Friday, 8 April 2011

A Bit of This and That

For those of you who have been paying attention, which of course means all of you, when I reviewed "Liliom" (1930) last September, I mentioned that the lead actress, Rose Hobart, had been immortalised in a 1936 avant garde short.  I admitted that I had never seen this eponymous film but said that it sounded fascinating.  Well, now I have seen it -- and it was anything but!  We attended a screening at the National Film Theatre under the pompous collective heading "Collage, Homage and Subversion" where "Rose Hobart" was one of three experimental films being shown. After a seemingly interminable introduction by a nearly unintelligible would-be pundit, this long-sought short was screened and it was not only something of a disappointment, but also a somewhat pointless exercise from the artist Joseph Cornell.  He re-edited her appearances from the B-movie "East of Borneo" deliberately omitting any narrative continuity and altering the soundtrack to suitably portentious music; the result with its very faded print were not at all the experience I had anticipated.

The second film in the programme, "A Movie" (1958) from artist Bruce Connor, was also not as interesting as it might have been, as he cobbled together fairly familiar disaster footage -- collapsing bridges, the Hindenberg, and the atom bomb.  The third film, a slightly longer Italian short from 1965 called "La verifica incerta", did have a certain strange fascination.  It comprised brief clips from recognizable Hollywood scope films (shown elongated in the wrong ratio with noisy Italian overdubbing), intercut in inventive ways -- a series of doors or windows opening or shutting, heroes from one scene interacting with those in another, all done with an underlyingly sly sense of humour.  It was fun in a way to spot Clark Gable, James Coburn, Susan Hayward, and many more in this creative mash-up.  However I doubt I would be tempted to attend a similar programme in the future.

So what else have I been up do?  For a start I have been working my way through a Gloria Swanson box-set and I still have a way to go.  Although she is one of the 'great' names from the silent era, I was not as familiar with her output as I thought I was.  I had previously only seen some of her dated shorts when she began filming as a teenager, the truly remarkable but incomplete "Queen Kelly" shot by Von Stroheim, and the rediscovered 'lost' film "Beneath the Rocks" (1922) which was frankly a little tedioso.  Of course I was more familiar with some of her talkie flops in the 30s and her most iconic role of all in Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), which will guarantee her immortality.  Anyhow I have now watched three of her movies from 1919 ("Male and Female", Don't Change your Husband", and "Why Change Your Wife") and "The Affairs of Anatol" (1921) -- all produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. I am now a little mystified by her silent super-stardom: she was neither a great beauty nor the intuitive comedienne that legend suggests; she was quite adequate in all four films but her performances fell short of taking my breath away.  Far more interesting were Thomas Meighan in the first of these film's riff on "The Admirable Crichton" and the ill-fated Wallace Reid as Anatol (he died just over a year later from morphine addiction at the age of 33).  In fact in all four movies Swanson came across as the spoiled and petulant woman that she quite probably was in real life.  I'm happy to have watched these DeMille lightweight, racy-for-the-times sex romps and will persevere with the balance of the box set, but I am not convinced that Swanson deserves her place in the Hollywood pantheon -- "Sunset Boulevard" apart. 

Of course the above is just the tip of the iceberg since I last wrote and I have also seen "Hot Tub Time Machine" (a waste of time from the normally reliable John Cusack), "From Paris with Love" (another forgettable outing for the bumptious -- nowadays -- John Travolta), and "Agora" (a strangely plodding story of old Alexandria with Rachel Weisz).  We also managed at long last to clear from the backlog the 1979 Russian epic "Siberiade" -- 260 minutes of Soviet history seen through the eyes of two feuding and eccentric Siberian families, quirky, fascinating, and generally more than a little strange.  And that's not all....but let's leave some of it for next time.
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