Archive for Dita Parlo

The Sunday Intertitle: Who’s Storing the Mind?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2019 by dcairns

On the ruins, The Future was being built.

To Bo’ness Hippodrome, and enough intertitles to last a month of Sundays!

By the time I rocked up in that sleepy townlet, I’d already missed a lot of high-quality stuff, including Lois Weber’s THE BLOT and Harold Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN, and lunch at the beloved Ivy, but my first film on Saturday was a beaut — Julien Duvivier’s updated Zola adaptation AU BONHEUR DES DAMES (later done by The Beeb as The Paradise, relocated from Paris to the more glamorous locale of Durham).

Pamela Hutchinson of Silent London remarked, “If you wanted to show someone what silent cinema could be like, you could just show them that, because it’s got everything!” A late silent — 1930 — maybe France’s last? (Bernard Natan produced the first French talkie the same year) — you can see the studio it was shot in being demolished in the film — it heaps up radical techniques around you, from German expressionistic angles to Russian montage to French impressionist delirium — slow motion, split screen, multiple exposures… plus powerful use of more traditional bits of film language like close-ups:

Dita Parlo (a name surely made for the talkies) is our guileless ingenue, and Nadia Sibirskaïa (MENILMONTANT) provides haunting support, with the Galleries Lafayette in a major starring role also. The film contrasts the plight of the small shop with the booming, all-consuming department store — nominally, we’re meant to sympathise with the small business, but the film values photogenics, and can’t help being seduced by the glamour of large-scale retail.

The ending is a bit of a problem — though sort of faithful to the novel’s outcome, it plays like “How many of our themes can we betray in four minutes?” One can’t imagine it ever having felt satisfying to anyone, even the makers — did Duvivier have more than the usual amount of trouble with endings? (See also LA BELLE EQUIPE… but my beloved LA FIN DU JOUR is perfection.)

Particularly fine accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius, on a day that also included John Sweeney & Bockius scoring Chinese martial arts romp THE RED HEROINE, Sweeney again on Dreyer’s THE PARSON’S WIDOW (magnificent, more on that later) and Günter Buchwald & Bockius adding creepshow atmospherics to THE CAT AND THE CANARY, to which I provided sleeve notes.

HippFest has been going since last Saturday but this was my first day, and a damned good one. Back today (Sunday) with Fiona for Laurel & Hardy, MOULIN ROUGE, Lawrence Napper lecturing on working women in silent film, and the grand gala finale of HINDLE WAKES.

 

Advertisements

Love is Forbidden

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-09-21-19h14m34s137

Hey look, it’s Pierre Blanchar! For realz.

Despite being directed by a German, Pabst’s MADEMOISELLE DOCTEUR is extremely French — for much of its running time it’s essentially a romance in which a variety of secret agents and double agents fail to do their patriotic duty because they’re all in love with members of the enemy sides.

When I started watching, I was quickly confused, owing to the less-is-more approach to subtitling. The fan who subbed it seems to have left out bits he found boring, and other bits he found too difficult, and with my concussed-schoolboy French I had no way of knowing which was which. And the plot seemed to be leaping arpund all over the place. Pierre Blanchar is introduced in prison, being recruited to betray his own side (the Germans, I think — it seems to be WWI) but then disappears for so long that when Jean-Louis Barrault turned up, with his similarly razorsharp cheekbones but looking otherwise not much like Blanchar, I thought it was him. Barrault buys a slice of melon from Louis Jouvet in an unusually intense manner and then disappears from the story completely.

vlcsnap-2014-09-21-19h02m21s13

Romance! 

Everybody is in love with the wrong person — as in The Sea Gull or LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS. Viviane Romance loves Pierre Blanchar and betrays fellow agent Dita Parlo (the masterspy of the title) because she suspects he’s smitten with her. Blanchar is supposed to betray Parlo to the French but doesn’t because he IS smitten with her. Parlo is supposed to steal the secret plans from Pierre Fresnay but doesn’t because she’s smitten with him. Fresnay is completely in the dark about Parlo being an enemy agent so at least his being smitten with her isn’t treason, but it is undeniably a security risk. Jouvet alone remains uncompromised.

So with Topic A on everybody’s minds, I could relax about whether the Bulgarians were negotiating a separate peace — an impossible thing for anyone to get worked-up about, I’d have thought — and just enjoy the romantic angst amid seamy and exotic settings, as each of the cast attempts to out-louche the rest. Blanchar, sporting a fez, has an unfair advantage.

(Eric Ambler on loucheness and the art of spying.)

The rules of poetic realism demand that love end in tragedy, and by making everyone political enemies, most of them on the losing side in a global apocalypse, Pabst and his army of writers have stacked the deck admirably. We can’t predict just how it’ll turn out, but it is utterly impossible for it to end well for anyone. Still, the last scene’s entirely unromantic bleakness took me by surprise. You can either end up shot by firing squad, insane and mumbling, or lying dead in a heap of melons. C’est l’amour.

vlcsnap-2014-09-21-19h13m04s22

The gang of writers, asides from the alluringly-named Irma Von Cube, include Herman Mankiewicz, and I’d love to hear the story behind THAT. Pabst had just returned from an unsuccessful stab at Hollywood*, so I supposed he made the future KANE scribe’s acquaintance while there. The thing hangs together pretty well despite the multitude of chefs, though somebody should have noticed that if Parlo needs Fresnay’s help in Act I because she can’t drive, it stretches credulity to have her nearly beat him an exciting car chase in Act III…

*Unsuccessful? A MODERN HERO features Marjorie Rambeau as an alcoholic one-armed ex-leopard trainer**. That one fact puts it ahead of Lewis Gilbert’s entire filmography.

**An ex-trainer of leopards. Not a trainer of ex-leopards. Because that would be stupid.