Archive for The Wild Party

Party Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 5, 2014 by dcairns

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My impression of James Ivory was formed by the films I saw in the 90s, which seemed like the antithesis of cinema to me then but were often held up as embodying what our movies should be about. I didn’t enjoy A Room with a View when I was forced to read it at school — I found Ivory’s film slightly easier to take because it could be consumed more quickly, but really — he managed to get a bad performance from Denholm Elliott, which ought to be impossible, by miscasting him as a slightly vulgar lower-middle-class parvenu. It’s the only role in the book that doesn’t require a toff, and he cast a toff. I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was overdoing things too. What else did I see? THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, which was OK, but didn’t seem to know what to do with the book’s political dimension.

So THE WILD PARTY (1975) was something I entered into with middling expectations. It has an intriguing central duo: James Coco, who’s great, and Raquel Welch. at her loveliest — “THAT is a GODDESS,” declared Fiona — and giving probably her best performance, which is to say she’s OK, and she sings and dances real good. But here comes her director, cutting away from her big dance number in order to get back to his “plot” — unforgivable! Revenge for Raquel making him apologise to her in front of everyone after he criticised her performance a bit insensitively?

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Spirited rendition of “Singapore Sally,” sat in Buddha’s lap.

As is typical with Ivory, the costumes and art direction are a treat, and here the setting is one I like a lot more than the Edwardian era. And then there’s the movie’s strangest feature, the fact that it’s based, nominally at least, on a narrative poem by John Moncure March. Not many narrative poems get filmed. Dante’s Inferno, yes, but not so much Paradise Lost. In fact, Walter Marks’ script rewrites the story completely, upscales the social setting to suit Ivory’s poshlust, and makes it a kind of dream-amalgamation of the Arbuckle scandal and the Thomas Ince “shooting” — even the verse has to be substantially rewritten. Relatively small amounts of it are spoken in VO, but they’re my favourite parts of the film —

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Because, let’s face it, Ivory sucks at directing dramatic scenes. He can do homage to the decor, but his photographs of people talking are just that, and his scenes go so flat you could slide them under the door before they’re half over. Several times he actually keeps the film running as the actors walk off the set, as if what he really wanted was to film the empty room, all that scenic dressing at last unobstructed by the damn cast. The actors are all good — in medium shot and long shot. Everybody’s playing too big for close-up (except maybe Coco, sometimes), but they must have their close-ups.

I have to admit, though, the songs (by Marks again) are very enjoyable. The movie probably needed a Ken Russell to do full justice to them, but Ivory scrapes by.

Ultimately, the film stops an entire act too soon (but not soon enough). It mattered that Roscoe Arbuckle was a movie star accused of a crime because the press crucified him. It mattered that William Randolph Hearst was a press baron and his supposed victim a movie director because the press didn’t cover it at all. Why does it matter that “Jolly Grimm” is a famous comedian? After “fat guy goes nutzoid,” is he treated any differently than you or I would be? If not, why tell this story?

 

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: Jolly Grimm

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 4, 2014 by dcairns

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A swellegant intertitle from THE WILD PARTY, which I haven’t seen but which looks rather gorgeous. But isn’t it a roman a clef on the Fatty Arbuckle case in which Arbuckle is presumed guilty? I’ll have to watch it to find out. It sort of fits into The Seventies Look Back, being an AIP picture set in the late jazz age, but James Ivory’s relationship to the New Hollywood is tenuous at best. (How weird to think of Merchant-Ivory working for AIP!) DAY OF THE LOCUST is a better match, since Schlesinger also made MIDNIGHT COWBOY, which is seminal pre-seventies New Hollywood, and his HONKY TONK FREEWAY is a good example of the way the era combusted.

Next week I suspect I’ll be shuffling between posts carrying on the 70s thing, with other more random stuff, and then on Wednesday I leave for The Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Canuck Shadowplayers are advised to meet me at the screenings of NATAN on the 8th and 11th.

On Tuesday I’m aiming to squeeze in my second video intro for a Masters of Cinema Blu-ray. I didn’t tell you about the first yet, did I? I will!

Intertitle of the Week: of It-Girls and Intertitles

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2009 by dcairns

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From Dorothy Arzner’s THE WILD PARTY.

If you’re like Fiona and I, one of the symptoms is a willingness to watch anything with Clara Bow in it. Clara, who suffered an irrational fear of microphones, made relatively few talkies. THE WILD PARTY, her first, is a fascinating early attempt at sound film-making, using inter-titles (see above) for scene-setting between acts, and serving up lashings of pre-code spice, and HOOP-LA, her last, is a slightly desultory carnival melodrama enlivened by racy attitudes and a nude swimming scene.

But none of this prepared us for the hilarity of CALL HER SAVAGE…

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Seven years’ bad luck…

The movie gets off to a rough start by following two generations of Bow’s ancestors, explaining how she gets her “savage” nature — her grandfather was a murdering adulterer and her father was an Indian. Now she’s “Nasa Springer,” (great name!) a simple rich Brooklynese girl from Texas with a tendency to flip out and literally bullwhip everything in sight ~

Believe it or not, we actually stopped watching around here, convinced that the film was uninteresting, so we watched Frank Fay (Fay by name and fey by nature) ironically cast as GOD’S GIFT TO WOMEN, which deserves a lot more attention sometime, but then we returned to Clara and found that actually the movie is a demented work of anti-genius that’s well worth anybody’s time. The peculiar and slightly sinister racial attitudes, the camp singing waiters (I didn’t think it was possible for anybody to be more camp than Frank Fay and be in a movie, but WRONG AGAIN), the endless parade of improbable scandals, cat-fights, mental breakdowns and dead babies, this is like watching seven years of daytime soap compacted into 88 minutes of fast-forward debauchery. We were left giddy and google-eyed.

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As fine a display of mincing as you could hope to see.

Based on this experience, I’d say that CALL HER SAVAGE and GOD’S GIFT TO WOMEN make an ideal Fever Dream Double Feature, provided you watch one film inside the other, forming a sort of bad film sandwich. Both movies exploit the shady entertainment value of the cat-fight, with Bow tackling Thelma Todd while the Fay vehicle pits Joan Blondell against Louise Brooks.

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But only CALL HER SAVAGE utilises the less-known dogfight, with a noticably bra-less Bow wrestling a huge mutt. This kind of scene, bra-less dog wrestling, never quite caught on, I suspect.

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And then there’s the early scene where Clara elevates music criticism to the level of contact sport, a sequence apparently intended to establish her as an adorable hot-head rather than out-of-control psychopath ~

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Footnote: Clara’s horse-riding mishap seems an attempt to hark back to her glory days in silents ~

HULA.

‘It’ Plus Clara Bow: Discovering the “It” Girl