Archive for July, 2016

The Sunday Intertitle: Not Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2016 by dcairns

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Strange title card from SHOOTING STARS (1928). This one has strange credits, also — it has a scenario by one John Orton, it’s directed by one A.V. Bramble, but it has in addition a non-specific authorial credit — “By Anthony Asquith.” Since Asquith is known to us a director, one tends to ascribe him credit, but heaven knows how the workload was actually divided.

I like A.V. Bramble because his name is A.V. Bramble.

Sad to say, the astounding A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR is unique in the Asquith oeuvre, a Germanic, doomladen, yet quirky drama. A late silent, it contains a naughty parody of early talkies — and then Asquith plunged into talkies himself and immediately came to embody the British tradition of quality, making respectable, theatrical, well-acted movies which are kind of D.O.A. from a cinematic perspective. I don’t know, I have a vague plan to attempt to watch THE V.I.P.S sometime, just to see if it’s really as dull as I remember (I remember it as eight hours long and entirely composed of actors in an airport doing their income tax. Possibly this is a distorted memory.)

But if COTTAGE is the one supernova in Asquith’s career, UNDERGROUND has quite a lot of verve and makes London’s subway into an epic adventure setting, and SHOOTING STARS is the other lively one, with much to commend it. (I’d be very interested to see his other silent, THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS if that ever becomes possible.) Like UNDERGROUND this has the star quality of the underrated Brian Aherne, and character actor Donald Calthrop (Hitchcock’s BLACKMAILer), and its setting behind the scenes of the British film industry immediately endears it to silent movie buffs. The fact that we’re introduced to the crew as they shoot a western just makes it better. British westerns are so scarce that there’s no slang name for them — “fish and chips western” has occasionally been bandied about, but apart from CARRY ON COWBOY there’s very little to apply it to (HANNIE CALDER and A TOWN CALLED BASTARD are the others that come to mind. “The crookedest film I ever did,” was Dudley Sutton’s verdict on the latter).

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There are a few moments where Asquith runs mad, creatively, too, such as his subjective camera swinging-from-a-chandelier shots…

 

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The Look 2: Lukas Rejects

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , on July 30, 2016 by dcairns

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Reminder: I’ve embarked on an occasional series about moments when actors look at the camera.

A tricky one — I wasn’t sure if I was remembering this correctly.

But when I think of actors looking at the camera, I always think of Paul Lukas in STRANGE CARGO (1940), or STRANGE FILM as surely somebody else must have called it.

Frank Borzage’s films were often religious, or spiritual, or whatever you want to call it, but this one is a full-blown allegory, with Ian Hunter unusually effective as the Christ figure, who is part of an all-star group of escaped convicts including Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Peter Lorre.

Lukas plays a serial killer of women — for profit. He leaves the group midway through the film to take up his profession again. Hunter has been on at him to repent of his sinful ways. Lukas leaves, but after doing so, when he is alone apart from US — he turns, glances about in the direction of the camera — eyes flickering wildly so that for a moment I was afraid my memory was playing me false and he wasn’t going to do it — and then he looks right down the barrel of the lens and says, very firmly —

“No.”

Borzage’s camera, which has been following Lukas, seems to have become briefly identified with the eye of God. This is Lukas’ final rejection of the grace of God. Delivered to us. As if we were all, collectively, the best stand-in for the deity that Borzage could think of.

So that’s nice of him.

Casares Through the Looking Glass

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , on July 29, 2016 by dcairns

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It had been YEARS since I watched Cocteau’s ORPHÉE, so when Fiona got a free copy from Criterion as reward to her contribution to my vid essay on CARNIVAL OF SOULS, I was eager to run it.

When I last saw it, did all the talk about the dead, who are forbidden to love, strike me as having resonance with Cocteau’s outlaw sexuality? I feel like it didn’t, but now it seems inescapable, though of course Cocteau was right to dismiss any overall symbolic intent. It’s more like the film tells its own story, quite literally and shamelessly, but also exists in a nexus of intersecting possible meanings, none of which is THE meaning.

Elaborating on the source myth, Cocteau creates two couples, except they’re not couples… another nexus is created, this time of yearning. There’s Jean Marais as the title poet-superstar (scarcely a plausible job description except when you remember, oh yeah, Cocteau was one), married to Eurydice, Marie Déa, whom he neglects. Then there’s Maria Casares as Death, or A Death anyhow, who is in love with Orph, and Heurtebise (François Périer), Death’s driver, a student who recently committed suicide, who falls in love with Mrs. O.

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The black dress has changed to a white dress within the same scene. Apart from THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER, what other films do this?

By film’s end, throwing out the Greeks altogether, Cocteau has contrived an implausible happy ending for the living characters, while leaving the dead ones to face an uncertain but clearly unpleasant punishment for their transgressions against the Natural Order. And they’re not even facing this punishment along with the one/s they love. Death and her chauffeur enjoy a pretty snarky relationship through much of the film, but by the end they stand united, and Herteubise, along with Eurydice the one really sympathetic character, seems to respect Death for her sacrifice, for the way she’s put herself in harm’s way first to pursue the one she loves, then to make sure he’s OK.

The message would see to be: some (the living) have happiness as their right; others (the dead) are forbidden to love and are doomed to unhappiness.

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Cocteau felt bad enough about this that he let the characters return in LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE to give him a hard time for dropping them in it.