Archive for Pathe-Natan

Traveling Matte Finish

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2021 by dcairns

Joe May’s career has a curious shape. From detective series starring Anglophone-sounding heroes called Stuart Webbs and Joe Deebs, he graduated to epic adventure films starring his wife Mia, then sold his studio and went to work for UFA, reaching an artistic pinnacle with HEIMKEHR and ASPHALT. When sound came he turned his hand to musical comedy, and kept at that as he emigrated rapidly through France and Britain and wound up in Hollywood where he made another, MUSIC IN THE AIR.

His American career was patchy, and declined rapidly to B-pictures, but these are not terrible. He never made a little classic like his protege E.A. Dupont’s THE SCARF, but he never made THE NEANDERTHAL MAN either, so there’s that.

During his speedy passage through France, he managed to make three films, and two of those he made twice: PARIS-MEDITERRANEE (1932), for instance, was shot in French, and again in German (as ZWEI IN EINEM AUTO). Presumably the French contacts helped May get out of Germany the following year. The French version was a Pathe-Natan production, and I got hold of a scrappy off-air recording of it back when we were making our documentary NATAN. Somebody subsequently made very good subtitles for it, and Fiona and I just watched it.

Charmant! Annabella is lovely as ever and her then-husband Jean Murat essays a totally convincing English accent throughout. Scenic views of the Riviera. All very fuzzy, with an intermittent sound problem that makes everyone like they’re snorting helium at the bottom of a well while wrapped in vinyl sheets.

The movie is nothing remarkable, except that the early sound musicals are full of invention, even when the stories are souffle-light and not particularly memorable. This one ends, for instance, with the two comedy relief idiots hanging off a tree over a cliff on the Riviera, with the jealous Spaniard (José Noguéro) biting the buffoonish accountant (Frédéric Duvallès) on the bottom. It’s not exactly LE REGLE DE JEUX.

More big thick matte lines for us to enjoy, though! Tricky to be making a romcom road movie a year before the Translux scene was gifted to the film industry by its inventor, Yves Le Prieur, making rear-projection a vastly more effective technique, and making KING KONG possible. If the film had been silent, May could have filmed the car stuff for real, but a talkie needed to be filmed in the studio, so we get Jean Murat and Annabella haloed with wavering jagged white outlines that keep biting off portions of their heads you would not think they could do without. Excellent stuff. Even if the film were not as charming as it is, that kind of thing could make it endlessly diverting. Elsewhere May rapidly cuts together real car POV shots with our heroes outlined against a perfectly blank whiteness, as if driving into Jimmy Stewart’s nightmare limbo in VERTIGO.

The Sunday Intertitle: Missing Bologna

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2015 by dcairns

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I have to get organized and raise some cash so I can go to Bologna next year. Cinema Ritrovato is an annual event and I need to be present at it annually. At least.

This year, there was no A HARD DAY’S NIGHT to lure me — that seemed an unmissable way of closing the book on my Richard Lester piece, PICTUREWISE. But there are a lot of things on which are pretty unrepeatable. Today, on Facebook, accompanist Neil Brand posted that RAPSODICA SATANICA, which has had its original score by Mascagni carefully reconstructed by Timothy Brock, only works with this music. Above is a fab intertitle plucked from my un-scored disc. And here is an image —

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AAARGH! It’s another of those creepy portraits that come to life! I love/hate those things. Here, the use of tinting is fantastic — it both accentuates and erases the difference between the three-dimensional, physical world and the flat world of the portrait. See also THIS.

They are also showing KISS ME KATE in 3D — there’s some hope that such an event will be repeated nearer me, but you never know. The only place likely to screen it would be Filmhouse, which bought expensive 3D apparatus and then decided “Our audience doesn’t like 3D.” Which is true for a lot of people who go to Filmhouse, I guess, particularly the retirees. But they have never shown PINA and CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in 3D, so do they really know?

Meredith Brody informs me that Renato Castellani is one of the great discoveries this year. I can do a bit of armchair discovering of his oeuvre, I guess.

I would certainly be checking out some of the rare Leo McCareys.

Have I ever seen ANY Jacques Tourneur on the big screen? GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING would be a wonderful start.

At long last — Julien Duvivier’s submerged cinema starts to resurface. During the Great Duvivier Giveaway I allowed more than a hundred readers to experience LA FIN DU JOUR in a scrappy off-air recording from the eighties. Now it can be seen projected in pristine-o-scope. And they say there’s no such thing as progress.

Quite a few filmmakers of particular importance to Shadowplay are featured — Duvivier, Anthony Mann, Joseph Losey. MON GOSSE DE PERE is a 1931 film from Pathe-Natan — I own a fuzzy off-air recording, but it’s unsubtitled so I haven’t explored it in any depth.

Buster Keaton! SHERLOCK JNR and ONE WEEK on the vast open-air screen of the Piazza Maggiore!

Oddly enough, I feel OK about missing 2001 because I don’t know that the occasional distractions of police sirens and barking dogs you hear in the open-air environment would enhance Kubrick’s vision. They don’t seem to matter in silents or in chatty films.

There’s a surprise movie! Surprise movies often don’t work — Edinburgh abandoned the practice as the majority of punters always seemed discontented with what they got. I think typically the film would be a last-minute offering grabbed opportunistically after the programme went to press. But since EVERYTHING IS AWESOME IN BOLOGNA, and all the films are rediscoveries, restorations and possible classics deserving further study, it can be guaranteed that whatever the surprise was, it was a good ‘un.

Now I’m starting to feel melancholic. Apart from anything else, Bologna is a fantastic PLACE…

Still, next year I think I can get some cash from my place of work under the heading of “research”. So that will be just ~

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The Madness of War

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by dcairns

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An entry in Movies Silently’s super-blogathon, the Snoopathon. Subject: ESPIONAGE!

There’s an eye-opening bit in Sam Fuller’s epic war memoir, THE BIG RED ONE, where Lee Marvin’s soldiers raid a Nazi base in a Belgian insane asylum. Amid the skirmish, dazed inmates carry on eating, oblivious to the firestorm around them — an unlikely concept, given that mad people (and people with learning difficulties, who are also included in this fictitious Walloon-y bin) would be likely to be MORE upset by submachine-guns blazing away over the dinner table than even such as I. Then one inmate snatches up a gun from a fallen soldier and gleefully wastes a couple of his fellow patients, crying, “I am like you! I am sane!” And we recognize, hopefully, that Fuller has one foot planted firmly in the terrain of allegory, and is Making a Point. In a scenario where some people are peacefully eating dinner and some are shooting each other, who is crazy? And if the killers are the sane ones, how else should one prove one’s sanity?

(My dad once replaced the wiring in a mental hospital, and met a chap on his way out who had been issued a Certificate of Sanity to help him find work. My dad felt vaguely jealous. HE doesn’t have a Certificate of Sanity.)

The other most obvious films about madness and war which come to mind are CATCH 22, which is TOO obvious to discuss here, and KING OF HEARTS, which some people like but I find twee. Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold are both lovely, but the film seeks to set war (bad) and madness (lovely) as opposites, and has to lie through its teeth to do so. Or maybe it’s just total ignorance bout mental illness, I don’t know. The point is related to Fuller’s — mad people don’t make wars — but it’s not really true, as CATCH 22 can demonstrate.

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So I had worries about Raymond Bernard’s UN AMIE VIENDRA CE SOIR… (A FRIEND WILL COME TONIGHT…) would tackle its subject, an insane asylum in the dying days of Nazi-occupied France. But, since I knew Bernard’s work from his Pathe-Natan super-productions CROIX DES BOIS and LES MISERABLES, I shouldn’t have worried. The only weaknesses in this 1946 movie are that, coming right after the war, it portrays its German characters in broadly stereotyped terms, and contains a little too much triumphal material on the heroes of the Resistance. Both those stances are broadly true and respectable, but rather simple and uninteresting dramatically — but one can see why the French would have needed to hear them in ’46.

The film’s strengths are in its unsentimental portrayal of the mad, and the crafty plotting which sees a number of imposters planted amid the staff, inmates and neighbours of the asylum. There’s a Jewish fugitive, a British parachutist, a couple of Resistance fighters, a German spy, and one Resistance leader whose true identity is known only by… but that would be telling.

The actors who may or may not be playing those roles include the great Michel Simon, in the guise of a sweet-natured innocent with Boudou beard, who rejects the existence of evil and has declared himself President of his own republic of one, and romantic Madeleine Sologne, embarking on a tentative romance with a Swiss doctor, Paul Bernard (a favourite of Jean Gremillon). Oh, and Howard Vernon, whose experience in covert shenanigans here would doubtless stand him in good stead for his future collaborations with Jesus Franco.

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The treatment of madness allows for some humour, but I think that’s permissible — the movie is quite clear that mental illness is not a delightful escape from reality, but often a torment and something which makes the sufferer unable to function socially. The treatment of war is a touch bloodless, except in the startling references to Nazi death camps and the campaign of sterilisation and extermination, preceding the war, carried out in the name of eugenics and exciting no major opposition from outside Germany, which rid the world of those whose physical and mental disabilities had them classified as “life unfit for life.”

Both the spying and deceit, and the insanity, are great excuses for Bernard to deliver up his trademark Dutch tilts, a staple of his filmmaking since at least the early 30s (LES MIS is full of them). I haven’t seen THE CHESS PLAYER (1927) so I dunno if he was leaning to the side even then, but I know it intercuts a piano recital with military activity — something repeated here.

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The movie, which I think is a great one, may also be suggesting that the strife of war will send France itself, and possibly its director in person, mad. Raymond Bernard was Jewish, and had spent the war in hiding, in fear for his life, while his father, the writer Tristan Bernard, was interned at the camp at Drancy, which ruined his health and led to his death just after this film was released.

Eclipse Series 4: Raymond Bernard (Wooden Crosses / Les Miserables) (The Criterion Collection)