Archive for Vertigo

Mental Cruelty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2023 by dcairns

It’s marking time at the University I teach at — cuts into blogging a bit — not only does it eat up my time, but I can’t blog about it. Not directly anyway — the marks are all secret for now and anyway, you lot haven’t seen the films unless you happen to be one of my students.

On Saturday night we ran Bunuel’s EL, which Fiona hadn’t seen. You wouldn’t expect Bunuel to make a feminist film, but this kind of is one: a woman is lured into marriage with a bloke who turns out to be obsessively jealous and controlling — his paranoia gradually becomes full-blown, but she can’t get any help because he’s a rich, respected man — even the church is on his side, even her mother is on his side. Maybe the real target is his respectable bourgeoise power, but the fact that the movie is named after the male pronoun is… suggestive, wouldn’t you say?

If this sounds earnest and social realist, it’s anything but — Bunuel’s surrealistic impulses are more apparent than in, say, LOS OLVIDADOS (which has dream sequences and a certain grotesquerie but could, with only minor deletions, be the sort of subject Ken Loach would like). There’s a lot of fetishistic business with shoes and feet, but when El/Francisco — Arturo de Cordova — quite a risky performance from a big star — finally cracks, the scene becomes a fragmentary, jumpcutting phantasmagoria of overlapping sound — he imagines everyone in church laughing at him, and their laughter continues across cuts which instantly turn the mockers po-faced. It’s a delirious nightmare.

Other scenes are quite Hitchcockian — like a companion to SUSPICION maybe? Francisco rips up a stair rod and bangs it frantically against a banister in the night — and we’re hearing the drums of Calanda which form such a major part of Don Luis’ cinematic soundscape. (Hitchcock to Bunuel when they finally met, and after Hitch had seen TRISTANA: “That leg!” As great director encounters, I like that as much as Ford’s remark to Kurosawa: “You really like rain, don’t you?”)

For a long time the “Mexican melodramas” were hard to see and kind of referred to dismissively. I now think Bunuel’s Mexican period is his richest, even if a few of the films really are just work for hire with only touches of the Bunuelian. Many of them are quite full-on, smashing surrealism together with melodrama is always going to be intense.

And cinema — especially Latin cinema — was dreaming of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO for some years before he actually made it:


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on March 5, 2022 by dcairns

New at The Chiseler, this excellent piece by the Lumiere Sisters. I may have contributed the odd word or idea, but very little I can directly trace. Treat it as a Kubrickian monolith that’s just, you know, arrived from places unknown, its origins and purpose still a total mystery.

Traveling Matte Finish

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2021 by dcairns

Joe May’s career has a curious shape. From detective series starring Anglophone-sounding heroes called Stuart Webbs and Joe Deebs, he graduated to epic adventure films starring his wife Mia, then sold his studio and went to work for UFA, reaching an artistic pinnacle with HEIMKEHR and ASPHALT. When sound came he turned his hand to musical comedy, and kept at that as he emigrated rapidly through France and Britain and wound up in Hollywood where he made another, MUSIC IN THE AIR.

His American career was patchy, and declined rapidly to B-pictures, but these are not terrible. He never made a little classic like his protege E.A. Dupont’s THE SCARF, but he never made THE NEANDERTHAL MAN either, so there’s that.

During his speedy passage through France, he managed to make three films, and two of those he made twice: PARIS-MEDITERRANEE (1932), for instance, was shot in French, and again in German (as ZWEI IN EINEM AUTO). Presumably the French contacts helped May get out of Germany the following year. The French version was a Pathe-Natan production, and I got hold of a scrappy off-air recording of it back when we were making our documentary NATAN. Somebody subsequently made very good subtitles for it, and Fiona and I just watched it.

Charmant! Annabella is lovely as ever and her then-husband Jean Murat essays a totally convincing English accent throughout. Scenic views of the Riviera. All very fuzzy, with an intermittent sound problem that makes everyone like they’re snorting helium at the bottom of a well while wrapped in vinyl sheets.

The movie is nothing remarkable, except that the early sound musicals are full of invention, even when the stories are souffle-light and not particularly memorable. This one ends, for instance, with the two comedy relief idiots hanging off a tree over a cliff on the Riviera, with the jealous Spaniard (José Noguéro) biting the buffoonish accountant (Frédéric Duvallès) on the bottom. It’s not exactly LE REGLE DE JEUX.

More big thick matte lines for us to enjoy, though! Tricky to be making a romcom road movie a year before the Translux scene was gifted to the film industry by its inventor, Yves Le Prieur, making rear-projection a vastly more effective technique, and making KING KONG possible. If the film had been silent, May could have filmed the car stuff for real, but a talkie needed to be filmed in the studio, so we get Jean Murat and Annabella haloed with wavering jagged white outlines that keep biting off portions of their heads you would not think they could do without. Excellent stuff. Even if the film were not as charming as it is, that kind of thing could make it endlessly diverting. Elsewhere May rapidly cuts together real car POV shots with our heroes outlined against a perfectly blank whiteness, as if driving into Jimmy Stewart’s nightmare limbo in VERTIGO.