Archive for Dorothy Devore

The Sunday Intertitle: Doodled

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , on April 8, 2018 by dcairns

Somebody will have to explain to me the career path that led Norman Z. McLeod from doing crap cartoons on intertitles for Christie Productions’ comedies, to directing A-pictures at Paramount. (OK, he made his first at Fox, where you could get a big break just by having the right blood type.) I mean, he went on to helm MONKEY BUSINESS and IT’S A GIFT, so we should feel grateful, but how do you get promoted from the bottom job to the top in one move when you couldn’t even do the bottom job adequately? It’s like the Peter Principle gone nuclear.

What we have here is a Dorothy Devore short — I got interested after seeing another of her films at Bo’ness. Weirdly, the intertitles are in Italian, and have scratching on them that doesn’t match the rest of the film, almost as if it had been added on… but the cartoons are authentic, and authentically rubbish. I’ve seen McLeod’s “work” on too many knockabout shorts not to recognize it, even if I can’t always recognize what it’s meant to represent.

The action of the film is fairly clear, but since I can’t speak Italian, there’s a level of mystery created by the title cards that’s only heightened by McLeod’s gnomic doodles. If I understood the words, maybe the stick figures would make sense. At 0:48, why is the bow-legged man thinking about a happy bull? At 2:02, why do we see sketch of a lady clown berating a dog with a sweaty tale? At 5.21, as Dorothy chats amicably with a smiling man, why does McLeod present us with his impression of one man kicking another in the pants, or part of the pants?

I could go on, so I will. At 6.10, what can you make of the embarrassed person begging for change from a gnome crouching on a laundry cart? Oh wait, he’s not a gnome, he just has his arm bent at an impossible angle so it looks like a conical hat. At 7:10, can you explain why the man just shot with a cannon at point-blank range is still standing? Or why he’s been shot at all? (For the purposes of this investigation, being Italian counts as cheating.) At 10:15, can you account for the medieval page-boy using super-breath to fire smoke rings at a dog?

At 10:49 the twins from THE SHINING show up, which makes as much sense as anything else. At 12:01 a drunkard trying to silently dispose of a telescope and a binoculars seems relatively clear. It’s taken most of the film, but I think I’m finally on McLeod’s wavelength.

A few years before his death, McLeod got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Did he etch one of his pictograms into the cement with a deft fingertip, and if so, will we ever be able to decode it? It might tell us who killed William Desmond Taylor, or something.

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The Sunday Intertitle: You Bad Ass

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2018 by dcairns

Movies from 10.30 a.m. until around midnight yesterday at the Hippodrome (and also at Bo’ness Railway Station). The one film I was unsure of, the recently rediscovered early ‘3-s Chinese film, STRIVING, turned out to be a highlight. For all its blatant propaganda content (“Bullets dodge brave soldiers,” one intertitle tells us — and we learn how the Chinese defeated the Japanese, which is pretty counter-factual), I actually like it better than the admired THE GODDESS. It’s in perfect nick, and Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius really brought it to life with their accompaniment.

Everybody’s favourite intertitle came from this film: “You bad ass!” a charming mistranslation which meant to come out as “You awful jerk!” or something. Difficult to find an idiom that carries the meaning and feels natural but doesn’t sound too, well, idiomatic.

The day began with Baby Peggy in THE KID DETECTIVE and Neil Brand at the piano. Neil told us that he’s actually played before B.P. herself. He asked her if they played music on set when she acted, and she said yes, there was one piece that would always make her cry. So when he accompanied her film he played it, and glanced into the audience, and sure enough, there were tears running down her face. I wish we’d had her with us yesterday. She was a big hit, especially in drag with tweed suit and inverted Hitler mustache.

Then there was the very peculiar SAVING SISTER SUSIE, a 1921 Christie Comedy with Dorothy Devore, who I hadn’t seen before. On the slenderest pretext, Devore is forced to dress as a child so she can’t steal her sister’s rich beau, but he falls for her anyway, the “Buster Brown” costume failing to put him off — maybe it even encourages him. This foretaste of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR meant that the naive little farce stood out in a day full of imperilled virigins and sexual threat, as perhaps the most disturbing film of all.

DER SCHATZ (1923), the first film of GW Pabst, was impressive, but hampered by the score. The Hippodrome set like a good improvisation as much as the next silent film geek, but we like to feel the musician is improvising TO the film. Alois Kott had laid down a sound bed of strange noises, which sometimes changed in sync with the scenes, and then he added another layer of abstract musical noise with an amazing instrument that looked like a cross between a cello and a Curly-Wurly™. None of the sounds would necessarily have been inappropriate for this film, though the intergalactic computer twinkling was something you might want to be careful with. But none of them seemed to follow or reflect the action, tone, mood of the characters or create either tension or space. The effect became like watching a good film (with Werner Krauss and THE 39 STEPS’ Lucie Mannheim) through a thick pane of frosted glass: music as barrier.

We did learn that Kott has provided live improvised accompaniment to football matches, though. I like that idea — sounds like about the only thing that could make the experience of a football match tolerable to me.

Oh, somewhere in there I accidentally won a chocolate egg in a quiz, which I then shared with random audience members. Seemed only fair since I’d guessed half the answers.

Tom Mix and his Wonder Horse, Tony, starred in THE GREAT K & A TRAIN ROBBERY (1926), where the clean-cut hero pretends to be a bandit in order to thwart real outlaws. Heroine Dorothy Dwan (fresh from the ’25 WIZARD OF OZ) seems to be serious obsessed with bandits, fantastising Mix as Dick Turpin via match dissolve, and gloating lustfully over her big book of Romantic Highwaymen. Who knew that highwayman porn was a thing? Second favourite intertitle stemmed from this film, where an effete villain is introduced with the words, “if he’s a college man — it must have been Vassar.” It’s at 2.36 in the above YouTubing. The movie is impossibly innocent — six-shooters blast all over the Colorado setting, but nobody ever gets shot, but it IS a bit heteronormative, I guess you could say.

John Sweeney pounded the ivories to strong dramatic effect despite the chill of the open-air performance amid the Bo’ness steam locomotives.

Then came the double feature of THE PENALTY and SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, which I’d written programme notes for. Graeme Stephen & Pete Harvey provided a beautiful score for the former, quite light and airy for this sadistic gangster-horror melodrama, and maybe a counter-intuitive choice to use strings for a film about a mad pianist (Lon Chaney) — but it worked!

I’m biassed, but Jane Gardner’s score for SEVEN FOOTPRINTS, performed with Roddy Long on violin, was my favourite of the day. It started with jaunty tunes from piano and bow, then when the going gets spooky, Jane switched to electronic keyboard and Roddy added an array of filters to his violin for an eerie selection of drones, pulses, throbs, wails and screeches — but not forgetting the tunes. This movie originally had a Vitaphone soundtrack, now lost, and while it would be unlikely that Jane happened on any of the precise effects of the original (apart from the gong), I could well believe that her work complimented the film every bit as effectively. Director Benjamin Christensen must be looking up from Hell, smiling.