Archive for The Golem and the Dancing Girl

Skull Daze

Posted in Comics, FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2009 by dcairns

LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE — that is the name of the nameless Georges Méliès film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s monster movie book! I owe this information to two people:

(1) Shadowplayer Douglas Noble, an excellent cartoonist as well as a cinephile, recognized the image as one that had been used by artist/filmmaker Dave McKean (MIRRORMASK) as the basis for a poster in his “Nitrate” series —

(2) McKean himself, illustrator of the awesome Arkham Asylum among many many other stupendous things, answered my plaintive tweet with the information requested, information he himself had only come by after producing the artwork and naming it, in desperation, “Méliès.” He has since been show authentic documents establishing beyond doubt the film’s true title and authorship.

Thanks to both of these Extraordinary Gentlemen. I love not only the fact that my quest had a happy result, but that it depended for that outcome upon a renowned artist being inspired by the same photograph as caught my eye.

My sole remaining task was to procure a copy of the elusive masterpiece, and this I proceeded to attempt. BUT! I met with no success. The film does not appear in the Flicker Alley box set, for which information I must thank (3) Shadowplayer Brandon, which I learn from (4) Glenn Erickson’s typically informative and lively review contains “nearly all of Méliès’ surviving films.” Nearly all, but not quite all… I somehow doubt Flicker Alley’s acoompanying booklet will supply us with names of those films which do survive but are not included in the collection. They’re good, Flicker Alley are, but nobody’s THAT good.

So independent research is indicated. I turn to the IMDb, where I find a review! This does not cause me to become incautiously optimistic, since I remember reading a review, since deleted, of THE GOLEM AND THE DANCING GIRL (a lost film), proffering the slogan “Her muddy buddy is no fuddy-duddy.”

Here is the IMDb review for Méliès’ LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, aka THE PHRENOLOGIST AND THE LIVELY SKULL.

“Gorbo” from the Czech Republic writes:

“In 1901, Henry C. Lavery, a self-described “profound thinker” of Superior, Wisconsin became certain that phrenology was true and spent his next 26 years endeavoring to put this science into a machine. On January 29, 1931, he and his partner, Frank P. White, a businessman who had taken his life savings of $39,000 out of stock in a local sandpaper manufacturer – the 3M company – to finance the venture, announced the invention of such a machine – the “Psychograph.” The machine consisted of 1,954 parts in a metal carrier with a continuous motor-driven belt inside a walnut cabinet containing statements about 32 mental faculties. These faculties were each rated 1 through 5, “deficient” to “very superior,” so that there were 160 possible statements but an almost unlimited number of possible combinations. The “score” was determined by the way the 32 probes, each with five contact points in the headpiece, made contact with the head. The subject sat in a chair connected to the machine and the headpiece was lowered and adjusted. The operator then pulled back a lever that activated the belt-driven motor, which then received low-voltage signals from the headpiece and stamped out the appropriate statement for each faculty consecutively. Thirty three machines were built, and a local office in Minneapolis flourished. The machines were leased to entrepreneurs throughout the country for $2,000 down plus $35 a month. They were popular attractions for theater, lobbies and department stores, which found them good traffic builders during the depression. Two enterprising promoters set up shop in the Black Forest Village at the 1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago and netted $200,000 at their standing-room-only booth! Phrenology in Europe had been abandoned as nonsense long before this time. The brief success of the Psycograph lasted until the mid-thirties when the company closed because of increasing skepticism and declining income. The machines were returned and packed away in storage until the mid-sixties, when John White, the founder’s son, and I put several back into working order.”

Thanks, Gorbo! Can I just say that I particularly admire the phrase “walnut cabinet”, in part because it makes the think of a little cabinet hewn from a single walnut, and in part because it makes me think of the glorious Victorian craftsmanship of Rod Taylor’s chronoperambulator in George Pal’s film of THE TIME MACHINE.

But, sad to say, I have been unable to ascertain for certain, as yet, whether this films exists or does not exist. It’s like Schrödinger’s cat. If it exists, I can find it, probably. If it partially exists, the somewhat elastic rules of my See Reptilicus and Die quest (whereby I must view every film depicted in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies)  allow me content myself with viewing whatever there is of it. That’s what I’m going to have to do with BALAOO THE DEMON BABOON. If the film is completely lost (and bear in mind that when Le Grand Méliès quit movies, he destroyed all the films in his possession), I have several options.

In the case of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, the Tod Browning-Lon Chaney Scooby Doo vampire-detective flick, I can tick that one off my list because I’ve seen a reconstruction of the film made from stills. No reconstruction may exist of LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, but there’s nothing to stop me MAKING ONE, using the single still, Mr McKean’s artistic riff on it, and my own imagination. Alternatively, I can do what I did with THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, Hitchcock’s lost film, for Hitchcock Year — either dream the film, or get someone I know to dream it for me. These are all legitimate solutions.

I fully realize that, ideally, while dreaming the film, I should have my skull measured by Mr Lavery and Mr White’s psychograph, and if I can arrange such a thing you can rely on me to make it happen.

But I would not feel right in myself, enacting any of these solutions, without first establishing for a definite fact whether the putatively lost film is in fact lost. Over to you, archivists of the world.

Unsatisfied ciné-phrenologists are referred to the Beatles cartoon YELLOW SUBMARINE, which contains an entire SEA of Phrenology.

Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913)

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Intertitle of the Week: Feet of Clay

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , on July 19, 2009 by dcairns

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“IN ANTICIPATION OF SOMETHING TERRIBLE.”

This is from a recently rediscovered fragment of the lost original version of DER GOLEM. Many of you will have seen the famous 1920 film, with its expressionistic studio recreation of old Prague. But none of us have seen Henrik Galeen’s 1915 movie, which is filmed mainly on location and in modern dress. Paul Wegener creates the role of the clay giant with whom he is now irrevocably associated, and Galeen himself plays the Rabbi who reanimates the ancient statue.

So, the 1920 GOLEM, subtitles OR HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD, is a prequel, showing the monster’s creation. It’s also a more sophisticated piece of cinema, although perhaps it’s unfair to judge the Galeen, only a few minutes of which survive. But we can definitely say that the stiff, Frankensteinian tread of the Golem is already in place, although he moves pretty quick, and Wegener looks positively baby-faced compared to his 1920 self — it’s strange to look at a murderous ambulatory statue and find oneself going “Awww…”

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Alas, the first sequel to this movie, THE GOLEM AND THE DANCER, is also a lost film. (I hate the fact that films are lost, but I love the concept of the “lost film” — it has a certain romance. And I love fragments too.) In that one, Wegener played a satiric version of himself, an actor famous for playing a Golem, who attends a party in clay-face fancy dress and meets a girl — well, they say there’s someone for everybody. I can’t quite visualize the hulking Wegener in light comedy mode, but who can say what the results were like? 80 years after the film was made, author F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre blessed it with the world’s greatest advertising copy: “Her muddy buddy is no fuddy-duddy.”

Ten Bad Dates With Roddy McDowall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2008 by dcairns

“It was all going so well! And then I had to say that thing about the bridge. Stupid! Stupid!”

From CURSE OF THE GOLEM, A.K.A. IT!

You really don’t need to see this film, unless like us at Shadowplay you grew up with a copy of Dennis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies in the house, or regularly borrowed from the library. Other monster movie books might also do the trick, or Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (I only ever discovered one outlet that carried this publication as a kid. While on holiday. I could only afford two issues, which was a wrenching choice to make as they all looked so tasty. There was no possibility of buying more… There was a big article about BARBARELLA, which my mum wouldn’t let me watch when it came on TV, and an ad in the back for something called EQUINOX.)

If, like me, you were exposed to the right kind of literature in childhood, you probably saw a still of the big stone guy in this movie. You probably marvelled at his massive stone body, mighty stone limbs, big stone skirt and pointy stone head. He doesn’t look like any other monster. And what you demand most of all from your monsters is NOVELTY, so that has to be good. Having seen quite a bit of Dr. Who, you might have suspected that the Golem would be less impressive in motion that he is in a still image. And you’d have been right. But children of the pre-C.G.I. age, we expected our monsters to lumber, didn’t we? If they jerked across the screen in a Harryhausen strobe of animation, so much the better. But we certainly never wanted them to slink around, weightless, in a series of algorithms.

Anyhow, CURSE OF THE GOLEM is written and directed by Herbert J. Leder, auteur of such cinematic goitres as THE FROZEN DEAD and THE CHILD MOLESTOR.  Good luck with that career, Herbert.

One hates to judge a film-maker’s personality by their work (gloomy Bergman was known to his friends for a great deal of jollity, sentimental Frank Capra once punched his wife unconscious), but going by this film I would probably characterise Mr. Leder as a BIG IDIOT. Roddy McDowall, as Arthur Gordon Pym (!) finds he can command an ancient Jewish statue to do his bidding. Since he lives with his mother’s decayed corpse (though this has no real bearing on the story, and no explanation), he’s probably not the best person to be granted this awesome power. He uses it to kill his boss, and in a failed attempt to impress Otto Preminger babe Jill Haworth. It seems golems are good at bludgeoning irksome employers, but utterly useless as an aid to modern dating.

Paul Wegener doing his cute, Susannah Hoffs-style look-to-the-side.

The golem seem to me an underused monster. Paul Wegener portrayed the animate clay statue thrice, in DER GOLEM of 1915, sequel THE GOLEM AND THE DANCING GIRL two years later, and prequel/secret origin THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD, which is the version that survives.

Although he was certainly some kind of influence on Hollywood’s FRANKENSTEIN, the golem never surfaced in a bona fide Hollywood remake, instead emigrating to France, where he raises his ugly head in Julien Duvivier’s characteristically stylish LE GOLEM of 1936, which incorporates imagery from FRANKENSTEIN while essentially reprising the original Golem legend dramatised by Wegener. Many of the pre-Nouvelle Vague filmmakers deserve to be rediscovered, and I carry a special torch for Duvivier, whose PANIQUE and LA FIN DU JOUR strike me as truly major works, on the verge of being completely forgotten.

1951 gives us an authentic Czech golem at last, in THE EMPEROR’S BAKER AND THE GOLEM, a comic fantasy directed by Martin Fric, which guest-stars a wonderfully monumental golem who can’t actually articulate his limbs, and therefore walks like a chair.

Since then, there doesn’t seem to have been a really truly golem-centred movie, although ceramic heavies have occasionally disported themselves upon the screen in a supporting capacity. I’d welcome a good remake, or else an adaptation of Gustav Meyrink’s fantastic novel The Golem, in which the colossus does not actually appear, but assumes a kind of allegorical omnipresence in the story. My colleague, B. Kite, the Brooklyn Behemoth, himself a stony homunculus enlivened by rabbinical sorcery, once co-authored an atmospheric and highly imaginative screenplay based on this work.

Anyhoo. Some Youtubing genius has helpfully provided this abridged version that allows you to consume the whole thing at a single, ten-minute sitting. Had I realised this I could have saved myself eighty minutes or so.

Here, by way of a palette-cleanser, is the great Jiri Barta’s animated THE GOLEM, a pilot/trailer for a feature Barta hopes to complete. The collapse of communism in Europe (a good thing in itself, don’t get me wrong) has left many brilliant artists like Barta and the incomparable Yuri Norstein stranded in a marketplace they have no experience dealing with. Somebody help!

The more numerate Shadowplayers among you may have noticed that this post contains only one bad date with Roddy MacDowall. I maintain that one bad date with Roddy is worth ten with anyone else, but I’m happy for you to nominate nine more if you feel up to it.

STOP PRESS! What the heck is THIS?

And THIS?