Archive for Leni Riefenstahl

A Hard’ Day’s Reich

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2015 by dcairns


A very  weird thing. In A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, Paul McCartney is filmed with a camera hung from a rope from the stage roof, so that the camera can circle him 360, more or less smoothly — it’s basically a hand-held shot, but the rope adds a degree of stability. And this is a shot invented by Leni Riefenstahl for TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.

In the opening credits, one could reach for some connection between the waving hand gliding across the screaming fans, with the way Riefenstahl films Hitler’s outstretched salute from a moving vehicle, a disembodied hand flying over the heads of the volk.


The fab four’s departure by helicopter at the end, by this logic, reads like an inversion of TRIUMPH’s opening, in which the Fuehrer descends from the skies.

I’m sure there was another connection which struck me but I can’t recall it. I don’t remember a speeded-up sequence of the Fuehrer mucking about in a field. Though John Lennon does attempt some garbled German in the bath (“Heinrich! Headphones! Help!”)

I don’t think too much should be made of any of this. Since Lester and his team were making a conscientious effort to keep their film as light as possible, cribbing from Leni doesn’t seem an appropriate technique. She may be many things, but light isn’t one. And I think the (slight) similarities are not much to do with David Bowie’s theory (“This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide!”) that there’s something dark and fascistic in rock. See Peter Watkin’s PRIVILEGE, which clones the floating hand shot exactly and pointedly, for that view.

Lester’s approach was to try to be useful — it’s all practical problem-solving, according to him: it’s just because his mind works differently from anyone else’s, his solutions are not those many others would choose. Riefenstahl said that her job was to make Hitler look good, though she denied this had any political meaning (!) — Lester was hired to make the Beatles look good. How can we make a single person performing seem dynamic and interesting when they are stationary> The moving camera is a way of tricking the eye into looking at something for longer than it would normally be satisfied to do.

Right — announcement time — let’s do THE KNACK Film Club on Friday 7th. If you’re able to get the film watched before then, or if you’ve seen it and have strong memories of it, we can all have A Heated Debate on that day. I’ll try to serve up some mini-observations along the way and suggest some possible points of discussion.

A Night at the Olympics

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 30, 2012 by dcairns

Look, I hate sport, let’s get that clear. All forms of organized, competitive excercise exercise — a word I use so rarely I’ve literally forgotten how to spell it — are basically spectacles from the deepest, trident-jabbing bowels of Hell, somehow excreted up onto the earth’s surface by some repulsive subterranean eruption of fecal urgency.

“There’s the swimming,” suggests a friend. But I hate the swimming too. I don’t like the sounds it makes — echoing, splashing and yelling. If you close your eyes during the swimming, you will immediately picture yourself in Godard’s ALPHAVILLE, watching hi-tech executions. All sports either sound bad, look bad, are monumentally boring, are outbursts of vile nationalistic/territorial (or sectarian) aggression, or are just naff.

So I haven’t been looking forward to the Olympics. Still, they have a certain cinematic tradition (although I recommend the Ichikawa TOKYO OLYMPIAD far more highly that the Riefenstahl) — and I take seriously Richard Lester’s comments about the surge in filmmaking brio in Britain in the sixties being partly down to the high spirits occasioned by England’s winning the world cup. There can be a cultural crossover, just as winning the war led to a few years of dynamic, imaginative and confident cinema culminating in the glorious year of 1948.

Back when New Labour won the general election under Tony Blair, before we had to face what that actually meant, there seemed to be a similar upsurge in creative confidence, but it was manifested purely in the world of pop music. I mean, most of the lottery-subsidised cinema of the era was crap, as useless, pointless and confused as the Millennium Dome.

So whether the Olympics will do anything for Britain, apart from sucking money out of other areas, is something I’m a bit skeptical about. But still, grumbling is something we Brits do well, so I did decide to watch Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony, if only to moan at it.

There was plenty to moan at, and a certain amount to enjoy. Boyle’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach meant there was always plenty going on, even if the BBC camera teams couldn’t always find it. An opening countdown with numbered balloons bursting, went all random on us as the editing rendered it as SIX… FOUR… THREE… ONE… I’m not saying I could vision-mix a live event as complicated as this and do any better, or even as well. I’m just saying it didn’t work.

Likewise, the entrance of a thousand furiously drumming drummers in near silence was a strange choice, if it was a choice, although when the volume got tweaked they made a suitably big noise.

Niggles aside, what of the overall concept? At first it seemed like a bag of bits, a typically incoherent vision of what Britain is (cricket! suffragettes! Chelsea pensioners!), starting from an arbitrary historical point that had nothing to do with the timeline of the Olympics (which might have added some rational structure). I can’t see why, if you’re chucking in a nod to both world wars, James Bond, Mr Bean, the Queen (with corgis rendered digitally jittery like the victims of Rage in 28 DAYS LATER) and a statue of WInston Churchill that comes to life, like Kali in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, you can’t also have Robin Hood and King Arthur. But you can, it seems, have Kenneth Branagh dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel reciting a speech from The Tempest. For no reason.

Ken was actually a good choice for this kind of thing, though. He’s not one of those actors who can look as if he’s not acting, but if the occasion demands it he can, like Tod Slaughter, look like he’s acting his socks off and enjoying every minute of it.

And the bit where all the curious industrial revolution imagery (an event which falls in between the original Greek Olympics and the event’s modern revival) paid off with the big glowing rings forged in the furnaces of Hell the industrial revolution rising into the air was colourful and striking. And the cutaways of Boyle’s non-professional performers looking up at it with genuine, if perhaps unnameable, emotion, were oddly powerful.

Boyle’s problem is he can’t simplify, I’d say. Which is why his Mr Bean skit was over-edited and merely gestured towards laughs it hadn’t a hope of getting, and why there was always so much going on. It would have been a relief for all the activity to stop more often and allow us to FOCUS.

Still, muddled, busy, tacky and bloated as it was, the spectacle was oddly pleasing. Or not too infuriating, anyway. I can now retreat to a darkened room and watch movies until the whole nasty affair is over.

The Sunday Intertitle: Walt on the wild side

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 22, 2012 by dcairns

A hungry cat suffers PANGS OF HUNGER, helpfully identified by a gloved hand, in Disney’s THE FOUR MUSICIANS OF BREMEN.

Been looking at early Disney — pre-SILLY SYMPHONY stuff when he was drawing and animating for himself, not just producing.

He was rubbish! But, from tiny, crappy acorns…

My theory is that animating taught Walt the basics, and he became aware of all the stuff that was too hard, or too much trouble, to do. Later, he could pay other animators and force them to do all that stuff. This was the secret of Walt’s genius, in a way — he knew what was difficult, and he wanted it done. John Kricfalusi, of Ren & Stimpy fame, makes the point that this was Disney’s weakness as well as his strength — just because something is hard to do, doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile.

Walt also had a fairly basic sense of humour, it seems to me. If in doubt, go for the arse: spank it or impale it with a swordfish’s sword… since most of his toons are pretty anodyne in other respects, this concentration on violence to the buttocks has attracted comment.

But very early Hollywood (and New York, and Kansas City) cartooning is fascinating more for its strangeness than its hilarity, at least to me. Interestingly, though Disney led the way in sound cartoons, he preserved more of a concentration on the visual than his rivals — or the musical and visual. Disney shorts, even much later ones, tend to concentrate either on accompanying existing music, or on vigorous (but uncontroversial, safe) slapstick. Warners toons use dialogue to set up slightly more complicated scenarios, and finesse the characters throughout by their verbal asides to the audience. In this, they do seem to be partaking of some of the attitude (aggressive, proletarian) of the Warners live action features.

Even at the Fleischer studios, their soundies, though just as musical as Disney’s, tend to relate to songs rather than instrumentals, and use the lyrics to suggest situations and gags. Disney, though the least naturally gifted at knockabout action, concentrated on it more — which again was perhaps his instinct to excel at what seemed toughest.

Of the silents, many of the Laugh-O-Grams are pretty lame, but the ALICE films have some merit, not least because of the way they blend live action and (basic) animation, in a fairly brazen emulation of the Fleischer OUT OF THE INKWELL series. They also throw up regular distressing/surreal images of the kind you don’t want to see revived on Saturday Mornings anytime soon —

Here’ Alice’s gang (because they rip off OUR GANG as well as OUT OF THE INKWELL) forms a secret society, the KKK. Note that the member second from the left is a dog. Also, you can’t tell from the image, but one of them is African-American. (“SHOCK CORRIDOR!” declared Fiona when I told her about this.) So it’s a nice, inclusive KKK.

I guess this makes the point that to kids, something that’s evil and inhuman might just seem a game, something to have fun with. I don’t think it’s meant to make any point at all — Disney probably thought of himself as apolitical, which of course translates as “right wing but too dumb to know it.” When Leni Riefenstahl came to town in the thirties, he was the only studio boss who’d entertain her. (He also palled around with Eisenstein, to be fair.)

For Disney’s raison d’etre, of course, you have to look to the early features, which truly are awesome achievements of their kind. In between, we have the Silly Symphonies, which don’t strike me as very appealing at all… but I’m going to have another look.


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