Posts Tagged silent film

Stunt Vamps in Venice

The machine keeps chugging.

WHO SAW HER DIE?

When one does encounter a giallo that not only tugs at the emotional heart strings, but actually succeeds in connecting with the viewer on a more affecting level, the effect can seem amplified. Aldo Lado’s moody 1972 thriller Who Saw Her Die? is the rare giallo that attempts this, and the rare that succeeds, and it is thanks primarily to a committed performance from former James Bond George Lazenby in a role that puts him through an emotional ringer.

 IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 4: LIGHTNESS AND DARK

If Pearl White was the blond haired, vivacious face of a new, can-do America, Theda Bara was its shadow. Dark, mysterious, dangerous. If Pearl could pluck you out of the jaws of death, Theda was the woman who would sacrifice you to it. Her dark, kohl-smeared eyes enticed you, and she laughed as you willingly destroyed yourself for her. America loved her as much as they feared her. Pearl White bucked traditional notions of feminine helplessness and subservience, but Theda actively attacked it, preyed on male weakness and exploited it, never with the altruistic sense of adventure and do-goodism as Pearl. For a young film industry that needed a foil, and a way to capitalize on the popular interest in Spiritualism, the Orient, and in particular Egypt, Theda Bara was perfect. There was only one problem: it was all bullshit.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Killers and Thrillers

A couple things going on over at Mezzanotte. First, our giallo theme continues with a film that is the gold standard for stupid, hateful, callous characters. In addition, we hit 100 likes on Facebook, so we’re celebrating with a second series looking at the early days of silent serial cinema, focusing (as much as I ever “focus”) on 1910’s Frankenstein and Louis Feuillade’s Fantomas and Les Vampires. Parts 1 and 2 of that are up now.

THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS

The joke is often made (or it has been here, at any rate) that giallo are populated by people who are, to put it mildly, not of the best quality. The kind of people who will make love and then roll over and engage pillow talk like, “I can’t believe my sister was raped and murdered by a sex maniac on this bed just yesterday.” The kind of people who will say to someone who just suffered through a terrible trauma, “Well really, I don’t understand why you’re so upset. Your daughter was murdered, so what?” When it comes to truly loathsome characters in giallo, few can match Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris, a film in which pretty much everyone is hateful or stupid; or more often, hateful and stupid.

IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 1: AN EXERCISE IN PUERILE BARBARITY

Night falls, bringing with it a hush as the good people of Paris scurry home to the warmth of family and dinner and an evening spent with a snifter of Cognac and the evening paper. A lone figure – thin, lank, almost a wraith – skulks across a rooftop, a black shadow in a black hood creeping through a black night. A woman undresses, – safe, she assumes, in the sanctum of her bedroom, with the warmth of incandescent light to chase away the night. She does not see the black-gloved hand emerging slowly from behind the curtain, holding a slim dagger poised to be plunged into her exposed back. Strange things were happening on the streets of Paris in 1913.

IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 2: MARY AND THE MONSTER

At first, the 1910 Frankenstein plays coy with the doctor’s abomination. After the phantasmagorical creation scene, which stops short of showing the fully-formed creature, we see the monster first only as a horrifying, dead-looking, clawed arm slowly reaching out toward Frankenstein from behind a heavy metal door. Once again, any Edison company claims that this isn’t a horror film become ridiculous. This is horror, pure and simple, and one can only imagine how audiences reacted to that hideous, withered arm groping out from its alchemist’s furnace. Dr. Frankenstein himself certainly reacts poorly to it, throwing up his arms in unholy terror and fleeing to his bedroom, where he promptly faints for the first of what will prove to be a surprising number of times for a film so short.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Carmilla and Carl

vampyr51VAMPYR: FROM CARMILLA TO CARL DREYER
It started out simply enough, as a review of the 1932 horror film VAMPYR. But as in all aspects of life, I have no self-control, and so off we go into a history of vampire literature, the transition from silent to sound film, the Pagan-horror stories of Arthur Machen, the wild costume parties of Baron Nicolas Louis Alexandre de Gunzburg, and yeah, somewhere in there we talk about Vampyr.

“As mentioned, the film’s protagonist is Allan Grey (Julian West), described in a title card as a man steeped in the study of the occult and macabre secrets of the world and prone to wandering the land in search of mysterious experiences (inspired, some claim, by the character of Dr. Martin Hesselius from In a Glass Darkly). That might be one of the earliest examples of the “informed attribute,” when a movie insists that a character embodies a particular skill or trait despite all evidence on screen to the contrary. Allan Grey seems to have absolutely no knowledge of the occult or any sort of competency in identifying it or dealing with it. In fact, his sole skills seem to be looking in windows and bugging his eyes out in confused terror.”


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Mad Science and Martian Maidens

Mad Science and Martian Maidens:
The Science Fiction Adventures of Aleksey Tolstoy

aelita1Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy was Russia’s less internationally known Tolstoy. While the one was writing thousand-page tomes about sad people losing things (pretty sure that’s the plot of most Leo Tolstoy books) that would be forced upon generation after generation, the other Tolstoy was writing slick science fiction adventures like Aelita (1923, adapted into a movie a year later), Engineer Garin (1924), and Count Cagliostro, which American high school students did not get to read, since there was no time left after plodding through Anna Karenina — in which absolutely no one travels to Mars, builds a death ray, or practices alchemy. Both Aelita and Engineer Garin were adapted into films, the first during the silent era, and the second during the heyday of the swingin’ sixties.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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