Archive for Kevin Brownlow

The Sunday Intertitle: An Eleven Letter Word

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2019 by dcairns

What unmentionable word is John Gilbert mentioning here in THE BIG PARADE (1925)? Not BASTARDS, surely. Too many letters. I think it must be BUTTFUCKERS.

You have to remember, it was a different era.

I first knew of this movie through Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood series, which I saw on first airing some thirty-nine years ago, so it’s pretty bad that it’s taken me this long to catch up with it (and worse that I open my analysis with a sodomy joke). Sometimes the makers of that legendary series would make a film look even better than it was, by careful extraction of the juiciest morsels, and that’s sort of true here. Nearly everything involving the pastoral love affair with Renee Adoree is either a drag, or frankly incredible (not her fault). And then there’s the repulsive Karl Dane as a comic relief buddy out of Nosferatu’s worst nightmares.

But the great bits are indeed great, elevating the whole proposition to well-deserved classic status.

Vidor writes in his book that he took care to always film the advancing US army traveling from screen left to screen right, because on a map, west is left and east is right. An army going from America to Europe and then advancing should have a rightward movement — this will seem subconsciously CORRECT to an audience and if you stick to it, all confusion can be avoided. It’s a beautiful, simple, almost dumb idea.

In fact, Vidor abandons it for his most celebrated sequence, the death march through the forest. I’m not sure why. Much of the scene is purely frontal, but for the really wide shots, the army is moving right to left — maybe because that creates slightly more tension in a western audience comfortable reading text from right to left.

Vidor specified that the scene should be scored with just a slow, solo drum beat — which he had used to choreograph it during filming, his soldiers marching and dying to the rhythm. Carl Davis, rescoring the movie for Thames Silents, can’t bring himself to go THAT stark and simple, but he does allow the steady, deadly percussion to dominate.

The most impressive thing, though, is how Vidor initially keeps Death in the background.

As the men march, we slowly become aware that there are bodies strewn here and there among the fallen leaves. Gilbert has to step over one, which brings them more sharply into our consciousness. Then — BANG! — an out-of-focus figure in the background throws up his rifle and drops.

You can just see him, on his knees by Karl Dane’s elbow on the right.

Then, in a closer shot on Tom O’Brien, another one goes (far right). The closer view makes the casualty seem even more incidental, somehow. Our protagonists seem unaware of what’s happening (an ambiguity of silent cinema: surely they’d hear the gunshots?). By putting the fatalities in the background and out of focus, Vidor somehow emphasises them by refusing to emphasise them. There’s a greater quality of “Look out!” since we can see what the men cannot.

There are a lot more great moments in the film. The POV that follows, tracking towards an enemy position… It feels like this may have influenced the execution scene in PATHS OF GLORY, the hit in the woods in MILLER’S CROSSING, the climax of THE WAY AHEAD…

THE BIG PARADE stars Count Vronsky, Nag Ping, Starbuck, Wolf Larsen and Stupid McDuff.

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: Kick

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2017 by dcairns

This is one thing I watched on Saturday — KID BOOTS, starring Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow and Billie Dove. Yes, I know, Eddie Cantor gets all the pussy.

I underrated Cantor the silent comic — he’s pretty funny here, and very agile. Director Frank Tuttle, who staged some of the best bedroom farce stuff ever in MISS BLUEBEARD (Bebe Daniels and Raymond Griffith) does a fine job with more slapstick situational stuff here. Plus Clara is gorgeous and appealing and fiery.

This is a truncated version — the one we saw in Bologna has an extra two reels, courtesy of the researches of David Stenn in the Paramount archives. He introduced the film with Kevin Brownlow and stated his view that the next generation of miraculous film rediscoveries will be those that have been lurking unrecognized in studio vaults all along.

Sample intertitles:

“Excuse me — I didn’t know you were the lady I was kicking!”

And, while Eddie and Clara are dangling from a cliff together: “I’m not in any position to ask you, but when I get on my feet, will you marry me?”

Canal Knowledge

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 21, 2016 by dcairns

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Well, after five and a half majestic hours of Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON on the big screen I ought to have plenty to blog about this week. But my first observations are going to be pathetically trivial.

Being a newcomer to this movie — I purposely held off on watching it until I could see it projected with an audience — I’m not sure how much new footage may be included in Mr. Brownlow’s latest restoration. And my unwatched DVD turns out to be taken from Francis Ford Coppola’s somewhat pruned version of the movie — he de-restored it a bit for US consumption, apparently feeling himself better qualified to produce a director’s cut than Gance himself. So all I can say is that the version currently screening in select venues turns out to have more Annabella than the Coppola cut. I don’t know if this is because FCC thought we could do with a life of Bonaparte containing about 30% less gamine, or because more footage of the elfin one has since turned up. Here she is ~

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The upper intertitle made me smile, because there happens to be a film called SUEZ, directed by Allan Dwan, dealing with the construction of the famous canal, and Annabella is in it, along with her then husband, Tyrone Power (what should we call that marriage – lavender, open, or just plain peculiar?).

SUEZ is a pretty dull film. Zanuck’s Fox was just the kind of studio where somebody would make the assumption that a large civil engineering project would automatically make a good movie. But if you look in the Yellow Pages under “civil engineering” it says “see boring,” and rightly so.

Annabella provides the only minute of interest in the film, using her breasts.

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Seconded to Alexandria to prepare the canal, Ty Power immediately chances upon a runaway bathing machine and a naked damsel in distress, played by his offscreen wife. Though her character is supposed to be anxious to conceal herself beneath the conveniently opaque waters of her oasis, Annabella herself seems more interesting in bobbing up and down and revealing as much as possible.

And so, a unique sight for 1938 — a topless woman covering her breasts with her hands. Might not seem that shocking, but I can’t think of any similar view in a film of that period.

Tyrone is the perfect gentleman, returns the bathing machine, Annabella gets dressed, and then, in a bit of screwball slapstick, the couple both fall in the water. Cue 1938’s second surprise image, the wet shirt scene ~

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This is, in motion, even more explicit than it looks here. Annabella’s shirt becomes a translucent membrane, clinging to her boyish figure like a second skin. Ahem.

I realize I am probably apt to overrate the importance and interest of female breasts in the scheme of things. But this double violation of censorship norms seems to require a theory to explain it. The only explanation I can come up with is a rather sad one: the Breen Office allowed Annabella’s breasts to make themselves known because they are very small, and they didn’t think they counted.

I think they count, Annabella! And everyone thought you were much cuter than Josephine in NAPOLEON.

Pretty lame to be pondering this after seeing the wonder that is Gance’s masterpiece, I know. But that movie has a bunch of much more fulsome and unabashed nudity, so in a way I’m being restrained by focussing on this modest sample.

(As ace researcher Christine Leteux discovered, there was once even more of Annabella in NAPOLEON. I mean screen time, not flesh. Intriguingly, the deleted scene linked to here is more dramatic than anything remaining of A’s performance in the film.)