Archive for Alexander Mackendrick

Pg. 17, #3

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2020 by dcairns

Mackendrick accompanied Relph to Prague to scout locations. As always, his enthusiasm was tireless: Relph describes him “rushing up every steeple in Prague when you could see perfectly well from the ground that it wasn’t any good. But he would never take anybody else’s word.” Mackendrick, for his part, retorts that “Michael is covering up for the fact that he doesn’t like heights. One of the spires was very tall, with a tiny balcony and this terrific bird’s eye view of Prague. I managed to get Michael up the stairs, but when he got outside he turned his face to the wall and wouldn’t turn around. So he never saw the view.”

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Checkmate. When you were interviewed by Bianco e Nero in 1958 you said that modern directors had eliminated the “problem of the bicycle.”

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…Morning sunlight at the Onwentsia Club, where Father has just given me a beautiful pony of my own, a retired polo pony. I go riding with a groom from the club’s stables. My retired polo pony is, of course, neck-broken, he works with one hand, but I don’t know this and I must do something with the reins, because abruptly the pony has started back where we came from and I am swinging in the air on the other end of the reins doing the big loop.

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It was altogether different in those days, because we had no dialogue or anything. I learned a great deal about pantomime from him, people telling the story just by their looks, their eyes and their hands. I learned about movement from him, of course, because most of his pictures were what we always called a “run-to-the-rescue.” That means that the girl is on the railroad tracks, the train is coming, her lover is coming on the horse and he gets her off just as the train goes by. All the pictures in the early days had that.

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Most of the writers who have contributed to this dictionary belong either to the generation for whom Citizen Kane was the first great revelation of the cinema or to the generation for whom Godard’s A Bout de Souffle performed the same function. But they are alike in one very important respect: neither generation was brought up on silent film. Almost all the writers in the Dictionary discovered silent film after their experience of sound film. This is important, because they are therefore almost obliged to have a different view of montage.

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The weird part of it is that it never occurred to anyone, including Clark and me, that all this might have had a bad effect on the mood, or on our ability to play a love scene convincingly. But that’s the way it was. The way it always is. The way it is today, on any movie set…

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Of course, there was the zoo, with caged lions — that was before those ridiculous concrete rocks were built for them — and they made me cry. The seals, on the other hand, seemed to me to be happy; at least they had their water, and kilos of fish thrown to them by a keeper who addressed them only in German.

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This week I excerpted only film books. It makes it harder to create a crazy mixed-up storyline or conversation, but what surprised me is that the coincidental connections created have little to do with film and more to do with transport.

They are: Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick, by Philip Kemp; Encountering Directors, by Charles Thomas Samuels (being flummoxed by Antonioni); Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges; Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends, by Patrick McGilligan, interviewing Raoul Walsh (pictured) with Debra Weiner about D.W. Griffith; Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Richard Roud, from his introduction; Film Makers Speak, edited by Jan Leyda (the speaker is Mary Astor, referencing Clark Gable); Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be, by Simone Signoret.

The Sunday Intertitle: Moriarty-craftsy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2019 by dcairns

I watched the John Barrymore SHERLOCK HOLMES because I’m going to be doing something about Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK, JR and I wanted to see if this film, released just a couple of years previously, had influenced it. Nothing very very specific, but a general sense that Keaton’s conception of his role and the world of Holmes had more to do with Albert Parker’s film than a close reading of Conan Doyle.

The film is pretty nice! I gave up on it one time before, mainly because it presents Holmes as a moony romantic lazing about country lanes, and knowing Watson when at uni. But it otherwise manages to fold Moriarty into Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia and has a very nice cast.

Roland Young in a silent film, hmm — apart from some good slouching, he kind of disappears when he can’t use his voice. But the film gives a lot of the sidekicking to a very young William Powell anyway. Fascinating to see both men with their own hair. (I’m obsessed with hair at the moment because my own hair is retreating like the Maginot Line.)

DW Griffith sweetie Carole Dempster is leading lady, and we get appearances by the likes of Louis Wollheim, instantly recognizable from the way his nose has been compressed into his head until it is visible as a small bump on the back of his neck, and David Torrence, whose brother Ernest would work with Keaton as Steamboat Bill, Sr, and play a memorable Moriarty in the enjoyable 1932 William K. Howard farrago.

Best of all is the Moriarty here, the magnificent, and magnificently named Gustav(e) Von Seyffertitz, the Greater Profile, whose drooping scarf and expressionistic gestures reminded me forcibly of Alec Guinness’s Professor M (for Marcus) in THE LADYKILLERS. Now, it’s known that Guinness modelled his teeth and cigarette-smoking on critic Kenneth Tynan (an actor’s revenge!) but I wouldn’t be surprised if he, or director Sandy Mackendrick, or the costume designer Anthony Mendleson, was influenced by Gustav(e)’s great look.

There’s a fairly purple intertitle gushing about the coldness of Moriarty’s blood —

It got me wondering if the scarf, and the claw-like, expressionistic hand gestures (another Guinness connection) were because Moriarty is literally cold all the time — he’s characterised as a kind of spider, and spiders always start turning up dead at this time of year. I like the idea of a villain whose cold-bloodedness causes him seasonal discomfort.

Zero Tolerance

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2019 by dcairns

A producer I was discussing the vicissitudes of the film business with once described it as “a process of continually deferred satisfaction” (credit where due: it was Eddie Dick) which seems about right.

Proof of this lies in THE PRODUCERS, where Mel Brooks can lay claim to having written an as-good-as-perfect script (OK, the first scene is like twenty pages long, but it’s GREAT) and assembled an as-good-as-perfect cast to play it. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are so good together, astonishing (it’s worth seeing RHINOCEROS, the Ionesco adaptation they’re in together too, although I would prefer Alexander Mackendrick to have made his version, with either Tony Hancock or Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov. He was going to matte rhinos into London landscapes.)

The first woman to wear lipstick in New York, and the man from whom Brooks stole the Elephant Man’s hairstyle.

BUT — to prove that there is no real satisfaction to be had for the labourer in film, Brooks was dissatisfied with Mostel’s performance throughout the shoot. Editor Ralph Rosenblum, in his excellent memoir, describes how Brooks filled the cutting room with explosive rage at Mostel’s intractability. He couldn’t let go of it and concentrate on the editing, his mind was still chewing over the trauma of the shoot, where he had tried to get Mostel to imbue Max Byalistock, conceived as a kind of humanoid id, with a form of sweetness and likability. If you see Nathan Lane in the role in the remake, you’ll see exactly what Brooks had in mind — Lane became his vision of the part.

The end credits list Zero merely as “Zero,” which seems affectionate — maybe Rosenblum is responsible, or maybe it’s phony showbiz affection, or a hidden gibe, or maybe Brooks loved Mostel as a man even if he hated — HATED! — the performance. A little mystery.

Yet I find Mostel ideal, and don’t find him remotely lacking in sweetness and likability, (“The most selfish man I ever met,” says Leo Bloom, affectionately.) But I agree with Mostel’s interpretation that the man is in essence villainous. Mostel played a lot of villains and finks in his pre-blacklist period, and being blacklisted probably didn’t make him any less explosive. But he’s always hugely human, therefore loveable.

(When The Producers stage musical was to open in London and Nathan Lane was unavailable, Brooks cast Jonathan Cake, who had played Mosley, then fired him for playing it too villanous. Nathan Lane somehow became available.)

Mel Brooks has had as long and rewarding a career as you could wish for, achieving wonderful things as director and producer and star and writer and lyricist. But by some cruel caprice of fate, he can’t see how magnificent the lead actor in his first film is.