Archive for The Queen of Spades

The Sunday Intertitle: Let Jesus Fuck You

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2012 by dcairns

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I’m quoting Linda Blair, of course, so that’s alright then.

The profane headline is inspired by recent reading. In Dublin I acquired The Celluloid Mistress: or, The Custard Pie of Dr Caligari by English playwright Rodney Ackland. Ackland’s movie memoir details his involvement in the cinema on such projects as Powell & Pressburger’s 49TH PARALLEL, Brian “The Queen of Ireland” Desmond Hurst’s DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT, and Thorold Dickinson’s QUEEN OF SPADES, which Ackland actually started directing until forced out by an unsympathetic producer. (Dickinson looked and the rushes and said, “You’d never think this was a British picture!” “Is there anything wrong in that?” asked Ackland. “No!” said Dickinson, genuinely impressed, and he finished the film in the same style.)

At one point, Ackland documents a meeting with Howard Gaye, who played Christ in Griffith’s INTOLERANCE. Gaye recollected ruefully that when the crew stopped for lunch, he was left crucified for an hour and a half. Griffith, when he returned from his loaves and fishes, was greeted with an outburst of decidedly unchristlike language from his Messiah.

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This brought to mind a long anecdote from the shooting of THE KING OF KINGS, detailed in Lenore Coffee’s Storyline. According to L.C., the crew of the flick set up camp on an island where they could be removed from all modern appurtenances except for those pieces of technical apparatus essential to the actual recording of film images. DeMille was therefore rather put out that his star, H.B. Warner, insisted on leaving the camp for a luxury yacht every evening, still in costume and makeup as the Lamb of God. The nightly appearance of the twentieth century vessel ruptured DeMille’s sense of period and spoiled his enjoyment of the year 33 Anno Domini.

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When Coffee and her husband realized that Warner was meeting a girlfriend aboard ship, they decided that DeMille must be protected from this knowledge, since anything that tainted the feeling of sanctity he had built up around the film would have rendered him unfit to continue. When they further realized that Warner had insisted on keeping on his God the Son attire because his girlfriend was fulfilling some kind of perverse Bride of Christ sexual fantasy, they became even more determined to keep the matter under their collective hat (all writing teams own a collective hat, which they put on when collaborating).

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“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”

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Congruence #2: Entrances

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2009 by dcairns

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A kind Shadowplayer sent me a copy of Thorold Dickinson’s SECRET PEOPLE, which features the first major performance by Audrey Hepburn, so always gets a sort of footnote position in the history books, but deserves better. A rather downbeat tale of terrorism and espionage, it stars Valentina Cortese as Hepburn’s big sister, lured into an assassination plot by her lover, Serge Reggiani. The film has an unusual narrative, perhaps not entirely successful in its jumps and re-starts, but intriguing to watch. The biggest narrative surprise is when the bomb plot is set in motion, and Dickinson then cuts to the aftermath. Reggiani, like the audience, is desperate to know what happened.

Cortese. standing at the window of her London flat, begins to tell him.

As she talks, she moves left —

— and walks into the flashback she just started to narrate.

It’s a startling transition, and all the more striking when you imagine how it must have been shot. Dickinson would have had the bedroom set constructed next to the terrace where the party is unfolding, a dreamlike conjunction of entirely separate places.

There are a few uses of this kind of technique elsewhere in cinema. Dickinson might conceivably have been influenced by the moment in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP where Roger Livesey swims back in time forty years in a single continuous shot. But it just occurred to me that he would have made a point of seeing LA RONDE, since it stars Anton Walbrook, directed by Dickinson in two of his best perfs (GASLIGHT, THE QUEEN OF SPADES). And in the five-minute opening shot of LA RONDE, Walbrook walks from a nocturnal Viennese street onto a theatre stage somehow erected in the midst of it, back onto the street, which then becomes a movie studio, then a street again, then daylight, then night again…

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And then there’s this moment in THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, where the Baron begins to narrate his tall tale from the stage of a theatre. He speaks of the Turkish court and its seraglio. Gilliam cuts to an actor playing the Great Turk being shepherded onto the stage —

But as he enters, we find it’s a real Turkish harem, and the actor is now therefor a real Great Turk. We’re inside Munchausen’s tale, having not just moved back in time, but into a slightly more slippery form of reality, the lie-truth of a Munchausen memory, and again we’ve done it without a cut or dissolve.

The effect, like the film, is somewhat Felliniesque, but Gilliam’s trick  shot does feel akin to Dickinson’s, and it’s thus interesting to note that both SECRET PEOPLE and MUNCHAUSEN feature Valentina Cortese, who for Gilliam plays the Queen of the Moon (a giantess with a detachable head). Did Gilliam check out some of her earlier work and get inspired?

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Thanks to Susan VandenBergh for SECRET PEOPLE.

UK shoppers: The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition) [DVD] [1988]