Archive for the Mythology Category

The Sunday Intertitle: A Filthy Messe

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , on August 12, 2018 by dcairns

MESSE NOIRE is a vintage porno I discovered shortly after making NATAN — it seems to be one of the few surviving stag films that Professor Joseph Slade did NOT atttribute to Bernard Natan. My source says 1928, but the IMDb doesn’t even admit the film exists, so who knows? From the hairstyles, the date seems possible, but often these movies seem older than they are — porn films stayed silent for decades after their respectable counterparts started gabbing.

Maybe Prof Slade hadn’t seen this five minute black mass orgy, or maybe it struck him as an unlikely fit for the Jewish Natan, but then that didn’t stop him attributing other films with Catholic-baiting themes to the mogul, whose porn conviction dated from almost two decades before this — personally, I think it’s extremely unlikely he had any further dabblings in illicit film-making, and we don’t know anything about the extent of his supposed involvement in porn since so few smut films survive from that era. Also, the actors Slade identified as being Natan in LE MOINE, LE CANARD etc, are a disparate group of obviously different individuals, not one person, and only one of them has a passing resemblance to Natan. But you can see that in later films, aging and going to seed as he continues to cavort unphotogenically, until even that pseudo-resemblance is gone.

I want to be fair: Slade was unable to refer back to the films he wrote about, which were shut away in the Kinsey Institute, so he had to go on his notes and years-old memories. But then he shouldn’t have claimed a positive identification.

MESSE NOIRE has surprising production values — a set of sorts, rather than just sheets draped over walls, though it looks depressingly like somebody’s basement — and a large cast of nudes of various shapes. There’s some solemn moving about with candles, a kind of ceremony, and then some whipping gets started. Jump cuts cause whip marks to appear on the ecstatically writhing victim, which reassures us that they aren’t real. Strange editing causes them to appear and disappear from shot to shot.

 

The editing throughout is extremely peculiar, with some match cuts and some action replays of the same movements from different angles. Few of these films seem to have been made by respectable professionals who knew what they were doing, which is more evidence that Natan, an experienced professional who knew every aspect of filmmaking from the ground up, wasn’t involved in any of them.

The whipping, curiously enough, is the most appealing bit of the sex action — we then plunge into full-on hardcore orgiastic shenanigans, which appear very grimey and unappealing indeed via the film’s fuzzy, splicey image quality. It just turns into a drab documentary about some sex that some people had in a basement.

But then things are redeemed a touch by the sudden appearance of a THE END card, which looks like it took somebody hours.

A bit depressing how they couldn’t be bothered giving anyone faces, mind you. Almost a metaphor for the whole porn business.

The lies and misapprehensions in the case of Bernard Natan die hard, so I shall repeat for anyone reading hastily: he didn’t make this film.

He didn’t make any porn film extant today. We don’t really know anything about the porn he was accused of making except that it was pre-1910. He spent the following twenty-nine years making legit films but lies were printed in the French press which postdated his porn conviction to after WWI. Those stories have been repeated by people who are not themselves rabid antisemites (Prof Slade, Black Francis, myself, in my first Wikipedia-inspired post on the subject) but who are too fond of a good story, whether it be proven or not.

NATAN the movie can be bought here (UK) or here (FR).

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Freud Vs Marx in the World Series of Love

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2018 by dcairns

THE LOCKET is best-remembered for its Russian dolls structure, with a flashback embedded in a flashback inside another flashback. Like INCEPTION, we go in, and in, and in, then out and out and out. But there are more pleasures than that, as any decent marital guide could tell you.

Director John Brahm was great at what animators call “extremes” — he could frame shots in such a way that the composition alone created a skewed, intense emotion — see this shot of Larraine Day, filmed from INSIDE her wedding veil. The ending of his version of THE LODGER seems composed almost entirely of extremes — Laird Cregar brought out the be(a)st in him.

Screenwriter Sheridan Gibney told Patrick McGilligan about writing this one, and being forced to compromise the ending by the Production Code. He wanted it to end with Larraine Day walking down the aisle with new hubbie Gene Raymond. The censors said she couldn’t, as she was a thief who had driven one man to madness and another to suicide. Gibney’s argument was that we didn’t know this — we have only Brian Aherne’s word for it, and he’s maybe mad… An interesting test case: the censor decided that crime must not pay, even when it’s only maybe crime and maybe never happened.

The IMDb lists blacklistee Norma Barzman as co-writer — Gibney didn’t mention her. But it’s tempting to see the two writers as embodying warring stances, the Freudian and Marxist influences on the script. Larraine Day is crazy, afflicted with kleptomaniacal compulsions caused by a traumatic incident in her childhood when she was unjustly accused of theft by nasty rich lady Katherine Emery (maybe the film’s best performance, and a character who’s horribly convincing because she’s so certain she’s in the right). This sequence is buried in the deepest flashback of the set, the primal scene/inciting incident at the heart of Day’s, and the film’s, psychosis.

The Figure in the Carpet is Mitch!

Surrounding this traumatic memory is the Robert Mitchum section, and he plays an artist with a chip on his shoulder about rich folks, so the theme is continued, but kind of reversed, since in this story the rich people are nice and Mitchum is wrong to mistrust them. Mitchum’s story ends with one of the film’s periodic plunges into delirium and hysteria, and this sets up a similar freak-out in the Brian Aherne narrative (do keep up). Aherne’s story is less obviously about class, though he does continued to insist he has no money. He’s a psychiatrist who goes off his trolley as his doubts about his spouse — Day again — eat away at his nerves. At the climax of his breakdown, the art theme from the Mitchum storyline and the madness one from Aherne’s collide, in the movie’s most psychedelic image —

Mitchum’s crap Dali knock-off of an eyeless Cassandra suddenly acquires eyes — Larraine Day’s eyes!

Whew! And then we emerge, gasping, back into the present tense, where Day is about to marry the wealthy Raymond, completing a climb up the social ladder, and it turns out she’s marrying into nasty Katherine Emery’s family. The “stolen” locket that started the whole thing off is now hers by right. But this triggers a mental collapse, signified by flashbacks appearing in the carpet — the film has been so overstuffed with embedded narratives that they’ve spilled out and are now seeping into the furniture. Having swithered* between a cod-Freudian view of the problem, a superstitious one — Day’s madness infects Aherne — and the class-centred argument that social injustice screws us all up — the film now finds mercy for its demoness, with Raymond deciding to stick by her until she can be cured, despite Emery’s aghast reaction (good to see she really is the horrible person she appeared as in Day’s own flashback — but with this beat, the movie closes the door on the possibility of any of our various narrators being unreliable).

The above probably doesn’t make a lick of sense to you if you haven’t seen the movie. So see the movie! What am I, your mother?

*Your lovely Scots word for the day.

“Even your words smell of fish.”

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2018 by dcairns

The guy on the left. His face.

Inexplicably, George Pal followed THE TIME MACHINE with ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT. He had several of the same crew (composer, make-up effects artist), but he didn’t have Rod Taylor or anyone like him and, crucially, he didn’t have an HG Wells source novel. Instead he had unknowns Sal Ponti (credited as Anthony Hall for some reason), a former songwriter who penned hits for Fabian, and Joyce Taylor (no relation to Rod), a Howard Hughes discovery. Neither is terrible, but neither is Rod Taylor. And instead of a Wells book he had an unproduced musical play by Gerald Hargreaves, demusicalized and opened out by Daniel Mainwaring — who worked on OUT OF THE PAST and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but who doesn’t seem at home in the ancient world.

George Pal, Japanese cinema enthusiast? Having borrowed from RASHOMON in THE TIME MACHINE, he seems to have taken a liking to UGETSU MONOGATARI for this misty boat ride.

Here’s a really good, exhaustive report on Atlantis in popular culture, including the only plot synopsis of Hargreaves’ play ever written, seemingly. Hargreaves was keen on having his play filmed — he published the playscript, along with suggestions for a film treatment, and sued the makers of HELEN OF TROY for infringing on his creation — apparently he thought he was Homer. He did manage to get a copy to Cecil B. DeMille, who fobbed it off on Pal, who was sucker enough to go for it.

It’s unfair to blame Hargreaves for not being HG Wells — not that much of Atalanta: A Story of Antlantis made it to the screen anyway, just the idea of a shipwrecked princess and a fisherman. You might argue that they needn’t have credited the play at all, but then Hargreaves would definitely have sued. (It’s amusing to note that the play was dedicated to Winston Churchill, later played by THE TIME MACHINE’s star.) Mainwaring’s talent seems to have deserted him utterly — maybe he was simply miscast as writer of an ancient world science fiction sword and sandal movie. His dialogue is stilted and “epic” in all the worst ways. Apparently a writer’s strike prevented the turd script from being polished.

Even his words smell of fish.

 

So: shipwrecked princess, which is just backstory in the play. Rescued by fisherman. Persuades him to sail her home (no explanation of how she got cast adrift in the first place.)

The best bit: a smoochy love scene upstaged by a mini-Nautilus in the background. The midget sub shadows them for AGES, in utter silence, as they bill and coo and exposit, unacknowledged for so long that I started to wonder if I was seeing things, or if they accidentally used the wrong process plate. So I have to admire them for that.

 

Atlantis!

What got the film made, seemingly, was not the success of THE TIME MACHINE but that of the Steve Reeves HERCULES, which is why the movie features (rather brutal) gladiatorial combat and other sword-and-sandal tropes, and almost none of Hargreaves play (certainly none of its songs). There wouldn’t have been room, once Pal had added all his bonkers scienti-fiction stuff. OK, so there’s a lot of recycled props and costumes and sets and stock footage, but I do think the miniatures of Atlantis are really nice.

This guy, with his runny body paint, not so much.

A healthy, or unhealthy, chunk of Wells has been imported, since the Atlanteans have a “House of Fear” much like Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain, only it works in reverse — they turn humans into animals. “Why do they do that?” asked Fiona, since nobody in the film explains it. “Wouldn’t you, if you could?” “No.” And that’s how I know I married the right woman.

 

Champion sneerer Berry Kroeger is in charge of the animalification process, and taunts Anthony/Sal cruelly, threatening to turn him into various lower mammals, including a buffalo. I really longed for Sal’s character, a Greek fisherman, to say, “I don’t know what that is,” but no such luck. Pal & Mainwaring’s nonsensical reverse-genetic-engineering did remind me of PINOCCHIO and the unfortunate Lampwick, and I think I’ve belatedly figured out why there are so many Disney actors in THE TIME MACHINE — Pal, naturally, wanted to be Disney. He was an animator, why not? It’s a shame, because what George Pal was, was a really good George Pal, but not such a good Disney.

A Pal ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, with manimals by William Tuttle, could have been quite a thing. Get another good actor, or two, or more — Rod Taylor, Tony Randall, and I’d call that a good night out. Use stop-motion for the goat legs and stuff…

Note the Krell laboratories gear, swiped from FORBIDDEN PLANET, behind the guy’s comedy hat.

Also sneering at poor Sal are John Dall from ROPE, as the Caligula-type debauched usurper, and heroine/snooty princess Joyce Taylor, who gets the most terrible line of all, which I have titled this post with.

Volcanoes! Earthquakes! Lasers! The movie expires in a welter of stock shots and unusually large water droplets.

I always get some kind of pleasure out of Pal’s stuff. I’ve written about DR LAO and THE POWER. I want to revisit DOC SAVAGE, which upset me as a kid(animated snakes killing a man is NOT a cause for comical music, damnit!) and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, which bored me. But clearly, WAR OF THE WORLDS needs to be in there too.