Archive for F For Fake

The Late Show

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2013 by dcairns


I created this second banner because Fiona said the dead Santa one was “horrible.”

Welcome to the blogathon! I’m going to sellotape this post to the top of Shadowplay using science, so it will be the first thing you see this week. But the new posts will be immediately beneath it, so keep scrolling.

If participating in the blogathon, this is the post to link to. You can add a comment below to let me know about the post, if you don’t have my email.



And we have a first entry — David Ehrenstein applies his wits to F FOR FAKE, one of Orson Welles’ last movies as director, and another that is sometimes cited as his greatest film. Here.

My own first piece deals with a truly hard-to-see, unconsidered final film, from the wonderful Frank Borzage. Here.

Christine Leteux was our researcher on NATAN, is Kevin Brownlow’s translator, and in her own right she’s the author of the first book on Albert Capellani and the splendid French-language film blog Ann Harding’s Treasures. She’s traveling at present, researching her next book, but gave me permission to link to a relevant piece from AHT — TUMBLEWEEDS was William S. Hart’s last directorial gig and feature starring role. Ici.

Eddie Selover casts a not-unsympathetic eye over two swan songs from 1930s divas, Marlene Dietrich’s JUST A GIGOLO and Mae West’s jaw-dropping SEXTETTE. Here.

Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy on Films looks at a film I only just realized exists, the 1934 version of THE SCARLET LETTER, which was Colleen Moore’s last feature. Here.



Every Shadowplay blogathon must contain an intertitle. Here.

Over at Mostly Film, Paul Duane raises the tone with an entry on EMMANUELLE V, tragically Walerian Borowczyk’s last gig, but finds some bizarre merit. Here.

Tim Hayes looks at SPAWN not as a naff superhero flick but as a late Nicol Williamson film and gets fascinating results. Here.

We have a scintillating line-up of guest Shadowplayers this year, and the first among them is Judy Dean, who looks at James Mason’s last screen appearance in THE SHOOTING PARTY. Here.



Imogen Smith, a regular star writer at The Chiseler, revisits Anthony Mann’s last western, which is also a late Gary Cooper, and elegiac as hell. Here.

Regular Shadowplayer Simon Kane waxes mysterious about Tom Schiller’s first, last and only theatrical feature, aptly titled NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, also the cinematic swan song of Sam (“Professor Knickerbocker”) Jaffe. Here.

My own Tuesday piece takes a brief look at Peckinpah’s THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, both version. And there’s a song! Here.

Gareth McFeely looks at the final feature of the late Georges Lautner, in a particularly timely tribute. Here.



Filmmaker Matthew Wilder looks at Billy Wilder’s unloved BUDDY BUDDY and, uniquely, finds something to admire. Here.

From Scout Tafoya, a typically ruminative and emotive valediction to Raul Ruiz. Here.

My post deals with a late Richard Lester, the largely ignored/forgotten FINDERS KEEPERS, which actually has some great slapstick. Here.

Louis Wolheim’s last movie, the 193o railroad melodrama DANGER LIGHTS, is examined by The Man on the Flying Trapeze. Here.



Nobody Knows Anybody, the Spanish cine-blog, considers the career of Alfredo Landa in the light of his final work. Yonder.

As part of the ’68 Comeback Special, I consider a late film by Albert Finney, made early in his career. Confused? Now you know how CHARLIE BUBBLES feels. Here.

Critica Retro assesses the charms of Louise Brooks’ oddball last picture. In Portuguese — try auto-translate, or try reading Portuguese! Aquí.

Two from Jeremy Rizzo, on Howard Hawks last, RIO LOBO, and Kubrick’s semi-posthumous puzzle box, EYES WIDE SHUT. Here and here.



Michael Pattison on what MAY be Tsai Ming-Liang’s final movie. Here.

A tip of the hat to THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE at No Man’s Land. Here.

Our own David Melville Wingrove illuminates the trailing end of Rex Ingram’s mighty career. Down here.

John Greco tackles the knotty problem of William Wyler’s last work, a film I love unreasonably. Here.

Stacia at She Blogged By Night weighs in on HER TWELVE MEN and Douglas Shearer, brother of the more celebrated Norma. Here.

And Tony Dayoub offers a close reading of three scenes in GIANT, the last film of James Dean. Here!

Daniel Riccuito, editor of The Chiseler, considers Jean Epstein’s last short, LIGHTS THAT NEVER FAIL aka LES FEUX DE LA MER. Here.

prairie home.preview


Dennis Cozzalio of the legendary Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule joins the blogathon for the first time with a joint look at the final films of two old masters: Altman and Penn. Here!

Seijun Suzuki’s wild, pop-art penultimate pic inspires this Shadowplay gallery. Here.

Guest Shadowplayer Ted Haycraft reflects on one of the biggest, boldest and bloodiest final films, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Here.

Grand Old Movies tips the hat to Marie Dressler. Here.

Late Bresson via Philip Tatler IV at Diary of a Country Pickpocket. Here.

The Girl with the White Parasol covers Frank Borzage’s second-last film, CHINA DOLL. Here.


Unable to recognize too much of a good thing, I keep going with John Frankenheimer’s last theatrical release, REINDEER GAMES. Here.

Chandler Swain revisits Losey’s STEAMING. Here.

Scout Tafoya’s second blogathon post details the last film to end them all, PP Pasolini’s positively final SALO. Here.



The Sunday Intertitle: The Curse of “What Drink Did”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by dcairns


“A thoughtful moral lesson.”

A lot of nonsense is talked about “The Curse of THE EXORCIST” or “The Curse of SUPERMAN”, proving generally that you can make any series of unfortunate coincidences look sinister. But here’s a movie tale surely no skeptic can gainsay. Of all those who worked on D.W. Griffith’s 1909 morality play, WHAT DRINK DID, not a single one survives…

Griffith himself died in 1948, a mere 39 years after helming this film, victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was just seventy-three years old. Star Florence Lawrence committed suicide in 1938, no longer buoyed up by her amusing stage name. The film’s lead drunkard, David Miles was dead just six years after completing his role, under mysterious circumstances which even the internet Movie Database has been unable to uncover. Some might find this suspicious. I do.

Child star Gladys Egan, AKA “Little Gladys,” perished in 1997, her career long over — nobody thought to offer adorable moppet roles to a ninety-one-year-old. Way down the cast, we find Mary Pickford, who went on to become “America’s Sweetheart,” one of the greatest box-office sensations of the age and a founding member of United Artists, but even that could not save her — she died in 1979, aged 87, eerily enough, from a cerebral hemorrhage. Her body was buried and her house was demolished.

Another bit player, Mack Sennett, became a famed producer of slapstick comedies at the Keystone company and received an honorary Oscar, only to die at the comparatively youthful age of eighty.

More sinisterly still, bartender John R Cumpson was slain by diabetes and pneumonia in 1914, just five years after his role in this blighted picture, and another of the movie’s bartenders, Arthur V. Johnson, succumbed to tuberculosis just two years later. extra Flora Finch fell prey to a streptococcus infection in 1940, and “workman” Owen Moore had a fatal heart attack the previous year.

Coincidence? I think not.

You may smile (“I think they’re smiling, Gary”), but do you have the courage to watch the film? I tell you, this curse is attached not just to the poor doomed cast and crew, but also to the audience. Everyone who watches this film will die.


“Mr Goldwyn, I hate to tell you, but of all the people who ever lived on this earth, not one of them ever had a happy ending.” Dorothy Parker.

Things I Read Off the Screen in the Films of Orson Welles

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2007 by dcairns

I’ve long been interested in the use of signs in Orson Welles’ work. I don’t mean symbolism, I mean literal signposts, like the one which begins and ends his very first feature, CITIZEN KANE. A warning to keep out, which is immediately disobeyed by Greg Toland’s camera, which simply cranes up and over the fence, allowing editor Robert Wise to dissolve us ever closer to the forbidden dream palace of Xanadu.

Theory: Welles’ anarchic side is going to make him want to disobey or poke fun at shouty authoritarian signs whenever he can. Let’s see if there’s any basis for this.


At 8.36 into this clip from Welles’ THE STRANGER there’s a modest bit of signage: “KEEP THIS SPACE CLEAR FIRE EQUIPMENT.” Not particularly ironic, although the fugitive Nazi immediately violates the spirit of the fire equipment by trying to grab the axe to murder his pursuer. He’s unable to get ahold of it, suggesting that the fire equipment is noty properly maintained. (I remember a list of movie clichés pointing out that fire extinguishers etc are never used for their proper purpose in films.)

But just moments later, 9.29 in the same clip, is a humdinger. After braining Edward G Robinson with a piece of gymnasiana (I don’t know the technical term for it), the nasty Nazi departs through a Big Door which carries a Big Sign: “ANYONE USING APPARATUS IN THIS ROOM – DOES SO AT THEIR OWN RISK Coach Raskie”. The sign is enormous— obviously Welles really wanted us to get this joke. Sadly we never get to meet this Coach Raskie fellow, a man who, despite his highly developed physique, lives in mortal fear of disgruntled clientele suing him for damages in respect of accidental injuries inflicted with barbells, vaulting-horses and medicine balls.

In LADY FROM SHANGHAI there’s a different kind of sign in the Crazy House sequence, truncated by Columbia Pictures but still enthralling. Giant placards reading STAND UP OR GIVE UP confront Welles as he staggers through the distorted sets and spinning rooms — but though the signs dwarf our protag, he is unable to obey them, as the floor keeps sliding from under his feet. Rather than defying the sign, he would like to follow its advice, but the sign is part of a structure which makes such compliance impossible. This is almost a perfect analogy for the world of film noir, where society imposes firm laws, and strict penalties for breaking them, but seems to make lawful existence difficult by rewarding crime more richly than virtue, and putting temptation in everybody’s path.

What I tell you two times is true.


In TOUCH OF EVIL there’s another example of a sign Welles, or somebody in the edit, was obviously anxious for us not to miss. As Sheriff Hank Quinlan (Welles) departs the sleazy neon-lit hotel room where he’s throttled Akim Tamiroff, drunkenly leaving behind a piece of incriminating evidence, his walking stick. Some commentators have delighted in the perceived pun: Welles is destroyed by his cane / KANE. I think this is a bit too contrived (and I doubt Welles saw KANE that way), and it misses the more filmic joke, the sign on the hotel room door advising guests not to leave anything behind in the room. As Welles shuts the door behind him, an optical zoom and brief freeze-frame make sure we have time to read the warning Quinlan ignores.

You Have Been Warned.

Another cute bit of signage, earlier in the same film, is this baby:

OK, I will!

This one is sort of just quirky scene-setting, in a way. The film abounds with odd details of production design and alluring, decayed textures. But maybe there’s more to be read into it: Chuck Heston is on the phone to his young bride, Janet Leigh, who lies sprawled in pneumatic ‘fifties lingerie in one of her unlucky motels, just at the other end of that phone line. Perhaps Heston is the blind one, blind to her charms, since he can’t see her, and blind to the danger she’s in, since he’s mostly several steps behind Welles’ Sheriff Quinlan. It’s worth recalling, perhaps, that Welles himself hated the telephone, and this may be an attack on that Infernal Contraption: to communicate by Bell’s invention is to render oneself blind.

Just as we can divide the Welles films neatly into those with gunshots and those with snow (only MR ARKADIN has both), we can also find films with signs and films without any writing at all, typically the period films. MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is largely sign-free, and even the credits are spoken by Welles rather than printed. This is carried on in at least one version of OTHELLO and also in the end titles of THE TRIAL, a film set in no particular country, where the presence of any kind of printed matter would be an intrusion, despite all those typewriters clacking away in Joseph K’s giant open-plan office.


F FOR FAKE gives us a series of title cards shrieking FAKE! at us, as well as a pile of film cans with lettering inked across the camera tape sealing the negative in. A stab at a title, ABOUT FAKES, is writted on the top of one can (another misleading sign, since that’s not the name this film generally goes by), and the producer’s credit is signed on a canvas, an ambiguous gesture in a film much concerned with forged signatures.

Illuminated signs, billboards and theatrical posters are perhaps best saved for a separate thread…