Archive for Limelight

Things I Read off the Screen in The Property Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2020 by dcairns

IF YOUR ACT IS ROTTEN DO NOT TAKE IT OUT OF THE PROPS

THE PROPERTY MAN is another Chaplin with a good high-concept setting. It’s a backstage story, something Chaplin would refine all the way until LIMELIGHT. This specificity feels like something CC himself brought to Keystone, because certainly none of the shorts I’ve seen from the fun factory, with or without Chaplin, had a strong, unique premise. Whether the setting is a park or a hotel or whatever, it’s all very generic.

NO SMOKING

ACTORS DO NOT POSE IN FRONT OF YOUR POSTERS

“WHY, THEY HAVEN’T EVEN BILLED US”

“WE’LL TAKE THE STARS’ DRESSING ROOM”

Again, though, Chaplin is a horrible wretch. Moving Picture World was moved to complain, “There is some brutality in this picture and we can’t help feeling that this is reprehensible. What human being can see an old man kicked in the face and count it fun?” Well, we might first note that he’s NOT an old man, or not a real one, anyway. His obvious false beard and false performance makes the cruelty a little less real and hurtful. Still, it’s a representation of cruel behaviour, and though surprise and shock are certainly elements of a laugh, it’s easy to cross the line and simply be obnoxious.

TO-NIGHT

ELITE VAUDEVILLE

THE GOO-GOO SISTERS COMEDIENNES

GARLICO IN FEETS OF STRENGTH

GEO. HAM LENA FAT CO. rendering the Heart rending Sketch “SORROW”

5 OTHER BIG ACTS 5

SPECIAL PRICES 9, 19, 29, 49

BOX SEATS 98¢ reduced from $1.23¢

But Chaplin is always thinking, and among his cast of characters is a surly strongman act, so he has someone to play the underdog to. The David & Goliath contrast of little Charlie and some massive brute is in play very quickly in his career. Charlie having to carry a very heavy trunk for this lout is promising material but it’s over too soon. But, ah-hah, it worked once, do it again. If Charlie had been shown as LESS aggressive, having him stagger about with a heavy trunk that could hurt somebody would be MORE funny/dramatic, since we’d know he’s trying to avoid damage to innocent parties. It’s hard to believe this little jerk cares one way or the other.

NO EATABLES OR DRINKABLES ALLOWED IN DRESSING ROOMS

PROPS

All these signs and notices are a little distracting, actually.

KEEP QUIET NO LOUD TALK BY ORDER PROPS

Charlie wets his trousers – with the contents of a jug. But he certainly has the more vulgar reading of the situation in mind. He’s not allowed to make jokes about incontinence but he can evoke the thought in the audience’s mind, and they’ll purge their discomfort with laughter. I guess that’s why Chaplin films seem to find rich, pungent cheeses funny. Bad smells remind us of other bad smells. It’s the era before fart and poop jokes could be put on the screen. Of course, why people laugh at fart jokes is another mystery.

STAGE DOOR

The fact that Charlie wets himself while making goo-good eyes at the Goo-Goo Sisters certainly adds to the discomfiture.

More cruelty to the old man. I guess this stuff is meant to outrage our sensitive feelings but is so unreal that we know it’s not serious, and we’re reassure that we HAVE sensitive feelings to be outraged.

In this film and its immediate precursor, there is a big guy, there is Chaplin, and there is a little/old guy, and each terrorizes the one below him. In later Chaplin films, he himself is at the bottom… or there are characters of no particular status who might get mistreated by the film, but Chaplin is more careful not to make his character the aggressor. But he still does it from time to time in the Mutual films. He demolishes that poor guy’s alarm clock in THE PAWNSHOP. I keep using that one as an example, I need to rewatch some others, in between my study of the Keystones… that’s going to bring some aspects out via contrast, I bet.

Fun fact, George Fat, the persecuted tragedian in this, is actor Charles Bennett, who sings “Oh Mr. Kane,” in CITIZEN KANE.

PRINCIPALS

Sometimes Chaplin’s gratuitous malice IS funny. When a woman in a dressing gown starts flirting with him, Charlie shows off his athletic leg stretching. She responds in kind. And when she has one leg stretched out in mid-air, he casually shoves her onto her ass. It’s so pointless, it’s kind of great.

GARLICO

The strongman gives Charlie a mini-strangle. It’s very much a precursor to Eric Campbell, but he could shake an undercranked Charlie so hard it looked like his head would rattle loose. We haven’t attained that level of majesty yet. Yes, I call it majesty.

PROPERTY ROOM

THE MATINEE

“HAVE THAT BUM SEW UP MY TIGHTS”

Charlie is so threatened by the strong/fat man that he has to abuse the old guy each time he interacts with him, kicking him in the throat this time. It’s very much a portrait of the human race through history.

Mack Sennett’s in the front row of the audience. The cutaways to audience reactions immediately feel randomly splice-in, like Chaplin got them to applaud, boo, laugh, and then just inserted material by the foot (measure a quick shot by extending the celluloid from your nose to your fingertips, then cut). Another audience member (Harry McCoy, continuing his slow slide down the billing) is asleep, and another appears to be blind. There’s a woman with a cat, which I expect is quite old now.

The theater of cruelty continues when Charlie drops the curtain on a baritone’s neck, then rolls the injured man offstage with a broom. For about the only time I can think of, Charlie’s derby gets destroyed in the various scuffles. No Laurel & Hardy, he, his hat usually survives even the roughest scraps.

PART TWO

We really don’t have a lot of plot going to justify a reel change, do we? Still, let’s see.

If in doubt, kick an old man in the face. Or throw a dumbbell at his head.

“HURRY GET MY TIGHTS”

Wet tights are flung into various inexpensive faces. Well, it’s better than bricks. A slap, aimed at Charlie’s deserving kisser, renders an innocent woman unconscious. This is pretty brutal and largely unfunny. The main strength it has is the setting, which affords some gags with the curtain which sure don’t feel fresh now but maybe did once. The fact that Chaplin had lived this life seems to have furnished him with the signs on the walls, but not many ideas for gags.

Between this and LAUGHING GAS I wonder if he was going through a rough time personally and had to take it out on the world somehow. Or else he was just trying on the Keystone sadism for size. “Is this what the moving-going public really wants?

Ripping cloth each time the strongman bends to grab a weight is a fairly sophisticated gag by the standards set so far. If Charlie weren’t so vicious to everybody else, being mean to the strongman who’s been mean to him would actually, well, mean something.

Charlie puffs a pipe throughout. Something that didn’t last. Mildly curious to see if it recurs, ever. It feels like when he tries something and it works for him, he immediately knows, but there are so many things to try before the Tramp character is really established. Maybe he could be a psychopath? Hmm…

SHOES SHOES HOTEL SMITH

THE DRAMATIC ACT

500 LBS 130 LBS

In the show’s/film’s finale, Charlie turns a firehose on the pursuing actors, then on the audience. By freezing the frame I am able to establish, to my relief, that the cat has been removed from the lady’s lap before she gets sprayed.

This film seems to hate it’s audience, but we shouldn’t take that personally — it seems to hate EVERYONE.

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:

DSCF4215

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…

The Last Day

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

DSCF4243

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.

cendrillon

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.”

Lester-and-Peter-600

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.

PIAZZA1

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.

vlcsnap-2014-09-27-10h41m11s86

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.