Archive for La Galerie des Monstres

The Sunday Intertitle: L’Herbier Goes Bananas

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2011 by dcairns

Thanks to La Faustin for recommending ELDORADO, a truly scrummy self-described melodrama from Marcel L’Herbier. The title refers to a house of dance/pleasure, where the glamorous Eve Francis is star attraction. Francis made several films in the twenties, a few in the thirties, and then retired from the screen for decades until cast by Patrice Chereau in 1975 in THE FLESH OF THE ORCHID, his twisted James Hadley Chase adaptation (kind of a sequel to NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH).

As so often with L’Herbier, decoration wins out over sense, and BECOMES sense. I couldn’t quite figure out why this brothel/tavern employed a clown, for instance. Doesn’t seem the best way to get the customers in the right mood. But there he is, looking very splendid, so how could I object? This makes the second L’Herbier production I’ve featured to include a scary kabuki clown.

Director of last week’s romp, LA GALERIE DE MONSTRES, Jacque Catelain, plays the young hero in this picture, and as La Faustin pointed out, costumes are by Alberto Cavalcanti, a man whose talents seem without limit — a child genius who studied law at 15, he switched to architecture, then interior design — I’d previously been wowed by his elaborate and fanciful sets for L’Herbier’s L’INHUMAINE (English translation THE INHUMAN WOMAN is unfortunately hampered by a clunky rhyme). Becoming a director he made a stupendous city symphony, RIEN QUE LES HEURES ~

~ and several more shorts, before LA CAPITAINE FRACASSE, a striking period feature film with a young Charles Boyer as villain. In England he designed the innovative sound montage for seminal postal documentary THE NIGHT MAIL ~

~and became a leading light at Ealing where he helmed the ventriloquist section of DEAD OF NIGHT, the staggering WENT THE DAY WELL? about an invasion of German fifth columnists in a sleepy English village, before returning to Brazil and helping launch the country’s film industry.

Also, he talked like the big cat in CREATURE COMFORTS ~

In ELDORADO, Cavalcanti’s stylings aren’t always flattering to Francis, but they’re beautiful creations in their own right. Likewise, her kiss-curls border on the grotesque, but help us take us into L’Herbier’s loopy hispanic daydream.

The film combines striking interiors — Catelain helped design the guest-house his character stays in — with impressive location photography (the Alhambra reflected in a pool, shot upside-down so the reflection becomes the building itself). As Catelain, an aspiring painter, stares at the ornate buildings, a foggy distortion warps the columns and arches, showing how he sees them with his painter’s eye. At the end of shots, patterned veils or stenciled cut-outs descend over the image…

As a sign of the film’s weird stylistic unity (despite having two cameramen, multiple designers, location and studio shooting), check out how Catelain’s jumble of tourist postcards echos the constructivist/futurist mash–up of the top intertitle ~

The Sunday Intertitle: The Greatest Shoe on Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 15, 2011 by dcairns

My Russian is rudimentary — confined to a series of crude coughs and hand gestures — but I think what this is saying is “Roll Up! Roll Up! See the enormous footwear!”

As Randy Quaid so justly says in Alex Winter’s FREAKED, “Now that’s a big shoe.”

This may even be my favourite outsized boot since the flaming Elvis pump that floats downstream in Philip Ridley’s preposterous THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON. The magnificently insane thing in that movie is not the vision of the Viking funeral boot, but the lost circus entertainers who turn up an hour later to explain its presence, as if anything in that film would benefit from explanation. I mean, if you’ve got Brendan Fraser running about in a barbed wire bra, you really should have the courage to embrace the numinous. Because, you see, whether you like it or not, you have already done so.

Our b&w boot, meanwhile, derives from LA GALERIE DES MONSTRES, a circus revenge story rather in the Tod Browning vein, but directed by Jaque Catelain (don’t know who he is) and produced by Marcel L’Herbier (very much know who he is — L’INHUMAINE, THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW CHAMBER, LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE). The Russian intertitles in no way spoil the fun, since the plot is biblically simple and the roar of a ravenous lion needs no translation. And, as in my all-time favourite film (a circus revenge story) HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, where there’s a roaring lion, a sad/sinister clown cannot be far behind. This one’s a doozy ~

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