Archive for John Carradine

Limerickman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2013 by dcairns

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What with one thing and another and yet another, I haven’t kept you posted on my postings at Limerwrecks, home of the noir and horror limerick. So let’s catch up.

Limerlinks:

CARRY OFF SCREAMING. SWAMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE. Karloff in retreat — the latter is a collaborative piece with Hilary Barta.

WHIP REPLACEMENTTHERE WAS A CROOKED DAN. These are about J. Carroll Naish, who I was sort-of pleased to see getting a shout-out from Orson Welles in My Lunches with Orson. Welles calls Naish a bad actor who was always an absolute delight to see.

THE UNDYING MISTER. This is about Lon Chaney Jnr’s unexplained inability to stay dead. Co-authored with Hilary Barta.

YOU THAW THE HOWL OF THE MOON. Another collab on Lon.

FROSTY THE WOLFMAN. And another.

HUMPED DAY. Horrid one about Naish.

PLOTZ STRUCTURE. Examining the weird shape of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

WINED AND CARRADINED. Mocking John Carradine’s drink problem. But it comes from a warm place. THIN WHITE SPOOK. Also pointing out that Carradine is very thin. This may be envy.

KISMET OF DEATH. Karloff never gets scorn or snark.

THE CREATURE WALKS A MONGREL. Karloff’s man-dog transplants sparked a great many rhymes…

But rather than just reading my limericks, go to the site and read everything! Maybe not all in one sitting though. (A better policy is to drop by on a daily basis.)

Riding to the Rescue

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2013 by dcairns

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Before you ask, yes, I have been as amused and entertained by Quentin Tarantino’s interview meltdown, and his branding of John Ford as a racist, as you have. Maybe even more so.

I don’t necessarily expect logic or coherence from Tarantino, though it strikes me that he has done a better job of explaining his work in the past — it’s kind of disappointing to see him sink to this level of petulance rather than actually engage in a discussion of interesting issues. The question of screen violence, I guess, maybe does get old if you’ve been asked about it over and over again for a couple of decades, and you can see how someone like Kathryn Bigelow will impatiently jump forward three questions when it’s raised, doing that politician’s trick of answering the question you wish had been asked, and politely shutting down the debate,  but the topic still seems to me kind of evergreen and inexhaustible.

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When I wrote my essay for Criterion’s edition of STAGECOACH, I seized on the idea of the film’s climax borrowing from BIRTH OF A NATION, mainly because not many commentators had remarked on the resemblance: specifically we have tension created by John Carradine being about to kill Louise Platt to save her from falling into the rapacious hands of the marauding Indians, which directly echoes a similar moment at the climax of BOAN. My ace editor, Liz Helfgott, reminded me to mention the fact that Ford’s use of this gimmick is somewhat different from, and more nuanced, than Griffith’s.

Which is true: specifically because Carradine’s character is not an out-and-out sympathetic guy like Dr. Cameron (Spottiswood Aitken) in BOAN, whose proposed murder of his own daughter is thus depicted in salutary terms. Carradine is ambiguous and flawed, and also a Southerner in a film containing more viewpoints than his own, so we aren’t invited to approve wholeheartedly of his action. And in fact Platt is saved by two things (spoiler alert), an Indian arrow which takes Carradine off before he can save her from a Fate Worse than Death, and then the cavalry, who drive off the Indians. Had it just been the cavalry who saved her, as the klan do in BOAN, Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols would have probably been guilty of endorsing Carradine’s thinking.

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(By the time of the 70s, writer Alan Sharp could have a cavalry soldier actually shooting a white woman in the punchy Robert Aldrich oater ULZANA’S RAID, to save her from abduction and rape and maybe worse, and the meaning is different again, because it IS the 1970s and there’s a shared understanding that a shocking act can be show because it’s arguably truthful, without implying a judgement from the filmmakers about whether the act is justifiable or unjustifiable.)

The fact that Ford clearly saw nothing wrong in borrowing from BOAN, that he saw it as a cinematic mainspring that wasn’t so irrevocably tainted that you mustn’t go anywhere near it, speaks to the same impulse that made him if not proud at least quite happy to talk about having appeared in it as a klansman. In other words, he didn’t share our modern sensibility and didn’t judge the film as rigorously as we do, as a virulently racist piece of hate speech. I would find it hard to call Ford “a racist son-of-a-bitch” on that basis. I would call him racist only in the sense that everybody’s racist because nobody’e perfect, and everybody is  influenced by the discourse about race which surrounds us, despite the fact that, scientifically speaking, race is an illusion. But, as Einstein observed of time, it may be an illusion but it’s an extremely persistent one.

The subconscious effects of this illusion can perhaps be seen in the way QT segues from “I’m not your slave” to “I’m not your monkey” in that notorious interview.

Griffith, of course, is something else. I’m prepared to accept Lillian Gish at her word that he didn’t hate black people per se — I guess he quite liked them, in their place. As we all know from everyday life, our response to anything can be very different depending on where we find it: to take an example we’ve all probably encountered recently, a delicious juicy steak will provoke a different reaction on a dinner plate than it will draped over the pillow we lay our head on in bed. Griffith’s reaction to see black people anywhere outside of the zones to which he had been raised to think of them belonging, was one of violent instinctive revulsion, and he wasn’t in the least bit inclined to question this knee-jerk response. He was, as a result, a particularly violent and dangerous racist, and he allowed himself to put his feelings on film in THE BIRTH OF A NATION. The result is hateful, neurotic, and fortunately unique in all of cinema in its virulence, wrongheadedness and savagery. I do regard it as a valuable insight into the psychological processes of race hatred and of pathological hatred generally, whereby criminal acts everybody knows to have been perpetrated by white against blacks — rape, lynching, intimidation — are attributed to blacks in order to justify repression.

It certainly seems absurd to compare it to anything in Ford in terms of its attitude. Is there a bit of that going on with Ford’s depiction of the American Indian? Maybe, a bit, but not consistently, wholeheartedly, or viciously — and Ford is part of a whole problematic tradition here which predates cinema itself. It need hardly be argued that Ford’s portrayal of Indians is more nuanced and sympathetic than Griffith’s portrayal of black people — if one finds oneself arguing that, one might as well stop and say instead, “Just look at the films.”

Inspired somewhat by Glenn Kenny’s post on this subject, and David Ehrenstein’s.

The Birth of a Nation – Special Edition [Blu-ray]

Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Blind Tuesday: Seeing-Eye Cat

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2012 by dcairns

Somebody is killing fashion models in Amsterdam — ever wondered why models are paid so highly? Because they’re always getting murdered.

Rejected from Forgotten Gialli, CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT winds up in Blind Tuesday (our occasional feature on blind-person-in-jeopardy thrillers), just because it’s made me rather cross. At the core of the film is a rather darling conceit, a killer using a black cat as assassin, its claws coated with deadly curare. The delightful absurdity of this idea — ever tried getting a cat to do anything? what happens when kitty washes her paws? and also, just WHY? – is rather stifled by the wrapping around of the entire plot and all the set-pieces from 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET.

Stealing is inevitable, and largely to be encouraged, in the arts, but there are times when it is to be condemned. The shot-for-shot lifting of the love scene from DON’T LOOK NOW in ABOUT LAST NIGHT… is one of them (why remind the audience, so forcibly, that Demi Moore is not Julie Christie and Rob Lowe is not Donald Sutherland [or vice versa] or that Edward Zwick does not even share a species with Nic Roeg?). This is another.

The rule is that stealing is good when it makes things better, but that holds it to a high standard — the artwork must be better than it would have been without the theft, but also better than it would have been with something original of an adequate standard. Ideally, the theft should be the kind whereby, if the viewer recognizes the source, pleasure is increased (“How clever!”) rather than spoiled (“What a blatant swipe!”)…

In the case of CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT, it’s to be condemned because it’s lazy and unimaginative, and because it doesn’t help the film, it actually constrains it. The effect is to break the thing in two, so that Anthony Steffen (rather good and sepulchral as the sightless hero) and his investigations seem to occupy a whole other movie from the bout of silly killings.

The big adaptation is to make the hero not a playwright who uses a tape recorder to practice his dialogue, but a film composer (who can’t see the film — how does THAT work?). This allows for a giallo-within-the-giallo, which is par for the course in this compulsively self-reflective genre. Graphic close-ups of breast-slicing in this embedded movie are far more horrible than anything in the main body of the narrative, until the ending, when director Sergio Pastore goes all vicious again, and we can guess that the killer is a woman. You see, whenever the killer does something truly nasty and misogynistic, you can be fairly sure he’ll turn out to be a woman (dishonorable exception: IGUANA WITH A TONGUE OF FIRE, where he’s gay) . It’s a kind of alibi instinct, to deflect the filmmaker’s own guilt.*

This is, on the whole, the kind of giallo that makes me not like the genre. It’s a field which triumphs when it unlocks its imagination, and there’s something deeply tedious about all these black-gloved killers. I think that’s the true explanation for the decline of Dario Argento: he’s become bored by his own tropes, and God forbid that he should ever examine them critically for signs and meaning. Mario Bava, God love him, wasn’t inclined to introspection either, but he felt compelled to explore every genre on offer, even those like the sexy-type-film which he instinctively disliked. It’s because he didn’t view himself as an artist that he experimented so much, making him kind of (but only kind of) the Keaton to Argento’s Chaplin.

Hey, another strange thing. The woman with the killer cat operates out of a pet shop called, according to its sign, UNDULATER. Why would a pet shop be called UNDULATER? And if you ran a pet shop called UNDULATER, wouldn’t that cause a fair bit of confusion (especially in Amsterdam)?**

*The other bit of giallo cowardice: if the killer is a priest, he will soon be unmasked or unfrocked as a bogus priest. Most of these movies are deeply conservative at heart.

**Stop press: W Krikken suggests,via Twitter, that the setting is Copenhagen. I think that is correct. Still, makes the possibilities for misconstruing UNDULATOR even richer, if anything.

In other news: Limerwreckage – Carradine rhymes again!

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