Archive for Tempest

The Whit Sunday Intertitle: The Russians are Coming!

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2011 by dcairns

THE RED DANCE is a Russian Revolutionary super-epic silent made by Raoul Walsh at Fox Pictures — visually it’s a stunner, while narratively it conforms to all the requirements of the Hollywood take on tsarism vs communism: we shake our heads sorrowfully at the abuse of power under the reign of Tsar Nicholas, then shake our heads sorrowfully at the naughty communists stirring the people up so as to exploit them. It’s not actually an unreasonable stance, given what was to come, although it conveniently ignores Kerensky and the fact that the original overthrow of the Tsar was not the work of Bolsheviks alone — the overall political purpose is similar to Charles Foster Kane’s: those with money and influence should look out a little for those without, for their own safety and security.

Also, like the later RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS, it makes the bizarre and inaccurate inference that Rasputin was a revolutionary. I guess with two lots of evildoers on opposing sides, adding in a genuine wild card like Old Greg, who weakened the system from within without seeming to have intended it for any political purpose, would have been too damned complicated.

An absolutely ASTOUNDING image, no?

Walsh serves up spectacular set-piece scenes by the score, aided by gigantic sets and dramatically sweeping camera movements: was this his biggest film other than THIEF OF BAGDAD? It’s certainly more fluidly and dynamically handled. The leading man is Charles Farrell, looking chunkier than I’ve ever seen him, as a Russian commander torn between loyalty to the Tsar (that well-meaning fathead!) and love of a humble schoolteacher’s daughter, played by Dolores Del Rio, a quite passable Russian since she doesn’t have to speak. Although her rather flamboyant body language does suggest a Latin temperament rather than a Slavonic one.

Soviet showgirl Dolores.

Poor Dolores — while everyone else is in a Fox epic movie, she seems to spend the first hour trapped in a Lars Von Trier movie — her mother was shot dead before her eyes by Cossacks, her father dies in prison, and she’s mistreated by the book-burning, brutal farmers she lodges with, until hulking soldier Ivan Linow turns up and tries to rape her. The farmers respond by selling her to the guy, but in the meantime she meets Farrell, Linow sobers up, and turns out to be a typically Walshian hero-lout, a great good friend and a hard-drinking womanizer with a sentimental streak. Quite a turnaround.

Now don’t get me wrong, you can get some lovely farmers…

The thing that really ramps up the preposterosity in this thing, though, is the title cards. Written by Malcolm Stuart Boylan, whose credits stretch from 1920 to 1963 (this guy could be the model for Scott Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby, such is the downward spiral of his career), they plumb the depths of silliness at every turn, and seem to specialize in flat-out absurdity and self-contradiction. Boylan obviously loves his dramatic paradoxes, but maybe he loves them too much?

The plot is arse-out daft to begin with — someone is sabotaging the Russian military effort in WWI, by issuing orders to retreat when they’re winning, subtle tricks like that. That someone is obviously a traitor, but somehow nobody knows who that someone is. Charles Farrell is tasked with finding out “who signs the orders” — a phrase that calls our attention to the fact, which could perhaps have been more carefully disguised, that it ought to be possible to get that answer by looking at the orders and reading the signature on them.

The solution turns out to be Rasputin, given the sinister treatment by Walsh, who nearly always shoots him with his back to the camera, so we can see his power reflected in the faces of those dealing with him. But this part of the plot is swiftly abandoned in favour of dopey romance with Charles and Dolores, in which the injustice of Russia’s feudal state is boiled down to a comparison of footwear.

If you’ve seen RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS or Barrymore’s earlier TEMPEST, or MOCKERY, you can probably predict the ending — disillusioned with both monarchy and communism, the couple flee into honorable exile, aided by a pal. I was slightly surprised to see them leave by an aeroplane, produced out of nowhere for the purpose, but why not? You’ve got to have some kind of novelty in an entertainment as by-the-numbers as this one. Still, the impressive spectacle and striking design compensate for the banality of the conception, and in Linow’s lovable brute you can see Walsh beginning to figure out what really interests him in movies.

The Sunday Intertitle: Tempest in a Teacup

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2010 by dcairns

TEMPEST, a late-silent John Barrymore pic, is a fine reminder of how handsome, dashing and dumb Hollywood pics could be. Without a brain in its head, but with a simply incredible eye, the movie benefits from the double-whammy of James Wong Howe on camera and William Cameron Menzies on production design. Given Menzies’ maximilist interpretation of the designer’s job, it’s likely he sketched out every camera position for director Sam Taylor, a frequent collaborator and good director with no obvious style of his own. In fact, the IMDb lists two additional, uncredited directors, Lewis Milestone, an arch-stylist if ever there was one, and Viktor Tourjansky, another filmmaker of visual genius. It may be that Menzies’s role involved uniting the various approaches under one stylistic banner, as he did with the patchwork of GONE WITH THE WIND.

Boris has the sort of face that appears at windows.

Barrymore plays a dragoon officer, promoted through hard work, but cashiered and imprisoned after falling for a princess (Camilla Horn, from Murnau’s FAUST). An evil toff in a monocle torments Barrymore on one side, while a red revolutionary (the striking Boris de Fast) tempts him from the other. What with the grinning skull-faced commie, and Louis Wolheim’s Sgt Bulba, with his flattened fizzog (like he’s wearing a tight, invisible stocking on his head), it’s a movie of striking physiognomies, crowned by the Great Profile himself.

Among the film’s visual treats, we get a glimpse of the world as it appears to Barrymore.

The movie condemns the hide-bound class system of Tsarist Russia, while deploring the Revolution also, winding up as a piece of propaganda for the American way despite having no American scenes or characters. It’s not subtle, but Barrymore frequently is, avoiding the ham he was sometimes associated with — although he has some fun with his drinking scenes. A recurring tactic has him make some humorous expression in response to an upcoming situation, then play the situation itself quite straight.

Barrymore’s work towards the end of the film is among his best ever, as he has the opportunity to avenge himself upon the woman who ruined him, but finds he still loves her — and that she loves him. On the one hand, the great actor clearly knew this wasn’t Shakespeare, but he invests totally in it: without losing his distinctive wildness, he manages incredible gradations of emotions, and holds sustained closeups which are simply electrifying. Camilla Horn doesn’t match him for nuance, but still makes an effective foil, dialing the histrionics right down and acting as a kind of mirror for Barrymore.

One sequence, where a distraught and imprisoned JB hallucinates images of the war he’s missing (here, I found sympathy a slight strain) and his lady-love/hate — the visions appear as if projected on the prison wall, like the visions in SUNRISE which are seemingly projected on the sky itself — is both pictorially remarkable and rather frightening: Barrymore’s rather convincing incredulous reactions strongly suggest he’s had pertinent experience of hallucinatory torment.

Thumbprint!

The movie ends up a lot like Benjamin Christensen’s MOCKERY, but Barrymore instead of Lon Chaney makes a considerable difference, as does the incredible talent assembled behind the camera: instead of MOCKERY’s smooth MGM professionalism, we get fireworks of sputtering genius.

The whole movie takes place behind a blizzard of fine white scratches, especially at reel changes, and the climax shows obvious signs of missing footage — it plays like a random sampling of final moments, but fortunately we can follow the course of the action OK. It’s frustrating, but not too destructive. The movie is available here ~

Tempest

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