Archive for Die Nibelungen

Snakes and Funerals

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2020 by dcairns
snakes
and funerals

Not real snakes, of course, not like the bulging eyed fellow Debra Paget dances for in THE INDIAN TOMB (like the dragon in DIE NIBELUNGEN, his eyes are on the front of his head, human-style, an odd Langian trope) and not really a funeral, just a shot of a cemetery.

The subject, of course, is Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET, enjoyed on a Friday as part of our weekly pleasure cruise through all things George Sanders-related.

“What genre is this?” I was asked. A male Gothic (small boy instead of young lady getting the pants scared off ’em), a land-based pirate movie, and a classic Hollywood throw-out-the-novel-and-have-some-fun swashbuckler. MGM’s much earlier TREASURE ISLAND (Wallace Beery version) might be the key model. The most interesting aspect is the dramatic irony where the young hero (Jon Whitely, the solemn little Scottish boy from THE KIDNAPPERS) doesn’t really understand anything that’s happening in the same way we do. He doesn’t get either that Stewart Granger is a bad man (good casting, there) or that he’s, by narrative inference, his father, or that he’s fatally wounded at the end.

RIP Jon Whitely, who died earlier this year

This should be more touching than it is, but I do find it somewhat moving. I suspect the emotions involved are not ones Lang had a particular interest in. He undersells anything that could be Spielbergian (a good thing too, some will think) and goes all in on the HORROR. He could have done a great TREASURE ISLAND himself.

Third from the right, Skelton Knaggs in his last role

And he finds some splendid uses for the screen ratio he affected to despise. Never take Lang at his word. When he seems most sincere, be suspicious. The serpent is most dangerous when it looks right at you.

MOONFLEET stars Scaramouche; Addison DeWitt; Sibella; Vellamo Toivonen; Harry, Jim’s Grandson; Musidora; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Maj. Kibbee; Alfred the butler; Cassius; Bunny Jones; Charlie Max; Angel Garcia; PTO; Sir Ivor; Finn – the mute; Nathan Radley; and Sir Roderick Femm.

Grail Enquiries

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2019 by dcairns

My line on EXCALIBUR has long been that John Boorman decided, boldly but perhaps unwisely, to make an Arthurian epic as if MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL had never happened.

I came up with a new line today while showing clips to a student who’s embarking on a mythic fantasy short: it’s like Boorman maybe DID know there was such a thing as The Ridiculous, but bet that he could break on through it to the other side. But possibly there’s nothing on the other side of The Ridiculous except more Ridiculous, going on forever, getting ever more ridiculous.

Hopping through the film for frame-grabs though, my God it’s beautiful. Though the muddy bits are the most Pythonesque, and the glossy bits are kind of sixties-hippy-meets-disco, so it’s all silly all the time, maybe it plays better in episodes, or even moments, than as a whole.

Remember Hawks’ “I don’t know how a pharaoh talks”? Remember also that Fritz Lang was offered the chance to remake DIE NIBELUNGEN at the end of his career, and turned it down on the basis that the dialogue would be impossible. EXCALIBUR would make a great silent movie.

I had just watched Daniel Aronofsky’s NOAH, which has some nice fake time-lapses but otherwise was not entertainingly bad as I’d hoped, but kind of depressingly bad, and I’d also shown clips from Polanski’s MACBETH, and the thing all three films have in common is really mannered performances. EXCALIBUR looked particularly ropey, except for Nicol Williamson who has the benefit of a sly wit. You can’t not think of LORD OF THE RINGS (which Boorman had wanted to make), and my feeling is what makes that movie/series watchable in spite of all the excesses (which are its ARCHITECTURE), is it has lots of interesting actors who can step outside the clichés of the Epic Style. Peter Jackson has always liked big, ALL-CAPS, cartoony performances, but there are understatement specialists and eccentrics dotted all through LOTR and yet there’s also an acceptable house style that keeps things just unified enough.

But one can’t help but dream of what a Boorman LOTR would be like. Like a Jodorowsky DUNE or a Ken Russell CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

The Sunday Intertitle: Die, Pest!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2017 by dcairns

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DIE PESTE IN FLORENZ — the plague in Florence — is a 1919 German epic scripted by Fritz Lang in his usual cheery style — the Florentine’s throw off the shackles of religious repression, and life becomes one non-stop orgy, at which point a plague descends and kills everyone. Lang’s grim sensibility is remarkable in the sense that it was commercially successful despite being so unremittingly bleak — look at DIE NIBELUNGEN, in which everybody is morally compromised and everybody dies. Can this really have been the Nazis’ favourite film? If they saw themselves in it, it’s prophetic, and also suggests a self-destructive drive at the root of their movement. I have my doubts. I’m not sure they had that level of insight.

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A slightly wishy-washy reconstructed intertitle, but we can make up for that with an ecstatic gallery — The Triumph of Death!

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Heavily inspired by Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, I assume, this movie ends with the Plague Personified (Juliette Brandt, the best actor in it) fiddling among the splayed corpses of the city, descending stairs towards us like Norma Desmond, though alas director Otto Rippert doesn’t have her fill the lens with a grotesque soft-focus close-up. But I like that she’s so chirpy, skipping and grinning away, reminiscent a little of the bandaged apparition of Simone Choule in Polanski’s THE TENANT. It’s a happy ending, for Death.

In other news — am contemplating staying up all night with friends, watching the Oscars, in which case I shall probably live-blog it. Since the event doesn’t really have much to do with movies, I guess I’ll just be ranking the frocks and political speeches and noting how few, if any, of these films I’ve seen… If I go for it, watch out for an ever-expanding blog post here. If I feel too sleepy, watch out for nothing.