Archive for Buster Keaton

Laughter in the Dark

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2020 by dcairns

We received our copies of THE MAN WHO LAUGHS and BUSTER KEATON 3 FILMS (VOL 3) from Masters of Cinema.

Fiona and I wrote a video essay for the former, and I did the latter with an excellent assist from Miranda Gower-Qian. Stephen C. Horne edited both, brilliantly — since we were on full lockdown, this had to be done remotely but with a little back-and-forth of uploaded edits, this was managed smoothly.

MAN WHO was a particularly ambitious job — we enlisted actor friends Steven McNicoll and Fran Dymond to perform extracts from the Victor Hugo source novel and interviews with the principal filmmakers — Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, Olga Baclanova, Paul Leni…

Both pieces are around half an hour rather than the usual twenty minutes we’re generally paid for — ideally, we want to make video essays that are proper little films… it’s been a slow process of chiseling at the outlines of the video essay, expanding it outwards…

Buy them at the links below, support Shadowplay!

The Man Who Laughs (Masters of Cinema) Blu-ray [2020]
Buster Keaton: 3 Films (Volume 3) (Our Hospitality, Go West, College) (Masters of Cinema) Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxed Set [2020]

The Sunday Intertitle: Laugh and Smile

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2020 by dcairns

homme_qui_rit_1928_5

Masters of Cinema have announced some upcoming releases I’m mixed up in.

Firstly, for Paul Leni’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, Fiona and I wrote and voiced a substantial video essay, The Face Deceives, edited by Stephen C. Horne. It being lockdown, we had to communicate with Stephen remotely, but he’s something of a genius and the results are… dazzling. We also got Steven McNicoll, who did voice work on my OLD DARK HOUSE piece, Meet The Femms, and Fran Dymond, to voice extracts from Victor Hugo’s source novel and interviews with the filmmakers, and the result possibly extends the video essay form a wee bit…

Secondly, the third volume in MoC’s Buster Keaton series is coming, so Stephen and I get to vid-essay OUR HOSPITALITY, GO WEST and COLLEGE in a piece called A Window on Keaton. And I invited the magnificent Miranda Gower-Qian along for an interview about Keaton’s work with his family, and the role of The Girl in his pictures.

Here’s a tiny but lovely preview ~

Incidentally, I have assembled all the discs I’ve worked on in a stack in the hall. I was hoping by now it would be as tall as I am (somewhere under six foot, I’m not sure) but it’s still straining towards shoulder-height. But then I got the idea of toting up the running times of all my video essays, in an approximate way, and it came to more than ten hours, longer than the first series of Lodge 49, a beautiful TV show you should check out. So that was heartening — maybe height of product is the wrong way to assess one’s accomplishments? I mean, where would F. Scott Fitzgerald be if he’d used that method? And where, in fact, is he?

Pg. 17, #4

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2020 by dcairns

fields

De Laurentis inspects Kong’s skeleton.

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Vaudeville was born at approximately the same time as W.C. Fields and in approximately the same place. An outgrowth of the British music hall tradition, variety performances were initially used to draw customers into American beer halls in the 1870s. The first vaudeville theater, Tony Pastor’s, was opened in New York in 1881, and the trend to clean shows that could play to “double audiences” (meaning men and women) spread to other cities. By 1885, there were more than twenty such houses in Philadelphia, which was to become known as “the Cradle of Vaudeville” for all the important acts that got their starts there.

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What vaudeville had to teach its practitioners was a discipline and method. The vaudeville act had to put itself over to a critical and not very patient audience, in a strictly limited time–it could be sixteen minutes or it could be eight–against relentless competition and without the benefit of a favourable context (a dramatic monologuist might be sandwiched between knockabout comics and performing seals).

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The leaning towards violent contrast — which in Expressionist literature can be seen in the use of staccato sentences — and the inborn German liking for chiaroscuro and shadow, obviously found an ideal artistic outlet in the cinema. Visions nourished by moods of vague and troubled yearning could have found no more apt mode of expression, at once concrete and unreal.

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Your world appeared to have everything. You grew up in Hollywood, you had the kind of adulation that people live lifetimes trying to achieve without ever attaining.

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That June, I spent my first night alone in a hotel (at Grand Rapids), and so, a little more than a month before my sixteenth birthday, I was into a ten-week season–one production a week–during which I would end up playing leads not only in the children’s shows (for instance, the Lion in The Wizard of Oz), but in the regular Equity company too (Signe Hasso’s teenage son in Glad Tidings). I played a butler with Sylvia Sidney, worked with Edward Everett Horton (as his dresser), Veronica Lake and ZaSu Pitts (moving furniture around). I also received my first credit as director–of the Children’s Variety Show. That winter, I got special permission from my school to miss athletics so I could take afternoon and early-evening acting classes with the legendary Stella Adler, who became so dear to me in so many ways.

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‘We were able to do that much for Bitsy, buster,’ Harry snarled. ‘We were able to get the Joint Chiefs to lean hard enough to get you an honorable discharge.’

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Seven passages from seven page seventeens found in seven books in my living room, randomly but mostly on the same shelf. I like the mix of film and non-film here. It tells a kind of story, doesn’t it? Well, in roughly the same way that MARIENBAD does.

W.C. Fields, a Biography, by James Curtis, Buster Keaton, by David Robinson, The Creation of Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong, by Bruce Bahrenburg, The Haunted Screen, by Lotte H. Eisner, People Will Talk, by John Kobal (interviewing Gloria Swanson), Who the Devil Made It, by Peter Bogdanovich, and Arigato, by Richard Condon.