Archive for Singin’ in the Rain

The Sunday Intertitle: I Love You, Stanley Donen

Posted in FILM with tags , on February 24, 2019 by dcairns

RIP.

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Strabismus of Passion

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2017 by dcairns

THE DIVORCÉE (1930), an early talkie from MGM, is one those films that’s only really enjoyable when you watch it with my wife.

It’s so early, the MGM lion doesn’t actually produce any sound when he roars, he just sort of moves his lips like Jean Hagen.

This is the first image. So we know it’s going to be cutting edge entertainment. This cheeky fellow’s actually performing Singin’ in the Rain, because this is MGM — it segues into You Were Meant For Me a little later.

The film is stodgy and stagey, and what narrative drive it has is seriously hampered by awkward framing, acting and general pacing. Star Norma Shearer makes the mistake of marrying Chester Morris, overlooking in her ardor the fact that his nose is an extension of his sloping forehead, as if he were wearing a medieval helmet made of skin. When she finds out he’s cheated on her, she cheats on him with Robert Montgomery (only unclenched performance in the film) and then she actually clutches the drapes, so hard she leaves a permanent kink.

Fiona: “My God she’s terrible. And they must have used a lot of starch on those drapes.”

Me: “All that was left over from the cast.”

But the costume changes by Adrian kept us watching. “She’s a great clothes-horse.” Not just gowns but sportswear. Anything, really.

“She’s OK in THE WOMEN,” Fiona admits. Of which this is a clear precursor, having almost the same story but none of the funny, interesting or special qualities.

And Cedric Gibbons dresses the sets just as beautifully. The slow pace, and the desire to exploit the possibilities of offscreen sound, result in some nice empty frames of the kind you know I like.

“Look at that coffee set! My God, look at the creamer! I can’t remember ever being so excited by the china in a film. Look at that vase!”

Director Robert Z. Leonard manages to rustle up a montage of hands, the dialogue playing outside the frame, a sophisticated touch slightly deflated by the linking of shots by fades to black, in case things got too lively. There’s also a crazy drunken rear-projected car ride followed by screaming hysteria, smashed metal, bloody faces and stark lighting, an unexpected break from the drawing-room theatrics. And the turgid pace allows us to appreciate the invention applied to solving the problems of the immobile mic, location filming, unusual wide shots, etc.

“We need to watch another film as an antidote.”

Where the Sidewalk Never Ends

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 8, 2017 by dcairns

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My friend Travis had been to New York long before me. I asked about the worryingly high curbs. I knew the average curb in America wasn’t that high, from movies I’d seen. But I knew that Gene Kelly had jumped on an off a curb in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that looked like a White Cliff of Dover transported to the MGM lot, and Jimmy Cagney staggered along in the shadow of a curb he can barely see over.

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No, there are no curbs like that, I was told.

So how could they get away with showing the American public things the public knew didn’t exist? And why try? Either there were, in those long-ago days, mountainous, leg-breaking curbs, maybe to keep the Indians out (most Indians are not real tall), or it was some kind of deliberate artistic artifice, along the lines of “Everything on the screen should be bigger than in real life?”