Archive for Nick Carter

The Illegible Sunday Intertitle: Holmy

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2021 by dcairns

A short comic “race film,” A BLACK SHERLOCK HOLMES is as interesting for its playful reworking of Conan Doyle’s sleuth in African-American terms as it is for having seemingly been filmed in an acid bath — nitrate decomposition and fungus have had their way with the celluloid, creating subaquatic rippling and shimmering in the image and dancing bubbles and gloop that boil across the liquefying scenery and actors. Bill Morrison could basically put his name in front of this and it’d be a Bill Morrison experimental film.

I actually find it hard to tell how racist the film is, because of this obscuring patina and equally obscuring “underfilm”, to use a Theodore Roszak term from his essential novel Flicker. The concept would seem to be playing with the joke that a Black Sherlock would be dopey and foolish — there are lots of silly Sherlock parodies in cinema, but using race to explain his silliness is extremely worrisome, and the film being made by R.G Phillips and Ebony Films Co. would make that tragic rather than purely hateful.

Couldn’t tell if all the weird hairstyles and moustaches were parodies of white folks’ goofy fashions, but I’ve seen other heroines with ironed hair in race films of the time…

But in fact, though all the actors are playing it clownish, the detective, “Knick Carter” (let’s parody all the fictional tecs while we’re at it) isn’t obviously stupid, thankfully. Or if he is, I couldn’t see it through the decalcomania*. The plot is a little opaque, because it’s a surprisingly epistolary film, driven forward by letters exchanged, which the characters react to wide-eyed but which we can read barely if at all. It’s a great simulation of macular degeneration, but without the occasional hallucinations. Or maybe with them — how could we tell? Somewhere in there I glimpse a business card, always a welcome moment in a silent film, here doubly so, as it reads “Baron Jazz, Minister Munitions, Hot Dog, Africa.” He should get together with Chaplin’s Baron DooBugle, the prime minister of Greenland.

Everybody in the film has a comedy name (the heroine is Sheeza Sneeze) but besides that I can’t tell if it was ever funny, maybe because I used The Rite of Spring as a soundtrack, which didn’t match the main action at all but seemed to accompany the frenzied molten underfilm perfectly.

*Decalcomania is a Max Ernst word for that nursery school activity where you smear paint on a page, fold it over, and peel it apart to create lovely splodgy patina where the colours cling to one another. Celluloid rolled in reels and melting into plasticky jam from old age does the same thing when it’s unspooled.

The Sunday Intertitle: Zed Cards

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 5, 2020 by dcairns


I really like Zigomar. Oh, I know he’s a bad guy, and a Fantomas knock-off, but being number two he has to try harder. He opens ZIGOMAR CONTRE NICK CARTER by delivering special explosive wood to his nemesis Inspector Paulin. One explosion (well, one red filter) later, the poor detective is bedbound and has to entrust his crime-smashing activities to celebrated pulp hero Carter. But Zigomar isn’t just going to sit back and let that happen, so he despatches his “Z Gang” to throw Carter down a stairwell and drop a piano on him. Yes, you read that right. Maybe the silent serial informs the cartoon more than silent comedy does?

The rapid-fire plot-counterplot narrative certainly resembles the blackout sketch structure of a typical Loony Tune.

This is the period when each room gets one camera angle and one only. Which makes it all the more obvious that the landing where Carter grans hold of the banister is exactly the same set as the landing above, i.e. they only built one landing. So when they cut back and forth between floors, it’s just the actors switching in a series of jump cuts, just as the earlier “explosion” was just a jump cut to a red-filtered shot.

And, a few scenes later, we discover Zigomar’s electric gambling den, where the flick of a switch makes all the playing cards shuffle out of sight and the furniture rearranges itself to create the impression of an innocent concert hall — and the trick is played by stop-motion, so that the serial has transmogrified into an almost literal cartoon.

I like the Dutch intertitles — the Cinema Eclair logo gives them the feel of magical playing cards.

Further evidence: the sixteen-ton rock slab.