Archive for November, 2013


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on November 27, 2013 by dcairns


Stunning images courtesy of Paul Clipson. Paul was introduced to me by Daniel Kasman of MUBI’s The Notebook. Paul was coming to Edinburgh to visit his mum and Daniel thought we’d get along. I ended up arranging for Paul to show his films at Edinburgh College of Art and a good crowd of students showed up to get their eyes drunk on his dazzling visuals.


Paul is a projectionist in San Francisco and with his spare cash he’s an experimental filmmaker, buying up Super-8 while it’s still out there and compiling elegantly layered movies of light and colour and movement.

Paul explained that much of his aesthetic is informed by what his camera can and can’t do. It allows him to wind the film back to do double, or triple, or infinituple exposures. But it only allows him to wind back a short way. Also, the films are edited entirely with film splicing, the traditional way, so there’s no opportunity to add longer dissolves or correct anything in post. All Paul does is select, prune, arrange.


The films are shown at longer events with live music played alongside the movies but without regard to their content — the musicians typically look at their keyboards so the ways in which the films interact with the “soundtrack” are entirely coincidental, but often startling. For our show, Paul had shorter versions of his films with pre-prepared accompaniment played out of his laptop.


The film’s are visually intoxicating — by crash-zooming on city lights and multi-layering via many exposures, Paul has created his own Stargate sequence a la 2001. He’s also got an effect going I’ve never seen anywhere else — by having various layers of foreground action passing between us and our nominal subject (for instance, a girl running in a forest with trees at different distances between us and her, momentarily occluding our view) and double exposing and cutting FAST, Paul can get a sequence to the point where our grasp of film language disintegrates — we can no longer tell if, at any moment, we are seeing a single image, a double exposure, a continuous shot, or a series of edits. It’s not that it all becomes a blur — each frame seems super-bright and clear, firing into our brains like a bullet — instead, the mass fragmentation results in a higher unity (a Höheren Einheit, if you will), where all the shots and layers fuse together in one.


Afterwards, the conversation briefly turned to Theodore Roszak’s cinematic conspiracy novel Flicker, and it only struck me later that if anybody ever manages to film that tome (and many, including Gilliam, have tried), Paul is the one person who could adequately visualize the occult film techniques employed within its pages…

Slay Bells

Posted in FILM with tags , , on November 26, 2013 by dcairns


It’s getting to be near that time of year. You know the time I mean. Blogathon time!

And this is our official banner. You can still use the ones I posted earlier, but this is my favourite. It’s seasonal yet alternative, it’s from a late film (John Frankenheimer’s REINDEER GAMES, his last cinema release though not his last gig) and it has, as Sergio Leone is always saying, something to do with death.

Participating blogs should copy the image in, add a link, and then just let me know when they post. All are welcome! it’s a wintry celebration of old age, death, finality and endings. Last films are only rarely best films, but sometimes, as with Frankenheimer’s, they can add some kind of capstone to the careers they culminate.

Am really excited about this year — I rounded up some great contributors. Please don’t be offended if I neglected to hound you — join in anyway and I’ll be sure to hound you next time.

So remember: December 1st – 7th. See you here.

The Monday Intertitle: Barnstormers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2013 by dcairns


In Tay Garnett’s riveting pre-code HER MAN, there’s a cameo by perennial bit-player Franklin Pangborn which may raise eyebrows. Pangborn is beloved of Preston Sturges fans and lovers of 30s and 40s movies generally for his finely-honed fruit characterisations, playing “the pansy” as comic foil, swelling more than a scene or two with his arch antics. It’s not exactly a politically-correct take on homosexuality, and of course it’s strictly coded so as not to offend the censors — Pangborn never, or almost never, has any visible other half with whom a homosexual act could ever occur, even off-camera — he’s “the only gay in the village” so that his persona exists only as a series of caricatured mannerisms. Nevertheless, everybody seems to love Franklin P, gay or straight.

What’s startling about HER MAN is that Pangborn isn’t playing it camp. “A pre-gay Pangborn” is how one amateur reviewer referred to his appearance here, and it’s a touch disconcerting to see that all-too-familiar actor suddenly disporting with unrecognizable attributes. I got the same uncanny valley feel from seeing Mischa Auer without his mellifluous Russian accent in something called SINISTER HANDS (1931), playing “Swami Yomurda.” I know these guys are comic specialists and what we see is schtick, not reality, but somehow I don’t want to see them any other way.

But this seems to be a one-off, for in EXIT SMILING (1926), the Pangborn we know and adore is present and correct, albeit silent.

Pangborn plays the butch leading man in a company of strolling players, who is naturally enough effeminate and sissified off-stage. All the familiar tropes are here — the narrowing eyes, the toss of the head, the near-perpetual air of grande-dame outrage. The following line occurs when the leading lady accidentally tumbles into his berth on the sleeper train.


The movie’s real good too. Said leading lady is the great Beatrice Lillie, playing a role surely planned for Gloria Swanson (who excelled as a similar stage-struck drudge in STAGE-STRUCK), this being an MGM production. As good (and game!) as Swanson is, I don’t believe she could be as funny as Lillie, who is a true comedian’s comedienne, or vice-versa. I began to appreciate the brilliant things she was doing with her costumes. It soon seemed there would be a bit of amusing costume-work in every scene, from an apron that won’t stay on to a hat adorned with a pom-pom she’s just used as powder puff to apply her makeup, to a boa which she slings round her neck only to have it spontaneously unloop itself and slide down her back, affixing itself somehow to her skirt, to dangle like a skunk tail.


This all seems like it’s going to climax with the scene where she drags up as the villain in a melodrama — twirling a moustache that comes off in her hand — but the film has a further comic set-piece up its sleeve, when she plays the vamp, and that one’s really good.

Lillie had a strange career — all the high points are decades apart. Her silent career went nowhere after this. She made a pre-code musical, ARE YOU THERE? which is now apparently lost save its soundtrack, and she starred in ON APPROVAL, forming a superb one-off double-act with an unexpectedly hilarious Clive Brook (who also directed). And then came THOROUGLY MODERN MILLIE.


While Lillie loses something by not being able to use her precise vocals, her odd, sculptural appearance (midway between a novelty pepperpot and one of those figures who emerge from clockfaces to signal rain) and eloquent movements are all the equipment she needs to get laughs, and she may provoke a tear too. The material (story by Marc Connelly) is straightforward stuff and leading man Jack Pickford is a hair too rodent-like, but Samuel Taylor frames crisply and indulges in sweeping, formal camera moves, some of which bizarrely suggest Dario Argento in their precision. (I suppose I’m unduly influenced by an early tracking shot approaching a stage curtain and ending on a single eye peeping through a gap in the drapes.)

Taylor is mainly remembered for supposedly adding the credit “additional dialogue by Sam Taylor” to his film of Shakepeare’s TAMING OF THE SHREW. A shame, because he had strong comic and visual sense, even if he lacked the more common kind.


EXIT SMILING is, happily, available to buy and would make a fine gift for the cinephile in your life: Exit Smiling The bittersweet ending is remarkable.