Archive for William Golding

Hobo Erectus

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2021 by dcairns

Though GETTING ACQUAINTED is Chaplin’s Keystone farewell to most of his favourite co-stars and the last real park film made with Sennett, HIS PREHISTORIC PAST has tramp-in-park bookends, so it’s a goodbye to the studio.

All the major silent comedians made stone age comedies — Keaton did THE THREE AGES, Laurel & Hardy did FLYING ELEPHANTS, Harold Lloyd, in his Lonesome Luke phase, did CLUBS ARE TRUMP. Although I’m being ahistorical as well as prehistorical, since when Lloyd and L&H made their entries, they were not yet among the greats, certainly lower echelon than Arbuckle in his pomp.

Chaplin was first — his HIS PREHISTORIC PAST, set up as a dream sequence with the Tramp settling down to sleep on a park bench, the entire story sandwiched, Cocteau-like, between the onset of unconsciousness and the inevitable shaking awake by Kop Syd Chaplin (his half-brother, who had just joined the company as Charlie was leaving), is a straight parody of D.W. Griffith’s BRUTE FORCE, released the same year. That film cast Bobby Harron as Weakhands (Griffith liked his heroes to have parable-type names), this one casts Charlie as Weakchin. There’s some question about whether the name was in Chaplin’s original release cut, because brother Sidney, the noted cannibal rapist, rewrote most of Chaplin’s intertitles after he left Keystone. But given the connection to Griffith’s film, and the fact that playing that up in 1914 makes more sense than doing it later, I feel it was probably part of Charlie’s original scenario.

David Robinson points out that the “discovery” of the Piltdown man in 1912 doubtless kicked off the movies’ brief caveman craze. Piltdown man was a phony, an anthropocene Princess Anastasia, but he caught the public’s eye much as Charlie’s phony hobo would.

This high-concept parody approach is a new wrinkle for Chaplin and probably for Keystone. He wouldn’t return to it. It seems like a lot of effort (costumes, props) for relatively little reward.

Mack Swain is King Lowbrow, identified by title as King of Waikiki Beach. And I feel this may be an unfortunate Sydney interpolated intertitle. The movie was later retitled THE HULA HULA MAN in some territories, clearly an act of madness, as Howard Beale would say. This all seems to be riffing off the primitive ritual dance which opens the caveman section, which has a Hawaiian aspect to it. If Chaplin had known the trouble this would cause, he might have asked for different moves to entertain his terpsichorean tyrant.

Some of the cavegirls wear grass skirts, that’s another reason for the mix-up, I expect.

Enter Charlie from behind a tree, clad in off-the-shoulder fur number, but with familiar hat, cane, toothbrush ‘tache and boots. This is either a good gag or a damaging anachronism. For a short fantasy it seems fine. And Chaplin is now well-identified with these items of costume, they’re not optional. A fur derby and baggy furry pants might have been an idea. A club which can be used like a cane could have worked. But this seems like a decent surreal image.

Charlie then plucks some fur from the arse of his coat, stuffs it into his pipe (he has a pipe again! But a different one from THE PROPERTY MAN) and lights it with a flint struck on his leg which doesn’t produce a spark the way a flint would, but instead catches fire at one end, the way a flint wouldn’t. All of this is just conjured from nowhere with a few props, and would have been cut if anyone at Keystone other than Chaplin had been in charge. It’s not ACTION (the Keystone stock-in-trade). It’s BEHAVIOUR (Chaplin’s forte).

Other cave-persons: May Wallace (cavewoman queen), Gene Marsh (sexy cavegirl), Fritz Schade (Caveman medicine man), Al St John, Vivian Edwards (teenage cavegirl). Grover Ligon (spaceman caveman).

Chaplin starts wooing, but his big club is just for show: he prefers more modern flirting. Sidenote: his legs at this point are very skinny. Amazing they didn’t just slice clean through the baggy pants and leave them standing in his thin wake. Maybe they did, and that’s why he’s making this film panstless.

The medicine man, catching Charlie in flagrante predelecto, shoots him in the bum with an arrow. “He had the obscure feeling someone was trying to give him a present” (William Golding, The Inheritors). Charlie retaliates by slinging a rock, which Kuleshovs through frame in the time-honoured manner and beans the King. Actually, it misses him, but Sennett didn’t believe in retakes. Swain gamely acts as if the royal noggin has been struck.

Swain and the medicine man take turns chasing the ragged rascal round and round a rugged rock. An early who’s-following-who routine. Look at those cavemen go!

“They exchange cards,” says an intertitle, ruining the joke in advance. But the joke isn’t clear wthout explanation. The piece of pelt Charlie hands over isn’t enough like a card. If we got a closeup and it had writing, or cave-art style pictograms on it, it might work. But I think ideally it should be a tiny stone tablet. Or, given the bowler and cane, it could just be a business card. This Flinstones world isn’t really Chaplin’s natural habitat. Though the casual brutality does make it a logical extension of the Keystone universe. Here’s Walter Kerr:

“Silent film comedy begins as though comedy had never existed, as though Aristophanes had never existed, as though sophistication of the same materials had never been achieved. A completely new form seems to take man back to his dawn, to revive and repeat an entire cycle of race-memories picked up along the evolutionary path, to start as primitively as if the Neanderthals were still a threat, and to probe toward the future with the weapons and level of wit of cavemen.

“In fact, the most apt description of these first screen comedies appears in a book about chimpanzees, Jane Van Lawick-Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man. ‘Young chimps,’ the author comments, ‘like to play with each other, chasing round a tree trunk, leaping one after the other through the treetops, dangling, each from one hand, while they spar and hit each other…'”

Unfortunately, too, Charlie does not seem to have outfitted himself with a fake club, so that when he clobbers foes or friends or mere passers-by, as he does frequently and at random, he has to “pull his punches” with the hefty bludgeon, which destroys even the witless level of comedy being attempted. I wouldn’t mind seeing the club bend unnaturally, but I need to see a bit of wallop put into the culling of troglodytes.

The “cave interior” is the worst set I’ve ever seen in a Keystone film, where usually the production design is sparse and tawdry. This one is just cloth stretched over random angular frames. It’s three-dimensional, but actually a painted backdrop would be less disgraceful. It doesn’t even suggest a cavern. More like a tent that’s being chewed by a dinosaur, who has mysteriously paused his mastication just as his fangs are about to pierce the canvas.

I get the feeling that Chaplin, already casting around for a more profitable deal than the one he enjoyed with Sennett, didn’t really have his mind on this job. He wouldn’t reconnect with Charles D. Hall, a colleague from the Fred Karno troupe, who would design all Chaplin’s films from A DOG’S LIFE to MODERN TIMES, for several years yet. And nobody at Keystone had ever been asked to design anything as unusual as a cave, it seems.

Some unfortunate splices (missing footage) now create a surprising Godardian effect. Competing over the cave-girlies with the rival medicine man, Charlie swings down his club, and instantly he’s standing elsewhere, surrounded by the adoring girls. From cause to effect.

An impressively managed gag, as Charlie and his cave-lady of choice walk into shot and are immediately wiped out by a colossal wave. We hadn’t known these rocks are seafront property. Poor Gene Marsh, as “Sum-Babee, Lowbrow’s Favorite Water Maiden,” (a Syd addition?) seems to be struggling against a sodden wardrobe malfunction. Worse still, Charlie and Gene and the camera operator all seem to be in danger of getting washed away.

Keystone apparently couldn’t locate an actual cave near L.A. (there is one: we see it in THE USUAL SUSPECTS) so Mack Swain’s throne room is entered by walking behind a rock.

More random clonking. This whole scenario brings out the less attractive side of Chaplin-at-Keystone. Still, at least his flirtations are non-violent, the club-’em-on-the-head-and-drag-’em-off-by-the-hair fantasy is merely hinted at, never enacted.

Mack Swain’s whole schtick at Keystone, his “Ambrose” character which this King is a variation on, is to be big and possibly authoritative in position, but really rather timorous and easily dominated, which Charlie plays up to. It’s continually unclear why the King lets Charlie prod him in the belly with whatever’s handy, whack him on the ass with a club, etc. The King having low self-esteem just isn’t a very amusing idea and Charlie comes off as a bully, a recurring but not consistent issue in the Keystone series.

Charlie and the King shoot arrows at a hen in a tree. The eggs it drops on them have been erased, it seems, by the poor digitisation of YouTube, so what follows is a bit abstract. A more pure pantomime?

Charlie kisses Gene and the screen whites out in a Marienbad overexposure of passion. Swain isn’t seeing white, but red, though. Gene retreats to the sidelines, looking like Cousin It in her unflattering grass skirt.

David Robinson reports that Chaplin, when working hard, enjoyed no social life, and so the fact that we don’t know what he was up to besides making films at Keystone means he wasn’t doing anything away from the studio. But he was young and newly successful. I don’t think he spent a whole year NOT banging the ingenues. There’s a whole cave-cluster of them in the film, and really for no reason.

Charlie shoves Mack off a cliff and declares himself “Kink” — which I think we can agree is a likely Syd line.

Charlie now becomes an obnoxious tyrant — no surprise, as he was an obnoxious underling. He poses, Frazetta-style with his concubine in his fabric cavern. Mack enters, and smashes a small boulder to fragments on Charlie’s occiput, which causes a hard cut to “modern” 1914 Charlie being woken by Syd the kop, and the film abruptly stops, missing a few seconds I fear.

A film about succession ends with Chaplin handing over his Keystone throne to his perverted half-brother.

And it’s over. Unlike Ford Sterling, when CC left Sennett’s Fun Factory, he left for good. But Chaplin’s move from Keystone to Essanay is a blog post in itself…

Pg. 17, #13

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2020 by dcairns

His room was high-ceilinged and ornately furnished. He noticed a television set built into the wall in such a way that it could be viewed from the bed and he smiled tiredly on seeing it — he would have to watch it sometime, to see how their reception compared to that on Anthea. And it would be amusing to see some of the shows again. He had always liked the Westerns, even though the quiz programmes and the Sunday ‘educational’ shows had provided his staff at home with most of the information that he had memorized. He had not seen a television show in . . . how long had the trip taken? . . . four months. And he had been on earth two months, getting money, studying the disease germs, studying the food and water, perfecting his accent, reading the newspapers, preparing himself for the critical interview with Farnsworth.

*

‘Jesus,’ Don said, rattling the paper. ‘At the Tropical Drive-in they’re showing five John Wayne movies! Who in hell could sit through five John Waynes, for Christ sake?’

*

If I have, I’ve turned it off. Not out of bitterness. I do that with any picture I’ve ever worked on. When they’re over, they’re done. I’m not interested in them any longer.

*

‘Time to be getting back to the studio,’ Chatsworth announced, rising and stretching himself. ‘Dr. Bergmann’s coming along with us, Sandy, Have that Rosemary Lee picture run for him, will you? What the hell’s it called?”

*

‘Even if I described it to you, I doubt if you’d understand what it is.’

*

“We can’t go on calling the child number seven behind his back. It’s most improper and injurious.”

*

After the Three Stooges the curtains came to, but then when they put the next picture on they stuck halfway. We all cheered and then The Bull got this long pole and pulled back the curtains with it. Not that it mattered much because this that they put on now was a travel thing about Paris or something, and this kid in front of me started flicking little silver paper pellets into the light to make it sparkle. The Bull saw him and clonked him on the nut with this long curtain pole and gave him his first warning. Good job for us The Bull was after these seats and Chinese Charlie was up at the front else we’d’ve been out three week since.

*

You know the drill. Seven bits of seven page seventeens.

The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis; The Shark Infested Custard, by Charles Willeford; Backstory 4, edited by Patrick McGilligan; interview with Robert Benton by Christian Keithley; Prater Violet, by Christopher Isherwood; A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole; Darkness Visible by William Golding; The Tuppenny Rush, by Norman Smithson, from the collection Best Movie Stories, edited by Guy Slater

The Nod

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2020 by dcairns

I decided to read, after discovering to my surprise that it’s available online, the screenplay for ROMANCE OF THE PINK PANTHER, the Inspector Clouseau films scripted by Peter Sellers and one Jim Moloney, to be directed by Clive Donner, Sellers having successfully elbowed out Blake Edwards.

Since Sellers had reportedly been bored of playing Clouseau by the second time he did it (which was the first film in which the bumbling inspector was lead character), his eagerness to revisit the role can only have been an attempt to prove to the world, and Edwards, and himself, that he, Sellers, had always been the principal genius behind the most successful comedy franchise in screen history. I had a feeling the script, left unfilmed after the star’s death, wasn’t going to do that — after all, the same pair of “writers” were to blame for THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU, an absolute steaming load of cack which became Sellers’ last film, rather marring the beautiful valediction that is BEING THERE.

Sure enough, ROMANCE is dreadful. Scene one, in which Professor Auguste Balls, master of disguise-making, sells Clouseau a Louis XIV chair disguise, did make me laugh out loud, actually. Well, FIENDISH PLOT had one good bit — the “elephants on the knees” routine, in which somebody looks through a microscope and sees archive film of elephants. It’s very much Goon Show humour, which is Sellers’ default mode, borrowed wholesale from his chum Spike Milligan, and you can hear him dropping Milliganesque catchphrases into the Clouseau films and elsewhere (“It must be hell in there,”) from the very beginning.

It wouldn’t have really worked onscreen, because a Louis XIV isn’t something a man of woman born can hide in. So you’d have an unavoidable surrealism that has nothing to do with the PINK PANTHER series’ style. But it was amusing to read, and to think of Sellers maybe being somehow influenced by Edogawa Rampo.

The rest of the thing is dross, though you can imagine Sellers, if he was on good form, getting some laughs out of the deeply inane, underplotted material. He’d done it in the past. What really interested me was this ~

romance2

The writing, you will note, is clunky and childish. Moloney was an actor, like Sellers, and clearly the junior party, lucky to be in on the thing. One pictures Sellers pacing while Moloney types. What seemed odd to me, given that there were two men present for the writing, was that an obvious idiosyncrasy, the idea of people nodding to indicate “NO” rather than shaking their heads, like humans, had survived the collaborative process.

But OK, it’s a one-off, I thought.

romance1

Argh. There it is again. So I think we can project ourselves into the writing room now…

SELLERS: …and she nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.

MOLONEY: Nods ‘no’?

SELLERS: What was that?

MOLONEY: You said, “Nods ‘no.'”

SELLERS: I know that.

MOLONEY: Don’t you mean…?

SELLERS: I know what I mean!

Moloney shrugs, types “…and she nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.”

OK, maybe I’m making too much of this.

romance3

I’m definitely not making too much of this. I know this looks almost like the same passage but it’s not, it’s another, nearly identical passage from much later on.

SELLERS: Clouseau nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.

MOLONEY: Peter…

SELLERS (a note of warning): Yes?

MOLONEY: Nothing.

romance4

A theory can be formed. Perhaps some of Sellers’ craziness, his temper tantrums and paranoia and resentment, is that he really did think people nodded no. Being a Hollywood star, he would be surrounded by yes men, but sometimes, as is the way of those things, those yes men would have varied things up a bit and nodded instead of saying yes. And Sellers, the poor deluded fool, would have thought they were refusing him, defying him. Some of those instances would have been really disturbing, as they would seem to be changing their minds capriciously in mid-sentence. It would be enough to destabilize the sanest man. The effects on a raving maniac can barely be calculated.Footnote 1: the neanderthals in William Golding’s wonderful novel The Inheritors shake their heads in agreement.

Footnote 2: experts in micro-body language say that a “barely perceptible nod” when saying “no” indicates a lie. Like the truth is trying to blast out of you even as you fib, like Gepetto yelling from inside Monstro the whale.

Footnote 3: I once knew a chap who shook his head yes and nodded no. There seemed no reason behind it. He clearly wasn’t lying about whether he’d had breakfast. He missed his vocation as personal assistant to Peter Sellers.

romance5