Archive for Renee Adoree

The Sunday Intertitle: An Eleven Letter Word

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2019 by dcairns

What unmentionable word is John Gilbert mentioning here in THE BIG PARADE (1925)? Not BASTARDS, surely. Too many letters. I think it must be BUTTFUCKERS.

You have to remember, it was a different era.

I first knew of this movie through Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood series, which I saw on first airing some thirty-nine years ago, so it’s pretty bad that it’s taken me this long to catch up with it (and worse that I open my analysis with a sodomy joke). Sometimes the makers of that legendary series would make a film look even better than it was, by careful extraction of the juiciest morsels, and that’s sort of true here. Nearly everything involving the pastoral love affair with Renee Adoree is either a drag, or frankly incredible (not her fault). And then there’s the repulsive Karl Dane as a comic relief buddy out of Nosferatu’s worst nightmares.

But the great bits are indeed great, elevating the whole proposition to well-deserved classic status.

Vidor writes in his book that he took care to always film the advancing US army traveling from screen left to screen right, because on a map, west is left and east is right. An army going from America to Europe and then advancing should have a rightward movement — this will seem subconsciously CORRECT to an audience and if you stick to it, all confusion can be avoided. It’s a beautiful, simple, almost dumb idea.

In fact, Vidor abandons it for his most celebrated sequence, the death march through the forest. I’m not sure why. Much of the scene is purely frontal, but for the really wide shots, the army is moving right to left — maybe because that creates slightly more tension in a western audience comfortable reading text from right to left.

Vidor specified that the scene should be scored with just a slow, solo drum beat — which he had used to choreograph it during filming, his soldiers marching and dying to the rhythm. Carl Davis, rescoring the movie for Thames Silents, can’t bring himself to go THAT stark and simple, but he does allow the steady, deadly percussion to dominate.

The most impressive thing, though, is how Vidor initially keeps Death in the background.

As the men march, we slowly become aware that there are bodies strewn here and there among the fallen leaves. Gilbert has to step over one, which brings them more sharply into our consciousness. Then — BANG! — an out-of-focus figure in the background throws up his rifle and drops.

You can just see him, on his knees by Karl Dane’s elbow on the right.

Then, in a closer shot on Tom O’Brien, another one goes (far right). The closer view makes the casualty seem even more incidental, somehow. Our protagonists seem unaware of what’s happening (an ambiguity of silent cinema: surely they’d hear the gunshots?). By putting the fatalities in the background and out of focus, Vidor somehow emphasises them by refusing to emphasise them. There’s a greater quality of “Look out!” since we can see what the men cannot.

There are a lot more great moments in the film. The POV that follows, tracking towards an enemy position… It feels like this may have influenced the execution scene in PATHS OF GLORY, the hit in the woods in MILLER’S CROSSING, the climax of THE WAY AHEAD…

THE BIG PARADE stars Count Vronsky, Nag Ping, Starbuck, Wolf Larsen and Stupid McDuff.

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: Backchat

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on December 21, 2014 by dcairns

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Tay Garnett, based on his terrific autobiography, Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights, could either be said to have led a charmed life — a long and frequently successful career, narrow escapes from death — or an unlucky one — a long and just as frequently UNsuccessful career, narrow escapes from death that left him with serious injuries. The big missed opportunity for me seems to come in the early thirties when, with HER MAN and PRESTIGE, Garnett showed himself to be visually just about the best director in town. The former film is also a very good movie, seemingly inventing a lot of the roughhouse comedy John Ford would come to specialise in.

For whatever reason, Garnett soon tamped down his photographic flamboyance, and made his best-known movies in a more anonymous style. A shame.

But all this made me very curious to see even earlier TG films. The only silent I could source was THE SPIELER, which came heavily recommended by The Chiseler’s Danny Riccuito, who praised its slangy intertitles. Here’s a fairly late silent movie whose title and concept are predicated upon speech, that of a carnival barker, played with characteristic and wearisome ebullience by Alan Hale (above). “You sure print a mean waffle,” he tells Renee Adoree. But it’s the scenes with bad-guy crook Fred Kohler (of UNDERWORLD) that get all the best slang.

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“Listen, Red — the twist caught me pinchin’ a pigskin. She aired me.”

It’s forgotten today, but this movie caused a Hollywood-wide apostrophe shortage, so informal were its intertitles.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but sadly THE SPIELER does not supply the wheeling, whooshing and arching camera moves of the Garnett pre-codes. There are a few snazzy bits, but they’re parceled out cautiously in key moments. The good crooks versus bad crooks in a crooked world approach does seem to anticipate the Warners worldview of later years, but I find all that more compelling with actual audible gab. Still, there’s a quaint thrill to be had from a prolonged closeup of Hale moving his lips rapidly, displaying the kind of verbal dexterity a movie of this era simply has to leave to the audience’s imagination.