Archive for Creighton Hale

Not Natan

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-03-05-11h54m58s191

The real Bernard Natan. Memorise this face.

One of the many surprising reactions to NATAN, the documentary Paul Duane and I made a couple of years ago, is some confusion as to whether Bernard Natan does, in fact, appear in certain vintage porn films. It had been our intention to conclusively prove that none of the people identified by Professor Joseph Slade as being Natan, the major French film producer, are actually him.

The Natan story is complicated — in many ways, it’s like the Dreyfus Affair of cinema, although as film historian Lenny Borger pithily put it, “But Dreyfus was innocent.” Natan is touched by guilt — he WAS convicted of making pornographic films around 1909, and he confessed to fraud in 1938. But there are no surviving French porn films from 1909, and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Natan ever again had anything to do with that branch of the business. And so we cannot know exactly what his original offence was: in NATAN, two different experts speculate on the kind of films Natan may have made, and reach opposite conclusions. It seems fair to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In the film we actually compare the face of Natan with that of various porno actors claimed, by Professor Joseph Slade of Ohio University, to be him. In the case of the infamous LE CANARD, a horrible goose-molesting romp from the thirties, there is no resemblance whatsoever between Bernard Natan and the husky bird-buggerer onscreen ~

vlcsnap-2016-03-05-11h57m44s14

The two men are obviously just that — TWO men. It seems incredible that Prof. Slade could have mistaken them.

The circumstances of Slade’s  ID’ing Natan in these films should be borne in mind. By his own account, he found a box of films at the Kinsey Institute which had been labelled “Nathan.” Since rumours abounded about Natan’s past, and these rumours attained the status of myth when he was arrested for fraud in 1938, it’s easy to see why some opportunistic would-be scholar happening upon the films before Slade may have chosen to so label them. Slade did not accept the label as proof, but placed it in a mental area under the heading “evidence” and gradually added to it a tiny heap of other circumstantial tidbits and items of hearsay.

Also, Slade did not really know anything about Natan when he first saw these films decades ago. He wasn’t carrying a picture of him, so comparisons were not easy. But let’s have a look at some of the other men he identified as Bernard Natan.

vlcsnap-2016-03-05-11h57m56s161

This is the guy who causes our viewers some trouble. He’s one of the stars of a little movie called SISTER VASELINE. There’s a certain resemblance, audiences say. But present at our Edinburgh International Film Festival screening, fortunately enough, was Dr. Brooke Magnanti, the former sex worker whose experiences under the name Belle de Jour were developed as a TV series by Paul. Dr. Magnanti is now an expert in forensic pathology, and had no difficulty dismissing the passing resemblance between the film producer and the naughty monk. Most of us determine identity by studying a small central area, the eyes, nose and mouth. In this case, the prominent nose tends to attract all the attention. But the chin and ears are quite different, and while one’s ears do grow during one’s life, nobody acquires earlobes, and only Ernst Stavros Blofeld is on record as removing his. Natan does have tiny, recessive earlobes. The nameless monk-impersonator has great globs of cartilage swaying at the ends of protuberant, mouselike ears.

vlcsnap-2016-03-05-11h33m12s148

Here’s an image from LE MENAGE MODERNE DU MADAME BUTTERFLY. It’s funny how resemblance works. You may have thought the guyplaying “the randy monk” in the previous looked a lot like Natan. But you will look at the guy on the left here and probably say “That’s the same guy who played the monk!” And I think you’d be right. It’s like when you’re waiting to meet someone you know slightly, and everyone who passes looks a little like the person. But when the real person shows up, you just KNOW.

Extraordinarily, it’s the guy on the RIGHT in the faux-riental makeup who has been historically claimed to be Natan. I wanted to feature him in NATAN as part of our evidence of how silly these accusations are — it was one of my few disagreements with Paul. More comparisons, I think, would clinch it.

According to Wikipedia, the very first person to identify this bisexual performer as Natan was Thomas Waugh, who now “rejects his earlier conclusion […] based on on-screen evidence of the actor’s age and foreskin status.” Good for you, Mr. Waugh. Now how about also rejecting it on the basis that it’s blatantly NOT HIM. Scratch what I said earlier about how we identify people based on eyes, nose and mouth. Waugh evidently uses different criteria.

Sidenote — Wikipedia now identifies the actor playing Pinkerton, on the left, as one J.H. Forsell, a mainstream actor with one other IMDb credit — playing Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig in the 1919 epic THE GREAT VICTORY, WILSON OR THE KAISER? THE FALL OF THE HOHENZOLLERNS. This is not an easy film to see, or pronounce, and thus not an easy claim to disprove. But it is an American film, and so the idea of a minor player zipping across the Atlantic in order to fellate a bloke in a kimono for low pay strikes me as improbable. I’m also struck by the fact that the leading man of this lengthily-titled war flick is Creighton Hale.

vlcsnap-2016-03-04-21h07m42s233

This man is not Creighton Hale. He is about to do something awful through that fence.

Creighton Hale was an Irish actor who went from playing straight roles in early dramas like THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (1914) to stardom as a light comedy lead in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) and SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (1929). He sank into the obscurity of bit parts, finishing his career as “irritated stagecoach passenger” in 1959’s WESTBOUND, but then achieved a kind of fame when Kenneth Anger, in his book Hollywood Babylon, accused him of having sex with a goat. On camera. During the height of his fame as a movie star. My friend Diarmid Mogg dispels that myth here. So I was startled when Professor Slade repeated the long-discredited allegation to me in an email: “Creighton Hale seems to have made it as a joke, and the humor certainly does outweigh the sex, which is not very explicit.  He would have had little fear of discovery, given the clandestine nature of the trade.”

My God, I thought. Professor Slade has made a career of accusing forgotten film personalities of bestiality. Perhaps that was unfair of me. It wouldn’t be right, would it, if these two colossal lapses of judgement came to overshadow the professor’s other accomplishments.

Not right, no, but certainly ironic.

Some of the complexity in this situation arises because, though there are many pictures of Bernard Natan, it’s easy to say, “Well, maybe this guy engaging in a fancy-dress threesome in some scratchy old stag film is him when he was younger.” Here, loyal Shadowplayers, is Bernard Natan when he was younger ~

vlcsnap-2016-03-05-11h55m22s171

If you’re of my species, you’re probably thinking “That’s the same guy as the one in the picture at the top of this blog post, only younger!” Natan always looks like Natan. He didn’t go from looking like himself to slightly looking like another guy with a similar nose, and then back to looking like himself again.

Here’s a final comparison.

vlcsnap-2016-03-05-11h33m37s165

It’s our old friend J.H. Forsell again. Or rather, not him, but a nameless, prolific porn actor who has been given that name, perhaps by someone bearing a grudge against Field Marshall Haig. If you watch the entirety of the hardcore romp SURPRIS PAR LE GARDE-CHAMPETRE, which I don’t recommend (I had to watch A LOT of vintage porn while preparing NATAN and it was not as enjoyable as some might expect. Sort of gave me a new respect for Professor Slade who apparently forged a career “studying” this stuff) you will observe that the Bogus Forsell is putting on weight, and his hair is receding. But Natan didn’t put on weight — he went to prison. Film of him at his last trial, before he was deported to Auschwitz, shows him with his hairline unchanged. If it ever intended to recede, it wasn’t given the chance. If we assume that the careers of Natan and “Forsell” were in parallel and they were the same age (of which there is no evidence), by the time “Forsell” was cavorting for cash in this one-reeler, Bernard Natan was buried in an unmarked mass grave.

 

 

Advertisements

Benshi in my Ear

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2014 by dcairns

The_Exploits_of_Elaine

The sensation of having an Italian lady piped into my ear while I watch a film was entirely unknown to me a week ago. Now it’s second nature. I’m slightly discomfited when she’s NOT there. I would welcome her ministrations even when watching a film in English (OKLAHOMA! on the big screen — digitally restored — the only  50 30 fps DCP in the world? – yum! But surely an Italianate female voice repeating the lyrics after Duncan Gordon McRae would enhance it).

We nearly had a simultaneous audio translation in Cannes once, but arrived at the gala moments too late, had to wait for the cast and crew to pose for snaps on the steps, then got let in after the movie had started. A tinny voice could dimly be heard from the arm of my chair, but I had no technical means to connect the arm of my chair to my head. So THE IDIOTS was experienced untranslated, and seemed quite enjoyable. It wasn’t until I saw it with subtitles that I realised I hated it.

My first visit from the ear-fairy was with THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (aka LES MYSTERES DE NEW YORK, an even better title). They ran two episodes that had been preserved in Belgium, with French and Dutch intertitles. I came to imagine Pearl White, the star, as a hesitant Italian, and enjoyed the improvisatory nature of her performance. Directed George Seitz and Louis Gasnier (see elsewhere on Shadowplay) for Pathe a hundred years ago, this follow-up to THE PERILS OF PAULINE was great entertainment. The whole serial survives, but in hideous dupes from 28mm, so this was a unique event — even Kevin Brownlow had never seen it look like this. (A bit chipped off as it passed through the projector, and for a full minute stayed stuck to the image, a fragment of celluloid, sprocket-holes and all, pasted over the action. Never seen that before.) Yes, I introduced myself to Kevin Brownlow, who pronounced NATAN “terrific.” My chest swelled as if an alien was trying to get out.

hollywood-logo_copy_1

“You are responsible for my becoming a filmmaker.”

“You must be broke.”

“I am!”

“Join the club!”

The screening was also significant for me because THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE is one of the few films left illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Regular readers will be aware of my quest to see every film depicted in that tome, a quest entitled See Reptilicus and Die. I saw REPTILICUS, I didn’t die, and now I only have a few left.

Mr. Brownlow pointed out that a very young Creighton Hale appears in THE E OF E. I told him that Professor Joseph Slade, one of the antagonists in our film NATAN, wrote me that he believes, not only that Bernard Natan had sex with a duck onscreen, but, along with Kenneth Anger, that Creighton Hale had sex with a goat in a twenties porno, a rumour systematically discredited here.

KB: “You know someone asked Kenneth Anger how he did his research, and he replied, ‘Mental telepathy, mainly.'”

Denis Gifford’s book reproduces an image of a Jekyll-Hyde transformation. The episodes we saw included The Vampire, in which masked, hunchbacked villain The Clutching Hand attempts to drain Elaine of blood to transfuse into one of his accomplices. Though Elaine spent most of her time unconscious and getting rescued, she did start that episode by plugging said accomplice three times as he appeared at her bedroom window (the program notes observed that many of the serial’s dramatic situations implied some thinly-veiled sexual threat, and that the films were particularly successful with female audiences — back when thiny v’d sexual t. was just about the only kind of acceptable sex). The other episode had Elaine revived from a death-like trance (accompanist Stephen Horne switched to accordion to suggest lung-wheeze). All these jumbled horror elements (see poster above) suggest the serial was the Penny Dreadful of its day — but of course John Logan’s series and Seitz/Gasnier’s serial both take nineteenth-century sensational literature as their starting point.

Intertitle of the Week: Highland Reels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2010 by dcairns

ANNIE LAURIE was the rattiest recording of anything I’ve looked at lately. The movie itself had a big timecode stuck on it, and the disc I was watching had evidently been produced by somebody with a video camera filming a TV screen playing the movie on VHS. At first I was irked, thinking the anonymous pirate ought to have at least used a tripod, even if he couldn’t simply connect the VCR to a DVD recorder. Then I surmised, from the timecode, that the movie was probably the property of some archive, and the intrepid crook had smuggled a handicam into a little screening room to filch the movie’s image. Of this, I heartily approved. Archives are great things, preserving the physical substance of cinema history, but too often it’s difficult for us mortals to access the goodies within, for geographical locations, and the archives make it difficult or impossible for us to get our hands on recordings, for copyright reasons. So larceny is the remaining option for cinephiles with hungry eyes.

Credit to the mysterious source: whenever his arm got tired, resulting in violent jostling of the image, he would rewind the tape in order to get a better version of the ruined sequence. I presume he intended to edit the faulty “takes” out, but never got around to it. A shame there was no soundtrack though — I can imagine a score making deft/cheesy use of not only the title song, but also “The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” and “Auld Lang Syne”.

Anyhow, the movie posits Lillian Gish in the Scottish Highlands, as the titular Annie, she of the beautiful ballad heard in both Elia Kazan’s A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and Takeshi Miike’s THE BIRD PEOPLE OF CHINA. So, I was of course thrilled at seeing La Gish impersonate one of my countrywomen. And then I was doubly, triply, quadruply thrilled that this studio Scotland was a dank, papier maché affair highly reminiscent of Orson Welles’ MACBETH. I doubt it was an actual influence — I prefer to think that both films accurately reflect the way denizens of Hollywood imagine my homeland — heaps of muddy canvas draped over boxes, molded pulp mountains, crooked castles of permanently wet clay. Come to think of it, that’s often how *I* think of the place, and I live here.

The story is set at the time of the Campbell-MacDonald feud, leading up to the infamous massacre of Glencoe, when the English-loving Campbells treacherously murdered a batch of sleeping MacDonalds. Lillian plays a Campbell who falls for a MacDonald, leading to kilted Romeo & Juliet antics.

Wouldn’t be surprising to see a trio of witches atop this outcrop.

Gish is more than usually pert and perky and pixieish here. One saucy scene has her serenaded by her effete Campbell beau, while she sits on the castle wall and smiles down at her rough, manly MacDonald suitor, who’s sitting on a rock amid a babbling brook. It’s surprising to see Lillian so fickle.

By the film’s climax, the Campbell’s have pretty much disgraced themselves via treachery, except for maybe Lillian’s Walter-Brennan-like grizzled protector, so she jumps ship and heroically lights a beacon to call rescuing clansmen. The climax is really thrilling, helped by the fact that both history and Gish’s rep as a tragedian really push us to fearing the worst possible outcome. In the end, this follows the MGM model and averts disaster, so we get a lovely two-strip idyll instead of heaps of corpses. Whatevs!

Colour hasn’t aged too well, alas. But by a happy coincidence, the MacDonald tartan uses the same hues as Two-Strip.

Praise to John S Robertson (a Canadian, probably with Scottish roots) for spectacular battle/chase action. We can see his film technique has grown more sophisticated since his (excellent) Barrymore DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE.

Leading men — Norman Kerry (Lon Chaney’s strongman rival in THE UNKNOWN) is a dignified MacDonald, triumphing over a deeply-scooped waistcoat which allows his nipples to peep shyly forth. Creighton Hale (THE CAT AND THE CANARY) is a suitably poncified Campbell. He may be best known today for Kenneth Anger’s completely unfounded allegation that he fucked a goat in a porno movie. All the more reason for joy at the liberation of this charming curio from its dusty canister.