Archive for the literature Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Jimmy Jazz

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2022 by dcairns

We’re back on ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE (1915). There are later versions too — I would like to see them. A 1920 version stars Bert Lytell, a specialist in reformed cracksmen (he also played the Lone Wolf and Boston Blackie — but I have only seen him as Lord Windermere, care of Lubitsch). Eugene Pallette supports him. A 1928 job stars William Haines and Lionel Barrymore: colour me intrigued. THE AFFAIRS OF JIMMY VALENTINE appeared in 1942 with a reconfigured plot in which JV seems like a supporting character (Roman Bohnen plays him!). Bernard “Mad” Vorhaus directed this so I’d love to see it. There are others: the character’s fragile claim on the world’s mental real estate seems to have finally decayed in 1985 when some kind of no-named teleplay was extruded.

Detective Doyle — played by the ersatz/anticipatory Robert Cummings (centre, scowling) — is on the case. This iteration of the Butcher of Strasbourg seems rather stagey, indulging in a bit of fist-into-palm overemphasis, but the good thing about this is we don’t need an intertitle to translate it. The universal language: belligerence!

I feel like I sort of know the O. Henry story, and Doyle is like Jimmy’s Javert. We’ll see if I’m right.

Maurice goes macro for a BIG CLUE CLOSEUP. An incriminating cufflink.

The ambitious ECU is followed by some equally daring punctuation:

Psychic linkage via montage, as Jimmy (Robert Warwick) notices his missing link and indulges in some dramatic gesticulation of his own, setting his untethered shirtsleeve a-flapping. The crosscutting is pretty intense, and it’s based around an IDEA, two characters thinking about the same thing. And Eisenstein is still in short pants. This is way more sophisticated, in my view, than Griffith’s imperilled virgin/roughriding rescuer schema, and it now seems incomprehensible that David Wark G has been elevated to the status of sole master of this era of filmmaking. All BIRTH OF A NATION has over this one is sheer bulk.

Doyle has immediately tracked Jimmy to his lair and Tourneur repeats a set-up from earlier (economical, and I suppose acceptable since we want to instantly recognise the setting) with the ‘tec’s breath visible in the cold air. I guess we’re shooting this in New York and/or New Jersey. Yes, IMDb specifies the Peerless Studio in Fort Lee and also locations at Sing Sing, and I think it’s likely this is an NYC alleyway, though it’s possible the Garden State sported a few handy slums back in the day.

The same condensation of time that allows Doyle to reach Jimmy’s in nothing flat has allowed Jimmy to exit, but he’s left another clue:

I’m sure David Bordwell would agree that one positive effect of genres is the way they push certain kinds of innovation. The musical incited all sorts of formal experiments, while thrillers have a notable impact on film narration, structure, use of POV.

I guess the significance of this clue is not so much Jimmy’s dainty taste in ashtrays, but the fact that his butt is still smoking. I have seen Robert Warwick near-nude in NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS and can attest that his butt is indeed smoking.

Proof that it’s 1915: the false Robert Cummings favours his chums in the audience with a thoughtful glance. It’s subtle, but it’s there. It’s not a full-fledged Keystone-type EXPLICATORY MIME, but it’s the kind of audience awareness I’d associate far more with barnstorming melodrama than with the legitimate theatre.

Cummings/Doyle rushes to the window and peers out, but apparently sees nothing. If this were a later, still more sophisticated film, I would expect Tourneur to grace us with a POV shot displaying the precise form of nothing Doyle witnesses. But apparently that’s asking too much in 1915. You know the kind of thing I mean: in FARGO, burying the loot in the snow, Steve Buscemi looks left: endless vista of blank snowscape; looks right: another, precisely mirroring vista of blank snowscape. This is jokily pedantic since we can see his surroundings already, but it is CORRECT FILM FORM nevertheless.

Cut to an unidentified young man receiving a coded message from a gum-chewing kid. The code is easily broken, I feel. But who is this fellow?

TUNE IN NEXT TIME to find out — and watch along (or ahead) via the YouTube:

Old Queen Who?

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2022 by dcairns

“I mourn the safe and motherly middle-class queen, who held the nation warm under the folds of her big, hideous Scotch-plaid shawl and whose duration had been so extraordinarily convenient and beneficent. I felt her death much more than I should have expected; she was a sustaining symbol — the wild waters are upon us now.”

Henry James on the death of Queen Victoria, quoted in Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck, which I am currently enjoying. And I’m sure it seems like that to a lot of people now. I like the “big, hideous shawl” line too.

I read Larson’s The Devil in the White City when it first came out — I think I may have actually bought it in an airport en route to New York for the first time? Seems apt — Larson writes airport histories, you might say. But I mean that as a compliment, somehow. Anyway I read that and enjoyed it and then forgot to keep an eye on the author, with the happy result that I now have about seven of his books to read. I’ve hoovered up The Splendid and the Vile (the Blitz) and managed to draw upon it when writing abut THE GREAT DICTATOR; I’ve also enjoyed Dead Wake (the Lusitania) and Isaac’s Storm (the Galveston hurricane disaster of 1900). There’s usually a small film connection to keep me happy: one of the witnesses to the destruction of Galveston was a small boy named King Vidor.

I recall being bewildered that Leonardo DiCaprio was buying the rights to Devil in the White City — the book doesn’t contain a lot of what you’d call dramatic scenes, though it’s a very dramatic, exciting read. I feel like LDC got bamboozled into buying an unfilmable book, though now, finally, the thing seems to be moving towards production as a miniseries. That work tells in parallel the stories of the murderer HH Holmes and the creation of the Chicago World Fair of 1894. My current read, Thunderstruck, has a similar structure, following Marconi’s development of wireless, and Dr. Crippen’s less salutary life, destined to collide with the Italian inventor’s creation.

In other news — we’re going to the pictures! This has become a somewhat irregular event. The occasion is JAWS in 3D IMAX. I’m excited by the IMAX, a little nervous about the 3D. I haven’t seen any fake 3D movies, I’ve refused to. Although GRAVITY is sort of a fake 3D movie and I love that. What I mean is I haven’t seen any movies not originally designed to be seen in 3D. But I love 3D. I’ve just paused Wim Wenders’ PINA, on flat DVD. I’m a little cross that Edinburgh Filmhouse never deigned to screen that one, to my knowledge, in three dimensions. They invested in the chargeable electric glasses system, then decided their audience didn’t like 3D and stopped using it. Tsk. I thought *I* was their audience! I’m crazy about the third dimension, I practically live there.

PINA is very enjoyable so far — I love the dancing. The filming is fine. Editing less so. But I wish I could see the missing dimension.

It’s Complicated

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2022 by dcairns

I haven’t read any Alberto Moravia but I love Bertolucci’s film of THE CONFORMIST — I notice I placed it in my top ten. Damiano Damiani was obviously a fan too, basing two of his films on works by the writer. First was LA NOIA/THE EMPTY CANVAS (1963). A VERY COMPLICATED GIRL (1969), “freely adapted” from Moravia’s The March Back, stars Catherine Spaak, Jean Sorel and Florinda Bolkan and is… very interesting.

Sorel’s character, also called Alberto, falls for Spaak’s, a pop art painter — the film is very mod in style, obviously updating its source in a way LA NOIA didn’t feel any need for. It has aspects of a giallo, mingling mod and murder, but isn’t really a mystery and doesn’t have a big enough body count to quite fit.

It must have been quite amazing to have been following the cinema from 67 to 70, the way censorship in the west was swept back so rapidly. Catherine Spaak was someone who rode that wave courageously — when she made her Hollywood debut in HOTEL (1967), nudity in commercial cinema was barely a thing. Here she’s full-frontal, and THE LIBERTINE (1968) she tries out a panoply of kinks. According to your viewpoint, this transition must have seemed like either a glorious liberation or the end of civilisation as we know it.

The most surprising scene comes when Spaak’s character tells Sorel’s that she was sexually abused by a relative. This is played not as a tragedy or crime or confession, but as an attempted seduction. Sorel accepts it that way with apparent enthusiasm. What was most striking to me is that the exact same thing happens in THE CONFORMIST. Stefania Sandrelli tells the late Jean-Louis Trintignant about being raped by her uncle as they travel by train (through the miracle of rear projection) on their honeymoon, and he role-plays the part of the uncle as she describes it. In AVCG Spaak’s story is about her stepmother, Bolkan, and it comes to assume a greater importance in the plot as Sorel seemingly loses his mind, but it’s otherwise very close — makes me think Moravia must have experienced something of the kind. It had not occurred to me (call me naive) that this was a thing — lovers sharing abuse stories as part of their fantasy life.

Balkan begins her transgressive, psychotronic career just as she means to go on, playing not only a bisexual child abuser but one who models the glue-on bikini. Sorel is… interesting. He’s the husband in BELLE DE JOUR, a strangely passive doll-man, here with the addition of designer stubble/very short beard that gives him an Action Man quality. Rather than suggesting depths of neurosis like Trintignant, he suggests undiscovered shallows. He’s more like Stephen Forsyth’s protag “I am a psychopath” of HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON. With a clever, intense actor like Trintignant even a terrible character becomes somehow compelling, even sympathetic. Sorel’s just causes increasing dismay as his actions and life spiral out of control. We had thought Spaak’s character, and certainly Bolkan’s were the problematic ones. But Sorel is the one leading us off a cliff.

The relationship starts kida dark but soon is almost in Moors murders territory. Had it continued along this dark path, the movie would be a unique giallo and better known. Instead it choses multiple strange pathways, and is generically undefinable, entirely its own thing. With a delirious pop score by Fabio Fabor, and production design by Damiani himself along with regular collaborator Umberto Turco.

Pretty compelling, weird stuff.