Archive for Alfred Machin

The Sunday Intertitle: Damn this War!/This Damn War! (with added panther)

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2020 by dcairns

Continuing to investigate the work of Alfred Machin. I thought at first there was little available, but actually a good bit of his early work is on YouTube.

MAUDIT SOIT LA GUERRE (1914) is fascinating because it’s an early feature, because it’s an anti-war movie made mere months before WWI broke out, and because it sorta predicts aerial warfare, with biplanes blowing up balloons and stuff, all staged full-scale.

But I’m also impressed by the stencil colour, which firstly is used to differentiate one side from the other: the two main tints are those applied to the unnamed rival nations’ uniforms. But then we get bright green grass, red roof tiles, and then, for the numerous explosions, flashes of all-over red.

Machin was doing his very best to personalize the concept of “the enemy” with this story of friends from different countries who find themselves fighting to the death on opposite sides. If we thought of the other side as people like us, it would be a lot harder to kill them.

Another thing I devoured recently was Jacques Tardi’s similarly titled graphic novel Goddamn This War!, translated and released by Fantagraphic Books, which paints a remorselessly grim (series of) picture(s) of the whole of WWI, largely from a French infantryman’s viewpoint. Tardi chooses to make his protagonist politically aware and cynical about the war from the get-go, eschewing the traditional journey from naive patriotism to war-weary cynicism. By starting downbeat, Tardi seems to leave himself nowhere to go, which is kind of true, but then he GOES THERE. So we get bludgeoned by page after page of horror and misery, and it’s exhausting — as it should be. I could barely finish it.

Light relief: Machin casts his favourite star, Mimir the panther, in an earlier short, SAIDA A ENLEVE PIS (1913).

The Sunday Intertitle: Chimproper Behaviour

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2020 by dcairns

SUDDEN CHIMPACT

LE MANOIR DE LA PEUR (1927 or thereabouts) chimpressed me no end. Though the story of Alfred Machin & Henry Wulschleger’s thriller is fairly naive, mainly an opportunity to exploit the services of chimpanzee actor Monsieur Schey, the photography (by Mario Badouille), design (unknown), editing (maybe the directors?) and performances are terrific.

A mysterious stranger moves into the MANSION OF FEAR (turn left at the cemetery). Soon, the village is plagued by a crime spree. But we’ve already been shown who’s doing it: the sinister stranger’s servant (Cinq-Leon) has been training a lab chimp, Hello (Monsieur Schey), to burgle the burghers. He chalks a kind of HOBO SIGN on the door of each home to be ransacked, then dispatches the chimpetuous Hello to do his hairy bidding.

Cinq-Leon, a self-described wretch, is a remarkable presence. Every part of him is in an advanced state of decay, from his teeth to his face to his walk, a scuttle that’s equal parts infantile, senile, rodent and crustacean.

He seems to be playing his part in English, as you can see his hideous mouth parting wide in a repeated exhortation of “Yes!” as he instructs his chimpressionable protege. I imagine this being delivered in a fervent, Ben-Kingsley-in-SEXY-BEAST manner.

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Hello chimplements his crimes with chimpetuous chimpiety. What are they gonna do, lock him up?

Look how beautiful the photography is, though.

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Most of this joint is location-based, but we get some terrific interiors when we visit the town hall, which has seen better days. Unsightly ducts, heaps of neglected books, and a massive fissure in the ceiling. Plus terrifyingly tall doors. It’s expressionist in its exaggeration, but very solid and tactile and real at the same time. And we’ll probably never know who was responsible.

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SLIDESHOW!

The mayor gets his flunky to check the town’s history to see if something like this has happened before. And you know what? Something like this has happened before! Only that time, the stranger was the devil and they got rid of him by burning him in the town square. Simpler times.

I was struck that this plot idea — a demonic force descending periodically upon a small town, its backstory discovered in the archives — anticipates Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (and Stephen King’s It, but we know where HE got it from).

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One of the wacky and advanced things about the film is the sudden appearance of the Devil and the scary house during the opening titles. Spliced in without warning. They ought to be subliminal flashes I suppose, but the filmmakers didn’t quite have the nerve for that. But you could argue the non-diegetic and pseudo-subliminal Satan anticipates THE EXORCIST. Or I’ll argue it. Hold my coat.

Dig that zigzag

Hello the Chimp has been trained in one more trick — when Cinq-Leon is worried that he’s going to be unmasked, he sends his chimplacable avenger out with a bottle of poison to spike the ale of his potential denouncer. But Hello goes astray, murders a signalman instead, thus sending a locomotive hurtling towards a collapsed viaduct… Cue exciting rail chase…

So there’s a lot going on here. It’s a film of sensations. Many of them involving a chimpanzee. I really want to see more by this team. They all collaborated with the versatile Monsieur Schey in LES HÉRITIERS DE L’ONCLE JAMES (1924 or thereabouts) but alas that isn’t readily available. But I’ll let you know what I find.

The Sunday Intertitle: Babylas Zoo, AKA Menagerie a Deux

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2020 by dcairns

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MADAME BABYLAS LOVES ANIMALS is from the age when intertitles were optional (1911), it seems, or maybe they got lost. But it does have an attractive main title card, which has been removed from the porno English-language version, MRS PUSSY LOVES ANIMALS ~

I sought it out because I was impressed by LE MANOIR DE LA PEUR (1924) and wanted to see more from its two directors, Alfred Machin & Henry Wulschleger, but there’s not much available. Wulschleger is only represented by CAPITAINE FRACASSE, which I’d seen but only because his co-director was the great Alberto Cavalcanti. I rather ignored HW.

This one is a very short Machin comedy with a childishly simple premise: Madame Babylas loves animals so much she adopts everything she sees. Since she lives in the country with her exasperated husband, her household is soon exploding with livestock.

A panther chases a pig out of the house in one striking (and concerning) moment.

Madame Babylas ends the film consoling her poor porker, bandaging it and kissing its ear. Pig looks very chill.

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It’s a very, very simple plot but the movie manages to make it quite incoherent. Maybe there’s an hour of lost footage. There was apparently a whole series of shorts about M. Babylas (Louis-Jacques Boucot) but Madame (uncredited, identity unknown) and her dumb chums have taken over this one entirely.

Machin was a hot-shot young producer who set up Pathé’s production base in Belgium, then in Holland. But prior to that he’d been their man in Africa, and he was fond of placing animals in his movies thereafter, particularly the panther Mimir. (The IMDb says, “Mimir is an actress…”)

LE MANSION also has a displaced African beast, but I’ll tell you about that next week…