Archive for the FILM Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Bubble and Squeak

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 1, 2015 by dcairns

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An experiment from 1920! THE CHAMBER MYSTERY is a very talkative silent film, whose writer-director Abraham S. Schomer (also a playwright, which explains the verbosity) gets around the speechifying in novel ways. Some dialogue is presented by traditional title cards, but, rather inexplicably, much of it comes at us via rapid-cut closeups of talking actors with speech bubbles pasted, cartoon-fashion, into the shot.

This is quite charming and might be reasonably effective if one had a chance to get used to it. Sadly, all I have of the film is an untitled fragment, heavily spliced so that characters seem to judder around the place like flickering phantoms.

The only other times I’ve seen speech bubbles in silent films is in animated films, or else when the filmmaker wishes to represent the communications of a parrot. I guess the idea of a bird talking was so surprising that the director felt an ordinary title card just wouldn’t cut it, and the dialogue and image had to be tied together more pointedly to make it clear. In a way, this is sort of treating the bird’s speech as a sound rather than as language, which I guess Noam Chomsky would agree is appropriate (though parrots, even if they lack grammar, do seem to understand what they’re saying).

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One bonus here is that you can watch the constable’s growing surprise at what the lady is saying, as she’s saying it.

Meanwhile, over at The Chiseler, the first in an occasional series: Schinkenworter, in which I attempt to distill the essence of certain Great Screen Actors into a single made-up word. Click the blue lettering to read the piece that dares to answer the question, “Who is Knucklehoofer?”

Nobody Knows

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2015 by dcairns

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“In America, ‘crunchy’ is a compliment,” said Quentin Crisp, lamenting the quality of supermarket bread in the United States (he approvingly likened the consistency of British sliced bread to that of a flannel), the only thing he didn’t like about his chosen homeland.

American paperbacks are crunchier than British ones. I bought a second-hand copy of Richard Hughes’ The Fox in the Attic, and took it to Paris where I was reading it but then I accidentally left it behind. And then I found a copy in the bargain rack at Mercer Street Books, so naturally I picked it up. Distracted by other goodies, such as Mark Harris’ majestic Hollywood history Five Came Back, I laid it aside when home, and Fiona started in on it ahead of me. And the thing began to crumble in her hands, flaking to bits as she feverishly consumed it. “I feel like Rod Taylor in THE TIME MACHINE,” she complained. My copy of Hughes’ sequel, The Wooden Shepherdess, is a British imprint, and it’s appropriately loose and flannelish like a slice of bread from Tesco.

Same thing with another Mercer Street bargain, Gore Vidal’s Hollywood, which I’d been meaning to read for ages, even though the only other volume I’ve read in his history series is Lincoln (which I liked a lot. Richard Lester told me, “Gore Vidal kept trying to sell me the books of his I didn’t want to film, like Myra Breckinridge. I wanted to do Lincoln.”). And on the way home the cover of the book SNAPPED into jigsaw pieces, something I have never encountered before.

Fifteen pages in and it’s GREAT — Vidal has William Randolph Hearst sit in a chair which collapses under him, and then has him anticipate William Goldman’s famous dictum by seventy-odd years —

“But I don’t know anything about the movies.”

“Nobody does. That’s what’s so wonderful.”

I did at first fault Vidal’s prose when he wrote “Like a trumpet, she blew her nose into a large handkerchief,” since the comparison of nose-blowing and trumpetry is a banal one, and he seems to be saying that trumpets regularly, literally blow their noses into large handkerchiefs. But, on reflection, I came to admire the phrase, since it put into my mind the image of a trumpet blowing its nose, and one can’t help but be grateful for such an image.

But my favourite bit so far is the Washington psychic lady ~

“Why did you come to Washington?”

“Fate.” said Madame Marcia, as though speaking of an old and trusted friend. “I was associated with Gipsy Oliver at Coney Island. Mostly for amusement’s sake. But”–Madame’s voice became low and thrilling–“she had gifts as well–worldliness. Dark gifts. Amongst them, the gift of prophecy. I was, I thought, happily married. With two beautiful children. My husband, Dr. Champrey, had an excellent practice, specialising in the lower lumbar region and, of course, the entire renal system. But the spirits spoke to Gipsy Oliver. She spoke to me. Beware of the turkey, she said one day. I thought she was joking. I laughed–more fool I! What turkey? I asked. I know turkeys, and don’t much care to eat them–so dry, always, unless you have the knack of basting, which fate has denied me. Well, lo! and behold the next month, November it was, I was preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for my loved ones, when Dr. Champrey said, ‘I’ll go buy us a turkey.’ I remember now a shiver came over me. A chill, like a ghost’s hand upon me.”

Jess shivered in the stuffy room. This was the real thing, all right. No doubt of that.

“I said, ‘Horace, I’m not partial to turkey, as you know. Just a boiled chicken will do.'” She exhaled. Jess inhaled and smelled boiled chicken, old sandalwood. “‘Why not splurge?’ he said. Then he was gone. He never,” Madame Marcia’s bloodshot eyes glared at Jess, “came back.”

“Killed?” […]

“Who knows? The son-of-a-bitch,” she added, suddenly soulful.

The New, Simplified Shadowplay Impossible Film Quiz: Year Zero

Posted in FILM with tags on February 27, 2015 by dcairns

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All you have to do is find the connections.

But remember, just because it’s simpler (twenty questions) doesn’t mean it’s easier!

1) Patrick Stewart, Anthony Newley, Humphrey Bogart

2) Andre Cayatte, Jean Epstein, Barbra Streisand

3) LONDON FIELDS, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

4) 1941, BRAZIL, PSYCHO

5) Arthur Lowe, Margaret Whiting, Michelle Pfeiffer

6) Vincent Price, Anjanette Comer, Elizabeth Moody

7) Harpo Marx, Oscar Werner, Essie Davis

8) Jack Hawkins, David Niven, Raymond Griffith

9) George Raft, Bert Lahr, Ving Rhames

10) I’m going to my friend Bernie’s place to watch a late sixties Godard movie. Which one should I choose?

To make things more fun, I realize I have forgotten the answers to most of these questions. But I’m sure I’ll recognize the correct ones if you find them.

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