Posts Tagged ‘cinema’

Working My Way Backwards

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

As mentioned earlier, out of curiosity, I got a copy of Love Affair (1939), the film of which An Affair to Remember (1957) was a remake. This morning, I watched the earlier film.

It's a good film on its own merits, as opposed to being something that one should watch only out of curiosity or as a film buff. As to how it compares to Affair to Remember, well, I can now see why there are partisans for each. Love Affair manages to avoid some of the false steps that would later be made by Affair to Remember, but Love Affair also makes false steps that are uniquely its own.

Perhaps the greatest of these is in Terry's reäction when Michel (essentially the same character as Niccolo in the later film) begins to give his version of events when they did not meet at the appointed time. What he first tells her should at least disconcert her — in the later film, Terry momentarily thinks that she never actually had what she been hoping to recover — but in Love Affair Irene Dunne does nothing with that terrible moment.

In general, Dunne is not as compelling in the rôle of Terry as is Deborah Kerr. On the other hand, Boyer is, for the most part, more convincing as Michel than Cary Grant is as Niccolo.

The ship-board romance in the earlier movie is simply far too abbreviated to be particularly convincing (though we are mercifully spared the over-working of the intrusiveness of other passengers which characterizes the later film).

I was surprised to discover that Love Affair has as many musical numbers with children as does An Affair to Remember. But, in the earlier movie, these are fairly well handled, whereäs in the later film they are abominable. The children in Love Affair are average-to-cute, whereäs those in Affair to Remember are like something that Normal Rockwell would have painted — if he had actively hated children. And the song performed by the children in Love Affair (in this movie, the same song each time), though arguably sappy, none-the-less quite fits the story in a meaningful fashion.

Chris, who is a partisan for Love Affair (though appreciative of Affair to Remember) mentioned to me what he thought to be a problem with chapel scene in the later movie. I have to agree that the earlier film handles those specific aspects better. While I am (as long-standing readers will already know) an atheïst, these characters are not, and this interval in the chapel is where the two of them should recognize that they want a marriage that will be a sacred bond of love, rather than a convenient union with someone good and affluent. The later film fails to clearly convey this thought, basically because (as Chris would have it) it allows Terry's hat to displace the Virgin Mary; however, it does clearly convey that Niccolo is thinking that perhaps real happiness would entail marrying someone such as Terry. On the other hand, the chapel scene in the earlier film, like the ship-board romance, is far too abbreviated; the characters find themselves positioned as if being married one to another, but little more is conveyed than a sense that marriage between them is not unthinkable.

I was pleased to see that in Love Affair, as in Affair to Remember, the original fiancée and fiancé respective to the two principals are themselves depicted as good people. (We get that more clearly in Affair to Remember, but it is an element of Love Affair.) Any conflict or resolution that would come from having these secondary characters revealed as somehow deserving to be jilted would be altogether too trite and too pat. Nor would it be plausible that the heiress who wanted to provide for Michel/Niccolo and the businessman who wanted to provide for Terry could find happiness in each other.

Worse than I'd Imagined

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Oog.

For many years, I've been curious about Just Imagine, a 1930 science-fiction film ostensibly depicting the world of 1980, when airplanes have replaced cars, pills have replaced food and drink, and designators such as LN-18 have replaced names as we know them.

I finally got a copy a few days ago, and this morning I finished watching it. It's a remarkably bad film — bad science, bad plot, bad acting (even Maureen O'Sullivan is hard to take), bad jokes, bad songs, bad choreography. And bad mathematics, as someone who was a little boy in 1930 has become someone in his seventies or older.

The state has intruded into people's lives in various ways, but these ways are more inane than ominous, without having much satiric value. For example, the elimination of old-fashioned names isn't accompanied by any discernible attempt to rob people of individual identity. LN-18 is called LN (pronounced /ɛlˈɛn/), which might as well be Ellén, and J-21 is called J (/djeː/), which might as well be Jay. The romantic conflict exists because the state must decide which of two men shall marry LN-18, but only because she approved an application from each. And, rather than making a better case that she should have been able to withdraw such permission, the movie concludes with the state ultimately choosing the man for her whom she loves.

(For an evaluation very different from mine, see the review from the New York Times, 22 November 1930.)

A film to remember

Monday, 13 October 2008

One of the things that I did yester-day was watch An Affair to Remember (1957).

It had been many years since I saw that film, but I'd taken note of one really powerful moment in it, when things click in Niccolo's mind. The dialolgue and Grant's performance at that point are perfectly stated, and that moment makes the whole film work. (There are other moments that shouldn't even have been filmed, let alone made it past the editing process.)

I'd mentioned that moment to the Woman of Interest, who was sufficiently intrigued to rent and watch the film for herself, and seems to have responded to it similarly. Our conversation about it, and later about the unfortunate Indiscreet (1958) put me in mind to seek a copy of Affair when I was in the video section of Fry's Electronics on Saturday.

Out of curiosity, I have ordered a copy of Love Affair (1939).

I'm not the man they think I am at home

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Yester-day morning, I watched King of the Rocket Men (1949), the Republic serial whence flowed Radar Men from the Moon (1952), Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952), and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953) (the last being written and filmed as a television series, but released first in theaters). King of the Rocket Men (or one of its sequels) was also the principal influence on the Rocketeer, though Bulletman (who appeared in 1940) is probably another direct influence on the Rocketeer, and was surely a direct influence on King of the Rocket Men. (Republic Pictures, who produced Rocket Men, had earlier produced the serial Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), based upon another Fawcett character, and with the same special effects team.)

It is, frankly, a bit of a surprise that King of the Rocket Men managed to inspire much beyond derision.

[image of Professor Jeff King wrestling-on the Rocket Man suit for the first time]The male lead, Tristam Coffin, looks notably older than his 40 years, as if from hard living or merely from a hard life. (Coffin has one of those pencil mustaches which are more make-up than facial hair.) The female lead, Mae Clark, was 39, but looks even older than does Coffin, perhaps from harder living or from harder life. (Mae Clark is notable as Kitty, the girl who gets a grapefruit in her face, in The Public Enemy (1931), and as Elizabeth, the fiancée of Henry Frankenstein, in Frankenstein (1931).)

But the real problem with King of the the Rocket Men is that the protagonists, including Jeff King (Coffin's character, the Rocket Man), are worse than ineffectual.

A villain named Dr. Vulcan is trying to get control of the inventions of Science Associates, including King and a Professor Millard. King repeatedly fails to capture criminals, or captures them and then leaves them to escape, and he fails to prevent killings with almost perfect consistency. At one point, King takes a guard's gun, directing the guard to phone the police, and then fails to provide anything like adequate cover-fire for the guard, who is thus gut-shot.

King and Millard have been working on the Decimator for the benefit of mankind. The Decimator is named and consistently described as a weapon — indeed it is described as the most powerful weapon ever designed — which might lead one to ask how King and Millard conceptualize its benefits. King and his side-kick, Burt Winslow, leave the Decimator unguarded, so that they can pursue a suspicious motorcycle. Naturally, the Bad Guys take the Decimator. When King and the side-kick return, King doesn't notice that the Decimator is gone, but the side-kick does. With the aid of a photograph, King is able to tell the police the plate number of the truck being used by the villains. The police locate the truck in a mountain pass. King tells the police to stay back so that Rocket Man can deal with them. The villains try to blow Rocket Man up with a bomb, but he escapes uninjured, and then flies away, not even bothering to follow them as they drive off in a car with the Decimator. The police might have done a better job.

Eventually, King &alii have allowed Dr. Vulcan to fly to the east coast, where he plans to use the Decimator to black-mail New York City. Dr. Vulcan secretly sets-up the Decimator on Fisherman's Island, a little more than 300 miles south-east of New York, and gives the mayor a dead-line of a few hours to agree to paying a ransom of $1 billion. The mayor ignores the dead-line (G_d only knows how a mayor could come up with $1 billion in 1949, let alone in a few hours), and Dr. Vulcan uses the Decimator to trigger the Amsterdam Fault, which lies between New York City and Fisherman's Island. Earthquakes and waves begin to destroy the city. King figures-out where Dr Vulcan must be, and the Rocket Man flies to Fisherman's Island. The city is, for the most part, destroyed. King gets to the island, and blasts the Decimator with his ray-gun (something that he might have considered doing back in that mountain pass). Meanwhile, the mayor has had bombers sent to pulverize Fisherman's Island. King and Dr. Vulcan and Dr. Vulcan's henchman battle. The henchman is accidentally killed by Vulcan. The bombs begin to drop; the Rocket Man gets away just before the house from which Dr Vulcan has been operating is blown-up. Later, the mayor takes credit for saving the ruined city, and promises to rebuild (no Naginesque declarations about restoring the dominance of an ethnic group). Jeff King and his pals think the mayor ridiculous for not giving more credit to the Rocket Man. [image of NYC, as it is being destroyed by Dr Vulcan, with the use of the Decimator] BTW, did you know that, if you jump out of a speeding car, all that happens to you is that you get a little dusty? Well, neither did I.

Urban Renewal

Friday, 4 July 2008
Missing reels from Lang's Metropolis discovered by Tony Paterson in the Independent
A print of Fritz Lang's Metropolis has been found that includes almost a quarter of the silent film which was thought to have been lost.

[…]

Yesterday, Anke Wilkening, one of the team of historians, said all but one scene of the full version, last viewed in May 1927, had been rediscovered. Almost everything that had been missing has been found, including two key scenes, she said.

I am not, properly speaking, a fan of Metropolis; I have considered its message to be fascistic, and don't see it as plausible that its fascism was an artefact of the scenes in question having been dropped. But Metropolis is none-the-less a very important film, and I am actively pleased that this material has been found.

(I went looking for this story after reading an entry at the Horrors of It All.)

Throwing Light on the Lifeless

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Yester-day, in the shower, my thoughts wandered onto the question of just what, exactly, is wrong with Dracula's Daughter (1936), and I reälized that its great flaw is its pedestrian cinematography. This conclusion then led me to wonder who was the cinematographer. This morning, I found that it was George Robinson. Looking at the rest of his credits, I quickly saw that he was also cinematographer for Drácula (1931), the Spanish-language version of Dracula shot, at night, on the same sets as were being used to shoot Dracula (1931) in the day. One of the various ways in which Drácula is markèdly inferior to Dracula is the thoughtless cinematography of the former.

Incorrigible, the Woman of Interest has now referred to Robinson as the man who made Drácula suck.

Cook's Tours

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Some days ago, the subject of machine guns came-up in conversation with the Woman of Interest, and I noted to her that fully-automatic firearms had first come under tight regulation as part of a war on a drug — the drug in question being alcohol. Synchronistically, within a day or so I received and watched the original Scarface (1932).

The film is prefaced by text that declares that it's essentially doing no more than presenting events that have really happened, that the government is not doing enough to protect the citizenry, and that the citizenry must act to get the government to act. Part-way through the film there's a moralizing scene in which community leaders confront a newspaper publisher, claiming that he's glorifying gangsters. He responds essentially with the same message that had prefaced the film — that he is reporting the facts, that the government is not doing enough, and that the citizenry must act to get the government to do more. Then we learn what he thinks ought to be done: outlaw machine guns, effect martial law, and accept the offer of the National Commander of the American Legion to act as a militia against the gangsters. As part of the case for martial law, the publisher notes that the governor of Oklahoma had effected martial law to regulate oil production and claims that surely then we should use martial law against guns. (At some point, the publisher stops qualifying the attack as against any particular sort of gun.)

Many people might not know about that business of martial law in Oklahoma. What specifically happened is that, on 4 August 1931, Governor Alfalfa Bill Murray had 3000 oil wells forceably shut-down to reduce production and thereby drive-up price.

And let's talk about the leadership of the American Legion in that era. Here are the words of American Legion National Commander Alvin Mansfield Owsley, in January 1923:

Do not forget, that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.
In 1931, the Executive Committee passed a resolution praising Mussolini as a great leader, and the National Commander of that year, Ralph O’Neill, presented a copy of the resolution to Mussolini’s Ambassador to the United States. In 1935, during a trip to Italy, National Vice-Commander William Edward Easterwood pinned a Legion pin on the lapel of Benito Mussolini.

What the character of the publisher is preaching is the displacement of individual liberty and of procedural rights with command-and-control fascism.

The problem of that era wasn't alcohol per se, nor was it fully-automatic firearms per sese. The problem was Prohibition, that war on a drug. We didn't need even less freedom and even more government, we needed more of the former and less of the latter.

Most of the moralizing in Scarface is not well integrated into the film. One could discard the prefacing text and the publisher's speech without any apparent gap in the story-telling. What would remain would be what seems to be an objection to writs of habeas corpus being used to free gangsters before the truth can be beaten out of them, and perhaps just a hint of the notion that fully-automatic firearms are evil. That overt moralizing seems, then, an after-thought intended to mute or vitiate criticism of what was, by the standards of 1932, a very violent film, depicting fairly ruthless characters.

The 1983 remake was likewise violent for its era, and also controversial for what many took it to say about the Cuban immigrants of the Mariel Boatlift. The remake had its own bizarre moralizing, mostly effected around the film, as in proclamations by director Brian De Palma and in the advertising campaign for the film. The conceit was that this Scarface was an indictment of the profit motive. Of course, the profit motive shouldn't be indicted — objecting to the profit motive is no more or less than objecting to purposeful action. At best, one might object to how someone conceptualized profit. (As, for example, in For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?)

It is interesting to note what elements within the story were preserved in producing the remake, and how things were transformed. Antonio (Tony) Camonte is a distinctly less appealing character than is Tony Montana. Paul Muni looks like one of Joe Kirby's sloppy drawings for Timely. Camonte plainly likes violent extortion, and he dies like a panicked rat. Montana isn't vicious, his downfall is precipitated by a refusal to allow children to be killed, and he dies a berserker. But, because the dialogue in the original is vastly better, it is easier to understand Poppy being drawn to Camonte than Elvira Hancock becoming Montana's mistress. (Poppy's choice may not be more laudable, but it is more plausible.) On the other hand, while the visual device carrying the message The World Is Yours in the original has more potential than those in the remake, that potential is largely wasted in the original whereäs the the remake makes very effective use of its devices. There is the barest suggestion of incestuous desire in the original, and that's probably almost optimal; the crude references in the remake cause the characters to be both more disgusting and less interesting. On the other hand, the original treats Antonio as falling apart in the wake of killing Guino, but it isn't clear why Antonio falls apart; he expresses no regret for what he has done, and he has hurt 'Cesca in the past without apology or collapse. Further, Guino seems to chose to let Antonio kill him, without good reason for doing so. In the remake, Manny is simply an idiot, and didn't appreciate that, even if he and Gina were married, Tony might still reäct violently. Tony doesn't appear to regret killing Manny, and Tony''s collapse is a result of other things (problems with his business associates, a lack of anticipated gratification from material success, and drug use).

Thinking inside the Box

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Someone ought to assemble and market a Fay Wray collection, including

In fact, it ought to have been done while she was still alive.

Actors in Make-up

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Controversy has erupted over Robert Downey jr having been cast in the rôle of a black character in Tropic Thunder. By coïncidence, over the last couple of days I have been watching The Most Dangerous Game (1932) in bits and pieces. The coïncidence is in that Noble Johnson, an African-American, played a Caucasian in that earlier film.

I don't think that we should give much of a d_mn about blacks playing whites or vice versa. It should be no more than a mild curiosity.

On the other hand, Tropic Thunder stars Ben Stiller, and the fact that he still has a career in movies certainly does offend me.

Addendum (09 Mar): I am now told, distinct from the report of the Daily Mail, that Downey plays a white actor playing a black character. (So the rôle would be somewhat more like that of the main character in Soul Man (1986).)

My Bogus Downtown Adventure

Thursday, 6 March 2008

I went downtown for jury duty to-day.

I took the bus, in order to save on the expense of parking. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about having various knives and multi-tools on my person. There were no lockers at the court-house or otherwise nearby, and my car was back in Hillcrest. So I decided to ship my things at the nearby UPS Store. I didn't want to have to wait until to-morrow to retake possession, so I asked if I could ship them for pick-up at that very same store, and found that I could. That cost me a total of US$6.60, including the envelope.

I got to the juror waiting rooms in time to see the final seconds of the orientation film. I'd seen it once before to-day, and once is one time too many; I was glad to have missed it.

I parked in the reading room, and watched Dark City (1998), to indeed see whether there were any SC 1243 subscriber sets in it. I didn't spot any. (I did spot a Model 500, most of which were made by Western Electric, and sets or bits of sets that I couldn't identify without checking references. Also, I am no longer quite as certain that the set at 4:40 is a WECo Model 302, though there's a Model 302 at about 55:55.) Actually, as I noted to the Woman of Interest, it was probably wise not to include a SC 1243 subscriber set. The design of the 1243 was clearly influenced by the 302, and the sets are normally black like a 302; but their appearance is less utilitarian and more overtly art deco. Dark City is thus a bit more dark for their absence.

Shortly after I finished this peculiar cataloguing of Dark City, the Woman of Interest called. We chatted until about 14:00, at which point she went out with a friend for dinner. In all this time, no one in the jury pool was actually summoned to be seat as a juror. In fact, by the end of the lunch period, the jury services office announced that only one remaining court might need a jury. So, by the time that the Woman of Interest got off the phone, I was expecting to be dismissed soon.

At about 14:15, announcement was made that there was going to be an evacuation drill at 14:30, that we would be directed out of the building and to a public assembly place by sheriff's deputies, and that afterwards, those who were not present as alternates (selected on a previous day) would be free to leave. This announcement offended most of the jury pool. It is one thing to serve on a jury or to stand-and-wait for such service, another to be convenient subjects to teach deputies and others herding techniques. (After all, almost none of us would expect to be back in the court-house for at least another year, by which time the protocol would probably have changed anyway.) Most jurors simply left. I decided to go through with the drill, as perhaps something interesting might happen.

However, once we were directed out of the building, deputies did not direct us on to the alleged place of public assembly. So we milled-about in front of the building until, after some time, a deputy told us that the place of assembly was at the intersection of Union Street and B Street, and we headed thence. But at C Street, a block south of B Street, we were rerouted eastward by a deputy. No indication was given as to just where were were actually going; I had 15-to-20 pounds of computer on my back and large book and what-not under my arm; and the UPS Store was in the opposite direction. After a bit more than another block, we hit my Fuck you too! point, and I left the herd.

Shipping my knives and tools 0 feet did not work as well as might have been expected. There was different staff at the UPS Store. They struggled with the concept of my having shipped from the store to itself, and kept telling me that the delivery truck had not yet arrived. Apparently, I was the first to use this trick. (Too clever by half, perhaps.) When one of them finally understood that the package should be there without having arrived on a delivery truck, they still couldn't find the thing. The fellow who had taken the package in the first place was out on an errand, and I had to wait for his return before I could recover my things.

In the context of some construction work, I had trouble locating the bus stop for my return trip home, and ended-up carrying the d_mn'd computer and what-not for an extra four-to-six blocks, in the course of which I got jostled by a hulk who had a commitment to walking slowly and otherwise in such manner as to block everyone behind him. It was apparently during this brief incident that one of the two bus passes that I (qua juror) had been given fell, unnoticed, from my pocket. Although I might never have used it, I regret the loss.