Archive for Louise Brooks

The Father’s Day Intertitle: Fire!

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on June 17, 2018 by dcairns

To the Filmhouse for PANDORA’S BOX! A film I hadn’t seen all the way through in so long, maybe I’d never seen it all the way through! And never is a very long time.

I couldn’t get on with the music — recorded, rather than live. The Weill/cabaret style was appropriate, I just disagreed viscerally with the composer about which scenes were meant to have a grotesque comic edge, and which were “straight” (surely SOME of them). As music, it was fine, I just didn’t like it for this film.

So it took me a very long time to get into the movie, even though it was all unfolding as if new, and looked incredible. By the time of the wedding I was into it, and by the time of the gambling ship — where it becomes clear that this story is going to hell and nothing can stop it and total disaster can be expected for every character — I was riveted.

Louise Brooks is the kind of natural almost unique to silent cinema. Surrounded by expressionists, she just exists.

I really shouldn’t use this movie for father’s Day, though — Lulu’s dad, Schigolch, is pretty much the cause of everything that goes wrong in this movie. He’s awful! And he gets the only happy ending, though it’s but a fleeting moment.

From Pamela Hutchinson’s BFI Film Classics study of the movie: “Brooks identified Schigolch as the ‘hero of the story … he knows what he is, what he wants, and he perseveres in getting it,’ but he is really its greatest villain.” Villains ARE often the most ambitious and certain characters in stories, aren’t they? And in life.

Of course, PANDORA’S BOX is really a Christmas movie, perhaps the bleakest ever.

STOP PRESS: this movie is playing next Sunday at the Bo’ness Hippodrome with live accompaniment by Jane Gardner and Roddy Long. Unfortunately I can’t be there as I’ll be in Bologna. But maybe YOU can…?


Freud and Fumetti

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2016 by dcairns


I like Corrado Farina’s obscure first film, THEY’VE CHANGED THEIR FACES, even more than his better-known cult second, BABA YAGA, but the latter is still an impressive oddity, attempting to combine sex, kink, fantasy and politics and succeeding as a kind of surreal snapshot of seventies youth, incorporating traces of BLOW UP, gialli, soft porn and youth protest. All this and a camera which kills, and Carroll Baker as a lesbian dominatrix. You can’t complain you’ve been shortchanged.


The source material is Guido Crepax’ perverse comic books devoted to Valentina, a lanky beauty with a bob, inspired by Louise Brooks who was apparently delighted to become a bdsm graphic novel porn star in her sixties. She had previously become a cartoon heroine in the Dixie Dugan strip of the twenties and thirties, which were maybe slightly racey but nothing like this. (In a striking bit of cross-medium pollination, Brooks became Dixie who became Alice White in two feature films inspired by the strip, the recently-rediscovered GIRL and SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD.)


Valentina later became a Berlusconi TV series, worthless like every cultural outpouring of the bunga-bunga sleazemaster, but here she’s Isabelle de Funes, niece of Louis, with bulbous manga-babe eyes and loose, fleshy lips making her something like an elongated Barbara Steele, but minus the fierceness. She’s an impossibly cute, rather sympathetic presence — a great shame this was the last feature for both her and her director.

A lesser shame is that the film can’t quite connect the political musings of the main characters with the elusive plot — a lot less elliptical and dreamlike than the freeform meanderings of the comic, but still pretty fluid and free-floating. But where the various interests of the filmmaker do converge, there are glimpses of a blend of arthouse and grindhouse which could have conceivably given rise to a whole new form of Italian cinema.


Kink-wise, the movie has a real enthusiasm for costume-box dress-up, but uses Crepax’s uniform fetish to evoke fascism and state menace, which hovers in the background throughout, connected to the main plot by obscure, irrational tendrils. It’s often hard to know how to treat perverse fantasies which seem sinister but aren’t really, as they’re only fantasies — in film, an innately fantastical medium, a bondage fantasy has as much reality as anything else, and can seem too “heavy” — I think BELLE DE JOUR gets this right, because it establishes a boundary between the real and unreal, then artfully blurs it.

BABA YAGA contains a whipping scene played like straight horror and more disturbing than erotic, for all the stylised red paint slashes. Maybe Valentina needed more of Barbarella’s “Whatever” approach to sexual situations, which the comic book character, essentially a horny sleepwalker, certainly has.


Christmas Come Early

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2014 by dcairns


From Eureka! Masters of Cinema, an exciting parcel —

First, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL comes with a video essay by yours truly, NAKED ON MY GOAT, narrated by my fragrant wife, Fiona Watson (a Louise Brooks obsessive from way back).

Next up, Lubitsch’s MADAME DUBARRY, supported by his first film as director, ALS ICH TOT WAR (WHEN I WAS DEAD). This comes with a pair of text essays by myself, entitled Who Wants to be a Milliner? and Lubitsch’s Brew, featuring a shout-out to deceased cinephile and official Strange Phenomenon F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. Oddly, the shambolic, hammy and disjointed early work was a lot easier and more fun to write about than the more accomplished historical epic, but both are essential for Lubitsch aficionados.

These were delivered yesterday along with a couple of extra free gifts which may get viewed and written about sometime during the forthcoming “daft days.” Watch this space.

Both packages are “dual-format,” offering DVD and Blu-Ray versions and can be purchased from the evil tax-avoiding conglomerate Amazon.

Diary of a Lost Girl [Masters of Cinema] Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD)

MADAME DUBARRY [Masters of Cinema] (1919) [Blu-ray]