Archive for City Lights

The (UK) Father’s Day Intertitle: Schulberg on Fitzgerald on Chaplin

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2020 by dcairns

I’m finally reading The Disenchanted, the 1950 novel by Budd Schulberg, a Penguin paperback I inherited from my old friend Lawrie Knight years ago. It’s falling to bits as I read it, adding a certain pathos to the already sad story.

The book has multiple cinematic-literary connections, both as a text and a crumbling physical object. Schulberg, the son of Paramount boss B.P. Schulberg, was a 25-year-old screenwriter working for Walter Wanger when he was assigned Scott Fitzgerald as writing partner. Their extremely unsuccessful attempts to collaborate form the subject of this book, which is stuffed with walk-ons by film biz personalities.

It also has a front cover illo by Len Deighton.

I’m enjoying it — though some have doubts, which I share, about whether Schulberg is entirely honest about the events he covers. Of course, he fictionalizes like crazy, as is his right: names are changed; Schulberg’s fictive avatar is described as “handsome,” which is hilarious when you see the author photo on the back where he looks like a bump on a tree; his mogul dad is eliminated to erase any hint of nepotism and make “Shep” seem like an independent success.

The more serious bit is about Budd/Shep’s failure to stop Fitzgerald/Halliday from drinking. Shep has apparently read everything by Halliday but doesn’t know he’s a struggling alcoholic — in this fictional reality there’s conveniently no equivalent of The Crack-Up.  The real Schulberg said he had no idea about Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and nobody warned him he was partly being paid to keep it under control. So practically the first thing he does is urge the author to have a drink. And he keeps doing so, all through the book. Schulberg has Halliday tell him this is necessary, now that he’s started back on the booze he can’t afford to dry out until the job is done. Retelling the story, as he did often, Schulberg would omit this vital exchange, so did it happen? Did he ply his hero with drink to get stories out of him? Because that’s the glowing subtext.

Schulberg seems like a bad choice for the role of nurse: he was a bit of a boozer himself, and he makes Shep one. Shep finds a drink useful to prepare him for all sorts of activities, like meeting his boss. Like a lot of mid-twentieth-century literature, it really gives you a sense of how socially omnipresent drink was.

Fitzgerald’s partner, Sheilah Graham, never forgave him for this book — and who can blame her? — but it’s actually very sympathetic — maybe it’s the real-life events she should have held the grudge over.

Anyway, here’s an extract — Halliday is a man who remains insightful and eloquent even when so sloshed he can barely speak coherently, and his thoughts on Chaplin, which I’d like to believe are really Fitzgerald’s, are wonderfully sharp.

“Know the secret of Charlie? Not a man at all. Sneaks up in attic, puts on father’s clothes, pants too big, shoes too big, wears all kinds of different clothes together, anything he happens to find lying around. Then he pretends he’s grown up. But it’s all a dream. Girl he falls in love with, ‘thereal, too beautiful, way little boys fall in love with grown-up women from a distance. Dances with ’em, makes love to ’em, gives ’em won’erful presents, all in a dream. ‘member City Lights. And that face on Charlie. From ridic’lous to sublime no cliché for Charlie. Real art, real tragedy, only tragedy I ever saw in movies. That face on Charlie. The pain. I c’n seen it right now. All his pictures, same idea, the dream’s a beautiful balloon, a kid’s balloon, and reality’s a sharp point on a fence. The balloon drifts over the forbidden garden, hits the point ‘n bursts — way all of us wake up right back where we were. Chaplin’s the only one saw the movie as the bes’ medium in the worl’ for dreams, the child being the father, the tramp being the millionaire, the homely little bum being the elegant Don Juan. […]

“‘member one picture little one-reeler, can’t even ‘member the name of it. Charlie’s a drink being dragged along, grabs a bush as he struggles, finds a daisy in his hand. Daisy changes mood entirely. Becomes a poet, a dreamer, an aesthete. So convincing it looks like impro – improvisation an’ when you think of Charlie as a child not even unrealistic, you know the way a little boy sees a toy boat an’ becomes a boat captain, picks up a gun an’ goes right into character as a soldier. See what I mean? Don’t think of Charlie as an adult acting like a child but as a child acting like a grown-up.

“Like The Gold Rush. […] If movies didn’t die so fast it’d be considered a permanent classic like Hamlet or Cyrano. Funny as hell on the surface and full of inner meanings an’ the idea, the Gold Rush, just when the whole country was rushing for gold. Money crazy. […]

“I’m no analyst, but I could analyse Chaplin from his comedies — that’s how true they are. […] Notice how there’s always a big brute of a man pushing Charlie around — prospector in Gold Rush, millionaire in City Lights, employer in Modern Times, always the same father image, switching suddenly from love to hatred of Charlie like the millionaire picks him up when he’s drunk takes him home lovingly tucks him in, then sobers up in the morning an’ throws him out. Conflict with the father, whether Charlie sees it or not. All Charlie’s pictures full of it. Psychiatrist c’d do a helluva book on Charlie’s movies. […] What’m I talking about?”

“The Chaplin movies.”

“…don’t switch from comedy to tragedy. No phony, mechanical change o’ pace. The funniest parts, the parts where you laugh the loudest, are tragic. That’s where the genius comes in…”

Good stuff, eh, even if Freudian interps always start to feel sterile and reductive after a while. Incidentally, if the one-reeler cited is genuine, I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who can identify it.

As You Know, I’m Your Father…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2020 by dcairns

“As you know, I’m your father…” What vistas of the strange those six simple words open up.

We were watching MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, a bunch of us (four being a bunch for the purposes of this discussion). The film begins with some scenes of an expository nature. The throng (four being a throng as well as a bunch) being composed entirely of people with at least a toe in the business, we soon bridled.

First thing we see — after three pieces of text — THREE! — to tell us it’s a true story — is Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in a recreation of the Having a Heatwave number from THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS which is totally unlike the original but I suppose not wildly anachronistic or inaccurate in terms of period style. It’s not madly overedited, for one thing.Cut to an audience, Our Young Hero front and centre. Marilyn herself liked to sit front and centre when she went to the movies as a kid, which is why this is the proper place to sit: think of whom you might meet. However, I immediately don’t want to meet this guy, based on his macabre smile.

Main title.

Cut to stately home. Voice over. “Everyone remembers their first job. This is the story of mine.” Well, could be worse. A bit blunt. It’s not only going to tell you a story (as opposed to showing you it), it’s going to tell you it’s telling you a story.Here comes Our Young Hero again, walking briskly across the lawn. “I was the youngest of a family of over-achievers.” Backstory, not interested.

As the VO tells us that OYH liked going to the pictures, we cut back to him at the pictures, even though we’ve just seen this. Well, if you must. OYH mentions film people he liked, and names Olivier, and the film obligingly shows us Kenneth Branagh playing the part in a clip from a movie premiere which we’re going to see in full moments later. This is a bit shit, I remember thinking.Back to OY Hero entering some rough-stone outbuilding. Turns out it’s a posh library, and here’s a man and some other people. “Ah, Colin, come in, have you met James and Anna, my two very brilliant pupils?”

Oh, good, he’s called Colin and this man knows him and has two very brilliant pupils, who are called James and Anna (must remember that, it’s obviously important). Wait, how does Colin not already know them?

“Hello, I’m off to London now, pa.”

Brilliant, right, this chap is Our Young Colin’s father, and what’s more Colin KNOWS he’s his father. It’s not going to be like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, all confusing twists. And OYC is off to London now, and he’s telling his father that. Good. Got you. Wait, how does his dad not already know today is the day his son, Colin, his son, leaves home? For London? His son?

“Ah, your silly job interview. Well, bonne chance, dear boy, I can always get you a research position at the V&A once you’ve grown up a bit and got this film idea out of your system.”

OK, let’s see if I’ve fully grasped the layers of subtext being poured over me like slow-motion nougat. OYC’s father (OYCF for short) disapproves of his son, Colin’s choice of career and hopes he will soon put away childish things and assume a more respectable occupation. Perhaps very soon, as this is only an interview.

The film continues, but our thoughts kept straying back to this scene and its supreme awkwardness.

“I’m off, Mother.” It’s a new scene, do keep up. OYC is telling his mother (OYCM) that he’s off. “My job interview, ‘member?” OYC is a mumbler. He means “remember?” But it hardly matters because we’ve just had this scene with his dad (OYCF).OYC crosses a London street. “Like every young man, I had to make my own way.” And indeed, OYC does manage to make it across the street without being flattened by an omnibus. Well done you. On the other hand, his rich parents and expensive education and school tie might be opening just a few studio doors for the entitled little prick (ELP).

The next scene, in the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions, is confusing, as it seems OYC doesn’t have a job interview at all, nobody’s expecting him and they’re not looking for anyone, which kind of casts doubt on ELP’s street-crossing prowess after all.

At this point in the film, we were getting a bit distracted, still talking about that weirdly expository chat with OYCF (the dad: do keep up). I ad-libbed a satirical example of the kind of dialogue we’d been forced to consume: “As you know, I’m your father…”OYC hangs about Laurence Olivier Prods in the best Rupert Pupkin manner until he somehow picks up some work. Cut to him crossing the road again, successfully staying out from under the wheels of another red bus.

Enter Branagh with a thing in his lip.

Monroe’s agent is called Mr. Jacobs. Here’s Toby Jones! “Hello, Mr. Jacobs.” He’s Mr. Jacobs. “Who built this place?” Mr. Jacobs is a brash agent.What’s actually happening is fine: we see OYC display tact and ingenuity in locating a house for MM to stay in. But we are continually being spoonfed. Meanwhile, by now we’ve practically convinced ourselves that “As you know, I’m your father…” is a genuine line of dialogue from the opening of the picture. I tactfully remind everyone that I made it up. Must be fair. Plus, I want credit.

OYC arrives at Pinewood. They’ve taken the trouble to engage and costume a Norman Wisdom lookalike, which impresses me because they’re showing a heedlessness about whether anybody recognizes NW. Not typical of this film, which is so anxious that we understand everything. Then this guy glides past, and I get the impression I’m meant to recognize him, too, but I haven’t a clue. Well, I suppose that should impress me even more.

We glimpse the Romantic Interest (not Monroe: the other one) and OYC is immediately warned about love affairs in the workplace, so we know she’s going to be a Romantic Interest, especially because we recognize the girl from HARRY POTTER. And come on, Pinewood may not be Hollywood, but the British film industry was a veritable hotbed of, well, hot beds.A bodyguard, an ex-copper, is engaged for Monroe, whose habits are described as “Erratic.” “She drinks?” “Among other things.” “Pills?” GOOD GUESS!

Here’s the thing. Screenplays and movies are meant to be clear, except when they’re being mysterious on purpose. Look at the care with which Chaplin shows us that the Blind Flower Girl is blind. Also, a flower girl. But belabouring points is ugly.

Billy Wilder said it much better and quicker: as storyteller, your job is to put across your points clearly. The more elegantly you manage it, the better you are.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a Harvey Weinstein Production. Weinstein was (I hope we can safely use the paste tense now) a true auteur. You can spot the clumsy, overanxious storytelling in ever film he touched. Usually in the form of overdubs on people’s backs, stuffing dialogue into their mouths to make sure we understand. “Master Shakespeare!” expostulates the back of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head when the front of her head sees Master Shakespeare in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. “The King!” murmurs the back of Mina Sorvino’s head when the front of her head sees the king insect in MIMIC (the company was apparently so patriarchal the insects weren’t allowed a queen).

But I think it’s even worse when the lines come out of the front of people’s heads, having been planted in their mouths by a long development process. (I don’t blame the screenwriter.)

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is also a BBC production, and seems to use all the same locations as STAN & OLLIE. I could be wrong, but it certainly has the same feel. A certain limited degree of plushness. Solidity. Craft. Zero excitement.

I would sort of like the BBC to be prosecuted for sexual offences (this more or less happened a few years ago) so that this kind of filmmaking could end. But the BBC didn’t have a hand in JUDY so I suppose it’d carry on, zombie-fashion.

It’s not even BAD, compared to lots of things, but it’s the reverse of imaginative or daring.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN stars Charity Barnum; Balem Abrasax; Sabrina Fairchild; Gilderoy Lockhart; Lily Potter; Christopher Foyle; Lavrenti Beria; Dr. Arnim Zola; Jennifer the Viking – another rapist; Sir Thomas Fairfax; Uday Hussein; Queen Victoria; Madame Hooch; Hermione Granger; I, Claudius;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Intertitle: No Logo for Old Men

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2011 by dcairns

Gee Willikers, if Marshall Neilan had lived a bit longer he’d probably have had to seriously rethink his company logo.

It should be stressed that the year was 1925, the Nazi party didn’t exist, and the symbol in the centre had mystical associations but no political ones the Nazi party was still small, and the symbol’s mystic overtones still superseded its political ones. I’m betting this was the last time a swastika appeared as a logo on an MGM movie, though.

The film is THE SPORTING VENUS, an MGM melo with a bit of humour (but not enough) starring Blanche Sweet as “Lady Gwendolyne”, a high-class Scottish lady, and Ronald Colman as the lowly Scotsman who woos her.

Almost everybody’s Scottish in this film, except suave and villainous Count Marno (Lew Cody). And the titles boast of their location shooting — unlike many older “location” pics, this one does seem to have possibly sent its stars out of the country (to Cortachy Castle in Angus) rather than just gathering some second unit landscape plates to back-project behind them.

Too bad the movie’s so uninspired — heavy with MGM “quality”. Colman is handsome, Sweet is unusual, the Scottish settings were interesting to me, and I guess to be fair one would need to see a decent print before passing judgment on it. Hank Mann, the drunken millionaire from CITY LIGHTS, provides comedy relief. Here’s a review from the legendary F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. I’d like to think my dodgy DVD was maybe filmed off his Steenbeck.

I haven’t had much luck with Marshall Neilan so far but I do intend to sample one of his more reputable hits.