Archive for Norman Foster

Bish Bosh

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2021 by dcairns

Getting back into E.A. Dupont.

The accepted narrative, accepted by most who even think about old Ewald, is that he was a big innovator in VARIETE (“the unchained camera”) but was too turgid when sound came in (ATLANTIC and the world’s longest, least dramatic dramatic pause) and then just foundered and floundered in B movies.

Given that Dupont had to struggle with formidable opponents in his career — Hitler AND the Dead End Kids — his downward career arc, or spiral, is understandable. But ATLANTIC actually has, along with the turgid stretches, some riveting and innovative sound filmmaking — it’s maybe the scariest Titanic movie — and CAPE FORLORN is quite stupendous. Then there’s THE SCARF, a clever and stylish B noir where Dupont shows he’s still got it. He can take the breath away with just a shot of someone in a chair in a room, doing nothing (this happens TWICE).

THE SCARF was Dupont’s comeback film after a decade out of the biz, resulting from an incident on HELL’s KITCHEN where he slapped one of the Dead End Kids for mocking his accent. While I don’t condone slapping youngsters (by 1939, were any of the kids actually kids?), I can see why Dupont’s immigrant status might have been a sore spot for him, and hitting the Dead End Kids seems to have been a popular way of dealing with them. Cagney once hit one of the Dead End Kids with one of the other Dead End Kids, and they didn’t fire HIM. (“I think they thought they were dealing with Bogart or something,” he wrote of the provocation leading to the head-knocking).

Anyway, THE BISHOP MISBEHAVES is before all that, but it shows that Dupont was already in B-movie terrain. But it also shows that he was cured of his earlier slowness by 1935. In fact, his first Hollywood film was the sexy, funny and very fast LADIES MUST LOVE at Universal.

BISH is from a play by Frederick J. Jackson, who also wrote THE GREAT GAMBINI, which I like. Edmund Gwenn plays the titular bish, an addict of crime fiction who gets the chance to play detective when he stumbles on a real robbery, conducted by sympathetic young lovers Maureen O’Sullivan and Norman Foster (one of the medium-sized lug’s more appealing roles) against nouveau riche crooks Reginald Owen and Lilian Bond (wey-hey, Lilian Bond!). There are atmospheric scenes in Limehouse (including a flash of opium den in a montage) and a charming Hollywood England feel throughout. Effervescent yet criminous.

Edmund Gwenn is a lovely actor, though he doesn’t really need to play his part an octave higher than usual. I guess the clergy are supposed to have had all their testosterone sucked out of them. Even the nuns. Gwenn has a mild manner anyway, and he’d have been even more loveable in his natural register. Bond and Owen, playing lower-class, don’t so much drop their aitches as throw them strenuously over their shoulders. You can feel them striving to remember not to sound pukkah.

The theatrical origins of the story are pretty obvious, and when a character remarks how he was nervous when anyone approached the vase in which some loot was hidden, and we realise we hadn’t been aware of this, it’s clear that Dupont is no Hitchcock. He’d concentrated on the dialogue, and forgotten to shoot closeups of the vase and the anxious glances.

But there’s some good filmmaking — a bit where everybody leaves the scene and the room stands empty could have seemed hideously stagey, but Dupont twists it into cinema with a dramatic track-in on the door.

The director’s compositional gift for snug, squarish groupings is in some evidence, and he’s helped by the fact that Gwenn has a 1:1.33 head. Dupont’s smutty side — he’s really rather salacious in unexpected ways and places — manifests itself around Lilian Bond and her low-cut gown. It’s a modest movie that shows an increase in speed and efficiency, but a loss of individuality.

Fortunately, Dupont wasn’t licked yet. More on him soon, I hope.

THE BISHOP MISBEHAVES stars Dr. Athelny; Jane Parker; Mrs. Morehead; another Dr. Athelny; Casper Gutman; Billy Boyle; Gladys; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Hives – the Butler; Black Dog; Dr. Doremus; Amschel Rothschild; Tabbs; ‘Sugar’ Steve; and Jameson.

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!

I have seen The Other Side of the Wind

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2018 by dcairns

I took Netflix up on their “first month free” offer to do it. It’s really at least my second month, because I did this before in order to see Community. I kept the service for a few months that time, and may do so again — they deserve something for finishing THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

It stars Noah Cross, Sammy Michaels, Sally Groves, Marty ‘Fats’ Murdock, Emma Small, Max Morlan, Carl Evello, George Washington Cohen, Frank Booth, the Masterblaster. Yes, some of those are quite obscure, but they are almost as obscure, some of them, when called by their right names. It’s a very odd cast, made up of people Welles had met and liked, or worked with in the distant past, anyone he could lure into his web. In this film structured around an unending party in which every hand seems to come clutching its own whisky glass and cigar, the real-life alcoholics abound: if you’re acting with Welles, your career/life must be in trouble.

I think it’s fantastic. While I was watching it, I was already fantasising about watching it AGAIN. Instead I watched one of the making-of documentaries, the erratic but fascinating THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD. But I still have a fantasy about rewatching it every day of my free Netflix month. That seems quite appealing.

All those actors. Welles gets variable results from them, but it’s a variable film in every way. And he was never a great unity guy — what school of performance unites Joseph Cotten, Welles, Everett Sloane and the hyperventilating Erskine Sandford of CITIZEN KANE, and yet there they were in one scene. Here we have striking, delicate work from Dan Tobin and Tonio Selwart, who both look like scarecrow cadavers but do beautiful things, jostling against Edmund O’Brien, who is just a big drunk (“Eddie is a magnificent ruin,” said Welles, perhaps missing an irony?) but certainly REAL. We get into stranger territory with Norman Foster, a lousy, charmless second-string leading man in the early thirties, who became a fairly good, peppy director in the forties, helming JOURNEY INTO FEAR for Welles at RKO, then returning to acting for a few things in the 70s, including this. I find it hard to assess his performance, which seems to draw upon the pathos of his oddly young/old face and his uncertainty (about how to say a line; about what the hell’s going on) to create a synthesis of good acting, bad acting and non-acting. His abused flunky character is basically Joseph Calleia from TOUCH OF EVIL, but with Hank Quinlan’s sweeties addiction (“It’s either the candy or the hooch,”) and I found myself enjoying him but not knowing whether to feel more sorry for the actor or the character, and unsure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that he never lived to see the movie.

Cameron Mitchell is awfully good — another drinker, one who seems to have been in more posthumous films than anybody (I guess a hard-working agent got him cameos in whatever cheapo production was rolling, including this. And I guess he’s playing some version of Welles’ pet make-up genius, Maurice Seiderman.

A lot of these excellent people are redundant in story terms, scene-swellers as well as scotch-swiggers. The magnificent Mercedes McCambridge doesn’t really have any dramatic material to work with, just exposition delivered with a world-weary or universe-weary gloom. But they had to create a convincingly populated party. The fleeting glimpses of Dennis Hopper, Curtis Harrington, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom et al really help sell this.

The leads, of course, hold it together: Huston (with son Danny voicing some lines: you’d never know) and Bogdanovich are terrific. All kinds of real-life tensions perhaps in play, with Welles perhaps resenting his leads’ success as Hollywood directors — and even if it wasn’t like that, the casting invites us to imagine it.

This is a party filmed at multiple locations over years, with actors coming and going (Rich Little, ejected from his leading role, still turns up in the background) and using a deliberate patchwork of film stocks (it looks BEAUTIFUL) — cohesion would seem like a drunkard’s dream, and yet it hangs together. The mockumentary angle should disintegrate at once, since you can’t imagine some of these scenes being enacted in sight of a camera, but the movie lets us forget the device whenever it needs to, reminds us of it when appropriate. We have to praise Bob Murawski to the skies and beyond for cutting the movie in a way that seamlessly matches the few scenes Welles had already put together: a jagged, frazzled, jazzy frenzy (Fiona got tired out and went to bed midway, but wants to come back and see it all).

It IS enervating and exhausting — it has an authentic long-party feeling, trundling on past the point anyone wants, fuelled by inebriated inertia. We’re all going to regret this.

MORE SOON!