Archive for Pandro S Berman

Ronald Colman, Smut Peddlar

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by dcairns

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Ginger Roger and Ronald Colman enjoy a bit of chaste phone sex.

LUCKY PARTNERS, one of Lewis Milestone’s comedies, strikes me as seriously underrated. The IMDb reviews seem sniffy, so even the classic movie crowd seemingly haven’t warmed to this one. And Milestone isn’t particularly thought of as a director with a light touch, probably because his best known films are very heavy indeed — ALL QUIET, RAIN, MARTHA IVERS, MICE & MEN — they’re not exactly laugh-a-minute material.

But in fact there’s a strong thread of comedy running throughout the man’s career, which ended (ignoring a few TV shows) with OCEAN’S 11, which is basically a romp, and includes comic work in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s. These movies are less familiar and acclaimed, and maybe they’re more minor — or maybe just more modest. NO MINOR VICES doesn’t come on like it wants to change the world, THE FRONT PAGE is overshadowed by Hawks’ superior remake, and it’s hard to assess his uncredited contribution to Harold Lloyd’s THE KID BROTHER, the one renowned classic comedy on his CV, because it seems to have been directed by anybody who chanced by — but I might guess at the spectacular crane shot where Harold climbs a tree to indefinitely prolong his farewell to the girl (his increased elevation makes the horizon recede so she stays in view longer) or the dark, horror-noir chase on the boat could betray his elegant and dynamic touch.

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In LUCKY PARTNERS, Ginger Rogers (perhaps America’s best ever actress) works in a bookshop in Greenwich Village with her ditzy aunt Spring Byington (yay!) and is planning to marry prize schnook Jack Carson when the impossibly romantic Ronald Colman walks into her life. With screwball comedy plotting so archetypal as to be almost unacceptable, he wishes her good luck at random and she immediately gets good luck. So she has the idea that they should buy a sweepstake ticket together, since he’s lucky for her. Colman, an eccentric artist, agrees on condition that if they should win, he ought to take her on a cross-country trip, which he calls a honeymoon, before her marriage to Carson. Ginger is outraged at this lewd suggestion and immediately enlists Carson to beat up the bad man.

What follows is a brilliant scene of nonsense comic suspense. played to the hilt by Milestone, his actors, and his editor ~

Of course, a scene like that can only end in comic anti-climax, and as you can see, it does.

Milestone repeats himself, first as tragedy, then as farce. For you see, this is a reworking of the shooting-the-dog scene in his big classic OF MICE AND MEN, made just a couple years earlier. Nobody who has seen that movie can have forgotten, surely, the way Milestone draws out the drama as the boys in the bunkhouse for the sound of Ralph Morgan’s Roman Bohnen’s old, sick dog being shot. The exact same technique is employed here for an almost opposite emotion.

I got very interested to know who Milestone’s editor was here. I thought I detected a faint RKO house style, uniting the Robert Wise of HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, CITIZEN KANE and CAT PEOPLE with the exquisite cutting on George Stevens’ films at the same time and studio. In fact, Henry Berman was the brother of studio boss Pandro S. Berman and he *did* cut several of those Stevens pictures, with their very musical rhythms (and not just the musicals). He also did a lot of TV and — get this! — he cut John Boorman’s POINT BLANK. That knowledge makes me giddy!

Anyhow, Ginger and Ronald do go on their trip, and it becomes clear that we’re in the quasi-fantasy world of John Van Druten, who wrote BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (Milestone, Van Druten and Colman also got together on MY LIFE WITH CAROLINE, which I found a lot less appealing, perhaps because Anna Lee is no Ginger Rogers — but it does have a great comedy butler, played by Hugh O’Connell). There are no witches in this one, but there’s a kind of enchanted bridge, coming from left field and leading to Wonderland.

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And there’s also an eleventh-hour plot twist relating to Colman’s mysterious backstory, and here I’m afraid my title is something of a spoiler. Colman is a disenchanted artist with a criminal record, but we don’t find out the facts until a comic trial at the end (Harry Davenport as one of those flustered justices screwballs abound in). It’s quite an eye-opener. Colman painted a series of illustrations of a mythological or folkloric nature for a book on myth, and they were deemed indecent and he was briefly jailed. This all comes out in a testimony by Ginger, who tells us that the book is now studied in universities and considered perfectly respectable. It’s quite exciting to see her impassioned defense of Ronald’s dirty doodles. For although the words of the dialogue are stressing the essential wholesome, healthy nature of Colman’s smutty daubings, we all know that even in the ‘forties an artist couldn’t be jailed merely for doing nudes. We have to imagine Aubrey Beardsley style fauns running about with massive hard-ons. And so the meaning of the scene is that Ginger Rogers is all in favour of massive hard-ons. Which we’ve always suspected anyway — one only has to look at her — and it’s one of the reasons we love her so (along with her being America’s greatest actress). A girl with a healthy appetite for the good things in life.

Lewis Milestone Week *ought* to end today — but I have more! Gimme a few more days.

Steps Gingerly

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on September 26, 2008 by dcairns

This one was Fiona’s idea.

In the magnificent THE RKO STORY episode dealing with Astaire & Rogers’ careers at that studio, some amusing anecdotes are spieled out concerning the dresses Ginger wore and the problems they caused Fred in their dance numbers ~

The feather dress which would shed light strands across the art deco set, and over Fred’s immaculate tux, befouling it in his eyes.

And the beaded dress with long sleeves which would savagely slap Fred’s face when he swung Ginger around.

But there were other dresses too, of which the documentarists are silent, their existence a closely guarded lie secret. Come with me now as I lead you into the vaults where the programme-makers sealed their unused footage.

Camera assistant Freck Pealy: “Oh sure, Ginger would come up with some screwy ideas for dresses. One problem was, you couldn’t always light ‘em. One dress she wanted to wear, it was all made o’ mirror. The whole thing, top to bottom, was one big lookin’ glass. Well [director] Mark Sandrich took one look at it and said, ‘Ginger, we can’t use it. You can see the camera reflected in your tits.’ Ginger didn’t like that, she stormed off, but he got his way.”

Art director Munroe Streeves: “Another time there was a different kind of problem. Ginger would seize upon an idea and have a costume made, and although it would look pretty, she couldn’t dance in it. like the stone dress.”

Interviewer Leslie Megahey: “Stone dress?”

Streeves: “I think it was granite. About a foot thick. It all fitted together on grooves and she had to be cemented into it. Her arms were free, and her feet stuck out the bottom, and it was quite low-cut. Or low-carved, I should say. Well, once she had it on, they winched her up onto her feet, and she cried, ‘Stop, it’s too heavy!’ It would have crushed her feet, that thing, and her feet were insured for $100,000, back when that was a lot of money. So after that [producer] Pandro Berman stepped in and said any costumes had to be cleared by him first. Ginger didn’t like that, but she had to go along with it.”

Executive producer Pandro S. Berman: “Some of the craziest ideas for dresses landed on my goddamn desk. She had one idea, molten gold. Had some scientist schmoe from UCLA said he could fix it up so it wouldn’t burn her to death. Something to do with cool air circulating inside. I put the brakes on that one, I can tell you. And then there was some plan to use human skin. Different colours, you know? Well, the idea was at least feasible, but we couldn’t get the material. If this had been wartime it might have been different.”

Fred Astaire: “Sometimes I had to put my foot down. Bernard [Newman, costume designer] would come to Ginger with these schemes. Like a suit of armour with a mace built in. Well, after the business with the beaded sleeves I wasn’t about to accept that. There was the electrical dress. They wanted to feed cables up through the floor to make it sparkle. Ginger would have been insulated inside it, but as I said, ‘How am I supposed to take her in my arms?’ It was very… imaginative, but they hadn’t thought it through.”

Ginger: “I still think some of those dresses would have been sensational on the screen. One idea I came up with myself, which the studio was interested in, we couldn’t do because the Breen Office objected. The costume was basically an x-ray screen, and you would have seen my skeleton as I danced. I thought that would be very beautiful, you know, with the bones moving. But the censors said it was too revealing.”

Megahey: “Were any of these costume ideas ever used elsewhere?”

Ginger: “You couldn’t, you know, because they were all owned by the studios. The clockwork dress was one I was extremely keen on, it was all made of metal and powered by machinery. I sat inside at a control console, operating it. I eventually did see something similar in a movie, but I guess studios just weren’t thinking that way back then.”

Megahey: “What was the movie?”

Ginger: “I think it was called Robot Jox. Something like that.”

Quote of the Day: sounds like a plan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2008 by dcairns

‘Even more than in THE WILD CHILD, THE GREEN ROOM was conceived as a succession of plans-séquence. The term “master shot” is used in English for what in French is “plans-séquence”, but the two expressions mean different things, because a “master shot” implies that there will be supplementary shots of the same scene (often close-ups), and that these will be inserted later on, during the editing. The fact that there is no American expression for “plans-séquence”  is evidence of a basic difference in concept. In Truffaut’s plans-séquence nothing can be inserted because it is sufficient unto itself. The character moves about from one character to another, lingers, makes a leap into the void to take in the whole scene, retreats, advances, all at a stretch, without cuts. The scenes between Davenne and Cecilia in the auction room are the best examples of this technique.

Green Wing

‘From the practical point of view, this sort of filming has advantages and disadvantages. One of the problems is focus. Since the camera is always moving on wheels, it is difficult for the assistant to correct the focus, since the actors are constantly at different distances from the lens. It also presents a challenge for the camera operator. In a short space of time innumerable compositions are being produced with every slight change of place. Preparing shots of this type takes hours, because the actors’ movements must be adjusted in relation to the movements of the camera. Sometimes a whole day is needed to get a single shot.

‘But when a scene is split into different shots, to be edited together later, it creates the false impression that shooting is done quickly, whereas in fact the opposite is true: one must be sure that there is continuity of illumination from one shot to the next, that the actors are looking in the appropriate directions, that entrances and exits from the frame fit into the preceding scenes. With the plans-séquence these preoccupations are no longer relevant. In any case, the main interest of this technique is not that it offers advantages from the point of view of production but that it allows the director to define his style. For it is in the style that we recognise the artist’s signature. All of this is quite close to certain concepts that Truffaut inherited from his mentor, André Bazin.’

~ A Man with a Camera, by Nestor Almendros.

Nestor

The term “sequence shot” is now often used to describe a shot that covers an entire scene without alternate angles being edited in, although the term is maybe more commonly used in criticism than “on the floor”. My suspicion is that we don’t have a widely-used term for this approach in Britain and America because (a) the technique isn’t widely used and (b) when we directors do it, we don’t tell anyone what we’re doing.

As my cinematographer friend Scott Ward says, there is a school of thought in television that says the director’s reason for being is to obtain sufficient coverage to make the show. Since shows are made for specific time slots, there needs to be a way to manipulate the duration of the footage, which becomes much harder if every scene has been covered with only one shot.

On my most extensive TV gig, I shot some scenes in sequence shots, purely because the schedule was so tight. I was aware that if anybody asked for additional angles in the edit, I would probably be in trouble (I was constantly in trouble on that shoot, or so it seemed at the time). So they had better work. More than half of the scenes had more than one angle, though after falling behind schedule on day one, and further on day two, I took to devising schemes that allowed even the most busy scene to be taken in no more than two shots, if at all possible. We finished on schedule and the episodes were manipulated into the right time slot with relative ease.

But consider the case of Leonard Kastle’s THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. The first five or so minutes of the film are a series of elaborate long takes, stretching the abilities of the camera crew beyond breaking point, but still fascinating and effective. The director of these scenes was the young Martin Scorsese, who was swiftly fired for only shooting masters. “If you only shoot masters, the film could end up four hours long,” he ruefully reflected, understanding his employer’s ruthless response.

It may be also that some producers will object to long takes for the very reason Almendros recommends them: as an expression of directorial style. Producer Pandro S Berman is supposed to have approached director Albert Lewin and asked, “Why do you do these long tracking shots?”

“It’s my style,” explained Lewin (naïve fool!).

“Style. I always wondered about that. What does that mean, style?”

Lewin is taken aback, bt endeavours to explain: “Well, style, that’s like when Picasso paints a certain way and you can tell it’s a Picasso. Or with Rembrandt, he has a style, and you can see how it’s different to Picasso.”

“Is that so? Is that what style is? Well, I don’t want any of it in MY PICTURES!”

Lewin

Now this may well be one of those libellous stories directors like to tell about producers (writers tell them about directors too), but there is a certain mindset that probably sees the producer’s job as being to quash any excessive outbursts of directorial style. Hiring the right director and then trusting her might be an easier option, but such a person, or such an emotion, is not always available on demand.

As Howard Hawks said to Peter Bogdanovich when asked if he ever had final cut; “No. Suppose I went crazy?”

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