Archive for Limelight

London Particular

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2017 by dcairns

I found this unused blog post from 2014 when I was first in Bologna. Why let it go to waste, just because some of its content got used elsewhere?

An eclectic and idiosyncratic array of shorts, Chaplin’s London & Calvero’s Colleagues, presented by Mariann Lewinsky, ran at Bologna — the selection aimed to reproduce the sights and sounds of Chaplin’s music hall days, with street scenes of London life in the years before his departure for the US (“America — I am coming to conquer you!”), and theatre acts which echoed those mentioned in his autobiography or recreated in LIMELIGHT. Maestro Neil Brand provided live accompaniment.

LIVING LONDON (1904) is one of the best Victorian street scenes I’ve ever seen, full of life and detail and quirks of behaviour, captured forever by Charles Urban. You can see a brief extract above.

WORK MADE EASY (1907, USA) was a trick film in which an inventor trains a gadget on various heaps of boxes, barrels, and a building site, causing the desired tasks to be performed in super-quick-time via both reverse motion and accelerated motion. At the end of the film, for no comprehensible reason, his arms fly off and streamers flicker from each hollow shoulder. That’s entertainment for you!

In L’HOMME QUI MARCHE SUR LA TETE, acrobat Monsieur Tack not only stands on his head but walks on it, kicking his legs to lift him off the ground, even descending a shallow flight of stairs with only a little pad bandaged to his cranium for protection. He’s my new hero.

KOBELKOFF (1900) was included in homage to a deleted scene from LIMELIGHT featuring an armless wonder. I’d forgotten how portly Nicolai Kobelkoff was, giving him a disturbing resemblance to a winesack or a sea-lion. Prince Randian, by contrast, was all muscle.

Albert Capellani’s CENDRILLON (CINDERELLA, 1907) is enchanting, and shows the growing sophistication of narrative and performance in this period — Capellani would be a key player in developing the motion picture from short subjects to features.

FESTA PYOTECNICA NEL CIELO DI LONDRA (FIREWORKS DISPLAY IN THE LONDON SKY, 1902) is Urban again, offering hand-tinted images of a rather spectacular fireworks display. Apart from the blazing portraits of Victoria & Albert, there’s a fire engine made of fireworks, from which firemen emerge, also apparently made of fireworks. Close examination reveals how this was done. Pyrotechnicians, hopefully dressed in asbestos, wear exoskeletons to which are affixed blazing, sparking fireworks at regular intervals, creating a luminous outline which converts them into animated figures — Victorian mo-cap technology in action.

This screened a second time in the Piazza Maggiore, ahead of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, where I snapped the following blurry image:

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A carriage made of fireworks, right? I have a better phone now, so expect better snaps from me when I’m back in Bologna in a couple of weeks…

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The Last Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2014 by dcairns

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My selfies always turn out looking like someone else.

So, I finally get to the end of my Bologna report.

I knew it was likely that I wouldn’t see so much stuff on my last day, since Richard Lester was going to be in town and I wanted to hang with him as much as possible. I wasn’t sure how much that WOULD be possible, but I was certainly going to try to find out.

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I crawled out of bed and made it in at 10.30 am, to see a program of shorts relating to Chaplin’s roots. The 1904 LIVING LONDON pulled together footage of the London of Chaplin’s youth, while films such as L’HOMME QUI MARCHE SUR LA TETE showed the kind of music hall attractions Charlie would have been surrounded by during his early career. This 1909 film documented an acrobat who fulfilled the title role by bouncing along a plank on his head, wearing a protective skull-cap but still presumably jarring his brains loose with every impact. Albert Capellani’s CENDRILLON OU LA PANTOUFLE MERVEILLEUSE was a kind of pantomime, mirroring the popular theatre of Chaplin’s youth, WORK MADE EASY  was a 1907 trick film, KOBELKOFF (1900) documents a limbless wonder, referencing the armless wonder who appears in a deleted scene from LIMELIGHT… the whole show was accompanied by Neil Brand at the piano.

Kim Hendrickson, producer of the Criterion Blu-ray of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was throwing a dinner and Lester was guest og honour and I got her to invite Neil since he’d interviewed Lester for his magnificent Sounds of Cinema series and I thought it would be nice to have a familiar face.

WANDA’S TRICK from 1918 was a diverting little comedy, part of a sidebar I’d completely missed up until then, celebrating the unknown filmmaker Rosa Porten, sister of actor Henny Porten, who directed along with Franz Eckstein using the pseudonym Dr. R. Portegg.

Having fallen asleep at a Japanese double bill earlier in the week, it was with trepidation that I attempted Yasujiro Shimazu’s SHUNKINSHO: OKOTO TO SASUKE from 1935, an early talkie which proved diverting enough thanks to its sheer, horrifying perversity. A fable of true love and self-mutilation, it did share with the comedies I’d snoozed through a focus on the voice as subject. Most of the filmmaking was staid in the way everybody always expects early talkers to be, even though they often aren’t, but there was one remarkable shot simulating a blind man’s POV. Since it wasn’t just a black screen, but a hand-held movement filmed out of focus, you had to admire the imagination behind it.

At 4.30 pm Richard Lester appeared in conversation with Peter Von Bagh, the festival’s director. Lester was on fine form. When he referred to THE MOUSE ON THE MOON being shot on old sets from a Cornell Wilde picture, David Bordwell, sitting next to me, laughed. “Ahah, someone here is old enough to know how degrading that is.”

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The event assumes a melancholic afterglow now that Peter Von Bagh has been taken from us before his time. His festival is just about the best I’ve ever been to. For location and buzz, Telluride is miraculous. Being an old movies guy, Bologna does it for me.

Photo stolen from David Bordwell’s site, where you can read more on the legendary PVB.

So then we had dinner, which meant missing Lubitsch’s THE MAN I KILLED, and Bimal Roy’s MADHUMATI, and Frank Tuttle’s THE MAGIC FACE — but it was dinner with Richard Lester! What’re you gonna do?

Unfortunately I wound up sat out of earshot, but got a recap at dessert: “I was telling them stories about Telluride,” said Richard, who filmed there for BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, “where I believe you did rather well.” A reference not so much to my screening, but to my wedding, which was actually held in Glendale Bel Air, LA, but you could say brokered via Telluride.

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And then we strolled to the Piazza Maggiore and watched A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Lester introduced it, and had hinted that he might take off after the first ten minutes, but he stayed to the end. The applause, I trust, was worth it. And the impact of that opening chord, on the big screen, coming as it should after complete darkness, no logos, no anything, was pretty remarkable. The audience applauded that, too, though it took them several seconds to process the startling effect.

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Beatles For Sale — I never noticed the signs to the right of the image, anticipating the title of a Beatles album yet to be recorded.

The Monday Intertitle: Broken Hearts and Flap Shoes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2013 by dcairns

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The intertitle is brilliantly insane, and only enhanced by the fact that Nil Asther in this movie shares a character name with Chico Marx (no stranger to a life of self-indulgence). “Cut down on the eccentric piano playing and get a better hat and everything will be fine!”

As in my favourite film, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), Lon Chaney’s LAUGH, CLOWN, LAUGH (1928) — reportedly his favourite of his own movies — features a scene where Chaney, in clown costume, argues with a member of the nobility over the hand of a woman. It’s a surprisingly uncommon theme in drama. It also has him in a quasi-incestuous relationship, a regular item in Chaney’s lexicon of emotional masochism — here he’s in love with his ward, teenage Loretta Young.

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Chaney, I submit, was wrong — HWGS is a much better film than LCL, which stinks of MGM “class” — but that’s not to say the later film is devoid of interest. Chaney, fifteen-year-old Loretta Young and Nils Asther make an intriguing romantic triangle, and the ending doesn’t leave any of the melodrama on the table. “Devastating” would be a fair description. But as attempts to inflate anecdotes to feature-length go (in this case it’s the one about the famous clown — usually Grock, sometimes Grimaldi, occasionally Pagliacci — who visits a doctor complaining of misery) it feels a little overstretched in places — even with substantial footage missing. Would that material have helped or hindered?

The ending (spoiler alert: it’s the ending) —

I think Chaney has been looking at Barrymore for those hand movements. Or is it the other way around?

The director is Irishman Herbert Brenon, who also did PETER PAN. He handles it well, but was reportedly a bully — Chaney took to hanging about the set even when he wasn’t needed for a scene, just to look out for Young.

You will also note that Chaplin stole practically the whole of LIMELIGHT from this movie — clown — in love with his ward — ballerina — stage fall — tragic death in clown makeup — fade out.

This regular Shadowplay feature may well be dominated by Chaney movies until Halloween — any objections?