Archive for Twinkletoes

The Sunday Intertitle: Raven Mad

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2015 by dcairns

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Don’t chop the N off! The N is really important!

I’m a bit of a Charles Brabin fan, but until now I had really only seen his pre-code films. His career ended in 1934, as if he personally was unimaginable under the Hayes Code. Before then, he made THE MASK OF FU MANCHU with Boris Karloff and a nakedly sadistic Myrna Loy in yellowface; the best, grisly bits of RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS, which are still astonishingly extreme; and the vicious, fascistic BEAST OF THE CITY. Oh, I’ve seen a bit of TWINKLETOES from the silent era, and he did bits of the original BEN-HUR. But THE RAVEN is from 1915, way earlier. It’s interesting to see a filmmaker whose style I kind of know (Scouse maniac), working with material conducive to his dark talents, but in a much earlier period, when DW Griffith held illimitable dominion over all.

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It’s a Poe biopic, following hard on the heels of Griffith’s EDGAR ALLAN POE (1909) and THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE (1914), which adapted The Telltale Heart (with a bit of The Black Cat). Here, Brabin attempts to create a hybrid life story and adaptation of The Raven, throwing in a bit of William Wilson and a lot of delirium tremens for good measure. It’s basically a classy temperance film, which sits awkwardly with its other ambitious since the poem The Raven is not, so far as I can see, about alcoholism per se. Still, fun to see Poe’s rather unsuitably short stories being fleshed out using the same tricks Roger Corman and his scenarists would deploy in the sixties — conflate, insert, absorb, extrapolate, invent! We’ll get a feature out of this thing somehow!

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The movie begins with a weird history of Poe’s ancestors in little vignettes — a founding father comes up a beach while oars wave strangely in the background — are they drying them off? A revolutionary primes a pistol. Then the rot sets in: Poe’s immediate forebears are actors. A sad case of generational degeneration. What chance did the lad have?

Then we get a snippet of the Poe childhood, some shapeless excerpts from the admittedly somewhat shapeless life, and then the showstopper, the immortal poem hacked up into disconnected intertitles while star Henry B. Walthall (of BIRTH OF A NATION fame) staggers about bemoaning that fatal glass of beer. Good actor, Walthall — the only one in the cast to have absorbed Griffith’s ideas on underplaying, he seems shockingly modern compared to everyone he’s compelled to share scenes with. But left on his own, or with a confused corvid, he reverts to arm-waving a bit — who wouldn’t?

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Still, Brabin serves up some striking images, and I liked the looseness with which he goes from location to theatrical set and back, uncaring as to consistency. There are a lot of tricks with multiple exposures so Walthall can be haunted by the ghosts of lost loves, or face off against his Doppelganger. A bit more plot and Brabin would have really had something here — unfortunately Poe’s life doesn’t really provide much plot — he saved that for his fiction, which has consistently provided better source material than his earthly existence.

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The Father’s Day Intertitle

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2011 by dcairns

An intertitle from TWINKLETOES, a Colleen Moore vehicle directed, improbably enough, by master of savagery Charles BEAST OF THE CITY Brabin.

But I’m not here to talk about TWINKLETOES, no sir! Since I’m a Raymond Griffith fan and my superb Dad is a cycling fan, Paul Bern’s movie OPEN ALL NIGHT seems the perfect combination of our interests. A would-be romantic comedy set during the Paris six-day cycle race, it also acquires some inadvertent interest by being a virtual paean to the merits of domestic violence…

Adolphe Menjou plays a happily married middle-class chap who shuns the more violent ways of his sex — we learn this as he observes, through binoculars, a neighbour thrashing his spouse with a flail, and shakes his head smilingly. However, his wife Viola Dana, who reads racy novels (ie s&m porn) in the bath, has a yen for a bruising, and taunts her husband as an ineffectual fop.

Enter a busybody friend, who arranges for Viola to be introduced to an authentic brute, France’s bicycling champion, with the idea that she’ll soon tire of such treatment and come rushing back to dear hubby. So we decamp to the velodrome, but by chance Adolphe meets the cyclist’s gal pal, and she’s feeling like a change herself and thinks un vrai gentleman might be just the thing…

For a silent rom-com, the movie features a lot of cycling — here’s the introduction to the sporting arena.

Untitled from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Note the offensive stereotyping of the African cyclist. They might have at least had the American chewing gum and the Brit smoking a pipe to partially compensate…

The six-day race was an odd event. Teams of two cyclists representing each competing nation would take it in relays, three hours cycling, three hours rest, for six days and five nights. This peculiar arrangement, seemingly designed by sadists, was intended to allow professional cyclists to earn a living all year round, and not just in the good weather. But the race was transacted in a smoke-filled velodrome, poisoned by the tobacco fumes of the society audience, who boozed and slept and cheered and booed and generally created a bizarre carnival atmosphere, well-evoked in the movie.

The whole thing ends with Adolphe reunited with his wife, manhandling her mildly, generating a small bruise, and winning her devotion. The muscular Frenchman, whose spectacular mustache suggests a forest fire raging in his nostrils, cheats and is defeated, and his squeeze rushes to his side. Mild brutality carries the day. The whole thing is deeply sinister in its sexual politics.

But! What of Raymond Griffith? Well, this was one of his early movies, after his Keystone period but before he’d garnered leading roles in features, so he’s along for the ride as a drunken Russian waiter from New York who’s planning to become “the next Hollywood sheik.” This allows for some good inebriated schtick, and this memorable final moment for him —

Untitled from David Cairns on Vimeo.

“No emotion!” was Griffith’s motto, which is surprising when you consider how expressive he is. And here he comes very close to being heartbreaking, but it’s all a set-up for making you laugh at him, and then he lets you off the hook by delivering a happy ending so you don’t feel guilty for laughing at that pitiable moment. Clever man.