Archive for Fernand Leger

The Sunday Intertitle: We Stole a Pearl Necklace Worth Five Million

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2019 by dcairns

Dadaist cinema is not big on intertitles, so I am grateful to Fernand Leger & Dudley Murphy for including some nice abstract examples in their BALLET MECANIQUE of 1924. Leger was a great artist, Murphy was a regular Joe kind of filmmaker (THE EMPEROR JONES, with William DeMille), …ONE THIRD OF A NATION… with Sylvia Sidney), so I don’t know how they came to collaborate or even be in the same country. Their names look funny side by side, and so do their careers.

I presume Leger needed a technically minded film person to help put his fantasies on celluloid. This was the same year Leger did designs — a mad scientist’s lab for restoring life! — in L’Herbier’s L’INHUMAINE. Thereafter, he kept well clear of the movies except for contributing “drawings, objects and suggestions,” which sounds a bit rude, to DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY in 1947.

BALLET MECANIQUE achieves a lot in a short time, including creating a kind of cinema concrete to compliment Georges Antheil’s synchronized score — the film is like an assemblage of objects, spliced together rhythmically, including the lips of Kiki of Montparnasse, a typewriter, a swinging silver globe, and a straw hat. It also erases the distinction between intertitle and film, as some of the images become graphic and abstract and some of the lettering and numbering and geometric shapes butt together in such a way as to suggest kinship. THIS is definitely an intertitle ~

And I love that the filmmakers confess to a crime in the midst of their experimental film, knowing nobody will take them seriously. It’s the perfect alibi!

Then the sentence is broken into pieces and repeated until it ceases to speak to us, even appearing flipped, looking-glass fashion, transformed from lucid text to mere abstract shapes.

But what about THIS? ~

Is it a text or an image? Or THIS? ~

Definitely an abstract, neither text nor image, but behaving much like an intertitle (except for the shameless way it dances at us).

Lots of different versions of this movie on YouTube, but none seems to have the handy-dandy stencil colour on its graphic shapes which my copy has, and which seems to me to greatly enhance the super-epic quality.

The movie also defies Dada convention by featuring celebrity guest stars — not just Kiki, or parts of her, but also Charlie Chaplin, in cut-out graphic animation form. Interesting to speculate what the defense would be if Charlot had sued.

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The Monday Matinee, Episode 10: The Rebellion

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 19, 2017 by dcairns

An interesting discovery — Joseph H. Lewis, noir maestro, was working at Mascot Pictures as supervising editor when THE PHANTOM EMPIRE was made, so he probably had a hand in it. Also, Mascot, a little company that thought big (their logo combined MGM with Universal by depicting a tiger sprawled across a globe of the Earth) later morphed into Republic, a well-remembered minor studio which allowed Ford, Borzage and Welles to make inexpensive experiments…

But we’re a long way from that here! Now read on ~

Those dad-blamed vicious research scientists!

Dispensing with the cliffhanger that saw its juvenile leads fatally irradiated, the serial simply declares them to be perfectly fine — just stunned — and Queen Tika has their prone forms lugged off to the dungeon.

Having quoted Alice in Wonderland last week, the serial now invokes The Arabian Nights as a cowboy’s cry of “Open, sesame!” apparently unlocks the garage door leading to the kingdom of Murania. Now comes The Adventure of the Comedy Relief Cowboys Among the Robots. Discovering some hollowed-out discards, Deke and Ike, or whatever their stupid names are, disguise themselves as droids, anticipating Woody Allen in SLEEPER, and start braining people with sledge-hammers, anticipating the current UK government.

This is the only time these guys have EVER been funny (I didn’t even mention them for the first few episodes) but it’s HILARIOUS seeing them blundering about in robot costumes, getting giddy in the Tube Elevator, etc. Shades of Spike Milligan’s Dalek sketch (a sketch which could conceivably kill a person, if the right amount of drink were taken first). I take my hat off to them, and I’m sure they would return the compliment were their hats not bolted to their tin heads. The slight flexibility of their costumes, which would have been so useful in their original role of intimidating Joan Crawford in her lingerie, adds wonderfully to their comic motion. It’s like Keystone comedy painted by Fernand Leger.

wonky bots from David Cairns on Vimeo.

In as fine a display of monologuing as I’ve ever seen, Queen Tika takes Gene Autry on a guided tour of all the important equipment central to Murania’s smooth operation. You know, all the stuff that really shouldn’t be sabotaged, ever. Then a robot randomly punches a guy in the head — also hilarious. And of course, the robot is a cowboy comedy sidekick (CCS for short), not a proper robot at all. “Don’t get excited, lady,” he says, which would be a dead giveaway even if her Highness felt inclined to dismiss the whole head-punching thing as a mere quirk.

Intending to prove that Frankie and Betsy are alive and well after being irradiated (asides from having glow-in-the-dark skeletons, I guess she means), the Queen accidentally tunes into her councillor, Argo, plotting her overthrow. Of course, with her Giant Circular Floor Television, she could have done this at any time since episode one, or indeed before Episode One, which would spared us this whole farrago. Gene spills the beans, in one of the most awkward deliveries of one of the most awkward speeches ever: “He’s the man that released me from the Death Chamber, so that the revolutionists could study mah breathin’ structure.”

Queen Tika promises to release Gene and the kids in exchange for her freedom (he’s awfully credulous, but then, he agreed to appear in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE). This is overheard by one of Argo’s men at the door. Meanwhile, at another door, Frankie & Betsy are overhearing Argo’s fomentations — there are more leaks in Murania than there are in the Oval Office and Justice Department combined.

Brief but enjoyable moment of fake robots running. Not something they do well, but credit is due for even attempting the feat.

Argo takes the palace, armed with one of those whisk-like ray-guns. “Stand where you are, I am the Queen!” declares the Queen.

“You were the Queen! I now control Murania,” retorts Argo, and I’m waiting for him to say “I am the Queen!” but he doesn’t go quite that far.

A proper cliffhanger — Gene is knocked unconscious on a conveyor belt, which drags his limp, chubby form towards a robot with a blow-torch, smelting bombshells. Anyone dumb enough to smelt bombshells is presumably not smart enough to know the difference between a bombshell and a country singer, so Gene is set to get his head smelted off, unless, by some miracle, he can awaken and stand up.

Will Gene awaken and stand up? Or will a team of editors, under the loose supervision of Joseph H. Lewis, interpolate additional footage of arriving rescuers so he doesn’t have to? Tune in next week!

The Sunday Intertitle: The Milk of Inhuman Kindness

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Painting, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2017 by dcairns

A fantastic event at L’Institute Francaise last week — Lobster Films’ magnificent restoration of Marcel L’Herbier’s science-fiction romance L’INHUMAINE, accompanied by my colleagues from THE NORTHLEACH HORROR Jane Gardner and Roddy Long on keyboards and violin and introduced by our friend Rolland Man.

I’d seen this projected before, and of course found it visually stunning, but with sharper picture and better accompaniment, L’Herbier’s achievement becomes even more apparent, his daft story more involving. Combining his aesthetic ritziness — designs by the best architects (Robert Mallet-Stevens), production designers (Autant-Lara & Cavalcanti), fashion designers (Paul Poiret) and artists (Fernand Leger) — with the fashionable tropes of cinematic impressionism — a school founded entirely upon sequences of delirium, hysteria and drunkenness (superb) — he fashions a hysterical melodrama propounding his own perverse and peculiar ideas — anticommunist, anti-mystic, technocratic — and serves up a mad lab climax that anticipates both METROPOLIS and FRANKENSTEIN.

Leger’s intertitles weren’t very clear, and seemed weirdly SHRUNKEN in the previous copy of the film I’d accessed, so it was lovely to see them so crisp, their forms mirroring the groovy kinetic sculptures that form mysterious pieces of lab equipment, used to save heroine Georgette Leblanc from a deadly snake-bite.

Such is the dazzling power of the imagery that nobody else we spoke to spotted Mme. Leblanc’s nipple as it escaped her Grecian-style gown. Here, purely in the interests of proving Fiona & I did not imagine it, is the nip-slip.

I have been informed that my blog is BANNED at the BFI because their servers detect nudity and come down hard on it. If this is true of all our cultural bodies, I wonder how the art galleries manage to function.