Archive for The Circus

The Sunday Intertitle: Two Reels of Shoving

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 18, 2020 by dcairns

Officially, one Joseph Maddern may have been the director of TWENTY MINUTES OF LOVE, but sources agree that Chaplin was in charge this time. Being a prick to Mabel Normand had paid off. The title seems quite metamodern, except that the surviving film is just over ten minutes.

Maddern is a curious figure: of his six short film credits, three are documentaries. Five were made in this year of grace 1914, and the sixth ten years later. What was he doing in-between-times?

The setting is Echo Park, a kind of urban Forest of Arden with spooning lovers behind every leaf. Here, Chaplin wanders disconsolate, not made for loving, a bitter ironist when faced with the canoodling of strangers. In fact, he begins with what is sometimes erroneously called “pantomime,” satirising by gesture, for the camera’s benefit, the behaviour of park bench amorists. I hate this kind of rubbish, and I can’t wait for Chaplin, and the movies, to grow out of it. His sly awareness of us watching is much subtler in later films, and he’s the only one generally allowed to do it.

There are two kinds of activity on display: snogging and pickpocketry. Chaplin specialises in the latter. So his character is on the make: this is good. Though in later movies his larceny is generally confined to foodstuffs, not fob watches. Dishonesty is permissible to him only when it relates to basic survival. At the start of THE CIRCUS he’s stealing food from a baby, but this is understandable, even sympathetic, the way he does it. To provoke the attentions of the law, he must be framed by a real criminal.

The second young lover, and the second pickpocket, is apparently Chester Conklin, unrecognizable without his cookie-duster.

There’s an actual quite good plot twist when Charlie, desperate not to be caught with the watch he stole from Conklin, ties to sell it to a stranger, who turns out to be the guy Conklin originally stole it from.

At 8:45, a historic moment: Chaplin kicks a man (Conklin) up the arse for the first time on screen (I believe). It’s a damned good kick, too, reduces the receiver to a supine jelly. But moments of triumph are fleeting in this life: 8 seconds later he is rendered unconscious by Conklin’s powerful slap. It’s so often the way.

But this, too, will pass, at 18 fps. Revenge is soon Charlie’s: with the entire cast shoved or kicked into Echo Lake, there to splash about helplessly in the waist-high shallows, Charlie walks off with the girl. Or *A* girl, anyway. Possible proof that the actor is now in charge of his own movies?

Giovedi 27

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2019 by dcairns

So, yesterday, as I mentioned yesterday, I got up late and saw INDISCREET — it was a close-run thing, though. One gets used to being able to squeeze into any screening, even nabbing the last seats in the house (we haven’t been forced to stand this year, and in the current heatwave it’s doubtful we could pull it off). But there was a big crowd gathered outside the Arlecchino and it seemed all to possible that the audience for MOULIN ROUGE, the previous screening, might all stay in their seats rather than brave the solar barrage. But it was OK.

The movie was slow going at first — what seemed like an hour of expository set-up of the “After all, you’re a famous actress!” variety, a rather stodgy play opened out, rendering it stodgier. But then the plot kicks in and the laughs start coming thick and fast, and anyway, we have Cary and Ingrid to look at. Cary’s entrance is a good bit of “female gaze” filmmaking, with the camera simply feasting its eyes on him while the music soars. And we get Maurice Binder titles, too, though without the customary nude silhouettes cavorting.

We once asked the great Bond film production designer about Binder. “Maurice Binder was a very nice man, who liked, very much, to photograph naked women in silhouette,” he said.

On to THE BRAVADOS, in an incredibly pristine Cinemascope print — it started and I thought it was a DCP, and then the projectionist had to adjust the framing. A vivid blue Technicolor day-for-night sky with a silhouetted Gregory Peckory riding against it and slashed red titles superimposed.

Fantastic Mexican locations and you can see where Leone nicked some of his ideas for FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (also playing in Bologna) — Lee Van Cleef even plays a major-ish role. Peck is good early on, his natural stoicism turned into a more interesting noirish intransigence. At the end, having taken a revenge which didn’t satisfy and left him morally compromised, he visits the spiritual laundromat — a nice big Mexican church, and emerges SMILING, an appalling choice by Peck which confirms his tendency — demonstrated also in PORK CHOP HILL — to screw up endings with banal, platitudinous decisions. A well-poisoner.

We stayed in our seats — the sweltering heat was such we’d have had trouble leaving them — and saw COLLEGE, beautifully accompanied by Neil Brand on the piano, the only thing in the room capable of being upright. Fiona thought she’d never seen it before, and relished all the footage of Buster in shorts.

Then we ate and dragged our sodden carcasses to the Piazza Maggiore to see THE CIRCUS, which I don’t believe I’d ever seen from beginning to end, and certainly not in such a magnificent restoration — watch for a Blu-ray soon — in such a setting, under the stars. Timothy Brock conducted Chaplin’s score, and afterwards we all discussed our favourite bits over ice-cream. It wasn’t elevated film criticism, it was just “The monkeys!” and “The piglets!” and “The lion — and the little dog!”

A better film than I’d expected, even as a Chaplin fan — I’d been too influenced by Walter Kerr, who objected to the premise of the accidental clown. I think perhaps the true significance of the tramp’s success in the ring is that he’s only funny when his clowning HAS NARRATIVE CONTEXT.

The Sunday Intertitle: Kid Stuff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona had never seen THE KID — I have been slowly trying to raise her appreciation of Chaplin, a decades-long project that reached its apogee with A DOG’S LIFE, which she found delightful. She also got quite a bit of pleasure out of MODERN TIMES and THE GREAT DICTATOR. Oh, and the monkeys in THE CIRCUS had her on the floor begging for mercy, tears rolling down her face, sideways (because she was on the floor). She’ll always be a Keaton girl, which is fine, but I think you’re missing out on something if you don’t check out Chaplin.

THE KID seemed like a good bet because Chaplin is bolstered by a strong co-star. Fiona liked the dog in A DOG’S LIFE and Edna Purviance even gets to be funny in that one. And Fiona likes Paulette Goddard on principle. So I was staking everything on Jackie Coogan and on Chaplin’s chemistry with him. It worked!

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Things didn’t start too great, as the intertitle “A picture with a smile — and perhaps, a tear,” provoked the response “Oh fuck off,” which Chaplin had neglected to list in his catalogue of responses. If he had written “a smile — and perhaps a tear — or possibly an Oh Fuck Off” he would have been bang on the money.

But once Charlie gets landed with an unwanted baby, her attitude changed. Chaplin can be brutally UNsentimental, which only Walter Kerr in his majestic The Silent Clowns really acknowledges. Here, the comedy comes from the defenseless baby becoming a threat. Like Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp, or Tex Avery’s Droopy, you can’t get rid of it. When Chaplin opens a drain and briefly looks thoughtful, Fiona practically screamed in shock and then laughed in relief. “No, I can’t really do THAT,” Chaplin seems to think at us, as he closes the drain again, baby still in his arms.

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The baby then scene-changes into Jackie Coogan, and we’re pretty much home free. The little blighter is adorable and hilarious — Chaplin has schooled him in every move, you think, until you see his astonishing crying scene, which comes straight from the heart and can’t be faked or produced by imitation.

Chaplin (and his gag-writers) manages the action of scenes marvelously, developing situations into crises and finding unexpected ways to solve them. A lot of the comedy follows the baby problem pattern, turning a helpless and appealing infant into a deadly threat. The kid gets in a fight and a bulbous pugilist turns out to be the opponents brother. He’s going to pummel Charlie if his brother loses the fight. Charlie is now trying to sabotage his adopted son’s efforts. Or when Charlie, a door-to-door glazier, feels the watchful eye of a policeman on him — now the kid, suspected of throwing stones, becomes an incriminating item. Charlie must deny the association, gently kicking Jackie away with his foot. A father rejecting his son, writes Kerr, is monstrous. But here, because of the crafting of the situation, it’s hilarious. The kid is oblivious, uncomprehending, so we’re not tempted to emote at the wrong point. The man in trouble is the father.

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Chaplin still wasn’t so good at developing the whole arc of a story, and this remained his biggest difficulty. Starting out with more of a plan might have helped him, but then you look at the talkies… This leads him to the heavenly dream sequence, a heavy slice of whimsy — pointless, unfunny and positioned to paste over the fact that the plot is going to resolve itself happily without the protagonist doing anything. It’s exactly like the massive ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, only that’s entertaining in its own right. Chaplin’s paradise is more boring than Dante’s, and seems longer. “What has this got to do with anything?” asked Fiona.

But sooner than you think, the ending comes, and the film seems sort of perfect again. The good bits are sublime. The one bad bit disappears from memory like… like a dream upon awaking.

Criterion’s Blu-ray makes the film look like it was shot yesterday. Uncanny. My images come from the earlier DVD.