Archive for the Film Category

Intermezzo – 1936

Posted in Film, Foreign Language with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by shesaidsvengali

Intermezzo - 1936

It is with a heavy heart that I come to you today. I had so hoped to share with you Intermezzo, the film that launched Ingrid Bergman to international fame. Originally filmed in 1936, this Swedish film was remade in America in 1939, and to my utter disgust, that’s the only copy of it I can find online. I couldn’t even find a better picture to use than the one you see to your left. Why it was necessary to remake this film, I will never know. I suppose reading subtitles was far too much to ask of an English-speaking audience at the time. While the remake does utilize the talents of legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland (of Citizen Kane fame) I question whether it can compare to the original.  At least we have the success Intermezzo to thank in both of its incarnations for launching Bergman’s career. Without it, who knows who may have starring with Bogey in Casablanca.

Since I can’t give you a link to the original Swedish version, I suppose that I will have to make due with the English remake. I can’t say much about the remake as I have never seen it, but if it’s anything like the original, it is worth a viewing based on the story alone. In the original, Bergman plays Anita Hoffman, a piano teacher who falls in love with her pupil’s father, Holger Brandt (played by Gosta Ekman), an internationally renowned concert violinist. Brandt leaves his family for a torrid love affair with Anita, and takes her on tour as his accompanist. It isn’t long before Anita realizes that Brandt’s place is not with her, but with his wife and children and that their relationship was nothing more than a brief “intermezzo” in his life. It’s a beautiful interpretation of what would be referred to today as a midlife crisis. You wind up really feeling for all the characters, even if some of them were less than noble at times.

I highly recommend this film based on the fact that we all go through an “intermezzo” from time to time. I’m not advocating leaving your family – quite the contrary in fact. If anything, this film illuminates the fact that although we may feel at times that we need a change it is important to remember what is the most important in your life. Affairs never end well and even if you have the best of intentions it can only end in tears. To quote the eloquent words of Rod Stewart: “Why, oh why – would you give it all up for a moment of glory?” If anyone would know, it would be Rod.

If you are ever able to get your hands on a copy of the 1936 version, buy it. Watch it. Suck it up and read the subtitles. Until then, I grudgingly bring you Intermezzo: A Love Story. *Gag*
 
 
Glücklicher Geburtstag, Leibchen.
 
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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Posted in Film, Horror with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2010 by shesaidsvengali
Author’s Note:      

In an effort to help first time viewers to watch the film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari with as little knowledge of the plot as possible, there will be no links included in this blog entry. If you are planning to view this film, I beg you, please don’t research it beforehand. While it might not entirely ruin the experience for you, I feel it will diminish it. There was a time when you could have a “cold viewing” and I am advocating a return to that type of viewership. Thank you.      

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari - 1920

 

German expressionism is by and large my favorite movement in art. Prior to my discovery of this genre I was a card-carrying Surrealism fan, but after viewing Kirchner’s Self Portrait as a Soldier, I became enamoured of the German Expressionist Movement. To be fair, Kirchner’s painting was just a small part of a documentary I viewed in my Humanities class in college, but the image of the soldier with no hand has stayed with me. I was also pleased to discover that as well as painting and literature, film played a large part in the expressionist movement in Germany and wouldn’t you know it, some of my all time favorite films were expressionist films. The most beloved of these, is Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.     

Made in 1920 by Robert Weine and starring Conrad Veidt Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is what you might call an exercise in intellectual intercourse. The film begins with a young man named Francis telling his elderly companion about the strange events that he and his fiancé, Jane, have experienced. Then a flashback sequence begins in which we meet Dr. Caligari, a mountebank, and his somnambulist, Ceasare, who make their living as a sideshow act. Ceasare’s eternal sleep allows him to see the future which Caligari capitalizes on in his sideshow act. Interested in what Ceasare might see in their future, Francis and his friend Alan go to the show, but quickly regret their curiosity when Ceasare informs Alan that he will die at dawn. Sadly, the prophesy is fulfilled and the rest of the film consists of Jane and Francis trying to get to the bottom of what is going on with Caligari and Ceasare.     

A set design from "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"

 

While I hesitate to say much with regard to the plot of the film, I will comment on the aesthetic aspect of the film. I don’t know about you, but I love things that are visually engaging. That’s why I prefer Fox News to CNN, despite my left leaning philosophy. Fox is just more interesting to look at. Whoever is in charge of aesthetics over there is doing a really good job. I digress – my point here is that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is a beautiful, arresting, and engaging film. It’s silent, and I know that can be a tough sell for people who have never been exposed to such a thing, but I am confident that if you give it a try you won’t be disappointed.     

Dr. Caligari, Ceasare, and Jane

 

I discovered Caligari sometime between my junior and senior year in high school and I am still amazed that anytime I watch it, I seem to discover something new. What they were able to achieve with matte painting and set construction is astounding considering the limited resources and materials available at the time. The sets are arguably characters in their own right and do as much to tell the story as the actors themselves. As a matter of fact, the “performance” of the set is definitely more engaging than that of the protagonist. Of course, that could be because I like a bad guy and the environment in which the story unfolds is a bad guy if ever I met one.  I am transported anytime I am presented with even a still from this film. It has captured my imagination and it haunts my sleep as only a truly fine piece of art could. This world of Caligari is a dark demon lurking deep in your subconscious just waiting to be discovered.     

Murder by Television

Posted in Murder Mystery with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2010 by shesaidsvengali

Murder by Television - 1935

I should begin here by telling you that I love Bela Lugosi. I don’t mean I love him like I love cloves, bad movies, or guitar feedback. Oh no, I love him with a lust that has surpasses time and space causing me to wonder if the desire to surrender my body to his visage on-screen makes me a necrophiliac or just a fan girl. I mean, I don’t want to make out with his bones or anything – but as he was on film – zounds! I don’t know what the fascination with William Powell and Clark Gable was; Bela Lugosi was clearly a walking streak of sex. So, it was out of my lust – I mean love for Mr. Lugosi that I chose to review the cinematic gem Murder by Television.

Haven’t heard of it? Well, who could blame you? Made in 1935, this B-rate flick of the highest order is as politically incorrect as it is technologically outlandish. The only reason to watch may be the fact that Lugosi is in it. The premise revolves around the newly invented television and the advent of mass broadcast. Inventor James Houghland has discovered the key to mass broadcast without the use of relays (although I don’t know how that would have been possible without satellites). The networks (also in their infancy) want this technology so much that they are willing to kill for it, leaving Houghland dead and the rest of the cast involved in a whodunit mystery reminiscent of the game CLUE!

Lugosi plays Houghland’s assistant, Arthur Perry, a rather small part, but still manages to give one of the best performances in the film. He is definitely the diamond in the rough when you compare his performance to some of the others. While it is sometimes hard to decipher what is going on with his character in the film, the fault lies not with Lugosi, but rather with the writing. Among the many story problems that become immediately evident is the fact that Lugosi’s accent marks him as an outsider, but no one seems to notice. It is as though he was just like everyone else, but with a speech impediment or something. It is very strange considering the racial atmosphere of the film.

Comic relief is provided by the antics of the wise cracking Chinese butler and the “mammy” style black cook. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this actress actually played “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind as well as many other similar parts throughout her career. While these two functioned well as comic relief, it was rather uncomfortable to watch them in these antiquated and brutally racist roles. It’s almost painful to watch, and it’s an interesting dichotomy to the avoidance of Lugosi’s “otherness”. Another instance of racial stereotyping can be seen in the portrayal of the bumbling Irish gardener, however, because his role is less prevalent the racism is not as glaring.

If the viewer is able to ignore the blatant racial prejudice present within the film, there is still the matter of complete and utter stupidity when it comes to the method of murder in this murder mystery. What was supposed to have been a heartening warning against the unknown powers of new technology looks ridiculous when judged by today’s standards. The characters in the film are marveling over television – meanwhile I can watch that self-same film on my Ipod while I am running on the treadmill at the gym. The premise is simply nonsensical. That said, if you are a fan of Lugosi or if you like watching ridiculous murder mysteries, you could do a lot worse than Murder by Television. From a technical aspect it is a decent film with fairly good production quality. The basic script elements are present and fleshed out. The issue with Murder by Television is that it is based on a really dumb idea.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, Murder by Television!

Welcome to “She Said Svengali”!

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , on January 3, 2010 by shesaidsvengali

Welcome to our little corner of the web where you can find all you ever wanted to know about classic public domain films! We will be updating 5 days a week with information and links to some of the best forgotten films of the past 100 or so years. If you have any suggestions for films to review or if you need some help locating that hard to find title, please feel free to comment on any post, or email us at virginiaunderground.com.

Get yourself some popcorn and I’ll be back soon with our first feature presentation!