Archive for King of Jazz

In Every City There Is One Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2016 by dcairns

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One of the standouts at Bologna was Dave Kehr’s series of films produced by Carl Laemmle Jnr., lesser-known movies excluding the James Whale horror masterpieces. Pal Fejos’ LONESOME was likewise left out in favour of the slightly more obscure, flawed BROADWAY and also the bizarre, grotesque and highly entertaining KING OF JAZZ, which Fejos worked on in some unspecified capacity (perhaps explaining why both those films feature outsize figures Godzilla-cavorting down miniature New York streets). Dave mentioned, though, that LONESOME is the real masterpiece, and I remembered that I own Criterion’s Blu-ray and hadn’t watched it.

BROADWAY is a tricky early talkie, given the stilted nature of much of the dialogue delivery (“new-minted clichés” as Mark Fuller put it). It’s a backstage musical gangster story, in which the musical numbers, staged on a cavernous sound stage, were shoehorned in at Fejos’ behest. Spectacular in themselves, thanks to the towering sets and the elaborate crane shots, they slow the narrative down even further than the flaccid speech. Any movie where Evelyn Brent gives the best performance is arguably in trouble. But Fiona was very taken with the slow-talking detective, Thomas E. Jackson, who actually drawls like he’s parodying an early talkie. It’s disconcerting to find Jackson actually had a long career, and was seen in other film. Hell, it’s disconcerting to find he wasn’t a hallucination.

The movie is a combination of pleasures and irritants, and in the irritant camp fall the two lead performances. Both characters are written as dopes — Merna Kennedy redeemed herself elsewhere in the fest with a spirited turn in LAUGHTER IN HELL (“He’s ma maan!”)– Glenn Tryon redeems himself in LONESOME. In BROADWAY he’s so whiny, insecure, yet at the same time obnoxiously egotistical, like a tap-dancing George Costanza, it actually takes a while to get used to how effective he is in LONESOME.

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One of the delights of Bologna was seeing actors in contrasting roles — Pat O’Brien yaps a very precise Lee Tracy impersonation in THE FRONT PAGE, yet walks through LAUGHTER IN HELL like a man in a dream (he can maintain audience sympathy after committing a double murder because his somnambular perf makes clear that he isn’t responsible — for anything), and see above for Merna Kennedy’s development. Barbara Kent isn’t so versatile, playing ingenues in both LONESOME and FLESH AND THE DEVIL. She’s cuter in modern dress, though, and can hold more interest when not competing with a young, newly-styled Garbo.

LONESOME experiments with model shots, location filming, camera movement, sound, dialogue and colour — there’s stencil painting and some kind of dye process which tints the highlights one hue and the shadows another. Fejos is running amuck, and the slender story is the perfect vehicle for such stylistic exuberance. Think THE LAST LAUGH: small-scale stories can sometimes support colossal artistic ebullience.

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LONESOME is a magnificent one-off — I wish the part-soundie era had lasted another five years. When the two leads abruptly start speaking to each other in live sound on the beach at Coney Island, the jarring transition from one medium to another is beautiful. You can’t get that in a perfect film, only in a makeshift masterpiece like this one, a superproduction assembled on shifting sands. When the film reaches its tearful conclusion, sudden nitrate decomposition afflicts the footage, with PERFECT artistic timing — it drives home the fragility of what we’ve been watching.

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It All Ties Together

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2016 by dcairns

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In James Whale’s THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR, Nancy Carroll is an unfaithful wife named Maria living in fear of her murderously jealous husband, Paul (Frank Morgan).

In Jean Epstein’s COEUR FIDELE. Gina Manes is an unfaithful wife named Maria living in fear of her murderously jealous husband, Paul (Edmond Van Daele).

In James Whale’s REMEMBER LAST NIGHT?, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz is a German psychoanalyst shot while attempting to reconstruct a crime.

In Lewis Milestone’s THE FRONT PAGE, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz is a German psychoanalyst shot while attempting to reconstruct a crime.

In THE MYSTERY OF THE LEAPING FISH, Douglas Fairbanks snorts coke.

In TOUCHEZ-PAS AU GRISBI, Jeanne Moreau snorts coke.

In ONE-EYED JACKS, Marlon Brando is tormented by a corrupt sheriff.

In THE HALF-BREED, Douglas Fairbanks is persecuted by a corrupt sheriff.

In KING OF JAZZ, a man plunges his hands into a tank of goldfish.

In Louis Lumiere’s LA PECHE AU POISSONS ROUGES, a baby plunges his hands into a bowl of goldfish.

All these films played the day before yesterday in Bologna. Cinema is imploding into a kind of primal atom.

Alternative Universe Viewing Schedule

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2016 by dcairns

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Instead of writing about what I saw on Monday at Il Cinema Ritrovato, I *could* write about what I failed to see — Edward L. Cahn’s searing pre-code LAUGHTER IN HELL has been wowing them in the aisles, and I hope to catch it later in the fest — missed Arthur Penn’s THE CHASE, just as I have missed all the Brando so far — a program of Italian shorts from 1896 — a clip-show of classic Technicolor material including scenes from ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, RIO BRAVO and Cukor’s A STAR IS BORN — Mario Soldati’s MALOMBRA — Pierre Chenal’s film of Native Son, SANGRE NEGRA (American book filmed in Argentina by a Frenchman) — LA MORTE DE CYGNE, a film about ballet school by the great Marie Epstein and Jean Benoit-Levy — Jacques Becker’s RENDEZ-VOUS DE JUILLET and TOUCHEZ-PAS AU GRISBI (the latter is on again later, so maybe…) — Pola Negri in A WOMAN OF THE WORLD, which also screens a second time soon — the restored MCCABE AND MRS MILLER, apparently looking quite different — VALMONT, Milos Forman’s film of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, made shortly after the Stephen Frears version. Someone asked the producer if the film’s commercial failure imparted a lesson,. and he said, “Yes. Never make a film someone else has just made.” It’s a good movie though, now restored by Pathe.

Still, what I did see is a nice list, even if shorter — another episode of THE CLUTCHING FOOT and the last episode of Abel Gance’s daffy serial LES GAZ MORTELS (hero rides on horseback to save town from poison gas. He wears a gas mask and his horse wears what seems to be some kind of hygienic nosebag. Saving the town, he kisses his horse with passion) — KING OF JAZZ, the grotesque, bloated musical revue in two-strip Technicolor produced at Laemmle’s Universal in 1930, appalling yet wonderful — A JAZZ GIRL IS BORN, a 1957 teen musical from Japan, shot in a three-strip process called Konicolor, blindingly vivid (includes renditions of Blue Moon, Jambalaya and Come-On-a My House — really — I’m not making this up!) — and Carné and Prevert’s LES PORTES DE LA NUIT, which is a comparatively obscure masterpiece, another film I discovered via the Lindsay Anderson Archive.