Archive for the Theatre Category

Old Dark House Valuation

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2019 by dcairns

These are my programme notes from Hippfest’s screening of Paul Leni’s THE CAT AND THE CANARY ~

John Willard’s 1922 comedy-thriller play The Cat and the Canary has been filmed four times: probably the 1939 version with Bob Hope is the most-screened; the second version, The Cat Creeps, from 1930, sadly seems to be lost, apart from a few fragments; the 1978 remake, a rare fully-clothed outing from soft-porn specialist Radley Metzger, is an oddity. But it’s this 1927 production from the German émigré director Paul Leni, that really tickles the ribs and sends shivers up the spine at the same time: a cinematic workout for the whole skeleton.

All the surviving footage from the 1930 version.

It’s also a highly cinematic spectacle, with a mobile camera that looms and lurches (at one point even taking the point-of-view of a painting as it falls from a wall), expressionistic sets, eccentric title cards and artful superimpositions – the invalid Cyrus West, encased in the medicine bottles that give him life, is attacked by giant black cats, embodiments of his greedy relatives: a startling image! And that’s just the opening sequence.

Leni had directed Waxworks in Germany, likewise a riot of visual ideas, but he had a playful side too: he seems to be the only man ever to adapt a crossword puzzle into a film. Sadly, he died too soon, but not before giving us a trio of superbly atmospheric, macabre movies, rounded out by The Last Warning (another horror-comedy) and The Man Who Laughs (indescribable: a Victor Hugo period drama which inspired Batman’s ever-grinning foe, the Joker). Another hit, the Charlie Chan thriller The Chinese Parrot, is sadly lost.

An eerie mansion; a bickering throng of relatives; a will to be read at midnight; an escaped lunatic; sliding panels and hidden passages; a vanishing corpse – the story offers a dizzying array of melodramatic clichés, sent up with gusto and presented with all the shadowy spookshow atmospherics Hollywood could muster. While Lon Chaney’s freaky revenge thrillers were certainly a major influence on the horror cycle of the thirties (Dracula, Frankenstein et al), this macabre caper provided a lot of the inspiration too. The sepulchral sets were designed by Englishman Charles D. Hall, who had come to the States to work for Chaplin and would go on to create the creaky castles for most of the later Universal Studios monster movies.

It’s very much an international affair, reminding us how Hollywood has always sucked into its orbit the top filmmaking and acting talent of the world: Irishman Creighton Hale is the timorous hero, the kind of role he would reprise several times: he’s one of the Hippodrome’s favourite actors, having previously been screened in Annie Laurie and last year’s hit Seven Footprints to Satan. Hale had played staunch leading man types in movie serials of the teens (e.g. The Exploits of Elaine) before donning Harold Lloyd specs here to embody a comic milquetoast. The glamorous Laura La Plante, former bathing beauty, a big star of the silent and early talkie era, is top-billed, but it’s the grotesque supporting players who really bring out the goose-pimply fun…

The cadaverous Tully Marshall, resembling a kind of silly-putty skeleton, makes a lugubrious lawyer; Martha Mattox as the housekeeper, Mammy Pleasant, manages to make any shot she appears in startling, then unsettling; Flora Finch flutters as daffy Aunt Susan, and even the small role of a passing milkman becomes an exercise in grotesquerie, thanks to the chinless Joe Murphy, who was best-known for embodying yokel Andy Gump, a newspaper cartoon character.

And that’s what this is, in many ways, a live-action cartoon, with animated intertitles and a painted mansion to add to the funny-pages feel. Everything, from the actors to the sets to the exciting, swooping camerawork is designed to add to a heightened sense of macabre hilarity: Leni proves that German expressionism isn’t just there for the nasty things in life, it can be good for a laugh, too.

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“It was about something.”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , on March 28, 2019 by dcairns

This fortnight’s Forgotten (returning to its usual Thursday slot) comes direct from the Bo’ness Hippodrome and is a spicy bit of northern realism enlivened by a sharp sense of dramatic construction, progressive attitudes and some striking cinematic moments. 

I COULD be talking about Dreyer’s THE PARSON’S WIDOW, I suppose, but I’m not ~

Link.

(Thanks to Nicky Smith, Pamela Hutchinson, Mark Fuller, Stephen C. Horne, Sarah-Jane Crawford and Bryony Dixon for sharing their thoughts on this one and bigging it up), to Ali Strauss and Hippfest for showing it, and to the other Stephen Horne for the fantastic music,)

A Letter from Stan, 1 & 2

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , on March 22, 2019 by dcairns

We recorded a couple of minisodes (ugh! that WORD!) for The Shadowcast, relating to our recent Stan & Ollie megasode (deLIGHTful word), United We Fall.

Fiona discovered The Text featured, but to bring it to life we needed a Principle Boy, preferably one with an accent that might pass as similar to that of the young Arthur Stanley Jefferson. Since Stan moved about the UK a lot as a kid, and his eventual adult speech is a bit of a hybrid, we had a fairly loose remit, but opted to search around the area of his birthplace, Ulverston. Here, Naomi Bewsher of Stagecoach Performing Arts Schools, Carlisle and Cockermouth, was our benefactor. She eventually got five lads to record renditions of The Text, and we were supposed to choose one.

Well, we failed — Fiona was enamoured of Joe Campbell-Hillsley’s passionate rendition, whereas I leant towards Evan Low’s more measured delivery. So we compromised, and you get two minisodes for the price of none.

Music by Matt Wand and Marvin Hatley.

Here’s Joe:

And here’s Evan:

And here’s the original full-length megasode:

In strict fairness, I should admit to editing The Text slightly, including combining two drafts (both preserved for posterity by Stan’s dad). But all the words are by young Stan, and all the funny lines are authentic.