Archive for Henry “Pathe” Lehrman

Direction

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2015 by dcairns

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Charles Chaplin wrote in his autobiography that the only thing he learned from his first director, Henry “Pathe” Lehrmann, was that if a character exited frame left he should enter frame right in the next shot (maintaining continuity of movement, you see). This was kind of a put-down, but in fact you could argue that Chaplin learned very little film technique, besides this basic and essential component, at any point during his fifty-three year directing career. (And if that seems like a put-down, remember what Chaplin was able to accomplish using his “limited” technique.)

In fact, Chaplin sometimes got basic screen direction wrong. In SHANGHAIED, made a hundred years ago (!), Charlie is working in the ship’s galley, mistaking the soup pot for a wash pot and washing the dishes in it. He exits to deliver the now-soapy soup to the captain and first mate —

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–and exercises a 180 flip upon passing through the doorway. Now, CC hasn’t done anything impossible (yet) — it’s not even a continuity error, it’s just bad matching of screen direction. We’ve crossed the line while passing from room to room, so that Chaplin seems to be moving in a different direction all of a sudden,

Later, things get weirder still, as the tasting of the soup results in a beating for the cook, who then discovers Charlie’s role in the fiasco. A scuffle, ending with Charlie delivering one of his trademark kicks up the arse to the cook, propelling him through the same door Charlie used earlier —

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— only now the door teleports the cook onto the ship’s deck. Same doorway, different destination. A Twilight Zone moment. At least it didn’t flip him 180, which would have made things even more disorienting for him.

The life of a sea cook is rough and confusing, which must be why they’re always fathering illegitimate children.

STOP PRESS: it’s not over until it’s over — a late, and very great blogathon entry from Scout Tafoya, covering late/latest Ridley Scott and late/latest Orson Welles. Here.

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Id Auto-Referencing at Venice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2012 by dcairns

First thing’s first — a Late Show/Late Movies Blogathon late entry, from The Man on the Flying Trapeze — Frank Capra’s PLATINUM BLONDE, which tragically marked the end of a promising career for Robert Williams. Jean Harlow and Loretta Young add glam.

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Now, having finally wallowed in the sensuous nostalgia of Chaplin’s last film, I whimsically played through his not-quite-first, KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE. Film textbooks and Chaplin biographies of my youth unhesitatingly cited this as the first appearance of Chaplin’s Tramp character, but research since (including analysis of cloud patterns in the background of shots, compared to 1914 weather reports) seems to mark MABEL’S STRANGE PREDICAMENT as its forerunner, though KARAV was released just ahead of that one. They churned them out like sausages at Keystone.

One reason this movie may have held the spurious reputation it did is that it makes a better story. The film seems thrown together, set up without a script to take advantage of the “spectacle” of a soap box derby — so the legend of Chaplin throwing together his famous costume on the spur of the moment fits nicely. There’s also this intertitle (the only one in the film) ~

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~ which in a way seems to encapsulate Chaplin’s entire biography, before and after.

Added to that is the legend of Chaplin’s obstreperous behaviour at Keystone, quarreling with directors like Henry “Pathé” Lehrman — as he does, live on camera, as part of the plot of this film.

Incidentally, Lenore Coffee in her memoir Backstory wonders why everybody called Henry “Pathé” Lehrman by the strange nickname. I could have told her that — it seems he got his job at Keystone by pretending to have worked at Pathé, where Max Linder was wowing the world with his sophisticated slapstick (a big influence on Chaplin himself). The tag was either a reminder of his bogus credentials or a tribute to his chutzpah.

Fittingly, Chaplin’s character seems to be inebriated for the first part of the film at least (consistency isn’t an aim here) — the star, whose father drank himself to death, had caught Mack Sennett’s eye playing a drunk and that schtick is what was expected from him on the screen. So if this isn’t his first film as the Tramp, unfunny as it is, it still OUGHT to have been.

Chaplin later claimed that the only thing he learned from his first director was how to match shots so that a character who exited screen left would enter screen right in the following frame, preserving the flow of movement. It could be argued that, since that was Chaplin’s main filmmaking technique (apart from the crucial selection of angle and shot size, Chaplin’s artistry is usually purely performative), that was quite a big thing to learn. But in fact, Lehrman crosses the line with nearly every cut, so it may be that Chaplin learned this rule from watching Lehrman break it.

At any rate, it seems “Pathé” gave Chaplin his first extreme close-up ~

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Three Disappointments and a Whoopee

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2008 by dcairns

Disappointment 1: the lack of a really great critical study of Powell & Pressburger. Ian Christie’s Arrows of Desire was a fine starting point, and the coffee-table quality of the book, with glossy and lurid colour stills, makes it a nice visual companion to the Archers’ films. But Andrew Moor’s Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magic Spaces just seemed too DRY to evoke these lush romances, and Scott Salwolke’s The Films of Michael Powell and the Archers is hampered by the fact that he hasn’t seen all the films. Several times in the book we get the phrase “is hard to see nowadays”, which I might believe if I didn’t have copies of them on my shelves. I guess I’d admit they’re hard to see, but not IMPOSSIBLE. The author doesn’t admit to not having seen HONEYMOON, but since all he does is reproduce some contemporary reviews of it, it’s pretty clear he never managed to track it down. I guess since the book is ten years old, things were tougher then, but I can’t believe THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW would be completely inaccessible: Raymond Durgnat sold me a copy for a fiver.

Disappointment 2: What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting by Marc Norman. Norman wrote the script for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, which was then revised by Tom Stoppard (Norman professed himself delighted to have had Stoppard’s assistance), and this is his first non-fiction work. I was hoping to find some kind of thesis lurking in it, but it reads like a stack of anecdotes so far. It reads like *I* wrote it!

The early chapters on silent cinema fall for the old one about Mack Sennett not using written scripts (the half-page or page-long outlines have in fact been found — Frank Capra’s autobiography is not the most reliable source for ANYTHING) and he talks about BIRTH OF A NATION having a scene breakdown prepared from the book, but which was never seen on the set, but he misses my favourite Griffith script story: Griffith’s first short, THE ADVENTURE OF DOLLIE, had its scenario jotted down by Griffith and cameraman Billy Bitzer the night before shooting, on a piece of cardboard that came from the laundry with Griffith’s shirt wrapped round it.

Norman also refers to Chaplin’s first director as Henry Pathé Lehrman, missing the all-important inverted commas around “Pathé” (Lehrman got a job with Mack Sennett with a tall tale about having worked for Pathé: when the ruse was discovered, the name stuck) and says that Herman Mankiewicz worked on “some trifle” called CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY. It may sound like a trifle, and the casting of Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly might have lead contemporary audiences to expect one, but CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is a very dark film noir romance, and authors should resist making such statements about films they haven’t seen.

I’d still like this book to turn into an impassioned and informed account of the screenwriter’s role, so I’m going to persevere a little further — this isn’t a proper book review since I haven’t finished the thing. I will report back if I end up more impressed by it.

Disappointment 3: Hanno’s Doll by Evelyn Piper. I picked this up after belatedly realising that both THE NANNY and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING, films I like a lot, came from Piper novels. I wanted to read something else by her. Although it does have a nice, twisty plot, the book took me ages to finish, being written in an irksome baby-talk that’s supposed to simulate the thought processes of the protagonist, a fat German actor (Piper must have had an eye of Curt Jurgens for a possible movie adaptation, or Gert Fröbe).

Whoopee 1: Maja Borg, a recent graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art film course where I teach, has a show on next week, Thursday 21st August, 8.30 pm on More4 in their First Cut series. Happy Birthday, You’re Dead takes its inspiration from the fact that a fortune teller once told Maya that she’d die in a car crash before her 25th birthday. The documentary charts the “last” weeks of Maja’s life leading up to her 25th.

I’m rooting for her to survive.