Archive for George O’Brien

The Sunday Intertitle: Two Moons

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 10, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h14m34s194

Drippy lettering from SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS.

It’s been pointed out before that the whole murder plot aspect of the film makes no sense — George O’Brien is invited to murder his wife and run away to the city. Neither he no his co-conspirator, the vampish City Girl, consider a modified alternative — how about he DOESN’T murder his wife and runs away to the city anyway? I’m not sure if anyone’s elaborated on this and pointed out that O’Brien has a child with his wife, and he’s planning on leaving that child motherless. Is the vamp looking to take over as step-mom? I wouldn’t think so. Of course, the film is more fable than song and character motivation isn’t high on its list of priorities. (Dumbest question in theatre studies: Why does Lear divide his kingdom?)

Been looking at Murnau again for an upcoming project. You’ll be excited! You’ll be jealous.

O’Brien’s walk through the swampy-looking countryside is one I often show students. An elaborate long take performed with, I believe, a ceiling track (allowing the camera to pass over fences and traverse bumpy ground without tracks being visible in its path). The shot becomes stranger and cleverer the more you break it down.

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m08s19

A famous start frame: note the full moon in front of O’Brien. We’re floating after him through the mist and long grass.

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m20s146

Soon, George turns 90° right, away from the moon, and now we’re traveling alongside him.

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m23s178

A 90° turn to the left results in us once more dogging George’s steps. These little moves complicated the journey and make it progressively harder for us to get our bearings. Seems to me that if you performed these moves in the real world, the two adjustments would result in you heading moonwards again, but because the studio isn’t built to the same strange proportions as the world and outer space, O’Brien has now lost sight of his moon.

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m30s245

The camera’s movement still APPEARS to be justified by George’s, but now we start to move a little faster, catching up with him to once along move in parallel. This again complicates the journey, since repositioning the camera makes it appear that George’s direction of travel has changed, even when it hasn’t.

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m38s72

Climbing a fence slows George down, whereas the camera simply floats over it, overtaking him so we can look back at him and see his face. So, George seems to have turned twice, but the camera has moved in various ways so it can see him from the back, from the right side, from the left side, and now the front. George has seemed to be moving away from us, to the left, to the right, and now towards us.

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m43s117

Unleash the madness! George is allowed to catch up with us a bit — as we move closer, we enter his subjective space, where the shot becomes about his lost, trance-like expression. Entering his state of mind, we abruptly pan 180° away from him, continuing the same camera movement so that a track back now becomes a track forward —

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m52s203

Any audience seeing this is likely to read it as a subjective shot — we have entered George’s brain and are looking out through his eyes, without a cut. Murnau’s camera truly IS intangible. Like an audience of John Cusack’s inhabiting our own private Malkovich, we trudge forward into an impenetrable mass of foliage —

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-10h15m54s228

— but Murnau has pulled yet another fast one. The foliage parts as if by Open Sesame magic, and we are faced with the City Girl (Margaret Livingston), awaiting her prey, whom she seems to expect will appear from screen left. He does — but not for a full thirty seconds (enough time for her to refresh her lipstick). He’s apparently taken the long route round. Well, it would hardly do to turn up for a date having thrashed your way through a set of bushes.

But the fact that the camera has assumed a kind of false George O’Brien disguise for part of its journey, and the POV shot turns out to be no such thing, is not as strange as the fact that Ms. Livingston now has the moon visible behind her. However, this is a different moon to the one visible at the start of the shot. Murnau needed it to be over a lake, which we haven’t seen before. He couldn’t use the moon established at the start of the shot. This new moon, for instance, has a strip of cloud cutting across it, in best UN CHIEN ANDALOU fashion.

I believe all this complicated movement and trompe l’oeil astrophysics was performed to get us as lost and confused as George O’Brien — to the point where a perfectly unmotivated uxoricide can seem sort of reasonable.

 

The Sunday Intertitle: Primeval Genius

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2011 by dcairns

Howard Hawks was probably right to reckon that his movies came into their own when they started talking, but that doesn’t mean his silents are devoid of interest — they’re just damned hard to see. A GIRL IN EVERY PORT at least ought to be more widely available, but it was made at Fox and so has vanished into a black hole (not even light can escape, though the great Ford & Borzage box set did manage to make it out, a lone blip alas). And so to FIG LEAVES —

A nice dinosaur with long eyelashes.

We open in the Garden of Eden, envisaged as part of stone age times, so Darwin and Biblical Creation co-exist happily. The scene-setter is a cave-man getting walloped by a giant chimpanzee, leant height by forced perspective sets courtesy of William Cameron Menzies. In fact, that might be one of the giant chimps from the Menzies-designed THIEF OF BAGDAD, minus the fetching black satin shorts Mitchell Leisen provided. How many chimpanzees in Hollywood were there willing to be subjected to optical illusion growth?

From there we go to Adam’s love shack, where he (George SUNRISE O’Brien) and Eve (Olive “the Joy Girl” Borden) snooze in their twin beds, a trickling sand device eventually tipping a coconut onto George’s noggin to wake him. This delightful prelapsarian Flintstones fantasy world segues into a slightly less interesting contemporary section, essaying standard domestic comedy situations with a pronounced sexist slant surprising and disappointing in Hawks (and his male and female writing partners).

I kind of wish they’d kept it all stone age — the main advantage of the modern stuff is some snazzy fashion show bits of catwalk finery by Adrian. I guess cro-magnon times offered fewer opportunities for flapper garb, although I did admire George’s fur mankini.

Generally, Hawks romcoms can be divided into those which have goofy gimmicks, and those that have strong, interesting and convincing story worlds. This one is firmly in the same category as MONKEY BUSINESS, which — hey! — had a chimp in it too. And begins with Hawks’ offscreen voice directing Cary Grant. I like MONKEY BUSINESS. It’s not great or anything, but it’s fun. And so with FIG LEAVES.