Archive for July 1, 2012

The Sunday Intertitle: Pulse-Pounding

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 1, 2012 by dcairns

While my closing night party hangover abates, I’ll fulfill my weekly intertitular obligations by reproducing what I wrote for the Film Festival’s Gregory La Cava retrospective screening of FEEL MY PULSE. It would be nice to think my blurb helped fill Cinema 3 for the screening of a rare private collector’s print with live piano accompaniment by Forrester Pike — but then I’d have to take responsibility for my blurb putting people off GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE —

Gregory La Cava’s background as a cartoonist was never more evident than in this riotous romantic comedy – not even in his broad WC Fields vehicles. The first image under the titles is an animation of a doctor applying the stethoscope to a disembodied, but vigorously beating heart, but some of the later live-action is even more cartoony.

Bebe Daniels, top comedienne of the twenties and thirties (and later a beloved radio and TV star in the UK) plays a dotty heiress raised by doctors in a sterile environment, becoming a complete hypochondriac. But when she accidentally takes a rest cure in a “sanatorium” that’s really a bootleggers’ den, the stage is set for slapstick, romance, danger, and a miracle cure.

Handsome Richard Arlen fulfils heart-throb duties, and William Powell, a few years before his fame as a suave comic lead in The Thin Man, is the leader of the bootleggers, in a sly and seedy comic performance of laid back stubbly malevolence that capitalizes on his underused rodental qualities.

In an age of daredevil stunts and vigorous knockabout, Daniels milks considerable comic value from a character for whom a short walk represents life-threatening exertion. That she actually enjoys robust good health is obvious to everyone except herself and her doctors.

A lot of the humour is carried by the witty intertitles, along with knowing performances by the stars and a rogue’s gallery of plug-uglies, but La Cava’s meticulous framing subtly enhances the humour of every moment. His deadpan compositions simply invite funny things to happen within them – except during a brief interlude of film noir, when the gloves come off, the lights go out, and the bad guys start acting genuinely bad…

The middle section, where the bootleggers pretend to be nervous wreck sanatorium inmates, is fine farce, but the chaotic finish, a full-scale gang war, is among the most frenetic action sequences in Hollywood comedy history. Daniels’ flailing, long-legged movement when she finally abandons her invalid lifestyle is all the more exhilarating and hilarious for having been suppressed so long, and inventive gags follow so fast upon each others’ heels as to leave the viewer gasping with laughter, astonishment and sheer breathlessness.

Quite a different kind of screen comedy than Chaplin or Keaton’s, Feel My Pulse exemplifies a tradition of slapstick that uses romantic leads rather than clowns, and which is all-too rarely revived or discussed today. The opportunity to enjoy it on the big screen with an audience should not be missed.

The Flickers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2012 by dcairns

Managed to catch one of the four programmes of short experimental work at EIFF. My head is too deliriously messed-up from flicker and strobe to offer coherent summations of all the films, but —

LANDFILL 16 (Jennifer Reeves, above) consists of 16mm fragments buried, dug up, painted over and played at different speeds. I met the filmmaker one time in New York and she seemed like the nicest person alive. The movie is a little like a series of beautiful abstract paintings, any one of which I would be delighted to frame on my wall, and they flash by so rapidly you sometimes wish you had a picture-framer handy to arrest them. The images sometimes look like decay (and I kept getting scary subliminal flashes of skulls which I don’t think were actually there) and sometimes like crystals under an electron microscope and sometimes a recognizable figure will pop up for half a second. Gloriously beautiful and so condensed you almost resent having to use your eyes for an hour afterrwards.

TRICOLOR by Martina Heyduk did not have quite as lovely a sound-image conjunction — the sounds, though abstract, tended to illustrate the abstract images a little too closely. But the melting smoke shapes onscreen, and the cacophonous soundscape — like the birth pangs of a haunted dredge — were both lovely in their own right.

Kerry Laitala’s CHROMATIC COCKTAIL 180 PROOF showed in 3D. The bubbly dayglo images and bleepy beats added a nice sacriligous feeling, since experimental film shows often feel like going to church.

Vicky Smith’s SOBBINGSPITTINGSCRATCHING alas could not be shown, for fear that it would cause the Filmhouse’s ancient 16mm projector to break down in sympathy.

I’m sorry I can’t say something about all the films shown, they were all terrific. Afterwards, my temporal lobes were pulsating like Dick Smith bladder effects.