Archive for the Politics Category

The Importance of Being Ernst

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2023 by dcairns

Guested on a podcast, Devan Scott’s How Would Lubitsch Do It?

Our subject is KOHLHIESEL’S DAUGHTERS, Herr Lubistch’s 1920 reinterpretation of The Taming of the Shrew, with Henny Porten as both daughters…

You can hear our mouth-words by following this link.

The Last Day

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2023 by dcairns

Some more writings on Hippfest will doubtless follow, but for now I will observe that no day that begins with Laurel & Hardy and ends with Anthony Asquith’s SHOOTING STARS is likely to be anything less than marvelous. We skipped the Chinese film, the Ukrainian egg-decorating workshop, and the “Platform Reels” at the Railway Museum, but still consumed quite a fulsome day’s viewing, with not only ANGORA LOVE and BACON GRABBERS and the Asquith, but Swedish comedy HIS MAJESTY, THE BARBER, previously enjoyed via lifestream from Pordenone.

The last two films gave us the chance to compare the accompanying style of John Sweeney and Stephen Horne. The multi-instrumental Horne was playing to a showy film, the twenty-five-year-old Asquith’s showpiece/showcase/showboat, and so flamboyance was not only permissible but demanded. The switches from piano to accordion and flute, and startling moments when two played at once, never pulled one out of the film, but occasionally encouraged one to view it from a kind of high angle. It worked beautifully.

John Sweeney tends to disappear into the film he’s playing for. You’ll never be aware of him in an obtrusive way, and you might forget he’s there. But, particularly in the case of HIS MAJ, the elegance and tact of the approach was a perfect match for the comedy of gesture and attitude.

I can’t decide between the two approaches, and anyway I don’t have to.

We also had a great chat with Meg Morley and Frank Bockius, who played for the L&H double bill and had accompanied THE MAN WHO LAUGHS the night before. The difficulties of the somewhat illogical construction of Paul Leni’s epic were raised, and this led on to the question of perhaps the ultimate silent movie bogeyman, and the question, How WOULD you produce live music for THE BIRTH OF A NATION?

I could say confidently that a justifiable approach would be period-authentic, giving the film the Wagnerian sweep Griffith wanted for it, and trusting the audience to resist being altogether seduced. I think what’s interesting about he film is (a) it’s vile and (b) it’s exciting blood-and-thunder melodrama. So letting it be both, and letting it condemn itself, seems fair. But if it were me — if, as in a dream, I suddenly acquired musical prowess and were ordered to sit at the upright and play along with Griffith’s toxic vision, I doubt if I could do it.

I might be just able to pound out The Ride of the Valkyries for the climax. I would fall stubbornly silent when Griffith is lampooning the Black members of the South Carolina legislature, my fingers stiffened into immobile sentinels at the gates of all that is decent.

Fortunately recorded scores exist. Let them stand. Don’t ask anyone else to musically incriminate themselves.

The Family Business

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2023 by dcairns

Emerging from his victim’s bedroom, Verdoux launches into his money-counting routine, where Chaplin creates the effect of undercranking without any camera trickery at all. Verdoux’s history as a bank teller is brought to life before us, and the point is made that he’s continuing his financial career via alternate avenues.

Multitasking: Verdoux puts a call through to the stock exchange to invest his newly-stolen finances, and prepares breakfast. Oddly, he lights the gas range before turning it on. Either there’s something I don’t understand about 1940s gas cookers or there’s something Chaplin doesn’t understand about them. Information gratefully received.

The Lubitsch touch — we understand that Mme Floray is dead because Verdoux lays two places for breakfast, then notices his mistake, silently chastises himself for forgetfulness, and clears one away. Except we ALREADY understood this, so this is more like a very un-Lubitsch anxiety that everyone should understand. Or maybe it’s just a grim little joke — it’s certainly witty and dark.

Verdoux returns home to his real wife and child, accompanied by an outpouring of sentimental music so that we know he REALLY loves them. The kid, Peter, is played by one Allison Roddan, in their only IMDb-credited screen role. A typical movie sprog of the period, not a Chaplin offspring, the only odd thing being that he (?) is called Allison.

The authentic Mme. Verdoux is in a wheelchair, adding to the sentiment and also pushing us to find his homicidal activities, if not justifiable, at least something he was pressured into. The trouble is he’s so coldly efficient about it. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the Verdoux family something of a bore — they have a useful function in terms of motivation, but they’re not exactly vivid, and no drama or comedy can be attempted in their presence, it seems. Verdoux may be devoted to their wellbeing but Chaplin can dispose of them quite swiftly, offscreen, later on.

Mona Verdoux is played decorously by Quebecois actor Mady Correll. Chaplin cast a few actors with French-sounding names, like Virginia Brissac (mentioned earlier this week for her connection to the Russ Columbo shooting) but I think this is chance. He was also happy to cast the very American Martha Raye, after all.

“I know it,” says Mme. Verdoux, a very Chaplin line: he says it himself while hanging from an aeroplane in THE GREAT DICTATOR. That may be a tiny sign of his limitations as a dialogue writer: his characters all talk like him.

We also learn that the Verdoux family are vegetarians, which is surely HIS idea. His contradictions — kind to animals, murderous to rich widows — are already established, and surely the irony connects Verdoux deliberately to Chaplin’s previous role, as Hitler.

Mme. V. reads the news headlines: DEPRESSION WORLDWIDE, UNEMPLOYMENT SPREADS THROUGH ALL NATIONS. Rather than being an event, the stockmarket crash seems, in this world, to be a continuous crisis — which makes it hard to figure out what time period this is meant to be. War hasn’t been mentioned yet.

“Peter, don’t pull the cat’s tail. You have a cruel streak in you, I don’t know where you get it.”