Archive for Liliom


Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2021 by dcairns

A weekend double-bill of Powell & Pressburger’s A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and Fritz Lang’s LILIOM provided food for thought, as well as entertainment and awe.

It feels certain that P&P were familiar with the earlier film, and as a cultured Hungarian, Emeric Pressburger was probably familiar with Ferenc Molnár’s source play. But the fact that Lang ends his film with a closeup of teardrops, which then find their way into Powell’s film, makes me think that the movie was at the back of somebody’s mind.

The concept of bells ringing in heaven also recurs from Lang to the Archers, and the whole idea of the afterlife as a bureaucracy, a very specific concept, seems to have been ported over. True, Molnar & Lang portray the place as a police station — the way the film’s carny antihero (Charles Boyer) might imagine it — and P&P give us something more benign, a kind of anticipation of the welfare state.

“Conservative by instinct, Labour by experience,” says Peter D. Carter (David Niven), when asked about his politics. The Archers were nothing if not High Tory, it pains me to admit (I’m indebted to Andrew Moor, author of Powell & Pressburger, a Cinema of Magic Spaces, for the information that Pressburger was in the habit of sending his shirts to Paris to be laundered, even in wartime if memory serves, a detail Moor considered absolutely to absolutely clinch the filmmaker’s arch-Tory tendencies). I imagine, since AMOLAD was originally intended as a propaganda film during the last days of the war, with the intention of demonstrating that the USA and the UK can overcome their differences (“We were all getting along fine,” Powell was told, “until we started winning.”), the filmmakers would have been at least somewhat party to the great secret project, chaired by Sir Michael Balcon at Ealing, to prepare Britain for a Labour government. So the version of the afterlife portrayed, where there are no differences in rank (an enlisted man calls his officer “brother” when he learns this), and where everybody can do the job he likes, might be the film’s fantastical prophecy of Britain’s future. Carter on the afterlife: “I think it starts where this one leaves off, or where it could leave off if only we’d listen to Plato and Aristotle and Jesus, with all our earthly problems solved, but with bigger ones worth the solving.”

We were talking about influences. And not just political ones. I’m struck by the similarities with a work by another writer-director team, Marcel Carné & Jacques Prévert, LES VISITEURS DU SOIR. Both films feature emissaries from the afterlife (but in the French film they come from Hell) who can stop time, a fairly distinctive idea. But it’s far from certain that, with the war raging, P&P could have seen P&C’s film. I guess there was just time: France was liberated in autumn 1944, AMOLAD was shot at the end of 1945. How quickly did the backlog of French movies shot during the occupation get seen in Britain? I would imagine not very quickly and not very completely, but Powell would have been greatly interested and he probably would have had better access than just about anyone. So a direct influence seems possible.

If the influence wasn’t direct, then France should still get some credit because the first time-stop/fermata film I can think of is René Clair’s PARIS QUI DORT of 1925, which I’m certain Powell & Pressburger knew. Powell was actually working in movies in France in 1926. And so it seems not chance alone that explains the fact that Conductor 71, P&P’s heavenly emissary, is a Frenchman.

Screening the evidence

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2012 by dcairns

Watched LA TETE D’UN HOMME, Julien Duvivier’s Maigret film, made at exactly the same time as Renoir’s take on the Simenon sleuth, LA NUIT DE CARREFOUR, and based on the same book as the later Meredith/Laughton MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER. I essentially watched the film by mistake, as part of my researches into Pathe-Natan, based on a filmography that erroneously cited the film as shooting at Natan’s studio.

Nevertheless, it’s a mistake I can’t regret as I loved the film when I first saw it at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and I loved it just as much this time. Harry Baur is a near-definitive Maigret. Impossible for the high-octane thesp to match the air of depleted nothingness Pierre Renoir brought to it, perfectly capturing the human, dour functionary of the books, but Baur dials down his towering charisma and actually seems to shrink into the part, despite being by some way the biggest man on screen. Duvivier helps by casting the gangling sunflower Alexander Rignault, with his big flapping orang-utan hands, so there’s one actor taller than Baur, if not bulkier.

Valery Inkijinoff is amazingly sinister as the psychopath Radek. A Russian with eastern features, he had a looong career playing Eskimo, Chinese, Japanese, Red Indian, and even occasionally Russian. Given the role of a lifetime, he manifests an incredibly compelling screen persona — his delivery seems a little overemphatic at times, but it really doesn’t matter, because his LOOK and his posture are so utterly hypnotic. We’re talking Peter Lorre levels of you-can’t-look-away-ness.

One very interesting effect — Pathe-Natan may be nowhere in the mix, but Natan’s friend the inventor Yves Le Prieur contributed his Transflex… let me explain. Le Prieur is best remembered as a co-inventor of the scuba, but he also came up with air-to-air rockets for WWI and a translucent movie screen called the Transflex which facilitated rear projection. If you use an ordinary movie screen, you can’t get a bright enough image on the reverse side, but the Transflex was opaque enough to hide the projector, but see-through enough to show a strong image to the camera.

Le Prieur declined to patent his invention, and it swiftly found its way to America where it was deployed on JUST IMAGINE and LILIOM. Of course, it was a huge help, after some Hollywood fine-tuning, on KING KONG, but sadly the inventor is rarely credited.

In this scene, one of Maigret’s assistants questions a series of witnesses. In fact, he’s standing in front of a Translux upon which the background and his interviewees are projected. In a series of dissolves which have already been produced in the lab, the backgrounds melt away into one another while the detective remains in place in one continuous shot, as if he were teleporting from one location to another. The process of the law captured in a process shot.

There’s also a sequence in which the desperate fugitive/patsy steals bread from a child, which seems very much influenced by James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, although the shots are actually entirely different ~

Wow. Click and enlarge any of these stills for your daily beauty fix.

Film File-o’-Facts

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2007 by dcairns

1] Herman Baldwin is the only actor to appear in both the 1922 and 1979 versions of NOSFERATU. He plays the minor role of “Third Rat” in the Murnau classic, but fifty-five years later he had graduated to feature-player status, portraying “Lead Rat” in the audacious Herzog re-imagining. Most recently, Baldwin worked on RATATOUILLE, where sophisticated motion-capture technology allowed animators to use his physical performance for the character “Skinner”. Baldwin is said to be “very disappointed” that Ian Holm’s voice was used instead of his own. Though now in his late nineties, Baldwin still hopes to escape from being typecast in rat roles, and would love to try his hand at a more romantic part.

2] Which movie actor and singing star is actually a conjoined twin?

*See bottom of page for answer.

3] Legend has it that if you play the first side of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching THE WIZARD OF OZ, the effect is not really complimentary to either film or album.

4] The longest film ever made may be Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s BACH: A BIG FILM FROM LEIPZIG. But an exact running time is not available: critics attending the first screening in March 1987 have still not emerged.

5] Joseph “Buster” Keaton and Larry “Buster” Crabbe were actually brothers. Their son is eighties singing sensation Buster Bloodvessel.

Great Stone Face.Stiff Upper Lip.

6] Silent movie director Fritz Lang was actually silent in real life. Lang suffered from hysterical mutism after his experiences in World War One. He would communicate on set using his own personalized sign language, consisting mainly of punching and kicking. A punch in the stomach meant “less,” a kick in the shins, “more.”

After going to France to make LILIOM, Lang discovered he was mute only in German. By an irony of fate he could communicate fluently in French, a language he did not speak.

Old Lang Syne.

7] If you watch the first 40 mins of Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS while listening to “Give ’em Enough Rope” by The Clash, the film is massively improved. It’s even better if you shut your eyes.

8] Besides Jerry Lewis’ famed concentration camp comedy THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, other unreleased movies waiting on the shelf include Kinji Fukasaku’s all-Japanese UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, and Merle Oberon’s directing debut, CHARLES MANSON: THE MUSICAL, starring Art Garfunkel and Twiggy.

9] The shortest film ever made is Michael Snow’s FRAME, which is just a single frame in duration. Since the film is too short to “spool up”, projectionists usually just drop it past the lens.

10] The most faithful film adaptation ever is Cantlin Ashrowan’s film of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The director simply filmed the book’s open pages, leaving plenty of time for the viewer to read. Ashrowan is now trying to interest Robert Zemeckis in filming the braille edition in 3D.

The Knowles Twins.

*Answer: Beyonce Knowles. Beyonce’s “Siamese twin” brother, Bernard (technically her half-brother) has to be digitally “air-brushed” out of photos and videos, although for live appearances he just puts a lampshade on his head.