Archive for the Comics Category

Window Blind

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2023 by dcairns

I’m delighted to have a local second-hand bookstore one street away, and even more delighted that it’s called The Community Bookstore, since that was also the name of my neighbo(u)rhood bookstore in Brooklyn when I’ve stayed there for brief spurts. The CB sprang up just after the sad closure of the All-You-Can Eat Bookshop, and has been a similarly pleasurable drain on my income.

One thing I bought lately is Coin-Op Comics Anthology 1997-2017, by Peter Hoey + Maria Hoey — it has John Dahl and Peggy Cummings from GUN CRAZY on the cover, in a cartoon copy of a still I once turned into a painting when I was a misguided art student, so you could say it was AIMED AT me.

What made me buy the reassuringly sold hardback, which cost more than my £2 auto-purchase threshold (if it’s under £2 and looks promising, I’ll buy it, regardless of whether I’m likely to actually READ it), was finding a strip in there which mashes together REAR WINDOW and UN CHIEN ANDALOU to create a terrifying Lynchian nightmare.

When I was a misguided art student I also dabbled in comics, and so in my current incarnation as film cricket I’m interested in the conjunction of comics and movies — not in comic strip adaptations of the MCU variety, nor in comic adaptations of feature films, but in comics as a means of film cricketism criticism. I enjoyed Edinburgh-based Edward Ross’s Filmish, which transfers film studies as it is taught at most universities into didactic strip-cartoon form, in something like the style of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, but Coin-Op is doing something weirder. It’s not officially film analysis, and yet somehow it is.

Just by folding together the Bunuel-Dali short and the Hitchcock feature, the piece naturally uncovers similarities and differences. Both films come to feel like explorations of the Kuleshov Effect: Hitchcock supposedly reused a closeup of Jimmy Stewart in two wildly different contexts, and delightedly screened the results to his star, to prove how performance can be superseded or subverted by cutting. The Spanish expats short-circuit the audience’s tendency to relate to POV characters by showing Pierre Batcheff reacting in very vivid and very inappropriate ways to the strange things he sees from his window. CHIEN actually feels as if a bunch of random reaction shots have been spliced together with equally random POVs in order to mess with our minds.

These thoughts are prompted by the weird, creepy story (poor Jimmy!) the Hoeys (Hoeyii? — a brother and sister team working on opposite US seaboards) concoct, rather than being embedded in it as text. They also do a piece on Orson Welles which isn’t quite as successful but is VERY interesting, and a more conventional biopicstrip of Nick Ray. Also lots of beautifully laid out and surreal non-cinema material.

The drawing can seem a little clenched — very few comics artists can do celebrity likenesses in a relaxed style, the way the best caricaturists manage. The lines are mechanically even, not offering the lively variation of nib or brush. But these movie mash-up narratives hint at a whole new way of doing film criticism, more worthy of further exploration I think than David Thomson’s Suspects, which is the closest thing to it I can think of. (You CAN end a sentence with a preposition, see? Or would you prefer “the closest thing to it of which I can think”?)

A thought

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2022 by dcairns

Anthony Mackie said it, then Quentin Tarantino parrotted it on his podcast.

Audiences now go to see superheroes, not movie stars. OK. It’s a somewhat unfalsifiable statement — we can say that’s approximately or mostly true, not absolutely true. There’s a lot of truth IN it.

One definition of a star is “someone who will open a film.” The film might go on to flop but at least people will turn up on opening weekend to see if they like it. The Mackie-Tarantino hypothesis is that people will now turn up to see Captain America, but not necessarily to see Chris Evans if they don’t like the sound of his latest vehicle.

It’s possible that audiences could be repelled even from Captain America if the colourful piece of I.P. were placed in a novel and unattractive new context, such as CAPTAIN AMERICA GOES TO THE LAVATORY, but it’s not something that’s going to happen so we needn’t concern ourselves with it. The character is permanently fused to a certain kind of entertainment and so the punter knows exactly the kind of thing s/he is going to get.

The thought that struck me is that the studios responsible for the Marvel and DC “cinematic universes” have, in a sense, recaptured the power they had before Olivia DeHavilland made her bid for freedom. Back when there WERE stars, in the 1940s, the movie studios more or less owned them. There were a few independents, like Cary Grant, but in order to become stars, most aspirants signed longterm contracts with the studios and had to do as they were told. Refusing a project meant going on suspension, which meant your contract was extended by the amount of time the refused film would have taken to shoot. So, essentially, a star had to take the jobs offered or else potentially stay under contract forever. And when your contract was up for renewal, maybe the studio had the right to renew it built into their original contract, and unless your career was looking VERY secure, you might be reluctant to strike out in search of sound stage pastures new.

So, in effect, the studios used to own their stars.

Now they own, or have a deal for the use of, their I.P.

You can make Captain America do whatever you want. And you can recast him at will, as we have seen with the Hulk-shaped revolving door at Universal/Disney. Having Michael Keaton or Christian Bayle as Batman is equivalent to having Dick Sprang or Carmine Infantino drawing him in the comics: the fans appreciate each incarnation and can tell the difference, but it’s all Batman, which is the main thing.

We have cycled back to the kind of slave-owning the majors used to enjoy, only now, just as the sets may be digital constructs rather than physical objects, the stars aren’t flesh-and-blood at all, but inventions, name + costume + backstory + powers.

One could, of course, get into a debate about whether the old stars were strictly speaking people at all — they were IMAGES, certainly, based on or around people. They had names, often assumed; they admittedly changed costumes more than Superman, who has only two main ones; they had their own backstories, often quite as fictional as Peter Parker’s; they had powers, but we called those “star quality.”

Hitchcock said he envied Walt Disney, who, if he were dissatisfied with his leading man, could physically tear him to pieces. One has to imagine that Jack Warner, that old vaudevillian crook, would see something to envy in the modern studio’s ability to hold the copyright of its stars, a whole indentured firmament of them.

(Kudos to Mackie for actually daring to say something interesting: I hold the admittedly cranky view that the press should never interview anyone who has a film coming out, since people in that position are contractually forbidden to say anything honest.)

Marx for Trying

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Painting, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2022 by dcairns

I was thinking of getting rid of my copy of Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg — “Will I ever read this?” — when I opened it at random — a fair test — and discovered that Schulberg had attempted to co-write a Marx Bros movie at Paramount in the thirties, where he was the boss’s son.

BUGHOUSE FABLES was the intended title, which I somewhat approve of, since it has the required animal reference. But is it a common phrase or saying like “monkey business,” “horse feathers,” “animal crackers,” and “duck soup”? (Two of these are by now UNcommon phrases or sayings but I’m prepared to believe that in pre-code days they were familiar to the American public.)

BUT I’m wrong — here’s proof, from 1922, that Schulberg’s title WAS extant.

It was supposed to be about the Marxes running an asylum. I’m unsure about this. The results could easily be tasteless, even for the 1930s, and Schulberg says that part of the impetus was to hit back at the censors who had been objecting to MONKEY BUSINESS. Also, surrounding the Bros with lunatics could easily diminish their powers. The possibilities for spot gags would be endless, but we can hardly have Groucho, Chico and Harpo seeming less crazy than everyone else. Presumably we would have a “lunatics taking over the asylum” scenario and there are strong possibilities for annoying headshrinkers (cue Sig Rumann) and wealthy patrons (Margaret Dumont). But I think the Marxes need a sane, generically-consistent story world to interact with, and be the craziest element of. When Groucho is placed in charge of a sanatorium in A DAY AT THE RACES, the most eccentric person he meets apart from his own brothers is rich hypochondriac Dumont.

Schulberg himself sounds pretty uncertain about whether his efforts to write funny were in fact hitting the mark or Marx (atsa some joke, huh boss?)

The same problem is multiplied by a thousand in Salvador Dali’s Marx scenario, GIRAFFES ON HORSEBACK SALAD. Two animals for the price of one. But not a common phrase or saying, except perhaps in the Dali household. It’s understandable that Dali, a Spaniard, may have misunderstood “horse feathers” and “animal crackers” as pieces of surreal word salad, which they sort of are, but they were also pre-existing expressions which the domestic audience understood.

But the title is merely a clue to the full-blown insanity of Dali’s vision. And while that may sound mouth-watering, most commentators have concluded that surrounding the Marx Bros with an UN CHIEN ANDALOU world already chaotic and surreal would render them redundant, with nothing left to disrupt.

This image derives from a graphic novel adaptation, and you can listen to a subsequently-produced audio version here, for money.

Much, much later, Billy Wilder contemplated A NIGHT AT THE UNITED NATIONS. The title here places the project in the later MGM tradition though I doubt Wilder would have filled the movie with songs. The concept of positioning the Brothers in the context of international politics does smack promisingly of DUCK SOUP though. It would be untrue to say that the gags would write themselves — but I believe Wilder could write them. I’d love to see Chico working as a simultaneous translator. And then Harpo taking over.

Wilder never made a film built around an actual movie clown — his comedies are built around thespians with comedic chops. He uses Marilyn Monroe a little bit like a clown, and Jimmy Cagney as an icon whose famous moments he can built jokes around, but mostly his characters are not totally dependent on casting choices. He did try to work with Peter Sellers, twice, but Sellers had neither persona nor, he claimed, personality.

Wilder did also want to make a film with Laurel & Hardy — he got as far as planning an opening showing them sleeping rough in the last two Os of the HOLLYWOOD sign. So clownwork was something he had an interest in. But I suspect the collaborations would have been fraught. Stan liked to be in charge, and Groucho eventually kicked Wilder out of his house after receiving one too many lectures on the right wine to serve with dinner. (This is all from Maurice Zolotow’s semi-reliable Wilder bio.) It would have been like Preston Sturges and Harold Lloyd trying to collaborate, and finding their mutual respect could not overcome their need to be true to their individual comic muses.