Pg. 17, #3

Mackendrick accompanied Relph to Prague to scout locations. As always, his enthusiasm was tireless: Relph describes him “rushing up every steeple in Prague when you could see perfectly well from the ground that it wasn’t any good. But he would never take anybody else’s word.” Mackendrick, for his part, retorts that “Michael is covering up for the fact that he doesn’t like heights. One of the spires was very tall, with a tiny balcony and this terrific bird’s eye view of Prague. I managed to get Michael up the stairs, but when he got outside he turned his face to the wall and wouldn’t turn around. So he never saw the view.”

*

Checkmate. When you were interviewed by Bianco e Nero in 1958 you said that modern directors had eliminated the “problem of the bicycle.”

*

…Morning sunlight at the Onwentsia Club, where Father has just given me a beautiful pony of my own, a retired polo pony. I go riding with a groom from the club’s stables. My retired polo pony is, of course, neck-broken, he works with one hand, but I don’t know this and I must do something with the reins, because abruptly the pony has started back where we came from and I am swinging in the air on the other end of the reins doing the big loop.

*

It was altogether different in those days, because we had no dialogue or anything. I learned a great deal about pantomime from him, people telling the story just by their looks, their eyes and their hands. I learned about movement from him, of course, because most of his pictures were what we always called a “run-to-the-rescue.” That means that the girl is on the railroad tracks, the train is coming, her lover is coming on the horse and he gets her off just as the train goes by. All the pictures in the early days had that.

*

Most of the writers who have contributed to this dictionary belong either to the generation for whom Citizen Kane was the first great revelation of the cinema or to the generation for whom Godard’s A Bout de Souffle performed the same function. But they are alike in one very important respect: neither generation was brought up on silent film. Almost all the writers in the Dictionary discovered silent film after their experience of sound film. This is important, because they are therefore almost obliged to have a different view of montage.

*

The weird part of it is that it never occurred to anyone, including Clark and me, that all this might have had a bad effect on the mood, or on our ability to play a love scene convincingly. But that’s the way it was. The way it always is. The way it is today, on any movie set…

*

Of course, there was the zoo, with caged lions — that was before those ridiculous concrete rocks were built for them — and they made me cry. The seals, on the other hand, seemed to me to be happy; at least they had their water, and kilos of fish thrown to them by a keeper who addressed them only in German.

*

This week I excerpted only film books. It makes it harder to create a crazy mixed-up storyline or conversation, but what surprised me is that the coincidental connections created have little to do with film and more to do with transport.

They are: Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick, by Philip Kemp; Encountering Directors, by Charles Thomas Samuels (being flummoxed by Antonioni); Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges; Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends, by Patrick McGilligan, interviewing Raoul Walsh (pictured) with Debra Weiner about D.W. Griffith; Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Richard Roud, from his introduction; Film Makers Speak, edited by Jan Leyda (the speaker is Mary Astor, referencing Clark Gable); Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be, by Simone Signoret.

6 Responses to “Pg. 17, #3”

  1. Jeff Gee Says:

    Took me four paragraphs to realize what you were up to here. Thought I failed another IQ test for a minute there.

  2. I’ve debated not having asterisks between passages, or not identifying the passages at the end, to make it more mysterious or strange, but then I don’t want to cross the line into being just mean.

  3. dbenson Says:

    “The problem of the bicycle” … A filmic term akin to MacGuffin?

  4. Antonioni, asked about this line from an earlier interview, says, “I wonder what I could have meant by that?” An enduring mystery.

    I can imagine beginning a scholarly article by rebutting MA and saying, “Of all the issues facing modern cinema, the problem of the bicycle remains the most serious.” All I need is a good finish.

  5. The part of that bicycle exchange which is very typical of the Samuels book: even if Antonioni didn’t know what he meant by the problem of the bicycle, Samuels was pretty sure he did know, and he informed Antonioni accordingly. It IS kind of a McGuffin idea, I think — using societal or political/ideological factors as plot triggers.

    My uncle, who was a macher on the distribution/exhibition side of the independent/”art film” world, gave me that book when I was a mere sprout, and some of the exchanges in it, as well as the stills, are long-term memory implants.

  6. The most distinctive tic is Samuels asking everyone he meets to diss Godard, and they all say, “No, he’s great,” except Bergman.

    I’m going to write a piece called The Problem of the Bicycle, I think.

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