The Pentecostal McIntertitle

Tartan intertitles never really caught on. Tartan intertitles that rhyme are basically a one-off, confined to the forty-one minutes and thirty-four seconds of THE LADY OF THE LAKE, adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem.

The opening shot is a spectacular vista of a loch, with a gentleman in period dress in the foreground. The gent turns out to be Percy Marmont, who was in Hitchcock’s RICH AND STRANGE and Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT and here looks about ready for Hitchcock’s COLD AND UNCOMFORTABLE. In attempting to make his way out of the foreground, he stumbles rather badly, and limps from view looking embarrassed and cross. That memorable phrase from Brownlow’s Cinema Europe doc, referring to another Brit epic, comes to mind — well, I can’t remember it exactly, but bits of it come to mind, and form something like the phrase, “a re-take was evidently considered altogether too ambitious.”

I stress, this is the leading man tripping over in the opening shot.

Percy Marmont gave his name to the Chateau Marmont, by the way. Indirectly, but still.

But the film improves a fair bit, seeming at least professional. The poetry is bloody awful, though. I found myself wondering why Scott has a giant monument on Edinburgh’s main street when his verse is so crappy. Then I did my due diligence on Project Gutenberg and established that the doggerel intertitles have nothing to do with Scott at all… except for those that do (above). Elsewhere, the language has been made less archaic, lines of text have been repurposed as dialogue, and the desired effect of terseness combined with windiness has been achieved with all the inelegance one could wish for.

I remember when Demi Moore appeared in THE SCARLET LETTER she got a lot of stick for saying that it was based on a book (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) nobody ever read nowadays. And the criticism was justified, mainly because who promotes their movie by saying it’s based on something unreadable and worthless? (She should have pointed out that the classic Lillian Gish movie took just as many liberties — some books offer cinematic possibilities without, in their fundamentals, being suited to faithful adaptation…) If the cast and crew had been forced to  read the book, which would have taken some of them just as long as filming it, they would have learned more, and we would have been spared seeing the film. But still, there are some important old literary works that nobody reads for pleasure. Carl Hiassen’s Striptease, for example…

I have read precisely one short story by Scott, which I found turgid. In fairness, he was a pretty early adopter of the novel form. His verse is a lot better than the chopped-up intertitular fragments here suggest, because it’s partly in the excess wordiness of his raptures over highland scenery that he gets his effects over. And the film just deletes all that in favour of photography.

Percy seems rather effete for his role as a bold Scottish hero. I don’t think Benita Hume was Scottish either, though maybe she was descended from David Hume?


Note the spare intertitles hung up here and there to cover cracks in the walls.

Also, the sheep gathered around the dining table for guests to sit on. Sheep are so plentiful in the highlands that furniture is rarely bothered with. These ovine dining chairs have the added advantage that, if your plate is emptied, you can simply carve off some mutton from under you and add it to your “tatties.” After a heavy meal, you might find yourself sitting on the floor.

The legs of the table are made from barber’s poles, a typical Scottish economy measure. “If they didnae want us to hae them, they shouldnae leave them oot in the street!”


2 Responses to “The Pentecostal McIntertitle”

  1. GSPegger Says:

    I have never liked Demi Moore, and her opinion of Nathaniel Hawthorne just gives me more reason to ignore her career (if she still has one). I admire greatly Hawthorne’s voice. A sort of ironic detachment that quietly mocks his Puritan ancestors. Not unlike the tone of your delightful essay on The Lady of the Lake.

  2. Aw thanks! Have never been compared to Nathaniel Hawthorne before, and don’t expect it to be a regular occurrence.

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