Archive for August, 2016

The Sunday Intertitle: Various Kinds of Eggs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-08-26-22h30m01s559

Lots of entertaining intertitles in SPECIAL DELIVERY, but this was my favourite. Madge is played by the unfortunately-named Jobyna Ralston, who keeps showing up at Shadowplay, like some kind of crazy stalker woman. The first egg we see her serving is Paramount contract player William Powell, back when he was playing villains. WP only really became a leading man when sound came in and his mellifluous voice revealed his latent charm — one forgets totally that he has a kind of weaselly face. So of course in silents he was typically cast as a weasel — Sternberg cast him as a Sternberg type film director, which is to say a weasel (THE LAST COMMAND), and Gregory La Cava slid him into the role of a villainous bootlegger (FEEL MY PULSE) — in that one he has a scene cussing out Bebe Daniels and just the way he uses his face makes it abundantly clear that he’s using the vilest terms, though if I were a better lipreader I’d probably discover he was really asking what Bebe fancies for lunch.

vlcsnap-2016-08-26-22h44m34s757

SPECIAL DELIVERY (1927) stars Eddie Cantor, better known for talkies where he could sing, and is directed by William B. Goodrich — Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle hiding out under an assumed name, officially banned from appearing onscreen himself. Maybe Arbuckle behind the camera explains why Cantor at times resembles Buster Keaton when he played an ape in THE PLAYHOUSE. He sure isn’t particularly winning — in talkies he stands a better chance just because he’s so bizarre, and because he can put over a song with that unlikely voice of his.

There are plenty of good gags, though, as when a lovesick Cantor absently tucks his pancake into his collar and carves up his napkin. He does need doubling whenever the roughhouse stuff gets going, which is a mark against him.

vlcsnap-2016-08-26-22h53m27s494

Eddie plays an operative for the post office secret service (no, me neither). Also appearing, briefly, is a minute person rejoicing in the name of Tiny Doll, who turns out to be a member of the celebrated showbiz Doll family, which is to say she’s the sister of Harry Earles from FREAKS. She plays an outsize baby. There is definitely a family resemblance, and it goes deeper than being around three foot high. They both could play slightly gigantic babies. Eddie Cantor couldn’t do that. In ROMAN SCANDALS, when he gets shrunk in a steambath, he has to be doubled by Billy Barty.

The Devils and Miss Jones

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-08-19-10h51m54s810

I totally missed an excellent opportunity to interview Gemma Jones this week. I could have called in THE DEVILS and Miss Jones. It didn’t even occur to me to ask, as I was all geared up to interview somebody else — and the fruits of THAT interview will appear here soon.

I would have asked her all about THE DEVILS, of course — I’m pretty well totally ignorant about the rest of her career. But she manages an important and difficult task in that, her debut film (wait, hang on, just looking it up — yes, it WAS her debut film). She’s the least extreme character in the movie — and yet, surrounded by lunatics and scheming villains, she holds our interest. Though the movie seems at times to endorse a Catholic Madonna/whore schism, GJ’s character is neither — she has a perfectly healthy sex drive and the film respects her for it. She is puzzled and vexed by the challenge of living a good life according to the precepts of the Church, whilst surrounded by corruption and things that don’t seem to fit with what the Book says — as anyone might be. Besides marrying Oliver Reed (in a “blasphemous midnight nuptial,” my favourite kind), her main plot role is to ask intelligent questions.

vlcsnap-2016-08-19-10h52m00s825

As madness takes over, Jones disappears from the movie, only to abruptly take over in the final shot, which is a stunner. I actually suggested this film to Sight & Sound when invited to write about a movie ending. This is surely the best of its year. I’m kind of glad I wasn’t tasked with writing a thousand words for publication on it, though, since I don’t know what I’d have said, other than raving on about its magnificence.

Well, maybe I’d have referred back to the two dream sequences — actually, masturbatory fantasies would be more accurate. Looks to me like these were shot in Russell’s beloved Lake District (Russell fans should totally go there — it’d be like TOMMY going back to the source at the end of his film), although the only non-Pinewood location listed is Bamburgh* — a stone’s throw from me! (But we know they also filmed in a prison somewhere, for Richelieu’s library, and some stately gardens for the King to shoot his Protestant crow in.) Russell always regretted not shooting both of these in black & white, for consistency’s sake. I say the hell with consistency — the vibrant red of Vanessa Redgrave’s hair is reason enough for colour.

vlcsnap-2016-08-19-10h46m06s949

Vanessa’s Sister Jeanne has hair in these sequences as she imagines herself as Mary Magdalen, drying Christ’s feet with her hair — probably the sexiest bit in the New Testament — if you need porn and all you have to hand is the Bible, I recommend turning to Book One. The red is great, but admittedly what cinematographer David Watkin does with the b&w is also wonderful — printed on colour stock, it emerges with quite a strong indigo tint, and it has the blown-out highlights he discovered on THE KNACK.

vlcsnap-2016-08-19-10h51m10s803

How does this reflect on the ending, in which Gemma Jones wanders from close-up into extreme longshot, through the broken walls of Loudun (up a hill of shattered masonry) and off along a narrow road lined with skeletons broken on the wheel. Well, that shot imperceptibly turns to b&w as it cranes up, helped by the lack of colour in the setting anyway, so that by the time we’ve risen over the wall to see the distant terrain, the world has performed a reverse Oz transformation, just in time for the end credits to appear in bold RED.

It’s beautiful and bleak, and it feels meaningful too, in a poetic way I can’t pin down. I want to suggest that the world has been subsumed into Sister Jeanne’s fantasies. Madness has won. Her perverted view of religion has triumphed even as the city walls came tumbling down. The connection is not really that literal, of course, since Russell does not use words to express it, only images, which speak more powerfully and more primitively to us.

vlcsnap-2016-08-19-10h52m21s168

*Bamburgh Castle doubles for Loudun in the long shot near the film’s start, where Dudley Sutton and a Protestant slave gang is transporting a vast, grey, slug-like tarpaulin-swathed cart of demolition equipment across your basic blasted heath. It’s probably the same landscape from the final shot — I never knew it was Scotland! The castle and adjoining beach also feature in Polanski’s MACBETH, BECKETT and THE TEMPEST, directed by DEVILS’ designer Derek Jarman.

Hynkel, Hynkel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on August 26, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-08-26-14h21m56s958

“I definitely don’t have any arms under this vast shirt. You can take my word for it.” Sanjeev Kumar in SHOLAY.

Bollywood movie SHOLAY (1975), a blood-soaked revenge drama, slapstick comedy and vibrant musical, was made by G.P. Sippy and numerous family members, going by the credits. Among its many original touches (an armless man kicking hell out of the man who dis-armed him; a dance number performed amid flying clouds of paint powder) it also depends upon many shameless borrowings — mostly from Leone the heroes (Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan) hatch a scheme to get themselves arrested, then escape and split the reward money with the pal who turned them in (a paraphrase of the scam from THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY), and there’s a ruthless family massacre that owes a very great debt to the R.F.M. in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, only with added freeze-frames for emphasis. If you feel the need to be more emphatic than Leone, it’s a sure sign you’re working in Bollywood.

vlcsnap-2016-08-26-14h19m11s048

But my favourite swipe was the lifting wholesale of the character of Adenoid Hynkel from Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR, transplanted to the role of governor in an Indian prison. You know that little stumble Chaplin does a couple of times to undercut Hynkel’s dignity. The comedian in SHOLAY does that in every scene. He doesn’t actually play with an inflatable globe, but they throw in a globe just to say, “We know that you know…”