Archive for June, 2017

Bad Cinephile

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2017 by dcairns

I did get a lot watched on Monday at Il Cinema Ritrovato.

On Sunday there had been a discussion about whether to try the 1917 CALIGULA, since it partially overlapped a later screening I wanted to see, and a friend who shall remain nameless suggested just watching a bit. “You don’t need to see how it turns out,” he suggested. To another friend who had an overlap at the opposite end, he suggested, “You don’t need to see the beginning. What are you going to miss? The horse? You won’t miss the horse.” “Are you suggesting,” I asked, “that we treat CALIGULA like an installation?” But that is sort of what Monday felt like.

(In the event, CALIGULA was sold out to enthusiastic orgiasts before we got back from lunch.)

The day began with two by William K. Howard and one by Tod Browning, at the Cinema Jolly, which meant I could just take my seat and soak up three pre-code super-productions in as many hours. THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE was zippy (Lilian Bond, in her plummiest accent: “I’m going to show him how a warm momma gets hot!” Zasu Pitts: “I like horses, in a nice way of course.”), with rapid-fire patter and frequent whip pans, used to transport us across town, across a room, of back into flashback and out again. TRANSATLANTIC combined swank melodrama and crime with spectacular sets and camera moves. OUTSIDE THE LAW, the second film Tod Browning made under that title, had a strong story but, being a 1930 Browning, lacked pace. “Tod the Plod,” Andrew Moor called him. But it did have the bottomless man illusion, and a guest freak in the form of John George from TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS, in the role of Humpy the hunchback. I’m a John George completist so this made me happy. This is likely also the first film in which Edward G. Robinson says “See?” a lot, as a threat.

Then I went to THE TECHNICAL REFERENCE COLLECTION SHOW after lunch — we saw Technicolor reels from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, THE JUNGLE BOOK, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY… quite a range. HERCULES AND THE SLAVE GIRLS featured the line “This day is dedicated to Uranus.” Reg Park didn’t look as pleased as you might hope. Each reel ended JUST as we were getting snared by the narrative, so it was a frustrating as well as beautiful experience.

But these extracts set me off on a regrettable pattern of incompletion. I went to a programme of Russian fragments and saw the surviving reel of KULISY EKRANI (BEHIND THE SCREEN) from 1917, which stars Ivan Mosjoukine, Russia’s top film star, in the challenging role of Ivan Mosjoukine, Russia’s top film star. But the fictional version has lost an arm. It was good to see a younger Ivan, though he looked older than in KEAN. Other than that, I couldn’t tell much.

I’ve been seeing the Helmut Kautner films religiously because Olaf Moller told me to, and he’s bigger than me. But the Mosjoukine fragment made me late for EPILOG – DAS GEHEIMNIS DER ORPLID and it was standing room only at the back. I stayed through the early subjective camera stuff, then the soft-titles disappeared just as Fritz Kortner showed up. I slipped away quietly —

— and into KEAN, where I wanted to see the new restorations tinting and toning, which was indeed lovely. But three hours of Mosjoukine seemed rather ambitious after five and a half hours in the dark, so I slipped silently off to TWO MONKS, the biggest challenge to wakefulness yet.

This early thirties Mexican melodrama has stunning sets, interesting camera moves and cutting, beautiful lighting and some Gothic horror hallucinations which are very striking, but it’s also slow to develop and tells a slightly dull story TWICE. So I did nod off a bit and found myself dreaming more exciting plot developments, which sadly were knocked out of my head by the real story when I awoke.

Then I dined with Neil McGlone and his lovely wife Justine, and hit the Piazza Maggiore, which proved to be ram-packed — no seats, so I sat on the warm stone and saw the prelude to Gance’s LA ROUE with Arthur Honegger’s newly discovered orchestral score played live for the first time in, what, ninety years? That was something. But it was another fragment. And I was too tired to watch more than ten mins of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN afterwards.

A day in pieces. Leaving me feeling the same way, but happy.

The Monday Matinee, Episode 11: A Queen in Chains

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2017 by dcairns

Last we saw, Gene Autry was unconscious and at the mercy of a clunky robot wielding an oxyacetaline torch, a robot too dumb to tell the difference betweetn the portly troubador’s head and the shell casings it’s supposed to be smelting. To have Gene simply wake up and get out the way would be anticlimactic, so the authors of THE PHANTOM MENACE Episode 11 have Gene’s buddies Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross rush in and drag his limp and lumpen form out of harm’s way.

Now read on ~

The Comedy Cowboy Sidekicks have been doing good work as fake robots, but now start to disrobe(ot). The partway stage results in a surprising resemblance to Bill & Ben, the Flowerpot Men.

The faithless Chancellor Argo issues new Disintegrator Guns to his gang of mutineers — immediately, using deft lasso-work and force of personality, a revived Gene seizes a rebel appliance from the rebel alliance and sets off to free Queen Tika. God knows, the show has left us no reason to find the frigid, murderous monarch sympathetic, so this is bracingly overt realpolitik — she promised to free Gene, whereas Argo’s science guys wanted to vivisect his “breathin’ structure.”Gene shrewdly surmises which is the better deal.

Interesting scene of the rebels sorting through corpses — their allies go to the Radium Reviving Chamber for revival (because radium raises the dead, natch) and their enemies to the Lime Pit. I shouldn’t be completely surprised if we see that lime pit as a cliffhanger before long, since the odd economy of the serial dictates that anything mentioned ought to be seen. If you’ve gone to the effort of imagining it, might as well build it.

With a noise like a wardrobe full of bowling balls falling downstairs, Gene and his sidekicks hide themselves under tarps to impersonate corpses.

Enthroned, the usurper Argo instigates a reign of terror in no way different from his predecessor’s. The Queen, meanwhile, is not only in chains as per the title, she’s been made to stand in the corner like a naughty schoolgirl while her more loyal underlings get their death sentences. If disgruntlement had not long since reached the state of being a permanent condition with, she’d probably be pretty peeved. As it is, Dorothy Christy makes the same expression she does when talking on Skype, looking at car race footage, or being married to Stan Laurel. She may not be versatile but she’s consistent. Runs the gamut of emotions from A to just before B.

The CCS’s (Comedy Cowboy Sidekicks) are taken to the Reviving Chamber and we see what happens when you try to revive somebody who’s already alive. Laid out under a perspex cover (to protect the operators, I guess), Bill or Ben or whatever his name is starts twitching and yelping as hots sparks jet out of his underside.

Meanwhile, Gene is eavesdropping as usual, while Argo forces Tika to watch her underlings being zapped in the chamber of death. The Queen, who has shown a fondness for television throughout this serial, is now tragically compelled to witness mass executions on it. Isn’t there anything on the other side? The slain underlings are to be carted off to the Cavern of the Doomed, but it’s not certain if this is the same as the Lime Pit or if we’ll get to see either. Maybe they’re like FLASH GORDON’s “bore worms” — a big tease. But now Argo promises Tika a slow death caused by “Rab’s Disintegrating Atom Smashing Machine” — and THAT is much too big a come-on to go unrepresented. We rub our hands with glee at the thought of Rab and his smashing machine. We scent a cliffhanger!

Rab (good Scottish name, and he does look a but like a young Ian Bannen, demonstrates his smashing machine. Gloating sadism is the keynote of this performance. What follows is some stupendous repartee:

“Now as the ray is turned on you, you would be suffering PAIN. But all feeling would stop the moment the notch is turned to this. Because you would be PARALYSED. And now the very atoms of your body would be disintegrated.”

“I would give me pleasure if the same were to happen to you.”

“But… it won’t.”

It’s like Noel Coward has eschewed the English drawing room in favour of the subterranean kingdom.

“I never heard a… queen scream,” smarms Rab, but somehow we don’t quite believe him.

This actor, Warner Richmond, was a stunt-riding Wisconsonite (sounds like a deadly space metal, I know) who played for DeMille, Ford and Walsh in his time. It’s typical of this serial that everyone in it can ride a horse even if they never have to. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Her Highness Queen Tika set off at a canter sometime, if she’s not disintegrated.

Gene arrives in the nick of time to get himself cliffhangered: a guard knocks him in the path of the smashing machine’s ray and he makes a face like he’s being disintegrated. Assuming this process is interrupted before it becomes fatal, can this serial get through its final installment with even a partially disintegrated leading man? True, there’s enough Gene Autry to spare, one might think, but nobody can convince me that a disintegrating atom smashing machine will have merely a slimming effect is used at a low setting. It’s aiming right at Gene’s face. Are we to be forced to watch the adventures of a hero with a semi-disintegrated head? Is such a spectacle suitable for children?

Tune in next week for the answers to these, and other questions!


The Sunday Intertitle: Kick

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2017 by dcairns

This is one thing I watched on Saturday — KID BOOTS, starring Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow and Billie Dove. Yes, I know, Eddie Cantor gets all the pussy.

I underrated Cantor the silent comic — he’s pretty funny here, and very agile. Director Frank Tuttle, who staged some of the best bedroom farce stuff ever in MISS BLUEBEARD (Bebe Daniels and Raymond Griffith) does a fine job with more slapstick situational stuff here. Plus Clara is gorgeous and appealing and fiery.

This is a truncated version — the one we saw in Bologna has an extra two reels, courtesy of the researches of David Stenn in the Paramount archives. He introduced the film with Kevin Brownlow and stated his view that the next generation of miraculous film rediscoveries will be those that have been lurking unrecognized in studio vaults all along.

Sample intertitles:

“Excuse me — I didn’t know you were the lady I was kicking!”

And, while Eddie and Clara are dangling from a cliff together: “I’m not in any position to ask you, but when I get on my feet, will you marry me?”