Archive for the Politics Category

The Sunday Intertitle: The Film Within the Film

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on June 9, 2019 by dcairns

MACISTE (1915) is an earl meta-narrative, being not only a sequel to CABIRIA, of a sort, but a film which CONTAINS its predecessor. “Here I shall try to explain myself, lest I be suspected of madness or indulgence in symbolism,” as Maxim Gorky is always saying.

We have a damsel in distress, fleeing pursuers. Where better to take refuge than a cinema?

In the movie theatre, our heroine happens to see CABIRIA, which is reworked for dramatic purposes so that the credits claim that Maciste is the tar of the film, rather than a supporting character played by Bartolomeo Pagano:

Great tinting and toning and matting!

Inspired by the heroic antics onscreen, our heroine sends move star Maciste a fan letter/distress call, because when you’re in trouble, you don’t want the police, you want a former dock worker turned movie actor.

We then get a lovely glimpse of the Itala Film studios, viewed with the exploratory moving camera unique to Italian cinema at that time:

And then we meet Maciste Pagano, getting into character by weightlifting three men and a dumbbell. Of course, when he gets the note from “a helpless young girl pursued by powerful evil-doers,” he drops everything and rushes to the rescue.

This wacky narrative device performs two helpful functions: it means that CABIRIA sequels starring Pagano need not be costly (and I mean REALLY costly) period epics, and it means that Pagano can ditch the shoe polish that turned him into a Nubian slave, appearing with something as near his own skin tone as the quirks of orthochromatic film stock will allow. Which maybe made him a more popular or anyway acceptable fantasy figure for audience members like this film’s “helpless young girl,” and had another effect nobody at the time could have predicted: it allowed Pagano to continue playing the role after the rise of the blackshirts.

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Adorf, Mario: My Part in His Downfall

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on June 8, 2019 by dcairns

I just re-read my original piece on NACHTS, WENN DER TEUFEL KAMM (1957) (NIGHTS, WHEN THE DEVIL CAME; or THE DEVIL COMES AT NIGHT), directed by Robert Siodmak, and I’m pleased to discover it’s both extremely short and quite inaccurate, which gives me a good opportunity to write some more.

The film deals with the subject of a serial killer on the loose in Nazi Germany, and beautifully brings out the horror and the irony of that situation, contrasting — without overtly doing anything — the depredations of the individual with the much worse acts of the state. Adolfo Celi Mario Adorf turns in a convincing and detailed performance as the killer, concentrating on making it a compelling portrayal of a man with learning difficulties.

What I didn’t know last time was that Adorf’s real-life subject was, in all probability, innocent — a hapless soul tortured by the German police into confessing to a bunch of killings, thereby helping them to take scores of unsolved cases off the books. By this light, Siodmak’s well-meaning, liberal film turns into an unfortunate whitewash of the Reich’s police force, who were — OF COURSE — in it up to their ears.

So my feelings about the film — maybe Siodmak’s best post-Hollywood production — are complicated. It gets at some poetic truths, but defames an innocent, murdered man. It has its own cinematic truth, like Truffaut’s L’ENFANT SAUVAGE, and like that film, it can’t quite escape an obligation to history, which it chooses to ignore.

But here’s why I think it’s a brilliant piece of film-making:

Adorf, having been captured, is taken to visit one of his old crime scenes. He starts to re-enact what happened for the benefit of police. The camera follows his invisible victim — present only in his imagination, but unseen by us. At a certain point, we lose sight of the cops, who must be closely shadowing their man, surely.

We are inside Adorf’s mind. Not quite in the past — because we don’t see his “prey” — only the spaces she once walked in — but we don’t see the police he’s talking to. We’re trapped in a phantom zone somewhere between then and now.

And then, when Adorf begins scrabbling in the dirt to conceal the invisible body, a simple cut abruptly causes the police to appear — they’ve been all around him all along.

I can’t think of another film of the time that does this. We’re practically in MARIENBAD territory. A pan around the treetops during the recollection of the murder itself makes me think RASHOMON is in there somewhere. And the camera reconstructing the crime is taken from REBECCA, I think, but the strange, depopulated half-world is a wholly original conceit.

The Insult that made a Man out of Quimby

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2019 by dcairns

TENSION (1949) is a film I always used to get mixed up with SUSPENSE (1946) and also IMPACT (1949), but I think I’ve got it straight now. Barry Sullivan helpfully illustrates the title with an elastic band in scene one, where he talks to us, his chums in the audience, about his patient, sadistic, Porfiry Petrovich style cat-and-mouse approach to catching killers.

But the star of the film is Richard Basehart, that character actor in a leading man’s body, who plays milquetoast drugstore proprietor Warren Quimby — and this is an MGM film so Fred Quimby was running the animation unit — and I’m also assuming at least one of the three writers knew the obscure meaning of that first syllable.

Basehart is quimby-whipped by his mean wife, Audrey Totter, cast much to type, and the noir staples of misogyny and post-war malaise are much in force: “You were cut in uniform,” is Totter’s explanation for her otherwise incomprehensible decision to marry this wimp for whom she expresses nothing but contempt. When she runs off with rich lout “Barney Deager” — the names in this movie are GLORIOUS — Quimby hatches the most pathetic murder scheme ever put on film.

Humiliated by hairy-chested (and hairy-backed, and hairy-armed) Deager on the beach, Quimby breaks his specs. Getting them repaired, he learns of the new miracle of contact lenses, and has an idea. He’ll get a pair of these new-fangled things and be A NEW MAN — unrecognizable as he sets up a false identity as Deager’s neighbour, snuffs him, and then vanishes without trace. Sort of a Clark Kent/Superman thing, only with more murdering. Like the Zack Snyder Superman, in other words.

This plan is so dumb it doesn’t even have to gang aglae for Quimby to be in trouble, but it gangs aglae from the start: he falls in love with Cyd Charisse, who embodies every submissive virtue lacking in his spouse. Then he decides, at the last minute, not to go through with the killing, but someone else does, and suspicion rapidly falls on our mild-mannered pharmacist.

This being MGM, the more conservative aspects of noir are to the fore, but being a John Berry film (subsequent blacklistee), it’s also more complicated. The institutions of marriage and the police don’t emerge untarnished: Sullivan and his partner, surly William Conrad, are nasty pieces of work. When Totter memorialises her slaughtered lover with the words, “He was full of laughs,” Conrad snarls back, “Now he’s full of lead.”

Charisse is a delightful presence so she manages to make her insipid role bearable, but Totter is much more fun. The daft plot’s machinations are cruelly effective in that she and Basehart are thrown back together just when he’s decided he doesn’t want her anymore, and the finger of guilt starts prodding him in the nose even as Sullivan woos his wife right under it.

For a while there I wondered if the writers had lifted the concept from Clouzot’s QUAI DES ORFEVRES, but if so they left out the final twist that allows that movie an absurdly happy ending.

SPOILER:

This one contrives to punish the guilty and reward the innocent (after making them sweat a little), but fades out in a hurry before the final clinch, since embracing a woman other than your wife is technically a no-no even if it’s just a matter of time before the execution.

TENSION stars Ishmael; Adrienne Fromsett; Gabrielle Gerard; Tom Amiel; Walter Winchell; and Frank Cannon.