Archive for the MUSIC Category

A rhinoceros at each end

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by dcairns

That’s the structure of HATARI! A bunch of scenes with a rhinoceros at each end. In between, we have a bit of animal action, then a fade-out, a scene at the bar or piano, fade-out. It’s a test-case of Hawks’ ideas about the dispensibility of plot.

I would dispute that HATARI! is a good movie. I think it shows Hawks become lazy and overconfident, or at any rate somehow not gathering the narrative elements, situations, actors and dialogue he needs to work the miracles he could pull off earlier. He talked later about having wanted to pair John Wayne with Clark Gable and, failing that, feeling that there was no other leading man strong enough to make an interesting dynamic with the Duke. So he dispensed with interesting dynamics altogether.

Oh, nobody likes to talk about the film’s complete disinterest in Africans, or the fact that the characters are CATCHING WILD ANIMALS FOR CIRCUSES. So I’m not going to either, but I would feel rotten if I didn’t at least flag it up. It’s akin to the way the horrific deforestation in COME AND GET IT becomes just a colourful backdrop for Hawksian hi-jinks, where in the source novel it had been part of some kind of ecological message. Hawks’ disinterest in making points is part of what makes him such a relaxed and beautiful artist, but… well, let’s just say I’m kind of glad he never made his Vietnam war film.

As RIO BRAVO got remade as EL DORADO (RIO LOBO is sometimes claimed as another remake but the resemblance is slight — mainly I noticed the inadequacy rather than the similarity), HATARI! can be seen as another version of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, with the setting and central job changed. The difference is that OAHW (apart from being better in every way) has fatalities all over the place, a real sense of danger. The outcome seems uncertain, and the romance keeps boiling away, clearly heading somewhere. The outcome is uncertain in HATARI! too but none of the possibilities seems that interesting, and in spite of the film being called, literally, DANGER!, there’s not much sense of jeopardy, although he does his usual trick of arranging an accident in scene one — Bruce Cabot gets gored by a rhino (Africa’s revenge for KONG) to show how risky this activity is. But then we’re allowed to forget about the risks for long stretches, while the romance constantly seems ready to resolve itself peaceably. If they’d acknowledged the glaring age difference between Wayne and Elsa Martinelli, that might actually have helped.

Let’s look at the earlier Hawks “hang-out movies.”

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT is the loosest — I can never remember the plot. It’sera film of moments. The ending resolves nothing I can recall, but is an outstanding moment. But the movie is full of strong dramatic situations, ever if they’re strung together in a slightly haphazard way. It works like magic.

RIO BRAVO has a really terrific central set-up that glues it together. With a strong spine, it can grow all kinds of wavy limbs and branch off in different directions and treat its plot with discourtesy, but it needs that jailhouse seige.

The other major Hawks films mostly don’t even try to be that loose.

HATARI! never tries to be other than likely likable, and I’m not sure that’s a category you can aim for. Aim higher, and if you land there, be content, you’re in good company. And speaking of company ~

We have John Wayne, now too old to be a compelling romantic lead, at least with a slip of a girl like Elsa Martinelli. And other than being strapped to the front of a jeep like a drawling hood ornament, he doesn’t have anything else to do. The last sound of the film is him, throwing up his hands and going “Aaawww…” He speaks for me.

Supposedly a photojournalist, but Elsa stops taking pictures after one scene. She’s beautiful (if rather thin, here), charming, chic, but not quite the Hawksian woman the film would need (but it would need better SITUATIONS for such a character to shine in). I like her a lot but wish the film had something for her to do despite photogenically washing elephants and hyenas.

Good Hawksian lobework from the man Kruger.

I’m intrigued by Hardy Kruger and Gerard Blain, who seem to be enacting the gay dynamic of Monty Clift and John Ireland in RED RIVER, alternately sparring and flirting, with the addition of some unconvincing chasing after the same gal as alibi for the Unresolvable (due to Breen Office) Sexual Tension. I could write pages on Hardy as a fantastic, unconventional movie star of the period, and he comes closest of the supporting players to sparking some fire here, but none of the mini-conflicts thrown into the air land anywhere fertile, so he’s surrounded by wilted scenes and relationship. Early on, Hawks films him tugging his earlobe, a classic Bogart gesture. So I reckon Hawks liked him.

Red Buttons is an acquired taste, like polystyrene. I don’t mind him too much. I guess he has the Roscoe Karns part, and doesn’t overact as much as RK would’ve, but sure tries. He’s fine. The scene where he drunkenly keeps trying to get Wayne to re-describe how a rocket went off is pretty damn funny.

In interviews, screenwriter Leigh Brackett sounded pretty frustrated with the way Hawks kept resorting to old tricks. There’s some good business early on here with Bruce Cabot needing a transfusion and Blain turning up and squaring off with Kruger, and then turning out to have the blood type they need. It’s tight, amusing and PLOTTED. It makes me wonder if Hawks didn’t start out with a rigorous script and then progressively drop it in favour of woolly stuff spitballed on the set. We know he shot twice as much animal stuff as he could use, and hoped to maybe get another film out of it one day.

Is this Hawks’ Bunuel movie? It has a close-up of an ostrich, like THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, and a scene played out twice, with identical blocking and dialogue, like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL. Bunuel never did a scene with a leopard in the bathroom, but he woulda if he’d thought of it.

It’s impossible to dislike a movie that spends so much time filming Martinelli walk about with baby elephants (a benefit of the story’s bagginess), and has Henry Mancini’s jaunty “Baby Elephant Walk” theme, but it’s certainly possible to be frustrated by it.

Hearing Angela Allen’s stories from the location shooting of THE AFRICAN QUEEN and ROOTS OF HEAVEN, as I was luck enough to do a month ago, I kind of wish Hawks had made a movie about THAT. A film crew at least has a schedule.

The Sunday Intertitle: No Great Sheikh

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2017 by dcairns

Why a Howard Hawks Week? It just seemed like fun, and there are enough films I’d enjoy revisiting and enough I haven’t seen. Hope you enjoy.

FAZIL is an unapologetic dose of orientalism, and a late silent/soundie — it has a recorded music score and occasional roughly-synched representations of sound effects such as horses’ hooves, plus a bit of vocalisation — a vague stab at the  call to prayer, and a gondolier’s song, complete with superimposed music and lyrics (as a guide for cinemas which can’t play sound yet?)

It may be Hawks’ only soundie, but I haven’t seen TRENT’S LAST CASE, although I long to. I’m a Raymond Griffith obsessive.

FAZIL stars the quite un-Hawksian Charles Farrell, best-known for his Borzage collaborations, as an unlikely sheikh, with all the barbarity such romantic figures are supposed to have. The culture-clash plot sends him to Venice, so even the film’s representation of the west is exotic and romantic. My fuzzy, grainy copy is just barely good enough to let you see that this is a beautifully photographed film: lots of soft lighting and soft focus and shallow focus. It’s shot by L. William O’Connell, who lensed A GIRL IN EVERY PORT for Hawks the same year, alongside Murnau’s now-lost FOUR DEVILS. Yet he seems to slide into B-pictures as soon as sound arrives, his only big picture being SCARFACE, where he’s paired with Lee Garmes who usually gets credit for the more interesting stuff (Hawks certainly stressed Garmes’ inventiveness in interviews).

That gondolier’s song has a plot role to play, accompanying the central lovers’ first glimpse of one another, from opposite windows across a canal. Hawks crosscuts reverse angles, moving closer as the love-at-first-sight builds, and throws in tracking shots drifting past each lead from the gondolier’s point of view. It’s a very elaborate set-piece, quite removed from his usual, later low-key, apparently effortless mode of presentation. Very interesting to seen him stretch himself, as with the expressionist effects in SCARFACE.

Hollywood has already caught on to the idea of selling sheet music — so that gondolier’s ditty follows the characters about from canal to soirée. where a dissolve sweeps all the other dancers from the floor, leaving Farrell and Greta Nissen alone at last. Then the dance ends and the surrounding throng fades back into existence. There’s nothing else like this in Hawks, so it’s very interesting indeed: what one wants to balance it is some trace of the filmmaker to come.

We also get Mae Busch, always welcome, and John Boles with his huge cranium. To me he has the look of a man smuggling a busby under his scalp.

Censor-baiting screen narrative — we go from Farrell & Nissen on a gondola to her lying in bed in what’s obviously his apartment or hotel suite at dawn. Quelle scandale! Some dialogue, some kisses, and then an intertitle tells us we’ve slid from Venice to Paris during the fade-out and a newspaper headline informs us that the lovers are newly wed. Sex happens during fade-outs, but a lot more than that can go on, it seems. (“At least I had some fun with that.”)

It’s interesting that these Arab barbarian lover types are never played by actual movie tough guys — from Valentino to Novarro to Farrell, they’re all elegant rather than rugged. Farrell is a great big hunk of man, but we know he’s a softy from his other movies, and though he begins this one by having an insubordinate head scimitared off, his attempts to play the master of the house come across as petulant, the result of weakness rather than strength, and I suspect Hawks saw it that way too, frowning from behind the camera. (Actual quote from Hawks on Hawks: “Christ Almighty, can you imagine Charlie Farrell as an Arabian sheikh?”)

Big harem scene, staged as a proto-Busby Berkeley sex fantasy of flesh and art direction. The lovely Nissen — vivacious in TRANSATLANTIC but merely lovely here — comes close to swooning at the perfumed horror of all those diaphanous scanties. Remember, exoticism is racism’s sexy sister. You wouldn’t be seduced by racism… but the sexy sister? You might weaken. And be lost.

I’ve Always Loved You in Technicolor

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2017 by dcairns

I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU IN TECHNICOLOR — well, that’s what it SAYS it’s called — is a romantic melodrama set in the world of classical music — Arthur Rubinstein did the piano-playing, to compensate for the lack of star power visible in the movie. It’s a late-ish work from Frank Borzage, and I had hopes for it as it’s one he made for Republic, where he also did the sublime MOONRISE. But this was disappointing.

Casting the unknown Catherine McLeod in the lead because she can play piano on camera is understandable, but she lacks range. Looking at somebody who just smiles all the time and then subtracts the smile and frowns slightly when she wants to suggest sadness, or inner conflict, or I-am-playing-Rachmaninoff, gets to be wearisome.

I don’t understand why her husband should have been hard to cast — he’s a farmer. Any cowboy actor could have done it. British actor Bill Carter (previous role: DRAGONWYCK … man [uncredited]) is rather fey, making the character’s Borzagean romanticism far too on-the-nose. It’s similar to what happens to all the acting in THE BIG FISHERMAN, where Borzage, always a religious filmmaker, finally does a story of biblical times and everything degenerates into stupid epic-movie cliché.

Philip Dorn doesn’t have the charisma to make a triumph of his eccentric conductor part, but he’s more fun than the other two points of this triangle. Felix Bressart and Maria Ouspenskaya are more enjoyable to look at (funnier shapes) but don’t have enough screen time.

The script is by the well-regarded Borden Chase. Two years later he’d have RED RIVER under his belt, but this is pretty turgid material with an unfortunate baggy structure — the story covers decades, and really doesn’t need to. This could offer opportunities to versatile performers, but that’s exactly the kind of performer Borzage hasn’t got. The weird telepathy between the two musicians is interesting, and very Borzage — a confluence of art, romance and spirituality seems like conducive material. But a bit of sex always helps Borzage too, and there’s no suggestion of that here, although an offspring somehow gets offsprung during one of the lengthy narrative ellipses.

So I’m mainly reviewing the cigarette burns. While the Technicolor mentioned in the title of I’VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU IN TECHNICOLOR is, under the supervision of Nathalie Kalmus, sort of muted but sort of sugary at the same time, the cigarette burns, those little top-right blips signalling a reel change, are positively lurid.

Big magenta suns with green halos! Hideous, but sort of fascinating — the only things in the film that could inspire such extreme adjectives.