Archive for Moulin Rouge!

Fair Weather

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2019 by dcairns

First full day in Bologna and we scored four out of four.

While our friends Nicola and Donald were viewing PEPE LE MOKO — can’t go wrong there — we took a chance on Franju’s NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS. I happen to think Franju’s short documentaries are even better than his features, which are of course frequently great. But he’s uneven — half the shorts are dullish, half are inspired cinematic poetry of the highest order. This was a good one, we thought, and in widescreen and colour! Of course, as Meredith Brody remarked afterwards, it played entirely differently under the present circs. I watched it with my jaw hanging open at the magnificent framing and a tear in my eye at the poignancy.

Afterwards, two half-empty plastic sacks of plaster in a corner of the Cinema Modernissimo, still in mid-restoration but opened as a pop-up for the festival, made me see a couple of weatherbeaten stone saints, and I realised I was seeing with Franju’s eyes, the eyes of a surrealist and a visionary poet. I wondered how long that would last. Then I emerged into the rain-slicked streets of Bologna and my eyes became those of a mere tourist again.

Henry King’s STATE FAIR is a masterpiece — a great piece of writing, particularly (a small army of ink-stained wretches laboured to convert Philip Strong’s Stong’s novel to a screen play). The subject of a week-long fair combines with a theme of impermanence, and a romantic scene is undercut with the image of a billboard advertisement for the fair peeling in the rain — to reveal THE END underneath.

Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres are a lovely couple, and so are her parents, Will Rogers and Louise Dresser. Sally Eilers, admired in BAD GIRL last year, is seductive. Norman Foster is the same charmless lump he appeared as in all his youthful movies, but he’s perfectly cast (and I love his “comeback” in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND). A nubile Victor Jory plays a barker.

Terrific long tracking shots from King, and elaborate rear-projection shots of the fair, with some funny touches like two dialogue scenes between hogs, shot and cut just like regular conversations. Subtitles, however, were not provided.

John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, newly restored, looked magnificent — you can see a tiny crumb of charcoal flake from Lautrec’s pencil, and you can see the peeling edge of a prosthetic chin stuck to a dancer. I was struck by the strange similarity of the female characters’ faces — not an actual resemblance, just a sense that they had something in common. Then I realised that they all had lips Lautrec might have drawn.

This film is better than we’ve all thought.

Script supervisor Angela Allen, 90, was on hand to reminisce and answer questions.

We gathered in the Piazza Maggiore to see MIRACLE IN MILAN but the rain, forecast to end an hour before, was getting heavy. I might have braved it, but the womenfolk dragged me to the safety of the Cinema Jolly to see Felix E. Feist’s THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, which was a really clever and slick B-noir, with Lee J. Cobb underplaying for the only time in his life, while John Dall as his brother projected every nuance from his face in letters a mile high.

It was produced by Jack Warner’s son and had a character named Quimby in it who was much as you’d expect.

More tomorrow!

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The Little Woman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2019 by dcairns

The Doll family, according to the IMDb, made very few film appearances. The best known of the foursome are better known by different stage names — Harry Earles (originally Kurt Schneider) and sister Daisy (Hilda Schneider) appear in Tod Browning’s FREAKS in central roles, and in small parts (sorry!) in THE WIZARD OF OZ and THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. But Fiona thinks she may have spotted Daisy elsewhere.

An older Daisy — we think — flirts with Cliff Robertson in THE BIG SHOW (1961), a stultifying 20th Century Fox circus pic that just about did for Esther Williams’ career. The distinctive helium-squeak voice and German accent (the film was shot on locations around Munich) convince us that this must be Daisie or one of her siblings. She gives a more relaxed performance here than in FREAKS, and is the high point of the film if it’s really her. If it’s not really her, there is no reason to watch this movie. Really terrible.

And in E.A. Dupont’s MOULIN ROUGE (1928), which we just enjoyed at HippFest (well, Fiona fell asleep, but she couldn’t help herself and she consumed the film eagerly on video later), a troupe of little people are seen performing at the Casino de Paris, and again the female lead in the act looks like Daisy. And in yellowface, yet. Which part of this act is most offensive? Oh, and the fiendish Mandarin seems like a dead ringer for Harry.

The show documented in MOULIN ROUGE evidently featured a whole array of little people, so it makes sense that they’d hire the Doll family in order to bulk up the numbers. It’s a veritable Parisian Munchkinland.

Palette Lenser

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 31, 2018 by dcairns

Finally watched GATE OF HELL, which is gorgeous — a take-your-breath-away image every two minutes or so — but still not my favourite Kinugasa joint (which would be YOSO). I figure Japanese cinema was filtering through to the west so erratically that this and A PAGE OF MADNESS may have achieved their high reputation partly by chance, striking though they are. Kinugasa made a lot of films, most of them impossible to see with subtitles… who knows what else is out there?

John Huston bigged up his colour experiments in MOULIN ROUGE (which are pretty great — I’m looking forward to the restoration) by saying that previous movies hadn’t done anything artistic with their palettes at all, and were just gaudy — which is blatantly untrue. But he did find time to praise GATE OF HELL, which was nice of him. In fact, GOH is sometimes fairly gaudy, and certainly doesn’t play safe — there are some very bold combinations of intense hues here. (Huston’s approach in MOULIN ROUGE, MOBY DICK and REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE was to mess about with diffusion and with the colour process itself — Paul Schrader has rightly stated that the more artistic approach is to achieve a controlled palette with the design itself, with what you put in front of the lens. (But Huston’s photochemical interventions are frequently glorious.)

 

Huston was probably responding partly to the effects of a foreign film stock and processing, which gave Japanese colour a different look, or a series of different looks. And he wouldn’t have seen many Japanese films at that time, certainly not colour ones. And then there’s the whole Japanese aesthetic approach, which EXPECTS everything to be beautiful — the quest for cinematic beauty, says Kurosawa, is what keeps us at it. So GATE OF HELL is delicious to the eyes even when portraying horrors. Transmuting the horrible, or the banal, or the picturesque, into the transcendentally beautiful seems one possible worthwhile mission for artistic endeavor.

 

Also dig the way Kinugasa’s camera moves of its own volition, sometimes triggered by music more than any onscreen action — it just takes off by itself to close in on a detail, or to depart the scene altogether when it feels like we’ve had enough. It’s a restless observer.