Archive for Charles Drazin

Sidearm snookery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by dcairns

Did a class on editing — with the general purpose of getting students excited about the possibilities. And in the interests of making economical, environmentally-friendly use of my brain, I’ll recycle some of the thoughts here.

THE THIRD MAN offered an opportunity to examine a classic moment — Harry Lime’s first appearance — for defects and merits and weirdnesses — we noted the lack of sync on much of what Joseph Cotten says, including an extreme longshot where his arm movements as he yells to the figure in the doorway are noticeably unrelated to the words he utters. Remarkably, one can spot a sync problem even from a great distance when the lips themselves are not perceptible. A recent screening of THE SMALL BACK ROOM caused me to notice how often this kind of thing crops up in old movies. Even though the films were made for screening ONLY on big cinema screens, they were edited on little moviolas and sync wasn’t always looked after except in close shots. I’m all in favour of bodging things to get the best dramatic effect, but most of the sloppiness here didn’t seem essential to the scene, and would no doubt have been tidied away in a modern film. Unless the film is DIE HARD 4, which has the most appalling shooting and cutting of dialogue I’ve ever seen in a studio release.

But of more interest is what Orson Welles called “hanky panky and sidearm snookery” — magic trickster illusionism and time/space abuse, carried out for clear dramatic effect and narrative clarity. Apart from the fact that THE THIR MAN constructs its own dream Vienna out of ecstatic fragments, folding streets together like the architects of INCEPTION, and retouching geography by transplanting fake statuary to decorate bare foregrounds (a truck full of plaster fountains and cherubs shadowed the unit assiduously), there’s the vigorous bending of the laws of physics in this scene –

Cotten shouts at the figure in the doorway (played by assistant director Guy Hamilton, later of GOLDFINGER fame) –

An awakened neighbour starts yelling. Their window lights up –

And a few frames later, the light hits the face of the figure in the doorway, now revealed to be Orson Welles…

Well, light is quite slow, isn’t it? 299,792,458 m/s. Takes a good while to get from one place to another. If a window lit up, it would take a moment before the rays hit the face of a man standing in the street…

Not really, of course. A forgivable, indeed commendable, distortion of the laws of the universe allows us to clearly recognize both the source of the light and its effect. If we’d missed the few frames before the light struck Orson’s beamish countenance, or the moment where he lit up like a luminous balloon, we’d miss the magic.

Arguably naughtier still is the next trick. Cotten expresses appropriate surprise at his friend’s resurrection, a modest tracking shot enlarges Orson’s smirk, then Cotten starts across the street towards his friend. A vehicle, passing from out of nowhere, interrupts his progress, and by the time he reaches the doorway, which proves to be bricked up, Welles has vanished into the night, satchelfoot reverberations of slapping feet and an elongated shadow pointing to the direction of his flight.

The passing truck is intended to allow time for Welles to make a realistic getaway, and Carol Reed cuts in a deliberately confusing manner to another lopsided angle as it cuts across our path. So we believe that OW had the chance to slip away. But studying the sequence, it’s clear that the doorway where our quarry is lurking is never out of sight, so there is absolutely NO WAY he could slip away without being clocked. A less nervy director might have cut to a close shot favouring Cotten as he reels back from the oncoming truck, allowing a second or so for the doorway to be offscreen, which would make Welles’s getaway accountable. But Reed’s version is preferable, I think, since it TRICKS us into thinking we’ve seen something just about possible, while preserving the FEEL of a ghostly manifestation, incorporating, disincorporating, teleporting. Phantasmal and fantastic.

UK ~

The Third Man [DVD] [1949]

The Third Man (Studio Canal Collection) [Blu-ray] [1949]

In Search of the Third Man

USA ~

The Third Man (StudioCanal Collection) [Blu-ray]

In Search of The Third Man (Limelight)

Things I read off the screen in MONSIEUR RIPOIS

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2010 by dcairns

After a one week hiatus to allow for Cannes film fest activities, The Forgotten is back over at The Daily Notebook. Our subject is MONSIEUR RIPOIS, whose 1950s London setting allowed for plenty of intriguing signage for me to note when I wasn’t staring in disbelief at the beauty of Natasha Parry and Gerard Philipe. One particular image, a TV shop called Drazin’s, caused me to contact author Charles Drazin (In Search of The Third Man) on Facebook to ask if he was by any chance related to the proprietor. He was! The store was run by his grandfather, who ironically didn’t like films at all.

Neat poster! That could almost be Alec Guinness.

Correspondence

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2008 by dcairns

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‘interesting fact: if you google “david cairns”, shadowplay comes out at the bottom of the page; if you google “christina alepi”, shadowplay is the first result. (!) Typing my own name is the quickest way to get to your blog (after bookmarking, but it can’t beat googling my OWN NAME!)’
~ Christina Alepi, via Facebook.

A few things happening with the old email and Facebook, which I just joined in a spirit of “Why not?” Maybe once I year I do something daft like that: about a year ago I started a blog. Yep, Shadowplay celebrates her birthday on December 1st. Will have to think of some special way to mark it. Suggestions welcome.

Some time back I got one of the few bits of negative commentary I’ve had here, after reviewing a depressing British horror “comedy” called THE COTTAGE. I’ve tended to avoid trashing stuff most of the time, since it’s nice to be nice and it seems more interesting to find the exciting or strange bits of films and pare away the dull stuff, but when it comes to modern British cinema I sometimes get a bit upset. Anyhow, the piece attracted an irked comment from someone pretty obviously connected with the movie, but I never knew who. But when I joined Facebook, it swept through my emails looking for contacts, and suddenly identified the commenter as actor Reece Shearsmith, one of the stars of the film. Mystery solved!

Not sure how I feel about this, since I’m a fan of the first two series of The League of Gentlemen, and would have said at least some nice things about THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN’S APOCALYPSE, which seemed an honorable attempt to do something interesting in British cinema. So it’s not like Shearsmith was ever on my shitlist. (Do I have a shitlist? Note to self: compile shitlist.) I may have said something about his performance in THE COTTAGE not quite working, but that’s kind of the same as calling him a flawless genius, since the rest of the film doesn’t work the way a dead horse doesn’t work as an air freshener.

More pleasant correspondence: after the excellent Charles Drazin suggested I contact David Thomson and let him in on The Great Duvivier Giveaway, my scheme to reshape the movie canon, in hopes of getting him to change his mind about Julien Duvivier and maybe rewrite his rather critical piece in The Biographical Dictionary of Film, I wrote to Thomson with a disc of LA FIN DU JOUR, and received this very charming reply:

Dear Mr Cairns,

I was touched to receive your letter and the DVD of La Fin du Jour.  On the spot, I proposed you to the House of Edinburgh Saints (your only fellow there is Mark Cousins – maybe you know each other).

[We do.]

As it happens, yours is not the first plea on behalf of Duvivier. The other one came from no less than Stephen Sondheim (at the Telluride Film Festival). So I am re-examining the matter, and I am very grateful to you for the prompting.

More to come, I’m sure.

All good wishes

David Thomson

So I seem to be in good company. I wonder, if you’re David Thomson, if you’re constantly getting grabbed by bloggers and composers and bums off the street who want to convert you to the cause of John Ford or Tony Richardson or William Wyler?

Makes me think I’m lucky I only have the cast of THE COTTAGE to contend with.

In other news: I was vaguely thinking of starting Borzage Week in a week’s time, but since I have a number of pieces all ready and nothing else to post of any substance, I’m bringing it forward to Monday 17th. That’ll still give us time to invent something suitably exciting for December 1st.

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