Archive for Edmund Goulding

The Sunday Intertitle: Not-so-fresh Hell

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2020 by dcairns

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I watched the 1924 Fox Film Corps DANTE’S INFERNO for my new Forgotten By Fox column, but found it not good enough, partly because the only copies on YouTube are grim fuzzfests in which squinting gains you nothing, partly because the pisspoor telecine job is not rigorously incompetent enough to wholly erase the film’s script, co-written by Edmund Goulding.

The movie is actually one of the great poetic work’s more faithful adaptations — if you can call something faithful that omits two whole books of the Divine Comedy. But it folds its expensive and ambitious hellscapes — more like reconstructions than adaptations, since Mr. Alighieri’s travelog is low on narrative development, especially if you chop off purgatory and paradise — into a silly Scrooge plot in which a slumlord on the verge of a nervous breakdown is scared straight by the epic poem, hallucinating a hellish comeuppance for himself before it turns out to have all been a dream.

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The inferno itself isn’t quite as impressive as the one in the 1935 film — Fox again, this time inserting the Stygian depths into a moral narrative about an ambitious carny played by Spencer Tracy. The thirties hell is a place of gliding camera movements, whereas the earlier one, directed by one Henry Otto, adopts the more sedate tableau style, the better to craft artful multiple exposures, which time, and Grapevine Video, have done their best to occlude.

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My favourite Bad Moment is when, in his catastrophic nightmare, “Mortimer Judd,” the Ebenezer figure, orders his invalid wife to leave the house. Then he goes out, and upon his return learns that she’s now dying. Leading his son to say:

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Not great, Edmund Goulding. NIGHTMARE ALLEY’s better.

There’s also a butler character in blackface, but on the other hand the most “famous” person in it is Noble Johnson, Skull Island chieftain, as “demon whipping girl.”

The IMDb reports, sadly, “An incomplete nitrate print (missing Reel 2 out of five reels) survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archives, and is not listed for preservation.” One might argue that, given its many inadequacies, the movie should be listed for destruction, but those hell sequences are pretty special, and it upsets me that we’re apparently losing them forever.

The Sunday Intertitle: Drinks on Pete

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2018 by dcairns

In THE GREAT LIE (1941) — it’s not that great — Bette Davis and George Brent demonstrate their domestic happiness by making a home movie starring their kid. This featurette is a big-budget Hollywood affair, featuring its own intertitles, illustrated in a Norman Z. McLeod manner (i.e. crappy stick-figures), presumably by one parent or the other. It also manages to act as a metanarrative on race in Hollywood, caricaturing Hattie McDaniel in broader terms than the surrounding film itself.

 

The filmmakers attempt to simulate a projector malfunction by having the film weave off its sprockets, and then mysteriously come back with the image reversed. It would take a pretty fancy projector to achieve that, but I suppose it’s possible that George spliced the baby close-up in upside down (the big dope) and it was his rotten splice that caused the sprocket problem.

Rather than superimposing the movie afterwards using splitscreen double exposure, director Edmund Goulding and his team have done things for real, or almost: I think the movie is being rear-projected on a translucent screen embedded in the set wall, while the projector operated by Brent is merely a prop, giving a much dimmer light. But having a real image allows Goulding to move the camera, have actors block off part of the screen, etc, so it’s much more convincingly part of the scene than the usual approach.

By coincidence, we also watched PERFECT UNDERSTANDING (1933), which has its own home movie sequence, a record of the honeymoon of Gloria Swanson and Laurence Olivier. — a surprise teaming which actually works well. Rather than Gloria doing her grande dame bit (which in fact emerges only occasionally in her silent career, in fleeting gestures like the arm flung over the face in distressed longshot), and Larry trying to keep up with arch tongue movements or putty noses, the two try to outdo each other in naturalism, and it’s a joy seeing them bounce off one another in a loose, casual manner.

Thorold Dickinson edited this, and the director was Cyril Gardiner, a former editor who had cut Gloria’s first talkie, 1929’s THE TRESPASSER (1929) — which, come to think of it, was directed by Edmund Goulding. The honeymoon sequence is full of undercranking, dutch tilts, handheld wobble, and other devices intended to suggest amateurism, a far cry from the lavish production values of George & Bette’s polished effort.

Upside-down again! But this is used as Olivier’s POV after the home movie shows him drinking a large glass of beer. Larry and Gloria, far more sophisticated characters than George and Bette, are creatively mucking about with the technical possibilities of their cine-camera and film language. Not content with a nostalgic recreation of silent movie-making, they eschew intertitles but go full Georges Melies.

The footage is incorporated into the action in a much less ambitious way — we simply see it embedded in a screen within the screen, or rather the mere OUTLINE of such a screen. But I like how the reverse angle is shooting straight into the projector beam, a perfect Ozu-like 180º cut.

Peptide

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2017 by dcairns

We watched RIPTIDE, or as I keep calling it, PEPTIDE, from the talented Edmund Goulding. Robert Montgomery AGAIN! Also Norma Shearer and Herbert Marshall (pictured).

“My God she’s awful,” complained Fiona, but I think Norma is good in this one, though the film isn’t. It’s certainly a very DETAILED performance. And with less striking of anguished or flirtatious or sultry poses. She’s in rather a flurry, in fact.

A third of this is screwball comedy avant la lettre — the married couple at its centre meet while attired for a sci-fi convention futuristic ball. Cosplay! Montgomery plays a loveable feckless drunk, whose pixellated interloping chucks a spanner into the marriage that even Mrs. Patrick Campbell can’t extract. The marital strife gets to be very tedious, though — not the best use of Herbert Marshall’s clipped repression, though God knows it’s a use the movies often put him to.

It’s typical of the film’s frustrating approach that, after teasing us with Herbert’s insect man costume and Norma’s scantily clad “sky [something] girl (they repeat the costume’s name numerous times, but it’s never clear what the hell they’re saying — sky POD girl? sky RIDE girl?), the characters then decide not to go to the ball at all.

The DeMille of MADAME SATAN would never have tolerated that.

You’ll notice that ALL my frame-grabs are from the opening sequence because basically I wanted the whole film to go on like that. They could have roped in Joan Crawford’s robot buddies from THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, if they’d thought of it (yeah, I know: chronology, the sworn enemy of fun).