Archive for DW Griffith

Pg. 17, #5

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2020 by dcairns

I have watched the scenario work from the beginning, from the days when the main purpose of the script was to keep some prominent object moving before the eyes of the delighted audience. Naturally at that time any subtlety of motion would be wasted on a plot whose main situation took the form of a ball rolling down the hill with a frenzied mob chasing it. I now feel that scenario work is coming into its own.

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“The projector will be rolling, the camera will be panning, the angle of the shots will be changing, and the distance of the shots will be changing, and all these things have their own tempo, so you have to have a tempo, too. If you sit or stand or talk the way you do at home, you look silly on the screen, incoherent. On screen, you have to be purposive. You have to be moving or not moving. One or the other. So a lot of times, in a complicated scene, the best thing to do is stand absolutely still, not moving a muscle. This would look very strange if you did it at the grocery store, but it looks okay on screen because the camera and shots are moving around you.”

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Griffith was a tough directorial taskmaster–as just about all the best directors were. He once slapped Mabel Normand hard to make her crying-mad for a scene in The Mender of Nets (1912). After he shot the scene, Griffith put his arms around her and said, “There, darling, that’s what I wanted. I knew you could do it.” Lillian and Dorothy Gish recalled that when they first came to be interviewed by Griffith at the old Biograph studio in New York, he chased them all over the studio with a pistol to get their “emotional” reactions.

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Sennett made certain that he was walking in the same direction as Griffith every night after work, and he began to expound some of his own ideas about the techniques of making pictures. Sennett was anxious to discuss his theories on the possibilities of screen comedy, a topic which left Griffith completely unmoved. Griffith failed to see anything funny about comic policemen, regardless of the manner in which Sennett chose to present his thesis or how many times he explained it. The topic bored Griffith then, just as it would bore him after his walking companion became world famous. Nonetheless, he was tolerant of Sennett’s opinions, and as they strolled about the city, the two men discussed motion pictures and the great future in front of them.

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“I was interested in the idea of an artist at the end of the road. I wanted to write something about an artist in that predicament. It could have been any kind of artist; a painter, a writer, a concert pianist. But I had access to the biggest rock and roll singer in the world, and I was interested in that world. And there is no art form in which the violent impulse is more implicit than in rock music. And I was very interested in what was happening with Mick at that time, the flirtation with Their Satanic Majesties.”

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It wasn’t enough! — Why had I made no mention of the GEEZER? Yes that was the location, enormous swim bath of vegetation, but there’d been this geezer down there, the all-important geezer, and it was from him, presumably, I’d learnt . . . what I’d now utterly forgotten — And the more I tried to recall him — the more it seemed like the act of recollection was driving him into the mists — and Fog.

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When I mentioned my anxiety to my good friend Miss Ena M. Eaves, of the British Electrical Development Association, she told me of the work done on oven temperatures by Miss Bee Nilson, lecturer in nutrition at the Northern Polytechnic, and reproduced in her work, The Penguin Cookery Book.

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Jeanie MacPherson, quoted in Script Girls, by Lizzie Francke, Robert Mitchum, quoted by Dave Hickey in Mitchum Gets Out of Jail, in the collection O.K. You Mugs, edited by Luc Sante, The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood, by Ezra Goodman, Kops and Custards, The Legend of Keystone Films (A Book), by Kalton C. Lahue and Terry Brewer, Performance, by Mick Brown, Donald Cammell speaking, The Bald Trilogy, by Ken Campbell (Vol. 1, Furtive Nudist), Vegetarian Cookery, by Janet Walker.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books on my nearest shelf.

It was perhaps to be expected that two books on Hollywood history would contain references to Griffith near the start, but it wasn’t planned by me. In his passage, Campbell is trying to recall an urban visionary he met in a dream, which he then too scantily transcribed: I’m happy to be able to help him out by demonstrating that this was doubtless Griffith in oneiric flâneur mode.

Pg. 17, #3

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2020 by dcairns

Mackendrick accompanied Relph to Prague to scout locations. As always, his enthusiasm was tireless: Relph describes him “rushing up every steeple in Prague when you could see perfectly well from the ground that it wasn’t any good. But he would never take anybody else’s word.” Mackendrick, for his part, retorts that “Michael is covering up for the fact that he doesn’t like heights. One of the spires was very tall, with a tiny balcony and this terrific bird’s eye view of Prague. I managed to get Michael up the stairs, but when he got outside he turned his face to the wall and wouldn’t turn around. So he never saw the view.”

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Checkmate. When you were interviewed by Bianco e Nero in 1958 you said that modern directors had eliminated the “problem of the bicycle.”

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…Morning sunlight at the Onwentsia Club, where Father has just given me a beautiful pony of my own, a retired polo pony. I go riding with a groom from the club’s stables. My retired polo pony is, of course, neck-broken, he works with one hand, but I don’t know this and I must do something with the reins, because abruptly the pony has started back where we came from and I am swinging in the air on the other end of the reins doing the big loop.

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It was altogether different in those days, because we had no dialogue or anything. I learned a great deal about pantomime from him, people telling the story just by their looks, their eyes and their hands. I learned about movement from him, of course, because most of his pictures were what we always called a “run-to-the-rescue.” That means that the girl is on the railroad tracks, the train is coming, her lover is coming on the horse and he gets her off just as the train goes by. All the pictures in the early days had that.

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Most of the writers who have contributed to this dictionary belong either to the generation for whom Citizen Kane was the first great revelation of the cinema or to the generation for whom Godard’s A Bout de Souffle performed the same function. But they are alike in one very important respect: neither generation was brought up on silent film. Almost all the writers in the Dictionary discovered silent film after their experience of sound film. This is important, because they are therefore almost obliged to have a different view of montage.

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The weird part of it is that it never occurred to anyone, including Clark and me, that all this might have had a bad effect on the mood, or on our ability to play a love scene convincingly. But that’s the way it was. The way it always is. The way it is today, on any movie set…

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Of course, there was the zoo, with caged lions — that was before those ridiculous concrete rocks were built for them — and they made me cry. The seals, on the other hand, seemed to me to be happy; at least they had their water, and kilos of fish thrown to them by a keeper who addressed them only in German.

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This week I excerpted only film books. It makes it harder to create a crazy mixed-up storyline or conversation, but what surprised me is that the coincidental connections created have little to do with film and more to do with transport.

They are: Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick, by Philip Kemp; Encountering Directors, by Charles Thomas Samuels (being flummoxed by Antonioni); Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges; Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends, by Patrick McGilligan, interviewing Raoul Walsh (pictured) with Debra Weiner about D.W. Griffith; Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Richard Roud, from his introduction; Film Makers Speak, edited by Jan Leyda (the speaker is Mary Astor, referencing Clark Gable); Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be, by Simone Signoret.

Return of the Kings

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2020 by dcairns

New edition of Forgotten By Fox over here! Looking at Fox’s remakes of silent classics: DANTE’S INFERNO gets a look in, just so I can post video of the hell sequence which is mind-blowing, and then we’re on to Henry King’s talkies of Borzage’s SEVENTH HEAVEN and Griffith’s WAY DOWN EAST, which also get clips to give you an idea. Some of Simone Simon’s close-ups in the former may take the sting out of quarantine for those indoors.

WAY DOWN EAST stars Tom Joad; Jessie Pullman; Irving Pincus: the Wicked Witch of the West; Pa Joad; Link Appleyard; Penny Sycamore; Susan Paine; Aunt Milly; Whitey; Mr. Herman Shimelplatzer; Mrs. Carol Stark; Mary Todd Lincoln; and Michaela Villegas.

SEVENTH HEAVEN stars Irena Dubrovna Reed; John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson; Dr. Paul Christian; Max Fabian; Mrs. Manette; Miser Stevens; ‘Pap’ Finn; ‘Concentration Camp’ Ehrhardt; Frau Berndl; Napoleon Bonaparte; Malita; Lo Tinto; and Dr. Leonardo.