Archive for Preston Sturges

Ants in Your Plants of 1941

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2015 by dcairns

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Today I was supposed to be in New York but flight got pushed back. Something to do with a slight snowfall. Daniel Riccuito of The Chiseler reports that the sky is basically solid snowflakes, drifting UPWARDS. Which sounds fine — the ground will be cleared in no time. It’s just the sky you have to worry about. Walk in a crouch, New York, and you’ll be alright. But I can see how an atmosphere composed entirely of frozen water would make air traffic problematic.

So I go tomorrow, arriving at the Walter Reade Theater hopefully just in time for the 3,15 screening of NATAN as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival. I will be lugging my luggage, tired and wired, but hopefully coherent enough for a cogent Q&A. And then another screening 8.45 the same day. Hope to see you there, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, there is time to tell you about SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection. I made a video essay for this, aided by editor Stephen Horne and graphic designer Danny Carr who gets a special shout-out here for an amazing 40s-style animated title sequence, sampled above. Since the Coen Brothers swiped one title from John L. Sullivan’s fictional filmography (O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) I wanted to grab another. It was this or HEY-HEY IN THE HAY LOFT. The conversations then came to be about what a title for such a film might consist of. Danny surpassed all expectations by combining the pull-back-thru-lettering device of THE PALM BEACH STORY with the animated characters of THE LADY EVE, all in a convincing early forties style despite working with computer rather than cel animation. I’m blown away by his work.

The piece also features an interview with Bill Forsyth, a fan of the film who explains how it influenced him. This was folded into my script after I wrote it, much as I did with Richard Lester’s interview for my A HARD DAY’S NIGHT piece. One of these days I’ll manage to do the interview first and then write the VO around it, like a sane person.

You can pre-order this magnificent product here —

Sullivan’s Travels [Blu-ray]

I’m really chuffed with how it turned out!

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Noag or Yoag?

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

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Rewatching THE PALM BEACH STORY with Fiona (before leaving for foreign parts), which my memory told me was Fiona’s favourite Preston Sturges film. She wasn’t sure I was right, but by about halfway through was willing to confirm it. She laughed at the bits she always laughed at, and then found new bits to laugh at. Not precisely new, but bits that kind of slip by the first couple of times and stand out more on a repeat viewing. The nonsense dialogue between Mary Astor and Sig Arno (the Princess Centimillia AKA Maude, and Toto, the refugee houseguest from Belugistan), for instance. Mostly Arno is funny physically, striking poses or failing to strike them, as when he leans nonchalantly on a stick which promptly bends into a rainbow shape and nearly drops him to the floor, before he shifts his weight and is nearly bounced off his feet. But the gobbledygook Belugistan deserves its own glossary. Too bad Anthony Burgess isn’t here to write it. For most of his screen time, Toto resists the Princess’s veiled commands to scram, with a simple, dignified declaration of “Nitzk.” The Princess will respond with a determined “Yitzk, Toto.”

But deep in the third act, determined to marry Captain McGlue (“That name!”), the Princess feels stronger measures are required to deal with Toto and proposes buying him a one-way ticket to Havana. This calls for a refusal in stronger terms, it seems: no mere “Nitzk” will do.

“Noag,” says Toto, firmly.

“Yoag, Toto,” says the Princess, equally firmly.

(Took me a looong time to realise that Arno played the inappropriate comedy relief in DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, a film which seems worlds away from Sturges.)

Bonus bit: having laughed herself silly on several previous occasions at the train porter’s “She’s alone but she don’t know it,” Fiona this time had hysterics at the same character’s musings, in the same scene, about how no man who leaves a dime as a tip can possibly have a yacht (pronounced semi-phonetically) — “A canoe, maybe, or a bicycle.”

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The porter’s on the poster! Somebody noticed how good Charles R. Moore was!

And also! A New York cabbie (Frank Faylen! Bim from THE LOST WEEKEND!), after Claudette Colbert asks if he can possibly take her to Penn Station for free: “Sure, hop in, babe.” It’s the micro-pause before he delivers it, since this is an unusual request and he has to give it a moment’s thought, and then the casual way he says it, since after all it’s no big deal, that for some reason makes it (1) totally convincing in real-world terms and (2) hilarious. The film is full of gleeful silliness, like the repeated Deus Ex Weenie King plot contrivance, but that moment is oddly convincing, despite its highly irregular nature — it also neatly illustrates the film’s underlying theme, what Sturges called “the aristocracy of beauty,” explained by Colbert’s character as the principle that a pretty girl can do a whole lot without doing anything.

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