Archive for Stan & Ollie

Fat Head

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , on January 16, 2019 by dcairns

 

Current mood.

Watching actual Laurel & Hardy after watching STAN & OLLIE is a revelation, even if one knows exactly what kind of revelation to expect. “So THIS is what laughing until you can’t breathe feels like!”

(None of the endless succession of guffawing extras in STAN & OLLIE evokes the painful hysteria a good L&H routine can produce under halfway favourable circumstances.)

Of course, as in TIT FOR TAT here, the hilarity comes with a measure of discomfort. As a child, Fiona feared for Charley Hall’s life when the boys embed his head in a huge tub of Rex’s Pure Lard (no impure or half-hearted lard would do). A friend reports still feeling greasy after watching this a week ago. Hall, clawing a face-hole for himself in his new, literal fat-head is both funny and horrible, as is the moment when he wrenches the entire disgusting mass from his cranium and hurls it splat on the floor, and the later moment when he scrapes fistfuls of clinging fat from the back of his neck. Ugh!

His cash register being filled with syrup gives me a distressing sticky-fingered feeling too. It’s like Salvador Dali’s Atmospheric Chair, which no-one could look at without feeling great anxiety.

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The Boys

Posted in Dance, FILM with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2019 by dcairns

Went to see STAN & OLLIE en masse — well, five of us did. Is five a masse?

Hmm. I know some people love this movie. I think the sparse audience didn’t help it catch fire at this particular screening. And there are a lot of good things to be said about it: nice long take at the start, good thirties locations/sets, and much more importantly, very good performances (enhanced by invisible, highly effective makeups).

We were all happy enough to have seen it, but a bit underwhelmed by the overall experience. We debated whether it fell between two stools — not accurate/insightful enough for people who know a lot about Laurel & Hardy, too nerdy for those who don’t. But I think it’s done fine with people who are fond of the boys but don’t know much about them.

I’ve tried to imagine what the film would seem like to people who don’t know anything at all about Laurel & Hardy, haven’t seen them (practically a whole generation). I guess they would get the impression that the boys were famous primarily for a little dance they did, which was charming and inexplicably caused audiences to roar with laughter. And for a scene where Ollie has a broken leg while Stan eats an egg.

I know — quite difficult to get across the breadth of what Laurel & Hardy did within one film while mainly telling a story about their real life relationship and their last days as performers. I think, though, at a minimum, the film should have shown, early on, the transformation that must have taken place when the boys shifted from being themselves — a comedy-obsessed genius and a meek actor — to being their characters — two idiots who don’t know they’re idiots. The lovely dance is actually in the way.

Director Jon S. Baird does some nice things, but his style as manifested in his previous film, FILTH, is modern and hyper-kinetic (quite effectively so). Applied to comedians doing visual comedy and dance on a stage, he’s both stifled by the lack of opportunities and practically Klingon in his insensitivity to the delicate pantomime in front of him. So he cuts everything into fragments, with continual reaction shots of guffawing audiences, which is a REALLY good way to stop the movie audience from laughing. And every time he tries to be “cinematic” in his narration, with flashbacks (picture or just sound), imaginary sequences, etc, it’s just horrible, in a way that makes me too tired to even break down why it’s so ineffective and ugly. I suppose “unnecessary” would be the word I would wearily reach for.

A shame, because there are touching moments — it’s much better at that than at reproducing or suggesting the comedy. And, around midway, the wives show up, and the film gets a tremendous lift. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are terrific in these roles, and they have all the advantages. Unlike Steve Coogan And John C. Reilly, they’re not tasked with impersonating famous and beloved comics. And, while the men have to peel away the layers of performative artifice to show us what Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Norvell Hardy were really like, thereby making them not funny any more (the boys always wanted to be lit as flatly as possible, to keep their on-screen dimensionality to a minimum), the wives get to be stereotypes, well-formed characters with only a couple of traits, perfect for being funny. AND they’re more aggressive than the boys which is funnier, AND this ties them to the long tradition of the boys having domineering wives in any films in which they play husbands. Which makes the whole bit delightful.

“I wanted a film about them,” said Fiona.

I can’t predict whether you’ll love this film or not based on how you feel about Laurel & Hardy. Don’t take this as a consumer guide — don’t EVER take anything I write as a consumer guide. I’m more in the genre of eccentric dancing.

The Sunday Intertitle: Where the Worst Begins

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by dcairns

WEST OF HOT DOG is a (1924) silent Stan Laurel comedy, produced by Joe Rock, where Stan plays a sissified city gent all at sea in the sagebrush. Seeing Stan in a carriage with a girl at the start made me wonder if Keaton’s OUR HOSPITALITY was an influence, but Stan being a character player where Keaton was a star, he takes the tenderfootedness a lot further — into full-on effiminacy in fact. As if the glasses and camp manner weren’t enough, he’s also (the shame of it!) reading a book, entitled Let Brotherly Love Continue.

 

When the stage is held up by desperadoes, Stan retorts, “I shall see my attorney about this.” Which is funny without making much sense, since he’s the victim of a crime, not someone accused of one. Banditry was rarely tried in the civil courts out west.

The whole thing seems to be happening in the 1920s (note the cloche hat), but an alternate universe ’20s in which stagecoaches and stick-ups still characterised the wide-open spaces. But the enclosed space of Stan’s head has no room for such concepts. This temporal confusion reminds me of the Scottish cartoon strip Desperate Dan, which always seems to be set simultaneously in the Wild West, 1950s Dundee and, occasionally, contemporary Dundee. The ’50s thing is just because the writers and artists at DC Thompson got stuck in a time-warp of their own, deep in the shadowy confines of Scotland’s first reinforced concrete building.

Titles written by future director Tay Garnett. Some great “special effects” when Stan hits his thumb with a hammer — scratches on film for cartoon effect. When he’s shot in the bum, a huge white question mark whorls out of him like a tail, or escaping gas.

And yes, I’m tentatively interested in the forthcoming biopic STAN & OLLIE. Having seen some brilliant impersonation/embodiment of the boys onstage in Tom McGrath’s play Laurel and Hardy, I have high standards, and Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly will have to not only make us see the characters, but erase all trace of their own familiar selves. Coogan is an impersonator of genius, so Reilly will be the big unknown factor here, but he’s an excellent actor and comic…