Archive for David Torrence

The Palm Sunday Intertitle: Clan Gathering

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2015 by dcairns

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I already wrote about ANNIE LAURIE here, but that was based on a very fuzzy copy — nothing about the experience could compare to seeing the film on 35mm at the Bo’ness Hippodrome, accompanied by Shona Mooney and her ensemble. The news that HippFest was commissioning scores from respected musicians new to silent film accompaniment had been both exciting and worrisome. I certainly hope Jane Gardner is back next year. But the policy was an undoubted success, due partly to the sheer talent of Moishe’s Bagel (who scored SALT FOR SVANETIA) and Shona Mooney, and partly to the policy of having experienced accompanists mentor the composers. Stephen Horne advised on this one.

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The folk song Annie Laurie is one of the most beautiful pieces of music Scottish culture has provided, and Mooney used it eloquently, weaving it in with other themes and building the emotion of this rip-roaring melodrama/historical farrago to a perfect series of crescendos. A particularly striking effect was the use of silence, always timed to heighten key moments: the music drops out, one character looks at another, there’s a moment of understanding, and then the score starts up again. Powerful.

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On the big screen, MGM’s lavish production values could be fully appreciated, with a studio Scotland concocted from models, glass paintings, capacious castle interiors and papier-mache boulderscapes in the manner of Welles’ MACBETH. All this expenditure resulted in a loss for the studio and accelerated the end of Lillian Gish’s stardom, but the Hippodrome was packed with enthusiastic movie lovers. Probably half the crowd was Scottish, enjoying the blatant traducement of our history and culture — we were just flattered that a Hollywood studio would think it worth doing. I described the film to curious prospective viewers as “BRAVE without the bears,” but it also has bloody limb-loppings, homoerotica (hulking clansmen recalling Groundskeeper Willie’s frequent shirtless action scenes; girl-on-girl kissing with Gish and her BFF) and David Torrence (brother of the more famous Ernest), an actual, honest-to-God Scotsman ~

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An audible gasp from the assembly when the print blossomed into Technicolor at the end.

The Bo’ness Hippodrome knows how to do these things — there’s a sense of occasion, dressing up, informative and funny introductions (Bryony Dixon this time), a short subject with some light-hearted connection to the main film, and a great sense of social gathering, with friends from all over and a community spirit too. It would be great to get some of this going on in our larger film festivals.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Mystic Patsies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2014 by dcairns

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A surprisingly familiar character name appears in THE MYSTIC (1925) — at first I assumed it to be a coincidence, but since the director and co-writer is Tod Browning, future director of FREAKS and former circus somnambulist, it’s by no means unlikely that he was familiar with the case of John Merrick (in reality, Joseph), AKA The Elephant Man.

THE MYSTIC itself is relatively mild stuff, but it does deal with the circus, a fake medium, and con artistry, all things that Browning returned to obsessively throughout his career. The fake seances are put over with some panache, and it’s fun to see the trickery behind them, including a mild electrical current fed through the audience when they link hands, so that a signal can be given when the circuit is broken. A police inspector in the crowd circumvents this by getting his neighbours to link hands around him…

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Star Aileen Pringle was one of those on the yacht when Thomas Ince got shot, or did not get shot. Hearst doesn’t seem to have done her career iany particular favours. Edinburgh man David Torrence, brother of the more famous Ernest, brings his massive face to bear on the role of one of the supposed good guys, but respectable people in this movie can be as crooked as the gypsy confidence gang. Browning’s true sympathies are with the outsider-upstarts, which makes him an odd fit for MGM. His larcenous, grubby and nasty worldview might have been a better fit at Warners, and seems inimical to the oft-stated (family) values of Mayer’s empire, but it must be admitted that he succeeded anyway, bending the studio product all out of shape and taking the company to dark places it otherwise would have shunned. A bit like Tony Blair at Labour.