Let the stick decide

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2016 by dcairns

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Early in John Ford’s YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, Henry Fonda drops a stick to decide which path to take in life.

Scene one of Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO, Toshiro Mifune throws a stick in the air to decide which route to take at a fork in the road.

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Now, we know Kurosawa idolized Ford, so do we think this superficial similarity is a conscious homage/steal? I’m inclined to think so. YOJIMBO is Kurosawa’s most American film, since it adapts Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, and also steals a scene (the one with the giant sadistic thug) from the Alan Ladd film of The Glass Key (or from the book: I don’t remember the scene, but I expect it’s there).

Kurosawa kept a signed picture Ford had given him, and I think also wore a Fordian hat.

Ford to Kurosawa: “You really like rain, don’t you?”

The Sunday Intertitle: Buster’s Shorts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 22, 2016 by dcairns

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OK to announce my big Buster Keaton project now — wonder-editor Timo Langer and I have created a video essay to accompany Masters of Cinema’s new Blu-ray release of the complete Buster Keaton short films — now more complete than ever with longer alternate cuts of MY WIFE’S RELATIONS, THE BLACKSMITH and CONEY ISLAND. It was fun to make this one — though hard to decide whether to go for history/biography, critical or some combination. My big idea was to cut together the films in such a way as to create long sequences of continuous movement — Buster flies off screen left in NEIGHBORS and enters screening right, in a different costume, in COPS. And so on. Every silent comedy doc used to have a fast-and-furious montage of Keystone chases, spliced up into abstract gibberish and much more exciting than the films themselves. This was an attempt to do a variation on that idea, emphasising Buster’s tendency to use himself as a projectile…

The only downside to all this is that Keaton’s short film oeuvre, which once seemed inexhaustible and limitless, is now behind me, watched. I can watch it all again, of course, and I will, But you can only watch something for the first time once, as my friend Travis recently observed. One of the nicest discoveries on this viewing was THE HAUNTED HOUSE, which features numerous instances of Keaton’s Nightmare Mode, one of the subjects of my video essay…

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Buy it here and help a brother out.

Bunuel muffs it

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2016 by dcairns

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I am second to none in my admiration for THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, which does everything THE TOWERING INFERNO does only better (a bunch of rich toffs in gowns and tuxedos gather for a party and find themselves mysteriously unable to leave) but I think I’m on the whole glad that Bunuel didn’t get to make THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS in Hollywood, as he had  wished.

Apart from anything else, it seems just that Robert Florey got to steal the film from a fellow European, the way James Whale stole FRANKENSTEIN away from him (which we certainly can’t regret). Also, Florey’s film has a variety of reasonably impressive special effects. When Bunuel includes a Crawling Hand in a dream sequence in EXTERMINATING ANGEL, the effects are just ALL WRONG.

First, the hand enters, suddenly, with a wet slap, seeming jumping onto the floor from UNDER the door, a spatial impossibility which might be kind of cool and dreamlike if it looked better. Bunuel always liked using strange, counter-intuitive sound effects — he’s great to study for that — but they quite often don’t work (think of the mewing cats in BELLE DE JOUR — effective only because of an earlier non sequitur line about “Don’t release the cats!” but kind of awkward in situ). Here, the progress of the hand, which slides across the floor exactly like a prop on a wire, rather than crawling ratlike in the approved Florey manner, is accompanied by clapping or finger-clicking, which makes conceptual sense but just isn’t scary.

The hand at this stage looks waxen, which is eerie when the hand in question is attached to a real person, like Ivor Novello upon his entrance in THE LODGER, but not what is called for in a sequence where we have to be convinced the hand is human, as is the case here,

Far worse, the sequence climaxes with the prop hand attacking its victim, and careful casual study of the shot reveals that the hand is not only a dummy, but is being worked from below by a real hand. The worst possible combination of techniques! I mean, if we’re not meant to see the edge of the wrist-stump, then just use a real hand. If we ARE meant to see it, maybe put it on a black stick or something? The last thing we want is for the prop hand to be transparently worn like a mitten by some Spanish props guy with his pale and obvious thumb sticking out.

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Don Luis, you really must try harder or you won’t make it in the digital age.

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