Archive for the Dance Category

Shadows

Posted in Dance, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2017 by dcairns

Allan Dwan’s ONE MILE TO HEAVEN (1937) got popped into the Samsung at Fiona’s suggestion — she wanted to see more Fredi Washington, and this was the seminal IMITATION OF LIFE star’s swan song. It’s an odd film — perhaps the finest cast of tulpas ever assembled.

The most prominent doppelganger was child star Joan Carroll (billed as Joan Carol for some reason, possibly to save on type). An alarmingly precise Shirley Temple clone only without the singing or acting, this moppetganger plays Fredi’s daughter, and the plot revolves around the vexed question of whether the blonde sprog could be the black woman’s natural offspring.

The second animate thought-form in the cast is Sally Blane, lookalike sister of Loretta Young, a sort of lorettaganger if you will, who turns out to be the child’s natural mother, now a wealthy socialite who believes the child dead.

The rest of the players aren’t exactly shades or walkers, but they have their uncanny aspects. the actual lead is Claire Trevor as a fast-thinking reporter, looking startlingly fresh in this pre-STAGECOACH role. Her anything-for-a-story approach actually makes her, in a sense, the heavy of the piece, threatening Fredi and little Joan’s happiness, but the film deftly distracts us from this by putting her up against a trio of flyblown heels, fellow reporters who are nasty chauvinists, forcing us to root for Claire, in a slightly conflicted way.

Also present: Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who’s partly on hand to help make us believe that this is a Shirley Temple picture, partly to add to the sense of a black community, which Fiona identified as the movie’s strongest asset. Bill plays a tapdancing policeman (Dwan proves to be an inept filmer of dance, alas) — when else have you seen a black cop in a thirties movie? We also see black shopkeepers, including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson in unconvincing old age drag. The black people in this film aren’t train porters, maids and shoeshine boys: Fredi is a seamstress (for once, this profession is not a Code-friendly synonym for prostitution), and there’s a real sense of urban community, with the district NOT represented as a dystopian ghetto. Sentimentalizing poverty is another problem, of course, and this isn’t that more realistic than the rural black community in TALES OF MANHATTAN, but it does offer at least an alternative representation to the prevailing stereotypes of the thirties and after.

We see Robinson shuffle at the policeman’s ball, where we also meet a fresh-faced copper played by Lon Chaney Jnr. Sadly, we don’t get to see HIS act — I’m imagining either a lycanthropic quick-change routine or a magic show where he crushes rabbits INTO his hat.

I haven’t seen Robinson in anything since I was a little kid. Shirley Temple movies, like Jerry Lewis movies, seemed to be on A LOT. Interesting how Temple still connects strongly with little kid audiences (try it on your offspring, if you have any — they make a brilliant platform for cinematic experiments), and a shame how they aren’t being exposed to her. But my memory of Robinson was “old guy who dances” — he’s not old at all, just bald and, as Fiona remarked, absolutely gorgeous. His eye-rolling minstrel business IS embarrassing (Fredi was asked to do this earlier in her career and simply refused), and Dwan’s insistence on fragmenting the dance numbers into close-ups of feet (but dance happens with the WHOLE BODY) and face (but you NEED TO SEE THE FEET) is endlessly vexatious.

But but but. This lightly likable film deserves all kinds of credit for the many little ways it departs from the toxic norms of representation of its day.

Did you catch the story about the Memphis, Tennessee cinema taking off GONE WITH THE WIND due to complaints about the film’s racial insensitivity? I must admit, I kind of thought GOOD. That apologia for slavery has had a free pass for way too long. I think it should be screened — but screened kind of like the way BIRTH OF A NATION is screened, with discussion and context or at least shared awareness. It’s not AS nasty a film as BOAN, and Hattie McDaniel is a fine actor who deserves appreciation, but it’s problematic enough that simply calling it a “classic” and looking the other way never struck me as adequate.

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The Sunday Intertitles: Let Slip the Dogs of War

Posted in Dance, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by dcairns

Here’s something I enjoyed again in Bologna — it’s a collaboration between director Segundo de Chomon (Spanish FX genius) and producer Giovanni Pastrone, who previously collaborated on CABIRIA, for which SDC constructed the world’s first purpose-built camera dolly.

I take this film a bit more seriously than some. Made during WWI, on the surface, the movie is fairly Boy’s Own Adventure, with clean-limbed massacres and an uncomplicated portrayal of the Italian forces as good and their Austro-Hungarian opponents as bad (minor-key war atrocities: kicking a woman when she’s down). The stop-motion animation set-piece in the middle has dolls coming to life as in TOY STORY and restaging the War as slapstick. The dolls are indestructible and can even disassemble themselves without suffering.

But I think it’s kind of an anti-war film. First, in the framing story, we see a child being traumatised by his father’s letters from the front, to the point where he has a nightmare about it all. He awakens in distress. The depiction of the war itself is one-sided, simplistic and heroic, as it had to be during WWI, but it at least makes the conflict look dangerous and stresses the peril to innocent civilians.

Then comes the fantasy sequence. By interpolating a title that says one doll is decent, clever and noble and the other is stupid, vicious and lazy, Chomon then gets away with making them completely indistinguishable. Since censors, like critics, are usually more susceptible to words than to the narrative assembly of images (they pounce on SPECIFIC images but are frequently tone-deaf to their cumulative effect), they would be quite satisfied by this.

The battles of Trik and Trak don’t really develop much, since neither character can be harmed. They just escalate, until the war takes over a whole miniature landscape. The amazing program of Il Cinema Ritrovato (a fat BOOK bulging with great writing and glossy images) credits Chomon with superimposing flames and smoke, which is correct — he does so at 35.48, but only briefly. Mostly, he simply cuts between animation and live-action puppetry, allowing his pyrotechnics to go off in real time. It’s really seemless and well worth analysing in detail.

Here’s some random notes I found on my phone, scribble-typed during the Fest ~

Lumiere films. Movie was supposed to be about Milanese boatmen but as they rowed past strenuously in the foreground, our eyes were seized by a tiny figure on the distant bank, tumbling and pratfalling crazily to no obvious purpose. The first photobomber?

Also included was a train exiting a tunnel (one of the staples of entertainment circa 1897), but we were spared the obligatory serpentine dance, listed in the program but screened elsewhen instead.

Though later we were treated to a dog doing a serpentine dance, the greatest thing ever. Shown in a program on Colette, who liked dances and dogs. (Yes, some of the program really is that heroically random.)

It wasn’t this film. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE. The Bologna movie was much more epic. The scene opened on a row of wee dogs on little podiums (podia?) lined up along the bottom of the picture. Then the dancing dog (and trainer? If so, I’ve erased him) totters on, arm extensions wafting its diaphanous gown, real front legs jiggling together at chest level within the confines of its robe like the strange, rigid breasts of Pamela Anderson.

Did the dog enjoy its terpsichorean efforts, or was every pawstep an ordeal? We’ll never know for sure.

 

That Gumnaam You Like

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on June 3, 2017 by dcairns

Teamwork! One of my regular editors, Stephen Horne, is a HUGE fan of GHOST WORLD and also of Bollywood cinema, putting me in the shade on both counts in spite of m immense enthusiasm for both. When he found out Criterion were going to release Terry Zwigoff’s modern classic, he was, to put it mildly, very keen to be involved somehow, anyhow, so I pitched the idea of us making a commentary for the clip from GUMNAAM, the Jaan Pehechaan Ho number that opens the movie. Stephen and his friends in Bollywood fandom provided the expert knowledge, and got us Roshini Dubey to do the velvety voice-over, I really just spoke to Criterion and compiled Stephen’s facts and insights into a piece, with him editing both words and pictures.

Here’s the best version of the song available outside of Criterion’s Blu-ray, again courtesy of Stephen. It will shake the cobwebs out of your head, especially if you Batusi along to it.