Archive for Segundo de Chomon

Stronger Than Sherlock Holmes!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2021 by dcairns

Another crazy Italian silent. Hmm, was Holmes known for being particularly strong? Maybe in Italy he was.

Like Enrico Guazzoni, Giovanni Pastrone seems to have alternated between the super-epics for which he is best known (exemplified by CABIRIA) with smaller, quirkier fare. At least from what I can see of his oeuvre, which is a limited selection.

PIU FORTE CHE SHERLOCK HOLMES (1916) is a Melies-style trick film, but with interesting stylistic variations. It may originally have had intertitles — the IMDb gives the two leads character names, but doesn’t make it easy to work out which is which. I’m going to assume that the comic copper is Emilio Vardannes, who made a bunch of short comedies as the recurring character Bonifacio, and then as Toto (but not the one we’re thinking of). He’s Toto Travetti here, apparently. He also plays Hannibal in CABIRIA, though, which doesn’t fit that image. The smooth criminal would be, by elimination, Domenico “Childish” Gambino, but he had his own series of later comedies, as Saetta. I may have the two muddled.

The film is photographed by the legendary Segundo de Chomon, who had been making his own Melies knock-offs in France, and did special effects on some Roman epics in Italy, also building the first custom-made camera dolly. He and Pastroni would co-direct the extraordinary WWI animation LA GUERRA ED IL SOGNO DI MOMI the following year.

In photographs, Segundo looks EXACTLY like I imagined him.

We begin with Toto (I think) nodding off while looking at the Italian version of Illustrated Police News — a double page spread opposes a crook type on one side with a Keystone Karabiniero on the other. Mrs. Toto (I think) is also present. Fiona thinks she’s played by a man but I’m not even 100% sure of that.

Lapsing into a dream via double-exposure and a double taking his place (before SHERLOCK JR did a variation on this trick), Toto (I think) is tempted to pursue Saltarelli (I think – Gambino) who emerges from the fallen newspaper and keeps winking in and out of existence as he passes through the wall. Might be a double exposure but might also be Pepper’s Ghost — all done with mirrors.

Things get even more interesting as the chase goes al fresco and the fleeing criminal starts doing handstands on the surface of a lake, a sportive Jesus. Then, by reverse motion, the twosome scales a high building, and there’s a striking bit of chiaroscuro in a dimly-lit room. The exploitation of locations and dramatic lighting are very unlike the greenhouse exploits of M. Melies.

Lots more hi-jinks, lo-jinks and med-jinks. Strange bit where Saltarelli (I think) wipes a roomful of people away by pressing a button, causing a black vertical bar to pass across the screen like the eraser of an Etch-a-Sketch™. Also some inexplicable business with levers to be pulled, their purpose a mystery, shades of ERASERHEAD.

Toto has trouble with magic sacks which keep embracing him in their hessian grasp.

Another roomful of respectable-seeming people dope Toto (I think) with a funny cigarette, and then there’s a wrestling bout in which one opponent is squashed paper-thin and another explodes into fragments, the limbs and torso reuniting by stop-motion (and I believe Chomon was the first to combine live action with animation on the same set).

Surprisingly, for an adventure so random, it has a pretty satisfying conclusion, or as satisfying as “it was all a dream” ever gets.

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.

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.