Archive for Jean Vigo

The Sunday Intertitle: Blackmail and Female

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2021 by dcairns

Pordenone Festival of Silent Film has started, and we’re attending virtually, which means we don’t get Lubitsch’s LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN, but I guess that’s OK as I’ve seen it. We do get the very interesting JOKEREN/JOKER, from 1928, a Danish production from Nordisk with a German director, Georg Jacoby (known for his Nazi era operetta-films) and multinational stars including Brits Henry Edwards and favourite Shadowplayer Miles Mander, the human knitting needle.

The intertitles are a bit blah, and they’re also modern reconstructions with no attempt at period style. The dialogue is stuff like “I was in love with a young woman, but she left me for the rich Sir Herbert,” while the narrational titles just describe what we’re about to see, which is shockingly primitive for a 1928 film.

A shame, but a minor one, because the film itself is very sophisticated, even louche. Set in Nice at carnival time, apropos of Jean Vigo, it benefits greatly from the colourful, somewhat surreal location, with tragic scenes enacted by men in pantaloons and false noses.

Miles Mander is the whole show in my opinion, an actor you can really HEAR in silent films, whether you’ve heard him in talkies or not. Ideally cast here as a skeezy lawyer who’s bankrupted himself over an unfaithful mistress and now resorts to extortion to square the bills, he’s also quite smellable as he awakens in dirty shirt and braces, sprawled over his desk in a cat-infested office. Anyone who brings such sensory overload to a soundless film is aces in my book.

Of course it’s not really soundless because multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne provides marvelous accompaniment.

In the title role, Henry Edwards cuts a dashing figure, so unlike Joaquin Phoenix. IMDb has bifurcating him, attributing this sole credit to a separate Mr. Edwards from the rest of his filmography, which is British — he turned up in films from the teens to the fifties — OLIVER TWIST, GREEN FOR DANGER, good things like that. Here, in his youth, he’s what I’d call a proper matinee idol, while at the same time his bony, beaky features do suggest the titular playing card, or perhaps Mr. Punch. If that sounds not quite attractive, he’s a British leading man of the early twentieth century, what do you expect? His performance emerges from under a glistening pomaded carapace. But he can do soulful.

This was my first Jacoby film, I think — he doesn’t move the camera* but his shots are lovely. Without the ability to screen-grab from Pordenone’s streaming platform, I can’t show you any though. I’m keen to see Jacoby’s silent QUO VADIS with Emil Jannings as Nero, and I should check out his Hitlerian musical output sometime.

Pordenone is superb value, whether in-person (impossible for me at the start of the new teaching year) or online — check it out!

  • STOP PRESS – Jacoby does do some simple but elegant walk-and-talk shots.
  • Gabriel Gabrio, a kind of tuxedo breeze-block, is Sir Herbert Powder, his physique suggesting that he must be quite a convincing Jean Valjean in Henri Fescourt’s LES MISERABLES.
  • Elga Brink, another victim of IMDb bifurcation, is an elegant and sympathetic heroine.

The Palm Sunday Intertitle: Small Praise

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 5, 2020 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2020-04-05-15h16m50s056I have often had cause to reflect that life is like Herve Villechaize: too short, and often hard to understand.

LE NAIN (THE DWARF), however, directed in 1912 by Louis Fieullade, is just the right length at fifteen minutes. It tells the affecting story of Paul Dancourt (played by the little actor Delphin), who is the anonymous actor of a theatrical smash hit, but doesn’t admit authorship for fear of ridicule. Fieullade begins by showing his hero standing on a chair to kiss his mother, sitting on her lap, etc, but all played quite straight. He’s daring us to laugh, or encouraging us to get the laughter over with, or something. It feels quite clever. The jokes, if they are jokes, are very cheap, and the actors are totally sincere, so it quietly shames us out of any humorous response (and I assume audiences in 1912 were more prone to the kind of cheesy comedy illustrated by my first sentence here).

Paul falls in love with his lead actress (Suzanne Grandais), or her image, allowing Fieulliade to demonstrate how to interpolate a closeup:


On the other hand, this is the period/style of cinema where each room has one master shot, which we return to whenever a scene is played there. The idea of varying the master shot for dramatic purposes, or hell, just for variety, is not pervasive yet.

Two different days, two different scenes, the same angle.

Paul writes to the woman of his dreams and explains that for compelling personal reasons he can’t meet her, but he’s like to phone her. This allows Fieullade to do a high-tech remake of Cyrano de Bergerac, only much, much shorter (no pun intended, we’re past that stage), and also to present a novel split screen. The middle panel in his triptych adds lustre, but is also naive and quaint: Fieullade feels the need to demonstrate the physical distance between his characters with a shot of Paris — or else he’s afraid of the PILLOW TALK effect, where things get a bit spicy as the splitscreen makes it look like the characters are sharing the same intimate space.


But I guess the distance between them is part of the poignancy, too.

And what does Paul say to his love? I know this is a silent film, M. Fieullade, but we need to know. As John Sayles put it, describing his frustration at romantic montages where we see the couple walk on the beach but don’t get to overhear their conversation, “This is the kind of stuff that’s useful.”

Thank the good Lord for intertitles!


Well, that’s… odd. But it becomes clear that these are romantic lyrics, and Paul is reciting to his amour. There’s probably some hot stuff in there, too, since the girls at The Phone Company are all a-flutter:


It’s a very affecting film. Fieullade, in his journalist days, had worked alongside a little guy called Leonardo Val, which may have given him added insight and compassion.

Delphin, who would later play the headmaster in Vigo’s ZERO DE CONDUITE, is an excellent actor.