Archive for Masters of Cinema

The Actual Sunday Intertitle: The Midnight Call

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2022 by dcairns

To the Cameo to see Murnau’s NOSFERATU, maybe the only film we’ll see at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. The only other retro screening is THE LAST WALTZ. The modern films may be excellent but I don’t know anything about them. I think not having a retrospective is a mistake.

NOSFERATU may be one hundred years old but he’s fresh as a daisy. The screening used the original score as supplied by Eureka! Masters of Cinema. No live accompaniment. I think that score is good but too bombastic. I felt a disconnect — Murnau’s film seems stately and creepy, and Hans Erdmann’s judgement of when the big moments are doesn’t align with mine. But it certainly has atmosphere — it’s reminiscent of Wojciech Kilar’s work on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

I’d forgotten about the hyena, a bit of geographically astray fauna that anticipates Tod Browning’s famed armadillos and opossums. An intertitle indicates that we’re supposed to interpret this mournful-looking rather than laughing fellow as a “werewolf.”

A few interesting things I’d forgotten or else hadn’t noticed before, apparent on this very crisp big-screen presentation. When Hutter, terrified by Orlok’s nocturnal appearance, rushes to the window, Murnau provides his POV of a chasm and cataract, making it clear that there’s no escape via that route. But the POV shot appears to be UPSIDE-DOWN. The water trickling from the cliffs rains upwards. This seems to make it more dramatically vertiginous.

Quite possibly cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner is hanging by his feet to get this shot, so possibly the unusual angle was unintentional. They could have flipped it in the edit if they’d wanted to.

On my very first short I had a guy hang by his ankles to get a cliff shot. I was reluctant to let him, but he was very keen. (He was lying on a slope with the camera off the cliff — he wasn’t literally hanging but it was necessary to hold his ankles so he didn’t slide downhill…) My shot turned out rubbish.

Always intrigued by the psychic linkages. The art of editing spatially unrelated scenes together invites “spooky action at a distance” — the suggestion of mental links that cross gulfs of space. Ellen is psychically hooked into Hutter. Hutter, on the other hand, is oblivious to his distant wife, and indeed to everything else. Graf Orlok seems to wiretap Ellen’s psychic connection and reacts to her sleepwalking as he’s about to bite Hutter.

Knock, the Renfield character, becomes hooked in to Orlok’s plans. Seeing a ship arrive, he knows it’s his master’s, and he senses the death scene at the end. One of the barriers to fully accepting telepathy as a thing is that we don’t yet know the medium it would operate in. But in movies, it’s definitely found its medium. As in THE SHINING, montage = telepathy.

May mourning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 29, 2022 by dcairns

After a slight delay, our copy of THE INDIAN TOMB finally arrived from Masters of Cinema. The Watson-Cairns video essay on this one expanded to a whopping 45 mins, as our mission, which initially seemed not too exciting, became more and more fascinating and emotional the more we learned about director Joe May in our research, and the more interested we got in weaving his history together with those of collaborators Fritz Lang, Thea Von Harbou and Conrad Veidt.

One interesting discovery was the “Stuart Webbs” series of detective dramas which helped establish May (and Lang). We were unable to see even a single partial example of this series, but the posters are sure pretty.

Our essay is also available on the US release of the TOMB from Kino.

The Plasticine Philip Yordan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 15, 2021 by dcairns

The Blu-ray of JOHNNY GUITAR from Masters of Cinema is getting its preliminary reviews. I made two extras for this with editor Chase Barthel, a video essay and an interview with Nicholas’ Ray’s widow, Susan Ray. The first of these involved me, for some reason, making plasticine puppets of the principle figures, including Philip Yordan (above), who maybe wrote it.

The project I’m at work on now seems perfect for plasticine, but unfortunately I made a quite detailed figurine of a noted Canadian filmmaker, filmed it being destroyed, and then realised I’d chosen the wrong camera angle… Note to self: don’t do that again.