Archive for March, 2014

The Monday Intertitle: Moonday Intertitles

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2014 by dcairns

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Thanks to Gregory Robinson for a review copy of his book All Movies Love the Moon, Prose Poems on Silent Film.

Said poems are inspired by intertitles, which we like here at Shadowplay. It’s a very handsome book, though as a purist I prefer the authentic intertitles to the recreations — but I guess there’s a copyright issue there, and also a certain pleasure in being able create new versions of old title cards. As for Gregory’s additional words, they are very poetic indeed ~

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HOW IT FEELS TO BE RUN OVER (1900)

It begins with an accident, the inevitable result of both ten thousand objects both real and imaginary cosmically tumbling, colliding at the nexus where silver meets secondhand meets skin. The burst of light is the birth of movies.

Before you, a dirt road. A carriage passes, then a cyclist, both stirring a cloud of dust that settles on an automobile. The car is far angrier, making mad S shapes in the road, darting forward like a shark. Logic says move, but you have grown too heavy in this dream and the car is impossibly close. It breaks out of its world into yours, a pharaoh crossing over, a moth errant unto light, and Oh! Mother will be pleased.

A pause. Here is death, an old woman whispers over popcorn. I knew it would happen like this. In movies mortality makes your acquaintance, inscripting your bones.

The one on CITY LIGHTS at the end is particularly fine.

Another plug, while I’m here. Friend of Shadowplay Paul Clipson is not just (just?) an experimental filmmaker, he’s a projectionist, and his limited-edition book of projectionist’s drawings, REEL, shows a creative solution to a practical problem: identifying approaching reel changes.

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You can buy it here, if there are any left.

 

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Hair

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by dcairns

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The Mayans, we are told, had an incredibly advanced civilisation, despite never developing the wheel or metalwork. So they had to construct their dialogue and performances out of wood. And thus, alas, their dialogue and performances were no match for the leaden dialogue and performances of invading armies.

I really ought to watch TIGER BAY or YIELD TO THE NIGHT or the original CAPE FEAR as a palate cleanser, but my trawl through obscure J. Lee Thompson films instead led me to KINGS OF THE SUN in which Mayan king George Chakiris discovers Louisiana only to discover Indian chief Yul Brynner is already living there.

Of course nobody in this film can talk convincingly, the thick-ear epic dialogue seeming to choke on the miasma of brown face-paint (Shirley-Anne Field is excused fake tan, inexplicably). But if you can’t have good talk, you can at least have good hair.

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Chakiris leads the way with his giant quiff and pony tail look, similar to Tony Curtis’s magnificent quiff-and-pageboy cut in THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH. George could stand on the spot and rotate slowly and you’d get a complete history of human hair from the early hunter-gatherers to the latest in singing Puerto Rican street gangs.

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This dude opts for an innovative Mr. Whippy look.

Yul Brynner is excused hair, and gets a very funny introductory shot.

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Yul is the whole show. He can’t fare much better than anyone else with the dialogue, although he puts it over better. It’s his movement, his snake-hipped prowl, his snapping jaws in the fight scenes. We have to wait half an hour for him, and waiting for Yul is like waiting for Groucho in a movie as wooden as this, but when he does turn up he walks like really good sexual intercourse would walk. EVERYTHING gets better when Yul is around — the lighting goes from TV movie-of-the-week flat to vivid and modeled (Brando was impressed, on MORITURI, by how Brynner roped the lighting in to aid his performance) — the camera moves go from big swooping crane shots, spectacular at first but quickly tedious since the actors stand around like a forest, spouting duff verbiage that sounds like it’s been auto-translated from the original Mayannaise, to striking mobile POVs and dynamic following shots showcasing the best of Thompson’s style. His cameraman is Joseph Walker, who shot Capra’s stuff. Capra usually worked multi-camera (perhaps as a holdover from the early sound days?) which seems to have helped him get all that life and bustle going. For all its cast of thousands, this movie has zero bustle, and seems incapable of imagining convincing activity for more than one character at a time. Brynner makes damn sure that when he’s on screen, he is that character.

My favourite Yul story is from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. To Steve McQueen: “If you don’t stop playing with your hat, I’ll take off my hat, and then we’ll see who they look at.”

Goodbye Piccadilly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2014 by dcairns

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I swear I’m not doing this on purpose! I stuck a disc of EAST OF PICCADILLY (1941) in the Maidstone, thinking it looked like an amusing Brit B-movie, and knowing it featured the alluring Edana Romney, star and author of the suis generis Cocteauesque Gothic drama CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS in one of her few other roles. And it turned out to be co-written by our chum J. Lee Thompson. Is there no escape?

Writing with Leslie Storm (I know! Leslie Storm!) Thompson this time serves up a more likable light-hearted murder romp in which Romney injects some valuable melancholy — she gets one scene, as the victim, but it’s a doozy. “Have you ever heard of Sadie Jones,” she asks her shadowy murderer-in-waiting, after putting a Sadie Jones song on the Victrola. “No, nobody has and nobody ever will,” she answers for him. Heartbreaking, since she’s about to die, and we know from the cast list that she’s Sadie Jones.

The rest of it is lighthearted thriller about a crime writer and a lady crime reporter joining forces to investigate, and bickering amusingly. Another master of the macabre is along too, Niall MacGinnis, the warlock from NIGHT OF THE DEMON, and he’s practically thrown at us with a lamp under his chin to make him a suspect. So he CAN’T be the killer… or can he? Or can he?

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He and Martita Hunt both do those strangulated cockney accents people used to do in old British films — either the actors were faking being working class, or they were real working class but trying to be comprehensible to everybody. In this case Martita was born in Argentina but was naturally a grande dame, whereas MacGinnis was a Dubliner. Their cockney is no worse than the attempts by real cockneys of the time. I enjoy seeing Julian Karswell and Baroness Meinster together in the same scene.

It opens with what looks like the same car footage of neon-lit London that begins MURDER WITHOUT CRIME. Not a bad way to begin, mind you — I would be delighted if a modern Brit thriller began that way, but the closest thing to that we’ve had is RUN FOR YOUR WIFE.

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There’s also a goofy red herring character played by George Hayes with demented glee. He’s a former Mr. Memory from the music halls who decided to go on the legitimate stage and lost his money, memory and marbles. Now, in the best THEATRE OF BLOOD manner, he keeps mutilated effigies of the top London drama critics in his closet — one of them, Ivor Brown of The Observer, is actually named — presumably he gave a particularly bad review to a work by Thompson or Storm.

Leads Sebastian Shaw and especially Judy Campbell have appeal, but it’s peculiar the way the film drops discomfiting moments of real tragic feeling in and then moves briskly along to the next quip. The ending makes unnecessary distress out of the killer’s capture and then slides into romance, then looks forward to the forthcoming blackout and blitz (the film was released in 1941) with a wholly un-foreshadowed ENGLAND CAN TAKE IT spirit of romantic pluck.

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Also — it shares with Thompson’s MURDER WITHOUT CRIME a grubby fascination with single girl’s flats, and the way said girls leave underthings hanging up to dry. Here, a stocking becomes a murder weapon used against someone the film’s detective actually refers to as “a daughter of joy.”