igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Just went to see Disney's latest "Beauty and the Beast", which was recommended by everyone from the conductor at our last orchestra rehearsal to the greengrocer), and was very disappointed :-(
Most of the film ranged from mediocre to downright annoying -- I don't know how I would have reacted if I hadn't been mentally comparing it to the animated version, which charmed me so much that I remember buying my mother a ticket to make sure she went to see it, but in comparison with that version I felt it came off very badly. Read more... )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
This was one of the Disney films I meant to see during the BFI's all-year Disney-a-week marathon, but managed to miss out on (my enthusiasm had rather flagged by the end of the year). I watched it today under less-than-ideal conditions, on a salvaged second-hand DVD that jammed and skipped, and without actually being able to concentrate on the screen for considerable periods of time, and I liked it a lot: more than "Tangled", more than "Frozen". Loved the Twenties aesthetic (little references like Naveen's ukulele), Tiana's realistic working-class parents, the New Orleans setting, the jazz, the voodoo (the Shadow Man has definite overtones of Baron Samedi). I liked the way that Charlotte, though clearly spoilt rotten, turns out to be a good friend and not an antagonist (and they even manage to make the friendship between the Sugar King's daughter and Tiana the black waitress come across as plausible). The Shadow Man makes an excellent villain. And, although this sounds cruel, I liked the fact that they went so far as to really kill off Ray, instead of pulling off the last-minute magical resurrection that seemed to be on the cards -- though any last words at all were a bit implausible under the circumstances :-p
Read more... )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

Loved this -- probably one of the funniest Will Hay films I've seen. I far prefer the pictures he made with Charles Hawtrey to the 'classic' teaming with Moore/Marriott, and an excellent supporting cast here includes Peter Ustinov and Frank Pettingell (of "Gaslight" fame).

I always find Hay funnier when he is being a pompous but resourceful twit rather than simply an arrogant incompetent, and here his schoolmaster character is put up against the Nazis and manages (with assistance) to rise to the occasion... aided by the fact that his opponents half the time are even bigger buffoons than he is. A sharp script relies heavily on verbal humour, with two outstanding scenes that riff on the absurdities of the English language. The invasion plan sequence in which Hay improvises strategy wildly in a cascade of puns while attempting to pick a German general's pocket deserves to be a classic of the genre (take them from the flanks in Lancs to keep the Paras all tied up in Notts... but don't get caught with your Panzers down in the Severn Tunnel).Read more... )

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

Apparently my sympathy for the devil instincts are still alive and kicking, since my immediate reaction to finally watching "Frozen" was "Prince Hans simply doesn't make sense" :-p spoilers )

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

Cobra Woman



This is an absolutely unashamed B-movie... and about as sophisticated
as can be expected of any picture featuring a beautiful, wicked
snake-priestess, human sacrifice into a volcano, good and evil twins
separated in infancy, a gigantic mute assassin, a lost heir(ess), a
cobra-worshipping cult and a pet ape wearing a skirt for decency! It's
technicoloured in more ways than one -- this is the pulp fantasy
material of boys' comic papers come to life, and wouldn't be out of
place as a lost novel by Robert Howard or Rider Haggard. Just about
everyone sports a bare midriff at the slightest provocation, most of
the women spend the entire picture clad in a skimpy band of material
round their top half, and Sabu wears next to nothing throughout thanks
to a magnificent young physique.

As the reader may have gathered, most of it is unabashed fun. There are
a couple of suggestions that hint at something deeper: the idea that
perhaps Tollea really ought to stay and improve life for her people
instead of marrying her rescuer, for example (though the final outcome
makes sense -- she was only ever herself a pawn in the hands of the
would-be reformers, after all), and, despite the missionary upbringing
of the main protagonists, an unexpected treatment of the cobra cult as
a genuine religion, where offending the Powers can have consequences
and people deserve to worship as they see fit.

The special effects are rather better on the costume front than they
are where dangerous items are concerned, although there is a brave
attempt at showing an advancing lava front by merely illustrating its
effects, which works surprisingly well. The dialogue veers wildly
between pidgin and fluent English as spoken by the same character at
different times (sometimes within the same speech) -- it would be nice
to think that this reflected an attempt to show whether they are trying
to communicate in English or addressing others in their own native
tongue, but I suspect it wasn't thought out in that much detail!
Otherwise, the main criticism I'd make is that the final fight goes on
perceptibly too long and in too repetitive a way: it could, with
advantage and with more credibility, have been cut by several minutes
to provide a more explosive climax.

But the film is thoroughly enjoyable for what it is. It has no
pretensions to be anything more, and the characters generally look as
if they're having a good time (when not being tortured, threatened with
death, etc.) Sabu plays the hero's mischievous sidekick without a hint
of embarrassment and tends to steal every scene in which he appears.
Lon Chaney Jr has presence. Maria Montez plays a naive South Seas
islander and a power-crazed priestess with aplomb and smoulders out of
the screen (her snake dance in a scintillating costume is definitely a
memorable scene).

Jon Hall makes an engaging romantic lead, though the plot suggests that
the character is perhaps more honest than bright: his approach is
generally to walk straight into danger and hope that circumstances will
work out in his favour. Occasionally they do (this is the sort of film,
after all, where you can walk straight into the inner sanctums of the
palace after changing clothes with a high official, and nobody so much
as notices) but generally he needs rescuing from the consequences!

I wouldn't actually describe this an unmissable camp classic, not
because it's too bad but because it isn't. It's a perfectly good piece
of entirely escapist entertainment which was never intended to be taken
seriously, and while it has zero emotional depth it's easy on the eye.

Rating: 7/10 (worth taking the trouble to watch: not worth going out of your way for)
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
[Error: unknown template qotd]I just watched "Phantom of the Paradise" -- a completely zany musical that pastiches everything left, right and centre and takes the idea of selling your soul to get ahead in the pop business quite literally. Apparently it's often compared to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I didn't like that at all, but this reminded me much more of "Myra Breckinridge" and "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", two other infamous comedy/horror/exploitation movies that I quite atypically enjoyed.
A naïve singer/songwriter ends up in a literally Faustian pact with a sinister showbusiness producer after his first attempt(s) at getting his due leave him hideously disfigured and dependent on the very man who is responsible for his misfortune. But he has to watch the girl he loves become corrupted by her own desire for fame, while the audience are complicit in an ever-rising tide of death and mayhem -- the ultimate entertainment experience...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
This is a fascinating remake of a classic early French 'serial drama', of the type that doled out their revelations in lurid weekly thriller instalments. I haven't seen the original Judex, but I've seen Ultus, the equivalent British serial of the era... and I definitely recognise the style here. Multiple disguises, hairbreadth escapes from death, jawdropping coincidences, gadgetry and sleight of hand... and villains who never kill their victims when they ought to!

The print in the BFI National Archive was in beautiful condition (save for some oversized and rather intrusive subtitling), and this film is visually and musically stunning; the Maurice Jarre soundtrack is lovely, fitting and eerie. The morality of the story -- despite its simplistic chase format -- is surprisingly grey, with Jacqueline the only pure innocent (and thus, alas, the least interesting character). It's hard not to sympathise with Favraux in his situation, despite everything that we learn, or with young Morales, caught between the ruthless woman he loves and his long-lost father, and Judex himself finds his self-appointed mission of punishment harder and harder to fulfil.

Scenes like the masked ball (shrouded in almost surreal mystery, since it is not until afterwards that we have any idea what was going on!) and the spider-like climb of Judex' minions to the roof are very memorable, while the film also has a nice line in self-deflating humour, courtesy of the fiction-obsessed detective Cocantin and his rapport with small children. For such a preposterous comic-strip confection the plot holds together quite well, although having displayed such crowning ineptitude in their first attempt to kill Jacqueline (and what happened to the original idea of questioning her first?), it's hard to understand why the plotters don't just make away with her immediately the next time they get the opportunity!

The one thing that really grated, as with all old historical dramas, was the very 'modern' hairstyles and make-up used on all the eye-candy characters in order to make them attractive to a contemporary 1960s audience -- the result now, of course, is that instead of appearing subconsciously appealing they appear distractingly out of period. It's hard to credit a swooning damsel of 1916 when she is made up to look more like Brigitte Bardot...

Casting a professional magician as Judex enables the character to perform some impressive sleight-of-hand, and there are some subtle references to the original era, like the opening iris shot, the super-advanced (and supersized) antique surveillance gadgetry, and the title cards setting the various scenes. But perhaps the most impressive thing is that this is basically played entirely 'straight': it's not a tongue-in-cheek homage to pulp serials, it's presented in its own right as a piece of poetry for us to suspend disbelief -- a 1914 adventure of a mysterious caped avenger, an athletic, resourceful villainess, and a celestial innocent who sought to redeem her father's deeds.
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Today was the start of the British Film Institute's much-advertised 'Weekender'; my chief interest in it was that it offered a chance for me to take a guest to see The Rat, which I had enjoyed so much when it was shown as part of a special evening in 2004 and never expected to see on the big screen again.

We were promised all sorts of extravagant entertainments — live musicians synchronised with those on screen, burlesque dancers at appropriate moments — but in fact all that happened was that they put up the auditorium lights during the nightclub scene and people gradually noticed some ladies in shiny costumes appearing in the aisles and walking across in front of the screen. The second time, they didn't raise the lights (which was less distracting) but then you really couldn't see the dancers at all. It was a good idea but it didn't come off in performance; I suspect the practicalities hadn't all been thought through. A pity for the girls who were supposed to have been the highlight of the show...

But the film, although playing to a youthful audience who had been promised decadence and burlesque, survived the entire experience triumphantly. For the first few minutes the audience sniggered at just about everything shown on screen. Intertitles? — intrinisically hilarious. Ladies in 1920s fashions? — oh, so screamingly old-fashioned! But "The Rat" is a fast-moving piece of low-brow entertainment, designed to thrill, amuse, and hook 'em in... and within about five minutes, the audience had apparently stopped laughing at the film and started laughing with it... save for when they were waiting in breathtaken silence to find out what would happen next....

Response afterwards, in wondering tones: "But Ivor Novello could act!"

He can indeed act, and infinitely better here than in Hitchcock's notorious The Lodger. Novello's sense of mischief as the irrepressible Rat seems to be rather better developed than his attempts to appear sinister and darkly significant for Hitchcock, and his desperation and heartbreak at the end of this film are far more effective than his saintly crucifixion pose in the later production — possibly another case of the Novello curse, whereby he only seemed to be able to achieve stage success in scripts that he'd penned himself!

By the end of the film I was actually starting to wonder if I'd got completely the wrong end of the stick on my previous viewing, and interpreted a tragic ending as a happy one or vice versa — and I knew roughly what was going to happen. The tension was terrific, and a couple of scenes brought tears to my eyes again.

After the disappointment that followed taking a guest to see The Crimson Pirate (I didn't know anyone existed who wouldn't enjoy at least the acrobatics on display...) I was very much relieved that this piece of unashamed melodrama went down so well, from sweet little Odile to the swaggering Rat and beautiful, bored Zélie de Chaumet. It's a film with no pretensions to sophistication — shop-girl stuff — and tremendous fun.
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
The National Film Theatre has just started running a 'Robert Donat season'; the star exhibit is of course Hitchcock's "Thirty-Nine Steps", which I'm afraid I never much cared for (I'm going off Hitchcock in general, after a promising start), but there are other films I'm interested to see, quite apart from the question of Donat himself. On that matter, on current showing, I remain mildly well-disposed but still to be convinced — on the other hand, at this stage in the Buster Keaton season I didn't think much of Keaton either...

Exhibit Number One was "The Private Life of Henry VIII", which of course I remember like everyone else for the famous chicken-bones on the floor scene... and had no idea that Donat was even in it. It was Charles Laughton's film, of course, and remains rightfully so, even though it's a bit creaky. (He over-does the swaggering and laughing at the beginning of the film, and the structure remains inherently episodic, despite an attempt to use Donat's character as a linking device — unfortunately it's not really much of a role. John Loder, in another very minor part, made more of an impression on me...)

Today's exhibit was Donat's sole Hollywood movie, the 1934 "Count of Monte Cristo". I was eager to see this, as I like swashbucklers and it has a good reputation; I also had an ulterior motive! The good news is that this turns out to be, as I hoped it might, my "long-lost Monte Cristo" -- the film I once caught the end of, thanks to the BBC, on holiday twenty years ago, and have never been able to find again since. The bad news is that, alas, the part I missed isn't actually nearly so good as the remainder...

The Reliance Pictures production of "The Count of Monte Cristo" is a queer mixture of success and banality; of studio polish and poverty-row shortcuts; of genuine emotional power and thumping cliché; of briskly-moving adaptation and bizarre moments of staging (revolving witness-box, anyone?) A literal version of Dumas it is not — one would not expect it of any film spectacular made at this period — but many of the changes made are entertaining or effective, and the happy ending provided works at least as well as Dumas' rather unsatisfactory version. The meandering original is reduced to a bare two hours' running time by dint of concise scripting and cutting out most of the sub-plots involving the de Villefort and Morrel families, an attempt which is by and large successful. It works less well at the beginning, where there are simply too many unidentified characters popping up and scheming without any of them really being established properly, particularly as Morrel and de Villefort's father are then pruned from the plot, never to appear again. And de Villefort's downfall as presented here really doesn't work for me: lacking the damning evidence of infanticide, the script doesn't seem to come up with any terribly convincing alternative to turn the tables on the prosecutor. On the other hand, introduced material such as Mercedes' (completely uncanonical) aristocratic snob of a mother and the tableaux in praise of Fernand at which Haydee accuses him works very well.

Ironically — given the Hollywood studio's doubts as to their unknown English import's ability to pull off anything but a fresh-faced lead — Robert Donat shines mainly in the latter half of the picture as the older, embittered and sophisticated Monte Cristo. His guileless Dantes makes little impression, for it could be any generic juvenile lead role — the character as written is not so much naive as uninteresting. Donat fares better where he can give a sense of some hidden depths to the part, and his best features are his strong eyes and brows rather than his cheery grin. As Monte Cristo, however, he is both debonair and dangerous, an intelligent schemer with a dry wit at his enemies' unknowing expense, and he is supported ably by both Douglas Walton as the young Albert and Elissa Landi as Mercedes.

It was Miss Landi's performance with which I was truly impressed here; she ages with utter conviction from the wilful girl to the resolute mother, and lends her scenes opposite Donat the real impact that is lacking from so much of the film. In a plot that has been re-angled to concentrate far more closely on the Edmond/Mercedes relationship, her role is vital, and her character provides most of the emotional engagement of the story, from light-hearted charm to heartbreak (Valentine de Villefort, here paired off with Albert, is a mere cypher in comparison).

The film starts off in outright formulaic guise, from Napoleon's appearance (in full uniform and cocked hat, with his hand duly thrust in his breast like that) to the standard storm-at-sea sequence with water poured across the screen. It continues to suffer from crude musical underlining almost throughout, almost sabotaging for example Donat's scene with the dying Abbé Faria, which he otherwise pulls off with conviction, while certan characters, such as Morrel and the mute Nubian Ali, appear to have been retained despite the loss of the plot elements which actually involved them (possibly as a result of cuts to the script later in filming?) Overall, however, the adaptation does a pretty good job of conveying information quickly and concisely — Albert's entire Italian adventure is dealt with effectively in a matter of a few minutes with none of the essentials lost, and Haydee's brief role introduced without seeming contrivance. It borrows little in practice from Dumas' wordy original save the bare outlines of its plot, and sometimes not even those; but as an initially uninspired Hollywood adaptation it improves considerably as it goes on. Literary fidelity isn't everything, and if it were not let down by certain sections I would have rated it considerably higher; alas, this production remains an odd mixture of the powerful and the pedestrian.
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Off to the Barbican at London Wall today to see the famous Alfred Hitchcock's famous The Lodger. No London fog in evidence, though; rather, a succession of stormy squalls that brought drenching rain and fierce winds over at intervals.

Unfortunately, the film itself was a bit of a disappointment. The novice Hitchcock is clearly in love with special effects and the manufacture of suspense, but he resorts to devices that are all too obviously manufactured in his endeavour to throw suspicion on the eponymous lodger. It's pretty difficult to poke a fire in such a way as to poise the poker threateningly above the head of the girl on the other side of the table, even if she is bending down to retrieve a lost chess-piece; and it's pretty crude to have your suspect pretend to stab the heroine with a table-knife. And when the murderer is known to have a fixation of blonde girls, it's not exactly subtle to have your suspect talk not about the beauty, but the colour of the heroine's hair — lack of subtlety is the main theme here, culminating in the lodger's 'crucifixion', when a trickle of blood oozes from his mouth in what is doubtless intended to be a deeply significant shot. The story is a potentially good one, but the execution is too often ham-handed... not aided, I'm afraid, by some poor acting.

It does annoy me when people dismiss bad acting in silents with airy phrases such as 'you had to overact to get the story across without dialogue' and 'that style of acting was normal in those days'; any decent silent-era actor can get his message across just by the way he moves and reacts without making eyes at the camera or gesturing around, and wooden acting is wooden acting in any era. Top silent actors were often better than talkie actors because they didn't have the crutch of dialogue to distract from awkward body language; if it looked unnatural, everyone would notice.

Ivor Novello had no pretensions to be a great screen actor — he was originally selected for film roles simply on the grounds of his striking good looks, and cheerfully admitted it — but this is far from being his best performance. He gives every indication of reacting to off-screen directions as to what expression to pull next, rather than communicating clearly with the audience; some scenes are far more successful than others. Malcolm Keen in the role of his rival Joe, the detective, is little better, and the mysterious "June" (perhaps a contemporary society celebrity with whom the audience was expected to be on first-name terms?) acts them both off the screen, as do the character actors who play her parents.

The film has good moments, generally when a touch of humour is allowed to break up the would-be intensity or when the actors relax enough to give more natural performances, but it left me feeling nakedly manipulated. There are flashes of talent, but all concerned are trying too obviously and too hard; I'm not sure I could honestly recommend it, save for curiosity's sake.

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
I was seriously debating yesterday whether or not to go to see "Laughing Anne" at the National Film Theatre in place of attending the (belated) Guy Fawkes party tonight. I'd got to the extent of looking the film up on the IMDb to check whether the omens were hopeful (they weren't; the film's average score was very low) and still dithering, when out of the blue I came upon a Usenet posting announcing that the BBC would be showing the Buster Keaton programme from Paul Merton's Silent Clowns series in prime time on mainstream TV that night.

My mind cleared instantly. Keaton or Conrad? Given that choice, my priorities turned out to be absolutely unquestioning: Keaton without a qualm, every single time. Considering the amount of time I'd spent dithering, it was almost funny.

The really silly thing is that I'd actually already seen the TV programme in question at a special sneak preview session before its original BBC4 transmission and it doesn't in any case tell me anything I don't already know, or show any footage I haven't already encountered. I just can't resist Buster Keaton under any circumstances; I suppose that's what they call addiction, although it feels more like religion...


A contributory factor was that the Conrad on Film season has been somewhat mixed to date, at least from my point of view. I'd already narrowed my planned viewing down to a handful of the pictures on offer, for one reason or another (my main interest is in the early film era itself, rather than in Conrad's work), and "Laughing Anne" had been one of the few survivors. (I was interested to see what Herbert Wilcox plus Margaret Lockwood would produce, and the plotline sounded my style.)

So far I've seen two of the three "Victory" adaptations in the season — the silent and very early sound versions — and the silent "Lord Jim".

The "Victories" were both pretty mediocre, verging on bad. The plum part in that plot seems to be the villain Ricardo, who comes across as the most lively and amusing character: the main reason why I watched the silent version was to see the famous Lon Chaney in the part, and he doesn't disappoint. Alas, that is more than can be said for Richard Arlen, the reason why I watched the sound version; he was terribly wooden in the leading man role of Axel Heyst. And after he'd been so good as a silent actor in "The Four Feathers" and "Beggars of Life", too. After watching this film, I frankly assumed that his career must have fallen casualty to the coming of sound — since although he has a perfectly good voice here, he seems unable to act with it — and was quite surprised to find that he went on getting parts for many years afterwards; maybe he was just having a bad day here. It's not a rewarding character to play.

The 1925 "Lord Jim", on the other hand, was unexpectedly excellent. Enough to make me go and read the book, which I was not at all tempted to do after watching a double-bill of "Victories"!

It has to be said that this film gets better as it goes along. There's nothing wrong as such with the beginning, but it's a bit pedestrian somehow. But comparing it with the original novel, I found it all in all a very good adaptation, and generally a better piece of storytelling than Conrad's long framing passages and non-chronological plotline allow: I'm not clear if the author was trying to rack up suspense, indulge in philosophical exploration or simply to be clever, but I actually felt that the film — with the benefit of almost no words at all, being silent — got to the heart of the character much more accurately and clearly than the book had. And as a piece of compression it's actually very clever.

The most significant example is the combining of the two villainous captains into the same character, thus adding extra personal impact on Jim when he encounters the pirates in addition to shortening the cast list and cutting back on exposition; but the depiction of Jim's wanderings after his disgrace is very well done by piecing together various separate incidents mentioned in Conrad's meandering account of that era, and making them into a coherent chain driving the hero back to seek help from the sympathetic merchant (again, a conflation of several characters making passing appearances in the book). The trial scene is also conveyed with remarkable skill, given the constraints posed by title cards and the imperative not to have too many of them.

But basically I strongly suspect that I liked it much better because I could identify with the central character in the plot. My masochistic streak coming out again, I suppose — but expiation, honour and heroic self-sacrifice were always my thing. In the end scene, where I have a feeling we are supposed to be willing Jim to yield to Jewel's pleas and escape fulfilling his word to his benefactor, I was sitting there thinking 'isn't that just like a woman? She simply doesn't understand, does she? Don't listen to her...'

And of course he doesn't.

My only complaint about this scene would be that they really shouldn't have staged it so that a dying man has to stagger back across a long bridge; Jewel should have run to meet him, for plausibility's sake...



A big grumble, though, goes to the elderly (and possibly deaf, if you take the charitable view) American couple who were seated towards the front of the auditorium, and persisted in supplying a running commentary to each other, in addition to crinkling sweet papers and sucking and slurping loudly. The last straw was when they started ad-libbing dialogue at one of the most intense moments: I'm sure they were thoroughly enjoying the film, and it was all relevant chatter, but they didn't half put me off. I'd like to claim that I took no action in order to avoid disturbing the rest of the audience, but actually I was too inhibited to do more than sit there seething as they exchanged comments almost in my ear. In any case they took absolutely no notice when I did try.

Grrr.

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
I spent most of today up in London; got up before dawn to make it to Hyde Park in time to see the start of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, a plan slightly sabotaged by the fact that the Victoria Line turned out to be closed for the weekend! But I got there in time to see most of the cars leaving the gates and setting off around Hyde Park Corner. Two or three turned the wrong way and had to be set right by spectators, which did leave me wondering how many cars simply get lost along the way...

It was a beautiful day for it — too beautiful, really, as people were having to motor straight into the low sun — and I got an excellent position balancing on top of a seat so that I could see over the wall on the other side of the road; I'm not sure I've ever had such a good view of the entrants before. It was fascinating just listening to the different engine notes of the various vehicles as they passed (and spotting the steam-powered cars by their almost total silence!) It never ceases to amaze me that the one-cylinder engines can work at all: they are easily identifiable by the extreme slowness of the exhaust beat, as the single cylinder gives a great shove, then frantically winds round for another go while hoping that the flywheel will maintain some kind of momentum in the interval. Incredibly, in practice it works.

Most entries seemed to be carrying a fair complement of passengers (discounting the charabanc which made an appearance among the veteran cars with a full load of merrymakers, but almost certainly wasn't old enough to qualify!), but a few brave souls set out without any assistants to help in case of breakdown, emergency, or just the need for a push-start. Inevitably, there were a few 'casualties' among the hundred-year-old vehicles before or during the start, with a few sad victims being carried away by trailer, having failed to start, acquired a puncture, or broken down within the first few yards. But only a few.

Otherwise, a great time was being had by all, including the multi-national crowd of spectators: the family on one side of me were speaking German and on the other side, Italian... The 'normal' Traffic inevitably built up as time went on, and tthe road became more congested; but I was amused to note that the veteran cars were apparently not required to stop at the first set of lights, presumably in case their brakes proved insufficient and/or they proved unable to start again.




And later on this afternoon I went to the Barbican to see their screening of the silent film Underworld; I'd seen it before at the National Film Theatre in July 2004, and enjoyed it so much that I came back for a second viewing at Barbican prices. The film didn't disappoint.

This is an example of silent film-making at its height, in the era 1927-8 just before it was ended for ever, and a talented director and cast could produce a story of unbelievable subtlety and delicacy without a word's being spoken. Clive Brook is just incredible in this; he's not handsome, he's not youthful, he's not 'sexy', but he creates a character whose intelligence and integrity simply shine, and he's one brilliant actor. You can see everything he's thinking just from the way he looks and moves; from the slightest shade of intention or irresolution on his face, or from the way he sets down a glass or picks up a broom. And his co-stars Evelyn Brent (who is gorgeous) and George Bancroft equal his screen presence. The whole film is tightly focused on the shifting relationship between these three, to the extent that others only appear fleetingly on screen; and never once do they let it drop, and turn in a wooden scene or a hammy reaction.

And the camera work is both starkly shadowed and impressionistic, and inventive. A wild party takes place in an accelerating montage of flashing faces; a bully looms towards the screen and punches the camera 'in the gut', as the subjective view reels upwards in response. Intertitles brim with sharp one-liners, or pared-down, effective understatement of emotion. It's technically accomplished, psychologically acute, and a heart-twisting roller-coaster of loyalties and affections.

This film should be a classic and widely shown; the fact that it's played twice in London within three years suggests that it's no rarity, but apparently not so. It survives only in print from a battered 16mm source, and no high-prestige 'restoration' and consequent home video release has ever taken place. See it on the big screen if you can; if you can't, you'll never see it anywhere else...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Today was my second screening of the London Film Festival, after Brand Upon the Brain! — tonight's film was the rather more conventional silent "Asphalt" (thus titled in the original German), and it was preceeded by a long and entertaining description of just how it had been brought back from the Moscow state film archive by someone who had gone to Russia to look for something quite different, and of how it differed from the American release, which had until then been the only known surviving print.

Apparently the American distributors felt that the original cut was too 'slow', and removed a lot of the reaction shots in favour of extra titles explaining exactly who everyone was and what they were thinking; by the time it had been stressed to us three or four times how slow the Germans liked their films to be, I'm afraid I was feeling rather nervous as to whether this was really the version that I wanted to be seeing, given my bad experiences with some other German epics!

But the director's vision was vindicated — it's hard to image what the American cut can have been like, but since it is crystal-clear what is going on in the minds of the various protagonists, all the explanation must seem rather laboured. And fortunately, there was nothing like the 'one-minute close-up, followed by another minute on the other face' that we had been promised... or if there were, at least it didn't seem anything like that long.

Overall I was reminded of 'Carmen' (probably because I had just been watching Preminger's "Carmen Jones") but with a happy ending — happyish, anyway. Instead of killing the girl, he kills her lover; but then she gives herself up to save him, proving that she's really not all bad after all... The film is beautifully shot in the most fully-developed silent tradition, with conscious plays and parallels of images, and effects of lights: the street scenes take place on a gigantic set built expressly for the purpose. But I was never quite confident of the heroine's motivations (making it hard to sympathise) and I did feel that there were some plot ends left unresolved. Good — beautiful — but not I think unqualified great.

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
I went to see "Ratatouille" yesterday — it was billed as a special preview, so I was a bit miffed to discover that the film had already been out for months elsewhere around the world! I'm not quite clear why the Germans and Malaysians apparently get to see it first, since it's not as if we were waiting while anybody dubbed a non-American soundtrack before releasing it in the UK...

Still, I posted my review anyway: after all, there are only six UK reviewers so far.

This is possibly not the most suitable film to watch immediately after your favourite rat has just died, but I'd had to book our tickets a month in advance.

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Today I happened to catch Mouse on the Moon on commercial TV: I'd heard that this was markedly inferior to the original hit, The Mouse that Roared, but in fact I found it equally as charming. The only element that jarred slightly is the beatnik satire, no doubt ever so terribly contemporary when the picture came out in the 1960s, but now just dated. Otherwise, the film carries out its predecessor's role of skewering national stereotypes with remarkable accuracy and affectionate good humour: I defy any Briton to watch the scene where an urgent Cabinet meeting is interrupted by a break for tea — or the BBC newsreader's script giving a 'patriotic interest' spin to the story of the Grand Fenwick rocket launch — without a laugh!

Peter Sellers is, famously, missing from the cast of this sequel, which leaves a number of roles to be filled. But when this provides an opportunity to include Margaret Rutherford and Ron Moody it's not a problem — among the other famous names on the list, Terry-Thomas is unmistakable in his minor role as a British spy, and I did manage to identify Bernard Cribbins before the credits rolled. I was considerably surprised to see Frankie Howerd credited as "himself", however; according to the IMDb, he has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as a man seeking a public convenience towards the beginning of the film. I remember the character, but I didn't notice him as Frankie Howerd...

Recommended. This is a classic British comedy in the best sense of the word, and a worthy successor to the spirit of Ealing Studios.

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
I've just been to see Part I of Lang's Die Nibelungen, which was rather better than I confess I was expecting: "Dr Mabuse" left me cold, and "Metropolis" I found to be great art but a poor film. But despite its two-hour-plus running length, "Siegfried" was never boring. The young actor who plays the hero did a pretty good job of making him interesting despite his immaculate goodness, although his consort Kriemhild never quite convinced me as the beautiful, twice-duped princess: I can see the actress doing very well as the vindictive widow in Part II, but I'm not sure sweet and lovely is her forte. Brunhilde, on the other hand, was excellent as the Hippolyta-like Maiden King who is tricked into a forced marriage and is first bitter and then, when she learns the truth, vengeful. I couldn't help but feel for her.

The special effects in the film are very notable for their era, and the dragon scene is rightly famous. I particularly liked the little touch where it 'whoofs' breath out of its nostrils to stir the surface of the water immediately before drinking, and when Siegfried stabbed it in the eye a gasp of pity and revulsion went round the cinema.

Overall, however, I'm not sure the film entranced me enough to go and see Part II; the main reason would have been to find out what happened to Brunhilde, and she is conveniently disposed of in the final scene of this film. (I'm not quite sure why she acts as she does -- regret, presumably?)

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igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
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