The Monday Intertitle: Moll Quiet

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“I’m pretty influential as Lefty Hiroshi.”

Beautiful deco kanji in an intertitle from Ozu’s 1933 DRAGNET GIRL, screened at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Bo’ness. This may be becoming my favourite Ozu, but I have lots more still to see. I’m really an Ozu newbie. It was about ten years ago I saw a bunch of late ones screened on Film4, and made a point of catching up with TOKYO STORY, but the ones I’ve seen outside of those experiences mean more to me.

Chris Fujiwara, introducing the film, suggested that the large number of intertitles in the film may have been Ozu’s way of constraining the benshi, those sometimes-overzealous film describers who had a tendency to not just read out the titles for the benefit of non-readers, but to embellish the plots and elucidate the subtext and supply the thoughts of every character. They would scarcely have time in this movie.

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Image from here.

DRAGNET GIRL was screened with a live score by Jane Gardner, whose accompaniment of THE GOOSE WOMAN last year was a highlight. I found a couple of the scores on Saturday to be over-amplified — the venue is small and has excellent acoustics anyway. THE LAST LAUGH screened with a new arrangement of the original score, which was absolutely brilliant, but the violin and whistle could be a little piercing. Ozu is usually thought of as “restrained” and “minimalist” (not to mention “transcendent”) and if that were true of DRAGNET GIRL the piano, violin and percussion score would have been too lush, emotive and emphatic. But this middle period film is, as Chris said, very *free* — Ozu allows himself more camera movement, much of it lateral (the movie poster on the wall in the background for ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT suggests where that may have come from; otherwise, Sternberg and UNDERWORLD and the lost DRAGNET are clearly influences) but one shot rotating slowly around a big white coffee pot (symbol of the decadent western influence, we are told) rather like a prototype for the cuts in later films which will pivot our perspective around an orienting object such as a red kettle.

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And this is a crime melodrama — albeit one which avoids most of the possible cues for melodramatic incidents, admittedly. What looks like being a hit by typist/moll Kinuyo Tanaka upon her romantic rival, is averted by a girl-on-girl kiss which has as much impact — and is presented with even more aversion of the camera eye to protect the innocent — as an assassination would in a conventional gangster flick. But things do eventually reach a pitch of high tension and jeopardy, as our heroes go on the lam after a heist (really the only bit of crime-for-profit glimpsed in the movie).

And so the score seemed an apt expression of the emotions lurking just beneath the polite surface of the characters. And it was absolutely beautiful, which is important, because so’s the film.

I must have a word with Jane to see if I can get copies of her stuff so I can walk around with it playing in my head.

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6 Responses to “The Monday Intertitle: Moll Quiet”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    An earlier gangster dramedy WALK CHEERFULLY (30) has caused me to re-think everything I thought I knew about Ozu. I have watched it three times. Made available for streaming by the Criterion Collection here in the States on Hulu Plus. Alas, DRAGNET GIRL isn’t (yet).

  2. Dragnet Girl was released on Chinese DVD. Should be playable on a US computer or blu-ray. Doesn’t have Jane G’s music, alas.

    I’ll have to watch Walk Cheerfully!

  3. Ozu went through many different modes before establishing the style he’s now famous for.

    What fascinates me is how reluctant he was to convert to sound filmmaking. For when he did his use of speech, music and ambient audio was masterful.

  4. Well, the whole of Japanese cinema converted several years later than the west — this was apparently due to the popularity and influence of the benshi, who were kind of like movie stars in their own right. The public was understandably reluctant to reliquish part of the added value of a movie show.

    Ozu may well have been glad to see the back of them, though, since like the live score it would be part of the film experience he couldn’t control. Given the care with which he approached his images throughout his career, he was probably delighted to get his hands on the soundtrack also.

  5. I have that Chinese DVD of this one, but I still haven’t watched it. Or anything else by Ozu. (I know, I know!)

  6. You’re as bad as me!

    I think I ought to concentrate on this period of YO for a bit, I love what I’ve seen so far and it does make one see the later films in a new light.

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