Archive for Tay Garnett

The Sunday Intertitle: All Done with Mirrors

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 27, 2019 by dcairns

An intertitle written by the young Tay Garnett for Stan Laurel’s SOMEWHERE IN WRONG (1925). Stan plays a tramp in this, but does not essay a Chaplin impersonation, despite having understudied the Great Man. He’s more in the spirit of American hobodom, rural rather than urban, intent on snaffling doughnuts cooling on a sill while evading a watchdog…

Still, it seems like pallid stuff at first. Stan falls down and animated stars emanate from his head — this rotoscoping effect seems to be something he was addicted to at the time. Stan always had a cartoon side at war with his more “realistic” human sensibility, breaking out in those fantasy gags where he uses his thumb as a Zippo, or the grotesque physical distortions of Ollie’s body (which used to horrify me as a kid).

Then, midway, some brilliance does start to emerge. Stan is tempted to break into a safe.

He reaches for the handle, eyes watching the door. But, as in some fever dream, his fingers grasp at the safe but find no purchase. Stan, still looking the other way, can’t figure out what’s going wrong, and repeatedly snatches at thin air. Finally he confronts the problem head on ~

There’s your problem! It wasn’t a safe, merely the reflection of one on the far wall. Stan was trying to break into a mirror.

The perspectival trick involved wouldn’t deceive anybody in real life, of course: it depends on very careful placement of the camera, the mirror, and the real safe, which is MUCH too far away in reality (the opposite side of a medium-size room) to fit snugly into the looking-glass as it appears to in this shot. But it’s an EXCELLENT gag. I don’t know how you even begin to think of something like that.

Well, I know step one.

Step one: be Stan Laurel.

But as to what step two is, I couldn’t tell you.

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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…

The Sunday Intertitle: A Gorilla in Every Port

Posted in Dance, FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2017 by dcairns

We were led to THE CHIMP by obscure means ~

Fiona got obsessed with Charles Gemora, Hollywood’s top gorilla impersonator, after seeing BLONDE VENUS with me, and discovered the existence of a documemtary, CHARLIE GEMORA: UNCREDITED. We paid to see it on Vimeo, and found it eye-opening indeed — though Gemora made the best gorilla costume in Hollywood, and performed in it with gusto (probably to the detriment of his health) there was much more to him than that.

CHARLIE GEMORA: UNCREDITED from Cloud Tank Creative on Vimeo.

The pint-sized Philippino came to America as an illegal immigrant, I guess you’d say, and his first job in Hollywood was as an extra in Lon Chaney’s HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. Seeing him draw sketches of his fellow extras (who must have included future director Tay Garnett, whose experience here led to the title of his autobiography, Light Up Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights — words to live by), the bosses put him to work sculpting gargoyles for the cathedral set, “on the basis that if you can draw, you can sculpt.” Gemora didn’t even have any training drawing, and had never sculpted in his puff.

But soon he’s carving massive figures for movies, as well as getting into the gorilla work and special make-up effects, particularly for those curious jobs where it’s hard to say is it a makeup or is it a costume? Monsters, freaks, aliens. COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, WAR OF THE WORLDS. An interesting early one is Benjamin Christensen’s horror comedy SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, in which Gemora plays ape, but may also have had a hand in the stunning, grotesque and ooky make-ups.

Thelma Todd (a frequent gemora screamer), “Sir Charles” himself, and director/wrangler Benjamin Christensen.

(I’m fascinated by this: Benjamin Christensen made HAXAN/WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES the same year as Chaney’s HUNCHBACK, pulling off the tricky feat of full-body make-up effects far more effectively than Chaney’s ambitious Quasimodo design, which relies on an improbably leonine mane of body hair to disguise the neck-join. No credit is given for the designer of HAXAN’s amazing demons and imps. But it’s possible Christensen, an actor himself — he plays Satan — was responsible. Making him the link to SEVEN FOOTPRINTS, though we can also imagine a Westmore or two being mixed in, with Gemora either helping out or watching and taking notes from inside his Ingagi suit.)

Gemora painted portraits of the stars (Stanwyck, Goddard) and forged Gainsboroughs for Mitchell Leisen’s KITTY. He played many of the monsters he designed, including the Martian in Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS. And he could play his apes straight (the affecting THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL; PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE) but, and this brings us to THE CHIMP, could be hilarious when required.

THE CHIMP is a very minor Laurel & Hardy short, which transforms into a major Charlie Gemora short when viewed through the correct filter. It reprises the previous year’s “smuggle an animal past the landlord” plotline from the superior LAUGHING GRAVY but replaces the lovable pup with Ethel the chimp, played by Gemora in gorilla suit and tutu. Gemora’s very human gestures (shrugs, pointing, ballet dancing) had Fiona in helpless hysterics. This element of pure phantasie is somehow unsuited to Stan & Ollie’s world, I feel, but once you start watching Gemora’s performance for its own sake, it’s a thing of beauty in its own right.

Jason Barnett’s documentary is great for all this background, shining a light on Gemora’s incredibly varied and mainly uncredited contributions to Hollywood cinema. The story is assembled in a somewhat pedestrian way, and the attempts to bring the still images to life with fancy rostrum work are often clumsy: since the many of the photos, drawings and documents have presumably come from Gemora’s archive, I wanted to SEE the archive and make-up kit put in front of a moving picture camera, explored in the round, clues in a detective story. Scans give us a clear look at the contents of the Gemora papers but rob them of their personality as artifacts.

Nevertheless, don’t let me put you off — the film is incredibly well-researched and doesn’t shrink from the mysteries of Gemora’s extensive career — we will not see a better film about this fascinating artist.