Archive for August, 2019

The Sunday Intertitle: The Life-Awakening Word

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 18, 2019 by dcairns

The answer: Eureka! Masters of Cinema can.

These Gothic script English-language intertitles will soon be replaced by the original German jobs when we get to see the 4K restoration from the film’s rediscovered negative. This will also give us better camera placement — it’s basically a different film from the the English-language edition that’s been available all these years. Two cameras recorded the action, one for the German release and one for foreign territories, with the German one naturally taking priority for the prime viewing position.

I’m curious as to whether we’ll now get to see any of the missing camera movement or special effects which co-director Carl Boese recalled in his interview with Lotte Eisner. I suspect a lot of that is just faulty memory, but maybe not?

The phase “Thessalonian sorceror” would make a pretty good shibboleth.

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The Do-Over

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2019 by dcairns

Firstly, don’t read this if you haven’t seen ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD yet and are planning to. I will discuss the ending. The first review I read was in The Guardian where they coyly described it as “audacious” and said they could reveal no more, and I immediately flashed on what it could be and was correct.

Oh, potential spoilers for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and GRAVITY also.

Fiona turned to me with her adorable WTF? face when this one revealed its hand, an expression I recall from the similar moment in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (and from GRAVITY, where it seemed, in the moment, impossible that a certain actor could be exiting the picture midway). But she explained afterwards that it wasn’t that her mind was blown by this twist, but that Tarantino was brazenly recycling the twist from IB (“What we must never do,” says Jake Hannaford, that wise and wizened old goat, “is steal from ourselves.”)

“What’s the POINT?” she wanted to know.

First section of movie: skilled recreation of 1969 LA. Some very good lookalikes and performances from people playing Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen (sympathetic here, “an asshole” in Polanski’s opinion, and I take him to be a fine judge of that quality with special insight), Connie Stevens (!), James Stacy (?), Charles Manson, though they needed a Polanski who looks more like a twelve-year-old (though Rafal Zawierucha does good Polanskian grunts of disgust). Product placement of defunct and/or fictional products. An evocation of the plight of the actor on the slide, both sympathetic and skeptical. Numerous lingering and lascivious shots of young girls’ feet.

Paul Duane, on Twitter, seemed to like the same parts of the film I did, and noted: “I was relieved about one thing: no grandstanding QT monologues.” Well, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) gets one grandstanding m., but it’s supposed to make us want to see him get punched, so yes, that does feel like QT has figured something out about the way audiences process the grandstanding m.

Incidentally, this is a very white film. Which makes the casual racism (“Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans”) harder to excuse — sure, I buy it as accurate to the period, but it also means the film can be enjoyed by racists without anything to give them cognitive dissonance and we have TWO scenes of white, fair-haired people defeating Chinese people in fights — Brad Pitt and the actual Sharon Tate in THE WRECKING CREW, knocking out Nancy Kwan. Though I was glad of the cutaways of Lee training the movie’s Tate (Margot Robbie), which allows him to close out his role on a positive note, like Travolta in PULP FICTION, who buts for that film’s playful structure would make his concluding appearance dead on the toilet with an inferior paperback thriller by his side.

For about the ninth time running, I was disturbed by Tarantino’s compulsion to make his characters assholes. His impulse to save the inhabitants of Cielo Drive is sort of sweet, sort of adolescent, but certainly tainted by the way he does it — with an alternate, counter-historical bloodbath, a cathartic outburst of movie violence, performed by a hippy-hating alcoholic actor and a possible wife-killer.

Leo’s character gets an ego-boosting compliment from a child actor — and doesn’t return the compliment. Is it because he’s an asshole and QT wants us to notice that, or because he didn’t think about it? Hard to know.

Tarantino said at the time of NATURAL BORN KILLERS that he hated serial killers and thought the right thing to do was execute them, and he hated them even worse for that because he was in all other respects opposed to the death penalty. I can understand that.

I think what’s going on with these alt histories is maybe that Tarantino hates the Holocaust and the Manson killings because they take the fun out of fictional violence, if you really think about them. So wouldn’t it be nice to replace them with fictional violence, take a fantasy revenge on the perpetrators, numb the pain of the real-world horror? Well, no. The only part of this I can approve of is the undercutting of the pseudo-catharsis with fantastical absurdity (the handy flame thrower in the garage), reminding us, in Bokononist fashion, that we’re being given a comforting lie.

MY version of a happy ending to this story would be one in which NOBODY gets hurt. I can feel the visceral energy of the manic gonzo mayhem but I don’t want it or need it in this context.

I think I can get another post out of this movie’s movie allusions, though… so I will.

Plagiarism Corner

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2019 by dcairns

“However, the Golem sets are far removed from the Caligari designs. The houses with their stiff, very tall, very narrow gables recall authentic medieval buildings; the design is a barely abstract interpretation of an unsanitary and overpopulated ghetto. In addition, and this is another contrast in expressionist films, a formal correlation exists between the sets and the costumes. Here the high gables parallel the Jews’ pointed hats.”

I really love Caligari’s Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design by Leon Barsacq, quoted above. It’s one of the first proper film books I owened, along with Brownlow’s Hollywood: The Pioneers. I sold both books at some point, then bought replacements because I felt I needed to own them.

So I was kind of scandalized when, researching DER GOLEM for a forthcoming piece, I stumbled upon the following passage in Lotte Eisner’s earlier The Haunted Screen ~

“This explains why the sets of The Golem are far removed from those of Caligari. The original Gothic forms are still somehow latent in these houses with their steeply-pitched thatched roofs. Their angular, oblique outlines, their teetering bulk, their hollowed steps, seem the none too unreal image of a distressingly insanitary and overpopulated ghetto where people actually live. The narrow gables are somehow echoed in the pointed hats and wind-blown goatees of the Jews, the excited fluttering of their hands, their raised arms clutching at the empty yet restricted space.”

Both works are translated: Roger Greaves did Eisner’s English-language version, Barsacq (a talented production designer) was translated by Michael Bullock and his book revised and edited by Elliott Stein. I strongly suspect that if you go back to the French editions, the phrases “a barely abstract interpretation of” and “the none too unreal image of ” will come out identical, proving not only that Eisner is a better writer than Barsacq, but that her translator is better than his translator.

It was the bit about the beards that made me realize I’d read these thoughts before. It’s a bit tenous, the beard argument, not one of Lotte’s finest.

Oh well, maybe this is becoming an OCCASIONAL SERIES, since I already gave Bogdanovich crap for recycling another journalist’s interview with Leo McCarey. If I reread all my favourite film books will I find a pilfered passage in each? How disillusioned can you get?