Jimmy the Gent

ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE continued.

The flat view of the wall and windows, and the flat white backing provided by the sky (or a white screen, if it’s artifice, as seems probable), makes for a striking angle. Like the silhouette plays in the same director, Maurice Tourneur’s THE BLUE BIRD and later THE HAND OF THE DEVIL.

Then we have the high angle maze shot MT would return to in JUSTIN DE MARSEILLE (in that film, crooks are chased through the crooked corridors created by heaps of baggage in a railway station, as I recall).

Making this movie a compendium of effects MT would revisit, already in the first five and a half minutes. But let’s press on.

The camera pans but remains aloof aloft. The cast go into theatrical poses conveying ACUTE WATCHFULNESS, and then a very stark light is switched on to outline the thieves in what we might think of as an expressionistic manner, except that expressionism has not yet been come up with in the German cinema.

What the hell, it’s late, I’m tired, sidetracks are tempting…

There are two ways to approach a scene (both wrong, probably)… you can treat it as a unique dramatic opportunity and try to distinguish it with an individual visual idea… or you can apply your style to the entire film, in a oner (for instance, wide lenses, deep focus, chiaroscuro, long takes). You can of course mix and match these approaches and most directors worth their salt probably do. Tourneur here goes beyond the first option, coming up with MULTIPLE striking visual ideas per scene.

Another sidetrack: it’s my view that nearly everything is expressionist these days, if you’re looking at bringing out the emotion of a scene through filmic choices. Putting music on something, or using sound atmospherically, is inherently expressionist. Atmosphere = expressionism. Before CALIGARI, this was less apparent, but you could say that even Griffith’s pacey cutting was an expressionistic technique avante la lettre. You make the audience feel the excitment of a dramatic chase by editing it in an exciting way. And though the Russian montage school is seen as a different historical beast altogether, you can view it (as I do) as a different way of achieving related goals.

The high angle works great for a while, then MT starts breaking it up with quick cuts — a lamp is smashed — this starts a dog barking — the security guard reacts — the lookout fidgets.

The guard gets off his fat ass and investigates, throwing a switch to change the tinting from blue to amber, then plodding through the same high angle maze, with the crooks closing in on him from behind and ahead. They pounce, he draws his gun, and the chase reverses itself, a run and gun maze scene rendered hazy with gunsmoke.

And I finally noticed that it says 21 on the wall calendar. And this is the 21st! I’m glad I decided to fit in a blog post.

The guard blows his whistle at that window, the kops immediately arrive and nab the lookout, allowing Jimmy and the gang to escape.

TBC

3 Responses to “Jimmy the Gent”

  1. Will be checking out Tourneur soon! Since you’re my favourite writer om silent films, have you seen any by August Blom, who seems to be another forgotten master?

  2. I haven’t — something to look forward to! Thanks for the tip, and the high praise.

  3. Just finished Alias Jimmy Valentine and Figures de Cire, and they’re worthy of the high praise. That overhead shot described is a stunner, but there’s plenty of fantastic visual stuff going on, in terms of its quick intercutting, the shadowplay, and two really surprising features: his use of seemingly natural overlghting (particularly in daytime scenes), and an interesting habit of introducing his characters in the middle of signature poses, or having them subtly play on one stylized trait per scene to give it character. Really remarkable visuals in both of them. I’m eager for Lorna Doone, Trilby and Victory next1

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