Archive for A Edward Sutherland

Talking, No Pictures

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by dcairns

So, we still haven’t finished with CLOSE HARMONY, I’m afraid. The picture may be lost but I am listening to the soundtrack and relaying to you the mental images it provokes, so that this vanished early talkie can live, breathe and jump again.

Now read on…

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This section opens with a loooong silence, broken occasionally by coughing or shuffling noises. It reminds me of the remix of the John Lennon track Two Minutes Silence. The guy who did a cover version had to pay royalties to Lennon for the use of the complete silence, but his “remix” on the B-side was ruled to be a completely new composition because he’d added a few little coughs.

I’m trying to get my imagination going to fill in the picture for you here but I don’t have a lot to go on. Acoustically, I’d say it’s an interior. So we’re in a room somewhere, possibly with Charles “Buddy” Rogers shuffling his feet and nursing a slight bronchial condition. Then, dialogue breaks out — we now know we’re dealing with Buddy and Nancy Carroll, but the visual aspect remains mysterious. They could be disembodied spirits floating in an ethereal void. Maybe everyone was dead all along?

Now somebody’s singing scales. Jack Oakie? Buddy’s rival combo seem to be falling out, and this seems to be the result of offscreen activities by Nancy, setting them against each other. I say “offscreen,” but everything in this movie is offscreen. I guess I should say “off-mic”.

Now a brief convo between Oakie and the fifty-foot maid, in which we learn that Nancy has stood him up. This bombshell is followed by another pensive silence, during which to be honest anything might be happening. Oakie might be strangling the fifty-foot woman in a fit of rage, or vice versa, or the scene might have ended and a new one begun in at a deserted dog race, a beached canoe or a bottling plant during a power failure. After some seconds, the aural quality of the nothing that’s happening changes, and we perceive what might be a heavy rainfall.

John Cromwell circa 1940s

John Cromwell brought to you by the miracle of photography

Cutting through the crackling spatter trills a female voice — impossible to figure from the cast list who she is, but she strikes up a chat with a glum Buddy. He thinks Nancy has jilted him because she hasn’t let him in one her plan to sow discord amid the rival band by flirting with each member in turn. WHY she hasn’t simply explained this is mysterious, unless it’s because the plan is so sleazy. Anyhow, Buddy now goes off with this other girl — at 45 minutes in, the plot is finally starting to thicken, to a nice stodgy Charles “Buddy” Rogers consistency.

Sudden loud jazz! We’re at the party where all the rival band are waiting for Nancy. “Wait? I’ll grow a beard!” remarks one. The music stops and what we take to be thunderous applause breaks out, though it sounds like an audience of sea lions. A more gentle tune begins — we’ve heard it before, it’s “All A-Twitter,” the favourite tune of America’s new president.

Buddy’s date is now mentioned by name, so we can deduce that the actor is Greta Granstedt in one of her few roles that actually has a name. The character she made a habit of playing, according to the IMDb, was “minor role,” occasionally branching out into “extra” or “blonde.” And she kept this up for 29 years. Also at the IMDb, a Jim Kalafus supplies some exciting biographical detail for Greta ~

“Greta Granstedt was the San Francisco room-mate of explorer Bessie Hyde, who vanished, under mysterious circumstances, along with her husband Glen, while attempting to become the first couple to navigate the length of the Grand Canyon solo. Miss Granstedt’s parents were aboard the liner San Juan, which sailed between San Francisco and Los Angeles, when she sank less than three minutes after colliding with a tanker. Mr. Granstedt survived, his wife did not. According to the newspapers, they were en route to L.A. to visit with their actress daughter when they were caught up in the August 1929 disaster.”

So that disaster happened the very year CLOSE HARMONY was released. We don’t know if Greta is smiling through her tears as she plays this very scene.

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Greta in something else.

“Ain’t you glad you got me here all alone?” asks Oakie, suddenly, so we’re somewhere else, but not far away — we can still hear music. So I’m guessing he and Nancy have passed noiselessly through the French windows and are maybe out on some rooftop under the moonlight. Moonlight itself makes no sound, unless it sounds like Jack Oakie. I guess that’s possible. Just as, in colour movies, moonlight is portrayed as being blue, when in fact it is colourless and so dim as to render everything else colourless too, perhaps a similar convention existed in early talkies: whenever there’s moonlight, dub in some dialogue from Jack Oakie. So my impression that Oakie is in this scene in person may be a misapprehension. Perhaps Nancy is talking to the moon.

“Gee, it must be great to play on Broadway,” says Nancy, which doesn’t clear things up any. I mean, you could equally well say that to the moon as you could to Jack Oakie. If anything, the moon seems a more plausible listener. Nancy now gets her interlocutor to bad-mouth the character played by Richard “Skeets” Gallagher, Oakie’s musical partner. So I’m starting to think he’s not the moon. I don’t see why the moon would have a strong opinion on Skeets. I’m also visualising Skeets listening in on this, his face aflame, ears incandescent. I think such a thing was well within his range as an actor, and if not, well, *I’m* the one visualising this picture now, so I can easily render him capable of furious jealousy worthy of Othello. Though I don’t know if he would find it more natural to project such emotion at jack Oakie or at the moon. It may be there’s no real difference.

To be concluded…

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Hardcore Phonography

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 6, 2017 by dcairns

I’m twenty minutes into the surviving soundtrack of CLOSE HARMONY, “watching” it with my eyes closed and attempting to visualise the long-lost pictures.

Now read on…

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CHARLES “BUDDY” ROGERS: But I’m gonna amount to something, so that…

NANCY CARROLL: Yes?

CBR: So that…

NC: Yes?

CBR: So that…

NC: So that what?

I’m visualizing the needle skipping on the soundtrack. Nancy Carroll and I are both agog with anticipation.

CBR: So that you’ll marry me.

After what one imagines has just happened during the preceding several seconds of wordless audio hiss, one feels she may HAVE to.

CBR: Say yes!

NC: Oh, you brute!

Having the actual sound here is helpful, since Nancy’s line reading is playful and ironic, which may not come across in the transcription. But if you recall what Buddy is like in any of his other talkies, you would probably surmise that she MUST be being playful and ironic. Buddy is about as threatening as hay.

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Another silence, broken by strange murmurs and coughs. Either they’re kissing again, or we’ve faded out. Or both. And you know what THAT means.

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! A full minute of instrumental, during which I try hard to imagine Sam Raimi thrill-cam shots swooping over a shiny dance floor, but my brain remains trapped in a soundproof booth, watching static action from too far away. Then Buddy starts reedily singing that he’s “All A-twitter, About a Girl!” The man’s savage sexual passion is simply overwhelming. It’s a pleasant number, though.

Wet-sounding applause, then we suddenly cut to slightly crackling silence. Perhaps we are observing the next scene, whatever it is, from a fireplace? Then a bunch of characters say hello. They might be standing in the fireplace, I suppose, if it’s a big Charles Foster Kane job.

Buddy is going to talk to his new boss, Max Mindel, about a contract. This chat is preceded by another ten seconds of silence, so I’m assuming Mindel has a huge, Mussolini/Harry Cohn type office for Buddy to cross. Perhaps accessed through a fireplace, like the secret Nazi room in THE LAST CRUSADE. Mindel offers a forty-eight week contract. Another looong pause as Buddy reads the damn thing. Either that or he’s looking tenderly into Max Mindel’s eyes. Or making a birdhouse.

There follows a wordy contract negotiation scene not as enjoyable as the one in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, despite the presence of a dialect comedian. Harry Green as Max Mindel is croaking through the thickest set of lisps plus Russian-Jewish accent you ever heard, or didn’t hear. The upshot is, Mindel, who is unrequitedly in love with Nancy, realises that hiring Buddy will allow him to marry the girl, so Mindel rebels against the plan. “If you don’t get married before you earn a thousand dollars a week from me, then all your children will die bachelors!”

Buddy leaves, in real time, so that his conference with Nancy outside takes ten seconds of crackle to arrive at. Easy to imagine him scrunching through the autumn leaves that lie thickly upon the anteroom floor. Nancy, learning the negotiations were a bust, goes to talk to Mindel, and oddly enough it takes her only two seconds to reach him. Presumably she knows a shortcut. Perhaps she slides down a firepole. Anyway, the negotiations go on, but fall apart again when Mindel learns his board have booked a new act. Hard to tell what the act is called — it sounds like “Barnum a& Bindle.”

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ!

To be continued…

Unsound on Disc

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2017 by dcairns

So, I’m listening to the surviving soundtrack of lost film CLOSE HARMONY (but I would rather do THE TERROR or RETURN OF THE TERROR, whose Vitaphone discs I believe survive, if anyone can help) and I’m trying to mentally reconstruct the image track using audio clues.

Now read on…

close-harmony

Lots of creaking. Possibly musical instruments are being transported. Or possibly Charles “Buddy” Rogers is attempting to act. CLANG! “My trombone,” he explains, stressing the first syllable. Lots of hesitations in the dialogue, which I think would work well if you could see them carrying the “big horn” and the “awful big dru-um.” Buddy’s singsong Kansan accent makes drum a two-syllable word.

A soft background hum — we may now be in a car. I wonder if they’re attempting rear projection.

We learn that Nancy Carroll’s character is a successful nightclub singer. Buddy invites her to hear his band at the warehouse where he will now be storing all his band’s instruments.

The car noise fades out. New scene? loud jazz! Terrible singing — I guess it’s Nancy. “I want to go places and do things, with you.” Fiona suggests, “Could one of the things you do please not be singing?” Applause, sounding like a forest fire breaking out in a crisp packet.

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Backstage dialogue: “Looks like you is in a pow’ful hurry tonight.” Some kind of accent there — Hungarian? Gusztáv Pártos is in the cast. But this is a woman. I think it’s the maid from the Tom & Jerry cartoons, the one who exists only from the shins down. I picture her mighty shins towering over little Nancy Carroll in that dressing room, giantess legs reaching way far up beyond the natural limits of such a tiny room’s ceiling.

Knock knock. “It’s me, Maxie Mindel. Are you decent?” “Oh no, wait a minute!” So we’ve been missing a nude scene as well as giant shins.

Harry Green, who made most of the films of his career in 1929 and 1930 before anybody found out, is Max Mindel, who says “I know I’m not good to look at,” and yearns for Nancy. A sympathetic schnook. I picture him peering round one of the maid’s enormous legs and making googoo eyes at Nancy. Nancy decides to recommend Buddy’s warehouse band to Max as an act for his nightclub, the Babylon.

Everything goes quiet. Then — LOUD JAZZ! And a perhaps optimistic attempt to play dialogue at the same time. Green/Mindel seems to be one of the speakers. I’m trying to get a visual image of a band playing in a warehouse (perhaps sitting on crates) but all I seem able to visualise is a sound guy frantically twiddling his knobs.

The band breaks up for the night — mass rhubarbing as they all say goodbye. This takes about ten seconds, which is a lot of rhubarb. Nancy tells Buddy she’s got him a try-out at the Babylon. “How can I ever thank you? Gosh!” Then someone laughs a sinister laugh, very far off in the distance. I think it might be jack Oakie but you can tell only so much from a distant laugh. Does this sinister chuckler herald doom for Buddy?

Then there’s an abrupt, high-pitched wail, like Sterling Holloway falling from a tree. But then Buddy goes right back to thanking Nancy as if nothing had occurred. Perhaps it was a dream sequence? A sort of mental association: when Nancy hears the word “Gosh!” she pictures an effete man becoming deforested. It could happen that way, for some people. You never know with women.

Buddy is tongue-tied. “What’s so scary about me?” asks Nancy. “Your face,” says Buddy, the best line of the film so far. I wonder if they used makeup to make Nancy’s face look scary, or if Cromwell just lit her below as he does to Dorothy McGuire in THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE. Hollywood’s idea of “plain” — walking around with a torch shining up your chin as if about to tell a ghost story.

There then follows twenty seconds of crackly near-silence, broken only by muffled breaths and the occasional vague click. Then Nancy says, “I’m beginning to gather your meaning, Mr. West!” We need little imagination to retroactively paint in the preceding action.

To be continued…