Archive for January, 2021

The Sunday Intertitle: Foreword is Forewarned

Posted in FILM with tags , on January 31, 2021 by dcairns

It was a lovely party up until that guy shot the Japanese houseboy with a blowpipe.

The houseboy’s name was a wild coincidence connecting to my current project, but I can’t talk about that.

Anyway, this is episode two of THE RETURN OF CHANDU — we haven’t totally given up on it. Sneaking peeks at what’s coming up in future episodes, it seems to get livelier/more spectacular.

Anyway, Bela/Uncle Frank/Chandu has this houseboy who’s in league with the fiendish Ubasti cult. You’d think the agency would vet for these things. Placing his cultish help in a hypnotic trance, Chandu attempts to get the facts from him, but a shrubbery-lurking blow-pipe fiend interrupts the session.

The sense that this serial is quite slow-moving is greatly enhanced by the fact that this entire five-minute sequence appears in Ep. 1 and is then repeated in Ep. 2 as a recap, in case we’d forgotten, or just particularly like seeing domestics get shot with darts.

Anyway, before losing a valued if unfaithful servant, Chandler/Chandu learns that the Ubasti cult are headquartered near a dead tree, the kind of information a crime-solving magician might make much use of, one imagines.

Frank has a nice sit-down with Princess Nadji, in which exposition is patiently doled out. I have already forgotten it. But that’s OK — it’s time to meet the baddies.

The bad guys have the Princess drugged, placed in a sarcophagus, and abducted. The middle part seems like gilding the lily, somehow, but I guess it counts as local colour. This is all happening in Los Angeles, by the way, so it’s not as implausible as it might be.

Chandu and his dull young sidekick go out for a drive, keeping a lookout for a dead tree. They go into a skid somewhere on what looks to be Mulholland Drive, and that’s supposed to be our cliffhanger.

Still, Chandu has quite an attractive office, doesn’t he?


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2021 by dcairns

I showed my students a bit of the dream sequence from STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) as part of a class on expressionism — my ultimate aim being to break down the barriers between classic German expressionism — painted shadows — film noir — real shadows — and modern dramatic cinematic storytelling which seeks to MAKE THE SCENE LOOK AND SOUND AND FEEL a certain way, often the way the characters feel.

What popped out in viewing the sequence in isolation, along with Nicholas Musuraca’s jagged lighting, was the hammy expostulating of all the supporting characters. I mused/bullshitted that maybe, just maybe, this was all a deliberate choice by director Boris Ingster, who after all went on to produce The Man from UNCLE and so couldn’t, presumably, have been a complete fool. Dreams, I mused, are unconvincingly acted. But just as our bodies are paralysed during sleep, so are our rational-critical faculties, so we are forced to accept whatever nonsense we’re served, like kids in front of Saturday morning TV. It’s only on waking that we say, “That was bizarre.”

Orson Welles, who did much to popularize the striking graphic look that STRANGER throws out, was expert at this dream affect, both in the general atmosphere of THE TRIAL, and in moments of LADY FROM SHANGHAI — the way both Glenn Anders (on the cliff in Rio) and Rita Hayworth (in the mirror maze) stare, seemingly blindly, at Welles, catches something about the autistic performance style of the people we meet in dreams, whether strangers or alien simulacra of loved ones.

And when I re-viewed STRANGER in full as part of our weekend watch party, I was pleased to see that the acting in the surrounding scenes was more traditionally “good.” Peter Lorre was fantastically idiosyncratic and uncanny, but not cartoonish, and the leads, the more traditionally photogenic John McGuire and Margaret Tellichet, though a little bland and earnest, were every bit as convincing as the story needed them to be. The supporting players were reliable types like Elisha Cook, Charles Halton and Ethel Griffies (the ornithologist in THE BIRDS) and they manage to find a mid-ground in their acting style so that without seeming to change character completely in the dream, they can slot into its oneiric stiltedness and get with the program.

One of the Last Three

Posted in FILM on January 29, 2021 by dcairns


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