Archive for the Mythology Category

The Easter Sunday Intertitle: God is Dead

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , on April 20, 2014 by dcairns


“Father dies.” An intertitle from Elia Suleiman’s DIVINE INTERVENTION.

Remember, until tomorrow, when He resurrects, God is dead and we can all do what we like.

Meanwhile, over at The Chiseler, I look at Suleiman’s arresting film as part of a blogathon on the theme of Palestine, hosted both at The Chiseler and If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger…







Attendant Woes

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2014 by dcairns


Cinema will learn to talk soon, I promise, but for now I’m still mulling over films seen at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema.

THE LAST LAUGH is one I’d seen a few times but probably not, in its entirety, as often as I should’ve. It’s the kind of film which wouldn’t necessarily compel me to make the trip (which is rather difficult, the bus service being singularly erratic) by itself, but in combination with a bunch of other films I fancied, it made for a delightful extra, if delightful is really the word for F.W. Murnau’s desperate vision.

One smart person with a beard suggested that the film, in which hotel doorman Emil Jannings is robbed of his uniform and its concomitant status when he gets too old to lug suitcases without breaking his wind, could be read as a metaphor for Germany’s post-war enforced demilitarisation*, but I’m afraid my mind was on other things, such as Jannings’ putty forehead, which looks quite real on home video (though the shading in his cheekbones is recognizably kohl, not natural hollows) and becomes a big part of his performance.



Also, I located the movie in the supernatural tradition of German film (NOSFERATU was just two years before) — when Jannings turns up to work and finds another man wearing his uniform, we seem to be in the doppelganger genre first seen in THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE. Seeing one’s double is meant to be a portent of death, and in this case it’s the death of Jannings’ hopes, career, dignity. It’s perfect that he sees the younger version as they both pass through the Atlantic Hotel’s revolving door, so that the new guy seems like a reflection of the old.

When Jannings’ family face him knowing that he’s now a lowly toilet attendant, they react not with pity but horror, and I was reminded of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in which Samsa’s transfiguration provokes only the faintest hint of sympathy from his loved ones, who are more concerned with the practical problems entailed. Jannings doesn’t actually get an apple stuck in his back, but it’s a close thing. (Given his love of wallowing in humiliating scenarios, I’m posi-sure that if Murnau had produced a golden delicious and proposed ramming it under his shoulder-blade, Jannings would’ve shrugged off his undershirt and gotten down on bended knee in a twinkling.)


The film seems, on the face of it, bracingly anti-capitalist, with Russian-style dialectical montage contrasting the rich patrons slurping down oysters while poor old Emil eats his toilet soup in the men’s room. It’s not even HOT toilet soup, as Murnau mercilessly photographs the steam escaping as Jannings is forced to attend to an untimely urinator who arrives during his break.

This is undercut in some ways by the conclusion, a bit of proto-Bokononism in which the film debunks its own happy ending. Jannings inherits a fortune from an eccentric American who expires, offscreen, in his arms, in the loo (the Atlantic takes away but it also gives). With his new-found wealth, Jannings becomes a guest himself, gorging himself suicidally and treating his friend, the sympathetic night watchman (whose kindness has hitherto only made the world seem bleaker) to an equally painful looking repast. Ignoring his disappointing family, Jannings heads off into the city with the watchman. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, but it doesn’t feel like an indictment of social inequality, exactly. On the other hand, we’ve been told in no uncertain terms that this ending is not the kind we get in real life (the Atlantic gives but it also takes away).

The BFI’s rather wash-out print was compensated for magnificently by a new arrangement of the original score, performed by Sabrina Zimmerman on violin and doorman’s whistle and Mark Pogolski on piano, who created between them a very rich soundscape, one of those accompaniments that really helps you climb inside the film and smell its pungent air.

*The film’s opening title card (absent from the BFI print) gives some support to this theory. “Today you are the first, respected by everyone, a minister, a general, maybe even a prince — Do you know what you’ll be tomorrow?”

Mortis Loch

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , on March 8, 2014 by dcairns


SECRET OF THE LOCH (1934) deserves its place in history as (1) a fairly crummy British B-picture of the thirties and (2) the first film to use an enlarged iguana as its monster. Except that’s not true, is it? The Fairbanks THIEF OF BAGDAD was there first.

Fiona’s been reading a book by a skeptical cryptozoologist, which seems fascinating. We didn’t know there WERE any sceptical ones. Basically, I guess they study animals unknown to science which they don’t believe in (although like any good skeptic they say they’re willing to be convinced). The book patiently explains the colossal impact the 1933 KING KONG has had – there were no newspaper accounts of Nessie until Willis H. O’Brien brought dinosaurs to the screen in convincing detail and lifelike motion.

And so we get Milton Rosmer’s film, which borrows freely from Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, but substitutes Inverness for Doyle’s South American plateau. Seymour Hicks, famed for his stage and screen Scrooge, plays the irascible/demented Professor Heggie, a crustier version of Doyle’s Challenger, and Frederick Peisley plays the callow journalist hero. Most surprisingly, Gibson Gowland, hulking protagonist of Stroheim’s GREED, is on hand as a celtic henchman, or “henchmon” if you will.


“The monster doesn’t scare me, I’ve worked for Von Stroheim.”

While KONG established the correct pattern for monster movie success, making the audience pant through an opening act with nary a sign of monstrosity, then wheeling its creation on and having him dominate the proceedings until the dying moments, Rosmer’s lightweight farrago does what innumerable cheapjack exploiters would do, holding off any sight of its star creature until we’re in sight of the fadeout. But Nessie is not Harry Lime, and this kind of super-delayed entrance may save on the effects budget but it’s untenable as a narrative device, since any cretaceous eruption into a contemporary drama must happen early enough or risk being rejected by the host body.


There you have it — the monster’s existence  is attested to by the Daily Mail. “…the watery depths harbour some fantastic and abnormal creature, probably of Polish origin. Heil Hitler.”

Film history being full of ludicrous surprises, this movie was edited by David Lean. The poor young cutter has terrible trouble building a climax out of the footage he’s been handed, where they seem to have rather struggled with their rear projection. If Peisley isn’t standing in front of the iguana, blocking our view, he’s standing on the wrong side, making the beastie seem shortsighted as it advances implacably off to his left, intent on some offscreen tidbit. Still, the science of interpolating footage of actors in deep-sea diving apparatus with blurry lizards padding amiably towards the lens must have been major addition to the budding filmmaker’s palette. Whether one regrets that he never included an enlarged herbivorous lizard in BRIEF ENCOUNTER or DOCTOR ZHIVAGO depends upon one’s personal taste, and upon whether one is a raving idiot.


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