Barmaid Marie (Gina Manès, Josephine in Abel Gance’s Napoleon) is in love with waterfront man Jean (Léon Mathot, who became a director in the sound era) with good hair, but her parents have promised her to slimeball Small Paul (Edmond Van Daële, also of Napoleon, and The Mystery of the Yellow Room), a drunk who will destroy the lives of everyone he meets. The would-be couple’s only mode is wistful, staring blankly into the distance – seemingly content in their brief moments together before her foster parents marry her off to Small Paul, who gives her a sick baby and a life of impoverished misery until Jean, back from a year or two in prison for injuring a cop, starts hanging around again. He takes no action as usual, and they enjoy sitting silently near each other again, until Paul finds out, comes home and gets himself shot by bitter crippled neighbor Marie Epstein (the director’s sister and cowriter).
Only Epstein’s third feature – he gets away with some crazy (for 1923) techniques because the bulk of the movie is such straight melodrama. I’d been meaning to catch up with more Epstein after House of Usher a few years ago, and luckily, the Alloy Orchestra was touring with this one. It’s some of their finest work, if not Epstein’s (it’s good enough, but come on, Finis Terrae).
“Is he invisible,” Richard asked as Jean kept creeping unnoticed into small rooms:
Alloy Orchestra returned, with a double-feature this time! First up was this highly ridiculous adventure story, full of corny nonsense, but also featuring some fabulous stop-motion dinosaurs and a cool monkey.
A beardy madman (Wallace Beery of wrestling picture fame) insists to a roomful of people, Lost City of Z-style, that his previous expedition had discovered a plateau where dinosaurs still live, but everyone on his team is now missing so he needs a new team. Sportsman Lewis Stone (Stars In My Crown, Queen Christina) would like to come find new creatures to shoot, and his buddy, romantic doof reporter Lloyd Hughes (title star of Rip Roaring Riley), gets himself invited to impress a disinterested rich girl. Professor Arthur Hoyt (the director’s older brother, mayor of The Great McGinty) comes too, and so does Beery’s dead ex-teammate’s daughter Bessie Love (her final film was The Hunger). Everyone proves to be pretty capable (especially the monkey) at getting into trouble and getting back out of it, and the doof falls for Bessie. More impressive than the “oh shit we’re dead, might as well die together” romance is that the dinosaurs, which would seem to have limited area to live and breed, are constantly killing each other and falling into tar pits. The humans manage to bring a live brontosaurus home to London, where it escapes and nearly goes full King Kong, finally destroying a bridge and either swimming away or drowning, it was hard to tell which.
The evening highlight was A Page of Madness, which had a more experimental score and blew everybody’s minds.
Another great night with the Alloy Orchestra. Probably the number one advantage to living in Lincoln is that they come through every year with a different silent film – last year was Man with the Movie Camera, the year before was Son of the Sheik. Now I’ve bought their Phantom of the Opera on DVD, and I’ll see if I can sync the CD of their Lonesome score with the Criterion blu-ray – unlikely, but it’ll be fun to try.
Emil Jannings (same year as Tartuffe) is introduced as a sonofabitch who mistreats his woman, soon leaving her and their young child and running off with Lya de Putti (Murnau’s Phantom and the Joe May Indian Epic). They work circus acts until noticed by trapeze star Artinelli (Warwick Ward, who became a producer in the 1930’s) and asked to join his act. Artinelli easily steals away Emil’s girl while Emil spends all his time drinking and gambling (don’t trapeze performers have to stay in shape?), and when he realizes the betrayal he plots revenge. Some fun first-person shots from the trapeze were this film’s main attraction when it opened. Emil envisions his boss having a fatal “accident” – somehow he can’t bring himself to drop the guy, but is okay stabbing him to death
Ouch from Dave Kehr:
The blatancy that makes it so easy to teach is also its chief drawback as art. Expressionism needed the taste and insight of a Murnau to be transformed from a manner to a style; this film, untransformed, is the work of the negligible E.A. Dupont.
I never got to see Alloy Orchestra very often in Atlanta, but apparently both Lincoln and Omaha are on their regular tour schedule. They played different movies (with very different scores) in each city, so I made us watch both. Roger Miller seems very approachable at the merch table, but I have all his records and am therefore afraid of him.
Son of the Sheik (1926, George Fitzmaurice)
Sequel to Valentino’s The Sheik from five years earlier, so the flashbacks to his father as a young man are scenes from that film. Son walks in his doppelganger-father’s footsteps by kidnapping and raping the woman he loves, the same way Sheik met his wife. Son’s girl (Vilma Bánky, also in Valentino’s The Eagle) dances for a nomadic group of entertainers/bandits who are trying to extort and/or murder the Son. Much unconvincing swordplay ensues!
Man with the Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)
Timely screening, less than two months after Sight & Sound declared this the best documentary of all time. It certainly has one of my favorite silent-movie scores, all driving percussion to fit the unrelenting pace of the film, and we sat right in front of the band for an awesome sensory experience (also because we arrived too late to get seats further away).
Always surprised that this “day in the life of a city” movie opens with the city waking up but ends abruptly without showing it go back to sleep. Probably a “sun never sets on Russia” sort of thing. I realized while looking up Vertov that he invented cinema-verite (his newsreel series Kino-Pravda translates as film-truth), took his moving camera into the streets to film everyday people, and made a film that contains its own behind-the-scenes elements – all forty years before Chronicle of a Summer did these same things.
Sept. 2015: Saw this AGAIN with the Alloy Orchestra, this time at The Ross, at a more reasonable distance from the live band, and with the beautiful new restored print. One of the greatest things ever.