Archive for July 9, 2017

The Sunday Intertitles: Let Slip the Dogs of War

Posted in Dance, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by dcairns

Here’s something I enjoyed again in Bologna — it’s a collaboration between director Segundo de Chomon (Spanish FX genius) and producer Giovanni Pastrone, who previously collaborated on CABIRIA, for which SDC constructed the world’s first purpose-built camera dolly.

I take this film a bit more seriously than some. Made during WWI, on the surface, the movie is fairly Boy’s Own Adventure, with clean-limbed massacres and an uncomplicated portrayal of the Italian forces as good and their Austro-Hungarian opponents as bad (minor-key war atrocities: kicking a woman when she’s down). The stop-motion animation set-piece in the middle has dolls coming to life as in TOY STORY and restaging the War as slapstick. The dolls are indestructible and can even disassemble themselves without suffering.

But I think it’s kind of an anti-war film. First, in the framing story, we see a child being traumatised by his father’s letters from the front, to the point where he has a nightmare about it all. He awakens in distress. The depiction of the war itself is one-sided, simplistic and heroic, as it had to be during WWI, but it at least makes the conflict look dangerous and stresses the peril to innocent civilians.

Then comes the fantasy sequence. By interpolating a title that says one doll is decent, clever and noble and the other is stupid, vicious and lazy, Chomon then gets away with making them completely indistinguishable. Since censors, like critics, are usually more susceptible to words than to the narrative assembly of images (they pounce on SPECIFIC images but are frequently tone-deaf to their cumulative effect), they would be quite satisfied by this.

The battles of Trik and Trak don’t really develop much, since neither character can be harmed. They just escalate, until the war takes over a whole miniature landscape. The amazing program of Il Cinema Ritrovato (a fat BOOK bulging with great writing and glossy images) credits Chomon with superimposing flames and smoke, which is correct — he does so at 35.48, but only briefly. Mostly, he simply cuts between animation and live-action puppetry, allowing his pyrotechnics to go off in real time. It’s really seemless and well worth analysing in detail.

Here’s some random notes I found on my phone, scribble-typed during the Fest ~

Lumiere films. Movie was supposed to be about Milanese boatmen but as they rowed past strenuously in the foreground, our eyes were seized by a tiny figure on the distant bank, tumbling and pratfalling crazily to no obvious purpose. The first photobomber?

Also included was a train exiting a tunnel (one of the staples of entertainment circa 1897), but we were spared the obligatory serpentine dance, listed in the program but screened elsewhen instead.

Though later we were treated to a dog doing a serpentine dance, the greatest thing ever. Shown in a program on Colette, who liked dances and dogs. (Yes, some of the program really is that heroically random.)

It wasn’t this film. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE. The Bologna movie was much more epic. The scene opened on a row of wee dogs on little podiums (podia?) lined up along the bottom of the picture. Then the dancing dog (and trainer? If so, I’ve erased him) totters on, arm extensions wafting its diaphanous gown, real front legs jiggling together at chest level within the confines of its robe like the strange, rigid breasts of Pamela Anderson.

Did the dog enjoy its terpsichorean efforts, or was every pawstep an ordeal? We’ll never know for sure.