Archive for Charles Drazin

Page Seventeen II: The Search for Curly’s Gold

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2021 by dcairns

‘Now,’ said my uncle, addressing himself to me directly, ‘in order to read the sentence you have just written, ‘I have only to take the first letter of each word, then the second, then the third, and so on.’

Underworld, a silent picture, opened on Broadway in the same month as The Jazz Singer. Dialogue would turn out to be as important to the crime film as it was to another genre which developed in the ‘thirties, the screwball comedy. The dialogue gave crime movies much of their flavour, starting with the steely terseness of the opening speeches by Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar: ‘Diamond Pete Montana – he doesn’t have to waste his time on cheap gas stations. He’s somebody. He’s in the big time, doing things in a big way. And look at us – just a couple of nobodies. Nothing . . . . Say, I could do all the things that fellow does, and more, only I never got my chance . . . . What is there to be afraid of? And when I get in a tight corner, I’ll shoot my way out of it. Why, sure. Sure. Shoot first and argue afterwards . . .’

The Antrobuses have survived fire, flood, pestilence, the seven-year locusts, the ice age, the black pox, the double feature, a dozen wars, and as many depressions. They have run many a gamut, are as durable as radiators, and look upon the future with a disarming optimism, Ultimately, bewitched, befuddled, and becalmed, they are the stuff of which heroes are made–heroes and buffoons. They are true offspring of Adam and Eve, victims of all the ills that flesh is heir to. They have survived a thousand calamities by the skin of their teeth, and Mr. Wilder’s play is a tribute to their indestructibility.

Osman kept pressing. At over six foot, he had the bearing of an old-fashioned military officer and the manner to go with it – abrupt in a way that could easily be interpreted as rude. He did not suffer fools gladly. The next year he attended a meeting of the Committee on Imperial Defence, explaining that it was a blunder not to have maintained a compulsory register of pigeon owners. His profound knowledge of pigeons was clear but there was also an element of self-interest – he proposed that an appeal for volunteers could be made through the Racing Pigeon, the newspaper he edited. It was agreed that a committee of four — including Osman – should start a National Pigeon Service, the NPS. It was to be riven by bitter infighting.

We’ll have cots out in the middle of the track, the promoter said, ‘and have the doctor and nurses on hand during the derby. When a contestant falls and has to go to the pit, the partner will have to make two laps to make up for it. You kids will get more kick out of it because the crowds will be bigger. Say, when that Hollywood bunch starts coming here, we’ll be standing ’em up . . . . Now, how’s the food? Anybody got any kicks about anything? All right, kids, that’s fine. You play ball with us and we’ll play ball with you.’

Perhaps in response to Alvarez’s questioning, the screen began to show old newsreels of Adolf Hitler at Nuremberg, Hitler relaxing at home near the Austrian border, Hitler fondling little children. These were swiftly replaced with images of Kemal Ataturk smiling sternly at his modernized countrymen. Mussolini, Stalin, Trotsky, Lenin, Franco were played in a sequence culminating with a trembling still of Birmingham a few seconds before she was taken out.

‘Your intellectual, social, political status could be pegged by knowing which coffee house you called home away from home,’ observed the Hollywood director André De Toth who had grown up in Hungary and worked for Alex Korda in the 1930s. Korda’s home from home was the Café New York. A favourite haunt of writers and artists, it was, in Paul Tabori’s description, run by ‘a most understanding head-waiter who acted as pawnbroker, money-lender, father confessor and agent to his large, varied clientéle.’ It was a place both to meet people and also to work. You could spend hours at a time here nursing just a cup of coffee. The most indigent person could swell with confidence in its palatial surroundings. ‘They sent you off to face the day not thinking, but knowing you are the king,’ recalled De Toth. But there were niceties to observe. ‘It all depended, of course, on how well you tipped.’

View but his picture in this tragic glass, says the Prologue, And then applaud his fortunes as you please.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from seven books bought from Edinburgh’s charity shops.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne; A Pictorial History of Crime Movies by Ian Cameron; From the program notes of The Skin of Their Teeth by Thornton Wilder, quoted in Kazan on Directing by Elia Kazan; Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Corera; Black Box Thrillers: 4 Novels by Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy (natch); The Alchemist’s Question, from The Opium General and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock; Korda, Britain’s Only Movie Mogul by Charles Drazin; Tamburlaine the Great, quoted in J.B. Stean’s introduction to Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays.

Histories and Legacies

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2017 by dcairns

Me and Richard Lester. Photo by Sheldon Hall, complete with psychedelic projections. Thanks, Sheldon!

The image above was taken at the symposium British Cinema in the 1960s: Histories and Legacies at the BFI Southbank on Thursday. This was Part 2 of the conference I presented at last week. It was lovely to see Richard again, and meet Neil Sinyard, who literally wrote the book on him, and to acquire the latest edition of said book at a hefty academic discount, and hear more of his stories of his early career. Many of these appear in Andrew Yule’s book The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, but Richard tells them better.

Academic conferences are strange things — rather jolly, though. I couldn’t believe the obscurity of some of the stuff under discussion. In York, there had been a paper based on research into the completion bond guarantor’s notes on  Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. In London, there were entries on the Children’s Film Foundation, the production design of IF…., censorship and colour in Hammer films (centering on that naughty studio’s practice of submitting b&w prints of colour films, to disguise the gore) and trade advertisements for Eastmancolor. I was in hog heaven, glorying in the utter abstruseness of this info. I also learned about a few films I hadn’t seen (or, in the case of TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING, even heard of). And I made some new friends.

Also: a stunning 35mm screening of PETULIA.

My idea of academia before attending the conference.

Sandy Lieberson and David Puttnam were interviewed on Wednesday, and Rita Tushingham on Thursday. So it wasn’t all about the obscure byways of the business. Some of the papers were critical analyses, Charles Drazin using Lindsay Anderson’s relationship with his former headmaster as a lens through which to re-examine IF….’s politics. Others were historical, based on archival digging or interviews. There were a trio of presentations based around the public’s memories of cinema-going at the time, looking at sexual attitudes (and behaviour in the dark of the auditorium), responses to the fantasy of Swinging London, and the difficulties of getting to a screen if you lived in the countryside. There was lots on Ken Loach (KES and POOR COW) but I was even happy to hear about that.

My only criticism would be the lack of analysis of the visual, of the craft of filmmaking. There was some of this, and there were a good number of papers which dealt with areas far removed from the art of framing, cutting, mixing, in which technique wasn’t relevant. But in some of the actual discussion of movies, the “close analysis” was confined to the story and dialogue, with the cinematic approach completely ignored. I suppose it’s inevitable when the people looking at films are word people. Richard Lester got in a gentle crack about academia when he said that he had expected that A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, once it had fulfilled its ephemeral pop-culture purpose in 1964, would only be of interest “in, well, frankly, rooms like this.”

(Of course, my paper was on a screenwriter, so I give myself a free pass on this issue.)

My idea of academia after attending the conference.

I’d go again! My odd situation is that, as a teaching fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m not officially expected to do what they call “research,” although I only just found this out. For years, they’ve been asking me to tell me all about my research activities, and I’ve obliged, but none of my filmmaking or criticism really counts as academic research. Can I even claim expenses for my trip? I don’t know. If I can, I’d go to lots of these things! To me, it was just like a science fiction convention, only without the cosplay, and more fun.


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


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

In Search of The Third Man (Limelight)