Archive for Charles Chaplin

Brats

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2018 by dcairns

As the days blur into one another at a film festival, so do the films. Even on our first day of viewing, I was astounded to hear Marcello Mastroianni in LA FORTUNA DI ESSERE DONNA (LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN, 1954) hum the main jazz tune from DAINAH LA METISSE (1931), which we’d just seen. But it may have been my imagination.

The unintended theme of Day 1 was jealousy: in one of the silent shorts, a child’s doll comes to creepy stop-motion life and follows a little girl on a weirdly adult date, eventually breaking it up by telepathically implanting a vision of the kids’ restaurant meal in the mind of the girl’s nanny. The film’s title, absent from the print, supplied the absent motivation: THE JEALOUS DOLL (1909).

DAINAH features a jealous husband and all Sophia Loren’s suitors in LA FORTUNA are fiercely competitive. And don’t even get me started on REVENGE OF THE CREATURE.

Day 2 (Sunday) began with THE BRAT (1931), a charming pre-code John Ford from the Fox season. Sally O’Neil is adorable in it, Alan Dineheart repulsive but very funny. Male juvenile Frank Albertson is a classic Ford pretty boy but more interesting than Jeffrey Hunter, say. This is the only Ford I’ve seen where it’s the guy who gets spanked. Lest anyone feel excluded, there’s also a knock-down, skirt-shredding catfight between O’Neil and Virginia Cherrill (the blind flower girl from CITY LIGHTS). Some have cited this film as the reason Ford isn’t known for his drawing-room comedies, but it has a lot going for it, including Fox’s typical striking sets and angles — it feels very storyboarded in places, but Ford keeps it alive by seemingly refusing rehearsal and including all the line flubs in the finished cut.

The theme for the day, starting with this one, might have been dysfucntional families, with Pickford’s grotesque but lovable clan in ROSITA rounding off a series also including Roberto Gavaldon’s Wellesian noir-western hybrid ROSAURO CASTRO (1950) — in which Pedro Armendariz’s corrupt town boss is brought down by a government prosecutor in a story with, shall we say, contemporary resonance — and even MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, screened in a gorgeous Technicolor print. The sound cut out just before Judy & Margaret’s cakewalk, but was restored before we missed a note. Wham wham wham went our heartbeats.

FROM HELL IT CAME!

But Chaplin’s SHOULDER ARMS didn’t fit any particular theme, unless the family motif is covered by the presence of Charlie’s brother Sidney playing both his comrade-in-arms and, in heavy make-up, the Kaiser. This was shown in a unique tinted version, but never mind that — it turns out the SHOULDER ARMS we’ve been watching for the last, oh, hundred years, is composed entirely of out-takes and this, finally, is the authentic preferred version. The best of Charlie’s “it was all a dream” movies; there are almost no clever jokes — just audaciously dumb ones performed with incredible skill against a startling backdrop of total war (with sets by the great Charles D. Hall). He supplied prints free to veteran’s hospitals where it was projected on the ceiling for men too badly burned to sit upright. I can’t imagine how painful those laughs must have been.

Happy Feet

Posted in Dance, FILM with tags , , , on May 24, 2018 by dcairns

The latest Anatomy of a Gag video, written by me and edited by Stephen Horne, is up at Criterion’s revamped website, here. And will be followed by more, on a roughly monthly basis!

This one deals with Chaplin’s terpsichorean side — features Extraordinary Vocal Contribution by Randall William Cook. Please have a look and comment.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Gag Man

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2018 by dcairns

This is, I think, the only funny intertitle in THE GENERAL, the only one that even attempts to be funny. And even then, it’s just alliteration, not some kind of wisecrack.

It’s a shock to see Keystone films after watching mature Keaton or Chaplin, because at Keystone they tried to cram gags into every title. I think the idea was to take what had been filmed and punch it up with another layer of comedy. Whereas Buster and Charlie knew what they’d got was good enough. Harold Lloyd would do funny titles — “When the man with the mansion met the miss with a mission…” — really witty ones. And they seem to be more intimately connected to the story — that one, from FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, was going to supply the movie’s original title.

Keaton does gag titles in his shorts, but again, they’re plot-based, as with the boat’s name in THE BOAT. “Damfino.” “Well I don’t know either.”

Weirdly, the writing credit on THE GENERAL names directors Buster and Clyde Bruckman, but adds, “Adapted by Al Boasberg and Charles Smith.” Smith was an actor, who plays the heroine’s dad in the film. And Boasberg was a joke writer from vaudeville who had helped shape the personae of everyone from Jack Benny to Milton Berle and Burns & Allen. Keaton referred to him as an example of how that kind of verbal humour wasn’t needed on his films, and the credit seems likely to be a compensation to Boasberg for not having any of his work used. The straightforward, purely functional titles of the film could be entrusted to a minor actor with, I suspect, Keaton more or less dictating ~

 

Smith.

Boasberg’s trumped-up credit reminds me of H.M. “Beany” Walker, who got writing credit on all the Laurel & Hardy shorts, despite the fact that the story was already in place when he came on, and so he’d write a dialogue script full of one-liners which the boys basically ignored. Those titles at the start of many L&H talkies would end up being his major contribution.

But it’s nice Boasberg got a credit because his name goes unmentioned on a lot of films he DID contribute to — notably A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, where he seems to have originated the legendary stateroom scene, a scene dependent on his speciality — verbal quips which not only fit the situation, but the speaker’s unique comic personality.

Info from Ben Schwartz’s amazing bio essay, The Gag Man, available in The Film Comedy Reader.