Archive for Salvador Dali

Window Blind

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2023 by dcairns

I’m delighted to have a local second-hand bookstore one street away, and even more delighted that it’s called The Community Bookstore, since that was also the name of my neighbo(u)rhood bookstore in Brooklyn when I’ve stayed there for brief spurts. The CB sprang up just after the sad closure of the All-You-Can Eat Bookshop, and has been a similarly pleasurable drain on my income.

One thing I bought lately is Coin-Op Comics Anthology 1997-2017, by Peter Hoey + Maria Hoey — it has John Dahl and Peggy Cummings from GUN CRAZY on the cover, in a cartoon copy of a still I once turned into a painting when I was a misguided art student, so you could say it was AIMED AT me.

What made me buy the reassuringly sold hardback, which cost more than my £2 auto-purchase threshold (if it’s under £2 and looks promising, I’ll buy it, regardless of whether I’m likely to actually READ it), was finding a strip in there which mashes together REAR WINDOW and UN CHIEN ANDALOU to create a terrifying Lynchian nightmare.

When I was a misguided art student I also dabbled in comics, and so in my current incarnation as film cricket I’m interested in the conjunction of comics and movies — not in comic strip adaptations of the MCU variety, nor in comic adaptations of feature films, but in comics as a means of film cricketism criticism. I enjoyed Edinburgh-based Edward Ross’s Filmish, which transfers film studies as it is taught at most universities into didactic strip-cartoon form, in something like the style of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, but Coin-Op is doing something weirder. It’s not officially film analysis, and yet somehow it is.

Just by folding together the Bunuel-Dali short and the Hitchcock feature, the piece naturally uncovers similarities and differences. Both films come to feel like explorations of the Kuleshov Effect: Hitchcock supposedly reused a closeup of Jimmy Stewart in two wildly different contexts, and delightedly screened the results to his star, to prove how performance can be superseded or subverted by cutting. The Spanish expats short-circuit the audience’s tendency to relate to POV characters by showing Pierre Batcheff reacting in very vivid and very inappropriate ways to the strange things he sees from his window. CHIEN actually feels as if a bunch of random reaction shots have been spliced together with equally random POVs in order to mess with our minds.

These thoughts are prompted by the weird, creepy story (poor Jimmy!) the Hoeys (Hoeyii? — a brother and sister team working on opposite US seaboards) concoct, rather than being embedded in it as text. They also do a piece on Orson Welles which isn’t quite as successful but is VERY interesting, and a more conventional biopicstrip of Nick Ray. Also lots of beautifully laid out and surreal non-cinema material.

The drawing can seem a little clenched — very few comics artists can do celebrity likenesses in a relaxed style, the way the best caricaturists manage. The lines are mechanically even, not offering the lively variation of nib or brush. But these movie mash-up narratives hint at a whole new way of doing film criticism, more worthy of further exploration I think than David Thomson’s Suspects, which is the closest thing to it I can think of. (You CAN end a sentence with a preposition, see? Or would you prefer “the closest thing to it of which I can think”?)

Marx for Trying

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Painting, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2022 by dcairns

I was thinking of getting rid of my copy of Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg — “Will I ever read this?” — when I opened it at random — a fair test — and discovered that Schulberg had attempted to co-write a Marx Bros movie at Paramount in the thirties, where he was the boss’s son.

BUGHOUSE FABLES was the intended title, which I somewhat approve of, since it has the required animal reference. But is it a common phrase or saying like “monkey business,” “horse feathers,” “animal crackers,” and “duck soup”? (Two of these are by now UNcommon phrases or sayings but I’m prepared to believe that in pre-code days they were familiar to the American public.)

BUT I’m wrong — here’s proof, from 1922, that Schulberg’s title WAS extant.

It was supposed to be about the Marxes running an asylum. I’m unsure about this. The results could easily be tasteless, even for the 1930s, and Schulberg says that part of the impetus was to hit back at the censors who had been objecting to MONKEY BUSINESS. Also, surrounding the Bros with lunatics could easily diminish their powers. The possibilities for spot gags would be endless, but we can hardly have Groucho, Chico and Harpo seeming less crazy than everyone else. Presumably we would have a “lunatics taking over the asylum” scenario and there are strong possibilities for annoying headshrinkers (cue Sig Rumann) and wealthy patrons (Margaret Dumont). But I think the Marxes need a sane, generically-consistent story world to interact with, and be the craziest element of. When Groucho is placed in charge of a sanatorium in A DAY AT THE RACES, the most eccentric person he meets apart from his own brothers is rich hypochondriac Dumont.

Schulberg himself sounds pretty uncertain about whether his efforts to write funny were in fact hitting the mark or Marx (atsa some joke, huh boss?)

The same problem is multiplied by a thousand in Salvador Dali’s Marx scenario, GIRAFFES ON HORSEBACK SALAD. Two animals for the price of one. But not a common phrase or saying, except perhaps in the Dali household. It’s understandable that Dali, a Spaniard, may have misunderstood “horse feathers” and “animal crackers” as pieces of surreal word salad, which they sort of are, but they were also pre-existing expressions which the domestic audience understood.

But the title is merely a clue to the full-blown insanity of Dali’s vision. And while that may sound mouth-watering, most commentators have concluded that surrounding the Marx Bros with an UN CHIEN ANDALOU world already chaotic and surreal would render them redundant, with nothing left to disrupt.

This image derives from a graphic novel adaptation, and you can listen to a subsequently-produced audio version here, for money.

Much, much later, Billy Wilder contemplated A NIGHT AT THE UNITED NATIONS. The title here places the project in the later MGM tradition though I doubt Wilder would have filled the movie with songs. The concept of positioning the Brothers in the context of international politics does smack promisingly of DUCK SOUP though. It would be untrue to say that the gags would write themselves — but I believe Wilder could write them. I’d love to see Chico working as a simultaneous translator. And then Harpo taking over.

Wilder never made a film built around an actual movie clown — his comedies are built around thespians with comedic chops. He uses Marilyn Monroe a little bit like a clown, and Jimmy Cagney as an icon whose famous moments he can built jokes around, but mostly his characters are not totally dependent on casting choices. He did try to work with Peter Sellers, twice, but Sellers had neither persona nor, he claimed, personality.

Wilder did also want to make a film with Laurel & Hardy — he got as far as planning an opening showing them sleeping rough in the last two Os of the HOLLYWOOD sign. So clownwork was something he had an interest in. But I suspect the collaborations would have been fraught. Stan liked to be in charge, and Groucho eventually kicked Wilder out of his house after receiving one too many lectures on the right wine to serve with dinner. (This is all from Maurice Zolotow’s semi-reliable Wilder bio.) It would have been like Preston Sturges and Harold Lloyd trying to collaborate, and finding their mutual respect could not overcome their need to be true to their individual comic muses.

Page Seventeen II: Risk Addiction

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2021 by dcairns

It was very late when we were finishing the meal, and the sun was already low on the horizon. I was barefoot, and one of the girls in our group, who had been an admirer of mine for some time, kept remarking shrilly how beautiful my feet were. This was so true that I found her insistence on this matter stupid. She was sitting on the ground, with her head lightly resting against my knees. Suddenly she put her hand on one of my feet and ventured an almost imperceptible caress with her trembling fingers. I jumped up, my mind clouded by an odd feeling of jealousy toward myself, as though all at once I had become Gala. I pushed away my admirer, knocked her down and trampled on her with all my might, until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.

The office was furnished in sombre good taste that was relieved by a pair of bronze puppies on the chimney-piece. A low trolley of steel and white enamel alone distinguished the place from a hundred thousand modern American reception-rooms; that and the clinical smell. a bowl of roses stood beside the telephone; their scent contended with the carbolic, but did not prevail.

I continued to smell the flower, from time to time, for its oddity of perfume had fascinated me. I passed by the house on the cross-road again, but never encountered the old man in the cloak, or any other wayfarer. It seemed to keep observers at a distance, and I was careful not to gossip about it: one observer, I said to myself, may edge his way into the secret, but there is no room for two.

This view is mistaken. You underestimate even the foothills that stand in front of you, and never suspect that far above them, hidden by cloud, rise precipices and snow-fields. The mental and physical advances which, in your day, mind in the solar system has still to attempt, are overwhelmingly more complex, more precarious and dangerous, than those which have already been achieved. And though in certain humble respects you have attained full development, the loftier potencies of the spirit have not yet even begun to put forth buds.

The dead man was face down on the dark hardwood floor. He was frail and old, and the house was sturdy and old, redolent of Victorian dignity. It was the house where he had been born.

Next to Ken’s store was Milton. He dealt in furniture and bric-a-brac, and went by the soubriquet of Captain Spaulding, perhaps because of the lyric, in the song of the same name, ‘Did somebody call me schnorrer …?’

This observation and part of the surrounding narrative appear to have been borrowed from a passage in The Gothic War by the sixth-century Byzantine historian, Procopius. The passage is known to Celtic scholars as a particularly late reference to Celtic religious beliefs. Procopius describes how the Armoricans – the inhabitants of Brittany – would be woken by a low voice and a knocking at the door in order that they might ferry the souls of the dead over to the island of Britain. When they went to the harbour they would find boats, apparently empty, sunk to the gunwales. One common explanation of fairy origins was that they were souls of the dead, an explanation which accounts for Puck’s disguise as the dead Tom Shoesmith in this story. Hobden’s wife is a descendant of the widow herself and so the borrowing from the historian indicates the ancient descent and immemorial continuities imagined by Kipling for his embodiment of Sussex man as well as for his fairy spokesman.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from seven books bought from Edinburgh’s charity shops or sent in by readers. (Send me books!) Feel free to reply with extracts from some page seventeens of your own, especially if they make suitable rebuttals to the bold statements cited above.

The Secret Diary of Salvador Dali by Salvador Dali (natch); The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh; The Ghostly Rental by Henry James, in Classic Tales of Horror, Vol. 1; Olaf Stapledon’s introduction to his Last and First Men; There Hangs Death! by John D. MacDonald, from Stories to be Read with the Door Locked II “edited” by Alfred Hitchcock; A Whore’s Profession by David Mamet; Sarah Wintle’s introduction to Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling;