Archive for November 20, 2022

The Sunday Intertitle: Lady and Goliath

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2022 by dcairns

1910 seems to be the year the intertitle starts to reign supreme. We get Griffith hitting the beginning of his long stride, the Edison FRANKENSTEIN, in which the intertitles tell you what’s about to happen (the first auto-spoiling movie), the first WIZARD OF OZ…

YouTube’s algorithms suck, so if you ask it for something simple like 1910 film” you get Buster Keaton and stuff, but in between the inappropriate offerings I found DAVID AND GOLIATH FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURE, directed by “M. Andeani” and with stars from the Comedie Francaise, including Miss Berthe Bovy in drag as David, cuddling a pale blue sheep. The titles are in English and may have been added some time after production, for all I know.

The first shot of Goliath cracked me up, somehow. Is it because he’s green? The hand-tinting may have deteriorated a bit over the last 110 years, as who among us has not? But it gives the thing an animated postcard quality that’s endearing.

Little Berthe Versus the Un-Jolly Green Giant is only six and a half minutes long. You ought to watch it.

This one might have benefitted from some auto-spoiling titles, as scene one is a little hard to read — ambitiously, our director, Henri Andréani, introduces Miss David in the foreground, sheep in the midground (mostly pale blue but shading into green where they come too close to the green-hued leading lady — all that grass they’ve eaten, perhaps), and a couple of minor characters approaching in the far distance. Nice composition in depth. Then something or other materialises in the top of frame, David does something with his slingshot, and the weird flying pancake crashes to earth amid his flock, who don’t seem pleased. Only by replaying the sequence did I establish that the something is a giant hawk or eagle, stuffed and predatory, a close match to the inert brute from the hilarious RESCUED FROM AN EAGLE’S NEST (a great auto-spoiling title like A MAN ESCAPED, proving that spoilers needn’t spoil the drama).

I learned about D&G at school and have seen the film with Orson, but I don’t recall ever encountering the Star Trek-ish name Terebinths before. And the movie is disinclined to define the term.

The hand-tinting turns what seems to be a location into an uncanny-Valley-of-the-Terebinths stage set. I’m actually not sure if the hill horizon is a special effect. But enough of the hill is clearly real (people on it) and I doubt they’d construct something like that.

I never understood how the Philistines came to be known for their lack of aesthetic appreciation.

Enter Goliath. Sadly, the Comedie Francaise does not appear to have kept an actual giant on its books, so Goliath has to enter and stand in the foreground, though his Israelite escort are close enough to disprove any claim to a pituitary condition. A schoolteacher once tried to parse the Book of Genesis to us by saying that we don’t know exactly what the Bible meant by “days,” and so the creation of the world in seven days might still be true, even if it also took millions of years. This kind of thing might have a deleterious effect on education. But if we accept the premise, maybe a biblical giant can be anyone with a dramatic posture. I mean, we don’t know what the Bible means by “giant,” do we?

The single combat method of warfare, in which champions do battle, always seemed much more civilized than all-out war. No doubt today it would be televised and would be sickening, but think of the suffering, the resources, the nervous strain it would save. I can only assume the reason nations don’t agree to it is they can’t stand the idea of following rules. If your champion is defeated, why would you give in if you still have a standing army?

If you don’t have a really hulking Goliath, engaging a tiny David is probably your best plan, so the gender-blind casting makes sudden sense. Threats are exchanged, It’s very morally elevating stuff.

Monsieur Andreani is adhering to the one-scene-one-shot method that ruled cinema at the time, and so his battle royale is a little stiff. The lesson of the Bible story seems to be “Don’t bring a sword to a slingshot fight.” David could presumable have used a bow and arrow, a hand grenade or an Uzi — being a giant is actually a disadvantage when you’re fighting long range. You’re just a bigger target.

In this staging, the two opponents are only about six feet apart, mind you.

Fine overacting from the other Philistines when victory is won. A more suitable name for this tribe might be “Hysterics.”

Finally, a new shot — David enters triumphantly on horseback. A promotion, from shepherd(ess) to prince(ss). Fortunately all those skills are transferable. THE END — with a kind of trellis affair and a credit for Miss G. Jousset.

More fun –and shorter — than the Zecca-Nonguet LIFE AND PASSION OF CHRIST film.