Archive for the Theatre Category

The Shakespeare Sunday Intertitle: You cataracts and hurricanoes!

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2017 by dcairns

Last week’s intertitle from an Italian KING LEAR of 1910 was in English, so it makes just as much sense that this week’s, from 1909 American adaptation of the same play, is in German.

An interesting contrast, in other ways: while the Italians enacted their arm-waving al fresco, the American film is wholly studio-bound. Though even shorter than the Italian abridgement, it packs in more of the plot, so we get Gloucester and his sons in their subplot, complete with sleight-of-hand blinding. And this one rightly considers the storm a key set-piece, something you can’t just leave out and replace with your lead actor talking to  a rock. They break out the special effects kit to give us interior rain and lightning-bolts. In this case, the SFX equipment seems to consist of a wire brush to produce multiple diagonal scratches on the negative (rain) and a scalpel to etch in little S.S. style symbols (lightning). The backdrop also lights up from behind, and the FX “team” seems to change their style of thunderbolt as the film goes on. The top image shows a long, thin fellow zapping in from top right, whereas the frame-grab below has a chubby little fellow aiming right at Lear’s head (well, he did ask for it).

Oddly, the interior filming makes this one seem a lot less sophisticated than last week’s. Even the beards are inferior. Maybe it’s just that transferring a play to scenic settings feels more “cinematic” than doing it on cheap sets? If so, that’s really just an illusion.

The megalithic backdrops put me in mind of the Granada TV version with Olivier, whose Stonehenge chic look always seemed rather kitsch. I slightly prefer the Elizabethan approach of Jonathan Miller’s rival BBC production, but both approaches unavoidably raise questions, since Shakespeare is never consistent about period (bad Shakespeare!). Maybe the best way to build a world for Lear would be a mix-and-match design.

William V. Ranous stars and co-directs with J. Stuart Blackton. The IMDb credits are wondrously woolly, with two Gonerils and two Regans credited and one woman playing both. Thomas H. Ince and Maurice Costello are supposed to be in it too, but we don’t know what as.

Google translates:

Because Gloster helped the King Lear, his eyes were cut off and he was driven away.

Winthrop-Wilfong

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2017 by dcairns

“My God, the film begins with flagrant underwear-flaunting.”

Leslie Howard is Dwight Winthrop! Clark Gable is Ace Wilfong! There’s no excuse for a Dramatis Personae containing both those names.

This is Wilfong. But this is not Wilfong’s hat.

It’s a Norma Shearer movie, though. But it contrasts with THE DIVORCEE with a more low-life milieu and a more pre-code atmos. It begins by teasing us with an offscreen nude Shearer, the implication that Lionel Barrymore is her sugar-daddy, the aforementioned undies-flaunting, and then the revelation that Lionel is her actual daddy. James Gleason appears, cranium like a misshapen light bulb.

The very talented Clarence Brown directs, and though, with rare mobile exceptions, each scene tends to fade up on a static wide shot, the soundtrack full of pensive crackle, the thing is actually pretty cinematic. Brown delivers some truly expressive angles, as when Shearer and Howard face off over a barrier in a prison visiting room.

“They would never allow that much physical contact in a visiting room,” protested Fiona during the subsequence embrace.

“I think they had more leeway in MGM’s visiting rooms,” I suggested.

Fiona felt the film was missing a trick — preventing the bodily touching could be really powerful. Barriers are dramatically valuable. But this IS MGM. How can they pass up a clinch?

Gable won on the rematch in GONE WITH THE WIND, arguably, but the levels of stardom are quite different at this point, giving Leslie Howard advantages over the jug-eared, oddly canine-featured newbie. Maybe it’s that tiny clown hat that makes him look like a cartoon bulldog?

Gleason is the most credible performer — you assume that meeting him, he would be just like that. And he wasn’t — check his perf in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER for a whole different characterisation. Next best is probably Gable, radiating confidence and not bothering to apologise for his character’s nastiness. Howard is fine, Shearer fluctuates between genuinely excellent and painfully fakey. She still strikes poses madly, and affects a musical laugh which may either delight or cause subconscious contraction of the hand muscles, producing a strangler-like-effect.

Lionel Barrymore as her dad is in a whole different school, stylised and theatrical like Shearer but doing it at a much higher level of expertise, pulling it off consistently. Really it’s his film — he plays an alcoholic lawyer who will end up defending one of his daughter’s lovers for shooting the other, and convicting himself as a lousy parent in the process. It’s a very well-structured play — ambitious location shooting can’t shake of the aura of the stage (Adela Rogers St. Johns is credited for her source novel, but it comes by way of Willard Mack’s stage version), and Brown’s dramatic angles aren’t frequent enough to turn it completely into a fluid movie, but it does represent a big step on from THE DIVORCEE. The frame, rather than just capturing the Cedric Gibbons sets and the actors’ poses, contributes to the storytelling a lot more, and the pacing is a hundred times sharper.

The Sunday Intertitle: A Fellow of the Self-Same Colour

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , on July 16, 2017 by dcairns

This 1910 Italian KING LEAR is gorgeously hand-coloured, and Time has enhanced its beauty with little golden bullet-holes of decay, a form of decomposition I’ve never previously encountered — a cross between golden snowflakes and dancing stigmata.

Giuseppe de Liguoro stars and directs.

We’re in the era when the intertitle held illimitable dominion over all — each scene is synopsised by a title card before it redundantly unspools. Cramming Shakespeare’s masterpiece into fifteen minutes is still quite a trick, but this approach (summary–gesticulations–summary–gesticulations…) does let them race through the plot. All they lose are the Gloucester-Edgar-Edmund subplot, all the emotional effect and absolutely all the poetry. But the delicate tinting does produce a poetry of its own.

Those unfamiliar with the play would likely be lost: Kent is banished and reappears in unrecognizable disguise but the fellow writing the captions doesn’t see fit to mention him for three scenes. But confused Italian audience members at the time would be compensated by the spectacle of vigorous, beefy types facepalming themselves to express high emotion, IN LIVING COLOUR. Where else could they see that, apart from outside?

The colour runs out just before the last scene, so it plays a bit like the desaturated shoot-out in TAXI DRIVER. You can feel trouble coming.

I was surprised we don’t get Nahum Tate’s happy ending along with the rest of the bowdlerisation (a storm scene was evidently considered too expensive or difficult, so Lear rants at a handy rock instead). But the very end of the film has dropped off at some point in the last hundred and seven years, so Lear is still alive at the end, just barely, despite his prophecied-by-title-card demise. He doesn’t look happy though, so we can definitely say it’s a tragedy.

From the BFI’s excellent SILENT SHAKESPEARE.