Archive for The Bible

The Sunday Intertitle: Lady and Goliath

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2022 by dcairns

1910 seems to be the year the intertitle starts to reign supreme. We get Griffith hitting the beginning of his long stride, the Edison FRANKENSTEIN, in which the intertitles tell you what’s about to happen (the first auto-spoiling movie), the first WIZARD OF OZ…

YouTube’s algorithms suck, so if you ask it for something simple like 1910 film” you get Buster Keaton and stuff, but in between the inappropriate offerings I found DAVID AND GOLIATH FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURE, directed by “M. Andeani” and with stars from the Comedie Francaise, including Miss Berthe Bovy in drag as David, cuddling a pale blue sheep. The titles are in English and may have been added some time after production, for all I know.

The first shot of Goliath cracked me up, somehow. Is it because he’s green? The hand-tinting may have deteriorated a bit over the last 110 years, as who among us has not? But it gives the thing an animated postcard quality that’s endearing.

Little Berthe Versus the Un-Jolly Green Giant is only six and a half minutes long. You ought to watch it.

This one might have benefitted from some auto-spoiling titles, as scene one is a little hard to read — ambitiously, our director, Henri Andréani, introduces Miss David in the foreground, sheep in the midground (mostly pale blue but shading into green where they come too close to the green-hued leading lady — all that grass they’ve eaten, perhaps), and a couple of minor characters approaching in the far distance. Nice composition in depth. Then something or other materialises in the top of frame, David does something with his slingshot, and the weird flying pancake crashes to earth amid his flock, who don’t seem pleased. Only by replaying the sequence did I establish that the something is a giant hawk or eagle, stuffed and predatory, a close match to the inert brute from the hilarious RESCUED FROM AN EAGLE’S NEST (a great auto-spoiling title like A MAN ESCAPED, proving that spoilers needn’t spoil the drama).

I learned about D&G at school and have seen the film with Orson, but I don’t recall ever encountering the Star Trek-ish name Terebinths before. And the movie is disinclined to define the term.

The hand-tinting turns what seems to be a location into an uncanny-Valley-of-the-Terebinths stage set. I’m actually not sure if the hill horizon is a special effect. But enough of the hill is clearly real (people on it) and I doubt they’d construct something like that.

I never understood how the Philistines came to be known for their lack of aesthetic appreciation.

Enter Goliath. Sadly, the Comedie Francaise does not appear to have kept an actual giant on its books, so Goliath has to enter and stand in the foreground, though his Israelite escort are close enough to disprove any claim to a pituitary condition. A schoolteacher once tried to parse the Book of Genesis to us by saying that we don’t know exactly what the Bible meant by “days,” and so the creation of the world in seven days might still be true, even if it also took millions of years. This kind of thing might have a deleterious effect on education. But if we accept the premise, maybe a biblical giant can be anyone with a dramatic posture. I mean, we don’t know what the Bible means by “giant,” do we?

The single combat method of warfare, in which champions do battle, always seemed much more civilized than all-out war. No doubt today it would be televised and would be sickening, but think of the suffering, the resources, the nervous strain it would save. I can only assume the reason nations don’t agree to it is they can’t stand the idea of following rules. If your champion is defeated, why would you give in if you still have a standing army?

If you don’t have a really hulking Goliath, engaging a tiny David is probably your best plan, so the gender-blind casting makes sudden sense. Threats are exchanged, It’s very morally elevating stuff.

Monsieur Andreani is adhering to the one-scene-one-shot method that ruled cinema at the time, and so his battle royale is a little stiff. The lesson of the Bible story seems to be “Don’t bring a sword to a slingshot fight.” David could presumable have used a bow and arrow, a hand grenade or an Uzi — being a giant is actually a disadvantage when you’re fighting long range. You’re just a bigger target.

In this staging, the two opponents are only about six feet apart, mind you.

Fine overacting from the other Philistines when victory is won. A more suitable name for this tribe might be “Hysterics.”

Finally, a new shot — David enters triumphantly on horseback. A promotion, from shepherd(ess) to prince(ss). Fortunately all those skills are transferable. THE END — with a kind of trellis affair and a credit for Miss G. Jousset.

More fun –and shorter — than the Zecca-Nonguet LIFE AND PASSION OF CHRIST film.

Cox’s Orange Pippins: A Fistful of Nails

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2022 by dcairns

There are a surprising number of crucifixions in spaghetti westerns: here are some of them.

I wanted to start with teenage Jesus Jeffrey Hunter because his Calvary was in Spain, like so many of the crucified cowpokes and such pictured here, but Hunter doesn’t say the line I needed him to say, so I resorted to Max Von Sydow for the second bit. Max’s Golgotha is a Hollywood sound stage, but his Holy Land generally was Utah, an acceptable western landscape.

Alex Cox, in his study 10,000 Ways to Die, traces the injury to the hand motif, first scene in the Italian west in DJANGO, to THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and ONE-EYED JACKS, which seems bang-on. OEJ is probably the more direct influence, and as Cox points out, it also introduces the dilatory, Hamlet-like hero who hangs about for unclear reasons until his opponents can get him. Which is one of the few things the hero of JOHNNY HAMLET shares with his Shakespearean namesake.

This observation is one of my favourite bits of Cox criticism. Brando’s revisionist western, coloured by his streak of sadomasochism, seems like an ur-text for the Italian west, with its amoral hero and generalized corruption, almost as much as YOJIMBO.

But the crushed or perforated gun-hand also calls to mind the biblical cross, perhaps the one big ur-text of Italian cinema. (Cox also points out that Terence Stamp in TOBY DAMMIT is in Rome to star in “the first catholic western”; and that his payment, a Cadillac Ferrari, is also what Pasolini got for appearing in Lizzani’s western REQUIESCANT: he doesn’t draw the obvious inference that TD is in part a swipe at Pasolini, a former script collaborator of Fellini’s. Fellini we know often resented members of his team when they went to work elsewhere. But Toby is also based on Edgar Poe himself, and on Broderick Crawford, alcoholic movie star who came to Rome for Fellini’s IL BIDONE.)

The Italian gothic cinema, surprisingly, isn’t so crucifixion-heavy, and nor is the peplum, despite the obvious possibilities (but there’s plenty of sadism with the attendant homoerotic element); for all its violence, the giallo doesn’t evoke Christ overmuch; why not? You have to go to the spate of seventies EXORCIST knock-offs to find such an orgy of crosswork.

Holy Crap

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2021 by dcairns

Having watched QUO VADIS, like a bunch of 1AD flagellants we had to watch THE ROBE, just in time for Easter.

In the Nero Vs Caligula death match, I think Peter Ustinov’s Nero is a more human, interesting and vividly vile characterisation, but Jay Robinson’s Caligula is a more extreme, ballsy and uniquely preposterous screen performance.

Moving on from that, this should be the movie where Richard Burton solidifies his grasp of screen acting, but for whatever reason (film shot out of sequence, latter parts being more conducive to hamminess) he gets worse as it goes on. Once he gets religion he’s unbearable — as is often the way irl.

Jean Simmons is able to do less with her pagan Roman that Debs Kerr managed with her Christian. The bit-players (including Jay Novello, Percy Helton and Leon Askin) are encouraged to chew the scenery, which is fairly nutritious material — the quality may not always be great but the portions are enormous.

Burton claimed to have learned proper screen acting from Liz Taylor on CLEOPATRA. He should have learned it from Victor Mature here. The Big Victor is an underrated guy — he does lots of good, understated, simple work, and then when he’s called on to blow the roof off, boy, does he!

The Big Victor showing off all the junk in his neck that shouldn’t even be there in my opinion

Of course, he comes a cropper when he has to signify divine rapture, in a really weird scene where Vic and Dick appear to be trying to outdreadful one another.

As W.C. Fields was said to have read the Bible for loopholes, so do authors like Lloyd C. Douglas (who wrote the book QV comes from), and Lew “Ben-Hur” Wallace. They find ways to weave their fictitious characters through the New Testament without breaking it. It can be amusing to study. Demetrius (Big Victor) runs through the streets of Jerusalem trying to warn Jesus of his imminent arrest, but can’t find him. Early Christian Dean Jagger is felled with an arrow, which is fine, because the Good Book only mentions a guy named Justus in passing and doesn’t say he WASN’T shot with an arrow.

The Robe is a perfect biblical MacGuffin — the thing everybody wants but the audience doesn’t care. In fact, I didn’t care about anything much. Those who dismiss Wyler’s BEN-HUR as trash need to take a look at this. BEN-HUR is skilled trash.

I liked the music, which is full-on Alfred Newman, though the crashing stab accompanied by thunderclap which follows Judas (Michael Ansara) introducing himself was an eggy moment.

I think the indigo thunderclaps are a modern interpolation

I was reading somewheres — I think it was a Medium article — about how the Seventh Day Adventists evolved from a doomsday cult that had to rewrite its own mythos when the apocalypse failed to happen on the appointed day. And if you think about it, it’s fairly obvious that Christianity itself kind of did the same thing.

The appearance of a Messiah had been (fairly) long-prophesied. Jesus turned up, presenting himself as said figure, come to liberate the Jews from oppression. His followers were enthused.

Then: disaster! Jesus is crucified. Far from freeing the Jews from Roman rule, he is horribly executed by the Romans. The Christian sect looks sure to die out, it’s central premise having fallen apart in spectacular fashion.

But, asks somebody, What if he didn’t die? Also: What if dying was the whole point? It might work!

If the Bible was a modern screenplay, somebody would definitely have foreshadowed the crucifixion, put something in earlier to make it clear this was always the endgame. That’s what they do in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. As it is, the Bible has that first-draft quality. Jesus sacrificing himself to redeem humanity is kind of a deus ex machina.

Director Henry Koster demonstrates that the Holy Ghost is a less compelling off-screen presence than Harvey the invisible rabbit. Burton’s Damascene conversion isn’t as moving as Josephine Hull’s was in that other movie.

Image 1: the purplish Leon Shamroy wraith is Jesus, in horizontal and profile cruciform view. Image 2: an arm nailed to cross-beam, with lots of duplicate hands floating around just because

Pretty crazy dream sequence. Points awarded. “I didn’t know it had anything like this in it!” Fiona exclaimed, momentarily aroused from a pleasant bad-movie torpor.

THE ROBE stars MacPhisto; Young Estella; Tumak; Klaatu; Insane Actor; Rodion Pavlov; Sokurah the Magician; Robert Kraft; Exeter; Dr. Pretorius; Zeta One; Peripetchikoff; Angry Horse; ‘Scamper’ Joad; The Dear One; Massimo Morlacchi; Xandros the Greek Slave; Toothpick Charlie; and the voice of Ned Flanders (an early Christian).