Archive for Freud

The Sunday Intertitle: Chaplin and Comic Suspense

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 17, 2016 by dcairns

Weird online copy of Chaplin’s THE IMMIGRANT with subtitles in place of intertitles. The thing is, most of Chaplin is out of copyright — ALL American films made before 1920 are public domain — but the good restorations are all copyright the people who made them. If you have this on DVD, watch that instead.

Synopsis: economic migrant Charlie comes to America in search of a better standard of living. Damn him! How dare he?


Though the first half of this nakedly two-part movie has some strong stuff, especially Charlie looking twice at the Stature of Liberty, the second section, kicking in at the ten-minute mark, builds to a striking crescendo of comic terror, all based around wannabe Scotsman Eric Campbell’s murderous head waiter. Comedy and fear really go together well, but I don’t see much today that really exploits anxiety on behalf of a sympathetic character in order to get shriller laughs. For instance, just enjoyed the first episode of the lumberingly-titled but fleet-footed Ash Vs Evil Dead, and it’s alternately suspenseful and hilarious, but there’s almost a firewall between the laughs and scares, and character sympathy was never a big part of the first three movies. I’ll definitely be watching more, though, and Ash’s new buddies are likable so who knows?

I vividly remember watching THE IMMIGRANT with my mum, who gets very excited during suspenseful bits (her mother was even more fun to view with — scenes of high tension would cause her arms and legs to rise in the air as if on strings. My dream as filmmaker is to make a packed house of five hundred people all do this at once). Chaplin, struggling into the story by his usual method of rehearsing and filming until things found the right form, devised a clear menace, plausibly put his hero in its path, and then let him squirm. “Comedy is a man in trouble,” as the saying goes. It’s not certain if his companion, Edna Purviance, is also in danger, or if she will merely be a witness to his punitive drubbing, but either way her presence amplifies the menace.

Freud announced, with typical fatuity but unusual accuracy, that Chaplin was “a very simple case” — compelled to relive the humiliation of poverty in his art. Like the traumatic slap endlessly replayed in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, Chaplin’s career was a reenactment of his childhood. No wonder the role of the Tramp came to oppress him.

The Primal Scene

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2012 by dcairns

Freud’s primal scene beautifully captured in this surviving fragment of an early ALICE cartoon by Walt Disney. Seemed appropriate as we’d just seen Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD. Disney, of course, is even spankier than Keira Knightley’s character in the latter film, probably as a result of his German-American background.

As for FREUD VS JUNG IN THE WORLD SERIES OF LOVE, I need to see it again, but I enjoyed it — an intelligent, even intellectual love story. You might expect Cronenberg, the rationalist, to side more with Freud than with the mystic Jung, and in that one respect, maybe he does, but on the whole, Jung emerges far more sympathetically that his master — and Sabina Spielrein more sympatetically that either.

Glenn Kenny, in this illuminating interview with Cronenberg, makes the point that the film relates back to RABID, with its vision of female libido running amok and threatening society. I was reminded of SHIVERS too (THEY CAME FROM WITHIN, that film’s alternative title, might make a good alternative for ADM too) — the clean, sharp-edged world of Control and Civilization disrupted by wild, animalistic behaviour. It’s interesting that in Cronenberg’s early films he seemed to suffer from the problem of The Hero With Nothing To Do — since the aberrant, monstrous characters were the ones that really interested him, his straight protagonists were left to run around and always arrive too late, and to hear about the climax via a telephone call. Only in SCANNERS, when he located the monstrous within the person of the hero, did this problem find a solution (and even then, Stephen Lack’s, well, lack as leading man kept the film from fully realizing this radical solution).

It’s interesting that Cronenberg has never made a film truly about a female protagonist  — Geena Davis is a major POV character in THE FLY, arguably the lead, but not quite — Cronenberg has too much love for his evolving monster. Jennifer Jason Leigh in EXISTENZ has to share all her screen time with Jude Law. And here, Sabina is a catalyst for Jung’s voyage of discovery.

Yet, as Fiona reminds me from time to time, if you want to talk about body horror, women have FAR more experience of that than men — you only have to look at childbirth, but you don’t have to look that far.

Maybe, Cronenberg is relocating body horror into his male characters because THAT’S his phobia — so there’s the latex umbilicus connecting the two Jeremy Irons brothers in DEAD RINGERS, the squishy bits of raw liver that go into and out of the orifices of various characters in SHIVERS, and Jude Law’s lumbar-region penetration by Willem Dafoe in EXISTENZ  — this stuff is, in the real world, natural enough, but by transmogrifying it and masculinizing it, Cronenberg is exploring its capacity to disturb. And from his own, male, viewpoint.

Ceiling Hero

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by dcairns

CITIZEN KANE images via Checking on My Sausages.

In between saying inspiring things like, “Remake ORDINARY PEOPLE. Do it in your apartment. Play all the roles. Make it in a day,” my host in NYC, the esteemed Comrade K, projection into our sphere of a numinous, n-dimensional shepherd-warrior from a land before history, got me started on the following set of thoughts by an offhand remark, which went something like, “People were amazed by the ceilings in CITIZEN KANE. Nobody had ever seen a ceiling before. People couldn’t look up before Orson Welles showed them how.”

He’s right! Welles made the breakthrough by practicing a unique form of yogic meditation taught him by Rudy Vallee. This resulted in the opening of Welles’s “third eye,” which coincided with him lying on his back, causing him to discover the ceiling of his living room. It has been argued that people intuitively knew of the existence of ceilings before this, since logically every floor must have an underside. Some feminist writers have suggested that the ceiling’s true discoverer was a woman, arguing that the prevalence of the missionary position in pre-war life made such an awareness inescapable for the fair sex. But this strikes me as akin to arguing that people “had dreams” before Freud taught them how in his hit book, Close Your Eyes and Move Them Rapidly About.

Some point to the glass ceiling shot in Hitchcock’s THE LODGER as a pre-Wellesian ceiling, but in fact this is nothing more than a glass floor, above which Hitchcock suspended his camera while two burly stagehands held Ivor Novello upside down so he could place his feet on the translucent surface and mimic the actions of a right-side-up walker.  So in fact the shot actually depicts a floor, with Novello on the other side of it. Incidentally, Novello enjoyed the experience so much that he spent a month traveling this way, and had it specified in future contracts that all his films must include upside down walks. Novello later composed “Rose of England” in an entirely inverted position, complete with upside-down grand piano strapped to the backs of a half-dozen burros.

In explaining his concept to art director Van Nest Polglase, Welles was faced with the difficulty of introducing the concept of the ceiling to a man who, like everyone else in 1940s America, had never seen one. Resistant to yogic disciplines, Polglase finally had to be shoved onto his back and held down by Joseph Cotten, while Welles peeled back the eminent designer’s eyelids and forced him to look. Concerted to the cause, “Poley” later became a great proselytizer for the ceiling, even having a house constructed in Beverly Hills composed entirely of ceilings, top, bottom and sides, inside and out. The famous Polglase House was later purchased by James Mason, who had a notorious phobia of doors*. Living in a home whose rooms could be accessed only by skylights appealed greatly to the Huddersfield-born actor.

In addition to the heavily corniced plaster ceilings displayed in KANE, there were several “trick ceilings” — canvas ceilings through which sound could be recorded, and matte painting ceilings to fill in the top portions of large sets, where a real ceiling would be too costly or frightening. Welles also used his mastery of sleigh-of-hand to suggest ceilings that weren’t actually there, enlisting the audience’s imagination by saying things like “Look at that amazing CEILING!” while subtly pointing upwards, or hanging photographs and etchings of great ceilings from history around the walls of a ceiling-less set. In the New York Inquirer set, Welles experimented with rear projection, stretching a screen across the top of the set walls and projecting outtakes from SON OF KONG onto it, but test audiences found the stop motion pterodactyls distracting, and the notion was abandoned.

When KANE was released, the impact was extraordinary. Columbia boss Harry Cohn immediately called in architects to build a ceiling for his office, which until that point had opened on to the room above, forcing the accounts department to rappel from the ceiling to reach their work stations. Suddenly, it became possible to build structures higher than a couple of storeys, and miracle “skyscrapers” mushroomed up in America’s great cities. (Tall buildings seen in pre-1941 movies were always fantastical special effects.)

While Hollywood legend has it that Welles’s film was a flop, it has been suggested that audiences, alerted to these mysterious planes above their heads, became distracted from the cinema screen and spent the movie’s running time staring upwards past the projector beam. Not for the first time, Welles had been too innovative for his own good.

*In civilian life, Mason was only able to enter a room by the window, or while strapped to a hospital gurney, or sometimes both. Ironically, in the movies, he could “act” walking through a door with ease and even suavity, even picking up awards for his smooth entrances. Whereas Pat Boone, Mason’s co-star in JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, could enter a room in a graceful, natural manner, but invariably either stumbled, fainted, or soiled himself when called upon to do so for the films.


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