Archive for Clara Bow

The Sunday Intertitle: A Marvelous Second Husband

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2018 by dcairns

What I need is the John Baxter’s Josef Von Sternberg biography, but it seems to not exist — online searches prove futile. Like it’s been unwritten out of existence. If I had a copy, I’d be looking into the rumour of his involvement in CHILDREN OF DIVORCE (1927), which is credited to Frank Lloyd. Sternberg himself, speaking to Kevin Brownlow I believe it was, plausibly and emphatically denied any involvement.* If anyone out there has a copy of Baxter’s bio, please check the index for me.

I decided to watch the film, an elegant if soapy melodrama starring Clara Bow, Esther Ralston and Gary Cooper, to see if I could detect any trace of the Sternbergian. This task was complicated by the fact that Frank Lloyd, while no visual genius or poet of kitsch, was no slouch either, and seems quite capable of coming up with a few baroque moments of his own. He has a fine, elegant style, for a Glaswegian.

The film’s first dramatic image occurs in the Parisian orphanage where two of the titular COD wind up. The mini-Clara is frightened about spending her first night amid these expressionistic shadows, as what COD wouldn’t be? This doesn’t particularly scream “Sternberg!” but it does scream “storyboard!” It’s more reminiscent of the kind of thing William Cameron Menzies would come up with. And indeed the film has no credits for production designer or art director, so who knows? Though he wasn’t at Paramount at this time. Sternberg, a bold artist with a cucalorus, MIGHT have crafted an image like this (note how the checkerboard flooring runs out, at an odd angle), but if he did it’s the only trace of his touch visible in the whole opening prologue.

Travis Banton’s sleek gowns provide most of the style for the film’s middle. Banton was a major Sternberg collaborator, dressing Dietrich in all her movies with the auteur, but he basically dressed all of Paramount so his presence here proves nothing. Clara and Gary also appear without their gowns in a memorable moment when he comes out of the shower and is shocked — shocked! — to find her in his bed.

As the film starts getting properly tragic towards the end, the lighting gets bold again. But it’s hard to believe Sternberg would have done two shots for wildly different sections of the film, and then walked, or that they reshot all his other stuff and left these moments. I feel Lloyd is simply doing what Hollywood directors did — reaching for more extreme stylisation at moments of extreme emotion. What Sternberg did was something else — I’m not even sure how to describe it, but his stylisation is constant and his extreme emotional moments tend to involve desire and masochism. He doesn’t stylise these moments further (things are already pretty baroque) but he lavishes upon them a peculiarly intense ATTENTION.

 

This psychological track-in, which makes us feel the emotion growing within Bow, is atypical of Lloyd, of the twenties, or Paramount and equally atypical of Sternberg. It’s terrific. I’m thinking it’s Lloyd, but who knows?

 

And this one is equally unusual, and unlike the track-in, would still be unusual today. As Clara stares at her reflection in despair, it sort of MISTS UP. I think it’s probably a gauzy substance over the lens rendered opaque by a little targeted light, something of that kind. It’s a bit like the trick in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO when Omar is cold and emotional in the frozen house, if you recall. This would be a striking effect for anybody to come up with. The film has two cinematographers (a clue that it had two directors? Not necessarily). Norbert Brodine was a bit of a special effects wiz (DELUGE, TOPPER, ONE MILLION BC). Victor Milner’s work was extremely elegant but less experimental. Anyway, this is a wonderful effect but we can’t really say with certainty who came up with it. I’ve been meaning to see more Lloyd and this moment makes the idea seem urgently tempting.

*No! Apparently Sternberg claimed 50% of this film as his own. In which case, all these grace notes are likely his, after all.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Kick

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2017 by dcairns

This is one thing I watched on Saturday — KID BOOTS, starring Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow and Billie Dove. Yes, I know, Eddie Cantor gets all the pussy.

I underrated Cantor the silent comic — he’s pretty funny here, and very agile. Director Frank Tuttle, who staged some of the best bedroom farce stuff ever in MISS BLUEBEARD (Bebe Daniels and Raymond Griffith) does a fine job with more slapstick situational stuff here. Plus Clara is gorgeous and appealing and fiery.

This is a truncated version — the one we saw in Bologna has an extra two reels, courtesy of the researches of David Stenn in the Paramount archives. He introduced the film with Kevin Brownlow and stated his view that the next generation of miraculous film rediscoveries will be those that have been lurking unrecognized in studio vaults all along.

Sample intertitles:

“Excuse me — I didn’t know you were the lady I was kicking!”

And, while Eddie and Clara are dangling from a cliff together: “I’m not in any position to ask you, but when I get on my feet, will you marry me?”

Bromance of the Skies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2016 by dcairns

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“Noooooooooo, no, no, silent film, stop!” cried Fiona, at the umpteenth pyrotechnic stunt sequence unspooled in William Wellman’s WINGS — not so much death-defying as death-inviting. Wellman himself spoke about blowing up real people instead of dummies by mistake, and everything we see in his impressive but alarming battle scenes supports the idea that dangerous stuff was going down on location. As James Mason said of the director, “He was a tough bastard but I liked him. He shot real bullets and stuff.”

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Just a little to your left, El Brendel. A little more. A little more.

DIALECT COMEDIAN SLAIN BY PROPELLER BLADE

All this mayhem and they failed to extirpate El Brendel! He has far too much screen time in this one, which is to say you can see him in a non-subliminal fashion. But at least you can’t hear him. And he’s not as cutesy as usual — I guess either Wellman whipped it out of him or he hadn’t acquired all of his bad habits yet (he had scores of them — in El Brendel’s native tongue there are fifty-seven words for “simpering” and forty for “smirking at your own unfunny material”. Incomprehensibly, Wellman had introduced this smug man-imp to the screen in YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN, which he does his best to ruin, and yet chose to give him employment again. I can only assume he was hoping a stray bullet would do cinema a service.

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Elsewhere, homoeroticism abounds between Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, with twin beards Clara Bow and the unfortunately-named Jobyna Ralston sidelined so effectively that one disappears completely apart from two shots and a photograph, and the other spends most of the film not catching up with her beau, who is drunk and completely indifferent to her when she does appear. The male kiss and embrace at the end is still pretty surprising, and Wellman seems to have spent the rest of his life disavowing it — his autobiography, A Time for Madness, might as well have been subtitled I Ain’t No Fuckin’ Queer, so constant is the refrain.

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Later, Clara puts on a spangly dress to look sexy — but — she really doesn’t need to.

“It’s a strange mix of glamour and excitement and tragedy,” Fiona observed afterwards, impressed by such harsh details as a boot stomping out a cigarette fallen from a dead man’s lips. “How would you describe it?”

Well, it’s written by one WWI aviator (John Monk Saunders, credited with story) and directed by another. It’s a dazzling Hollywood fantasy made by people who knew the reality. And the reality keeps bleeding through.