultimate perf, and Christopher Lambert is actually very good in it — he’s been looking at, and possibly even reading about, actual apes.

The serial takes itself much less seriously, and so is able to deliver the required entertainments of the genre: animal-punching, unconvincing jungle, and lots and lots of racism. A Tarzan without racism is unthinkable. I was struck by how “Black People,” in the intertitles, warrant capital letters, whereas “white people” do not. This might seem respectful, even a sign of inverse racism… I think probably it’s just a bit of exoticism — and exoticism is racism’s sexy sister.

“Me Tarzan! Hello! And rrraaarrgh!”