Archive for Homer

Ulysses’ grunt

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2020 by dcairns

I was intrigued about the 1954 Italian ULYSSES by Mario Camerini and boy it’s handsome — Harold Rosson (THE GARDEN OF ALLAH) as cinematographer, Mario Bava operating, production design by Flavio Mogherini (who didn’t do that many period movies, oddly, but had done the Loren AIDA, the movie with the biggest shoe polish budget ever). It has a lovely misty look.

The script is by Homer but with quite a lot of help — six scenarists, in the Italian/DeLaurentiis tradition, including Ben Hecht and Irwin Shaw, ffs. And the main thing that the result doesn’t have is an effective structure, something Homer had managed quite well all on his own. The hero is introduced, voiceless, in silent flashbacks to the Iliad, then loses his memory and regains it in a series of different, subjective flashbacks, and they keep cutting to Penelope because she’s the producer’s wife, even though Penelope’s situation isn’t really developing much. She’s just waiting for Ulysses. They try to fake a sense of progression but you can only do so much.

We watched the Italian dub because the audio on the English version was pathetic, sounding like it was recorded in a tin shack on the Adriatic, missing whole music cues. But losing Douglas’ voice was a considerable detriment. Like a dark tinted window descended between audience and actor. Whoever was doing the voice sounded quite nice and the orotundity of the language was helpful, but it didn’t seem to connect to the face onscreen. I’ve seen dubbed performances which, though flawed, kinda worked, and this one didn’t. I played back the sirens scene in English: MUCH better. (Silvana Mangano doubles as the voice of the sirens, and later trebles as Circe with the aid of a green fill light.)

Lots of bad scenes where people just stand and talk at each other in groups for ages.

But a decent cyclops (unlike Harryhausen’s, this one talks, though his cave is not worthy of Plato: Plato would have kept looking for something in his price range), a lovely ship and the ending is surprisingly drawn-out for a commercial film (because they want more Mangano) so we get a lot of the stuff that might normally get left out. A badly edited fight with the suitors but it still manages to be quite hardcore and intense. Kirk “gives it both knees,” as you’d expect.

We rarely get the impression that we’re watching people, behaving, though when we do it’s because Kirk has done something good. But we frequently get the impression we’re hearing a legend that has been told for hundreds of years, and that is preferable to the other feeling that threatens to prevail, that of watching a daft fantasy epic.

ULYSSES stars Vincent Van Gogh; Tadzio’s Mother; Paul Gauguin; and Helen of Troy.

The Monday Intertitle: The Greeks Have an Intertitle for It

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2014 by dcairns


HELENA is a silent German two-part epic based on Greek mythology, directed by Manfred Noa and released, unfortunately, the same year as Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN. The public stayed away in droves every bit as big as those the filmmaker mustered to represent the fall of Troy. It’s as if a critic wrote, “If you only see one two-part mythological epic this year, make it Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN,” and the public decided to take that as an instruction.

A shame, for though Lang’s film deserves its place in history (or another, better place in history — not as a Nazi favourite but as a prophecy of the destruction wrought by war and hatred), Noa’s film is visually splendid and dramatically quite pleasing, though I would slightly fault his taste in casting the authoritative but not particularly ravishing Edy Darclea as Helen of Troy. But what are you gonna do? One man’s face that launched a thousand ships is another man’s limpet-studded wharf. Not that Edy D is a limpet-studded wharf. She’s fine, she’s just not sensational. She’s no Edie Sedgwick.


Through a glass Darclea.

Unlike in that Wolfgang Petersen foolishness, the Germans aren’t afraid to bring the gods of Olympus onscreen, which is just as well, for they have a crucial role to play in Homer’s scenario. But we’re not treated to Olivier and Andress and Maggie Smith or their Teuton equivalents wafting about amid dry ice and columns, which might get kitsch. The divine figures appear only in visions witnessed by the mortals, which allows for plenty of stylisation and guards against FANTASIA syndrome. It’s a brilliant solution, and one that should be revived the very next time somebody does something mythic with gods in.


 Filmed in the splendour of dactylic hexameter!

The only star name I recognize is Albert Basserman, who turned up in THE RED SHOES decades later. Maybe it’s the lack of star power that scuppered Noa’s bold enterprise. The film was rediscovered after many years considered lost, and deserves to be properly available. Check out Kristin Thompson’s ten best of 1923 (it’s my annual favourite blog event) and note just how few truly major silent dramas are available to buy in decent condition.

What else do we need? Oh yes, the promised intertitle, bilingual and wreathed in laurel leaves. Enjoy!

vlcsnap-2014-01-04-02h23m22s25STOP PRESS: Fiona: “What does that mean? You don’t tell us.”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Fiona: “Then you shouldn’t have posted it.”

STOP STOP PRESS: according to Google Translate the French means “You have the power to ward off the dark future. Tell me if I must leave for Cythera.” But it says the German means “Yours is the power to summon the dark future. Customer to me whether I should follow the call to Cythera.”


The Sunday Intertitle: Borgnetto and Pastrone attempt a pan

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2010 by dcairns

THE FALL OF TROY, from 1911, represents a massive advance in scale and sophistication from NERO, OR THE FALL OF ROME, made just a few years earlier. But what it doesn’t have is a greater sense of real involvement with the action, since it’s still played out in a not-too-elaborate version of the tableau style, where the camera observes from a distance as the Italian cast move about and gesticulate. While other film-makers in Europe were moving their cast in depth as well as from side to side, so as to achieve medium shots while still shooting each scene as a static wide without cuts, these Italian epics more or less treat the action as a view from the front of the stalls.

One difference is that the intertitles are a little less anxious to spell out everything we see — in NERO, they tend to “spoil” every scene by telling us the outcome before we’ve had a chance to see the action. That’s a little less the case here, where using more title cards allows the filmmakers to deliver the story in smaller morsels.

But there’s one big moment (among many spectacular scenes) where Luigi Romano Borgnetto and Guiseppe Pastrone (who would go on to make CABIRIA) break out of the static pattern and attempt a pan. Tremulously, they scan the scene of the Greek armada anchored not far from Troy. A swimmer arrives with the news that the Trojans have taken the bait and wheeled the big wood horsie into their citadel. Oddly, rather than panning across the scene with the swimmer, they start on Agamemnon and company, then begin panning off, without obvious motivation. The Greeks suddenly point, as if urging the camera onwards, and we discover the intrepid spy  swimming past the impressive fleet (I think it’s one or two life-sized ships and some big miniatures). Now we follow him back to shore, and even pan back to the nearest ship as it’s prepared for boarding, then back to the Greek army, then back to the ship as they climb aboard.

It’s a mixture of traditional narrative movement, following that which is important to keep it in frame, and something new. When the Italians really got into camera movement, they moved the camera in order to explore the world of the film, rather than to follow the subjects around or to increase the sense of drama in a moment, which were and are the American uses of movement. I think you can still see this approach to the moving camera in Bertolucci, who likes to move without seeming motivation.

But for real dolly shots, you have to wait a week. That’s not so bad, the Italians had to wait three years.