Archive for Fragments

Page Seventeen II: The Quickening

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2021 by dcairns

Hannah’s financial situation must have been desperate, but her sons were to remember more vividly than the privations her efforts to bring gaiety and small pleasures into their lives: the weekly comic, bloater breakfasts and an unforgettable day at Southend after Sydney found a purse containing seven guineas but no means of identifying its owner. She was, when well, a constantly amusing companion. She would sing and dance her old music hall numbers and act out plays to them. In his old age Chaplin still recalled the emotion aroused in him by her account of the Crucifixion and of Christ as the fount of love, pity and humanity.

There were no meals served in the house but the best of hors d’oeuvres and titbits, from beluga caviar to grandma’s cookies. The coffee was the best this side of Italy, the connoisseurs said. So were the drinks, plentiful and expensive, although the prices varied. I have often wondered since what ESP guided Madame Frieda’s pencil to guess the extremities of the freight. The cover charge was the same for everybody, for which you could have a cup of coffee and if any of the hostesses was bored and felt like talking to you, she did. No extra charge.

The lift opened and I stepped out into a small foyer done in a restful shade of matt grey with carpet to match. These Intelligence boys are getting so much dough nowadays they can even afford to employ pro decorators to do up their torture chambers. There was another guard, the ex-Eton and Oxford smoothie type this time, to be found wherever Government practices its more obvious lunacies, in another armoured-glass cage. I gave him my credentials and he picked up one of his several phones.

The next morning, when I awoke and looked out of the bow window of the big, old-fashioned bedroom, I saw under a grey sky a country that was all mustery. The long, lovely valley with the river winding in and out below, crossed in mid-vision by a medieval bridge of vaulted and buttressed stone, the clear presence of the rising ground beyond, and the woods that I had only seen in shadow the night before, seemed tinged with enchantment, and the soft breath of wind that sighed in at the opened pane was like no other wind. I looked across the valley, and beyond, hill followed on hill as wave on wave, and here a faint blue pillar of smoke rose on the morning air from the chimney of an ancient grey farmhouse, there was a rugged height crowned with dark firs, and in the distance I saw the white streak of a road that climbed and vanished into some unimagined country. But the boundary of all was a great wall of mountains, vast in the west, and ending like a fortress with a steep ascent and a domed tumulus clear against the sky.

Now, Father Handy and Tibor needed a power – mekkis, Father Handy thought to himself – to come from Above and aid them . . . on this, the Servants of Wrath agreed with the Christians: the good power lay Above, Ubrem Sternenzelt, as Schiller had once said: above the band of stars. Yes, beyond the stars; this they were clear on; this was modern German.

It is the desire of the moth for the star. It is no mere appreciation of the Beauty before us – but a wild effort to reach the Beauty above. Inspired by an ecstatic prescience of the glories beyond the grave, we struggle, by multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time, to attain a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone.


Up there, my friend, there’s only One who creates. One who rules. One who does everything, is everything.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books found lying around the Shadowplayhouse.

Chaplin by David Robinson; Fragments: Portraits from the Inside by Andre de Toth; The Dolly Dolly Spy by Adam Diment; Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen, from The Novel of the Black Seal; Dies Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny; Selected Writings by Edgar Allan Poe, quoted in the introduction by David Galloway; Milton’s Paradise Lost, Screenplay for the Cinema of the Mind by John Collier.

One-Eyed Jacks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2008 by dcairns

Unlike most of the Hollywood eyepatch directors (Ford, Ray, Lang) who had two eyes, one impaired, André De Toth was genuinely cyclopean, like Walsh.

Yes! I am writing something this week about each of the eyepatch directors. I take the view that old-time directors had much in common with pirates, and this accounts in part for the plethora of patchwork.

De Toth came to Edinburgh Film Festival for a retrospective of his work. He was greeted by a festival employee, herself wearing an eyepatch. She had to explain that she really needed it and was not just taking the piss.

Adding to his unique appearance, De Toth sometimes wore a neck brace, the result of his twice having broken his neck. In Fragments, his quirky autobio, De Toth reports that the second time he broke it was the lowest point of his life, somehow implying that the first time was a cakewalk.

As if that weren’t enough, upon arriving at Edinburgh Filmhouse, the Great Man expressed admiration for the punky close-shaved haircut of the man operating the box office. “Who did it?” “I did it myself.” Whereupon De Toth had the guy shave his own head. So now he was monocular, neck-braced and bullet-headed. And Hungarian. Fearsome.

Though in his late eighties, he had an incredibly vigorous, forceful manner. You assumed he was totally fit, but my friend Andy Gonzalez saw him attempting to descend the three steps to the Filmhouse bar, with the aid of a handrail, and reported, “It took him fookin’ ages.”

Somehow both severe and charming, De Toth made an impressive guest, and I was much taken with the few of his films I managed to see — PLAY DIRTY is a very considerable war film, with the most extraordinary ending. There was always the hint that De Toth could be a tough egg, which was confirmed when I read here how he conspired to have Paul Picerni, his leading man in HOUSE OF WAX decapitated. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

‘Andre says to Frank Lovejoy, “For the next shot, Frrrank, you come in with the other policemen. You see Buchinski! He’s got Paul in the guillotine! […] You lift up the block of wood, you pull out Paul and, zoooom!, down come the blade! That’s the next shot! Light it!” I say, “Andre — excuse me. You’re gonna shoot this in separate cuts, aren’t you?” He says, “No, no, no! We do it in one take, one cut! Frrrank pulls you out, zoooom!, down come the blade!” Now, bear in mind I’m a young actor under contract.

‘I say, “Andre, I don’t wanna intercede on your job as director, but how do you propose to do it in one take?” He indicates Red Turner, the prop man. […] Andre says, “Red Turner will sit on top of the guillotine; he will hold the block of wood between his legs; when Frank pull you out, Red will release the blade. And we see it all in one take!” I say, “Andre — supposing Red drops the blade prematurely?” He says, “Only hurt for a second. Now don’t t’ink about it, it’ll make you nervous.” And he walks away!’

Read the whole interview at The Astounding B Monster, it’s an eye-opener. As Wallace Beery said to Louise Brooks, when she asked why he never did his own stunts, “All directors want to kill actors.”