Archive for One Week

The Look #4: Harold and Sybil get camera-shy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2016 by dcairns

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At the end of Harold Lloyd’s BUMPING INTO BROADWAY, previously discussed on Sunday, Harold essays a trope that would become quite familiar, and may have been old even in 1919, I’m not sure. All set to go into his final fadeout clinch with Bebe Daniels, Harold and his girl suddenly seems to notice us watching. He thoughtfully repositions a nearby screen to conceal the snog, but then notices that the screen had been hiding a few of the cops who have been chasing him for most of the last reel. Thoughtfully, he replaces the screen, thus deactivating the policemen like budgies whose cage has been covered, then he lifts up a rug and holds it before himself and Bebe as a sort of curtain.

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So overwhelming is the act of kissing Bebe, however, that Harold drops the rug, and we fade out on the traditional clinch, save for the fact that Harold’s hand is held high as if still holding the rug. He THINKS he’s achieved some privacy, but like the vengeful camera which pursues Buster Keaton in Beckett’s FILM, our gaze is insatiable.

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A year later, and Buster is doing a variation on this joke in ONE WEEK. It’s a famous shot: leading lady Sybil Seely drops the soap while bathing, and notices the camera’s presence just as she is about to retrieve it. The friendly cameraman puts his hand over the lens, and Sybil is able to grab her bar and gives a grateful grin to the operator as she lowers herself back into the water, modesty more or less preserved.

Keaton’s gag is bolder than Lloyd’s, firstly because it happens in the middle of the film. I think there’s a kind of understanding that endings are allowed to be a bit self-referential, since the audience is about to be forcefully confronted with the fact that what they’ve been watching was, in fact, a film, when the lights come up. Of course we never wholly forget this anyway, but jokes about our shared, willed illusion are easier to justify if placed at the end so they don’t really disrupt the film’s reality.

(Under the right circumstances, a comedy’s ending can be allowed to trash everything that went before, and nobody minds. Surely it was screenwriter Frank Tashlin who was responsible for the ending of the Bob Hope movie THE PALEFACE, in which leading lady Jane Russell is dragged off by wild horses, prompting Bob to turn to us and remark, “What were you expecting, a happy ending?”)

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The Keaton gag goes further than the Lloyd one also by using the camera lens as prop. Lloyd admits there’s an audience, but Keaton admits there’s a camera and a cameraman who allow that audience to see the action, and who can choose to prevent it. The shameless Sybil doesn’t, apparently, mind being seen naked by the cameraman, but she’s not getting them out for the viewing public.

 

The Complete BUSTER KEATON Short Films 1917-1923 (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray)

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The Sunday Intertitle: Boy Meets Girl

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2016 by dcairns

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I had started feeling like I was neglecting Harold Lloyd a bit — you know, that feeling you get when you’ve been neglecting Harold Lloyd a bit — so I watched two shorts from 1919, BUMPING INTO BROADWAY and BILLY BLAZES ESQ. Both films co-star Bebe Daniels, whose comic gifts are somewhat underexploited, and Snub Pollard is a second, backup banana. The latter is a western parody with some great things in it, notably super–cowboy Harold’s way of rolling a cigarette: paper placed flat in hand, tobacco poured wantonly over it, whole lot crunched up in fist and furiously smushed about — palm opens, revealing one perfectly rolled ciggie.

But BUMPING INTO BROADWAY has the best intertitles so I thought I’d just reproduce a bunch here. Not only are they reasonably witty, every one of them has a bit of cute artwork.

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Some very funny stuff in this one, too, though it’s pretty brash and violent by Lloyd’s standards. The Harold of a few years later probably wouldn’t have clobbered so many policemen for so little reason. The best bit of violence is Noah Young, a popular thug player of the day, beating up a defaulting boarder (Mark Jones). This demonstration of savagery is a plot point to show Harold the terrible fate awaiting him if he doesn’t pay the rent, and this idea is borrowed from Chaplin’s THE IMMIGRANT, where Eric Campbell mangled a restaurant customer who couldn’t pay for his meal, as the hero watched in alarm. But the Young/Jones fight is even more impressive and startlingly acrobatic: the massive Young (Buster Keaton’s rival in ONE WEEK) had been a circus weightlifter, which explains why he has a neck with the circumference of Delaware, while Jones was a Lloyd/Hal Roach regular, often playing drunks.

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Good work! And Harold’s mortified expression in the background really ices that comedy cake of inhuman brutality.

A Year-Long Short

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2016 by dcairns

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Damned odd. I couldn’t work out what was the point of this strange, expensive-looking Snub Pollard comedy from 1922 until I realised it was a riff on Buster Keaton’s ONE WEEK. It has house built from kits, one of which ends up on a railway line, just as in the Keaton, and so it also has a time-based title and structure — for it was originally released as 365 DAYS. (home-cine print has been retitled for some damned reason.) It even has the same actor, Noah Young, playing the villain, only here they neglect to give him any real villainy.

Lots of things get neglected here — the plot hinges, somewhat creakily, upon the idea of a bunch of relatives living together for a year, but the action we see could easily be completed in a day. The magnificent setting, all those houses built from kits stacked on top of one another, seems ripe for comedy spectacle, and fairly boggles the mind, even with the fairly crude special effects balloon trip, but the gags don’t really exploit the large-scale potential.

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Still, Snub gets a bathing scene, and we are disconcerted to discover that the mustachioed funnyman has a body like Arnold Schwartzenegger. “A body like Arnold with a Snub Pollard face,” as Salt ‘n’ Peppa didn’t sing. Future comedy star Charley Chase directs. Although the set-up is, nominally, domestic, and Chase would be the champ of dom-com, everything is too elaborately fantastical to allow him to stretch his nascent situation comedy skills.

But there are some good gags, especially the accordion, and the whole thing’s odd enough to be worth watching.