Archive for Charlie Chaplin

Bear Jams

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2018 by dcairns

Since we’re nothing but a pair of abject slugabeds, it’s taken Fiona & I this long to catch up with PADDINGTON and PADDINGTON 2. Had we realized that director Paul King was responsible for directing The Mighty Boosh on TV, we’d have gotten into the swing of things sooner. As it was, our interest took a while to get kindled.

The news that the producer of the HARRY POTTER series was making a CGI Paddington initially sparked revulsion. I have very fond feelings for the BBC series, which had a lo-tech look that seemed more charming and more in keeping with the innocent flavour of the thing. I even made this tribute. And Fiona has a history with Michael Bond’s original books — when she was very small, her teacher would end the class by having Fiona read a bit of Paddington, as she was an advanced reader. This was done for the sadistic pleasure of seeing her try not to crack up at stories she found irresistibly funny, while the rest of the class, dullards to a man, stared on blankly.Anyway, as the world now knows, the PADDINGTON movies are lovable triumphs, true to the spirit of the original while also folding in a lot of hyperkinetic action and gags and quite a bit of the cuddly Britishness of Aardman animation. But a very inclusive Britishness — the Peruvian bear may speak with an English accent (what accent would be more believable to you, smart guy?) but the films have a theme about welcoming immigrants that’s highlighted by the musical choices including a calypso band, D. Lime, who pop up whenever needed, like the troubadors in CAT BALLOU. Too bad such a message doesn’t seem to stick. How many families who enjoyed these movies also buy the Daily Mail?

Director King’s TV work had a beautiful stylised look, but the lifting of budgetary constraints have allowed him to splash out in a joyous and cineliterate way. He knows when to go all THIRD MAN ~

And a Chaplin reference — Paddington drawn through the cogs of a clock tower — ends with him wiping off a sooty mustache that neatly tips the derby to another Londoner, another immigrant ~

Like the Harry Potters, the films are jammed with the cream (or creamed with the jam?) or British and Irish acting talent, with one Aussie, Nicole Kidman. Actually, it’s the villains of the films that pose slight difficulties: the movies are so sunny and good-natured, really investing in the dream that a benevolent bear can turn hostility and suspicion into love and acceptance, that they don’t quite know what to do with their baddies. Kidman’s nasty taxidermist actually comes complete with a heartbreaking backstory — she has simply learned entirely the wrong lesson from her father’s tragic downfall. Great as NK is at playing a hush-voiced, plummy vamp (spoofing her ex’s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE stunts), I wanted to see even her redeemed by the bear’s goodwill. Her comeuppance is fittingly mild for this kind of movie — forced to work in a petting zoo is a modest enough punishment for attempted murder — but she carries in her a bitterness that’s a far darker fate than this kind of movie can bear (sorry).

Hugh Grant — doing a wicked impression of Edward Fox — goes the opposite way in the sequel. He’s not punished at all, in that he enjoys his punishment and turns it into his dream come true. Nor does he learn anything. Being a parody of an actor, other people are irrelevant to him, and he’s never cared one way or the other about our ursine hero. So the pay-off for his character, in a sense, cannot provide 100% narrative satisfaction — but it nevertheless turns into a triumphant end credits sequence that finishes the series on an all-time high.

Additional shout-outs: Ben Whishaw voices the bear with unapologetic sweetness; Hugh Bonneville is gradually establishing himself as the UK’s bestest thing; all of Sally Hawkins films will now be seen through the retrospective fish-eye of THE SHAPE OF WATER so all her swimming and interspecies activities here are hilarious; the kids, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, sprouting alarmingly from one film to the next; Brendan Gleason, the funniest recipient of a hard stare; national treasure Jim Broadbent; Simon Farnaby, who resurrects the comedy cliché that when men drag up unconvincingly, other straight men suddenly find them irresistible.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Bull!

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by dcairns

One last Stan Laurel solo film, then we can move on. MUD AND SAND is Stan’s epic denunciation of Rudolph Valentino (here, Rhubarb Vaseline). All the intertitles, or nearly all, rely on bull-based humour.

Hey, I’m not knocking it.

Visual gags are little more varied, depending largely on the deflation of Dorothy Arzner’s melodrama with pratfalls, but Stan’s first, successful corrida, shot from outside the arena walls, is impressively silly. As the other matadors-to-be anxiously wait for Stan to be carried out arrayed on a stretcher with limbs akimbo, like his predecessors, a stuffed cow flies over the wall, crashing unconvincingly to the ground. And then it all happens again.

The repetition of gags is an interesting phenomenon. Buster Keaton didn’t go in for it, unless he could play a variation on the gag to surprise the audience. I suspect this proud refusal to be predictable was a big part of why he was less popular than Chaplin and Lloyd.

Chaplin repeats incessantly, and the recurring arse-kicks or pratfalls become part of a structured dance. Stan just repeats where it seems likely to get another laugh. It’s been suggested that Laurel & Hardy relied more on predictability than surprise: showing the audience the banana peel before it’s slipped on. The comedy coming from the expected gag happening right on cue. But that doesn’t seem quite right. Everybody shows the banana peel first. But only Buster has characters walk over it without slipping — outsmarting or “double-crossing” the audience.

I want to try to analyse L&H’s approach more closely. I do think they’re the funniest, in terms of intensity and volume and duration and frequency of laughs, of any classic era comedians. It doesn’t matter if you personally like them or not — I think their success is measurable and would be borne out by any laffometer. And they seem to use both jokes of predictability and jokes of surprise — the former making the latter more surprising. And of course there’s the measured pace. They jettison entirely the myriad advantages of pace, to concentrate on getting the most out of every joke by worrying it to death. But there’s even more going on than that, and I want to explore it.

This will mean looking at talkies, since I think the talkies are their funniest films. But maybe a silent or two also…

The Sunday Intertitle: Jazz Lizard Harold

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2017 by dcairns

TWO-GUN GUSSIE (1918) is an early, inferior Harold Lloyd short with a western setting — something Harold returned to fairly often. A pointless opening scene establishes Harold playing piano back east — I suspect deleted footage might have made more sense of this. But we do see Harold “shooting” the keys with his index finger (he still had all his fingers at this point), a la Chico Marx. The Marxes were already a big noise in vaudeville, so it’s quite possible this is a direct swipe.

The best jokes in this silent are verbal, from the insane word soup of this intertitle, to the signs behind the bar saying things like “No drink sold stronger than liquid fire” and “If you ask for credit you will get it in the neck.”

But when the hulking bad guy (William Blaisdell) wants to demonstrate his strength, he does so by plucking the legs off a chair. Now, how much strength that takes depends on how securely the legs are attached, so the gesture means nothing, and certainly lacks the hyperbolic terror of Eric Campbell bending a street light just to show Chaplin how strong he is in EASY STREET. Western saloon furniture is notoriously flimsy, but having Blaisdell maybe break the legs in half might have worked better. But he’s just torn Harold’s shooting iron to pieces, so it’s all kind of an anticlimax…

Bebe Daniels (top) also appears, but has little to do (more evidence of missing scenes). Pretty soon, Lloyd’s films would show more structure and better gags, and give Daniels slightly better roles, but they never exploited her comic potential to its full extent. She would have to wait for her own star vehicles…