Archive for Hippfest

Roomers versus Ruminant

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2023 by dcairns

Weird synchronicities pile up when you’re seeing multiple films in a day at a film festival, and the 13th HippFest was no exception: we discovered that Laurel & Hardy in ANGORA LOVE and Brian Aherne & Annette Benson both lived at number thirteen. And variant spellings of “Carabou” kept turning up, as the setting of WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS, the hometown of early woman animator Bessie Mae Kelley, and the name of the goat’s rightful owner in ANGORA LOVE:

One is reduced to muttering along with Ricky Jay in MAGNOLIA, “And I am trying to think this is all only a matter of chance.”

The other queer thing about ANGORA LOVE, a sort of rough sketch for the masterpiece that is LAUGHING GRAVY, only with a goat instead of an adorable puppy, is that I was convinced I’d seen it, but seeing it again evoked no recollection. I think I’d been fooled by the appearance of a goat (the same one, probably) in HABEAS CORPUS: so I’d seen Laurely & Hardy with a goat. I have the box set so I actually OWN a copy of AL, and have seemingly never watched it. I guess the idea of an inferior prototype of a short I loved never tempted me.

I should have watched it, as AL is a delightful little film in its own right. Saddled with an unwanted ruminant, the boys must conceal it from murderous landlord Edgar Kennedy (top). There are a number of pleasures here not ported over into the better-known talkie. Photographed by George Stevens, the film has a number of fast, if wobbly, tracking shots down LA streets, something we see again in LIBERTY, by the same cameraman.

There’s a close-up of a tack that Ollie, of course, is about to step on —

I got excited about this because of something I once read — was it in Karel Reisz & Roger Crittenden’s book on film editing, or was it merely Leslie Halliwell? The theory was put forward that, whereas most comedy depends on surprise, L&H comedy depends on the audience being forewarned of disaster, and thus being able to laugh before anything has actually happened. Of course, L&H use surprise A LOT, but it becomes even more delightful because it’s shuffled in with gags where everything is set up as obviously as possible. So you get surprised by the fact that you’ve been surprised.

Anyway, the example I’d read was about how L&H would treat a banana peal gag: rather than revealing the discarded skin at the moment it gets underfoot, they’d grant it an insert shot long before it comes into play. Well, I’m not sure that ever happens in an L&H film, and anyhow the wide-shot framing favoured by silent comedians means that, in, say, THE HIGH SIGN or SHERLOCK JR, Buster Keaton would reveal the presence of the banana skin well in advance also. But here is a tack. I think in this case the closeup is called for because the thing is too small to see in a wide shot. Nevertheless, it is fairly close to the banana skine xample described.

There’s also a gag apparently too racy for the canine remake:

Quite a modern notion, the serious foreground undercut by comedy business in the background.

The movie also has a rare expressive camera angle. Again, I’m tempted to credit Stevens rather than director Lewis R. Foster. Ollie is demonstrating how to use chest expanders silently (!) when Kennedy walks in. The sequence also benefits from cutaways of Stan, in bed, noticing the menacing landlord first.

The sequence makes a simple over-the-shoulder on Ollie into a big dramatic reveal by having Babe turn, with a dancing movement, into his medium close shot. We get to see his face fall, up close. The pay-off is an even closer view of Edgar’s scowling fizzog.

Penelope the goat may not be as adorable as Laughing Gravy, but there are good gags about it gradually consuming the contents of the room (Stan attempts to reattach a scrape of wallpaper by licking the back of it) and then the same punchline as Rin-Tin-Tin’s WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS — just after Ollie has pronounced his ardent desire to never see a goat again, from Penelope’s hiding place under the communal bed —

The Last Day

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2023 by dcairns

Some more writings on Hippfest will doubtless follow, but for now I will observe that no day that begins with Laurel & Hardy and ends with Anthony Asquith’s SHOOTING STARS is likely to be anything less than marvelous. We skipped the Chinese film, the Ukrainian egg-decorating workshop, and the “Platform Reels” at the Railway Museum, but still consumed quite a fulsome day’s viewing, with not only ANGORA LOVE and BACON GRABBERS and the Asquith, but Swedish comedy HIS MAJESTY, THE BARBER, previously enjoyed via lifestream from Pordenone.

The last two films gave us the chance to compare the accompanying style of John Sweeney and Stephen Horne. The multi-instrumental Horne was playing to a showy film, the twenty-five-year-old Asquith’s showpiece/showcase/showboat, and so flamboyance was not only permissible but demanded. The switches from piano to accordion and flute, and startling moments when two played at once, never pulled one out of the film, but occasionally encouraged one to view it from a kind of high angle. It worked beautifully.

John Sweeney tends to disappear into the film he’s playing for. You’ll never be aware of him in an obtrusive way, and you might forget he’s there. But, particularly in the case of HIS MAJ, the elegance and tact of the approach was a perfect match for the comedy of gesture and attitude.

I can’t decide between the two approaches, and anyway I don’t have to.

We also had a great chat with Meg Morley and Frank Bockius, who played for the L&H double bill and had accompanied THE MAN WHO LAUGHS the night before. The difficulties of the somewhat illogical construction of Paul Leni’s epic were raised, and this led on to the question of perhaps the ultimate silent movie bogeyman, and the question, How WOULD you produce live music for THE BIRTH OF A NATION?

I could say confidently that a justifiable approach would be period-authentic, giving the film the Wagnerian sweep Griffith wanted for it, and trusting the audience to resist being altogether seduced. I think what’s interesting about he film is (a) it’s vile and (b) it’s exciting blood-and-thunder melodrama. So letting it be both, and letting it condemn itself, seems fair. But if it were me — if, as in a dream, I suddenly acquired musical prowess and were ordered to sit at the upright and play along with Griffith’s toxic vision, I doubt if I could do it.

I might be just able to pound out The Ride of the Valkyries for the climax. I would fall stubbornly silent when Griffith is lampooning the Black members of the South Carolina legislature, my fingers stiffened into immobile sentinels at the gates of all that is decent.

Fortunately recorded scores exist. Let them stand. Don’t ask anyone else to musically incriminate themselves.


Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2023 by dcairns

IN SPRING — Mikhail Kaufman’s Ukrainian city symphony — is sort of like brother Dziga Vertov’s MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (the third brother, Boris Kaufman, went to Hollywood and shot films for Kazan). It’s my Hippfest highlight this year thus far, though THE MAN WHO LAUGHS on a big screen with Meg Morley and Frank Bockius accompanying was epic and Run-Tin-Tin’s WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS was heaps of fun. This year’s dog theme was evidenced by Rinty in a blizzard, Zimba the dog as Homo the wolf, and scores of Ukrainian hounds — dogs on boats, dogs on balconies. I expect those dogs are quite old now, some of them.

Kaufman’s film is more people-centric than his brothers. The shots are consistently inventive and poetic, as are the connections linking them. The only disadvantage it has over MWAMC is that Vertov divides his film into chapters and tells you how many there will be, which helps when your film has no plot or characters. The audience can chart its progress and knows roughly how far in it is at any given time. But IN SPRING is so frenetic (but with beautiful modulations of pace) and is under an hour, so boredom is never an option.

Action is grouped by theme — snow, flooding, flowers in bloom — and sub-theme — dogs in the snow, babies. The sporting action might well have influenced Rienfenstahl’s OLYMPIAD, and it’s madder and better. The live score by Roksana Smirnova (piano)
& Misha Kalinin (guitar) swept things along, perfectly complimenting the rhythmic montage and spirit of optimism.

IN SPRING stars Kiev.