Archive for Alexander Mackendrick

100% Talking

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2017 by dcairns

SUDDEN LOUD JAZZ! Yes, it’s time to continue our audiophonic journey through the surviving sound discs of John Cromwell and A. Edward Sutherland’s CLOSE HARMONY. Last we heard, Charles “Buddy” Rogers had failed to land a contract at the Babylon Club.

Now read on…

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The latest song is Buddy’s competing act, which allows the film to bring in someone a bit more musical. I mean, Buddy’s OK and everything… but it is kind of tragic to watch him simpering through It’s Only a Paper Moon in TAKE A CHANCE, when the cast includes Cliff Edwards who could really put it over beautifully.

Back to the “plot” — applause, rhubarb, and non-sequiturs smother the soundtrack for twenty seconds after the song, but then order is restored and one of the singers becomes identifiable, through dialogue, as Jack Oakie, although much of what he says is a touch hard to make out. I think he’s talking to Nancy Carroll, and they seem to be getting on swell. Someone else says, apropos of something or other, “Their notes are high but their thoughts – are – LOW!”

Nancy invites Jack and friends to some kind of party. Then he and his pals do a bit of actual close harmony, which slowly fades away, perhaps suggesting that they’re leaving at last, and then Buddy chimes in, reflecting morosely that with Oakie and friends so popular with the crowd, his chances of landing another gig are diminished. Various other career possibilities have been mentioned — Buddy started the film with the thought that his band would break into vaudeville (a little late in the day) but the budget is too limited, seemingly, or the running time too short, for these possibilities to be explored, so all Buddy can do is mope about backstage in a joint he doesn’t work at anymore.

Right away Buddy starts feeling jealous of Oakie, and declines to attend Nancy’s party (so he can stew and feel MORE jealous, a smart plan). But then Nancy says she’ll call the party off, just for him, which seems typical of the plot so far: a predictable but potentially compelling dramatic situation is immediately by an act of niceness. “Beware of sympathy,” wrote Sandy Mackendrick, “Sympathy is the enemy of drama.”

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Inaudible discussion between Nancy Allen and her fifty-foot-tall black maid. I *think* it goes something like “A regular Damon and Pythias,” “Yeah, they might be Oddfellahs too, but that triumph in valet’s room,” (or possibly “ballet school”) “tole me, that every now ‘n’ then they falls out, about some woman. Mm-hmm!” maybe the narrative will take an interesting turn after all, into Dadaism.

Now it turns out Nancy IS going out with the comedian harmonists, which makes Buddy cross, a welcome development but one that could have been accomplished two scenes ago, losing nothing but some indecipherable badinage.

But no! From sweet nothings cooed by the alluring Jack Oakie at the party, we deduce that Nancy Carroll is playing the femme fatale (!), accepting simultaneous dates with each of the incoming band, thereby to bust up their act by making them “falls out over some woman.” Thus Buddy will be able to get his job back while they’re all murdering each other. This seems incredibly low-down and dishonourable, but at least it’s a narrative development…

To be continued…

Mediocre Time Girl

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2014 by dcairns

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I’ve come to rely on Brit B-list director David MacDonald for at least one ludicrous moment per film. THE BROTHERS has a guy set bobbing in the ocean with cork tied under his arms, a fish in his hat to attract a passing sea-bird to swoop down and crack his cranium like an eggshell — a scheme served up as an alternative to murder. It’s not murder if a seagull does it. And DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS is a movie wholly composed of ludicrous moments.

Most of the mistakes in GOOD-TIME GIRL (1948), alas, are the kind that make it less fun. The story is narrated by Flora Robson to Diana Dors, a juvenile offender in need of a cautionary tale — this means that the mighty Dors is on screen for mere instants, and the rest of the flick concentrates on Jean Kent, who is OK but we can’t forgive her for not being Diana Dors. As a matter of fact, I often encounter this problem in real life: I’ll be talking to somebody, a shopkeeper, my bank manager, or the like, and I’ll think, “You’re OK, but you’re no Diana Dors.” It can sour a person’s whole life.

“I was present on the set of DANCE HALL,” said Alexander Mackendrick, “when Diana Dors was dragged away because you could see her nipples through her jumper, and she had to go away and have them stuffed with cotton wool, and her indignation at this was something to be seen.”

The film peaks early on with some whacky staging. Kent loses her job, and her drunkard father goes all MOMMIE DEAREST with a belt. As Kent cowers in bed, the hulking inebriate advances… and begins to lash the empty bit of mattress to Kent’s right. She screams! — in mystification, presumably, at this odd behaviour. I think we’d all feel like that if our father started taking his frustration out on the bed like that.

“I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”

There’s also Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Bonar Colleano, and the nice shot you see up top — a throwaway moment in a film otherwise free of style, and one that appears for just a couple of seconds, for no reason at all.

Still, I suppose Dors’ fleeting appearance gave her more free time to de-virginize Tony Newley, so it’s an ill wind etc.

Play

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by dcairns

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I finally decided to get myself a copy of Play-Making, a Manual of Craftsmanship by William Archer — the book Preston Sturges read when he was laid up with appendicitis and which turned him into a creator of Broadway hits the moment he’d devoured the last page. Maybe it’ll do the same for me! (I think he also read Brander Matthews’ guide to writing plays too — and this book is dedicated to BM.)

It’s not hard to see why Sturges would respond to this text — it has a high-flown style which occasionally plunges into comedy to make a point, so that it not only expresses the dramatic principles which the great filmmaker would exploit, but it also occasionally touches on the tone he would use. You can see this in the following passage, I think. Like today’s better screenwriting manuals. Archer begins by establishing the pitfalls of any guide to the craft ~

“There is thus a fine opening for pedantry on the one side and quackery on the other, to rush in. The pedant, in this context, is he who constructs a set of rules from metaphysical or psychological first principles, and professes to bring down a dramatic decalogue from the Sinai of some lecture-room in the University of Weissnichtwo. The quack, on the other hand, is he who generalizes from the worst practices of the most vulgar theatrical journeymen, and has no higher ambition than to interpret the oracles of the box-office. If he succeeded in so doing, his function would not be wholly despicable; but as he is generally devoid of insight, and as, moreover, the oracles of the box-office vary from season to season, if not from month to month, his lucubrations are about as valuable as those of Zadkiel and Old Moore.”

Lucubrations!

One could be mean and say that Robert McKee has in some ways gone beyond anything Archer dreamt of by combining pedantry with quackery (do you prefer the term pedackery or quackantry to describe this hybrid approach?).

I was startled by how familiar was Archer’s definition of drama (“Any representation of imaginary personages which is capable of interesting an average audience in a theater”) — and then I realized that all the insights of Chapter III of Playmaking had been condensed into Chapter 12 of Alexander Mackendrick’s On Film-Making. At least he gives credit, though — the chapter is called William Archer Revisited.