Archive for Neil Brand

Heaven at Either End

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona declares these to be cinema’s best sunglasses.

Thursday’s other screenings:

The one film in the John Stahl series we didn’t see was WHEN TOMORROW COMES, which has a cast of our favourite people… we’ll see it post-Bologna and report back.

The Marcello Pagliero season passed me by, except that I wasn’t about to miss LES AMANTS DE BRASMORTS since it was billed as a misty, melancholic drama about the lives of barge workers. It’s my view that you can’t make a bad film on a barge. You may not do it. This one was very fine, apart from a slightly confused happy ending. Barge movies, like films noir, are generally stronger when they turn out bleakly, though even when they don’t, they sort of do, because your lovers’ reconciliation is, after all, being staged on a fucking barge.

Friday started at the more civilized hour of 9.30 am with the stone-cold masterpiece that is LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, screened in a vintage (sixties) Technicolor print. In sert the words lustrous, lambent and amber into the following paragraph at random. Leon Shamroy’s cinematography didn’t look as intensely-coloured here as it has on home viewings, but the size, the audience response and the atmosphere added to the movie’s power.

That movie filled our whole morning, meaning, for example, that we couldn’t see Boorman’s LEO THE LAST, which also a very beautiful show, with the richest assortment of browns I’ve ever seen. I bet the big-screen experience would have been wonderful, even if the movie itself has problems. It shows why Marcello Mastroianni was never a big star in English-language films.

Then we bumped into Angela Allen, John Huston’s favourite continuity girl, and had lunch with her, where she was fabulously indiscreet. I’d first inveigled my way into her confidence last year, and was thrilled to meet her again. But I won’t dish the dirt. Angela was planning on seeing LIGHTS OUT OF EUROPE, newly restored by MOMA, a 1940 documentary by Herbert Klein, partially shot by a young photographer named Douglas Slocombe. Alas, Slocombe passed away at 104 before he could see this magnificent restoration of his first movie.

We’d been thinking of seeing Rene Clair’s LES DEUX TIMIDES, which has been very well received, but we switched to the Klein film to hang out with Angela, and couldn’t regret it. Extraordinary footage, gather by Slocombe in hazardous conditions — he’d gone to Danzig in 1939 to film conditions, and was there when the Nazis invaded, getting out by the skin of his teeth. Had he not done so, somebody else would have had to shoot IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, THE SERVANT, THE MUSIC LOVERS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

The movie screened with Joris Ivens’ LA SEINE A RECONTRE PARIS, scripted by Prevert. I now have to see everything Ivens ever made. I was impressed, let’s say.

Then we saw Bette Davis’ assistant giving an interview and plugging her new book, which we’re told Bette commanded her to write. Well, better write it then. What took you so long? One wouldn’t want Bette’s shade performing a vengeful haunting, would one? Well, maybe just a little.

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Fiona ran out of juice at this point and hit the hay, or what passes for hay at our modest pensione. I went on to Buster Keaton’s THE SCARECROW and GO WEST, with music from Neil Brand (piano) and Frank Bockius (percussion, slide whistle et al). While the day’s final show was highly emotional and had a magnificent score, it was this screening that brought a tear to my eye. There’s a lot of discussion about whether GO WEST is chaplinesque sentiment or a parody thereof. I think it’s something different from either — Keaton invites you to laugh sympathetically at his character’s misfortunes, and the whole first act is misfortunes. It’s closer to what Harold Lloyd does with THE FRESHMAN. He doesn’t stop the comedy in order to aim for tears, as Chaplin will (with lightning-fast transitions of tone). When Keaton, bilked of everything he owns, sits down next to a dog, and tentatively pats its head, and the dog turns tail and walks off, we’re meant to laugh, not cry.

The emotional whammy, which had never happened to me on previous screenings, came when Keaton finally makes a friend, Brown Eyes the cow. By playing this moment TRIUMPHANTLY, Brand and Bockius unleashed all the sorrow of the previous scenes which Keaton had suppressed. It took me by surprise, which is always a good way to disarm. I blinked away a manly tear, stinging with sun-block.

Then I was off to the Teatro Communale — pictured — Bologna’s epic opera house — for SEVENTH HEAVEN, likely to remain the highlight of this fest. A great silent movie in a new, Foxphorescent restoration and an orchestra playing Timothy Brock’s new score and a spectacular setting and the company of Meredith Brody and Gary Meyer are a hard combination to beat. I hope to say more about this experience, but right now words fail me, as they must always do when the subject is a Frank Borzage masterpiece.

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: You Bad Ass

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2018 by dcairns

Movies from 10.30 a.m. until around midnight yesterday at the Hippodrome (and also at Bo’ness Railway Station). The one film I was unsure of, the recently rediscovered early ‘3-s Chinese film, STRIVING, turned out to be a highlight. For all its blatant propaganda content (“Bullets dodge brave soldiers,” one intertitle tells us — and we learn how the Chinese defeated the Japanese, which is pretty counter-factual), I actually like it better than the admired THE GODDESS. It’s in perfect nick, and Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius really brought it to life with their accompaniment.

Everybody’s favourite intertitle came from this film: “You bad ass!” a charming mistranslation which meant to come out as “You awful jerk!” or something. Difficult to find an idiom that carries the meaning and feels natural but doesn’t sound too, well, idiomatic.

The day began with Baby Peggy in THE KID DETECTIVE and Neil Brand at the piano. Neil told us that he’s actually played before B.P. herself. He asked her if they played music on set when she acted, and she said yes, there was one piece that would always make her cry. So when he accompanied her film he played it, and glanced into the audience, and sure enough, there were tears running down her face. I wish we’d had her with us yesterday. She was a big hit, especially in drag with tweed suit and inverted Hitler mustache.

Then there was the very peculiar SAVING SISTER SUSIE, a 1921 Christie Comedy with Dorothy Devore, who I hadn’t seen before. On the slenderest pretext, Devore is forced to dress as a child so she can’t steal her sister’s rich beau, but he falls for her anyway, the “Buster Brown” costume failing to put him off — maybe it even encourages him. This foretaste of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR meant that the naive little farce stood out in a day full of imperilled virigins and sexual threat, as perhaps the most disturbing film of all.

DER SCHATZ (1923), the first film of GW Pabst, was impressive, but hampered by the score. The Hippodrome set like a good improvisation as much as the next silent film geek, but we like to feel the musician is improvising TO the film. Alois Kott had laid down a sound bed of strange noises, which sometimes changed in sync with the scenes, and then he added another layer of abstract musical noise with an amazing instrument that looked like a cross between a cello and a Curly-Wurly™. None of the sounds would necessarily have been inappropriate for this film, though the intergalactic computer twinkling was something you might want to be careful with. But none of them seemed to follow or reflect the action, tone, mood of the characters or create either tension or space. The effect became like watching a good film (with Werner Krauss and THE 39 STEPS’ Lucie Mannheim) through a thick pane of frosted glass: music as barrier.

We did learn that Kott has provided live improvised accompaniment to football matches, though. I like that idea — sounds like about the only thing that could make the experience of a football match tolerable to me.

Oh, somewhere in there I accidentally won a chocolate egg in a quiz, which I then shared with random audience members. Seemed only fair since I’d guessed half the answers.

Tom Mix and his Wonder Horse, Tony, starred in THE GREAT K & A TRAIN ROBBERY (1926), where the clean-cut hero pretends to be a bandit in order to thwart real outlaws. Heroine Dorothy Dwan (fresh from the ’25 WIZARD OF OZ) seems to be serious obsessed with bandits, fantastising Mix as Dick Turpin via match dissolve, and gloating lustfully over her big book of Romantic Highwaymen. Who knew that highwayman porn was a thing? Second favourite intertitle stemmed from this film, where an effete villain is introduced with the words, “if he’s a college man — it must have been Vassar.” It’s at 2.36 in the above YouTubing. The movie is impossibly innocent — six-shooters blast all over the Colorado setting, but nobody ever gets shot, but it IS a bit heteronormative, I guess you could say.

John Sweeney pounded the ivories to strong dramatic effect despite the chill of the open-air performance amid the Bo’ness steam locomotives.

Then came the double feature of THE PENALTY and SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, which I’d written programme notes for. Graeme Stephen & Pete Harvey provided a beautiful score for the former, quite light and airy for this sadistic gangster-horror melodrama, and maybe a counter-intuitive choice to use strings for a film about a mad pianist (Lon Chaney) — but it worked!

I’m biassed, but Jane Gardner’s score for SEVEN FOOTPRINTS, performed with Roddy Long on violin, was my favourite of the day. It started with jaunty tunes from piano and bow, then when the going gets spooky, Jane switched to electronic keyboard and Roddy added an array of filters to his violin for an eerie selection of drones, pulses, throbs, wails and screeches — but not forgetting the tunes. This movie originally had a Vitaphone soundtrack, now lost, and while it would be unlikely that Jane happened on any of the precise effects of the original (apart from the gong), I could well believe that her work complimented the film every bit as effectively. Director Benjamin Christensen must be looking up from Hell, smiling.

Fetch!

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 12, 2017 by dcairns

To Filmhouse, where maestro Neil Brand was presenting a big Buster Keaton event on Sunday. The first half was an illustrated talk with clips and piano accompaniment, setting out Buster’s biography and creative approach, with eye-opening analyses of under-cranking, hidden jump-cuts and other tricks of the trade. The second half was STEAMBOAT BILL JR. with live piano accompaniment. A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a frosty afternoon.

I’ve been researching Leo McCarey’s THE AWFUL TRUTH and was amused to discover, in a clip from OUR HOSPITALITY, a gag later borrowed by McCarey and gifted to Mr. Smith the dog (AKA Asta) in his classic screwball. Buster is trying to avoid leaving the house, so he hides his porkpie hat under a divan as an excuse. But his helpful hound retrieves it. In a panic, Buster hides it again before anyone sees. This looks like a terrific game to the dog, who fetches the hat once more. All this is given a welcome note of panic by the fact that Buster is liable to be shot dead if he leaves the house.

While McCarey’s revision lacks the life-and-death tension, it creates just as much comic excitement because his domestic situation is so small-scale and plausible, closer to relatable reality. So you can either have the intensity of melodrama or the intensity of life, both are good. Mentioning the comparison to Neil Brand over a pint afterwards, I was reminded by him that Charley Chase’s domestic comedies, supervised by McCarey, are also full of dogs getting the wrong end of the stick, as it were. Buddy the dog is particularly reliable in this respect, always being himself when it would be more convenient for the hero if he would be a cat.

Peter Bogdanovitch’s interview with McCarey turns up this quote about his days with Laurel & Hardy: “Keaton worked in a manner analogous to ours. Two or three gagmen were at his disposal, proposing gags which he could either accept or reject. All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen, but we had no luck with Keaton because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!” Well, fourteen years after OUR HOSPITALITY, McCarey arguably did the next best thing by repurposing a Keaton gag.