Archive for Leo the Lion

Strabismus of Passion

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2017 by dcairns

THE DIVORCÉE (1930), an early talkie from MGM, is one those films that’s only really enjoyable when you watch it with my wife.

It’s so early, the MGM lion doesn’t actually produce any sound when he roars, he just sort of moves his lips like Jean Hagen.

This is the first image. So we know it’s going to be cutting edge entertainment. This cheeky fellow’s actually performing Singin’ in the Rain, because this is MGM — it segues into You Were Meant For Me a little later.

The film is stodgy and stagey, and what narrative drive it has is seriously hampered by awkward framing, acting and general pacing. Star Norma Shearer makes the mistake of marrying Chester Morris, overlooking in her ardor the fact that his nose is an extension of his sloping forehead, as if he were wearing a medieval helmet made of skin. When she finds out he’s cheated on her, she cheats on him with Robert Montgomery (only unclenched performance in the film) and then she actually clutches the drapes, so hard she leaves a permanent kink.

Fiona: “My God she’s terrible. And they must have used a lot of starch on those drapes.”

Me: “All that was left over from the cast.”

But the costume changes by Adrian kept us watching. “She’s a great clothes-horse.” Not just gowns but sportswear. Anything, really.

“She’s OK in THE WOMEN,” Fiona admits. Of which this is a clear precursor, having almost the same story but none of the funny, interesting or special qualities.

And Cedric Gibbons dresses the sets just as beautifully. The slow pace, and the desire to exploit the possibilities of offscreen sound, result in some nice empty frames of the kind you know I like.

“Look at that coffee set! My God, look at the creamer! I can’t remember ever being so excited by the china in a film. Look at that vase!”

Director Robert Z. Leonard manages to rustle up a montage of hands, the dialogue playing outside the frame, a sophisticated touch slightly deflated by the linking of shots by fades to black, in case things got too lively. There’s also a crazy drunken rear-projected car ride followed by screaming hysteria, smashed metal, bloody faces and stark lighting, an unexpected break from the drawing-room theatrics. And the turgid pace allows us to appreciate the invention applied to solving the problems of the immobile mic, location filming, unusual wide shots, etc.

“We need to watch another film as an antidote.”

Leo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 11, 2010 by dcairns

I used to think it was pretty neat that HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, my favourite movie, and the first MGM release, actually features a prominently placed lion in its action. Leo plays a crucial role in the plot, so it seemed just super that he also turns up in the MGM logo, proclaiming Ars Gratia Artis in lionese.

But now I’ve finally seen a Samuel Goldwyn production (SOULS FOR SALE) from before he got into bed, however briefly, with Mr. Mayer and Mr. Metro (what a funny name to have!), and I see that Leo is already very much part of the picture. Although he hasn’t yet perfected his roar, he just blinks very slowly and sadly at us, and attempts a sort of Cliff Richard sneer.

Actually, I’m not absolutely positive it’s the same lion.

Some dissertation could probably be written on Leo’s various incarnations. In the Technicolor days he lets rip with a massive snarl right off the bat, whereas in the silents, apart from being inaudible, he tends to sit there like a lemon for a quite a bit before giving vent. A sign of the faster pace of later movies, or a consequence of the demands of sound? Michel Chion should get to work on this.