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Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by dcairns

Okay, now this happened.

It suddenly occurred to me that subtitling Leo was the way to go, and wouldn’t be that hard. So that’s what I did. I rewrote it slightly from yesterday’s version for purposes of timing, so there are some new lines in there. Enjoy!

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More limericks, like this one on Greenstreet & Lorre

More schinkenworter (ham-words) — in which I attempt to condense movie stars of the early thirties into single compound words. It may make more sense if you just go look at it, care of The Chiseler.

 

George of the Jungle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2015 by dcairns

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I got sparked off by this touching piece at Movie Morlocks.

The MGM lion — originally the Goldwyn lion, when embodied by a feline named Slats in 1917 — is an enduring icon of cinema. There’s something wonderfully incoherent about the image of a disembodied lion head — as if mounted on a wall, yet still conscious and roaring, accompanied by a latin motto saying “Art for Art’s Sake.” What does the lion have to do with the motto, or the motto with the lion? What does Metro Goldwyn Mayer mean? Two guy’s names and a random word? It only got better when I discovered that Goldwyn himself wasn’t part of the company, had in fact got his own company.

It’s not quite as confusing as Twentieth Century Fox — what IS a twentieth century fox and how does it differ from an earlier or later member of the canidae family?

Anyhow, MGM as a whole is not my favourite studio — Mayer’s personality comes across too much — but I love enough of their movies to get a buzz each time I see Leo, or Slats, or any of the intermediate lions. But not George. George makes me go “Aaaach, not HIM!”

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George was the MGM lion only briefly — 1956 to 1957. They obviously realized they’d miscast, and badly. His predecessor, Tanner, lasted twenty years. He existed in b&w and colour, he had a great bassoprofundo roar, and there seems no obvious reason to make a change. Maybe Tanner had “gone Hollywood” and was making unreasonable demands? A Winnebago with a giant cat flap, a saucer of milk with his name on it, and christians. Lots of christians. Or maybe MGM management, drunk on the heady wine of revolution having recently deposed one head, CEO Louis B. Mayer, determined to symbolize this triumph by ejecting another head from its logo-collar and replacing it with an upstart in their own faceless image.

It’s possible that fame went rapidly to George’s unkempt, shapeless head (the rest of him being shielded by the logo), but I think the execs got rid of him because he just wasn’t up to snuff. George’s hair, for instance. His hair is terrible. A weird, boxy-looking mane, quite unconvincing, practically filling his celluloid circle. Like Charlton Heston’s wig in leonine form. And George himself has no decorum. Previous and future incumbents would pause, looking regal, then give vent to an impressive bellow, and then relax back into a noble stance. Dignity, always dignity.

George, by contrast, just lets rip immediately, and won’t stop. He seems like he quite literally wants to chew the scenery. It’s a great big wildcat strop, a hissy fit, a coke-fuelled tantrum. “I want a sack of Kibble the size of Stubby Kaye and I want it now!” he seems to demand. A charmless approach, quite lacking nuance. He was swiftly retired to “the Cat House,” an LA ranch for retired predators (I believe Darryl F. Zanuck enjoyed a stay).

In a way, George’s vertiginous rise and fall foreshadows that of his famous namesake, Mr. Lazenby. And, as it turns out, “Lazenby” is derived from the Old Norse word “leysingr,” meaning “dishevelled or inadequate lion.”*

*Untrue.

1) “Hey, lookee, an audience! Lots of tiny people for me to munch, potentially.”

2) “What? What the heck? How did I get inside this circle? Oh, and grrr, by the way.”

3) “What is that, a tennis ball on a stick? Well why you wavin’ it around?”

4) “I can talk! Stick around folks, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! This is my best side. Rather Barrymoresque, don’t you think? Or do you prefer three-quarters face?”

5) “Small roar. Big roar. Small roar.”

6) “My colour is fading and it’s pissing me off. Quit it. I said QUIT IT!”

7) “Me again. Still surly.”

8) “I can’t decide which of you two mugs I detest more heartily.”

9) “What do you mean, I’ve changed? I’m positively the same lion.”

10) “This is more like it. I’ve got poise, gravitas, in a word, class.”

11) “I’m GEEEEOOOORGEE! Get used to me, I plan on being around for decades.”

12) “I’m still here, you sons of bitches!”

13) “Hi, sorry about that, Normal service has been restored. I’m Leo and I’ll be your lion this evening.”

14) “Still me, but my voice has gotten deeper. Have I been dubbed, or is it all those cigars?”

15) “Deeper again. I sound like a Harrier Jump Jet taking off. How much further can this go?”

16) “YouTube can’t even handle this level of bass. All the needles are in the red at this point.”

17) “In a homage to James Finlayson, I’m going to do a little double-take at the end of this one just before they fade out. Hope you enjoy it.”

18) “That seemed to go over well, let’s make it a regular feature.”

19) “What the hell are you doing with that camera? Lock that thing off, Michael Bay, or I’ll eat your stupid face!” (does double take)

Rainsong of the Dumbshowman

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2015 by dcairns

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Revisiting SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN — it doesn’t change, and neither do you when you watch it — you’re basically the same age as whenever you first saw it. The only minor difference is that THE ARTIST has happened inbetweentimes, which provides some minor irritation. CLOCKWORK ORANGE’s use of the title song may be calculatedly blasphemous, but it can’t actually taint the Gene Kelly song-soliloquy, but spotting yet more bits Hazanavicius pilfered and got wrong (hey, look — the entire opening premier sequence with the upstaged leading lady, only in the modern de-make it doesn’t have any point to it!). Bits of THE ARTIST seem really inventive (unless they’re swiped from something I haven’t seen) but its main effect now seems to be to point up by idiotic contrast how clever Comden & Green’s depiction of the fall of the silents is — an accurate comic picture of the panic and floundering that consumed the industry (nobody held back from making talkies out of “pride”). And I think misguided reverence is more destructive to art, or divinity, that deliberate sacrilege.

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As a kid, although I definitely projected myself into Gene Kelly splashing in puddles, it was Donald O’Connor I identified with more, which worries me slightly now — the “friend” role is showy but where is Cosmo’s satisfaction in life? I feel like the Good Morning number, which I also loved, shows that dynamic where two guys are with a pretty girl and they’re both trying to be at their most entertaining, which is to say there’s a certain competition going on. So Cosmo isn’t sexless. But he seems not to be interested in succeeding romantically. In fact, we see him trying the old “I can get you in movies” line on a Sweet Young Thing at a Hollywood party but it’s played very innocently, like he has no real interest in following up on it, and the line is perhaps just intended to make it clear that he’s not gay for Don Lockwood. The life of the comedy relief is largely devoid of romance.

Speaking of seducing starlets, I did get a new perspective when Debbie Reynolds’ character is mooted as “perfect for Zelda’s kid sister.” Was it Raoul Walsh or Errol Flynn who said that the role of the little sister was always invented just so there’d be a starlet to sleep with? You can spot the true little sister roles, the ones that have no story purpose at all, a mile off. This seems like a sly Comden-Green inside joke.

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By the way, who was teenage Rita Moreno dating to get such a prominent credit? I don’t mean to imply any sexual skullduggery, it’s just that she’s onscreen for two minutes, gets about two lines, and gets a credit on the same card as Jean Hagen and Cyd Charisse. She has less to do than the wonderful Kathleen Freeman (totally uncredited). You’d think, if MGM were trying to build her up, they’d let her sing or dance. It’s always kind of astonishing to discover she’s in the film, because I still don’t think of her as old. And I guess she earns her credit just by the hilarious way she walks through her first shot. The movie is so bursting with new talent and less-familiar character players, I feel it must have been Donen and Kelly’s deliberate policy to avoid familiar faces. Douglas Fowley, as the explosive director, would normally have lost out to James Gleason or Sam Levene, who would have played it exactly the same. Fowley was probably in as many films as either, but never so prominently.

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Of course, Jean Hagen is the performer who goes above and beyond — so do the dancing stars, of course, but we could expect no less. Craftily written, Hagen’s Lena Lamont is a true rarity, a stupid villainess. She manages to be formidable enough to function for plot purposes as a credible dramatic threat — because she’s a powerful movie star with a strong sense of self-interest. The character, who ought to, by rights, be fairly sympathetic — she has more to lose than anybody, and is facing extinction by microphone like Clara Bow — is positioned just so in the narrative and turned loose, and so is Hagen, who gets laughs by the accent (already deployed in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE to different effect) and shrill voice, but isn’t content with just that — she starts doing weird things with emphasis and timing, always coming out of a different door, verbally speaking, so the character succeeds as a series of amazing variations on one note.

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I was wondering all over again how the hell musicals work. Most movies lean heavily on story. Musicals seem to crave slight narratives, which they then suspend totally for minutes at a time while the characters simply embody a moment of sublime emotion, extending it far beyond any dramatic meaning. I think it has to do with our love of performance — we love stories, but for short bursts we are able to love singing and dancing more. That’s why the increasingly long ballets in Gene Kelly’s stuff risk fracturing the delicate balance, because the story has to be given some opportunity to hold things together, and it gets stretched cobweb-thin if the dancing goes on for twenty minutes at a time. I think the Gotta Dance! routine here only works because so much goodwill has been built up throughout the movie, we trust them to get away with anything by now — and also, it’s a very nice sequence…

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