Archive for Greta Garbo

I Want to be a Clone

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2017 by dcairns

If I keep watching MGM films from the thirties, will I become infected? While Warners films of the period have a salutary cynicism, the main ethos of Mayer & Thalberg’s studio is patriarchal snobbery (deep down it may be just as cynical, but it would take a Sigmund Freud armed with excavation equipment to dig the true beliefs out of Louis B. Mayer’s cerebellum). But they did make some good movies, and some interesting movies, even when that’s at the root. And sometimes they broke free from it altogether.

There’s a bit of class panic in AS YOU DESIRE ME, I guess, which is a Tichbourne Claimant/Martin Guerre identity crisis melodrama that’s part screwball (the first part), and where part of the anxiety rests on the possibility that Garbo may not be the long-lost amnesiac lady of the great house, but a long-lost amnesiac housemaid. Gasp! Since this is adapted from Pirandello, some trace of doubt is actually allowed to remain, and we’re left to assume that identity may not be wholly fixed and may not matter as much as we think. maybe it’s an act of faith — we have to believe we are who we are, and other people have to confirm it for us.

What an odd film this is! It’s another of the million films which seem to anticipate VERTIGO, with a doubled woman trying to impersonate her portrait at the behest of a bereaved, unbalanced man. But the best stuff is at the start, with Garbo rocking an electric-white hairdo while flailing around drunkenly and humiliating a wagonload of willing suitors. Then Erich Von Stroheim turns up as an author not in search of these particular six characters.

This movie should be remembered as the one where Erich is lighter, quicker and more charming than Melvyn Douglas, who is just starting out and way out of his comfort zone. Maybe he’s also picking up some of Garbo’s hambone tendencies, since she seems determined here to combine Norma Shearer’s phony attitude-striking with her own brand of loose-limbed semaphore, resulting in melodramatic staggers interrupted by bouts of vogueing. It’s somewhat enjoyable but surely a bad influence on impressionable minds like Melvyn’s.

Director George Fitzmaurice seems happy to let everyone do just as they please. Even Stroheim, the most fun character, has an odd moment where he gets so passionate his ears literally flap like Dumbo’s (above).

The thing kicks off with a splendid crane shot exploring a music hall’s audience while Garbo sings off-camera, and her regular DoP William Daniels has fun making her blonde locks glow like a magnesium flare.

Thanks to the various readers and Facebook friends who suggested this one!

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Greta

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 27, 2017 by dcairns

What are some good Garbo movies? We started watching INSPIRATION (good old Clarence Brown) but apart from what may be the first ever subjective camera sequence (alternative candidates gratefully considered) we found it rather turgid. I know it’s only her second talkie. I feel I haven’t really gotten into GG apart from NINOTCHKA, where of course she’s excellent. Her abruptness! (“Suppress it.”)

The trouble is, every Garbo movie is automatically a “classic,” but which are interesting? Seen QUEEN CHRISTINA. Probably need to see it again, because I didn’t really get into it.

All Our Yesterdays

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2016 by dcairns

Yesterday I broke my record — sort of.

When I looked back on my first experience of viewing at Bologna, two years ago, I was shocked that I never made it past four screenings in a day. Studying yesterday’s program, I calculated that I could actually take in SIX shows — ultimately I managed five, but bailed on one, not because it was bad but because I was too tired to appreciate it, and it wasn’t to be my last film of the day.

I began with THE CLUTCHING FOOT’s final, mind-boggling episode, in which Jacques Feyder dabbles in comic forms which still look modern today, while spoofing the serials of the 1910s, which decidedly don’t. This episode featured genuine guest appearances by Musidora and Fernand Ledoux, and fake ones by Chaplin, Theda Bara and Max Linder.

On the same program (therefore still only counting as one item) was DE BANKROET JAZZ (THE BANKRUPTCY JAZZ), assembled in 2009 from found footage, illustrating a previously unfilmed Dadaist scenario by Paul Von Ostaijen. It had some very funny bits and some great imagery which made me want to see the sources it was culled from in their entirety. And the plot, depicting Europe in financial crisis, was timely all over. “The new national anthem: I am bankrupt / You are bankrupt / We are bankrupt / They are bankrupt.”)

margaret sullavan 6

Missing works by Genino and Kazan, I was then bowled over by John Stahl’s ONLY YESTERDAY (1933), which riffs of Zweig’s Letter from An Unknown Woman, featuring tracking shots more elaborate than the Ophuls, a central performance by Margaret Sullavan more moving that Fontaine’s, and John Bole’s best work on the screen. And Franklin Pangborn is for once shown with a boyfriend. We always knew, Franklin. Startlingly, Jane Darwell plays a southern bourgeois — I didn’t recognize her until she sat in a rocking chair. Was the rocking chair written into her contract on every film, or was it an actual part of her body she could detach for short periods?

FLESH AND THE DEVIL showed off Clarence Brown’s skill, Garbo’s beauty, Gilbert’s talent and MGM’s frankly insane sexual politics. The bromance between John Gilbert and Lars Hansen is interrupted by the divine GG, apparently a professional seductress. “These bloody women, they will not leave you alone,” as Pete & Dud once reflected. She drives them to a duel, then has a last-minute religious conversion — so God kills her. He’s funny that way. Nice to see Marc McDermott comprehensively cuckolded, since he steals Lon Chaney’s wife in my favourite movie. The print was newly struck from a rediscovered but incomplete original negative, and showed both great beauty and scary decay.

My big failure was FISTS IN THE POCKET, which looked fascinating but couldn’t keep me awake — I told myself that after I’d gotten over being tired, I would kick myself for missing it, but the pain in my head was more intense than any kick. Was amused to see Marlon Brando sneak into the movie, appearing as pin-up on the leading lady’s bedroom wall (plus a framed shot of him in Nazi uniform from THE YOUNG LIONS. He’s all over this festival.

“I’m not Marlon Brando,” protests Fred Astaire in THE BANDWAGON, screened in the big Piazza from Martin Scorsese’s 35mm print. A show that is really a show sends you out in a kind of a glow. Especially after a nice lasagna.