Archive for Alexandre Volkoff

The Sunday Intertitle: Dying Is Easy

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2015 by dcairns

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KEAN (1924), directed by Volkoff, starring Mosjoukine. Very lavish, and with the stylish lighting effects and ripe symbolism I expected of its director. It’s a hopeless farrago of Edmund Kean’s real life, omitting or distorting or downright negating nearly every salient fact about its subject, but it does capture a vivid spirit of excess and debauchery. Regardless of willful historical inaccuracy, it’s a striking film.

Mosjoukine, a great actor, isn’t really able to suggest Edmund Kean the great actor, since all his Kean does on stage is strut about and flirt blatantly with female members of the audience. His poor Juliet never gets a look in, as he’s too busy making goog-goo eyes through a gauzy veil at the Danish ambassador’s wife. She’s played by Nathalie Lissenko, the real-life Mrs. Mosjoukine, who’s very good — less showy than her hubby. She clearly understood screen acting, whereas arguably he only understood, or was only interested in, Great Acting. It’s either ironic or extremely apt that his face was used by Lev Kuleshov to demonstrate that montage could create the effect of emotion on an actor’s face without any performance at all.

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It’s offstage that Mosjoukine/Kean comes alive, dancing the hornpipe in a furious montage sequence, knocking back rum and flaming punch, which forms a brazier ardente to create some of the aforementioned dramatic lighting.

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He never gets to collapse on stage while playing Othello with his son (he doesn’t even have a son in this), nor does he say “Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” but expires in the suburbs, quoting Shakespeare to the end. A brief special effect shows his hand skeletonizing as he experiences the early signs of death — like Mrs. Bates skull seeping through the skin of Norman’s face at the end of PSYCHO.

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It’s very subtle, because his hand is so pale. You may have to trust me on this one.

A further hideous irony — Mosjoukine’s stardom was handicapped by sound (truncating a possible Hollywood career) and by unsuccessful plastic surgery back in Europe which is said to have robbed his face of character and limited his expressivity. He ended up needing Comrade Kuleshov to help with his performances. He died of tuberculosis in 1939.

Bathroom of Mystery

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2015 by dcairns

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Marking and hand-in time at college so my part-time job has become a full-time one for the moment, but to make myself even more tired I decided to do some midnight grouting. This did the trick and actually helped me sleep, I think. Light physical work after a day of mental work is quite relaxing. Of course, the fatigued efforts of an inexperienced grouter are not necessarily going to be the best you can get — the bathroom kind of looks as if the Michelin Man has committed suicide in it.

But I also found time to enjoy all 383 minutes of LA MAISON DU MYSTERE, and this forms the basis for this fortnight’s edition of, you guessed it, The Forgotten. The 1923 serial is available from Flicker Alley and features translation and liner notes by my chum Lenny Borger, and music by other chum Neil Brand. Linkage.

The Sunday Intertitle: The World’s Greatest Lover

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 10, 2012 by dcairns

Theory — to make sure Ivan Mosjoukine registers as a convincing Great Lover in Alexandre Volkoff’s 1927 CASANOVA, he’s surrounded by male grotesques — notably an early appearance by Michel Simon (right). I always assumed Simon perfected his  “look” in the boxing ring, but however far back you go, the spectacular kisser seems just as alcesian (moose-like) . Age and weight added “character” to it later, but this was surely redundant — Simon was already a flesh-cartoon drunkenly doodled by God on a beer mat, then foolishly allowed out into the world before sobriety could intervene. A boozy decision we can all be grateful for.

In one scene, Casanova startles an angry creditor and the bailiffs (above) by inflating himself to colossal size (something not nearly enough characters do in films). While the bulbous Mardi Gras Casanova that results is indeed alarming, it’s hard to see how it could startle Simon, who after all must face himself in the mirror to shave every day.

Mosjoukine DOES impress, though I’ve never been partial to periwigs myself. Actually, his very first appearance is a neat trick, as two white wigs fill the screen, creating an indistinct sort of woolly cloud, then they part as Casanova’s female servants stop fussing with him, revealing Mosjoukine in all his glory.

Another good bit of storytelling — a servant brings a message for the Great Lover, and stops an old Venetian gent to ask directions. The senior citizen cups his ear —

— yells the boy. The old guy is still baffled, shaking his head — but every shutter in every window opens and a woman appears at each, pointing the way.

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