Archive for College

The Mothering Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2015 by dcairns

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A gentle reminder that the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival will be raging this week in Bo’ness. Among the treats in store is Buster Keaton’s THE NAVIGATOR (screening Saturday), accompanied by maestro Neil Brand upon the piano forte. I hope to be on hand to experience and write about as much of the festivities as possible.

I rate THE NAVIGATOR pretty near the top — not as dazzling as SHERLOCK JNR or as plain great as THE GENERAL, but I like how Kathryn McGuire gets to be almost an equal partner in the slapstick. Her character is exactly as helpless as Buster’s, not more helpless in THE GENERAL (“almost aggressively stupid” was Richard Lester’s affectionate description of Marion Mack’s character) or simply competent and attractive as in THE CAMERAMAN.

I’m not going to try to arrange Keaton’s films in definitive order on a Sunday morning, but I would roughly say that the first rank, for me, contains ~

THE GENERAL, SHERLOCK JNR., THE NAVIGATOR, OUR HOSPITALITY

The middle group, which are not to be sneezed at, would be ~

STEAMBOAT BILL JNR, GO WEST, SEVEN CHANCES, THE THREE AGES, THE CAMERAMAN

And the “lesser films” — ones which are still likely to be better than anything else you might see, would be ~

COLLEGE, BATTLING BUTLER, SPITE MARRIAGE

I realize that this is both subjective and impertinent, and that any attempt to say that SEVEN CHANCES or STEAMBOAT BILL JNR is less than great is likely to look philistine. All I mean to say is that they are LESS great than my top four. But I welcome disputes, if you want to make the case for a lower-down title or knock down one of my pantheon. I will say that I’ve only seen BATTLING BUTLER and SPITE MARRIAGE once, and that it’s been a while since I saw THE CAMERAMAN and THE THREE AGES.

We might also attempt a larger project, a ranking of the short films

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The Wedding Marx

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2014 by dcairns

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For our anniversary, Fiona and I ate out and then decided to astonish the world by watching a movie. Yes, a year already. It seems to be lasting. Of course, we’d been together for twenty years before we got hitched. It’s a good system: a lot more marriages would last until death us do part if the couples waited until they were nearly dead before making it legal.

We considered various movies to watch for this special occasion — things that got us both interested in movies in the first place, like KING KONG and Ray Harryhausen, classic science fiction like FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, classic horror like FRANKENSTEIN etc. But in the end we plumped for the Marx Bros, and the one I proposed was HORSE FEATHERS (1932), just because we’d never watched it together. It’s the Paramount one without Margaret Dumont, which was why Fiona always chose a different one.

But HORSE FEATHERS is very good, even if it doesn’t have the Grande Dame herself. It has Thelma Todd, and it had been so long since I’d seen it that this time I recognised a lot more people, like Robert Greig, the butler from SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, partially eclipsed by his beard, and Vince Barnett standing at a bar with no lines (somebody thought another comedian might come in handy), and Theresa Harris (as a maid, of course) and Nat Pendleton.

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If the faces hadn’t previously registered, the dialogue was mostly etched in memory. Groucho’s address to the college, his address to the class, the password routine, And Groucho’s perfect response to a threatened musical interlude from Chico, stepping up to the camera and telling us: “I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason you folks shouldn’t go out in the lobby until this thing blows over.” I actually like Chico’s recitals, it’s Harpo’s that make me tired.

Just watched a documentary on clowns produced by the estimable Lobster Films. It tells the story, at one point, of Harpo’s trip to the USSR. His baggage containing various pistols, daggers, prop bombs and sticks of dynamite (all part of the act) he was detained and interrogated by the Soviet police, a scenario for a play if ever I heard one (to be entitled So You Won’t Talk, Huh?)

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HORSE FEATHERS has a big slapstick football game climax. I hate sport. I am to sport what Richard Dawkins is to religion. And while I admire Keaton’s COLLEGE and Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN, I don’t like the way the bookworm turns and beats the jocks at their own game. It isn’t realistic, and it’s a betrayal of their identity. So, although it isn’t so very funny, I quite like the way the Marxes just destroy the whole concept of a rues-based competitive sport, racing to the touch-line by chariot and producing a whole series of balls to raise their score.

Marx Bros films usually fizzle out, being predicated upon nothing and defying narrative structure, but this one has a good, if arbitrary ending, with all three brothers (Zeppo may be there, but he’s wisely framed out) marrying Thelma and then aggressively clambering aboard her as the Wedding March blasts out, applying to the rules of matrimony the same freeform approach taken to football.

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 The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection

Congruence #1

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2009 by dcairns

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Congruence — what an ugly word! The above images conclude Buster Keaton’s COLLEGE (credited to James W Horne, but we know better). Not the first time Keaton ended a comedy with a gravestone — the marker inscribed “Buster” at the end of COPS is the best-known example, and inspired my own CRY FOR BOBO’s clown funeral scene.

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The ending of John Boorman’s much-maligned dystopian wankathon ZARDOZ. Note ~

1) The first child, posture, expression and position in frame = comedy gold.

2) Framing, in its formality and flatness, is even more Keaton-like than the Keaton.

3) Extremely funny bad OAP makeup, especially on la Rampling.

4) Friendly skeletons. “The grave’s a fine and noble place / But none I think do there embrace.”

Both the Boorman jockstrap-and-bandolier epic, and Buster Keaton’s minor-league but still-spectacular flap shoe romance, are the only two films I can think of, off the top of my head (the only part of it I can access without cranial surgery) that end quite this way, on a cheery fast-forward to senescence and death. Seeming to give the lie to the concept of the happy ending. As Dorothy Parker told Sam Goldwyn ~

“Sam, I hate to tell you this, but of all the people who have ever lived in the history of the human race, not one of them ever had a happy ending.”

Great exit line.

Goldwyn: “What the hell did she mean by that?”

Turning it on its head, maybe we could retrieve the happy ending by endorsing Val Lewton’s note to the front office, when they had warned him against “message movies” as he prepared to make ISLE OF THE DEAD ~

“I’m sorry to say that our picture does have a message, and that message is: Death is Good.”

Anyhow, I don’t think influence is at work here. I’ve never heard Boorman talk about Keaton. And the fact that, incredibly, both men made films called THE GENERAL seems more to indicate a lack of appreciation by Boorman rather than a desire to pay homage.

Interested parties can do me some good by buying these products here, if you’re UK:

Zardoz [DVD] [1974]

Buster Keaton – College / Steamboat Bill Jr. / Three Ages [DVD] [1927]

And here, if you’re USA:

Zardoz

The Art of Buster Keaton (The General / Sherlock, Jr. / Our Hospitality / The Navigator / Steamboat Bill Jr. / College / Three Ages / Battling Butler / Go West / The Saphead / Seven Chances / 21 Short Films)