Archive for January 27, 2019

The Sunday Intertitle: All Done with Mirrors

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 27, 2019 by dcairns

An intertitle written by the young Tay Garnett for Stan Laurel’s SOMEWHERE IN WRONG (1925). Stan plays a tramp in this, but does not essay a Chaplin impersonation, despite having understudied the Great Man. He’s more in the spirit of American hobodom, rural rather than urban, intent on snaffling doughnuts cooling on a sill while evading a watchdog…

Still, it seems like pallid stuff at first. Stan falls down and animated stars emanate from his head — this rotoscoping effect seems to be something he was addicted to at the time. Stan always had a cartoon side at war with his more “realistic” human sensibility, breaking out in those fantasy gags where he uses his thumb as a Zippo, or the grotesque physical distortions of Ollie’s body (which used to horrify me as a kid).

Then, midway, some brilliance does start to emerge. Stan is tempted to break into a safe.

He reaches for the handle, eyes watching the door. But, as in some fever dream, his fingers grasp at the safe but find no purchase. Stan, still looking the other way, can’t figure out what’s going wrong, and repeatedly snatches at thin air. Finally he confronts the problem head on ~

There’s your problem! It wasn’t a safe, merely the reflection of one on the far wall. Stan was trying to break into a mirror.

The perspectival trick involved wouldn’t deceive anybody in real life, of course: it depends on very careful placement of the camera, the mirror, and the real safe, which is MUCH too far away in reality (the opposite side of a medium-size room) to fit snugly into the looking-glass as it appears to in this shot. But it’s an EXCELLENT gag. I don’t know how you even begin to think of something like that.

Well, I know step one.

Step one: be Stan Laurel.

But as to what step two is, I couldn’t tell you.