Archive for Werner Krauss

The Sunday Intertitle: Wax, Lyrical

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 30, 2020 by dcairns

The new restoration of WAXWORKS, out soon from Flicker Alley (US) and Masters of Cinema (UK), was screened in the online Il Cinema Ritrovato and looks amazing. You could step onto Paul Leni’s sets (and get promptly ejected) or stroke Ivan the Terrible’s beard (hard to say how he’d react, but you’d be taking you life in your hands). Fiona plonked herself ten-year-old fashion on the floorboards smack in front of our TV to soak up the expressionism at close range. You’ll ruin your eyes!

As a “Case Study” discussion hosted at the fest made clear, the German negative is lost, the original intertitles along with it, and the censor’s file, which usually contains records of what every title card says, came up empty. Drafts of the script survive, but differ significantly from the movie so don’t serve as a reliable guide. So we’re still dealing with the English-language intertitles in which, for what I suspect are censorship reasons, Jack the Ripper is incorrectly described as Spring-Heeled Jack. The Ripper murders were within living memory, and very unpleasant: SHJ seems not to have done any serious harm, just scared the crap out of people, and although he had been reported active as late as 1904, by 1924 there was probably less belief in him. His MO resembles that of the Men in Black in that it consists of unaccountable behaviour designed mainly, it would seem, to make an impression. He definitely DESERVES a waxwork, but Werner Krauss isn’t it.

We also learned from the discussion about the mysterious fourth figure: Rinaldo Rinaldi (third from the left — the figures are arranged in order of intended appearance). To my amazement he’s apparently played by the film’s leading man, William Dieterle, the Iron Stove himself, who acts as protag in each of the film’s embedded narratives. RR was a celebrated Italian bandit, and his story was to have been about him rescuing a kidnapped girl (hearts of gold, those bandits). But the money could not be raised and the sequence was never shot. A shortage of cash (post-WWI German mega-inflation) may also be the reasons Krauss’s Ripper sequence wound up so short. Though the version screened at the premiere seems to have been a good bit longer, the cuts don’t seem to have come from this section.

But as I say, though the vicissitudes of history prevent this original version from being reconstructed, what we get from the Deutsche Kinemathek and Cineteca di Bologna restoration is a far sharper and shinier vision, layers of accrued muck swept away so the movie greet us with startling immediacy.

The Sunday Intertitle: You Bad Ass

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2018 by dcairns

Movies from 10.30 a.m. until around midnight yesterday at the Hippodrome (and also at Bo’ness Railway Station). The one film I was unsure of, the recently rediscovered early ‘3-s Chinese film, STRIVING, turned out to be a highlight. For all its blatant propaganda content (“Bullets dodge brave soldiers,” one intertitle tells us — and we learn how the Chinese defeated the Japanese, which is pretty counter-factual), I actually like it better than the admired THE GODDESS. It’s in perfect nick, and Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius really brought it to life with their accompaniment.

Everybody’s favourite intertitle came from this film: “You bad ass!” a charming mistranslation which meant to come out as “You awful jerk!” or something. Difficult to find an idiom that carries the meaning and feels natural but doesn’t sound too, well, idiomatic.

The day began with Baby Peggy in THE KID DETECTIVE and Neil Brand at the piano. Neil told us that he’s actually played before B.P. herself. He asked her if they played music on set when she acted, and she said yes, there was one piece that would always make her cry. So when he accompanied her film he played it, and glanced into the audience, and sure enough, there were tears running down her face. I wish we’d had her with us yesterday. She was a big hit, especially in drag with tweed suit and inverted Hitler mustache.

Then there was the very peculiar SAVING SISTER SUSIE, a 1921 Christie Comedy with Dorothy Devore, who I hadn’t seen before. On the slenderest pretext, Devore is forced to dress as a child so she can’t steal her sister’s rich beau, but he falls for her anyway, the “Buster Brown” costume failing to put him off — maybe it even encourages him. This foretaste of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR meant that the naive little farce stood out in a day full of imperilled virigins and sexual threat, as perhaps the most disturbing film of all.

DER SCHATZ (1923), the first film of GW Pabst, was impressive, but hampered by the score. The Hippodrome set like a good improvisation as much as the next silent film geek, but we like to feel the musician is improvising TO the film. Alois Kott had laid down a sound bed of strange noises, which sometimes changed in sync with the scenes, and then he added another layer of abstract musical noise with an amazing instrument that looked like a cross between a cello and a Curly-Wurly™. None of the sounds would necessarily have been inappropriate for this film, though the intergalactic computer twinkling was something you might want to be careful with. But none of them seemed to follow or reflect the action, tone, mood of the characters or create either tension or space. The effect became like watching a good film (with Werner Krauss and THE 39 STEPS’ Lucie Mannheim) through a thick pane of frosted glass: music as barrier.

We did learn that Kott has provided live improvised accompaniment to football matches, though. I like that idea — sounds like about the only thing that could make the experience of a football match tolerable to me.

Oh, somewhere in there I accidentally won a chocolate egg in a quiz, which I then shared with random audience members. Seemed only fair since I’d guessed half the answers.

Tom Mix and his Wonder Horse, Tony, starred in THE GREAT K & A TRAIN ROBBERY (1926), where the clean-cut hero pretends to be a bandit in order to thwart real outlaws. Heroine Dorothy Dwan (fresh from the ’25 WIZARD OF OZ) seems to be serious obsessed with bandits, fantastising Mix as Dick Turpin via match dissolve, and gloating lustfully over her big book of Romantic Highwaymen. Who knew that highwayman porn was a thing? Second favourite intertitle stemmed from this film, where an effete villain is introduced with the words, “if he’s a college man — it must have been Vassar.” It’s at 2.36 in the above YouTubing. The movie is impossibly innocent — six-shooters blast all over the Colorado setting, but nobody ever gets shot, but it IS a bit heteronormative, I guess you could say.

John Sweeney pounded the ivories to strong dramatic effect despite the chill of the open-air performance amid the Bo’ness steam locomotives.

Then came the double feature of THE PENALTY and SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, which I’d written programme notes for. Graeme Stephen & Pete Harvey provided a beautiful score for the former, quite light and airy for this sadistic gangster-horror melodrama, and maybe a counter-intuitive choice to use strings for a film about a mad pianist (Lon Chaney) — but it worked!

I’m biassed, but Jane Gardner’s score for SEVEN FOOTPRINTS, performed with Roddy Long on violin, was my favourite of the day. It started with jaunty tunes from piano and bow, then when the going gets spooky, Jane switched to electronic keyboard and Roddy added an array of filters to his violin for an eerie selection of drones, pulses, throbs, wails and screeches — but not forgetting the tunes. This movie originally had a Vitaphone soundtrack, now lost, and while it would be unlikely that Jane happened on any of the precise effects of the original (apart from the gong), I could well believe that her work complimented the film every bit as effectively. Director Benjamin Christensen must be looking up from Hell, smiling.

The Bacchanal of Death

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 7, 2017 by dcairns

A thing I kept hearing at Bologna — “Are you going to THE BACCHANAL OF DEATH?” Nobody knew what this thing was, some kind of incomplete movie screening in an outdoor showing, by carbon arc light, of various shorts and fragments. But it was called THE BACCHANAL OF DEATH, for God’s sake. Or DAS BACCHANAL DES TODES. Anyhow, you had to be curious.

This was my BIG DAY, when I spent I think nine hours looking at cinema screens — it wasn’t certain I was going to see this, but when my composer friend Jane Gardner and I got out of WOMEN IN LOVE and struck up a conversation with Angela Allen, who did continuity on that film as well as THE THIRD MAN and THE AFRICAN QUEEN, and then we managed to have dinner together and she and Jane turned out to have a friend in common, and then we suggested seeing another movie, this seemed like the best show within easy reach.

It was quite a show! The fellow introducing it explained that it had a kind of tinting very rarely seen — there was only one other film known in any collection which had this — he called it “disco tinting.” All the films in this program had some kind of colouring, tinting, toning, stencilling… Well, “disco tinting” is when a few frames are tinted one colour, then the next few are a different colour, so the film flashes different hues at you as the action proceeds.

Well, the disco tinting excelled all expectations. The scene involving it was an actual dance, on illuminated floor panels, pure SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (which was screening elsewhere in the fest). A wow. And I got to glance over to see if John Huston’s continuity girl was enjoying it. Although I’d forgotten how many John Frankenheimer movies she did so never got to ask about him.

(Disco-tinting is a little like THIS. try scrolling really fast. While imagining Helen Richter dancing in a cursed Harlequin costume. In fact, maybe if YOU dance in a cursed Harlequin costume…)

The rest of the movie was very much like a dream. Incomplete, and obscurely plotted, plus I was kind of tired after eight hours of viewing, plus the soft-titles had gotten cropped, rendering them a bit more obscure than necessary, even given the imperfect translation one comes to expect… but I think it was just a weird film. I kept wondering if it was some kind of narrative experiment — are we continually jumping back in time? Or is it just the characters going back to the same place again? At some point did I fall asleep and start dreaming the movie?

(Werner Krauss is in it. Per the program notes, star Helen Richter fled the Nazis in 1933 with her husband after he was beaten up outside a Berlin cinema.)

The dancer in the cape and “cursed Harlequin costume” — it didn’t really look like a Harlequin costume, but characters kept talking about one and this was all that seemed to answer the call — with the disco tinting — a night scene in a snowy forest with a mob/dragnet carrying glowing flares, filmed dusk-for-night so the sky is ominous and the brilliant incandescence of the torches is really burning holes in the image — glancing over and seeing that Angela Allen (Angela Allen!) seemed to be quite enjoying this oddity. The carbon arc screenings are always memorable — it’s the light of another day — but this was special.

Entirely possible I will never get to see this again in my life. Quite certain the event will never be so memorable. So — are you going to see THE BACCHANAL OF DEATH?