Chaplin Mutuals (1916-1917)

Half-hour movies of Chaplin causing havoc a hundred years ago. Guess I’d assumed they’d be better with more planned-out gags, like my favorite Keaton shorts, since Chaplin had creative control at Mutual. Fun stuff though, and the HD restorations look great.

The Floorwalker (1916)

Charlie wanders into an awful department store, with abusive employees, a thieving manager and shoplifting customers. He swaps place with lookalike Lloyd Bacon (later director of Footlight Parade and 42nd Street), and fights both manager Eric Campbell and a confounding escalator.

The Fireman (1916)

Charlie is a very bad fireman who should not rightly be in the business of saving lives. Chief Campbell is supposedly corrupt, letting Bacon’s house burn down for insurance money in exchange for Campbell getting to wed Bacon’s daughter Edna Purviance. But there are two fires and Edna is caught in one of them and I lose track of what happens but Charlie scales the building, saves Edna and they run off.

The Vagabond (1916)

Good one – Charlie (more Tramp-like than in the previous two) plays violin for spare change, gets chased out of a bar and comes across a gypsy camp where poor Edna is being cruelly mistreated, so he rescues her with speed and violence. But the plot goes on – Charlie helps her clean up and she’s discovered by painter Lloyd Bacon, whose portrait of her wins a prize, attracting the attention of Edna’s real mom, who races to rescue her presumably-kidnapped daughter. Charlie refuses payment for his part in all this, is left sad and alone as usual.

A. Vanneman:

For the first time he “saves” someone, Edna, kidnapped by Gypsies as a child and kept as a virtual slave ever since. In real life Chaplin wanted to save his mother Hannah Chaplin, first from poverty and then from madness, which he was never able to do.

One A.M. (1916)

Wrote this up back in the public-domain DVD days.

The Count (1916)

Chaplin and Campbell are tailors who crash Miss Moneybags’ society costume party hoping to hook up with a rich countess, or at least get some free booze. It doesn’t go well. By the end there’s cake and punch bowls flying into faces, flip kicks and ass beatings (also an unaccountable scene about stinky cheese). Charlie gets the hell out of there, running for his life.

The Pawnshop (1916)

Pretty bad, mostly padding with fight scenes and ladder gags. Chaplin and John Rand work for pawnshop owner Henry Bergman (later Chaplin’s assistant director). He knocks around with Purviance, destroys stuff, threatens the customers and incidentally foils a robbery.

Behind The Screen (1916)

Charlie works for Campbell in movie sets construction. There’s some business with a lever-operated trap door, striking workers and Edna pretending to be a boy to find work, then this all devolves into a pie fight. Ends with Campbell being blown to bits! Poor Eric didn’t have a mustache to twirl in this one, though all the other actors with big fake beards couldn’t stop playing with them.

The Rink (1916)

From working at a restaurant to roller skating and back again (Charlie was both a skater and waiter in Modern Times as well). There’s an attempt to add extra plot and characters (Eric Campbell and his wife are both cheaters) but mostly it’s Charlie hurting people and causing gleeful chaos.

Easy Street (1917)

Elevated by the local mission (actually by missionary Edna), Charlie decides to get his life together and become a cop. He’s assigned to the worst street in town, run by ultraviolent wife-beater Eric Campbell. Charlie defeats Campbell (twice), an angry mob and a needle junkie. Some good moves in this one.

The Cure (1917)

Back to the rich drunk character from One A.M. (“Alcoholic Gentleman” in the credits). This time, Rich Drunk heads for a spa, with hot springs (which he pollutes with booze), a frightening masseur and a confounding revolving door. Eric Campbell is a short-tempered lout with a bad foot (“Gentleman With Gout”).

The Immigrant (1917)

Seen this before. Charlie and Edna immigrate to the U.S., he helps her out a few times, they somehow get jobs and evade Eric Campbell as a sadistic waiter, then Charlie marries Edna by force.

I’ve noticed Albert Austin before (a cook in The Rink), especially liked his reactions here:

Used this same shot last time, but it’s a favorite:

The Adventurer (1917)

Watched before. Charlie is an escaped convict evading police across a beach and mountain, then an endless succession of watery rescues featuring Edna, her mother and her loser fiancee Campbell, and finally Charlie and Campbell have an ass-kicking contest at a society party.

Speed Racer (2008, Wachowskis)

The most inventive “live-action cartoon” movie?

The bright, color-manipulated sets ensure that we don’t take the action seriously for even a second – which is good, since the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the horrendous Speed Racer series, in which the mysterious Racer X is actually Speed’s brother. The movie’s main contribution (besides toning down the part of Chim-Chim) is a twist: Racer X turns out not to be Speed’s brother! But wait, another twist: Racer X is really Speed’s brother!

Not toned-down: Spritle

Evil racers with dollars in their eyes:

Speed is Emile Hirsch, having a big year with this between Into the Wild and Milk, with Christina Ricci as Trixie. His overqualified parents: Susan Sarandon and John Goodman (dressed like Super Mario). Rain (I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK) is a friend/enemy/informant/fall guy, Royalton (Al Gore-looking Roger Allam of The Angels’ Share and V for Vendetta) is the corporate baddie, and Matthew Fox (TV’s Lost) is Racer X, who is emphatically not Speed’s brother (yes he is!)!!!

Under the Roofs of Paris (1930, Rene Clair)

Fred (of early Bunuels – also good roles in major Renoir movies, but I suppose I’ll always think of him as the enraged looney from L’Age d’Or) is would-be rapist who steals pretty Pola’s key to surprise her at home – a foolish plan, since without the key she spends the night with Al instead. He’s Albert Prejean of The Crazy Ray, the French version of Threepenny Opera, S.S. Tenacity and something called The Buttock. Also in the mix: pickpocket Emile and criminal Louis (Edmond Greville, who’d later helm a Hands of Orlac remake).

Will the pretty girl with the cheek curls choose the thief, the lout, the rapist or the cheater? She is Pola Illery, who’d appear in an unknown 1930’s version of The Indian Tomb / The Tiger of Eschnapur as well as a poetic realist Pierre Chenal film from the same year as L’Atalante. Anyway, she ends up with Louis but only because Albert is arrested for a crime Emile committed. We would’ve preferred she end up with nobody, or at least leave town and find some better guys. Anyway it’s quite a pretty movie and more importantly for 1930, uses the title song expressively.

Luc Sante for Criterion:

In that era, the start of the worldwide financial crash, important movies tended to be set in fantasy realms of impossible wealth. Clair’s Paris was, in a way, no less fantastic—every street and square, every tenement, garret, dancehall, and café was designed by the great Lazare Meerson and built in the studio. But its characters, who live on the border between ill-paid labor and petty crime, were both instantly recognizable the world around and imbued with romance by the magic of Paris. In the decade that followed, that setting and those kinds of characters were to constitute the fundament of the French cinematic style called “poetic realism,” a principal architect of which was Marcel Carné, an assistant director on Under the Roofs of Paris.


His Royal Slyness (1920, Hal Roach)

Katy went flipping through the endless scroll of Criterion movies on Hulu, settling on this. Of course we didn’t know it was a short, so 20 minutes later we started Under the Roofs of Paris. This one’s a Harold Lloyd short, where Lloyd and the King of Whatever trade places then he ends up joining the revolution against the monarchy. There’s a princess, and I dunno it was lightly amusing and now I don’t remember it all that well.

Hairspray (1988, John Waters)

Oops, you all forgot to tell me that this is one of the best rock & roll movies ever made. I guess Rosenbaum put it on a couple lists, but the rest of you let me down. Thrilling to see this in theaters, even 17 years late, to see why people at my high school used to mention Ricki Lake so much (she’s very lovable here), to see Divine in a double role right after watching Polyester, to hear all the classic songs and see goofball appearances by new-wave heroes (Deborah Harry as the villain, Ric Ocasek as a cartoonish beatnik painter) and witness the movie’s idealized version of desegregation in Baltimore the same week there were actually riots there.

Polyester (1981, John Waters)

Inspired by Douglas Sirk movies, and inspiration of the song “Frontier Psychiatrist”. An extreme example of the normal person pushed-to-the-brink genre, and starring Divine (not even a normal person). Everything that can possibly go wrong does so all at once – she turns to alcohol as her pornographer husband leaves, daughter is pregnant by her delinquent boyfriend (Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys, writer of Sonic Reducer), son is a foot-fetishist sex criminal, and the family is being protested by the neighbors. Divine’s still got her friend Cuddles, her former housekeeper who recently inherited great wealth, and starts to recover in the company a sexy stranger (Tab Hunter of Track of the Cat) – but it turns out he’s actually dating Divine’s mom, and the romance was a plot to get money. After all this pain (even if it’s over-the-top comedy-pain), Waters allows some lightness (even if it’s murdery lightness). The son is reformed, the delinquent is killed, Cuddles’s chauffeur/fiancee Heinz runs down the mom and Tab, and all (who remain) live happily.

Divine’s superpower is her keen sense of smell, hence the Odorama cards (which we didn’t get, alas). The Ross played it off an average-quality DVD, but it’s a good movie to watch with a crowd. My head exploded when the movie had a profitable highbrow drive-theater showing a Marguerite Duras triple-feature. It also featured the same tasteless lawn jockey that my landlords have. Department of Redundancy Department: an imdb user calls it a “mainstream overground non-underground movie.”

The American Friend (1977, Wim Wenders)

Felt like a good time to watch this since I’d recently seen Purple Noon, and The American Friend is more or less a sequel. I don’t know how things worked in the book series, but besides some art forgery at the beginning, I’d easily believe that they’re unrelated and Dennis Hopper’s character just happens to be named Tom Ripley.

Movie connection #2: Joe vs. the Volcano. Bruno Ganz, who’s the real star of the film over Ripley/Hopper, is sick and short on money, but it turns out his doctor is exaggerating Bruno’s health problems so he’ll be desperate enough to accept a mission as assassin. This despite the fact that Bruno works in a frame shop and is not normally a killer (naturally, the working title was Framed).

Bruno, making it literal:

Movie connection #3: Barton Fink. Bruno takes an instant dislike to Hopper at a (fraudulent) art auction at the beginning, refuses to shake his hand. At the end, Hopper confesses this is why Hopper put Bruno through it all, the doomed medical prognosis and three murders.

Movie connection #4: Rushmore, via the Kinks song “Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ’bout That Girl”.

Cool movie, with real suspense to the spy/murder proceedings, and a visual theme of magic lanterns and other illusions. Terrific lighting, color and cinematography (by Robby Müller, natch), as far as I could tell on my DVD copy. And of course it features both Nicholas Ray (as Hopper’s painter of fakes) and Samuel Fuller (as head target “The American”, eventually thrown down stone stairs).

Ray:

Fuller:

Hopper:

Can’t say I fully understood Ripley’s involvement in the whole plot, nor why Bruno has to die at the end (Wenders loves when everyone dies at the end). Ebert says it’s not important. Dave Kehr says that’s the whole idea: “The plot, laid out baldly, gives only a thin impression of the film itself. For one thing, Wenders has systematically eliminated most of the purely expository scenes (purposefully, after shooting them). … We already know the story, having seen its variations in a hundred films.”

Film Quarterly says it cost more than Wenders’s previous five films combined. Won best editing and direction in Germany and played at Cannes along with 3 Women, The Duellists and Padre Padrone.

Hopper’s follow-up to Apocalypse Now, which wouldn’t be released for two more years. Bruno was between The Marquise of O and Nosferatu. As his wife: Lisa Kreuzer of Radio On and Alice in the Cities. Gerard Blain (star of Chabrol’s Les Cousins and Le Beau Serge) is the guy who gives Bruno his assignment, and Lou Castel (star of Fists in the Pocket and Beware of a Holy Whore) is his driver/overseer. Semi-remade a couple times, once with Malkovich as Ripley and once with Barry Pepper.

Chimes at Midnight (1965, Orson Welles)

It has been a while since I watched some Orson Welles.
And hey, the voices are in sync, so we’re off to an unusually good start.

“Give me the spare men and spare me the great ones.”

While King Gielgud is off ruling the country, his son Prince Hal fucks around, drinking and robbing and having fun with his low-life friends including Falstaff, an overweight self-obsessed clown played by Welles. Falstaff was apparently a running secondary character in three overlong Shakespeare plays, here stitched together to make him the main player, the royalty drama becoming the background story. A good Welles movie, with fun editing, grotesque close-ups and nice compositions.

I’m not too good with the timelines of English kings, but this is the early 1400’s, Henry IV (Gielgud) having recently killed Richard II. Of course the true heir Mortimer has been locked up somewhere else, as is always the case (at least in Shakespeare), and his friends plot the current king’s overthrow. Hal returns to his dad the king and joins in a victorious fight against the Mortimerists (not their real name), personally killing their leader, which cowardly braggart Falstaff attempts to take credit for.

Falstaff thinks this is all in fun, that his group will be friends forever, and when Henry dies and Hal becomes King Henry V, Falstaff is overjoyed, thinking he’ll become rich beyond belief, but instead is banished from the court by the newly serious Hal, returning home to die (offscreen) of grief. I was amazed that Welles wouldn’t give himself a big, talky death scene, but I suppose he wasn’t adding new dialogue to the Shakespeare.

King Gielgud:

King Falstaff:

King Hal:

Ebert says the battle scene is “edited quickly, to give a sense of confusion and violence — providing an ironic backdrop for the frightened Falstaff himself, running from tree to tree to hide from the combatants” in the comically large and round armor Welles has made for himself. Being a Shakespeare drama about kings and thieves, there’s not much screen time for women, but Margaret Rutherford (Blithe Spirit) runs the pub/inn and Jeanne Moreau (just after Diary of a Chambermaid) plays a friend/prostitute. This played at Cannes alongside Dr. Zhivago, The Nun, The Round-Up and Seconds.

W. Johnson in Film Quarterly:

The vastness of the film’s spaces serve to deepen the sense of nostalgia. The tavern, for example, is enlarged beyond probability in much the same way that a childhood haunt is enlarged in one’s memory: this is how Falstaff, the perpetual child, would remember it. Similarly, the wide horizons of the film’s outdoor scenes (actually shot in Spain) evoke the spacious, innocent Olde Englande that Falstaff imagined he lived in. Naturalistic settings would have called attention to the costumes, the archaic language, the theatrical structure of the scenes, everything except what’s really important – the characters and their changing world. Welles’s exaggerations give the film its human perspective.

As portrayed by Shakespeare, Falstaff is not only lazy, gluttonous, cowardly, lecherous, dishonest and the rest but also a great innocent. He is devoid of malice or calculation; no matter what is done to him, he remains open and trusting. He lives in a dream world where there are no politicians or policemen or pedagogues; and when Hal destroys that world by rejecting him, he does not adjust to reality but dies.


The Fountain of Youth (1958)

Welles himself calls it “a wacky little romance” in his intro, which seems both accurate and too humble. It’s a jokey little story with a predictable twist ending, but the way its told and shown is thrilling.

Glamorous actress Joi Lansing marries scientist Dan Tobin “the gland man,” but leaves him for tennis champ Rick Jason. The gland man has his revenge, claims to have discovered a 200-year youth serum, gives them a single dose and lets them fight over it.

Orson interrupts the action and talks over it, blocking the picture with his body and voicing the characters himself. Instead of editing he’ll use sudden lighting changes. It’s all a charming trick.

Rosenbaum calls it the only completed film besides Citizen Kane “over which Welles had final and complete artistic control” which “even begin to qualify as Hollywood products,” as opposed to his independent works.

Since so little has been said about this cool little movie, I’m going to overquote from an article in his book on Welles:

In The Fountain of Youth, Welles’s first television pilot – an adaptation of John Collier’s short story Youth From Vienna that begins as an essay on the subject of narcissism – the dialectic is given a new pattern. For once, the narrating Welles persona is intermittently visible as well as audible; he begins the show, in effect, as a slide show lecturer, and reappears periodically to remind us of his privileged position. … By speaking for the characters as well as about them – literally lip-synching Joi Lansing, Dan Tobin, and Rick Jason, his three stars, at certain junctures to mock their roles as puppets – his moral fallibility (that is to say, his narcissism) becomes identified with theirs, and the implicit nastiness of Welles’s amused, glacial detachment consciously boomerangs.


Too Much Johnson (1938)

JR: “The only copy of the film was lost in a fire .. in August 1970.”

Apparently not! I watched Scott Simmon’s new 34-minute edit. Three sections, to be screened between acts at a Mercury Theater play. Mostly they are goofy chase scenes. In the first (and longest), mustache villain Edgar Barrier (Journey Into Fear, Macbeth) chases Joseph Cotten (The Third Man / Ambersons / Kane star) across city rooftops over a girl. In the second, they board a ship bound for Cuba, continuing the chase, and in the third they’re both chased around the island by Howard Smith. It probably would’ve worked better in context.

Simmon:

It feels to me as if Welles and the Mercury theater were working toward some reenactment of a history of American film up to that point: Silent film comedy interspersed with 1930s screwball stage dialogue. In any case, the revised play, in its tightest last revision, has a spirit far from the Gillette original — with rapid-fire exchanges in place of relatively longer speeches.

Begin Again (2013, John Carney)

Writer-director’s follow-up to Once, looks shinier and has movie stars (Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo) instead of musicians. Watched out of morbid interest. Not entirely bad, though I wasn’t feeling the magic.

Keira K is a fresh new singer, dumped by her rock star boyfriend after he got famous. She sings a blandly pleasant tune at open-mic where formerly powerful label exec Ruffalo is having a Very Bad Day. He hears her and it turns his pointless life around, as he dedicates himself to finding blandly pleasant arrangements for her songs to record “guerrilla-style” around the city with help from Cee-Lo Green’s backing band and Ruffalo’s estranged daughter on electric guitar.

With Mos Def as Ruffalo’s business partner, Catherine Keener as his ex-wife and Hailee True Grit Steinfeld as his guitar-rockin’ daughter.

Chris Marker shorts 2015

Watched a couple new Marker-related shorts,
and rewatched some older ones in shiny new copies.


Sunday in Peking (1956) in lovely high definition


Letter from Siberia (1957)

Forgot how amazing this one is.
Songs and animation and opera, owl-led advertisements and imaginary newsreels.

“Since you can never tell how a bear will react to a camera, we were offered the protection of an armed policeman. But since we’re much more frightened of policemen than we are of bears, we politely declined.”

The Irkutsk Dam, “sitting on its own reflection like a station in outer space”:


Le Chant du Styrene (1958, Alain Resnais)

Mostly shots of the factory, with few humans.
Forgot about the rhyming voiceover.


Broadway By Light (1958, William Klein)

From Marker’s intro: “Each evening, in the centre of New York, an artificial day rises. Its purpose is to announce spectacles, sell products, and the producers of these adverts would be amazed to know that the most fascinating spectacle, the most precious product made by them, is the very street transformed by their signs.” Klein shoots the lights of Broadway, scored by cartoon-jazz music that matches the editing and light movement. Wonderful, would like to put this and some Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra shorts on an infinite loop in my office. Klein’s first film (I only knew his Mr. Freedom before), edited by Alain Resnais.


A Valparaiso (1963, Joris Ivens) from the 2008 restoration


Junkopia (1981)

Uses the sort of electronically-processed sound he’d be featuring in his next full-length film, Sans Soleil.


Eclipse (1999)

On a day when everyone is looking at a solar eclipse through special glasses, Marker watches the watchers instead. First half has live sound at a hippo sculpture park, then he switches to slow motion and electronic music and goes elsewhere (the zoo? there are owls).


Description of a Memory (2007, Dan Geva)

I didn’t rewatch my terrible-quality copy of Marker’s Description of a Struggle, but instead tried this doc, the second feature-length film I’ve seen this year made in response to a Chris Marker-related film. Geva shows the Marker film and stills to locals, asks about the people who appeared in the original. Reminds me of Marker’s friend Agnes Varda, her periodic returns to previous films through documentaries and shorts and DVD extras. Geva is investigating images and memories a la Marker and Varda, turning out a worthy follow-up to the original feature.

Of the happy kid riding a cart down a hilly street: “British policeman bashed his head with an iron rod. Gone a bit mad since.

“Noah Rosenfeld, who fulfilled his dream to become a chess champion.”


More Marker:
Far From Vietnam is out in HD. The Confession is also out, and includes the Arthur London short. Mémoires pour Simone still lacks subtitles, as do most of the 1969-1970 shorts. Oh, and it looks like new copies of Description of a Struggle and Blue Helmet just came out – will save those for another day.