Archive for The General

The Sunday Intertitle: A Most Wanted Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-09-05-11h31m23s180

At Edinburgh’s late, lamented Lumiere (a terrible room with great programming), one of the treats was a screening of Keaton’s THE GENERAL, with THE GOAT (1921) in support. Apparently some kids had been dragged to see it by parents, and one of the pleasures was hearing a small boy say, after the short, “That was GOOD!” with a touch of amazement in his voice. They know their own minds from an early age, so this was a definite victory.

I thought of THE GOAT again when looking for something to watch while we decided what to watch on our anniversary. Fiona hadn’t seen it, so far as she knew. The thing is, it has a great set-up and some great gags but isn’t the most scrupulously well thought-out Keaton short by a long chalk. But there’s a certain charm in the slapdash, or I hope there is, given that I’m at work on a script written in two weeks.

vlcsnap-2014-09-05-11h29m29s43

Buster is introduced in the bread-line, which gets some sympathy for him –Keaton always wanted to generate sympathy, “but you mustn’t ask for it.” This opening sequence really has nothing to do with anything, though. The movie could begin with the following bit, where Buster gets himself photographed in place of a murderer. There’s then a scuffle in which Buster knocks a heel unconscious and meets a girl (Virginia Fox, in one of her most undercharacterised roles). And then a mini-version of the chase in COPS with some very good gags, particularly the cunning way Buster locks his pursuers in a removals van, and the surprising way they turn up again later.

Buster now escapes to the next town, which serves no great narrative purpose except to stop the cops chasing him, and have a passage of time. The wanted poster for the escaped murderer has now gone up, bearing Buster’s image, motivating another chase by cops, including town sheriff Big Joe Roberts, a Keaton favourite.

vlcsnap-2014-09-05-11h34m01s199

My frame grabs seem to be emulating Beckett’s FILM.

Keaton plays with the idea that Buster believes he must have killed that heel he knocked out — he plays with it for about one minute, then drops it, never to resolve the issue. And Dead Shot Dan is never recaptured, a fairly major loose thread. Instead of neat resolutions we have even more brilliant gags.

Fiona particularly liked Buster throwing himself out of a hospital, to land in front of an ambulance, whose stretcher-bearers calmly transport him back in — and the horse.

vlcsnap-2014-09-05-11h34m50s204

This one needs a special set-up via intertitle to even make sense — a sculptor is presenting the clay model of his masterpiece, which is to be presumably a bronze statue of a racehorse. The sheet is lifted to reveal Buster posed on the fake horse, hiding from cops. The horse slowly droops in the middle, legs buckling, eventually snapping off at hoof level as Buster and the sagging torso fall from their plinth, to the dismay of the sculptor. It’s somehow extremely funny in its grotesquerie, but it’s not the most elegant gag — the horse has to be suspended on wires and gently lowered to simulate its collapse. Keaton preferred not to fake anything, and if you could have made the shot work for real, it would certainly have been better. But it’s funny.

Buster meets Virginia again, gets invited home to meet the folks, and pop turns out to be the sheriff. HUGELY prolonged suspense as Buster plays with the family dog, so that he doesn’t see Sheriff Joe and Sheriff Joe doesn’t see him. Then the family say grace, so everyone is looking down at their soup so they STILL don’t see each other. And then they do.

Walter Kerr admired Keaton’s escape here. Sheriff Joe locks the door and bends the key, so Buster jumps onto the dinner table, onto Joe’s shoulder, and exits via a flying leap through the transom. Beautiful, logical, surprising, and only possible because all the important objects are arranged in a straight line across the screen in classic Wes Anderson formation.

vlcsnap-2014-09-05-11h47m29s90

vlcsnap-2014-09-05-11h47m16s203

Lots of business with the elevator, climaxing with Sheriff Joe crashing through the ceiling in what appears to be an animated special effect — it looks like something Charley Bowers would do, and you know how stop-motion has a very distinct quality of movement? . That’s what I’m seeing here. And one recalls the dynamation dino in THE THREE AGES. But the elevator tips a lot of debris off its roof as it topples — could this be animated debris, as in EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS? It looks too dusty. And no method existed in 1921 for combining an animated elevator with live action debris into a single shot. I’d love to hear the solution to this one.


Anyhow, Buster exits with the girl, who is sublimely unconcerned that her beau just shot dad through the roof. And Buster is STILL wanted for murder.

These are essential possessions: help me out and buy one via my links —

The Complete Buster Keaton Short Films [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] [1917]

Buster Keaton – Short Films Collection: 1920 – 1923 (3-Disc Ultimate Edition)

Titular

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by dcairns

bscap115jq6

“No, wait, we made that,” says Tony Randall at the start of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? as he realizes that the film he’s introducing cannot possibly be called THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. And he’s right, of course. Because why would you make a film that was already made?

I know there are possible reasons or excuses. Maybe it was OK for Vincent Ward to make THE NAVIGATOR after Buster Keaton had already made THE NAVIGATOR, since even though that film is one of Keaton’s best, it’s not his best-known. But it was surely goofy of John Boorman to make THE GENERAL, under that title, since Keaton’s GENERAL regularly makes top ten lists. And indeed, you never hear about that Boorman film nowadays. Perhaps the only reason Ward’s film isn’t completely forgotten is that everything he’s done since has sucked so very, very hard.

Night Moves

And so to Kelly Reichardt’s NIGHT MOVES, which is excellent — saw it in Rotterdam — but did it need to be called that? Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES isn’t going away. In Reichardt’s film, the title is the name of a boat. Now, the boat didn’t have to be called that. In fact, Dakota Fanning actually lists a whole bunch of alternative boat names, although admittedly one of them, Gone With The Wind, might also have caused problems.

Still, quibbling aside, this is an excellent film. Fanning plays an aspirant eco-terrorist intent on blowing up an unpopular dam with the help of Peter Sarsgaard (a blithe bullshitter in the tradition of Bruce Greenwood in MEEK’S CUTOFF) and Jesse Eisenberg (wrapped too tight for Oregon). Fanning is touching, Eisenberg confirms his reputation as American cinema’s leading depressive, folding up into himself as the story unravels, like a man with ouroboros of the soul.

Reichardt and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond do the most amazing endings — usually bleak or at least potentially bleak, mysterious, uncertain, troubling. This one, laid in a sporting goods store, is the most inexplicably distressing retail experience since Anne Bancroft’s Harrods breakdown in THE PUMPKIN EATER.

Meek’s Cutoff [DVD] [2010]
Wendy And Lucy [DVD] [2008]
Old Joy [2006] [DVD]

The Sunday Intertitle: When Buster Met Boris

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2011 by dcairns

Screened Keaton’s THE GENERAL for students, along with clips of Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon, Charley Bowers and of course good old Raymond Griffith. And this time, projecting my Kino DVD on the big screen, I noticed something new —

That’s Boris frickin’ Karloff there, as a northern general! Front left.

I’m not the first to spot this: the IMDb has him down as “unconfirmed”, but after watching him carefully, I was pretty much convinced. Not only does the northern general have Boris Karloff’s face, but at one point he makes a Boris Karloff face. You know, one of those faces Boris makes when he’s acting. He has several.

That makes THE GENERAL the 11th film Boris made in 1926, including also THE BELLS, where he’s a sinister mesmerist. I find it apt that the great monster makes his one noted appearance in a silent comedy burning the hero’s elbow with a cigar.

Louise Brooks noted that one shot of Buster hiding under the table in this scene was so beautiful it took her breath away. She lost the ability to laugh for a good ten minutes, so awe-struck was she. “Why didn’t he cut the shot?” she wondered. But in fact, as Richard Lester pointed out, what makes THE GENERAL “a masterpiece of economy” is that you can’t remove a single shot without the sequence collapsing, nor a sequence without the story collapsing. What this means, of course, is that if a single shot had failed, Keaton would have no film. But then, he was working in an age when, if a shot didn’t come out right, you could just go back and do it again: everybody was under contract, so all it would cost you is raw stock and petrol.

Unless you want to do something like THIS —

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 514 other followers