Illusion Sails


Zarah Leander says goodbye.

In theory this might be a rear projection shot with a miniature sailing ship drifting off into a cyclorama sea, but I want and in some silly way NEED to believe that the shot, from Douglas Sirk’s ZU NEUEN UFERN, was achieved in camera, with a really BIG model ship, as tall as the statuesque Zarah herself,  positioned not far from her in a forced perspective kind of a deal. That makes it somehow more poetic, I think.

The film is very good, once you get past the oddity of Nazi Germany making a valid critique of the British class system. It’s also a rare musical where every single eruption of song, apart from the music hall numbers, feels like a derailment of the film’s cinematic reality. It’s like seeing a musical for the first time, before you knew they were possible.


3 Responses to “Illusion Sails”

  1. “Unknown Chaplin” spends a lot of time with this one, revealing how it began as a comedy in a cafe with Campbell and Edna as sort of a Svengali and Trilby.

    Find myself thinking there’s trouble and there’s trouble. Here, Chaplin’s in trouble that was very real and very possible to his original audience: Broke, and facing physical harm as well as humiliation in front of the girl. In a way that’s more suspenseful than the tottering cabin in “Gold Rush”. (Today it still resonates, even though our modern equivalent is the discreet but embarrassing chat about a refused credit card)

    In “Count”, “Adventurer”, “Pilgrim”, and “City Lights”, Chaplin is carrying out clearly unsustainable impostures. It’s not a matter of if the shoe will drop but when. The situations are such that we don’t directly identify with him. But in “Immigrant”, the situation is close to home and there’s the remote hope he (and all of us) can pull it off.

    Lloyd would sometimes venture towards that kind of suspense, but more often the girl’s affections were secured and it was a matter of mechanical solutions. In “Safety Last” he props up the lie of being a big shot with a string of fast, ingenious gags. There’s no feeling that Harold’s going to be humiliated and fired.

    Keaton went for identifiable suspense in “The Cameraman”, where it wasn’t so much a specific imposture as simply trying to function out of his league: the beautiful career girl, the expert and well-equipped cameramen, the studs in the swimming pool. And the opening reels of “Sherlock Jr.” have him struggling with small-town courting rituals, with poverty as a factor. But again, Keaton was more often against something like an avalanche or the Union Army, sufficiently outsized and beyond our experience to be safely distant.

    Personally, I find Lloyd’s climb in “Safety Last” easier to watch that “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Larry David facing the consequences of a deceptive tenting in his pants is more “real” than falling off a building.

  2. Oops. Thought I’d been pontificating on Sunday Intertitle.

  3. That’s OK!

    Yes, Curb Your Enthusiasm can get rather difficult, though it’s brilliant.

    Lloyd clearly used the comedy of terror more often than anyone else, with not just the skyscrapers but scary foes like the tramp in The Kid Brother. But Chaplin got more real with it, as you imply — because he was more familiar with that kind of trouble in reality.

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