The Old Dark House (1932)

by Brad on October 4, 2012

The Old Dark House, is a 1932 Universal comedy-horror film. The film centers on two groups of travelers who are caught in a storm, and have to stay over night in a country manor filled with characters who range from eccentric to lunatic. Boris Karloff plays a deformed sexually frustrated alcoholic who protects the family from the crazy guy in the attic. There’s also a girl in a slip.

The film is a riff on the 19th century syphilis drama, best known from Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, and the Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Third Generation“. The genre is based in the incorrect belief that congenital syphilis is passed on from father to child (it is passed through the mother, who is often infected by the father). The genre was eventually overtaken by the incest narratives, usually in comedy-horror form, a genre that goes back at least to the “Fall of the House of Usher,” and probably even further. The best of the later “stuck in a house with crazy people” films is “Spider Baby: or the Maddest Story Ever Told,” which accredits the family’s insanity to inbreeding.

The Old Dark House was quite funny, and still managed to have a surprising amount of social commentary. Several of the “guests” were victims of England’s class system – a businessman who couldn’t fit into society, a traumatized veteran of the great war, a prostitute – and they had to defend themselves from a wealthy family that had been driven insane by debauchery. Eventually the crazy older brother was embraced by his deformed servant, so, a happy ending?



by Brad on September 28, 2012

If it wasn’t for the quiet, the silence, the fear wouldn’t be so great. But he approaches in the dark, without sound. It’s like going to sleep, there’s only some rustling in the dark, then an embrace, like death.

Dracula (1931) is one of the few horror films from this period that is authentically creepy. While many of the old Universal horror films are fun and intellectually playful (anything with Boris Karloff is great), Dracula is creepy. The main reason is the sound design. Very little is said in the movie, few noises are made, there are few screams and those are usually short and unresolved. There’s only the sound of the wind, and a constant sense of danger or madness that seems to follow this poor man wherever he goes.


Hotel Du Nord

by Brad on September 27, 2012

Two lovers lie in their rooms quietly and happily discussing the logic of suicide. Outside is full of life, as a prostitutes and blood donors discuss local scandals and the joy of wine. A shot rings out, the boy runs from the room, only seen by one man, who has his own reasons for hiding what he saw.

Cafe Du Nord is about people who make self-destructive choices in the pursuit of some sort of truth. While that truth often takes the form of a young woman or a handsome man, the relationships rarely approximate love. The characters instead have a peculiar sort of responsibility to one another, often, the responsibility to disappear.

I saw this film at the Pacific Film Archive.


Hometown, Kenji Mizoguchi

by Brad on September 17, 2012

Her heart is slightly broken, with tears on her disheveled face as her man walks out the door. The camera pulls out, only to cut back in, unable to leave her crying.

Hometown, Kenji Mizoguchi’s first sound film (it was actually about half silent), involved a lot of fancy camerawork in search of a plot. The story was about a man who gave up his art and his wife in search of fame and fortune. It was unclear how being a famous singer was getting in the way of his singing, but it was quite clear how his rich patroness was getting in the way of his home life. He eventually sees the light when he is abandoned after an accident robs him of his voice. He recovers to much fanfare.

The film is mostly notable for its use of rhythmic editing – using the pacing of shots to establish the mood and speed of the action – as well as experiments with a moving camera. Besides the very strange above mentioned scene, where the camera pulls out and cuts back in to an image of the man’s crying wife as a way of expressing what she’s feeling, the film also has an extended dizzying party scene, where the camera becomes one of the dancers.

I saw this film at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.


Sleeping Beauty, Kiev

by Brad on September 12, 2012

From Kiev:

A Ukrainian-Canadian artist is presenting an interactive art projectcalled “Sleeping Beauty,” in which five attractive young women take turns sleeping under dim lights in Kiev’s top gallery, each under a pledge to marry the visitor who wakes her with a kiss. Any unmarried museum-goer can kiss the woman in the hope of making Beauty fall in love and awaken.

There was an awkward man from a provincial Ukrainian town, who knelt down before one Sleeping Beauty and wept because she didn’t wake up from his kiss.

It seems there is a religious metaphor in here.



by Brad on September 11, 2012

I don’t know why I’m a sucker for graph paper.

(From The Camera Suture, via DayFour)


If I was a rare book collector

by Brad on September 10, 2012

Abebooks has posted a list of the 10 most expensive books it sold in 2010. Some highlights:

1. Arabic Manuscript of Al Wajaza Fi Sihhat Il Qawl Bi l Ijaza – $45,000
This is an important work on Hadith methodology (narrations concerning the words and deeds of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) that was originally written in the 10th century AD. This copy was published in the 12th-13th century A.D. and contained an ownership mark on the title page from a well known scholar called Ibrahim B. Sulleymanb Muhammad B. Abd Ul Aziz Al Hanafi Al Jinini, who bought it while living in Damascus in 1659 A.D.

6. Ottoman Atlas – $19,500
Published in 1860s, this atlas contains 31 hand-colored maps prepared and printed in the Muhendishane I Berri Humayun (the Royal School of Millitary Engineering in Istanbul).

9. Book of Kells – $14,859
This 1990 facsimile edition of the Verlag Luzern edition of this mystic testimony of early Irish Christianity was limited to 1480 copies. Written in German, it contains miniatures (illustrations) of the early Middle Ages and is one of the most beautiful holy books ever created.

I suppose I shouldn’t be expecting reprints.


The Trinity, Andrei Rublev

by Brad on September 5, 2012

The Trinity, Andrei Rublev, 1410

The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

This is the only Rublev work that has been authenticated as entirely his.


Flesh and the Devil

by Brad on September 3, 2012

Flesh and the Devil is an exercise in framing Garbo. An effort to make you feel the closeness of her body, in a way that could make a man tremble.

The movie is about a woman, created so beautifully and with such passion, that you would give up friendship, happiness, you life, your soul, just to be with her. She is the personification of sin. Or maybe just a sort of desperateness you get when you know that God is not real, and every moment not spent with her is lost forever. A celebration of paganism, and of women with curly hair and smoldering eyes.

Louise Brooks said this about Greta Garbo:

“no contemporary actress was ever again to be quite happy with herself…. [Garbo’s] was such a gigantic shadow that people did not speak of it. If anyone at a Hollywood party was inconsiderate enough to talk about Garbo, [actresses] would say, ‘Yes, isn’t she divine?’ and quickly change the subject.”

I saw this film on DVD