Archive for Movietone

Happiness is no Lark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2019 by dcairns

Last full day of Il Cinema Ritrovato — I gave it a gentle start with Borzage’s STREET ANGEL at 11.15, entering Fox’s studio “recreation” of a smoky, crumbling Naples — 100% unlike the real thing but unbelievably beautiful. This was with a Movietone soundtrack, which at first seemed to impose a distance between me and the film, though having sat near the entrance I was also getting a distancing effect for free from all the latecomers stumbling in. (Cinema etiquette at Bologna is not quite as exemplary as one might hope.)

But, as with SUNRISE and TABOO, the music and film seemed to come closer together as the film went on, and the miraculous climax saw sound and image in perfect harmony.

Also: I think that was Josephine the capuchin monkey, star of THE CAMERAMAN and THE CIRCUS, nestling in Janet Gaynor’s arms, making this a hat-trick for the celebrated simian.

Lunch was followed by Dick Cavett’s Show — having failed to read the programme, we expected this to be a documentary about the eminent talk show host, but it was actually the episode where John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara turned into the Marx Bros. to promote HUSBANDS, which was screening in a new restoration. I think the sales tactic didn’t work because we didn’t rush over to the Cinema Arlecchio to see it, instead dropping in to three shorts by Franju, which seemed a nice circular way to more or less end a festival that began for us, more or less with his NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS.

I’d seen EN PASSANT PAR LA LORRAINE and found it weirdly boring — being an English-language version and a ratty print didn’t do the uninspired travelogue any favours. Joseph Kosma’s music was the only poetic element.

LES POUSSIERES, a short film about DUST, was not as dry as you’d expect. Jean Weiner, the reappearing pianist of Rivette’s NOROIT DUELLE, provides a spooky, beautiful soundtrack which I want to rip off someday. The subject is broad enough to allow Franju some room to be strange and poetic.

LE THEATRE NATIONAL POPULAIRE was a bit flat by comparison, but we got to see an extract of Maria Casares playing Lady Macbeth — every bit as intense as you might expect, and a revelation to me since my main references for the role are the Welles and Polanski film versions. In the hands of a powerhouse professional, the role is transfigured.

We SHOULD have stayed in our seats for SANGEN OM DEN ELDRODA BLOMMAN, a 1919 Mauritz Stiller with Lars Hansen, but we were fading, so we went out into the blazing sun, ate at the flat, and separated, Fiona finally managing to stay awake through WAR OF THE WORLDS (not an easy one to fall asleep in, you would have thought, but then have you experienced Bolognese weather?), me heading to the Piazza for LE PLAISIR, a favourite Ophuls now magnificently restored — the grain was imperceptibly fine, the images radiant and impossibly detailed. Each time I see it I’ve seen more French films, so actors like Gaby Morlay, Madeleine Renaud and Paulette Dubost mean more to me.

This was sort of the last Piazza Maggiore screening of the fest, so I forgave the loquacious Gianluca Farinelli his tendency to talk, untranslated, for twenty minutes at a time. A movie like LE PLAISIR makes up for a lot.

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The Sunday Intertitle: From Bad to Norse

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2010 by dcairns

A MOVING intertitle for you today, courtesy of Roy William Neill’s THE VIKING, a soundie filmed in two-strip Technicolor and produced by the inventor of the process, Dr. Kalmus.

Vikings attack suddenly!

While two-strip worked brilliantly on horror movies like DR X and THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, its limited palette and odd colour values are perhaps not wholly suited to a swashbuckling adventure like this: they attempt to add panache and glamour, but the effect is always slightly OFF. (I haven’t seen Doug Fairbanks’ THE BLACK PIRATE in colour so I don’t know if that succeeds more.) The cyan skies are hallucinatory picture-postcard backings, and the magenta vikings all look rather sunburned — which very possibly they were, running around bare-chested in what is clearly California.

We also get a tinny recorded score and sound effects — some manly singing, and the clash of cutlery when sword-fighting is introduced. I love soundies, because there’s no sense of the soundtrack being an anachronistic attempt at recreating the original effect. It is the original effect. I was a little upset to hear the composer of the new SUNRISE score badmouthing the original, which to me is exceedingly beautiful, flaws and all. I’m very glad both scores have been made available, so I can unhesitatingly choose the Movietone version every time.

Pauline Starke (WAMPAS Baby Star of 1922) is really good — but this movie preceded a precipitous decline into obscurity.

Have been thinking about, and looking at the works of, Roy William Neill since I posted about BLACK ANGEL. Every one of his films seems to contain moments of visual beauty far beyond what the genre content demands. The thrust-in on the screaming Saxon lady, with thrust-in on intertitle, is his most extravagant moment here, but his best visual poetry is usually b&w. Perhaps he’s best described as a Michael Curtiz who never made it into big pictures (THE VIKING may be as close as he got). Curtiz himself has a reduced reputation because he doesn’t quite fit the mold of auteur: he couldn’t give two craps about consistent personal themes, he’s purely occupied with a personal conception of cinematic beauty that’s expressed through light and shade and movement and design. But Curtiz obviously scores major points by having made movies like CASABLANCA. Not so Neill.

In early ’30s Curtiz movies like THE KENNEL MURDER CASE and THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE, we see him working with modest material, imbuing it with sparkle and zip. These films are hugely enjoyable and none the worse for not being quite A-picture material. Such was Neill’s playground for most of his career, and he seems to have been very happy to be there. Anyone who’d make eleven Sherlock Holmes pictures, after all, does not seem to be hugely ambitious or restless. Maybe having had his shot at the big time back in 1928, he was relaxed and content enough just to enjoy the cinematic possibilities of whatever entertainments the studio passed his way, or maybe also he just genuinely loved light hokum and devoted his talents to it wholeheartedly.