Archive for Il Bidone

Meaningful Beauty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2021 by dcairns

Rounding off my WOMAN OF PARIS coverage as it seems important to get to THE GOLD RUSH for the holiday season. It’s a snowy, festive film.

I’ll tell you who’s good in AWOP — Nellie Bly Baker, the secretary at the Chaplin Studio, who plays a masseuse. Chaplin apparently knew she could mimic him well enough to do the role. He just cuts to her nearly impassive face as Edna is getting a rubdown and discussing her love life with friends. Silent condemnation from La Baker, her eyes deliberately unseeing. Marvelously understated — it’s only the regularity of the cutaways that makes her attitude very clear indeed.

So, although I don’t hugely love the movie, I’m massively impressed by the storytelling. Like the way a shirt cuff, dropped from a drawer, reveals to Carl Miller’s character the fact that Edna has a lover. A very Lubitschian conceit.

Again, against the elegance of the narration is the corniness of the story. Edna’s struggle to choose between love and luxury implies a sophistication that is belied by the third act melodrama: Miller at first seems set to murder Menjou, then shoots himself. His mother takes the gun and sets off to kill Edna. At this point, improbabilities have piled up past the point I can take them seriously. And then Edna and mom bury the hatchet and go off to do good works.

Chaplin, according to David Robinson, came to work one day all excited about his solution to the story: the two women would go work in a leper colony. This notion was greeted with revulsion by his team, and Chaplin stormed off, taking several days away from the studio. When he returned, the incident was never mentioned. So instead out heroine and her former foe are running an orphanage, still a sentimental solution but less grotesque. One wonders about entrusting Lydia Knott’s mom character with more kids, she didn’t do so well with her son.

Chaplin also planned a meeting between Menjou and Purviance’s characters, but had a happier inspiration in the end: they pass by, oblivious of one another, she hitching a ride on a cart with a band of musicians, he riding in a limo with a crony. The guys asks, apropos of nothing, “By the way, whatever happened to Marie St. Clair?” Menjou gives an indifferent shrug. And at that moment, illustrating neatly the idea of fate Chaplin hints at in the film’s sub-title, the paths cross.

But there’s more. Chaplin pays particular close attention to the musicians Edna is riding with, just as he had to Nellie Bly Baker earlier. The three distinct cutaways to the singer and accordionist carry some poetic meaning, just out of reach of the rational brain. They have nothing to do with anything that’s happening, and we don’t know what they’re singing. And I think it’s their irrelevance that makes them poetic. They’re life, and they’re going on without regard to the melodrama that has just fizzled out.

I would like to suggest that the strange, medievalesque pilgrim troupe that pass by at the end of Fellini’s IL BIDONE, and the strolling players who join paths with Masina at the end of his NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, derive directly from this moment. We know Fellini took a lot of inspiration from Chaplin.

The peculiar time-warped troupe of IL BIDONE provoked a battle between Fellini and his producer. An assistant was asked his opinion. He said they should keep them in the picture, as the scene had beauty. To his surprise, Fellini rejected this argument. No, he said. It had MEANINGFUL BEAUTY.

Colossus of New York

Posted in literature with tags , , on June 11, 2008 by dcairns

B. Kite, AKA the Manigma, AKA the Whistling Phantom, softly requested that I notify any New Yorkers out there of this evening of poetry and sound. Even the directions are poetic! The phrase “take the L train to grand and walk one block west to humbolt,” will soon take its place in the western canon.

Since the Manigma, AKA the Absent Avenger, AKA the Blinding Hand of Christmas, has the following special powers —

He can see by the light of yesterday’s moon —

He can breath under milk —

He can eat the food out of old photographs —

He can reach into a man’s mind and sprinkle raisins —

— I would be foolish indeed to disobey him.

Here is a short poem in screen-cap form to sort of get you in the mood. I call it, “Smile, Mr. Kuleshov.”

Quote of the Day: Monsignor Ratbastard

Posted in FILM with tags , , on February 12, 2008 by dcairns

broad Broderick 

Fellini had a fondness for untranslatable titles, it seems to me. I VITELLONI has defeated subtitlers for decades now, so that everybody just calls it I VITELLONI and says “Dunno what it means.” AMARCORD means “I remember,” in some kind of babytalk version of a Rimini dialect, and nobody felt comfortable losing those nuances so they call it AMARCORD.

Just ran IL BIDONE, which is subtitled as “The Swindle,” but which really means something offensive but not too meaningful in Italian. When Broderick Crawford’s prosperous pal calls him “Monsignor Bidone,” (referring to the scam he habitually pulls disguised as a priest), I like to think it means Monsignor Ratbastard, and I like to think Fellini would have used that as his title if he could have gotten away with it. The film, like so much of Fellini’s ’50s work, makes a lot of little feints and thrusts at the Catholic Church, without ever quite going for the kill (which could not be allowed).

Anyhow, I ran the film for students and one of them gave me what I think is the perfect sound-byte reaction to the tragic conclusion:

“I felt quite sorry for him at the end, though I couldn’t think of any good reason why I should.”

I think it’s rather great when a film can do that. For all the talk about “sympathetic” characters we can “relate” to, the feat that really increases our involvement in humanity is when a character who ISN’T sympathetic, whom we wouldn’t WANT to relate to, engages our emotions regardless. It isn’t an easy thing to achieve, but it’s surely worthwhile.

Broderick the frauderick

A little side-note: some students thought that Broderick was double-crossing his colleagues at the end to get money for his daughter, as he’d promised her. And it’s true, the sum involved would allow him to cover the deposit she needs. But I’d always felt that when he offered to get her that money, while he may have meant it at the time, he probably forgot it moments later. The pressure building on him throughout the film is to escape from this way of life that affords him no self-respect. It’s not that he has any noble instincts, he just can’t live like this any more. But I think maybe I’m wrong…

Anyone else who’s seen it, what was your sense of the ending?