Archive for Kathryn McGuire

The Mothering Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2015 by dcairns


A gentle reminder that the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival will be raging this week in Bo’ness. Among the treats in store is Buster Keaton’s THE NAVIGATOR (screening Saturday), accompanied by maestro Neil Brand upon the piano forte. I hope to be on hand to experience and write about as much of the festivities as possible.

I rate THE NAVIGATOR pretty near the top — not as dazzling as SHERLOCK JNR or as plain great as THE GENERAL, but I like how Kathryn McGuire gets to be almost an equal partner in the slapstick. Her character is exactly as helpless as Buster’s, not more helpless in THE GENERAL (“almost aggressively stupid” was Richard Lester’s affectionate description of Marion Mack’s character) or simply competent and attractive as in THE CAMERAMAN.

I’m not going to try to arrange Keaton’s films in definitive order on a Sunday morning, but I would roughly say that the first rank, for me, contains ~


The middle group, which are not to be sneezed at, would be ~


And the “lesser films” — ones which are still likely to be better than anything else you might see, would be ~


I realize that this is both subjective and impertinent, and that any attempt to say that SEVEN CHANCES or STEAMBOAT BILL JNR is less than great is likely to look philistine. All I mean to say is that they are LESS great than my top four. But I welcome disputes, if you want to make the case for a lower-down title or knock down one of my pantheon. I will say that I’ve only seen BATTLING BUTLER and SPITE MARRIAGE once, and that it’s been a while since I saw THE CAMERAMAN and THE THREE AGES.

We might also attempt a larger project, a ranking of the short films

The Sunday Intertitle: The Deep

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , on November 14, 2010 by dcairns

Only sort of an intertitle — sort of a sur-title too. It’s kind of like an illustrated intertitle too. As the song issues from the phonograph, the lyrics are superimposed over the speaker…

The movie is THE NAVIGATOR, a Buster Keaton triumph enjoyed by my students last week. I was inspired to write about Keaton’s uncanny side by this sequence in which Buster and Kathryn McGuire (better-used than in SHERLOCK JNR) are terrorized by nocturnal sounds on a deserted ocean liner. And my recently-acquired 1933 Film-Lovers’ Annual offers a useful way in —

“I was a youngster travelling with my parents’ act when a ventriloquist joined the show. Now, of course, the first thing a youngster learns in the show business is to leave other peoples’ ‘props’ alone. But the dozen talking dummies the man used fascinated me.

“After the matinée, I used to sneak back into the theatre and get up on the dark stage where the dummies hung in a row under a piece of canvas. I would pull the canvas back and watch them in awe. The ventriloquist noticed it–and stayed in and hid with the dummies one afternoon. I came in, and pulled back the canvas.

“‘Well, what do you want?’ boomed the biggest dummy. I think I cleared the orchestra pit and reached the front entrance in nothing flat! And I’ve never monkeyed with a ventriloquist’s ‘props’ since.”

This could well be a publicist’s invention, like so much else in the book, but it does chime nicely with a little-remarked section of STEAMBOAT BILL JNR’s famed hurricane sequence, where a concussed Buster is terrorized by a seemingly animate marionette, like something out of DEAD OF NIGHT. Since so much of Buster’s comedy is predicated upon the hostility of the universe, which “monkeys with its props” in order to give the unfortunate humans a hard time, it’s apt that this tendency sometimes takes on a downright supernatural appearance. In THE NAVIGATOR, the effect of Donald Crisp’s malign portrait swinging past Buster’s porthole, alarming him in his bunk, captures a universal childhood fear to perfection (fear of sea captains? No, I mean it captures the universal childhood sensation of fear), and thus gets audiences hysterical. That particularly virulent form of laughter that’s tinged with terror…

Dummies. They ARE creepy. A friend was so traumatized by the moment at DEAD OF NIGHT’s climax where the dummy walks, he literally ran from the room in panic. Years later, he invited a friend to watch the film, giving it a big build up. When the moment came, he sensitively warned his friend that it was approaching… the dummy stood… and he ran from the room in panic again.