Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Sprocketed Sources: More Frank Capra.I've been on Frank Capra's case...

Thursday, 7 February 2019

ITALIAN JOBS.

Italy is the world I know turned around just enough to be surprising - sewer covers lettered SPQR like the art direction in the gladiator movies, pets in food stores. A friend in open sandals found a dog the size of a pony took an interest in her toes.

Getting back to Rome after fifty years I’m still struck by how much their movie scene still lags behind Paris.

The TV was plugging Cinecittà World a theme park near the studios 45 minutes outside Rome but the promo was all water slides and bikini girls, neither of which I was in a situation to enjoy. The day I thought about going it was closed. Visitors said that the sets that you can inspect in the actual studio were more interesting.

In the area where I was staying, there were three cinemas. One was padlocked. One was closed for the summer and one was Nanni Moretti’s small art movie house Cinema Sacher doing the Ceylan Ahlat Agaci / The Wild Pear Tree twice a day.

Exploring further I did find a couple of store front multiplexes and I passed a nineteen- screen multisala in the train but I didn’t get to see their insides with the time constraints. There was also the old problem. Most films in Italy are dubbed into Italian.

 Now they do get a few films showing in original language versions, six at the moment in Rome - most big budget Anglo American productions. Five of their seven top box office movies are American but those returns come from the Italian dubbed versions.

Curiously the one Italian film I did see, Saverio Costanzo’s L'amica geniale / My Brilliant Friend, actually half a TV series being presented in a theatrical version, was subtitled - into Italian presumably to deal with the problems of regional dialect. That one covered the two Neapolitan school girls growing up in the 1950s poor suburb where the women converse from the balconies while drama plays out at street level. Most memorable episode has the two girls hiding their school uniforms and setting out to walk to the ocean which they never reach, like the lovers in the 1969 John Huston A Walk With Love and Death. 

 With it’s studiofied look and obvious plot dynamics - the nice people getting roughed up while heavies like the bullying bar owner pull ahead - this one plays like an inferior Ettore Scola film. Max Richter’s score is an asset.

The language problem persists into the shrinking DVD market. The La Felterinelli chain
seems to be the last source. They have gulped down Ricordi Milan, my favourite Italian
DVD store,  and shifted some of it’s people to the their shop in the Central Rail Station.
Their stock is extensive  but it is nearly all in Italian including the foreign movies. These are again overwhelmingly recent though there is a good representation on Alberto Sordi. Some of the stock is sub-titled - In Italian. It seems that deaf Italians are a considered a better market that the rest of the world. Their disks were too expensive to speculate on.
L'amica geniale

A few of the street news kiosks have standees with cheap, dust covered boxed DVDs but the overwhelming bulk of those are old American movies dubbed into Italian.

Milan, the country’s second largest city, has some of the most beautiful cinema auditoria I know. The sub-titles problem persists and their quasi Cinematheque has been moved from a down town location to their Film School dedicated to the memory of Luchino
Visconti in the Museo Interattivo del Cinema in the Manifattura Tabacchi at 121 Viale Fulvio Testi, on the outskirts a couple of stops before the end of the Metro.

I investigated - a few nice things like a selection of WW1 era movie posters, André Deed, Tom Mix
and the rest, and a monitor running theater advertising from the forties.
Museo Interattivo Milan.
Turin Film Museum.

They had a lengthy compilation of Milan filmed movie clips - lots of  Visconti’s Rocco e i suoi fratelli, nothing from Lizzani’s 1968 Banditi a Milano/ The Violent Four or the Kautner 1962 Die Rote. Characteristic of these, the projected image was washed out by the flood lighting for an exhibit where you can insert yourself into a picture with Woody Allen. As I was the only visitor (they were really helpful finding an English speaking staffer to show me around) they turned this off for my benefit.

Like the more ambitious and thoroughly disappointing Turin film Museum this one was
produced to a museum sensibility - artifacts and touch screens. However, unlike Turin
where they have to go up the road to the local multiplex, Milan has it’s own theater with a
regular screening program.

The day I was there they showed a nice Digital restoration of Mauro Bolognini’s 1972
Imputazione di omicidio per uno studente / Chronicle of a Homicide

This one is Bolognin’s idea of a Damiani style Years of Lead political thriller. Massimo Ranieri (Bolognini’s Metello) is the son of Judge Martin Balsam and still looking good
Valentia Cortese. Ranieri is involved in student politics and at a demonstration sees a cop
kill a manifestor. Ranieri takes out the officer with a metal knuckle duster starting an
intense police hunt.

Balsam conducts his own investigation and finds brutality and corruption in the force and at the Palace of Justice. Officers intent on covering their own tails are roughing up one of the protestors in the hope of getting the identity of the cop killer and they raid student headquarters. Ranieri confesses to Balsam and hands over the weapon and Martin finds his wife siding with the boy. Much anguish as he tries to reconcile his life long beliefs and the realities that conflict with them.

The performances were superior and film making was standard issue Italian seventies A feature but the content was boiler plate. Their notion of Student Headquarters with Che posters on the wall and topless Marxist model girls wandering about was comic. It did not reflect my experience of female Marxists.

We were an audience of three. I think the other two worked in the building. I did get  to chat with the operator who described his Two K presentation and mentioned that they still used 35mm for films that only existed in that format like the Toto movie from the day before. They were in the middle of a Hitchcock season. It would have been interesting to see whether that drew better attendances.

I also managed to catch Alessandro Aronadio’s  Basta credere, Io c'è / Just Believe an
intermittently clever comic new Italian A feature take on religion with good people. It has been shown here in festivals.

In that Edoardo Leo’s inheritance is wiped out by the uniform currency and he finds himself
struggling to make a living running the family home as a B&B returning 200 Euro a
month after taxes. Sister Margherita Buy does his accounts and offers to buy him out,
with her husband who turns out to be a low life.

However noticing Gegia Gegia’s  nuns across the square don’t pay anything, Leo starts
thinking.  He checks into their “Franciscan” operation with its Four AM mass and a giant Madonna in his room and decides to start his own religion. Leo consults a priest, a rabbi
and a mullah who all get stern with him - a cross cut faith montage like the one in Aamir
Khan’s great 2014 Indian film P.K.

Edoardo turns to his friend minimally published author author Giuseppe Battison who
works up the theology of “selfism” which pivots on the mirror Leo bought in a flea
market for 12 Euro.

Leo with the faithful: Basta credere, Io c'è
They don’t have commandments - just suggestions.

This proves a success and livens up his social life but Leo finds he’s dug himself into a
pit with his followers’ demands, Battison going apostate and a court action after Leo smashes the mirror - destroying a religious object.

Buy is wasted but the agro, dark glasses wearing, graffiti painting nuns are a great comic
concept.

It would be interesting to hang about long enough to find out what the dynamics driving
the Italian film scene really are.




Saturday, 26 January 2019

Fox, the Archives and Will Rogers.

The Will Rogers Story.

The big gap in my understanding of Hollywood had always been the films the William
Fox Company made before the merger with Daryl Zanuck's Twentieth Century.  Zanuck put his own earlier films, like Call of the Wild, into re-issue in preference to the old Fox product, though some of it did get used to make weight in TV packages in the black and white years.

This meant that I never got to see the body of the work of stars like Victor McLaglan, Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrel, Warner Baxter and  Will Rogers. A few of these bubbled up in John Ford retrospectives but they were the exception.

This left the Fox films near virgin territory for DVD re-issues and suddenly they surfaced in great box sets. Murnau and Borzage were treated handsomely. Possibly even more impressive is sudden access to the work of Will Rogers who I had thought of as a celebrity moonlighting in movies, knowing mainly his silent comedy shorts or The Headless Horseman (Edward D. Ventururini 1922) where he was a bad match for Ichabod Crane. As a few of the films from his tragically brief sound career surfaced, Dr. Bull, Ambassador Bill, even A Connecticut Yankee, this impression was confirmed. 

Now I've only begun on the newly available titles and already I've had to revise my estimate and start to understand Rogers as the biggest movie star earner of the early thirties.

Pick of the batch has been Henry King's 1933 State Fair with Rogers pretty much the ultimate in folksiness. This one’s legend has been inflated by it’s eighty year inaccessibility. That makes insignificant the periods when Vertigo or Passenger went off the market. The only comparable phenomenon would be the the return of the 1916 Ivan Mozjoukine-Protazanov Queen of Spades after revolution, civil war, Joseph Stalin, and the Iron Curtain with a reputation kept alive by the dwindling number of aging admirers who saw it first run.

State Fair kicks off on the Frake (Rogers) farm which is a whole twenty five miles away from the state capital where they exhibit at the annual agricultural show. Locals go round saying “I’ll bet my hide” and “You mark my word” while neighbor Frank Craven (the original narrator in "Our Town") is an authority on Emerson.

Dad Will is found talking to Blue Boy his prize hog. Daughter Janet Gaynor locates son Norman Foster practicing the hoopla complete with stall holder pitch, using mother Louise Dresser’s embroidery hoops, preparing to get his own back on the carney who cheated him out of the eight dollars he had to spend to win a pearl handled revolver which wouldn’t shoot, while Dresser (Catharine the Great in the Valentino The Eagle) is making her mincemeat pie entry for the baking contest.

Sate Fair : Rogers and Dresser with hair brush.
There’s their truck journey which has a hint of Grapes of Wrath and second unit footage of the real tent city that accommodates the farmers come for the fair. Foster gets stuck into humiliating cheating stall owner Victor Jory, of whom we could see more, and Sally Eilers, the airialist on  Edgar Vess’ Loop-the-Loop light bulb attraction comes to the boy’s aid, claiming her dad is the local constable when sharpy Jory is exposed. (“Watch aint got no works in it") Victor observes “It’s a good thing your father’s a policeman and not a burglar”. 

Rogers is quite generous in sharing the screen and not imposing his star status but poor Foster spends his time with his back to the camera in the scenes he plays with Gaynor who dominates all her footage. Her character has a problem. “A girl can’t go gallivanting about the carnival by herself.” Then Lew Ayres shows up as her potential squeeze with some nicely written material about him not wanting to spoil her reputation by being seen with a city dude like him.

Some of the comedy is a bit on the disturbing side. Ma’s mincemeat, where she says “I’m
not gonna put liquor in my cooking”, ends up getting a double dose of Apple brandy which
gives the approving judge the DTs and Blue boy, who seemed to be part of the family to the point where Will urges Janet to stretch out along side him (“Anybody gets to sleep next to a hog like that. He’s been washed and curried” - using mom’s Xmas present hair brush) faces
being turned into hams at the end.

This is early in the era of back projection and the plates shot by Joe Valentine & Hammeras
the year before in Des Moines get a lot of action including the elaborate tracking shot of the
midway with the actor on a tread mill and foreground objects being pushed past him. This
is a novelty that would wear off.

The superior cast are all at their peak and the film may be considered it's director's best and most characteristic work. It still has the ability to charm an audience with it's nice balance of knowing and innocence. It is one of the most effective of the romanticized accounts of rural life which dominated the Fox schedule.

It's however James (Covered Wagon) Cruze's all but forgotten 1934 David Harum which is probably Rogers’ best movie. One celebrity, who caught the original showing, rated it as the greatest film of all time. It’s one where Will does the “I only know what I read in the papers” signature line.

 Discussions at their Gentleman's club in 1893 New York, with General Noah Beery in one of his rare sympathetic parts, are geared to an audience going through the great depression. “Panic is a lot like war. It’s easy to get into but you’ve got to fight to get out.” Rogers' folksey maxims are more like the ones the studio gave Charlie Chan than the Mark Twain sound they are striving for.

There’s a flashback to Will getting bested in a horse trade with Deacon Charles Middleton who Will gets back. “You don’t tell the other feller everything you know." Will's unmarried sister, regular co star Louise Dresser again and not doing much for her billing, reproaches him about taking down a man of the cloth.

David Harum ; Rogers and Venable
Super appealing Evelyn Venable (she held Columbia's trade mark torch) shows up and Beery gets Will to find a spot for his young friend Kent Taylor after his loss of family fortune and the sweet heart who rejected him as a suddenly poor suitor. We know that pair are going to be the obligatory young lovers even without the giveaway of their lead billing. They are a particularly winning couple which makes our knowledge of their miserable subsequent careers quite poignant.


Kent arrives at “Homeville” in the snow and is exploited by the only cab driver and the hotel
owner who offers him the daily rate when he hears he’s going to be working for town banker David Harum / Rogers and, when asked for a couple of chops for supper after the kitchen has closed, stiffs Kent with a can of sardines and plate of crackers in the room with the leaking roof and a hole in the window.

Next morning the locals are gossiping in Kent's hearing about the city dude who expected supper after dining room hours and giving him more feed back on the mean banker. When Rogers shows up the young man repeats this to him, not knowing who he is, but at that point a pair of pug ugly locals appear tearing up their loan repayment form and being warned by Will that he’s outsmarted them with an affidavit from the relative whose signature they forged. This develops into a punch up which Taylor joins and is only saved from being clobbered with an iron hitching weight (more local color) by Venable having at the holder with a riding crop - suitable meet cute.

In another horse trade with Middleton, Stepin Fetchit is included (!) at his most shambling, soaking his feet in the dish washing water and made the victim in horse jokes. Fetchit's screen character remains the central exhibit in studies of the demeaning work given blacks in Hollywood but one theory suggests that the comic "coon" he personified was a form of resistance to white domination, muttering abuse in the negro jargon only they knew and shamming stupidity as revenge. Rogers, who may have been in on this, at one point tells Stepin he can't understand him.  While Fetchit's sub human character is clearly now offensive, the actor is still rather winning. It made him the first Hollywood black millionaire star.

Fetchit gets the In Old Kentucky (Rogers did the sound remake) sub plot of the black servant girl wanting to win at the Harness races to finance their wedding. He also has a nice but too brief victory dance.

Rogers, Middleton and Fetchit

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Cinematheque


Cinémathèque Française.

It was a phenomenon I’d noticed before: 400 films running in Paris at one time and the film freaks all turn up for the same one - this time Claude Autant Lara’s 1942 Lettres d’amour, part of a Cinémathèque Française season of French films of the forties. 

  Afterwards the group, come from all around the world, compared notes and agreed that 40 programs a week, running for 11 months of the year, from the widest range of product,with all foreign material captioned, silent films scored and formats correct is a mind boggling resource.


The Paris Cinémathèque even has a self-correcting capacity. It has just run a near complete Sergio (Django) Corbucci retrospective, after the critical establishment treated him with derision for half a century. Try and sell that in Australia! They weren’t committing box office hari kari either, having already prepared the audience with the odd Sergio in their regular schedule. I saw his 1972 Che c'entriamo noi con la rivoluzione? there about 10 years back. There’s a new book (in French) about him and Peter Cowie, staunch upholder of Ingmar Bergman, now lectures on his films. 

Vittorio Gassman in Sergio Corbucci's 1972 Che c'entriamo noi con la rivoluzione? / What Am I doing in the Middle of a Revolution 
 Anyone who takes full advantage of the Cinémathéque pulls away steadily from movie enthusiasts anywhere else on the planet. In about three years beginners would be able to familiarise themselves with material it’s taken me a lifetime to consider. The question remains as to whether any one is doing that. 

Lettres d’amour itself was disappointing, when you consider it as the Autant Lara film to precede Douce and using that film’s Odette Joyeux and Jean Debucourt. A costume comedy, it lacks the bawdy zest of the director's Fric Frac or Occupe-toi d’Amelie.


Lettres d'amour : Debucourt & Joyeux
The film starts in the small 1855 provincial town of Argenson, when a double decked diligence knocks down the celebratory arch announcing the Napoleon III visit, as dragoons form up with drawn sabres.
 
The promise of this opening dissipates with Emperor Debucourt chatting with the young widowed postmistress, Joyeux, who is covering for her friend, the Prefect’s wife Simone Renant, by collecting the letters from Renant’s city lover, a young François Perier, whose mash note gets mixed in with the documents his superior is signing.
 
To pursue his liaison, Perier has himself appointed temporary magistrate in Argenson. When his note turns up in court, his refusal to let it be read out is taken as an act of integrity by the townspeople, who don’t know he’s the author. Merry japes ensue. 
 
Of course Perier and Joyeux become an item, and when it looks as if he will be busted, she threatens to blow the whistle on the local power structure by revealing that it was her influence with the Emperor that got her her job.
 
 A subplot introduces the little fiddle teacher Julien Carette, who is the only one who gets laughs while struggling to train the locals in an elaborate quadrille for the ball, where their skill surprises the visiting dignitaries.
 
Christian Dior’s elaborate costumes seem to be wearing the players, particularly in the ballroom climax. This is a ponderous example of the French forties costume drama (think Ruy Blas, Le bossu) ) and is short on charm or invention. In a lackluster cast Perier, given business like the peg and ball game (which he can’t master), is yet to find his character but there’s some interest in watching him try.  
 
Also included was La boîte aux rêves / Box of Dreams directed in 1945 by Yves Allégret. In this long lost piece  offers synthetic jollity from the end of WW2. Friends Franck Villard, René Lefevre, Henri Guisol and Armontel share a “fantasie bohème” in a Wahkevich two tier studio-built apartment, complete with lights dimming to generate sunset on the view of the painted backdrop city outside the balcony window. Only the René Clair lead actor Lefevre is in his element with bits of comic business, like eating his salad with one of the darts he has been throwing at the faithless blonde’s photo.  
  
 At their lively party Vivienne Romance decides to move in. She flannels the delivery guy into waiting for his bill and sorts out the boys’ businesses. Her maid, a barely recognisable Simone Signoret, shows up briefly to prop up the deception and Gerard Phillipe also has an early two-line part mentioning having been given a movie role as Raimu’s brother. And that’s about as funny as it gets. 

 The guys all hanker after Romance but she is homing in on Villard, baring his

La Boîte aux rêves : Romance & Villard.

(narrow) torso down to his Y-fronts. He’s a more plausible lead in Marcel Pagliero’s Les Amant’s de Bras Morts a few years later. 
 One scene curiously anticipates the dinner in Vincent, Paul, François et les autres when Romance calls Villard a painter who never paints, Lefevre an actor who never performs, Armontel a writer who never writes and Guisol a musician who never plays. Her departure shocks them into creative activity even if Villard’s admired portrait of her is really a piece of crude poster art. 
 
 The film is studio phony, too long and has a mean streak, getting the goose drunk at the party, dismissing the butler with a hand gesture and kicking the blonde in the pants. Allegret struggles to make it move along with quick, inventive camera movements and rhythmic-edited close ups, usually of the lead quartet. Odd for its assistant director René Clément to come out of this environment.

 The season’s pay-off, however, was my viewing of Pour une nuit d'amour / Passionnelle of 1947, possibly Edmond T. Gréville’s best work.

Pour une nuit d'amour : Joyeux
 The Tavernier documentary paints Gréville as the neglected master of French cinema but I know him mainly from his English language output - Mademoiselle Docteur, with his regular star Erich Von Stroheim, Naughty Arlette, Noose, Guilty and Beat Girl, a mixed selection to say the least, having nothing to suggest the intensity of Pour une nuit d'amour.
 
 The early stages are costume heavy scene setting. A humble telegrapher, Roger Blin, is ridiculed as an épouvantaille scarecrow by the chorus of village washerwomen at the river - which is odd because he is the best looking guy around. There is some dumb byplay with him protecting the poor mute girl that doesn’t go anywhere. His friendship with cobbler Henri Arius is better.
 
 Blin has the hots for Joyeux again, here as the daughter of the big house, with
Pour Une Nuit d'amour : Blin
him repeating her “Bonsoir” when she acknowledges him and watching her from his window in the shoemaker’s shop. She is betrothed to visiting Count, Jacques Castelot, but has been having an affair with the local ladies man, Raymond Galle - both suitors wearing silly mustaches. So far so so, with Jean Weiner’s score - a flute solo goes with Blin walking - and lots of filming in depth of costume and period decor the best points. 
 However, comes the night of the ball and Joyeux calls Blin in through the rear doorway - hand protruding to lead him. “You say you love me. What will you do for me?” He replies “Everything.” She throws back the bed cover to reveal Galle’s body. She’s taken him down with a heavy candlestick for trying to ruin her rich match. Odette promises Blin a night with her as reward. Flashback to the fair, with her waltzing, while her shawl floats around the dancing couple.
 
Blin carries the body through the town in the dark - a celluloid cuff dropping to be washed away in the gutter. Meeting the local gendarmes, he puts a cigarette into the corpse’s lips and passes the body off as a fellow drunkard. Then dumping the dastard into the river, he comes back, picking up the dead man’s dropped shoe and enters the mansion. Joyeux is willing to make good her promise but he indignantly refuses. “Jamais!”
 
 Now the subject of a police hunt, Blin makes for the hills leaving Joyeux appalled by what she has done. When she tells her mum, Sylvie (her personal best?), that she is going to confess, her parents are shocked, envisioning the engineered match with the visiting aristocrat (who is not above slipping into the barn with a sexy servant girl) collapsed, ruining them all. 
 
Papa André Alerme, doing comic with his lead soldiers, is no match against Sylvie’s resolve as she contemplates the failure of their matchmaking. “C’etait le fin d’un monde - c’ettait le fin du monde.” 
 
Unable to move her parents, Joyeux goes to the convent she has just left and brings the mother superior back with her to intervene, but she too is won over. “You have committed a sin lying to me.” 
 
Her options now all closed off, Joyeux visits Blin in hiding in the hills musket leveled, to tell him she must prepare for the wedding. Blin leaves his sanctuary determined to intervene at the ceremony – a great scene of his purposeful advance with Weiner on the soundtrack, only to have him back off when he sees the couple at the altar from the back of the church and realizes that his action would benefit no one.
 
And we get the last of the film’s similar subject dissolves – a man with walking stick to a man with walking stick, moving feet to moving feet – with Blin’s manacled wrists mixed to Joyeux’ hands clasped as she kneels.
 
 Greville is still heading up the B team here. Even lead Joyeux was not really one of the top stars, although he gets good value out of talents like Weiner and Sylvie. The look is comparable to the best of the contemporary French period films. This Zola adaptation is in exalted company, a companion piece to Douce or Diable au Corps, where other vicious matriarchs sort out willful daughters without regard to genuine morality. Recall also those other contemporary films showing the French establishment as corrupt - the banned Plaisirs d’amour and Le Courbeau.
 
The rest of the season contained old favorites like the Delannoy-Sartre Les jeux sont faits, Serge de Poligny’s excellent Le Barone fantôme with Cocteau, Maurice Tourneur’s Impasse des deux anges the best of the director’s last films, Guitry’s draggy La Malibran and the Louis Daquin kid film Nous les gosses. Given more time I’d have liked to rake through the rest of the 25 films included. 
 
This was not even one of the strains they were foregrounding. Attendance was moderate.

To celebrate the theatrical release of Beoning / The Burning, Korean Lee Chang-Dong’s first film after eight years, the Cinémathèque ran a retrospective of his work. Monstrously long at two and a half hours, Beoning tries for Asian Antonioni. There’s even an enigmatically vanishing girl.
 
 Deliveryman and wannabe writer Ah-In Yoo encounters tombola girl Jong-seo Jeon, who claims to have been his neighbour growing up in rural Paju, not far from the DMZ. Propaganda broadcasts can be heard distantly. Did he rescue her from a well? Were there any wells? Is the cat she wants him to feed in her absence real? They get it on. She’s a winning young woman given to taking her top off and gets a naked dance scene at dusk.

Lee Chang Dong : Beoning / The Burning
Jong-seo Jeon sets off for Africa to live with the tribals but there’s a bomb plot in Nairobi and she returns three days later and asks him to collect her in his farm truck. When he arrives at the airport she’s in the company of well off guy, the enigmatic Steven Yeun Sang-yeop (Westworld), and goes off in his Porsche. “There are so many       Gatsby’s in Korea.”                                                                               

 The three hang together while Ah-In Yoo reluctantly sells his farm and his one remaining cow. Sang-yeop says his idea of fun is setting fire to the plastic and timber frame greenhouses in the farm fields, but none seem to be going up in smoke. Jong-seo Jeon disappears and we see Sang Yeop giving a makeover to his new girlfriend in his luxury flat. Ah-In Yoo has decided he wants the missing girl and ends up killing his rich rival. 
Ah-In Yoo & Jong Seo Jong :Beoning / The Burning.
 What it all means is speculative and the enigmatic tone (Faulkner via Murakami) gets to be tedious when there is nothing in the characters to involve the viewer and the film’s production values are ordinary. Critics are raving, but there’s a lot of that. I always wonder whether they really are impressed or want to signal that they are among the informed elite who recognise material like this. 
 
 Also among this director’s work was the 2002 Oh-Ah-Si-seu/ Oasis, an earlier exercise in the same inconclusive tone. This eccentric romance opens with fresh out of jail lead Kyung-gu Sol getting busted for running up a cafe bill he can’t pay. His family retrieves him and we learn he’d gone in for hit and run. A visit to the home of his victim brings him into contact with their cerebral palsied daughter So-Ri Moon, and given a chance he’s in there with a rape attempt. Looks like this guy is a bad lot. 
 
There are, however, double misleading depictions of the families of the leads, plus details of life in urban South Korea, as the film’s strengths, which makes the relationships mildly involving. On the girl’s wall there’s a tapestry of an Oasis - symbolism or not? Who really cares? Competent handling.
I’ve already covered the Japanese pre-war season and my enthusiasm for Tomu Uchida’s 1933 Keisatsukan/Policeman

I also caught the one-off showing of the Thomas Ince - Reginald Barker 1915 The Despoiler (put into context by historian Marc Vernet promoting his new book on early Hollywood), in which Colonel Charles K. French has captured a Balkan enemy town. There allied, turban wearing Emir Frank Keenan’s troops threaten mass violation of the local women, who have taken shelter with Fanny Midgeley’s nuns in the Abbey. Unbeknown to French, his daughter Enid Markey (later with W. S. Hart in The Captive God and Jane to Elmo Lincoln’s Tarzan) is with them and, when Keenan looks like having his will of her, she shoots him with his service revolver. French is so outraged at the death of his brother-in-arms that he orders the execution of the killer, not realising it is his own daughter. The veiled assassin is shot and revealed as Markey, plunging her dad into grief.
 
The then ambitious production values ran to a unit of horsemen and some obvious set construction and the film provided a chance to see the admired romantic duo of Markey and Keenan.  
 
Though unremarkable, the film was shown to discuss the controversy it’s Teutonic villain provoked among the Chicago German population in supposedly neutral WW1 USA, causing the film to be attacked and banned. I preferred the silents at Pathé’s Centre Jerôme Seydoux.            
                                                
 The Cinémathèque’s big showpiece of the moment was a 50-program career of Leo McCarey, with a lecture by le Monde critic Muriet Joudet and a Cine concert at advanced prices. There’s a new book about McCarey too. As with their major undertakings the programmers were extraordinarily determined, including his TV episodes, remakes of his films and even 1930's Le joueur de golf, a curious half feature in French actually directed by Edgar Kennedy, where McCarey regular Charley Chase stars, handling the language plausibly - much better than Buster Keaton would do in this period.  

Thelma Todd & Charley Chase :Crazy Feet. McCarey script.
McCarey is a film maker who is exceptionally accessible in the days of DVD, from his  Hal Roach apprentice silent quarter hours shot in back streets, developing into a run of great two reelers with Chase, Laurel and Hardy and Max Davidson, then as a reliable shepherd of established thirties comedians - Harold Lloyd, Mae West, Eddie Cantor, Charles Laughton (!) and the Marx Brothers - before moving to his big name A features with Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Gary Cooper and Bing Crosby and his past-his-use-by days in the CinemaScope era.
Over years I’d worked through all of this with varying enthusiasm but there had always been a gap: McCarey’s shift to long form features in the first years of sound, of which only the lackluster Gloria Swanson Indiscreet circulates. In this large season, my timing was right to catch the missing titles. 1929’s The Sophmore was represented by a mute copy so I let that go and Red Hot Rhythm didn’t make the cut, but they did run a couple of his almost never seen early William Fox sound films. These were a change of pace for their director, serious subjects like Fox’s Common Clay rather than McCarey’s jazz age entertainments for Paramount and Goldwyn. 
In the 1930 Wild Company, a protracted scene of department store owner H.B. Warner adjusting his bow ties sets up his fractious relationship with his son Frank Albertson, who keeps over-spending his generous $50 a week allowance. 
 
Albertson takes off in his roadster for the beach club with his sister Joyce Compton, who is barely recognisable and oddly marginalised. His chum sends the girls off in a friend’s car and takes Albertson to Bela Lugosi’s Sports Star Club where, drunk, he harasses the singer, Sharon Lynn (good) who’s keeping company with the silent era’s The Virginian, the shady Kenneth Harlan in one of his better later roles. 
 
Harlan doesn’t find Albertson’s finger gun salute funny. However, he realises that a son of civic reformer Warner could be of use to him, and he puts the girl in Albertson’s path. 
 
Albertson makes off with items from the store for Lynn, so there’s a face off with dad, after which he refuses to come home for dinner, thus upsetting mum Claire McDowell  (the silent Ben Hur's mother). Harlan cons the boy with a story about a fixed back room game, while planning to rob manager Lugosi, who regards this quite pragmatically until he gets shot. Warner, who has rushed to the scene trying to sort out the problem, arrives just in time to see Lugosi’s body on the floor and his son going out the window – an OK piece of staging.
When faced with the law, the bad hats all swear Albertson did the killing, leading Warner to say “Take my boy away too.” 
 
The judge’s verdict is that it’s as much Warner’s fault, through lack of parental control, and, being obliged to send Albertson up for five years, paroles him into the custody of his dad. We are meant to believe that’s the way to handle Flaming Youth. Having a serious message - albeit twaddle - plus the efforts of a talented cast give this some interest, although the handling is mainly dull sustained dialogue two shots without music. Briefly out of doors, a background tennis match is ignored.  
 
Also from 1930, Fox’s Part Time Wife / May I Come In, where Edmund Lowe is the head of troubled Murdoch Oil. He addresses his board, and that’s the last we hear about the oil business. In fact, this is just another early thirties golf movie, like Love in the Rough and All Tee’d Up. Champion player wife Lela Hyams is more interested in the course than in Lowe, and they separate. This was one of the ten films she made in 1930. Lowe then takes up the game for his health and recruits as caddie little orphan boy (Oh! Oh!) Tommy Clifford, who lives in a shack off the course. 
 
There’s a subplot about the boy’s bitza dog recovering from being gassed at the pound and some minor tension during Lowe’s match with his leering rival Walter McGrail, until the dog races onto the green and picks up the ball, forcing Lowe to concede the match in a gentlemanly manner. But the leads’ lack of personality makes their separation and reunion both predictable and uninvolving. 
 
 The film’s one value now is as an example of the early Fox sound film. The only music is under the titles and playout. The full-height picture aperture shows a different frame line on footage sourced independently. It even sounds as if the thing was cut single strip, with a couple of lines off, meant to cue the actors, still audible on edits. It is rare to see these at all, let alone in nice theatrical standard copies, which gave the show interest for me. What the rest of the audience made of them is speculative. 
 
I’d also never seen McCarey’s cheerful, undistinguished pre–code 1931 Paramount musical Let’s Go Native, where a thin plot has choreographer Jeanette McDonald shipping costumes and dancing girls to Argentina for a show while repo man Eugene Palette, who disappears early, has the bailif’s men clearing out her flat. McDonald has rejected playboy James Hall (Hell’s Angels) because he has no job, although she’d be prepared to live on the pitiful salary he could earn - that recurring McCarey plot. 
 
Let's Go Native : Jeanette Mc Donald
 Hall is alienated from his wealthy family because he wants to marry McDonald instead of a family friend’s unseen daughter they’ve selected for him. Guess who? Along with taxi driver Jack Oakie and passenger William Austin (the first movie Batman’s Alfred), he becomes a “trimmer” – a stoker on the liner transporting McDonald. They are all reprieved from the boiler room when the captain discovers Hall’s rich grandfather’s association with the shipping line.

The ship, of course, is sunk and the principals land on a desert island where another castaway, Broadway dance director Skeets Gallagher, is co-ordinating native dancing girls with flat abdomens. Oakie pairs with an underclad Kay Francis, who gets to do their number using her own voice, and the finale runs to hoarded pearls and an erupting volcano.

Let's Go Native : McDonald, Oakie, Austin, Gallagher & chorus
The musical interludes are undistinguished, as McDonald’s material gives way to Oakie’s. The on deck routines climax in a passable montage and the title song "Let's Go Native" has an effects shot where the chorus line in the upper half is reflected inverted in the lagoon below, but that’s as adventurous as the staging gets. All the reviewers quoted Gallagher’s “This was the Virgin Islands but it drifted”. I can’t see the fervent Catholic McCarey happy with this racy for 1931 material. He thought his (draggy) 1958 Rally Round the Flag Boys was obscene. 
 
We come away from his retrospective able to recognise Leo McCarey's input into his films.  Let’s Go Native’s throwing hats over the side after the demo with the boater which sails back to its owner is very Laurel & Hardy and the wise crack line about “The only thing that guy’s head did was keep his ears apart” is recycled thirty years later in Rally Round the Flag Boys. His newspaper headline montages are a cop out way to do plot developments in Wild Company and Belle of the Nineties and young Clifford’s dog being brought from the old country anticipates the even more saccharine material with Barry Fitzgerald’s aged mum in Going My Way - another golfing film.  McCarey’s take on parental responsibility protrudes from his two worst films, Wild Company and the dreadful My Son John.  Bunching his films together, you spot a recurring premise, explicit in Let’s Go Native, Make Way for Tomorrow, Good Sam or Affair to Remember, that the value of a man is his ability to support a woman. I don’t know how that would fly in the current climate.
 
Frank Albertson getting sage advise from H.B.Warner - note director initials on the still number.
I wonder about intense scrutiny of Leo McCarey or Lee Chang-dong - or John M. Stahl or the Renoir-Bergman-Antonioni repertory, particularly when director season programming sidelines film makers as substantial as Alan Crossland, Alf Sjöberg or Tomu Uchida along with one off movies - think The Congress Dances, Forbidden Planet or Pakeeza. Are celebrity seasons all that great an idea or just something that was scooped up as part of museum culture? I did actually like the Forum des images event devoted to lookalikes - which netted Conrad Veidt, Manga and George Romero’s The Dark Half - but the Cinémathèque one made up of films set in art galleries?

The Cinémathèque program also included seasons on Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, M. Night Shyamalan, Sergio Leone, Valeria Sarmiento and Yousef Chahine and premières of Beoning and Pierre Schoeller’s historical spectacular Un Peuple et son roi.
 
While we visitors were gobsmacked at the range and quality of Cinémathèque screenings, the natives were restless and I could see where they were coming from. Their audience is visibly aging and those of us who remember the Langlois years miss his dazzling first run copies, the spontaneous responses and great interactions. All the current seasons I dipped into were disappointing in different ways. The French films were, outside La Nuit d'amour, quite mundane and the Japanese event was marred by poor prints. There is a point where it’s better to replace a defective copy with another title.  
 
Whatever it’s limitations and defects may be, the Paris Cinémathèque represents world’s best practice. Since I left they have run five hundred sessions and hosted Jane Fonda and Ennio Morricone in person. In that time in Sydney there have been zero such events. Even the odd live introductions which were once touted as an indicator of the growth of the local scene, have dried up. The difference is obvious at a glance. Lacking activity, the audience withers. Consider the miserable turn-out for the screenings of Wings at Paddington, where two attempts at Cinematheque exhibition were allowed to collapse. 
 
You've got to ask what is the value in pouring millions in tax funding into training and film making in this uninformed and unquestioning environment? Decision makers don’t want to know when they are told that the point at which France began to dominate the art movie scene was when their Cinémathèque took hold in the mid thirties and that Australian films started to attract international attention three years after the Australian NFT was put in place and they lost that respect three years after it was wiped out - by a mix of incompetence, political correctness and simple minded self-interest.
 
That in fact is just a side issue. The reason for maintaining a serious cinémathèque is the self evident one that it enriches its surroundings in ways that don't show up in balance sheets and that it's absence impoverishes those in ways that we can see all around us.