Archive for Ruth Gordon

Kirby Dies Again

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-10-13-10h47m36s470

Filmhouse is showing George Cukor’s film of Garon Kanin & Ruth Gordon’s A DOUBLE LIFE, and I jumped the gun by watching my ancient off-air recording. Hadn’t seen this movie since I was a kid. (spoilers)

Not anybody’s strongest work, but it brings out an expressionist side in Cukor that he’s not supposed to have and which he basically denied having (“I’m interested in the actor’s faces.”) Some of that stuff is really interesting.

Ronald Colman plays a Broadway star who gets too wrapped up in his roles. When he stars in Othello he goes full deadly Moor and smothers a waitress. This is Shelley Winters, who is more used to watery death (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, A PLACE IN THE SUN, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, even LOLITA in a way), but it turns out any form of suffocation is OK with Shelley.

MGM films are nearly always based on offensive assumptions, and in this case Shelley’s demise is merely a sideshow in the tragic fall of Colman’s English ham. Signe Hasso plays his Swedish wife, and I wondered if the role was intended for Ingrid Bergman. This made me glom onto the idea of the film as a remake of the same studio’s DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE (itself a remake of Paramount’s superior version). Both movies feature a hero with a double life and a woman in each. The poor working girl is a disposable unit who can be sacrificed allowing the posh bird to be spared.

vlcsnap-2016-10-13-10h49m11s903

Colman does do a fine death, letting the life fade from his face like Kevin Spacey in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL — subtractive acting at its best. Before he shuffles off, he monologues about an old ham who used to overdo his death scenes to the point where the audience would call for encores, and he’d rise from the dead and give them an action replay. Colman attributes this to a fictional old stager called Kirby, but the idea is pinched from Scotland’s own William McGonagall, poet and tragedian, whose repeat expiration was recreated in Joe McGrath and Spike Milligan’s film, THE GREAT MCGONAGALL ~

It always happens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2016 by dcairns

18reub

On a whim — I’m a whimsical fellow — I made a gif of a dummy Kim Novak falling past the mission tower window in VERTIGO.

Stare at it long enough and you will begin to get past the initial amusement. You will see that what is happening is not funny, but terrible.

The shot in the movie itself is bathetic rather than tragic, escaping a Bad Laugh only because it’s part of a powerful montage with good acting and music. What’s wrong with the shot?

I think Hitchcock is up against the fact that figures falling past windows are somehow comic. There’s a whole Monty Python sketch about this, and one also thinks of Charles Durning’s cartoony plunge in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. Rigid dummies are also funny, though not as much as floppy ones. Did nobody think of manufacturing a realistically articulated dummy with a degree of stiffness in the joints? The expense of the exercise may have been a factor, but I bet I could knock up a better dummy in a day, if supplied with some mannikin parts and a wig and costume.

Are you actually reading this or have you become hypnotized by the perpetual motion falling Novak?

As often with Hitchcock’s less effective moments, the artificiality is an issue. He’s built a full-sized window and a big bit of background art, more of a cyclorama than a matte painting (we know this because it’s recycled in ONE-EYED JACKS). So there’s no reason I can see why the dummy has to be superimposed, but it appears to have been matted in afterwards. You could actually have placed a trampoline off the bottom of frame and dropped a real Kim Novak into it — it would have been hilarious when she bounced back into view, but George Tomasini would have cut by then. You could rely on George to get things like that right.

(Unlike Frank J. Urioste, who allows us to see a stuntman’s legs waving as he hits a crash mat just out of frame in ROBOCOP, even though he’s supposed to have been flung from a high window. Strange carelessness, in what’s otherwise a superbly cut film.)

vlcsnap-2016-08-10-22h09m37s124

Then there’s the pose. Of all the possible angles of descent, head first seems to me the most potentially comical. Because it shows the ersatz Novak full-figure, in her most recognisable aspect (although we’re not used to seeing her upside down), Hitch may have thought it would be helpful for clarity, since we would only have an instant to recognize the plummeting figure. But I think the context he’s set up would allow him to get away with being less clear, and a less perfect angle would enhance the sense of glimpsed reality. Basically any angle that’s not upskirt would be better.

(See Polanski’s POV shot in ROSEMARY’S BABY of Ruth Gordon on the phone in the bedroom. The cinematographer was astonished that Polanski chose to obscure most of the actor with the door jamb, but that awkward framing is what convinces us we’re seeing something through the eyes of a real-life onlooker who cannot be expected to have a perfect view.)

vlcsnap-2016-08-12-12h15m29s450

Anything else? Well, the dummy (and even in under a second we are in no doubt that it IS a dummy) seems to be falling at a very slight angle. I guess that’s possible if she stood on the edge and pitched forward, or did an Olympic-style dive, but it makes us wonder about things that aren’t relevant to the emotion of the scene.

Still, it’s been voted the best film ever made, so I guess Hitch was doing something right.

 

 

The Sunday Intertitle: Silence is Golden

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-09-13-23h11m11s197

Thanks to Mark Medin for aiming me at this one — a follow-up to last week’s Keaton, which was co-directed by Mal St Clair.

St Clair’s THE SHOW OFF (1926) is a movie where we can be truly grateful for silence — Ford Sterling, a longtime Keystone cop, plays a braying jackass who is already rather hard to taken without sound. If we had to listen to him, we’d end up climbing into the screen to throttle the bastard. Sterling plays the chief of the clowns in my favourite film, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, but he hasn’t got much to do in it and isn’t required to engage our sympathy. His abrasive personality is probably what kept him from being a bigger success, though he was obviously well-known enough.

The film is strictly domestic comedy, with few visual gags and most of the humour deriving from Sterling’s crass behaviour. There’s also a big helping of pathos, with a dying parent and so on. St Clair negotiates the tonal shifts fairly well, though Sterling basically just bulldozers through, the script failing to supply him with much of a redemption. The highlights turn out to be scenes of more-or-less straight suspense, protracted to a nerve-shredding degree at the climax where Sterling ambles home with the money to save the family home, just as his poor mother-in-law is hunting for a pen to sign the property away.

vlcsnap-2014-09-13-23h10m17s193

The film also features Gregory Kelly, who was the first Mr. Ruth Gordon, and who looks Japanese. And then it also features Louise Brooks, which I expect is the reason most folks watch it. Brooks is used quite effectively, and though as romantic interest for the second male lead, it should be a nothing part, it actually affords her some nice moments.

St Clair’s direction is pleasing too, with some dynamic tracking shots that reinforce the swaggering idiot hero’s conceit of himself, as he pushes the whole frame along with his jaunty march. And there’s this ~

vlcsnap-2014-09-13-23h10m32s68

Really nice, and so modern. There’s been a certain amount of debate down the years about whether Brooks was an actress or just a great screen figure. I think she’s the embodiment of the kind of star who excelled in silents and wasn’t so effective in sound, not because of any flaw in her voice but because the rigidity of sound filmmaking stifled what was amazing about her. And then in filmed interviews in her later years she’s quite relaxed (to the point of not bothering to get dressed and doing them in her dressing gown) and you can see the vibrancy again. I guess the Kansan accent wasn’t ideal, and wasn’t what you’d imagine when looking at her in a silent, but I don’t find it a big problem (but then, I’m not American so it has fewer dust bowl associations for me).

Her delicacy and dancer’s poise improve every composition in THE SHOW OFF. A shame more St Clair features of this era don’t survive. And a shame about Ford Sterling.

vlcsnap-2014-09-13-23h11m25s105

Oh, do be quiet, you silly man.