Archive for Henry Jaglom

The Sunday Intertitle: If you want to get ahead, get a hat

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 18, 2015 by dcairns

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“Do you deliberately wear that hat to look eccentric?” asked my boss. Nothing could have been further from my mind, except spatially. But I do have to remind myself to take the hat off occasionally, when indoors, because it’s so comfortable, and I don’t want to turn into Henry Jaglom, a man who seems to have adopted the same policy as Dean Martin in SOME CAME RUNNING. The sun hasn’t graced that man’s upper cranium since before I was born. He’s probably accumulated a block of dandruff like a sugar loaf.

There are a number of mysteries for me in D.W. Griffith’s THOSE AWFUL HATS, a 1909 Biograph comedy (a genre the earnest Griffith rarely dabbled in).

The whole film takes place in a cinema, and all three minutes of it play out in a single, unwavering longshot. However, the upper left-hand corner represents the cinema screen, and an image has apparently been matted into it. One would expect a split-screen effect in this period, or a double-exposure, but since the entire concept of the film is about people getting in the way of the screen, traveling mattes APPEAR to have been used to allow them to pass in front of the image. (Film stock wasn’t fast enough to allow a genuine cinema projection to be captured on camera, certainly not with well-lit live figures interacting with it.)

To begin with, the onscreen image is another wide shot, such that Griffith COULD have simply built a set on the stage, framed by a rectangle with curved corners, to pretend the existence of a screen, as Buster Keaton later did in SHERLOCK JNR. But at a certain point the smaller image cuts, which would have been impossible to get away with as the foreground characters are moving about so much (Keaton’s audience sit very still, and even then you can see their positions shifts slightly during his artful jump-cuts).

Weirdly, the film-within-the-film has suffered nitrate decomposition, whereas the surrounding picture is fairly clean. This strikes me as an impossibility, unless the film has been weirdly restored and the compositing done more recently. Arguing against this is the rather shonky nature of the matting, with the ladies hats fragmenting into solid bits and invisible bits — they abstract into Rorschach blot jumbles, pinned to the ladies heads by unknown methods. (On the IMDb, one José Luis Rivera Mendoza refers to the technique as the Dunning-Pomeroy Process, but other sources suggest that this was only developed in 1925 by C. Dodge Dunning, and since he was only seventeen at the time. It would be unlikely that he could have invented it at aged one.

Gesticulating wildly in a loud check suit is Mack Sennett. I wasn’t sure I’d recognize him, but the moment I saw the suit and the flamboyant arm-waving, I thought I bet that’s him.

The punchline: a digger’s claw descends and pincers a hat neatly from one woman’s sconce. It at first looks set to pick her up by the head, Rhesosaurus-style. And indeed lowering again, it grabs Woman 2 by the waistline and plucks her away entirely. More gesticulating from the crowd, but I’m not sure if they’re angry or happy. I *think* they perceive this second action as a step too far.

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It’s suggested that this film was commissioned as an announcement to gently remind ladies to remove their colossal head-ornaments when viewing the galloping tintypes, and this is borne out by the inevitable intertitle ~

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I guess the massive hat was the mobile phone of its day.

Hold the Presses!

Posted in FILM with tags , , on September 29, 2013 by dcairns

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I’ve got more to say!

Thinking once more about CITIZEN KANE’s opening sequence — it occurs to me that I saw the film first as a teen, thought “That’s a strange sequence,” and my take on it hasn’t really been updated since, despite all the verbiage in yesterday’s post.

Looking at it one more time, just before my Blu-ray player stopped working, damnit, I sussed that Kane’s snowy bedroom only makes any kind of sense if its woozy, hallucinatory feel — Colorado invades Florida — is the result of Kane being on his death-bed. So that despite a lack of real optical POV shots, the sequence IS his POV. His life doesn’t so much flash before his eyes as melt into a single mass, thus childhood snow is superimposed over the sick room as time ceases to behave in a linear fashion (a rehearsal for the movie’s structure).

Taking this further, the approach to the sole lit window of Xanadu is like a journey into Kane’s mind (“…and didn’t someone once say that the eyes are the windows of the soul?” ~ Professor Marcus) — once we pass through the glass we are sharing Kane’s death with him, and only come into something resembling objective reality when the snowglobe shatters — which represents Kane’s death, the final dissolution of his consciousness in an explosion of wet shiny fragments. So it’s no surprise that we immediately see the snowglobe intact, reflecting the nurse’s entrance — it was a symbolic shattering rather than an actual one.

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Thus, the Xanadu sequence is the only section of the film where we get Kane’s version of events, a true preparation for the flashback accounts of his acquaintances. But all Kane is allowed to share with us is his last word and the moment of his death.

***

I am obsessed by the fact that the liar Henry Jaglom claims Welles left him a message on his answerphone just before dying. Even though I believe Jaglom to be an unreliable witness, I like the idea that we know Welles’ last words even though, like Kane’s, they were apparently spoken in an empty room.

Intimations

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 28, 2011 by dcairns

This is supposedly the last bit of film Orson Welles took.

This clip has been doing the rounds, including at MUBI, but there was no way I wasn’t posting it here. If it’s Orson’s last moment on film, it’s a wonderful valediction. For that to be true, he’d have had to have finished his appearance on The Merv Griffin Show, returned home, got Gary Graver to set up this shot, filmed it, and then left a message on Henry Jaglom’s answering machine  — so that, like Kane, Welles’s last words were spoken with nobody in the room, and yet we know what they were.

“This is your friend. Don’t forget to tell me how your mother is.”

That’s all possible. According to the rather disdainful Jon Tuska, in Encounters with Filmmakers, Welles had been exercising a lot in his pool lately, trying to get fit to play King Lear. This may have contributed to his death by heart failure on my 18th birthday… but as a result, he may have been feeling unusually energetic that night. And Welles was always a man who slept very little.

“I have no desire to sleep.”

It may be that this was shot at an earlier time, and is merely the last scene Welles directed himself. Of course, it’s still precious if that’s all it is. It certainly resonates like a funeral toll. Do we know who Orson’s friend, “Bill” is?

A horse he bet on in a race?