Archive for Maurice Tourneur

Opening Gala

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on March 24, 2023 by dcairns

Hippfest got officially up and running with Maurice Tourneur’s THE BLUE BIRD, accompanied by the weird and charming burbling, tooting and mumbling of ensemble Sonic Bothy, who, as Fiona noted, seemed to be scoring the film damage as well as the film, a cheeky approach which could have been distracting but was delightful.

The film really shone, in all its tattered glory — I’ve always found it gorgeous, but Maeterlinck’s allegory, like a lot of allegory, seemed heavy. What became clearer on the big screen, with a crowd and an artful soundtrack, was that every damn thing in that movie is both beautiful and creepy. Maeterlinck’s fantasy world is most disturbing when it’s trying to be sweet — the ancient dead grandparents waking from afterlife coma because their descendants have thought of them (for the first time in months); the parade of happy dead children descending the stairs; the disgusting palace of luxuries; the zone of unborn children waiting around in veiled heaps for a boat to take them to their respective wombs (apparently they just SIT — for YEARS — and as in the sequels, mysteriously they’re all white). The spooky Palace of Night is actually less unsettling than the purportedly sweet bits. This makes it sound like we didn’t enjoy the film but we LOVED it. For its peculiarity rather than its moral depth or its story.

We learned that the platonic ideal of a cat is a dude dressed in a cat costume, and is STILL an asshole.

Small Talk

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2023 by dcairns

The talk I’m doing with Chris Heppell of Changing Faces for the Bo’ness Silent Film Festival is tomorrow. You can find out more here. As far as I can tell it’ll be watchable online both live and on instant replay. I’ll post a link to the YouTube version as soon as I can.

My part of the talk is all written and I’ve timed it, though depending on how fast I talk it comes out massively overlong or massively overshort. Which proves that it CAN be the right length.

It’s about “visible difference” in silent cinema. I belatedly realised that though I have stuff on little guys Angelo Rossitto (THE BELOVED ROGUE) and Harry Earles (THE UNHOLY THREE), I left out big guys Ingram B. Pickett (THE HIGH SIGN, pictured) and John Aasen (WHY WORRY?)

Incidentally, if anybody has a fondness for correcting the IMDb, you might want to tell them that Big Joe Roberts does not play the leader of the Blinking Buzzards in Keaton’s first short, Pickett does. A difficult mistake to account for if you look at images of the two men side by side: a tall, fat man does not resemble overmuch a gigantically tall, reasonably thin man.

The Inaccurate Movie Database suffers from the fact that it was initially quite easy to input information, and then they made it harder to get edits, made, so that correcting all the accumulated mistakes of the early years is going to be a decades-long process. And Eric Blore does not appear in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, so there.

Still, the talk isn’t intended to be a complete encyclopedia of different-looking character actors. But I think it’ll give a sense of silent era filmmakers’ attitudes to difference. Happy to hear if I’ve missed any other notable examples of thesps who capitalized on the features that made them stand out from the crowd.

I’m impressed by the line-up of talks at Hippfest this year: here’s Christine Leteux on Maurice Tourneur.

The Sunday Intertitle: Dot on the Line

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2023 by dcairns

Concluding Maurice Tourneur and Frances Marion’s A GIRL’S FOLLY.

It’s a notoriously shaky proposition, identifying “firsts,” but this movie’s portrayal of a movie studio commissary may well be the original of its kind, evoking a mildly surreal, giddy feeling from the spectacle of cops and cowboys dining together. On my first visit to the BBC’s offices in Glasgow I got treated to this kind of sight, less common today when so few TV programmes are made in-house, especially the kind that involve dressing up. The canteen scenes in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and BLAZING SADDLES are very fine examples of the type.

Flashback! Not as uncommon as you’d think in 1917. Doris Kenyon looks thoughtful, and Tourneur fades up a field of flowers, and we get the idea of a mild, wistful homesickness. It might not be a specific memory of a field, it could just be an imaginary vision of the general concept of fields and flowers, therefore not a flashback so much as an act of imagination, but curiously enough this ambiguity doesn’t result in muddle: whichever it is, the idea comes across.

The next significant intertitle deals with our butterfly’s rival. Since it would, apparently, outrage morality to have Robert Warwick’s movie star a married man cheating on his wife, and to have Doris Kenyon the kept woman of a married man, the intertitle affects ignorance of the nature of the relationship.

A low-key decadent party — Johnny Hines sups an admixture of everybody’s drinks from a lady’s shoe. then announces his intention to dress up as a “sky-pilot” and marry the whole throng. I haven’t heard this slang term for preacher used outside of MASH, where it’s flung at Robert Duvall when he prays, I think. It seemingly never occurred to Damien Chazelle that blasphemy would be a potent form of bad behaviour back in silent Hollywood. Surprising to find it in use here.

Doris’ mom crashes the party — the only reason she was set up earlier was so she could do this — and the film starts dissolving in a blaze of nitrate decomposition. This is the usual effect of your mom showing up at your party unannounced. An “A” composition captures Doris’ expressions as Warwick turns on the charm, so mom won’t suspect anything amiss.

Shades of LA CAGE AU FOLLES — the party must now pretend to be thoroughly respectable — and just at the wrong moment, Johnny Hines comes prancing back in, dragged up as a minister. Everyone pounces to subdue him.

Warwick’s gentility here is a quality he’d retain — the decorous way he treats a bereaved Veronica Lake in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS echoes his kindness here.

Another rather startling appearance by the SILENT MOVIE SWASTIKA — in those substantially pre-Hitlerian days, it was often used as a good luck symbol. Like the dog in DAMBUSTERS its a disconcerting reminder of different times, but is actually completely innocent in this context. Let’s not go copying it though.

Warwick, touched by Dot’s mom, suggests to his possible-mistress that they’re ABOUT TO make a grave mistake. Which reassures the censor that he hasn’t had it off with her yet. With hot sex with a muscular movie star off the cards, Dot yields to her mother’s complaint of loneliness (and the message from Johnny Applesauce or whatever his name is, her country beau) and gives up the fleshpots of Fort Lee for a quiet, virtuous, boring existence in the hills.

This is all delivered quite straight, as if it were sincere, despite the self-evident fact that the choice of peaceful rusticity over movieland misbehaviour is not one that anyone whatever involved in this film would dream of making. To take the curse off it, Johnny Hines, still with his collar on backwards but secreted behind a curtain like the Wizard of Oz, gets a last gag —

I’m not familiar with this use of “flivver” — I knew it meant a car, as the intertitle suggests, but it also seems to mean “bust” or “wash-out.”

Warwick returns to his previous wife/mistress — played with a bit of melancholy and a bit of tenderness — Dot returns to the boondocks, where her reunion with Johnny Applecart provokes an ironic commentary from two train station employees:

How do you pronounce “romantick”?

A GIRL’S FOLLY starred Mr. LeBrand; Mme Pompadour; Mrs Brand; Torchy; and Rita Pring.