Archive for the Painting Category


Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2022 by dcairns

I’d never heard of Toby Pup until a minute ago.

(This is extemporaneous.)

So, he’s RKO’s early thirties version of the Mickey/Bosco/Bimbo/Flip archetype. A b&w animal character with big eyes, wide mouth, minstrelsy characteristics, white gloves. Toby, in his title illustration, has some grey trimmings but in the cartoon he’s all solid blacks and whites. He doesn’t have little shoes like those other characters, his feet are dog feet, although they join to his ankles as if they were shoes. A Rene Magritte touch. His proportions are lankier, making him less cute, an evolutionary dead end save for the survival of Goofy, a sort of freak platypus of toontown.

In the cartoon, having perhaps undergone some Flip the Frog type remodelling, Toby is more rotund.

Repeating actions are cheap, so we watch Toby milking a cow directly into a series of bottles and diluting the milk with a handy water pump. For a tedious amount of time, with musical accompaniment. So far, so sub-Fleischer. But these things always get weird/distressing in unpredictable ways, I can wait.

Okay, milk bottles with legs, I’m sold. With legs but no arms or faces or eyes even. Blind, insensate, lolloping headlong, clinking. Horrible.

OK, they can momentarily grow arms and mouths. That’s reassuring. In no way disturbing. “Woo-oo!” The 30s cartoon gets closer to nightmare than anything outside of Charley Bowers, without really resembling an actual nightmare anyone’s ever had. Which is in itself uncanny.

Toby’s horse wears I think galoshes, and has Mickey Mouse ears. Ri-ight. Tell me more. It turns lazy cartwheels, a motion perhaps suggested to the director by the presence of actual cartwheels right behind him.

Milk is delivered by slinging it at the target doorstep, where the bottle smashes and the occupant syringes it from the stonework, broken glass and all. Some business with a bouncy bottle, not too interesting, then a bottle appears which grows a tongue from its neck so it can lap up its own spilt contents. Presumably anyone who tries drinking from the bottle gets a french kiss. Freddy Kreuger invented nothing.

Cartoon animals tend to be able to roll up their hide as sleeve or cuff, as if their animal skin were merely clothing… little three-year-old kids know that animals can’t talk, so they often do assume cartoons must be people in costumes. Mickey the cartoon and Mickey the huge wobbly thing at Disneyland are the same, they must be, though they appear unaccountably different. Anyway, this is RKO, so when the horse exposes its “bare” arm/leg, it’s sprouting hairs and dotted with unhealthy-looking moles. I’d get those looked at, and not by a YouTube audience.

Toby pulling spats on over his head isn’t too disturbing, and extruding a top hat from his navel, well, who amongst us, in a moment of weakness… the point is, he’s finished his milk round and is now a big city swell, lopping the end off his cigar with a meat cleaver he tosses back into his pants/dogskin, somehow escaping evisceration or at least a Napoleonesque circumcision.

The only image that really makes me laugh is the Leone ECU of the sleepy horse’s eyes, which display, METROPolis vidphone-style, two beds, a drowsing pupil in each. That’s pupil as in the big black centre of the eye, oblong with a chip taken out of it to suggest a reflective highlight. Those things. In beds. Pulling up the covers with specially-sprouting arms. THAT’S funny.

Unable to rouse his steed, Toby (keep forgetting his name, want to call him plain old Pup) departs his cart in a white flubbermobile, rather charming in its featurelessness, creepy in its ability to slide under rocks. I can too easily picture the demented dawg riding into my room at night, under the door sill like a threatening note, mowing me down in bed FUCK OFF

Toby rides into an angry/pained anthropomorphic storm with weird low-budgets sound effects on repeat, the toon is halfway over and all pretense of milkmanning has been abandoned like a bad shirt.

Now Toby does actually slide his car under a door — SEE I WAS RIGHT — to get out of the storm. The door flexes and warps to let him in — the door is a LOOSE SKIN on the house — a small tree knocks at the door and compassionate Toby lets it in.

Sudden, dismaying shock cut to daylight. The storm is forgotten. Some kind of cow barn dance in progress. Naturally, Toby, a dog, is guest of honour. How did we get here? What’s going on? I can accept milk bottles with anchors chained to them, but this kind of Godardian transition is some fresh hell.

Actually, Pup Toby isn’t even here. What right do we have to be seeing this? I don’t feel dancing cows should be thrust at us without warning or explanation.

(A goat, meanwhile, playing the fiddle, has mice in his shoes using his toes as xylophones or maybe glockenspiels, not sure. The shoes open up like car hoods. Goats don’t even have toes. Who do I write to? Ah, YOU, of course, and I am already doing it.

Ah, here’s Toby, dancing with a corsetted pig. The abruption of this scene change makes me think someone has accidentally spliced two incomplete toons together into a cinematic Fiji mermaid, or else two screenplays/storyboards got shuffled, the way Warners would do to recycle material so the common public might not notice (THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT is a glaring example). But most likely the “writer” just ran out of storm gags and so shifted scene like Capt. Kirk.

Spaniel on banjo wipes his nose with his whole arm, like Mifune or Amber Heard. Not sure why we needed to see that, but then, isn’t that the entire aesthetic here?

Like some dance marathon contestant — THEY SHOOT PUPS DON’T THEY? — Toby collapses on the floor and, mysteriously, some cigarettes and cigars — I *think* — the kinda look like fishes — rush from his hat and pose on his prone form. He looks up, confused, and for the first time in the cartoon I can relate to him.

Seven minute cartoon took me 14 mins to watch because I was typing this.

The Sunday Intertitle: Feeding Time

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2022 by dcairns

Before Charlie can have his full-fledged breakdown, he is subjected to an experimental lunch administered by feeding machine. I’ve dealt with this sequence before but there’s always more to say. This rather chilling CLOCKWORK ORANGE sequence is introduced by another talking machine, a recorded sales pitch setting up the idea of the device that lets the worker eat hands-free, so he can continue to labour on behalf of his employer while ingesting the required protein.

As usual when a meal is portrayed in Chaplin’s films, it’s a strange series of courses, chosen for their slapstick potential rather than their adding up into a square or even oblong meal. Soup, corn and pie.

Of course, the machine wouldn’t work unless the worker could operate without seeing what he’s doing, since the metallic dinner table of the feeding machine comes between the hired hand and his hands. But since the machine never gets adopted — “Not practical,” rules the boss (regular unfunnyman Al Ernest Garcia), after Charlie has collapsed — this needn’t bother us.

I had forgotten that the test takes place at the conveyor belt — low angles showing the technician fiddling with the sparking apparatus also reveal Charlie’s hands, their spanners reflexively and uselessly tapping up and down at the stationary belt.

What makes the sequence perfectly cruel and funny is Charlie’s dismay at the whole thing — when the machine is working perfectly, it’s a distressing ordeal. He views each mouthful with alarm, is continually terrified by the mouth-wiping arm. When the thing starts malfunctioning, the horror escalates. In THE CIRCUS, Chaplin revived the comedic impact of the banana peel by laying it on a tightrope. Here, he attempts to breathe fresh life into the custard cream pie by having it delivered robotically. It’s not quite as brilliant a conceit because the mechanical aspect doesn’t make the pie especially more degrading than it normally is, and the prop, otherwise so elegantly designed and smoothly (dys)functional, is unable to deliver a pie into the kisser with the skilled splurch of a Keystone pro — Chaplin has to deliberately smear his face around in the plate to get gooey enough. Progress has yet to supply us with an android Conklin.

But the sequence has this wonderfully chilling aspect to it, partly because the nature of the operation dictates that the scene be played in close-ish medium shot. The usual comic distance is shortened, the suffering is intensified. The whole thing is a torture machine worthy of Kafka’s penal colony anyway, but the victim’s dismay and suffering are brought close to us. Even though we now can see the actor’s eyebrows aren’t real, his distress is. With the cream pie adding another painterly effect (impasto), the tormented subject takes on the aspect of a Francis Bacon pope.

A standard complaint about MODERN TIMES is that it’s episodic, without a strong link between sequences of the kind found in Chaplin’s previous features. “A bunch of two-reelers spliced together” is the complaint. But I’ve never felt this to be a problem. It’s a picaresque yarn, like O LUCKY MAN! — it takes advantage of Charlie’s Tramp status — though he has to DISCOVER that freedom in this movie, starting off as a wage slave — the Tramp becomes our guide through different aspects of modern civilisation. Well, perhaps not a guide, since it’s all so strange to him. He’s no Virgil, nor does he have a Virgil equivalent to show him the way, unless we count the “Gamin.”

Anyway, you could in theory remove the whole eating machine from the film without wrecking the story, but its inclusion does add more of a reason for Charlie to go mad, on this particular day. Maybe a restful lunch hour was the only thing allowing him to hold it together. We know how THAT feels.

12) Verona — Monicelli

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2022 by dcairns

Mario Monicelli gets to finish off the series 12 REGISTI a 12 CITTA’ with a visit to Verona, in collaboration with legendary screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico (BICYCLE THIEVES, THE LEOPARD, Monicelli’s own BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET). I don’t recall the other episodes feature prominent writer credits, and one assumes the directors scripted for themselves, with mixed results.

D’Amico was so prolific and prestigious, she’d worked with several of the other filmmakers in this series: Zeffirelli, Pontecorvo, Bolognini, Rosi. She rewards Monicelli with a lovely voice-over and some quirky action, making a modern version of Zeno who sits fishing at the start, then surprisingly takes to the air, his levitation motivating a guided tour with helicopter shots.

I’m not familiar enough with Zeno to understand why he should fly — I thought he said motion was impossible? But the aerobatics may be a callback to MIRACLE IN MILAN, on which D’Amico collaborated.

The film is also only the second in this series to directly reference another movie, and the first to reference one by a member of the 12 Registi — Franco Zeffirelli, since Verona is the city of Romeo and Juliet. Although Lizzani’s earlier reference to THE LEOPARD counts as a nod to D’Amico, I guess.

What else? We begin with the birds and fishes, discovering the city via the animal kingdom, which I don’t think has been tried in the other eleven films. We track along porticos, which certainly has been. We allow Verdi his place on the soundtrack, which is familiar but never a bad idea. Sound effects from the historical past — the clangour of battle — flood the soundtrack elsewhere, a trope I remember from the profiles of castles and abbeys the BBC used to air whenever a sporting event was cancelled. It is stated that Verona is home to the only two smiling figures in the world of statuary, which is one in the eye for Buddha. Rather eurocentric, and while that may have advantages in a film of this kind, it clearly has drawbacks.

No mention of the football, I’m happy to say, but we do get Verona’s impressive arena.

And the filmmakers have found the most engaging way to drop in historical facts — as mysteries. Where did Giotto live? Was this Juliet’s balcony? Where did Dante live when he was hiding out in Verona? Amusingly, the great poet’s statue seems to be pondering this very question, a beautiful bit of montage.

Strangely, for the last film in the series, Monicelli’s episode has everything but an ending. I think we need to see our modern Zeno land somewhere. The build-up to the evening concert at Verona Arena is grand, Verdi is doing his work, but we never arrive at a shot which suggests the kind of grand finale that’s needed. Or is that just me?

If you were going to shuffle the films to pick a new number 12, which one would you pick?