Archive for Laughter in Hell

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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Jiggety-Jig

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2016 by dcairns

Laughter_Hell_1933_1@2xLAUGHTER IN HELL: Pat O’Brien, Clarence Muse, Noel Madison

Home from Bologna, caught up on at least some of my missed sleep, and buzzing (in a bleary way) to write up in more details some of the wonders witnessed. 32 screenings in all, many of them containing more than one (short) film. 26 of them marvelous, and the others merely delightful.

By the way, Fiona came too. She didn’t want me to announce it on social media because she’s seen THE BLING RING and didn’t want Hermione from HARRY POTTER magicking her way into our vacant property and stealing all our bling crap.

Here’s the rundown of our last day’s viewing, a fairly light one —

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9.00 a.m. I had been enjoying Mariann Lewinsky’s curation of the Krazy Serial, and wanted to see how it turned out. Bologna always has a 100-year-old serial, and this year the centenary of Dada was celebrated with an eccentric collection of episodes from incomplete serials, standalone shorts and scratch-assemblies of found footage. The last show memorialized WWI, with DIE ENTDECKUNG DEUTSCHLANDS DIE MARSBEWOHNER, a German sci-fi film in which Martians visit Munich (they are greatly impressed by the lid action on beer steiners); CAMP OF GOUDA, a newsreel study of a Belgian refugee camp in Holland (lacework and brush-making, the start of occupational therapy); NAPOLEON AND SALLY, in which the war is reenacted by two chimpanzees in fancy dress with ghastly, wraithlike shaved faces.

I congratulated Mariann on the serial’s climax: “It all came together beautifully.”

10.15. LIFE’S HARMONY, a very early Borzage. A sweet, naively ridiculous plot about rival church organists in a small town. Manages to pack amnesia and an evil twin into its denouement. Some beautiful shots in darkened rooms lit by source light including a fireplace. Borzage is already spreading his wings.

11.30. LAUGHTER IN HELL, a Universal pre-code which is everything everyone has already said it is, since it’s New York screening.

14.30. (long lunch to recover from previous) THE PALEFACE (Fiona was knocked unconscious by the heat and missed most of this); MAIDS AND MUSLIN, a wearisome Monte Banks comedy with some interest raised by Oliver “Babe” Hardy as villain, and some animated explosions and impacts scratched into the living celluloid; MONSIEUR DON’T CARE, a seven-minute fragment of one of Stan Laurel’s hilarious Valentino parodies. Stan plays Rhubarb Vaselino, fleeing the court of Louis IV in a world which features yellow cabs and giant safety razors. Also Stan in drag. Produced by Joe Rock, who later gave us EDGE OF THE WORLD. Even in fractured, flickering and fragmentary form, this laid them in the aisles, and made up for Fiona’s lapse into unconsciousness. A Keaton film like THE PALEFACE unfolds with measured logic in a way that can lull the sleepy viewer, but Mr. Laurel’s loopy spoofs (or perhaps spooves?) keep everyone caffeinated.

And then I was going to see FAT CITY in the Piazza Maggiore, a film I love, but it was late, I was drunk, the film was delayed, the pubs were roaring with football, and I drifted home.

But there was more to follow, on the very day of our leaving…