Archive for Paul Leni

The Sunday Intertitle: Laugh and Smile

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2020 by dcairns

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Masters of Cinema have announced some upcoming releases I’m mixed up in.

Firstly, for Paul Leni’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, Fiona and I wrote and voiced a substantial video essay, The Face Deceives, edited by Stephen C. Horne. It being lockdown, we had to communicate with Stephen remotely, but he’s something of a genius and the results are… dazzling. We also got Steven McNicoll, who did voice work on my OLD DARK HOUSE piece, Meet The Femms, and Fran Dymond, to voice extracts from Victor Hugo’s source novel and interviews with the filmmakers, and the result possibly extends the video essay form a wee bit…

Secondly, the third volume in MoC’s Buster Keaton series is coming, so Stephen and I get to vid-essay OUR HOSPITALITY, GO WEST and COLLEGE in a piece called A Window on Keaton. And I invited the magnificent Miranda Gower-Qian along for an interview about Keaton’s work with his family, and the role of The Girl in his pictures.

Here’s a tiny but lovely preview ~

Incidentally, I have assembled all the discs I’ve worked on in a stack in the hall. I was hoping by now it would be as tall as I am (somewhere under six foot, I’m not sure) but it’s still straining towards shoulder-height. But then I got the idea of toting up the running times of all my video essays, in an approximate way, and it came to more than ten hours, longer than the first series of Lodge 49, a beautiful TV show you should check out. So that was heartening — maybe height of product is the wrong way to assess one’s accomplishments? I mean, where would F. Scott Fitzgerald be if he’d used that method? And where, in fact, is he?

Mask Up, Curtains Down

Posted in Comics, FILM, Theatre with tags , , , on May 7, 2020 by dcairns

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I’ve raved about Paul Leni’s THE LAST WARNING before but this is quite an upgrade via Flicker Alley. Hey, I like tinting and toning when they’re done in a sensitive and historically correct manner, but maybe there should have been an embargo in the days of VHS because a big wash of colour makes it harder to perceive detail in the already-degraded image.

I enjoyed the film before but I could get much more involved this time. What remains of the play is a nonsense — a whodunnit where there are no clues, just sinister warnings, chases and murder attempts to disrupt the investigation — but there’s a great coup de theatre at the end, which must have been thrilling on stage. To unmask the masked killer, the fatal play during which he last struck is restaged, and at the crucial moment, all the set walls go flying into the air, exposing him. This is a movie, at last, where the stagehands are the heroes.

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But the rest of the time, the film is really Leni’s, and he seizes every opportunity to pull off exciting camera angles, with striking use of height, focus, lighting, and movement. It’s highly cinematic, but very comic-book also (the story is pure Michael Kupperman pastiche material, the images maybe Will Eisner).

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THE LAST WARNING STARS Magnolia; Colonel Weed; Vicomte Paul; The Woman From the City; Victor Moritz; Squire Bartlett; Big Jim McKay; Athos; The Duchess of Berwick; Tjaden; Dr. Kluck; Spirit of Christmas Future; and Sgt. Dickens.

The Sunday Intertitle: An Unwanted Child

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2019 by dcairns

Thanks, Flicker Alley! THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, restored. From Paul Leni’s last, remarkable year of filmmaking, along with THE LAST WARNING, before his untimely death.

Always knew this would be a gorgeous movie — it’s darker scenes did somewhat survive the accumulated grim of decades, the fuzzing of poor dupes and transfers — all that obfuscatory neglect merging with the cinematography.

Sharpened up, it’s the brighter scenes that really get the benefit, and the film seems hugely more modern.

The happy ending — which one roots for like crazy — still leaves the story feeling a bit trivial. You can tamper with Victor Hugo up to a point — nearly all versions of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME leave the protagonists alive — but Quasi doesn’t get the girl. (Not even in the Disney film: but Disney tries to make his romantic yearning non-tragic, and that cripples the film.) Completely excising the tragedy somewhat destroys the point.

In fact, terrific and hauntingly disturbing as Conrad Veidt’s work is, Julius Molnar, playing the same character as a child, has some of the best stuff.

Checking his credits — he has good roles in OVER THE HILL and NO GREATER GLORY, both of which I saw this year — and turns up in MAN-PROOF, which I just watched, as an office boy.

No wonder I didn’t recall him in it — he comes in the door, hands something over, visible behind Myrna Loy’s right shoulder-pad, and buggers off again, wordlessly.

His last role was as a newsboy — nobody wanted to use him as a grown-up.

A foreground miniature has hanged men dancing on their gibbets like the dolls they are. Charles D. Hall, one of the film’s designers, would go on to do DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE BLACK CAT, THE OLD DARK HOUSE…

Hugo, a highly cinematic writer but also an internal, poetic one, titles the gallows-chapter “A tree of human invention.”

Hugo describes a corpse: “It was that which is no longer.” The kind of sentence you can stare into for quite a long time: an abyss.

To spare the feelings of the audience, Paul Leni and his collaborators omit many of Hugo’s most cinematic touches. When little Gwynplaine finds a dead woman in a snowstorm, Hugo helpfully tells us that her mouth is full of snow. But someone has been crying. Excavating the corpse, he discovers a baby, still alive, which he rescues. Without sound to motivate that action, Leni has to show Molnar simply SEEING, rather than discovering, the infant.

There’s a French bande dessinée adaptation which goes even further. The woman is found dead. But her breast is exposed. On the nipple, a frozen drop of milk. From that milk, Gwynplaine infers, then uncovers, the baby.

Narrative is cause and effect. The more detailed the chain, the more well-reasoned each link, the more effective in a story.