Archive for Segundo de Chomon

A night on the tiles, a day in the dark

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2018 by dcairns

Yesterday was good —

I woke up and found Fiona asleep on the bathroom floor. She’d gotten up to read, and the only place to do so without disturbing me was the bathroom, so she’d made a kind of nest there and fallen asleep. Weirdly, her night on the tiles put her in a very good mood as neither of us sleeps too well when in a foreign bed, and the packed viewing schedule doesn’t allow enough time anyway…

We rocked up for a set of Segundo de Chomon shorts at 9.00 am, including the beautiful METEMPSYCHOSE, with its unhappy babies, and the interplanetary Japonisme of VOYAGE ORIGINALE. Segundo is, as his name implies, the Second King of Fantasy Cinema, after Meliés, but only just.

Then Marguerite Clark (THE MASTER MYSTERY) donned Pierette garb (a recurring motif this fest) in the surviving reel and a half of PRUNELLA, directed by Maurice Tourneur. The cardboard sets, painted in graphic style, combined with Tourneur’s typical lighting effects to make something of rare beauty, very much like his version of THE BLUE BIRD, made the same year. And it actually contains the line “Oh, Prunella!” as an intertitle. David Ehrenstein should have been there. We’d missed Tourneur’s THE WOMAN, apparently a better film and more or less complete, but surviving only in degraded 16mm form.

That didn’t give us time to make it to Mario Monicelli’s I COMPAGNI, alas, so we dived into one of the Fox series, NOW I’LL TELL, which I had previously viewed but it was vastly improved by the pristine projection and the crowd’s enthusiasm. Fiona was blown away by Spencer Tracy in his early bad boy mode — he has some extraordinary scenes. Also, lot’s of pre-code situations and dialogue. “I was born in the Virgin Islands,” says Tracy’s new mistress. “Oh really, you must have left at an early age,” he purrs, off-mic and with his back to us as they leave the room, making the censor;s job easier, but underselling the joke to make it funnier.

We were all set for RUE DE LA PAIX from director Henri Diamant-Berger, a Natan production, but were kind of warned off it, so slipped into Andre de Toth’s NONE SHALL ESCAPE! For the second time in a row we bagged the last two seats in the house. Movie deals with post-WWII war crimes but was released in 1944, making it a form of science fiction, its title a black irony now that we know all about Operation Paperclip. Excellent perfs from Alexander Knox as a Nazi swine and Marsha Hunt as his former fiancée. The heroic Rabbi is played, completely straight, by Torben “This is a talking picture” Meyer, of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and the Preston Sturges stock company by Richard Hale. De Toth gets some scope out of his small-town Polish setting by repurposing what obviously started life as a western town.

With mathematical speed we swapped DeToth’s hard-hitting melo for a new biopic doc on Sydney Chaplin by Serge Bromberg & Eric Lange. SYDNEY: THE OTHER CHAPLIN marshalls an astonishing range of source materials to paint a well-rounded portrait of this troubling, essential figure, previously glimpsed this fest as the Kaiser in SHOULDER ARMS.

Then came the 7TH HEAVEN postponement, which gave us an early night to catch up on our sleep — in bed, this time. This brings us up to now. It’s 8.14 and Marion Davies takes to the screen in a dual role, with Neil Brand at the piano, in 46 minutes, more or less. I must get cracking.

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Being Segundo, He Has To Try Harder

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on December 3, 2017 by dcairns

Very happy to discover this, Segundo de Chomon’s final film as director, LULU from 1923. The Spanish master kept working as cinematographer, special effects artist etc, climaxing with effects work for Gance’s NAPOLEON, which may be what killed him. I’m speculating.

LULU appeared six years after the epic WWI puppet film, LA GUERRA E IL SOGNO DI MOMI, a very strange piece of work, but one which nevertheless does seem to make a kind of sense. Though smaller and simpler, LULU makes very little sense.

A drunken chimpanzee in a suit comes home and starts doing magic tricks and… wait. Is this Lulu? Why does he have a girl’s name? Why is he a chimp? Why is a chimp a magician? What does his being drunk have to do with anything?

Chomon started life as a Méliès imitator, but one so talented that his copies were often even more beautiful than the originals (though we must deduct points for lesser originality, of course). To cinema’s existing bag of tricks he added the combining of live action with animation, something Méliès never got into (his films, all live-action, just LOOK like cartoons with real humans inserted). He experimented with early colour processes and created the first purpose-built dolly.

Méliès films are pretty strange, and Chomon’s copies are at least equally so, and shorts like AN INCOHERENT JOURNEY take things even further, but with that one the title puts things in some kind of reassuring context, like somebody NOTICED all the incoherence and thought it was worth remarking on. WHY IS THIS FILM CALLED LULU?

Things get stranger. Lulu (if that’s who the inebriated simian occultist is) is pestered in his bijou apartment by a home invasion from a stumpy burglar character, blessed with a scary CLOCKWORK ORANGE long nose. Using vanishing and reappearing tricks, Lulu teleports the shit out of this guy, and then teleports a passing constable into the flat, NOT to arrest the now comatose would-be criminal, but to witness Lulu stashing the guy in his closet. What’s going to happen now? The film ends.

My best theory is that seventy-odd years later, that burglar has grown into the gimp in PULP FICTION but, again, I’m speculating.

(I know this is Sunday, and I know this film is light on intertitles — a little explanation would be welcome, Segundo — but at least it’s a silent. If I get another late silent film viewed today, you may get your weekly intertitle yet.

The Sunday Intertitles: Let Slip the Dogs of War

Posted in Dance, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by dcairns

Here’s something I enjoyed again in Bologna — it’s a collaboration between director Segundo de Chomon (Spanish FX genius) and producer Giovanni Pastrone, who previously collaborated on CABIRIA, for which SDC constructed the world’s first purpose-built camera dolly.

I take this film a bit more seriously than some. Made during WWI, on the surface, the movie is fairly Boy’s Own Adventure, with clean-limbed massacres and an uncomplicated portrayal of the Italian forces as good and their Austro-Hungarian opponents as bad (minor-key war atrocities: kicking a woman when she’s down). The stop-motion animation set-piece in the middle has dolls coming to life as in TOY STORY and restaging the War as slapstick. The dolls are indestructible and can even disassemble themselves without suffering.

But I think it’s kind of an anti-war film. First, in the framing story, we see a child being traumatised by his father’s letters from the front, to the point where he has a nightmare about it all. He awakens in distress. The depiction of the war itself is one-sided, simplistic and heroic, as it had to be during WWI, but it at least makes the conflict look dangerous and stresses the peril to innocent civilians.

Then comes the fantasy sequence. By interpolating a title that says one doll is decent, clever and noble and the other is stupid, vicious and lazy, Chomon then gets away with making them completely indistinguishable. Since censors, like critics, are usually more susceptible to words than to the narrative assembly of images (they pounce on SPECIFIC images but are frequently tone-deaf to their cumulative effect), they would be quite satisfied by this.

The battles of Trik and Trak don’t really develop much, since neither character can be harmed. They just escalate, until the war takes over a whole miniature landscape. The amazing program of Il Cinema Ritrovato (a fat BOOK bulging with great writing and glossy images) credits Chomon with superimposing flames and smoke, which is correct — he does so at 35.48, but only briefly. Mostly, he simply cuts between animation and live-action puppetry, allowing his pyrotechnics to go off in real time. It’s really seemless and well worth analysing in detail.

Here’s some random notes I found on my phone, scribble-typed during the Fest ~

Lumiere films. Movie was supposed to be about Milanese boatmen but as they rowed past strenuously in the foreground, our eyes were seized by a tiny figure on the distant bank, tumbling and pratfalling crazily to no obvious purpose. The first photobomber?

Also included was a train exiting a tunnel (one of the staples of entertainment circa 1897), but we were spared the obligatory serpentine dance, listed in the program but screened elsewhen instead.

Though later we were treated to a dog doing a serpentine dance, the greatest thing ever. Shown in a program on Colette, who liked dances and dogs. (Yes, some of the program really is that heroically random.)

It wasn’t this film. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE. The Bologna movie was much more epic. The scene opened on a row of wee dogs on little podiums (podia?) lined up along the bottom of the picture. Then the dancing dog (and trainer? If so, I’ve erased him) totters on, arm extensions wafting its diaphanous gown, real front legs jiggling together at chest level within the confines of its robe like the strange, rigid breasts of Pamela Anderson.

Did the dog enjoy its terpsichorean efforts, or was every pawstep an ordeal? We’ll never know for sure.