Archive for Maurice Tourneur

The Halloween Intertitle: Wax Eloquent

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2021 by dcairns

I last visited Maurice Tourneur’s FIGURES DE CIRE — WAX FIGURES — ten years ago. It’s a 1914 spooky short with missing footage and film decay which only make it creepier.

One of the earliest MT films, it’s made with considerable panache, and both Tourneur and his cast seem to know how to do this horror movie genre that hasn’t been invented yet. NOSFERATU, for instance, is still eight years in the future. Maybe the fact that one of the leads is an import from the Grand Guignol theatre is a help here?

Sidenote: while Maurice Tourneur was making films for German company Continental Films during WWII, and his son Jacques was in Hollywood making spooky thrillers, the actors of the Grand Guignol were still hard at work providing gross-out thrills and chills to Parisian theatregoers, who now numbered among them large numbers of uniformed German visitors. The SS, surprisingly, really enjoyed shows of sadistic violence. But behind the scenes, a number of the actors were in the Resistance, working to defeat their audience. I’ve always felt that scenario — the fake horror on stage and the real stuff sitting out front — would make a much better movie than Truffaut’s LE DERNIER METRO.

My latest viewing left me with a fresh respect for the stagecraft of Tourneur and leading man Henri Roussel. As director and star explore the midnight waxworks display with a slow creep leftwards, Roussel is always ONE EXHIBIT BEHIND: the camera reveals the next sinister tableau while Roussel is still peering at the last one — we get to anticipate his reaction — and anticipate, and anticipate. Finally he’ll turn, and give a little jolt of surprise at the next scene of infamy.

As the film reaches its climax, so does the nitrate decomposition, blinking in as sepia thunderflashes or flickering at the edge of frame like a devouring fire. The process of decay seems to be working in close collaboration with the filmmaker. Nothing is ruined, everything is enhanced.

And then, the classic Tourneur trope (pere et fils): THE MOVING SHADOW.

I feel the urge to delve deeper into M. Tourneur. I’ve seen lots, but there are lots more.

Needs music. I used the 5th movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and found it synched beautifully, gesture by gesture.

The Sunday Intertitle: DeMille’s Vision

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 17, 2019 by dcairns

Nyah, I seen better.

The LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD featurettes offer a lot of useful views of the film community in the twenties, and a lot of heavily staged vignettes of movie celebrities going about their business. The [TOP DIRECTOR/ACTOR] FORGETS HIS STUDIO PASS routine seems to have been a popular trope. Maurice Tourneur and Lloyd Hamilton both tried that one, though only “Ham” blacked up for it.

We are presented with DeMille’s luxury studio, then minutes later, with a shot of DeMille pondering his next screen story. An intertitle gives us invaluable background so we can interpret the image correctly.

But, for reasons best known to himself, C.B. has opted to play it not as “There is a lack of tension in the second act,” but as “I HATE MY LIFE.”

Figure 1 (above). He flips the heavy folder (around three hundred pages, by the look of it) closed with a contemptuous gesture, then stares at the binder as if contemplating throwing it at somebody’s head.

Figure 2. He gives it a really hard stare, as if to melt it with his heat vision. (Little-known fact: Cecil B. DeMille had heat vision. But it only worked on model boats. So he would always keep at least one model boat nearby in case he wanted to impress Florence Vidor with his heat vision.)

Figure 3. Cecil collapses in despair. He has realised that not only is his second act lacking in tension, but “Cecil” is an unimposing name and the dynamic initial “B” does not do enough to compensate, and anyway, heat vision is a rubbish superpower for a motion picture director, more counter-productive than anything.

Never mind, Cec!

The Sunday Intertitle: A Series of Tubes

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2018 by dcairns

The skeletal remains of Angelo Rossitto, still sadly on display to this day.

THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND! So mysterious, nobody making it knew quite what they were doing. Jules Verne’s novel casts away its characters on an uncharted island which is inherently a bit mysterious. The island in the 1929 MGM movie is populated, and the story is told from the viewpoint of the people who live there. Who then get in a submarine and go somewhere actually mysterious, one of those undersea kingdoms you hear about.

Okay, I’ll grant you, it’s a mysterious-LOOKING island.

This silent movie was reportedly begun by Maurice Tourneur, who walked off when he saw his first production supervisor, continued by Benjamin Christensen, then turned into a part-talkie by its screenwriter, Lucien Hubbard, who ended up with sole credit. 10% talking! 0% dancing! 100% hokum! Sounds like my kind of movie.

Even with strong directorial personalities like the first two, it’s not easy to tell who did what, though the torture scenes might be more Christensen than Tourneur. The vaguely Russian look connects it to Christensen’s Lon Chaney vehicle MOCKERY, but that wasn’t a particularly personal work either.

The other thing that seems Christensenesque, and certainly has no obvious relationship to Tourneur père’s career, is underwater monster costumery as worn by little Angelo Rossitto and his diminutive cohort, connect the film to the amazing full-body make-ups of the demons in HAXAN (may I remind you that nobody seems to have any clue who was responsible for those, and if you told me Christensen personally raised and had photographed actual demons I should be compelled to believe you).

The production design (credited to Cedric Gibbons and, true, the aquatic Fortress of Solitude has a deco look) is ace: the sub controls have the pleasing chunkiness of Fritz Lang’s rocket gadgetry. Visual effects vary from beautifully unconvincing glass paintings, through tiny models, a crocodile with glued-on fins, an enlarged octopus, and an army of aquafellows, all jigging about behind a rippling “underwater” optical effect. Plus lots of interesting compositing.

The transitions from sound to silent are weird and distracting as usual. Unintentional bathos: Lionel “Always leave them asking for less” Barrymore is tortured, but it’s in the silent part of the movie, so he won’t talk. The action scenes have lots of rhubarbing dubbed over them, and slightly inadequate thumpings to simulate gunfire, explosions, pretty much everything else. But it’s an ambitious and detailed soundscape (of thumping and rhubarbing) for 1929.

I had to see this, not only because I’m a Snitz Edwards completist, but because of my too-long-neglected oath to see every film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of the Horror Movie, a quest entitled See Reptilicus and Die.

 

Starring Grigori Rasputin, Ted ‘Rip-roaring’ Riley, the Masterblaster, Lord Marshmorton, Florine Papillon and McTeague.