Grand Hotel

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Grand Hotel (1932)

Grand Hotel (1932)

Grand Hotel has the distinction of being the only movie to win the Best Picture Oscar and be nominated for nothing else. The fact that it drew no acting nominations is notable given the star-studded cast, but it is true that none of the actors really stands out. Perhaps they were all too evenly matched.

Grand Hotel endeavors to be a story about the comings and goings in a high-end Berlin hotel, but it belies its own motto –”Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”– in the events depicted for us. We are first introduced to the handful of characters the story follows via a series of edits between their respective phone calls in the hotel lobby. We learn Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) has only a few weeks to live and is blowing his life savings enjoying them in an expensive hotel. The Baron (John Barrymore) telephones an accomplice explaining a need for more funds and referencing a theft he intends to commit. General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) is working to close a merger that will be lucrative for him by relies on his company’s partnership with a French firm. And famed Russian dancer Grusinskaya’s maid telephones to say the ballerina is ill.

The hotel acts as a catalyst to allow the overlapping of these various lives, who infinitely influence one another but then part as they do the hotel. Also entering into the scene is Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a stenographer sent for by Preysing. Before he is ready for her to begin working on the merger documents, however, Flemm waits in the hall where she is approached by the Baron with amorous intent. They agree to meet the following evening for dinner and dancing. The Baron has previously met Kringelein and decided him a fine chap, creating a fast friendship. Kringelein approaches the couple in the hall and makes friends of Flemm as well. Also caught by Flemm’s looks is Preysing, once he’s ready for her to begin work.

Before the Baron can meet up with Flemm for a romantic evening, however, he will enter the room of dancer Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) to abscond with her pearls. He sneaks in through a balcony window –two rooms down from his– but finds himself trapped when the depressed ballerina abruptly returns. In the dark room he sees her contemplating suicide and opts to intervene. In the ensuing hours, the two fall in love.

Flemm has by this time fallen in love with the Baron and finds herself disappointed in his new mood. Grusinskaya is leaving for Italy in a day and in order to accompany her, he must come up with money for train fare, a subject making him rather depressed. Flemm occupies herself in looking after the ailing Kringelein and in resisting the advances of Preysing. This businessman happens to own the factory in which Kringelein once worked and proves himself a royal ass by mistreating him in the hotel. Flemm will nevertheless consider leaving town on the arm of Preysing, but ultimately walks out the doors of the Grand Hotel with another man.

Grand Hotel, which was based on a play, is a great film from a technical standpoint as well as the somewhat esoteric relevance of its story. To the average viewer, the movie comes off as rather boring with seemingly no moral or sense of satisfaction at the close. But the point of the plot is about the random meeting of people and the indelible effect they have on one another. Flemm enters the hotel a stenographer and leaves as a mistress of sorts. Grusinskaya enters horribly depressed with her career faltering and leaves on cloud nine after a fantastic performence the night before. Preysing enters on the verge of a profitable deal and leaves in worse than ruin. Only Kringelein enters and exits with equal levels of joy; although, he departs with more money and company than he arrived. If there is any moral center to the story, it is Kringelein.

As I mentioned, the acting is fine, but you could have guessed that by the cast. This is often thought of as a great Garbo movie, but she does not appear in at least half of the action. Her line “I want to be alone” is well remembered, but not particularly meaningful. Garbo was a big star at this point, but audiences were taking a liking to Crawford by this time as well. The two never appear on screen together and had little to do with each other on set especially since Garbo’s scenes were shot on a separate soundstage closed to visitors. Director Edmund Goulding once described the movie as two stories, both centered around women in crisis –Garbo’s depressed dancer and Crawford’s stenographer trying to scrape her way to a better life– with the Baron to connect the plots. I’m not sure I see the movie in that way because I do not view Flemm as a woman in crisis but as a distinctly different type of person bouncing among our main characters.

  • Grand Hotel is set for 9:45 p.m. ET Feb. 15 on TCM.

City Lights

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City Lights (1931)

City Lights (1931)

Only Charlie Chaplin could make a hit out of a silent movie after the transition to sound. City Lights was his first movie since talkies were invented. They had become the norm by 1929, but despite pressures to convert his flick to include audible dialogue, the star stuck to what he knew. Owning the studio helped Chaplin get his way and also gave him the freedom to do what he wished with his films and take his time in producing them.

The movie is not without some sound of its own, however. It had a recorded soundtrack –composed by Chaplin– that also includes sound effects. Poking fun at talking pictures, Chaplin employed saxophones to stand in for the speaking voices of two characters who are unveiling a statue. When the Tramp swallows a whistle, the soundtrack includes the tweeting it makes with every breath. Gunshots and the bell at a boxing ring are also incorporated into the prerecorded sound.

In City Lights, the Tramp constructs his adventure around a blind flower sales girl and a drunken millionaire. The man meets the girl (Virginia Cherrill) peddling flowers on the corner and is instantly in love. Later, the Tramp interrupts an “Eccentric Millionaire” (Harry Myers) as he prepares to drown himself. The Tramp tries to stop the drunken man from throwing in the river a large rock tied to a rope connected to the man’s neck. He fails and the two end up in the water and out and back in.

Now fast friends, the Millionaire and Tramp return to the wealthy man’s home and do some additional drinking. When the morning arrives, they are still drunk and the man tells the Tramp he may have his car. He also provides him with $10 to buy flowers from his sweetheart. After buying out her stock, the Tramp drives the blind girl home, leading her to conclude he must be rich. When the girl becomes ill and unable to work, the Tramp secures a job to help make her well. He visits her regularly when her grandmother is not home, and one day discovers without a $22 payment, the women will be evicted from their home.

The Tramp is able to secure $1,000 from his wealthy friend –who does not care for him when he is sober– but a snobbish butler (Allan Garcia), two thieves and the police send the Tramp on the run. The romantic nevertheless gets the money to his love and tells her to pay the rent and get her eyesight fixed with the remainder. He next goes to jail.

The ending of City Lights is one of the most touching endings to a film in movie history. In quite the contrast to the comedy of the rest of the picture, I became a bit choked up at the sweetly romantic final moments. The girl, now seeing and running a flower shop, runs into the Tramp and recognizes him by the feel of his hands. Chaplin affects the most adorable visage as he nervously faces the love of his life after so long apart. He says “You can see now?” She responds, “Yes, I can see now.” The double meaning is all we get to assure us that the girl is not offput by the dilapidated duds worn by our hero. As the viewer, we find ourselves as nervous as the Tramp in wondering what she will think.

Chaplin is a fantastic actor particularly in those closing, serious moments. All of a sudden the mood is changed and we’re grinning ear-to-ear for a reason other than laughter. The Tramp’s confidence is shattered outside the safety of the girl’s inability to see him, but his fictional wealth is no longer something she needs. Cherrill is even better than Chaplin. Throughout the picture she plays a convincing blind girl, but her power is shown best also in that end scene. She plays all the right emotions on her face so that we can understand what is occurring through the very little dialogue we have to explain it. Cherrill, unfortunately, did not make many more movies (but she married Cary Grant).

I don’t think I need to tell you City Lights is also full of laughs. Chaplin uses his physical prowess to construct some terribly amusing scenes. Best of all is a perfectly choreographed boxing match during which the Tramp hides behind the referee.

Source: Robert Osborne, TCM.com

Feature: Hitchcock’s Recipe

I discovered this brilliant video on the ModCloth blog. It was apparently created by students at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover and is wildly entertaining and insightful, for those who are well versed in the ways of Alfred Hitchcock. Seeing as my blog is named after a technique of the great director, I thought it only fitting to share it with you. It’s certainly worth watching more than once to enjoy all the details contained therein. Enjoy!

Phantom of the Paradise

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Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

There is often a fine line between comedy and horror in the movie business. The genres seem like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but there’s nothing like a bad horror movie to make you laugh. With Phantom of the Paradise I have a difficult time deciding if it was intentionally humorous.

In reality, the movie does not move into the horror genre until perhaps the last quarter. It makes one laugh not because it is poorly made or the acting terrible, but because of goofy plot devices and character decisions. The story is loosely based on “The Phantom of the Opera” but with a theater named The Paradise instead of an operahouse.

William Finley plays Winslow who will become our phantom. The man is a talented songwriter who has composed a cantata based on “Faust”. Philbin (George Memmoli), the handler for famous record producer Swan (Paul H. Williams), passes the sheet music onto the producer promising Winslow he will hear about it soon. Instead of making Winslow a star, however, Swan steals the music and plans to use it as a musical to open his new theater.

In the process of barring Winslow from the Death Records headquarters, Swan also arranges for the man to be imprisoned. While incarcerated, Swan’s company funds an experiment whereby inmates’ teeth are removed because they are shown to be a source of disease. Winslow’s own set is replaced with a metal version. Winslow will escape the aptly named Sing Sing and storm the Death Records headquarters. There he finds the machine pressing the records made of his music and trips, his head landing in the machine and brutally burned on one side.

By this point, Swan has cast the “Faust” musical. Winslow hides out in the theater, borrowing a cape and bizarre helmet to cover his disfigurement. He assassinates members of the cast, which leads Swan to work with the phantom on the show. Winslow requires a girl, Phoenix played by Jessica Harper, to be the lead. He met the woman early in the story and is in love. Swan confines the phantom to a hidden room in the theater to rewrite all the music for her, but defies the man by hiring a singer named Beef (Gerritt Graham) to star in the Faust musical despite the high octave of the music. Phoenix is relegated to the chorus.

Swan continues to betray Winslow’s trust to extreme extents and the phantom takes his revenge on all around him, minus Phoenix.

Everyone in Phantom of the Paradise is goofy except for Harper, who gives her usual adequate performance. Winslow is your typical naive dork who becomes such a bizarre phantom. With grey metal teeth, a hoarse voice and a metallic helmet that reveals only one eye –surrounded by the same black makeup that covers his lips –he is only mildly frightening.  

Williams as Swan, meanwhile, is unnervingly obnoxious in his omniscient role, always getting his way and never losing his cool. Then there’s Graham as Beef, perhaps the most humorous character. Playing the part in a flamboyantly gay manner, Graham makes the most absurd facial expressions and maintains a painted-on beauty mark that changes shape (sometimes a lightening bolt, sometimes a four-leaf clover). Treat yourself to some Beef:

One cannot really say Phantom of the Paradise is a bad movie because it is so entertaining. It’s literally a laugh-a-minute feature that is beyond absurd. The music is quite good as well, all being written by Williams who wrote music and lyrics for many films. If you’re looking for an obscure movie to laugh at, Phantom of the Paradise is it. It’s what you would get if you made “Phantom of the Opera” into a rock opera AND a horror film. Brilliant.

Throne of Blood

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Throne of Blood (1957)

I’m generally not a fan of Asian filmmaking. Outside of the occasional bad horror movie or bad other-genre movie getting ripped by Mystery Science Theater 3000, the only quality Japanese films I have seen have been by Director Akria Kurosawa. In truth, I did not care for Roshomon, but I did thoroughly enjoy Throne of Blood.

I became aware of this movie a couple years ago when seeing a play of the same name in Shakespeare Town, Ashland, Ore. The program referenced that the play was based on this movie, which is a Japanese adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. The play was stellar in an unsettelingly creepy way, and now that I have viewed the film, I see that it drew heavily from its inspiration.

A feudal kingdom is in the midst of war when we open. The Great Lord and his advisory panel are convinced the land will fall to its enemies, but are relieved when word arrives that two warriors have led victories on two battle fields. Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are the heroes whom we meet on their journey back to Spiderweb Castle. En route they become lost in the woods surrounding the castle, the paths through which are spiderweb-like so as to protect the kingdom from enemies.

Soon the men hear a wicked laughter in the woods and come across a pale, white-haired androgynous person (Chieko Naniwa) who sits in a wall-less hut and manipulates yarn on a spinning wheel. The evil creature –as the men see it– prophesizes that Washizu is already master of the North Castle and Miki the commander of Fort One. The spirit also predicts that Washizu will become Great Lord of Spiderweb Castle one day as will Miki’s son.

Upon arrival at Spiderweb Castle, the Great Lord bestows upon the war heroes just what the spirit foretold. As time passes, Washizu becomes increasingly ambitious and eager to fulfill his destiny. When the Great Lord visits the North Castle, his wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) –possibly the human embodiment of the evil spirit– convinces Washizu to murder the lord and blame it on his guards. The man then seizes the throne even though many suspect he killed his way to the top.

Once established as lord of Spiderweb Castle, Washizu sees enemies on all sides. When he must choose an heir, he considers selecting Miki’s –his best friend since childhood– son, but Asaji suggests she is pregnant. The evil spirit visits Washizu once more to assure him he will not lose in battle until the trees of Spiderweb Forrest rise up against him. That prophecy unfolds.

When watching a foreign film, it is often difficult to judge the acting quality, but in Throne of Blood it is evident we aren’t watching the same cast as Goke, Body Snatchers from Hell. Mifune as Washizu is particularly impressive in his body language and facial expressions. His wife, played by Yamada, brings the creepy, manipulative role to dark places. She seems to be constantly in a subordinated position on the floor, yet yields great control over her man. The performance of the evil spirit by Naniwa is heightened by special effects. The white makeup, fog around her and warped voice would send a chill down anyone’s spine.

If you are looking for a great way to start off your Halloween season, or just want to see a brilliant rendition of “Macbeth”, Throne of Blood is not to be missed. The picture is also well restored on the Criterion Collection DVD, which I rented; although, it offers little in the way of bonus features.

 Meet the witch (it arrives at minute 3):

The Best Years of Our Lives

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The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I thought it might be prudent to get that out front because this post will be nothing but praise for the masterpiece. But I’m not alone in my assertion as the flick won eight of the nine Oscars for which it was nominated.

The picture, which came out a year after World War II ended, was about just that: the end. It follows three soldiers who return to the same hometown and try to re-enter their past lives. The Best Actor award went to Dana Andrews who plays pilot Fred Derry and steals away the majority of our attention during the movie. The Best Supporting Actor Academy Award went to first-time actor and real-life soldier Harold Russell, who lost his hands and forearms in a training accident and had them replaced by hooks.

Joining both Fred and Homer (Russell) on a flight home to Boone City is Army Sgt. Al Stephenson, played by Fredric March. The three bond over their short trip home and share the same reluctance to leave their taxicab when it pulls up to each house. Al comes home to a surprised and overwhelmed wife in Myrna Loy, whose emotions overwhelm us as much as she in reuniting with her husband. The couple have a teenage son (Michael Hall)and a slightly older daughter who has been working as a nurse.

Homer, meanwhile, comes home to loving parents and a young sister. His mother cannot help but cry at the sight of his disability, frustrating the soldier who has become accustomed to it. He was set to marry the girl next door, Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell), before he left for the war. Although Wilma shows no hesitation around her beau, he is too self conscious about the hooks to believe in their future and so avoids contact with her.

Fred, lastly, stops at his parents run-down home to say hello and to reunite with the wife he married 80-some days before deployment. She no longer lives with the folks, however, and has taken a job at a night club and an apartment in town as well.

Unable to handle the home surroundings that are no longer familiar to him, Al takes his wife and daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) out on the town, ending their late night at Butch’s Place. Homer too finds his way there after spilling a glass of lemonade he was unable to manage with his prosthetics. Fred, unsuccessful in locating his wife at any of the clubs, joins the gang. A very drunk Fred is forward but polite with Peggy and ultimately spends the night in her bed –although she is on the couch.

The next day, Fred finally reunites with his wife Marie (Virginia Mayo), who is thrilled to see him. The couple soon spend down the $1,000 in cash the man has, and the revelation that nightly outings are nixed from their lives frustrates Marie. The two are growing distant as Fred and Peggy are falling in love, a love of which Al does not approve.

Director William Wellman sets up from Peggy and Fred’s first encounter their destiny together. Seating them beside one another in a crowded booth at Butch’s, we naturally pair them. We also see a great degree of interaction between the two before ever meeting Marie, so we make up our minds early about the winning woman.

The two able-bodied men are finding employment to be a challenge but in disparate ways. Al has not only been offered back his job at the bank, but has been promoted to a post where he will consider GI loans. His idea of a safe bet is different from that of the execs, however, stirring some tension. Fred, meanwhile, returns to a job at what used to be a drug store and works beneath the man he used to oversee. He had sworn never to return to such a low position, but has no skills outside of flying a plane. Poverty challenges his home life.

Both men illustrate for the audience the frustration of returning to the mundane experiences of regular employment. Work is not chief among soldiers’ thoughts when imagining their return home, but it nevertheless remains a requirement to maintain a livelihood. Fred, who was a captain in the Air Force and a pro flyer, is disheartened to be placed in such a menial position where he has no control.

My favorite scene in The Best Years of Our Lives is the last. Fred and Peggy are among the guests in a crowded house awaiting the bride’s appearance. Seeing that Al has arrived, Fred goes on the hunt for Peggy, whom he has weeks before romantially rejected as a way to keep her father happy. When he spots the woman, he stops, standing arms at his side facing her across the room, unmoving. The camera’s high-angle shot does not seem to be focusing on anything in particular, but our eyes are drawn to him. Peggy, who has been in conversation, seems to sense his gaze and turns towards him and approaches. They exchange pleasantries but make not gestures of love. Later, as the bride and groom read their vows, Fred is standing as best man but is looking across the room to Peggy, who seems to glow in her light-colored dress, who is also watching him. The cinematography is subtle as the bride and groom take up half the screen and their speaking can distract us from the shot’s true meaning. The recitation of the vows and pronouncement of man and wife seems as much meant for the bride and groom as for Peggy and Fred. When the ceremony is over, Fred walks directly to Peggy and kisses her as though they are alone in the room.

The Best Years of Our Lives is a masterpiece in its gentle conveyance of the harsh realities of returning soldiers who are damaged goods to certain degrees in physical and mental ways. The prolonged friendship among the men is also a testament to how they could feel more at home with each other than with their own families because of the semi-shared experiences they had overseas. Both the men and their loved ones suffer under the circumstances with Peggy being one neutral and healing figure for Fred. This movie is apt to make you cry, sigh and smile and is one of the most touching pictures I’ve ever seen.

  • The Best Years of Our Lives is set for 8 p.m. ET Aug. 2 and 2:15 a.m. ET Oct. 10 on TCM.

Gay Purr-ee

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Gay Purr-ee (1962)

At some point when I was a kid, my parents recorded off the TV some animated movie about cats in Paris. The VCR recording cut off the beginning of the movie and since we did not know the title, it was merely labeled “Cat Robespierre” on the cassette. I am not sure at what point in early adulthood I actually figured out this movie was called Gay Purr-ee but I quickly hunted down and secured a copy on DVD. As it turns out, this UPA-produced cartoon features the voices of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet that were indiscernible to me as child.

I rewatched this movie from my childhood the other day and although the animation would appear crude to today’s CGI-accustomed children, I am still amazed at the quality coming out of 1962. The movie is not only a romantic tale of two cats and a villain, but a tribute to both Paris and the artists that have revered the city.

Garland’s Mewsette and Goulet’s Jaune Tom live on a farm in the French countryside. Jaune Tom is a world-class mouser with skills that put him in a trance any time he spots a rodent. Mewsette, however, is disgusted by this form of sustenance and upon hearing her owner’s sister speak of the champagne and Champs Elysees to be eaten in Paris, has greater plans for herself. The white-furred beauty skips town in this woman’s buggy and train heading to the capital city. Jaune Tom and his tiny pal Robespierre (Red Buttons) immediately take off after Tom’s love but do their travelling on foot.

Once in Paris, Mewsette meets the slick Meowrice (Paul Frees) who immediately identifies her as a victim for his mail-order bride scheme. He sets her up with Madam Rubens-Chatte (Hermione Gingold) –whose figure is reminiscent of some of painter Peter Paul Rubens’ rotund subjects– who owns a boutique to turn young cats into classy felines. When Jaune Tom and Robespierre arrive in town they spot the same joint as a good starting point in their hunt for Mewsette, but before they can enter, Meowrice’s minions snatch the smaller cat, sending his pal on a chase through the sewers to save him.

The story follows the male cats’ endeavors to find Mewsette and Meowrice’s interference along the way as he prepares Mewsette to be shipped to Pennsylvania as the bride to some old, rich cat named Mr. Pfft.

As a kid, Gay Purr-ee was just some entertaining cartoon about cats full of decent songs. As an adult, however, one can see the tribute the picture pays to the art world. Whether the characters are wandering through Vincent Van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace at Night” or Henri Toulouse Lautrec’s images of the “Meowlin Rouge”, art history is ever present. Meowrice also narrates a scene in which he sends a variety of paintings of Mewsette to Mr. Phht. He describes the artists’ background as we see recognizable works of art with a white cat inserted in them. It is absolutely fascinating.

I would say that Gay Purr-ee‘s plot seemed much more dramatic as a child and even a bit frightening at times but it does not have the same urgency for me today. Goulet does not convince me as much now of his desperate love for Mewsette, nor does the beginning establish that there was a pre-existing relationship between them. Writing this, however, seems a bit absurd as I am referring to cartoon cats.

I do not know how today’s children would react to the archaic style of animation, but adults would surely appreciate the ingenuity this 50-year-old movie exhibits. Any art history fan would also get a kick out of the many inside jokes the scenery presents and any Judy Garland fan should revel in the opportunity to hear her voice.

Feature: The Long-Take Movie

Unless you are a movie-as-an-artform type of fan, the editing in a movie often escapes us. In most cases, all of those cuts are meant to be invisible, at times subliminally conveying a message without us realizing it. And although cameramen might painstakingly struggle to film a scene in one long take, many audience members will fail to recognize the accomplishment.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first director to bring to fruition a movie done entirely in one long take, sort of. Moviemakers in the 1940s were limited by this thing called “film”, the actual celluloid that ran through the camera and recorded all the images later flashed before our eyes. So in those days it was not possible to capture a 90-minute movie without ever stopping the camera because the actual reel only held a certain amount of film. In the case of Rope, Hitchcock instead gave us the illusion of a cut-less picture by disguising the breaks between reels. He did succeed in never stopping the camera rolling while there was film left, but hid the transition between reels by focusing in on the backs of characters, creating a black screen that would prevent viewers from distinguishing a break in filming.

Fast forward 60 years to the age of digital film photography and the issue of celluloid can no longer hamper a filmmaker’s ability to keep the camera rolling. In 2001, a Russian director developed the idea of making a movie in one, 90-minute take all centered on the Hermitage museum. Although the idea of not having to edit any footage sounded easy to Aleksandr Sokurov at first, bringing about the actual filming of Russian Ark took several years of planning.

The film crew, cast of one main character and more than a thousand extras were given four days access to the museum. Three were used to remove items, insert new ones and prepare the lighting for the shoot. The actual filming had to occur on one day. Told as a dream, the story runs through 300 years of Russian history as significant characters float in an out of the scenes while the French marquis who is guiding the camera criticizes Russia’s lack of artistic culture. The camera itself is the second character, the dreamer, who converses with the marquis and himself through a post-production voice over.

Unlike Rope, which relied on a handful of characters getting their parts correct, Russian Ark protected itself from any on-screen mishaps by giving only one character specific dialogue to deliver. There is a certain lack of synchronicity in the voice over as at times the marquis’ pauses for response do not last long enough and the voice over runs on top of his dialogue. Also, the lack of echo in the voice-over dialogue makes it seem to us as though these thoughts are occurring in the dreamer’s (or our) head, especially because the marquis at times does not seem to hear what is said.

Moving ahead to today, the horror movie Silent House recently hit theaters as yet another 90-minute example of cut-free filming, or so it would seem. Technology has taken us so far forward that directors Chris Kentis, Laura Lau were able to mimic a single-take film while actually filming 10-minute segments and disguising the transitions in post-production. The result is a highly suspenseful picture that relies entirely on practical effects and lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

The story contains one main character the camera follows, two family members and a couple extra appearances. The effect relies on a dark house and mostly up-close shots of the scene, which protects against mistakes that might occur in the background. Also, being a horror movie, the characters’ reactions to the events and dialogue do not have to be perfect, thus giving a more natural feel. The movie avoids the use of CGI to create scary creatures for us and was unable to show the result of one character’s bludgeoning because the application of makeup could not have occurred fast enough to fit within the long-take structure. Silent House instead relies on severe suspense rather than actual terrifying scenes to scare the audience. The long-take approach adds to this and gives the effect of things happening in real time. (Silent House Video Clip)

The use of long takes, and in particular movies that try to use nothing but, is highly demanding on all the collaborators in front of and behind the camera. Extensive rehearsing and extremely long retakes if mistakes are made can mean lengthy, demanding days for all involved. The endeavor is certainly one done more for artistic satisfaction than commercial gain or public popularity as the average theater-goer is blind to this work. I think we can see evidence of this as the technique has failed to gain popularity among film makers. Nevertheless, I have always been intrigued by the long take, and so a movie that does only that will have me at its beck and call time and time again.

Source: “In One Breath: The Making of Russian Ark” documentary; Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

A Different View Through ‘Rear Window’

I came across this fascinating video created by Jeff Desom that pieces together different shots from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and aligns them all together. But this is not just an image of what the courtyard behind L.B. Jeffries’ apartment would look like in panoramic view. It’s an actual moving video of all the action in the film happening at once and in fast succession. I cannot imaging the work it must have taken to assemble this.

Rear Window Timelapse from Jeff Desom on Vimeo.

Shoulder Arms

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Shoulder Arms (1918)

The Little Tramp has never looked so well kempt as when he is in uniform, but Charlie Chaplin‘s daring war comedy Shoulder Arms risked offending audiences at the time. Ready for release in 1918, World War I was not quite over and Chaplin was advised that audiences might not want to see him make light of the serious subject. Others said Americans needed the pick-me-up, and so Chaplin went through with the scheduled release on Oct. 20 that year. It was very well received.

Forget the usual raggedy slouch pants and scruffy derby hat the Tramp usually wears, Chaplin’s character this time wears slightly oversized uniform pants and a jacket a size too small. His shoes are their usual oversized sort, and the helmet of “Doughboy” is not far from his usual chapeau either.

Shoulder Arms opens on Doughboy in training and having a hard time holding his weapon properly or turning about face. He is often scolded by his superior officer for walking pigeon-toed, which naturally brings all the silliness possible to a march. Going for a nap, Doughboy next takes us to the trenches “over there.” A nice tracking shot follows Chaplin as he strolls obliviously through the trench and back, with explosions happening just behind him all the time –indicated audibly by a slide whistle and drum-cymbal crash.

The troops have a decent underground bunk room where Doughboy sets up his back-scratching cheese grater and finds his feet might be too long for the bed. The bunk room is decent until the rain starts pouring in. By the time Doughboy gets leave to rest, his bed is underwater. This does not phase him as he fluffs his soaked pillow and pulls the submerged blankets over him. His snoring neighbor gets disrupted, however, when Doughboy’s annoyance at the noise results in a wave of water sloshing over the other soldier’s face.

The rest of this 36-minute short includes Doughboy’s leaving the trenches for the field of battle –where he disguises himself as a tree– only to end up finding Edna Purviance’s character and taking refuge in her home. As can be expected of the tramp character, his bumbling ways result in his capturing the top German foe and delivering them to his superiors.

Chaplin is his usual great self, bringing us a character who behaves so nonchalantly while disturbing everything around him. Chaplin often had his Tramp behave in this way where he goes about some unnatural activity with the greatest of ease. In this case it was getting into an underwater bed. In The Kid it was preparing a meal in the manner that poverty dictated he must. These straight-faced scenes offer great amusement in both the well-rehearsed movement of the star as well as the absurdity of the activities. Watch the entire movie here:

Source: Robert Osborne

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