Archive for September, 2020

Pg. 17, #17

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2020 by dcairns

Going to the cinema as if it were a lover’s date or a dangerous adventure inside a Stagecoach driven by a hero whom we follow blindly through every metamorphosis.

*

How could a guy enjoy dirty movies with females present? We knew there had to be a catch. There was. This wasn’t an American movie. It was French. That’s why it cost so much. A whole dollar. More than Tempest Storm. Our doubts grew stronger when one of my companions perceptively noted, ‘It says subtitles.’ He made the observation as if he’d discovered a dubious clause in the small print of a contract. ‘That means they put all the talking in words at the bottom of the screen.’

*

A silent film without music — he could have found no better way of describing the weird world in which he now moved. He looked at passing objects and people, but they had no colour, vivacity, meaning — he was mentally deaf to them. They moved like automatons, without volition of their own. He could hear what they said, he could understand their words, he could answer them, even; but he did this automatically, without having to think of what they had said or of what he was saying in return. Therefore, when they spoke it was as though they had not spoken, as though they had moved their lips but remained silent. They had no valid existence; they were not creatures experiencing pleasure or pain. There was, in fact, no sensation, no pleasure or pain at all in this world; there was only himself — his dreary, numbed, dead self.

*

What did he want with the beasts? Why, too, had he pretended they were not his when I had remarked about them at first? Then again, in his personal attendant there was a bizarre quality that impressed me profoundly. These circumstances threw a haze of mystery around the man. They laid hold of my imagination and hampered my tongue.

*

He brought back a male orangutan named Tarzan to serve as the sperm donor. He also revised his plan, deciding to seek out female volunteers. Remarkably, he got a few. One woman cheerily wrote to him that she was willing to surrender her body to science because, “I don’t see any sense in my further existence.” Once again, though, fortune did not favor Ivanov. Tarzan died of a brain hemorrhage in 1929 before the experiment could start, leaving Ivanov apeless. The next year Ivanov was swept up in one of Stalin’s political purges and shipped off to a prison camp. He was released two years later, but died soon thereafter. This, as far as we know, brought an end to his research programme.

*

Soon psychopathology replaced ethnicity as the critical demographic determinant. There were no longer Italian neighborhoods, or Cuban neighborhoods, or Irish of Greek neighborhoods. There were Anorexic neighborhoods, and Narcissistic neighborhoods, and Manic and Compulsive neighborhoods. There was no longer a Columbus Day parade or a Puerto Rico Day parade; there was an Agoraphobics Day parade. Fifth Avenue lined with police barricades, traffic diverted. But, of course, the designated route was empty, utterly desolate, because the paraders, the spectators, even the Grand Marshall himself — agoraphobics each and every one — had all stayed away, each locked within the “safety” of his or her own home.

*

One reason for psychoanalyzing Hitler was to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Stanley Lovell seized upon one of Langer’s ideas — that Hitler might have feminine tendencies — and got permission from the OSS hierarchy to see whether he could push the Führer over the gender line. “The hope was that his moustache would fall off and his voice become soprano,” Lovell wrote. Lovell used OSS’s network to try to slip female sex hormones into Hitler’s food, but nothing apparently came of it. Nor was there ever any payoff to other Lovell schemes to blind Hitler permanently with mustard gas or to use a drug to exacerbate his suspected epilepsy. They main problem in these operations — all of which were tried — was to get Hitler to take the medicine. Failure of the delivery schemes also kept Hitler alive — OSS was simultaneously trying to poison him.

*

The final seven passages from seven page seventeens in seven books, reached down from quite high on my shelving.

Bertolucci by Bertolucci, by Donald Ranvaud & Enzo Ungari (whose authorship kinda makes a liar of their title); Flicker, by Theodore Roszak; Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton; The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells; Elephants on Acid and other Bizarre Experiments, by Alex Boese;  My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, by Mark Leyner; The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control, by John Marks.

Conrad Veidt: The Sound Years. Part 2 – Der Mann, der den Mord beging/The Man Who Murdered 1931

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2020 by dcairns

Hello. I’m Fiona Watson, Mrs Shadowplay, and I’m back to carry out my threat to review Conrad Veidt’s sound career, in chronological order, or at least, the order listed on the IMDb. Because there’s far more to him than the kohl-smeared, expressionist flailer of the Silent Era.

I would have liked to review EA Dupont’s Menschen im Käfig/ Men(People) In A Cage/ The Love Storm 1930, shot in England at British International Pictures (made in English as Cape Forlorn), but I can’t because this film is listed as missing. (The English language version ISN’T missing) What I can offer you instead, is the opinion of an unknown journalist in Variety who writes, ‘Conrad Veidt still has much of the demon whom the little girls once upon a time used to adore, therefore unreal and posing.’ Short of nipping into a time machine to a screening in Berlin at Gloria Palast, there’s nothing I can do to refute this opinion.

So, here we are in 1931, and it’s a busy, busy time for Connie. The Last Company 1930 was a big hit in Germany and would herald his brief stint as an almost conventional leading man. In this year alone, he had four films released. Unfortunately, Die Nacht Der Entscheidung aka Der General/The Night Of The Decision is missing presumed lost, which is a great pity.

The English language version, The Virtuous Sin 1930, was directed by George Cukor, who Connie would later work with on A Woman’s Face. The 1931 German version gave us Connie doing romantic dramedy (Yes. I know!) whilst looking dashing as a WW1 Russian General. Unfortunately, there’s probably more chance of finding the jaunty Cossack hat he wears in it than the film itself. Could someone please make an effort etc…

Actually there is a way of recreating this lost movie. Just watch the Cukor version and imagine Connie in the Walter Huston role and Olga Tschechowa in the Kay Francis role. You can thank me later. Especially when you imagi-create the bit on the seesaw.

But back to the mainstream of this evening’s symposium. The Man Who Murdered is an adaptation of a play by Pierre Frondaie, itself based on a novel by Claude Farrère. It’s a slow-moving, technically impressive, if not exactly riveting drama, reuniting Veidt with Kurt Bernhardt who helmed The Last Company. Bernhardt was one of the directors who seemed to get the best out of Connie. He gives one of the most restrained performances of his life in this film. It’s notable for its naturalness and detail.

SYNOPSIS – Just before the First World War, the Marquis de Sévigné (Veidt), a French military attaché stationed in Istanbul, falls in love with Lady Mary (Trude von Molo – who was married to the director at the time), the wife of Lord Falkland (Heinrich George), a boorish, English aristocrat. He tries to protect her when the marriage, crumbling under Falkland’s infidelity and tyranny, is given the final death blow when he threatens to separate her from her small son, Georgie. Sévigné is put in an intolerable position. What lengths will he go to to save her?

Open on the vistas of Istanbul, shot on location by the second unit, headed by the great John Alton. Long shot of the dome of the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Match dissolve to painting of the same dome being hung on the wall in Connie’s apartments. Nicely done Kurt! Kurt is also keen on long tracking shots, and he really indulges himself in this movie. Very lovely they are too.

It’s a long way to Connie’s table, isn’t it?

On to performance. Something I’ve noticed about Talkie Connie is that he’s no longer gesticulating and gurning and throwing himself around like a madman, but he’s still a very physical actor.

He’s become elegant and balletic in his body movements, while his face is extremely expressive without him having to pop his eyes or leer. Even in the not-very-good, soft-focus print I saw, he conveys so much with his face and body. As I said in my introductory essay, A Face You Can’t Forget But Apparently Have, he’s pared his silent style down to the bare minimum, whilst simultaneously taking on board a whole new set of sound acting rules.

Check this out. Look at the way he turns round, well, it’s more like swings round and at the same time the smile falls off his face. (He’s expecting to see his lady love but it’s someone else.) His body movements are completely in sync with his face. The arms drop as the smile drops. Beautiful.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that in all his performances, his hands are rarely at rest. They’re almost always doing something, usually in an extremely aesthetically pleasing way. It’s as if he’d become completely paralysed if he couldn’t move his hands. He’s one of the great Hand Actors of all time. But it’s not fussy (although hilarious), Donald Pleasance Hanky Acting; it just seems to flow out of him naturally.

Just a very sweet moment of Sévigné interacting with Georgie. In real life Connie adored children and animals. Yes, that incorrigible Nazi and Expressionist nightmare was an adorable giggler.

If I could just go off on a tangent, I spoke before about Connie possibly having had ADHD. As I have it myself I was intrigued by this fan theory so I spent some time researching it. I think it’s very likely, although I’m wary about retroactively diagnosing someone when we’ll never know the truth.

One of the things that persuades me is that he’s physically restless. He’s either shifting about from one foot to the other, bouncing on the spot or swaying slightly. By a supreme effort of will he can make himself move in slow motion or even be as still as a statue. But his default setting on screen is movement.

And never more so than with his hands. He’s always using them to emphasise things. He points a lot and fidgets with objects. He touches his face or head, running his fingers through his hair, or bringing his fingers up to his lips contemplatively. Sometimes he’ll even rub his lips or pull on them. He also touches people, invading their personal space in a slightly alarming way. If he didn’t do it so charmingly you’d probably punch his lights out.

Famously, his hands had a life of their own in Orlacs Hände.

I’ve noticed that I employ very similar hand gestures when I’m talking myself. If I get very excited, my arms start flailing around like a windmill. I observed this inability to speak without moving my hands when I started making video essays with David and had to record voice-overs. I was completely stilted if I didn’t move my hands, but if I allowed them to weave about in the air, as I usually do when I talk, my speech was much more fluid.

I’d go as far as saying that ADHD informed Connie’s performances. There’s an energy and restive quality to him that’s sometimes ruthlessly controlled and sometimes not. I know that in his private life he suffered from extreme emotional dysregulation which is another dead giveaway.

There’s also his boyishness. Individuals with ADHD are very enthusiastic and childlike, sometimes to the point of seeming manic or high. All of these things were present in Connie and would sometimes pop out in his performances. The next time you watch him, especially in Contraband (especially especially in the “Which Button Would You Press?” scene with Hay Petrie), where he basically plays himself. I’m not wrong.

From 1:18:28 to 1:19:05 – In all probability, this is a representation of the real Connie getting flustered in a lift. Bless ‘im. Thanks to Dubjax 30.

Another thing I observed, much to my horror, is that The Entire World is Connie’s ashtray. He’ll casually tap cigarette ash wherever he is, indoors or outdoors, with or without an ash receptacle. And he does this in most of his sound films. Were other actors doing this at the time? I haven’t thought to look. I pray to god he wasn’t like this at home, but I fear he was.

His wife Lilli described him as “messy, things lying about all over the place”, when he wasn’t working, but the moment he had a job, he’d spring into action, tidying up and organising like a six-foot-three whirlwind.

Back in the film, the six-foot-three whirlwind confesses his love to Lady Mary, but inexplicably, she’s shagging a braying idiot called Prince Cernuwicz (Gregori Chmara) because she thought he could help her keep her son. Everyone’s getting their leg over except Connie. Even the repulsive Lord Falkland is having an affair with his cousin, Lady Edith (Friedl Haerlin).

The repellent Prince Cernuwicz and the repulsive Lord Falkland.
*thinks* I don’t even know what you’re doing to your wife at this juncture in the film and I want to murder you right now!

I feel I should caution you that there are tits in this film, which surprised me. The mammaries had no particularly surprising attributes of their own. It was their being in such an early talkie that startled me. Falkland, Cernuwicz and Sévigné all go out on the town. (Sévigné actually wants to gather evidence against “that bulldog.”) They end up in a bizarre cabaret that combines striptease with the circus trapeze: Stripeze if you will. Confronted by nipples and asked what he thinks of them, Connie, cunningly blending in with his mucky pretend mates declares them to be “Excellent.”

Watching ‘Stripeze’, the wildly popular combo of stripping and the flying trapeze. It’s not as exciting as that sounds.

There’s an interesting moment where Mary and Sévigné have a secret tryst where she tells him all about the terrible situation she’s in. They deliberately walk away from where the mic is hidden and walk back again, so the conversation fades away to nothing then fades up again. It’s not a successful effect but it does show us that Bernhardt wasn’t afraid to experiment.

Connie doesn’t even get a kiss for all the trouble he goes through for this wretched woman, that trouble being murder as the title suggests. And here we come to Connie Trope No 1 – He doesn’t get the girl. No matter how noble and devoted to duty he’s been, he can never end up in a final clinch with the woman of his dreams. This trope would be repeated many times over in his filmography.

The woman of his dreams avec son.

The dark deed done, he reports to his superior, hinting at the deadly truth of the matter. He’s told to skedaddle off to another city, which he duly does, leaving a note for Milady. It’s been a somewhat turgid melodrama with beautiful cinematography, some nice tracking shots and a delicate, yearning, elegant performance from Veidt, and now this. That’s it! That’s the end of the film! Talk about an anti-climax. Still, at least he gets to live! Just not in Istanbul Not Constantinople. The Connie Death Scene is a trope for another day.

Mylady, I have the honour to bid you farewell. I am leaving Stanbul. I take this opportunity to thank you. Your most devoted servant, de Sevigne. PS – I’m The Man Who Murdered your husband. PPS – I’m too noble for my own good. Next time you need someone murdered, do it yourself. xxx

As I researched this rather dreary thing, I uncovered a wealth of information about the talents involved in making it. Henry Koster as Hermann Kosterlitz, is listed as one of the screenwriters. He’s probably most famous as the director of Harvey and The Bishop’s Wife, but check out his hugely dramatic and entertaining IMDB Bio, Trivia and Quotes sections. “I thought Richard Burton was a wonderful man. He still is a wonderful man, no matter how many times he marries Elizabeth Taylor.” Amazing.

And then we have one of the other screenwriters, Carl Mayer, listed as working on dialogue. Yes. THAT Carl Mayer. The man who co-wrote The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari and worked on the scripts for Journey Into The Night, The Haunted Castle, The Last Laugh, and Sunrise, all for FW Murnau.

Bringing up the rear are cinematographer Curt Courant who shot the first The Man Who Knew Too Much, and The Passing Of The Third Floor Back (one of the best of the bunch of Connie’s British Period), Editor Laslo Benedek who directed The Wild One, and Hermann Warm, who was Art Director/Production Designer on The Student Of Prague 1926 (Connie version), Caligari, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc and Vampyr.

Phew! And relax…

Join me as we explore the next film in the little discussed Veidt sound filmography, Die andere Seite/ The Other Side, in which German actors all play British soldiers in an adaptation of R. C Sherriff’s Journey’s End.

Danke.

The Sunday Intertitle: A Man Called Chaffin or Something

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2020 by dcairns

Chaplin again — again directed by Henry “Pathe” Lehrman in 1914. A lot of rubbish about an umbrella. Ford Sterling is an obnoxious clown, and Chaplin, billed as “masher” on the IMDb, gets to be comparatively gentlemanly, though this mainly expresses itself in the way he repeatedly hits FS in the face with a brick.

Chaplin doesn’t have his cane here, since it would clash with the brolly. He DID have it in the earlier MABEL’S STRANGE PREDICAMENT and KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE, however.

KARAV for years was thought to be the Tramp’s first appearance, but it’s his second, although CC has wiped all the old-age/horror make-up, worn in MABEL’S SP, off his face this time and is a kind of truculent protagonist rather than a menacing drunken villain, so a case could still be made for KARAV being the Tramp’s debut. As has been pointed out, he emerges from the mass of the public, an audience member with ideas above his station, which seems perfect. He also starts immediately making his director’s life hell, which is what was going on behind the scenes too. The untalented pretender Lehrman (who never worked for Pathe) appears as himself, a bad-tempered filmmaker who doesn’t want to have to deal with this interloper.

I’ll say this for H(P)L, the closeup at the end, though alarming, is a nice touch.

Around this time, Chaplin also appeared as an officious and violently-inclined short-arsed Keystone Kop in A THIEF CATCHER. Then, for the first time, he was the title character in A FILM JOHNNIE, which also has him as a troublesome audience member.

Chaplin spends the last penny in his sock-purse (an accoutrement also sported by Ralph Fiennes in Cronenberg’s SPIDER) to see THE CHAMPION DRIVER, a film whose existence I am unable to confirm — I would have assumed the thrifty Mack Sennett would have taken this opportunity to plug one of his other pictures — because he is enamoured of the leading lady, Peggy Pearce.

Once in the auditorium, Chaplin is unable to control his movements or his emotions, to the annoyance of other patrons including the prostooganist from MABEL’S SP. Bafflingly, THE CHAMPION DRIVER turns out to be a Civil War epic highly reminiscent of BIRTH OF A NATION, not released until the following year. Maybe that time-traveller with the cell phone from the premiere of CITY LIGHTS helped Sennett out. Or maybe Sennett had a bunch of leftover Civil War footage he was looking to monetize.

Within a matter of frames, the appearance of serious epic historical drama is replaced by a bunch of Kop types in the uniforms of North and South battering one another silly with the butts of their muskets, and Charlie has soaked his now-vacant sock, and the crotch of his baggy pants, with tears, so deeply moved is he.

When “the Keystone girl” appears she’s in modern dress, so I guess this is a program of varied short subjects (features not yet being the rage). Now Charlie, enacting a bumpkin stereotype lampooned in some of the earliest films, becomes overwrought, unable to tell cinema from reality, and is ejected into the street.

The two other films showing, I note, aren’t Keystone releases, but Mutual, the company where Chaplin would wind up making his best shorts, after an intervening stint at Essanay.

Charlie now plays starstruck fan, an outsider at Keystone, flattering the major players (Fatty, Ford) and begging for dimes. The studio door is slammed in his face. The director doesn’t want “any bums around here.” But after some confusing jump-splices Charlie gets inside.

I wrote about this one before but mainly because of all the swastikas.

The inside of the studio — the unsound stage — is a big greenhouse. There are painted flats simulating different locations, among which the first we see represents — a big greenhouse. The phrase “wasted effort” does spring to mind, as so often with Sennett comedies.

Chaplin immediately finds slapstick opportunities in this world where the walls and furniture keep moving around. He was a flailing blunderer even in the stable environment of the movie house, so this place is really beyond his ability to navigate. This is the closest we get to vintage Chaplin, but time or an impatient editor seem to have truncated the knockabout.

The director of this one is George Nichols — Chaplin’s second director. He didn’t like him any more than H(P)L. Both these guys appear here, but the role of the movie director is played by the great Edgar Kennedy, according to the IMDb. His movements — rage and frustration in gesticulatory form — are more recognizable than his young, barely-formed face. He has hair! That’s just blatantly wrong.

The studio set-up could easily have provided enough gags and conflict for a full two-reeler, so it’s rather a pity that the film rushes off to attend a housefire, to little comic effect. The Keystone “it’s got to move” philosophy would cheerfully have a film up sticks from a promising situation in order to race off to a less interesting one, and that, as well as the rapidity with which the films were churned out, would increasingly annoy Chaplin…

As with KARAV, we end with a single on CC, and he does a favourite trick, the old twist-the-ear-to-make-water-squirt-out gag. Henri Bergson used to say that comedy comes from human beings behaving in a mechanical way, and Chaplin often seems to go out of his way to confirm this.