Archive for Scars of Dracula

Pathos and Pangs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2020 by dcairns
Transporter malfunction!

I wrote about THE NEW JANITOR very recently, before I decided to explore Chaplin’s Keystone period in sequence and in more depth than anyone wants. I was influenced by Craig Keller’s excellent series, but he kept things epigrammatic and stopped at 1914… I might keep going. This’ll be like Hitchcock Year all over again, but it’ll be 93 films long. Try and stop me.

What wasn’t obvious about TNJ on a cursory view was that its narrative stratagem — injecting Chaplin-as-Tramp into a perfectly serious little melodrama — was totally new for the comedian, and probably for the studio. And it paves the way for many future developments. Supporting comics in obvious fake whiskers playing supporting clown roles will decrease — only Chaplin is allowed to look midway between circus performer and real everyday dude — the stories will get serious with Chaplin being the means of injecting comedy. The stakes will be real, and the settings for naturalistic.

This one was spat out of the Keystone Komedy assembly line so fast (there are just nine set-ups, and eight of them have been used before the halfway mark) that Al St. John hasn’t had a chance to change out of his bellboy costume. Charlie is set up as the underdog victim of St John’s elevator prank. The building he’s working in has obvious backdrops of skyscrapers outside the windows — or maybe just painted ON the windows. But my one time inside a New York skyscraper the views looked just like that. Unreal.

Charlie’s specific kind of incompetence is well-painted-in too: he has remarkable physical dexterity, gratuitously juggling with props, but his mind lags far behind so he does stupid stuff like carrying a waste paper bin upside down so the contents spill out.

Charlie also gets a little romance, which is played seriously and though he’s not much a catch the film doesn’t emphasise any leering or gargoyleish or antisocial qualities to render this scenario grotesque. Simple and seemingly without ambition, the film, like the character, presages the character and his films’ later form.

Chaplin remarks in My Autobiography, “I was playing in a picture called The New Janitor, in a scene in which the manager of the office fires me. In pleading with him to take pity on me and let me retain my job, I started to pantomime appealingly that I had a large family of little children. Although I was enacting mock sentiment, Dorothy Davenport [sic], an old actress, was on the sidelines watching the scene, and during rehearsal I looked up and to my surprise found her in tears. ‘I know it’s supposed to be funny,’ she said. ‘but you just made me weep.’ She confirmed something I had already felt: I had the ability to evoke laughter as well as tears.”

1) I think he means Alice Davenport.

2) It would be a while — years — before Chaplin found a proper use for this secondary talent…

It’s Keystone but released by Mutual, for whom Chaplin would make his best shorts, later.

But in THOSE LOVE PANGS, released on my birthday fifty-three years before I was born — I am now fifty-three so there’s a kind of symmetry to this — Chaplin is back to playing a repellant sex pest, and is billed as The Masher. Suggesting that he wasn’t sure if THE NEW JANITOR represented the direction he wanted to go in. People seemed to like him as a repulsive lout. He should make more lout films, then?

Charlie and Chester Conklin are rivals in pursuit of their landlady (Helen Carruthers). Though we meet them at the tea-table, Charlie seems drunk, or perhaps just mentally enfeebled. Still, when Conklin usurps his place with the landlady, Charlie is quick to prong the offender’s rump with a suitably pointy utensil. As David Hemmings would later say in JUGGERNAUT, “I may be stupid, but I’m not… bloody stupid.”

Caught red-forked, Chaplin pretends he’s using the implement as a musical instrument — the thinking comedian at work. When Conklin attempts to lay down the law — an amusing idea even in sentence form — Charlie spits in his eye — the low comic at work. Still, Chester can count himself luck not to have received the fork in his eyeball. The lout is mellowing.

A bit of further delicacy: having taken Conklin’s place with the landlady (or is she a maid? I think she’s a bit young for property-owning), Charlie positions her to be the target of the avenging prongs of Conklin. But this won’t do. Conduct unbecoming. He swaps back. And duly gets a set of tines jabbed inches deep in his noble derriere. It actually takes an effort to wrench the steel free from his flesh. Dizzily relieved expression. But his strange spasms repel the object of his wooing.

Some very good, almost abstract dueling clown action between CC and CC, before they realize the bar is open. Making excellent use of his cane, Charlie drags Conklin by the neck to their appointed destination, but for once the opportunity for drink is refused, and the chance of a tussle with some swing doors passed up, as a passing floozy (Vivian Edwards) gives Charlie the wink.

Meanwhile, Chester also meets a seductress (women just can’t resist a comedy pornstache) — Cecile Arnold. She’d been in a few Chaplin shorts previously but makes a much bigger impression here with her unusual introductor closeup. You can see her lips saying “Chester.” I wish she’d call ME Chester.

Charlie flops with his girl (she has a bigger beau, one Fred Hibbard), then reacts extravagantly to the sight of Chester and his gal. Splitscreened by a big tree, the two clowns gesticulate extravagantly and it becomes a bit obscure. I don’t get what they’re each trying to mime. Earlier, facing off together, the comics were wonderfully in synch. Here, competing for our attention, they just make muddle.

But I get that Charlie is disgusted by his rival’s romantic success, so his half-hearted attempt at drowning himself makes sense. The cop who interrupts him is no clownish Kop, but a stern authority figure without walrus moustache decoration.

Then there’s a very good bit where the big beau tries to explain a plot to Charlie who keeps falling backwards towards the pond. The beau keeps rescuing him, then prodding him, or throttling him, because he’s not listening, causing him to fall backwards etc. The relationship seems classically Chapliesque: the big brute is not necessarily consciously the Little Fellow’s enemy, in terms of wishing him ill, but he is his NATURAL enemy because he is a big guy, and pushy, and wants Charlie to do something not in Charlie’s best interests or nature or skillset. He’s inherently a boss, in other words.

Anyway we don’t really find out what the guy wants — a storyline seems amputated, somewhere. Charlie eventually gets him in the water and kicks his forehead and leaves. That’s that dealt with.

Conklin is now romancing BOTH girls. Chester Conklin gets all the pussy. It’s the moustache, has to be. Good Conklin-Chaplin grudge match, with many unconventional moves, not all of them within the Queensberry Rules. In particular, when Charlie folds Chester up and uses him as a chair while going through his wallet, we may feel that a line had been crossed.

The girls are off to the Majestic Cinema to see HELEN’S STRATAGEM. Charlie’s stratagem is to pursue them.

Nice plotting: the big beau, emerging from Echo Lake in a sodden condition, wrings out his jacket over Conklin’s face, inadvertently reviving him. It’s quite a lot like when the fake bat pukes on Dracula’s ashes in SCARS OF DRACULA. But better, obviously, because Christopher Lee didn’t wear a moustache like Dracula does in the book. What kind of moustache? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Dracula had a Chester Conklin cookie-duster? All dripping with blood and everything.

Chaplin is now embracing both girlies in the front row of the Majestic, and since his arms are occupied he’s telling them stories using his legs to gesture with. A young Charley Chase is somewhere in the audience behind him, the third CC in this movie. Then his rivals, Chester and the big beau, arrive, and we find out why cinema seats these days are bolted to the floor, and then Charlie is thrown through the cinema screen and pelted with bricks The End.

The clear implication from this film’s eventful action is that CC and CC do this every day of their lives.

Things Roddy said during Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by dcairns

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A specific example of the limits of conceptual knowledge in WMS is from a reported instance of a 21-year-old woman with WMS (Verbal IQ of 69) who was literate and read several books on her favorite topic: Vampires. When this subject was asked what a vampire is, she responded reasonably and clearly that a vampire is ‘‘a man who climbs into ladies’ bedrooms at night and sinks his teeth into their necks.’’ When asked why vampires do that, she thought for a bit, and then said, ‘‘Vampires must have an inordinate fondness for necks’’ (Johnson & Carey, 1998).

Fiona’s brother Roddy is Christmassing with us again, which means we’re watching lots of his favourite horror movies. Roddy has Williams Syndrome, like the woman quoted above, and oddly enough he likes vampires too. (Williams people are often musical, and often seem to have passionate interests, bordering on obsession: Roddy’s love of cranes and digging machinery is very typical of the condition.)

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“I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night. Wonder what would happen if I did?”

Roddy says this once during every screening of a Christopher Lee DRACULA film. Lee is his favourite vampire, and we’re pretty sure the attraction is the sexual fascination Lee’s Count is able to exert over every blonde he encounters. Roddy does not exert this fascination, but would probably like to. Wouldn’t we all?

“What’s that he’s doing? Is that a coffin or something? Another victim? Oh my God.”

Roddy himself watches quite hypnotized, becoming antsy and talkative only when the suspense builds. But the boring scenes with Barry Andrews keep him hooked too, since it’s always possible that something more vampiric may happen at any moment.

This movie has a fair bit of tedium, but director Freddie Francis contrives some lurid and Bavaesque colour effects, which seep in whenever Lee is around. Unfortunately, nothing but verbiage seeps in when Barry Andrews and Rupert Davies are around.

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“Is it her he’s looking for? Look! He’s rubbing his face on her face. Oh! He’s a vampire and he bit her.”

“Uh-oh, there he is. What’s happening? Uh oh. Here you go.”

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People with Williams consistently interpret faces as being friendlier than the rest of us.

“He’s smiling, look.”

“Ah-oh, here we go. He got caught – run!”

Here, Roddy seems to be unsure who he’s rooting for, shouting helpful advice to Dracula as well as to the heroes. But he knows pretty well who the goodies and baddies are. The character of the unnamed priest (Ewan Hooper) who gets enslaved by Drac is a puzzle, though. Characters who behave inconsistently are troubling.

“Uh-oh. This is the best bit.” Hooper smashes Rupert Davies on the head. “Hit the wrong man!”

I try to explain to Roddy that no, he hit the man he was aiming at, but he doesn’t understand Hooper’s two-faced Renfield persona. People with Williams Syndrome are extremely sociable and tend to think the world is their friend, until proven otherwise.

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Also, since the spread of cognitive abilities in people with this condition is quite varied, I suspect Roddy has a rather uncertain “theory of mind.” I can explain the concept of theory of mind with a test ~

If you say to a child under three, “A little boy has some sweeties, and he hides them under a bowl, but when he’s away his mummy moves them and puts them under a cup. When the boy comes back, where will he look for his sweeties.” Younger children always say “Under the cup,” because that’s where the sweeties ARE, and they can’t grasp the fact that the boy has different knowledge from them. That’s theory of mind.

When we watched ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, Roddy became frustrated by the character of the policeman, who didn’t know that Lon Chaney was the Wolfman. I tried to explain that the policeman didn’t know that fact, but no matter how I tried to express it, Roddy thought I was claiming that Lon Chaney wasn’t the Wolfman. “I’m sure Lon Chaney is the Wolfman,” he muttered, repeatedly.

“What’s going to happen now? Uh-oh, here comes guess who. Uh oh, he’s got a hold of him now.”

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“He’s not very pleased, is he?”

Tests have shown that Williams people are very attentive to faces, when watching TV or otherwise. This close concentration seems to be connected to a difficulty in interpreting the meaning behind facial expressions. Because the condition involves high levels of sociability, Williams people concentrate very hard on the faces, trying their best to make out what the expressions mean. Concordantly, Williams people aren’t much interested in cartoons. Roddy loves slapstick stuff where people without learning difficulties fall down or bump their heads, thus losing their supposed sense of superiority, but cartoons aren’t interesting, presumably because the faces don’t have enough detail of expression.

Roddy’s generally very good at recognizing people’s faces — that seems to involve a different part of the brain. He did think the CGI Jim Carrey in A CHRISTMAS CAROL was “that man from that programme with the horse” — Wilfred Brambell in Steptoe and Son (but what other real human being ever looked like that?), and he did think Veronica Carlson in this films was a presenter from 70s children’s show How, but that’s not so unreasonable: Jenny Hanley’s appearances in SCARS OF DRACULA did not prevent her co-presenting Magpie on Children’s telly in the seventies.

“For example, adolescents and adults with WMS have difficulty differentiating not alive into the conceptual categories of dead, inanimate, unreal, or nonexistent.” The Neurocognitive Profile of Williams Syndrome: A Complex Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses, Ursula Bellugi, Liz Lichtenberger, Wendy Jones, and Zona Lai, Marie St. George

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“I ken what he’s going to do — I ken what happens!”

Roddy sort of believes in Dracula, and sort of believes in Santa Claus. It’s quite hard to work out how much he believes, though. I think it might be similar to the belief in God a lot of people must have — they would be astonished at any example of divine intervention (of course there are no doubt many people who would accept a miracle as wholly appropriate to their understanding of the world — I suppose…) Roddy doesn’t expect to meet Dracula on a dark night, and he knows that Christopher Lee is an actor. Or at least he accepts that these things are widely acknowledged to be the case. He believes Castle Dracula is a real place and won’t take in any information about special effects that contradicts the evidence of his own eyes. (To be fair, Yvette Mimieux believed the iron sphinx in THE TIME MACHINE was a real structure, and hoped to visit it one day, and she’s in the film.)

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“Watch out! There he goes! Eyes start watering.”