Archive for The Cat and the Canary

The Monday Intertitle: And Then the Phantoms

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-12-04-01h15m37s228

As part of my research for the blogathon, I watched Alain Resnais’ most recent film (but not his last — he already has another on the way), VOUS N’AVEZ ENCORE RIEN VU aka YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET! — in which a group of actors (the creamy cream of the French acting establishment playing versions of themselves) gather in a secluded and stylised theatrical mansion to hear the last will and testament of a director who had worked with all of them in various productions of the Oresteia (this is based on a play by Anouilh). As the will is delivered by the dead man himself via a film, and the assemblage is then shown film of a new production of the play that unites them, which they then begin to interact with in various impossible ways, I was reminded of two wildly different films — THE CAT AND THE CANARY for the plot device and specifically the Radley Metzger ’70s version for its playful Pirandellian approach to the screen within the screen (at one point an aged retainer in Metzger’s flick dodders behind the screen only to appear, in perfect directional continuity, ON the screen in a younger incarnation. When this youthful image passes out of the edge of frame, the real-life older model takes his place, back in reality.) — and it’s nice if Resnais is referencing Metzger because Metzger was certainly influenced by MARIENBAD — and Olivier’s HENRY V, which seems to function as much as a commentary on the theatre-going experience as it does an adaptation of the play itself. For the first half hour or more we are amused but somewhat distracted by the fact that Resnais is showing a play with the roles played by a series of different actors, and in settings that vary from the actual screening room where the actors are gathered, other rooms nearby which MAY be part of the same building, and locations or CGI environments illustrating the places in the play.

But after a while this ceases to distract and despite all the apparent alienation devices, the story is quite involving. And indeed the emotional pull of the scenes is strangely increased, particularly when they’re performed by actors too old for the characters they play. Because we get not only the emotion of the scene but a kind of nostalgia (in a good, unsentimental sense) for the youth they once possessed and the feelings they must have originally brought to the roles. Or maybe it’s just that old actors are better than young actors.

Except that the character of Death is played by only one actor, Mathieu Amalric, and he’s not that old but he’s electrifying. His trenchcoat made me think of the figure of Fate in Carne and Prevert’s LES PORTES DE LA NUIT.

vlcsnap-2013-12-04-01h14m02s46

But there’s another movie reference too, and it’s certainly intentional. As he’s setting up the plot, which he does in a bare-bones way, cheerfully acknowledging the artifice, Resnais uses a couple of intertitles, including this one (above). “When they passed through the gate, the phantoms came to meet them.”

Which is a paraphrase of one from NOSFERATU ~

vlcsnap-2013-12-08-11h39m36s233

The translation of that we used to read was something like “And when Hutter crossed the bridge, the phantoms came forth to meet him.”

But the subtitles provided now that we can see the original German-language title card say something like “the uncanny faces came out” or the “spectral images came out” — but I’m guessing Resnais is familiar with the same translation as me.

You can read it at 18:12.

This talk of phantoms refers to vampires in the Murnau film but to memories and movie images in the Resnais. Which feeds into my growing suspicion that phantoms and memories and movie images are all different manifestations of the same, misunderstood phenomenon…

Advertisements

Spy Game

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-04-09-22h34m17s213

A little in memoriam piece on Jesus Franco at The Forgotten today.

I confess to mixed feelings about Snr Franco. At times, I’ve thought him the worst director in the world. He certainly didn’t do what most directors commonly thought of as good do. But he did do things nobody else would. Who else would begin a movie with shots of fetuses in jars, accompanied by upbeat lounge music? And for no reason?

The movie under discussion today stars Eddie Constantine as secret agent Al Pereira, and by coincidence I just realized that Pereira returns as lead character in Franco’s last film, made just last year, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES. Like that awful Dr Orloff, Franco’s characters weren’t confined to one film, and his films cannibalized popular culture too: in VAMPYROS LESBOS, Dennis Price plays Dr Seward from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a role played by Paul Muller in Franco’s COUNT DRACULA, but then Price returns as Frankenstein in two later films, which feature Alberto Dalbes as a character named Dr. Seward.

Franco, in other words, was a postmodernist — his films have permeable boundaries, with characters, situations and even footage slip-sliding from one to another, and into and out of other films and media. NIGHT OF THE ASSASSINS claims, in its opening credits, to be based on “The Cat and the Canary by Edgar Allan Poe,” which is remarkable since that play was authored by John Willard, some time after Poe’s death. Franco may not have been personally responsible for that illiterate bit of hucksterism, but in a way it’s apt, suggesting the pop culture melting pot his films simmered in.

This all lends some accuracy to Tim Lucas’s statement that “you can’t see one Franco film until you’ve seen them all.”

In today’s offering, Constantine is shown an array of gadgets by his spymasters and remarks, “You must have seen a lot of James Bond movies.”

“More than you can imagine,” comes the reply.

The Late Show Intertitle: Curtain Up!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 12, 2010 by dcairns

From Paul Leni’s final movie, aptly titled THE LAST WARNING.

Leni, a successful director in the expressionist school, whose best-known work in his native Germany was WAXWORKS, made two celebrated films in Hollywood, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, and THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Like Murnau, he died before he could make a full sound film, but his last movie does contain a few early soundie moments: background crowd chatter and the like.

The movie is also a cornucopia of trick titles: intertitles swim into focus, zoom out at us, or appear shrouded in cobwebs, mirroring dramatic developments in the story. And the Bunce brothers, owners of the haunted theatre where the action transpires, even get a duplicate title where everything is said twice.

A proto-Una O’Connor gets some shrieking in.

THE LAST WARNING is a comedy thriller very much in the vein of THE CAT AND THE CANARY, and it stars Laura LaPlante, who appeared in THE CAT. It was apparently cited by James Whale as an influence on his comedy horror film THE OLD DARK HOUSE. Indeed, Leni has one character enter the room backwards, like Colin Clive in JOURNEY’S END and Boris Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN, and at one point shoots Laura LaPlante from three increasingly close angles, for dramatic emphasis, foreshadowing the way Whale presents the Frankenstein monster’s first appearance, and also the first entrance of THE INVISIBLE MAN in his bandages, and Colin Clive in ONE MORE RIVER.

A very BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN lighting effect.

And while THE LAST WARNING doesn’t have the same black-hearted, sepulchral wit as Whale’s best work, it’s more amusing than most horror comedies of the period, and in formal terms its very inventive indeed. As with THE CAT AND THE CANARY, Leni has fun with multiple images, spooky camera movements that creep in or out, with a slight lurch, upon his array of red herrings (Torben Meyer, Mack Swain and Slim Summerville are among the throng of grotesques and stereotypes).

Here is Laura LaPlante nude, for no real reason.

GENUINELY scary masked killer!

With its spookshow effects (at one point, the killer scales the walls of the theatre at Keystone Kop velocity, and later he appears in a balcony for an instant before dropping from view at a speed faster than gravity could account for) and florid stylistic touches, THE LAST WARNING is still a very entertaining movie, with a sensationally exciting climax, a barrage of tricks and tropes from Leni — it’s to be deeply regretted that he never got to apply his zany skills to a talking picture.

The blogathon is now open! Send me links in the comments section and I’ll make a post about them.