Eclipse Series 8: Lubitsch Musicals

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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HerrSchreck
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#101 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Feb 12, 2008 2:10 am

Ever see the manic dance party routine in The Oyster Princess? That's true pre-Python.

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domino harvey
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#102 Post by domino harvey » Tue Feb 12, 2008 2:51 pm

Monte Carlo suffers a bit from Buchanan being no Chevalier, but there's still some great songs ("Trimmin' Women" was particularly catchy), a good stream of laughs (though it never reaches the heights from the Love Parade) and that fantastic operahouse finale.

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#103 Post by david hare » Tue Feb 12, 2008 11:12 pm

He said what they would be, not what they should be.
I understand that Jaime. :D But why on earth reiterate such a hackneyed historical view of early talkies? I just don't think this supports Dave's affection for the movies. in the sense that they are quite secondary in terms of groundbreaking sound - far less so than my examples, or even the Mamoulian (Love me Tonight) or the early Rene Clairs. Those movies, at their best prefigure Lube's attachment to the Poshloshty (mit schlag!) Mittel-European writers of the early nineteenth century (Molnar et al) and the great achievement here is his transformation of this fairly broad material into movies of wildly greater sophistication and depth.

I am actually very pleasantly surprised at how much people are enjoying them- - and no one's written about Smiling Lieutenant yet!

Further to Domino's post about Buchanan (a truly colorless performer in Monte Carlo!) and my favorite scene in that movie - the park bench scene between Buchanan and the hairdresser when Jack conspires the ruse to get to Jeanette's boudoir. Maybe it's only me but the way Lube plays off the gay innuendo here (as he does in a party scene between Horton and Marshall in Trouble in Paradise) is breathtakingly risque. But maybe I'm the only one reading the scenes this way!

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domino harvey
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#104 Post by domino harvey » Tue Feb 12, 2008 11:25 pm

davidhare wrote:Further to Domino's post about Buchanan (a truly colorless performer in Monte Carlo!) and my favorite scene in that movie - the park bench scene between Buchanan and the hairdresser when Jack conspires the ruse to get to Jeanette's boudoir. Maybe it's only me but the way Lube plays off the gay innuendo here (as he does in a party scene between Horton and Marshall in Trouble in Paradise) is breathtakingly risque. But maybe I'm the only one reading the scenes this way!
I tend to lean away from most homoerotic readings but I agree, as I thought the same thing while watching and I think it's about as blatantly executed as Lubitsch thought he could get away with.

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#105 Post by My Man Godfrey » Thu Feb 14, 2008 7:55 pm

domino harvey wrote:
davidhare wrote:Further to Domino's post about Buchanan (a truly colorless performer in Monte Carlo!) and my favorite scene in that movie - the park bench scene between Buchanan and the hairdresser when Jack conspires the ruse to get to Jeanette's boudoir. Maybe it's only me but the way Lube plays off the gay innuendo here (as he does in a party scene between Horton and Marshall in Trouble in Paradise) is breathtakingly risque. But maybe I'm the only one reading the scenes this way!
I tend to lean away from most homoerotic readings but I agree, as I thought the same thing while watching and I think it's about as blatantly executed as Lubitsch thought he could get away with.
I'll third davidhare and domino -- you don't have to be on the lookout for homoerotic undercurrents to find them here -- although I'd go farther than domino on one point: Buchanan's performance in Monte Carlo is a disaster. Poor Jeanette MacDonald; the only contemporary analog I can imagine would be a love-triangle comedy in which someone like Zooey Deschanel or Kirsten Dunst was torn between her two suitors, Nathan Lane and Harvey Fierstein. Still, the movie is pretty charming -- it's Lubitsch, after all -- and you're right -- "Trimmin' Women" is hilarious.

PS: The most influential and important of all film critics -- I refer to myself, of course -- has weighed in on the set here.

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#106 Post by david hare » Thu Feb 14, 2008 11:29 pm

A quick observation of Smiling Lieutenant which I notice every time I watch it, and then promptly forget.

Has anyone else noticed how Chevalier very obviously has a head cold? - you canhear it throughout the movie.

I assume they were shooting to a very tight schedule in a freezing soundstage at Astoria.

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#107 Post by denti alligator » Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:11 am

This must be the first Criterion release that specifies aspect ratios not corresponding to any "standard" ones (1.33, 1.19, 1.85, etc.).

The Love Parade is listed as 1.21
Monte Carlo as 1.20
The Smiling Lieutenant 1.21
One Hour With You 1.36

I always thought "1.33" was shorthand for what was essentially 1.37, but now they put 1.36?! What's with the specificity here?

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#108 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:34 am

One small complaint: I wanted to go straight to "Trimmin' Women" and noticed that the chapter stops aren't at every song like most musical DVDs-- lame!

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#109 Post by whaleallright » Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:18 pm

The Love Parade is listed as 1.21
Monte Carlo as 1.20
The Smiling Lieutenant 1.21
One Hour With You 1.36
Many early sound films were released using the old gauge, but with a strip on the side taken away for the soundtrack. Thus an aspect ratio that's more square than rectangular (typically between 1.1 and 1.2). This applies to such films as ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES and VAMPYR. A year later, appropriate adjustments were made so that the Academy ratio could be restored, hence ONE HOUR WITH YOU.

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#110 Post by Jeff » Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:49 pm

jonah.77 wrote:Many early sound films were released using the old gauge, but with a strip on the side taken away for the soundtrack. Thus an aspect ratio that's more square than rectangular (typically between 1.1 and 1.2). This applies to such films as ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES and VAMPYR. A year later, appropriate adjustments were made so that the Academy ratio could be restored, hence ONE HOUR WITH YOU.
Yes, but those early sound films usually have a reported aspect ratio of 1.19, and Academy ratio films usually have 1.37. I think that denti was just commenting that it was odd that Criterion is offering very specific, non-standard measurements this time. Perhaps this is a policy change wherein they will be reporting the actual measured ratio of the transfer, rather than theoretical ratio of the negative. Either way, the difference between 1.19 and 1.21 is utterly negligible.

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#111 Post by denti alligator » Sat Feb 16, 2008 5:12 pm

Jeff wrote:Yes, but those early sound films usually have a reported aspect ratio of 1.19, and Academy ratio films usually have 1.37. I think that denti was just commenting that it was odd that Criterion is offering very specific, non-standard measurements this time. Perhaps this is a policy change wherein they will be reporting the actual measured ratio of the transfer, rather than theoretical ratio of the negative. Either way, the difference between 1.19 and 1.21 is utterly negligible.
Yes, that's all I was pointing out. At Criterion's webpage it still says "1.33" for the whole set. These very specific measurements are new.

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#112 Post by domino harvey » Sun Feb 17, 2008 2:56 am

Despite Hopkins doing her best, the Smiling Lieutenant was a major disappointment. Very few laughs, most of them in the last twenty minutes. The songs, save the last one, were forgettable and the film seemed like such a colossal step-down in energy from the previous two. I am shocked that this is the most well-regarded of the lot. It's not a bad film to be sure, but outside of the above mentioned song and the wonderful, very Lubitsch ending with the checkerboard, it felt stagnated.

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#113 Post by davebert » Sun Feb 17, 2008 5:07 pm

*spoilers on the Smiling ending*

My wife was appalled at the ending to The Smiling Lieutenant, which suggested to her (and to me too, to be honest) a creepy notion that women are merely an empty vessel that become exactly the same so long as they are updated in the proper fashion.

In other words, even though Colbert's girl was there first - and there was nothing in the story to suggest that she had lost her standing with Chevalier - he was perfectly happy to let her go for the latecomer Hopkins as soon as Hopkins exhibited a few of the tricks she was taught. The ending was very funny and elegantly choreographed, with the tossing about of the checkerboard, but the tossing aside of Colbert without an explanation dulled the effect of this fortunate turn of events.

So far, Love Parade remains my favorite from the set.

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#114 Post by Jaime_Weinman » Sun Feb 17, 2008 9:18 pm

My wife was appalled at the ending to The Smiling Lieutenant, which suggested to her (and to me too, to be honest) a creepy notion that women are merely an empty vessel that become exactly the same so long as they are updated in the proper fashion.
I always saw it more as a knock on the Chevalier character, who is the real empty vessel here, so much so that he doesn't care which woman he's with as long as she provides the "ta-ta-ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta." The two women are both treated much more sympathetically than he is, anyway, so I think the ending is really more against him than against them.

I'll admit that this is one movie that does not work as well at home as it does in a theatre (where it always kills). I'm not sure exactly why, but many of the jokes get huge laughs for reasons that can't quite be explained. (Chevalier's "Remember what Napoleon said before he went to Elba... so long!" sounds like nothing on paper, but brings the house down at theatrical screenings.)

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#115 Post by GringoTex » Tue Feb 19, 2008 1:33 am

Just watched The Love Parade for the first time and was blown away. If anyone can point to an earlier film that better prefigures the musical genre, I want to hear about it.

This being Lubitsch's first sound film and musical, I expected something a bit obvious and grotesque. Rather, he proved himself the master of the ellipsis even at this early stage. By my count, there are 76 shots of people opening either doors, windows, or curtains within a 105 minute span. Movement takes precedence over the payoff. Contrast this to the highly overrated Love Me Tonight, where I'm simply begging Mamoulian to stumble to the next setpiece with cinema intact.

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HerrSchreck
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#116 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Feb 19, 2008 4:30 am

Well there's a point of view.

Lubitsch-- and I'll get some belligerance for this I'm sure-- was a sharp spieler in melodrama, with some exalted moments like Trouble In Paradise and Shop, and some hilarious moments in Germany. But as a weaver of cinema I find his form mostly hugely overrated, working backward from Heaven Can Wait (one of the two or three CC's I wanted to return), way back to Merry Jailer (couldn't finish it), The Wildcat. His fun early material like I Don't Want To Be A Man is no more amusing than The Delicious Little Devil, a wild piece of 1919 insanity with Mae Murray. Nor was it directed with any more flair than a Bout de Zan throwaway short. Fun comedy. There was an awful lot of that sort of comedy floating around back then if you trufflepig for it.

If outside of Trouble Lube ever made a film as good as City Streets, Applause, or Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde I'm all ears. These early musicals are wildly hit or miss, compared to Mamoulians unmatched opening blast into the zone beginning w Applause and ending somewheres around his own weakening point at Christina.

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#117 Post by david hare » Tue Feb 19, 2008 4:47 am

Yeah... I'm glad to hear from somone else who feels this way. And not just a friend. I was talking to Knappen earlier today and found myself simply thinking aloud if these Paramount musicals were all that Lube had ever made he would be a forgotten figure, frankly.

Merry Widow is so wildly superior to all of them that it beggars belief - not only the score and the frisson of the code changeover, but the mise en scene and the direction of the actors into a far more ambiguous style and tone . And then into Trouble and even things like Angel (which I adore and other people - Herman Weinberg no less - find incredibly bad.)

There are outright wonders like So This is Paris and Trouble in Paradise that are incomparably Lubitsch, and perfect. Then there are total dogs like The Man I Killed (I find Dave Kehr's affection for this inexplicable.) And so it goes. In short Lubitsch must be one of the most problematic of the canonical "Pantheon" directors. I have no idea why he seems so uneven, to me at least, but maybe it's the business of when and why he sezied on "conventions" like the Hungarian romantic sex comedy musicals, and then went further with the sentiment than the genre itself really allowed. To deepen his work. But then teetered back into something relatively meretricious, emotionally, like Heaven can Wait.

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#118 Post by GringoTex » Tue Feb 19, 2008 9:07 am

davidhare wrote:Merry Widow is so wildly superior to all of them that it beggars belief.
I eagerly await the dvd. Do we know who has the rights?

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#119 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Feb 19, 2008 9:20 am

Haven't yet sat through the youtube Merry Widow -- but I would have to say that the core Lubitsch films for me are Marriage Circle, So This is Paris, Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living -- with honorable mentions for Smiling Lieutenant (sorry, I do like this) and Shop Around the Corner.

Found Heaven Can Wait pretty dismal. Ditto Ninotchka.

How does Student Prince fare -- in comparison to Merry Widow?

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#120 Post by Jeff » Tue Feb 19, 2008 11:09 am

GringoTex wrote:I eagerly await the dvd. Do we know who has the rights?
Warner. At the HTF chat this time last year they said, "Merry Widow is still very much in our plans."
HerrSchreck wrote:There was an awful lot of that sort of comedy floating around back then if you trufflepig for it.
This is my new favorite verb. I'll be using it throughout the day despite the odd looks it will engender. We need to publish The Criterion Forum's HerrSchreck Lexicon (Schrexicon?)

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#121 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Feb 19, 2008 11:28 am

Heh. I actually learned that while reading an article in the early 90's here in NYC about the state of real estate affairs over in the East Village and then-blossoming Williamsburg. Real estate brokers called artists (or "hipsters") truffle-pigs, because they schnuffled out the great "cool" neighborhoods close to "happening" zones of the city, and always congregated in housing that by default wound up being most desireable for full renovation for stock brokers and investors and other yups who wanted to live in the cool nabes. Wind-up being of course that the artists and original street-urchin hipsters, just like truffle-pigs themselves, wound up not being able to posess that which they had located for the wealthy real estate investors (and wealthy tenants to be), as the buildings were emptied and renovated with rents (or condo/co-op rates) wildly unaffordable to the youth/art/college crowd. Look at the east Village & Soho now-- yuppie heaven. If you see a punk rocker in a purple mohawk sitting in front of a bank panhandling on St MArks Place in a put-on raspy voice, you can be sure it's a new arrival to the city (probably an NYU student with a trust fund) living his version of his pre-stardom strung out NYC life... in a realm that simply doesn't exist anymore. You almost wanta go over to them and muss their hair and go "awwwww, you so cuuuuuuuuute!"

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#122 Post by Jaime_Weinman » Tue Feb 19, 2008 11:57 am

HerrSchreck wrote:If outside of Trouble Lube ever made a film as good as City Streets, Applause, or Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde I'm all ears. These early musicals are wildly hit or miss, compared to Mamoulians unmatched opening blast into the zone beginning w Applause and ending somewheres around his own weakening point at Christina.
Sort of a side note but it's interesting that Lubitsch and Mamoulian often get talked of in opposition, even though apart from the early sound musicals plus both making versions of Ninotchka they don't have much in common (either in terms of projects or career-wise). The early auteurists like Sarris and Bogdanovich used to put Mamoulian down to build Lubitsch up, something I never fully understood even as a Lubitsch partisan. As a director of musicals qua musicals, early Mamoulian surpasses Lubitsch, for the simple reason that he actually had some understanding of songs and how they work in a story. (Something he would later bring to the musical stage when he did Porgy and Bess and Oklahoma!) As Rodgers and Hart found when they worked with Lubitsch on The Merry Widow, he didn't have much tolerance for songs and seemed to be working to turn musicals into straight comedies with as little music as possible.

One thing I would say in defense of Lubitsch is that I do not think his movies work as well on TVs at home as they do in theatres. Well, that's true of any movie, but for some reason the jokes in Lubitsch's films, even these early ones, play much better on the big screen. It may be because the jokes are based on such miniscule things that they're easier to miss unless you're plunked down in the dark and forced to stare up at a large screen; I don't know. But for example my favorite sequence in The Love Parade, the silent sequence of Jeanette MacDonald reading a list of Chevalier's conquests, seems to work better when it bounces off the audience reaction to each change of mood. Of course that in itself is a cinematic skill -- the ability to play off the reactions of an audience that doesn't exist when the film is made or edited -- so maybe these movies are more cinematic than I'm giving them credit for.

Also I think Heaven Can Wait may be the acid test for how much you can take Lubitsch (I have to admit I never heard "Lube" until this board). Since it's almost two hours of arch Lubitschian jokes with almost no plot, it may be the one that only hard-core fans can get through. (Sort of like hard-core Hawks buffs love Hatari!)

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#123 Post by justeleblanc » Tue Feb 19, 2008 12:49 pm

JW, I see what you mean about how Lubitsch treats music and songs in his musicals, but I think you may be taking too much of a leap when you say that his atypical treatment of song is ignorance toward the form. If anything, my appreciation toward these films comes from how Lubitsch plays with the form a bit, even in terms of balance (cutting out many of the songs). But I guess there was no normative film musical practice at the time, and even Pabst ran into similar criticisms.

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#124 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Feb 19, 2008 1:59 pm

Jaime_Weinman wrote:Sort of a side note but it's interesting that Lubitsch and Mamoulian often get talked of in opposition, even though apart from the early sound musicals ... they don't have much in common.

As a director of musicals qua musicals, early Mamoulian surpasses Lubitsch, for the simple reason that he actually had some understanding of songs and how they work in a story.
Well I think you've answered your own question right there. The comparisons are inevitable owing to the both of them working musical numbers into the text in 1929 producing simultaneous pieces of entertainment which were roadmaps for the future genre which became known as the musical. They were contemporaries working side by side at the dawn of the sound revolution, and for that reason alone comparisons are justified: during any period of stark invention and rapid change, competing directors, actors, and studios will always be studied and compared. And when a brand new genre is launched-- especially one as flexible and beloved, and unique, as the musical-- it's inevitable to compare its' basic inventors. (Not to mention the fact that after stating that you don't understand the urge towards comparison, you go right ahead and do so!)... Lubitsch with The Love Parade (his first sound pic), and Mamoulian with Applause (his first film incidentally, post his earlier work on the stage), both dating from 1929. I've heard it stated that Applause is the most astounding cinematic debut that side of Kane, and I'm willing to go it further-- it may well be the most incredible cinematic debut, period.

Let me clarify what I find so superior in Mamoulian: first off I agree hugely with a point you make in Mam's understanding the function and place of songs within the text. People hesitate to call Applause a full fledged musical owing to the fact that there are only a few full blown vaudevillian numbers performed on the stage. But look at how cleverly, subtly, and in a manner so deeply felt Mam sneaks his musical numbers into the text, and in a fashion so natural that the fact that a musical number has just been performed has blown right by you... Helen Morgan going thru her steamer trunk gazing at pics of Hitch singing "What I wouldn't do for that man"; or ending one of the most moving mother-daughter conversations between Morgan & Peers by singing her to sleep with a lullaby; or the Ave Maria with little April at the convent. In his very first venture into cinema, Mamoulian already understands the demands cinematic mise en scene (and, in that specific case, melodrama) well enough to avoid the forgiving artifice of the stage, where the audience can be directly addressed, action can stop, and a musical number can be crudely broken into, lights can go down and up, performers can be seens jogging offstage at the number's end, etc. His musical numbers function so naturally as part of the action-- Morgans songs are part of her vocation, her home life, her love for her man, her daughter, etc, that the crudity of the stage is completely removed. (And yet-- still-- a couple years later w Love Me, the wildest self reflexivity is introduced with flapping horndog humor, with Stop The Action And Sing musical numbers flicking appropriately on and off like a wacky lightswitch in a manner entirely in tune with the material). This is a man entirely and naturally and immediately in tune with all the different garden varieties of great cinema, working in mediums far beyond the range and emotional complexity/depth of Lubitsch.

But for me, even more than the handling of the musical numbers, in examining the strongest films of Mamoulian-- and I admit something happened there as the mid-thirties were hit that either sapped his talent or whatever, it's one of the more depressing falls from greatness... his success with the Zoro-type technicolor swashbucklers notwithstanding-- there is a far greater breadth of ability and genius. A power of not only feeling, raw artistic power, but a monstrous blows-me-over sense of visual invention, a sense that with each film he's made the greatest film ever made. Mamoulian had a huge depth, eye and ear for tenderness and melancholia, and sense of Serious Street Badass, of The Human Monster that eluded Lubitsch. I'll leave out the humor zone as they both competed on equal terms for a time in that zone... (although in terms of genuinely vicious black humor, evident in Applause, City Streets, Love Me and especially Jekyll Hyde, Mamoulian operated comfortably in a zone completely alien to Lube).

In terms of simple depth, there was a degree of meaning and introspection-- the sublime-- past which Lubitsch feels distinctly uncomfortable to me. I find myself returning to most Lubitsch rarely for the simple fact that for me his films rarely mean more than they show on their surface. What is happening onscreen is what they're about, plain and simple. The purest of lite comedy melodrama, and entirely inocuous. Can be fun as hell, but for me repetitions too close back to back-- and this includes the sublime masterpieces like Trouble In-- lead to boredom and quick turnoffs.

There is an art to invisible style, and though I wouldn't claim Lubitsch's style was entirely invisible, in terms of mise en scene, it's far less impressive to me than-- to use Dave Hare's phrase-- the bulk of the "pantheon" directors. Lubitsch never seemed very interested in exploring the possibilities afforded by cinema; his greatest delight resided in the human element onscreen and by rote in the audience by giving everyone a good jolt of spieling humor mixed with tingle of the risque. It's almost as though his cinema was an entirely social act devoid of introspection... like the hilariously funny class clown addicted to bowling you over and spieling constantly.. relying on his ability and feeding off of the sense of fun, and rise he gets out of the rise others get out of him. And while there's certainly nothing wrong with this, he rarely ventured beyond these safe bounds, at least in terms of working with the boundless textures and surfaces afforded by cinema... especially considering the great carte blanche he enjoyed there for awhile.

So I'd say, in terms of how much the "direction" plays into the sum of the effect, the delight of a Lubitch film is every bit as much about the Raphelson script, the savoire faire of Herbert Marshall, the sparkle of the jewels and the glimmer of the cocktail dresses tight on a nice ass-- the achievement, in his truly memorable works, is spread around. Like the sound era extension ofHarold Lloyd sitting around a table with his gag men, working up a film, only in this case it's Lubitsch, Raphelson, et al. The experience of the films are like being at a really great party with well-heeled good looking guests who are natural aristocrats yet are awesome company as they constantly take the piss out of themselves and tell great jokes on top of it all, while drinking great bubbly, smoking fine havana churchills, etc.

On the other hand the delight of Mamoulian 1929- 1935 is all that, plus the dark side of the human race, plus a willingness to get you to meditate on this without planting ideas in your head for you-- but over and above all the astonishing invention, the incredible tour de force of the mise en scene and virtuoso visual style... all the wit and sex and effervescence with these added bonuses of full-spectrum emotional connectivity, is a director who is totally infatuated with the power of the cinema, and never content to rest on a "proven style".

Incidentally the name "Lube", if I remember correctly, was a kind of teasing nickname for his namesake member on this board, who-- though pretty much totally paletable nowadays-- came on the board trying to tear everyone a new asshole from day one. Those days are long behind us and member "Lubitsch" but wa-la! the nickname somehow thwacked onto the Man Himself.

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#125 Post by Jaime_Weinman » Tue Feb 19, 2008 2:46 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:I admit something happened there as the mid-thirties were hit that either sapped his talent or whatever, it's one of the more depressing falls from greatness...
Mamoulian still had it; he just didn't get to show it in movies very often. His stage musicals basically changed the theatre forever: first Porgy and Bess (1935, based on his own nonmusical production of Porgy) and then Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945), where he probably did even more than Rodgers and Hammerstein to completely overhaul the idea of what a musical could be and how emotionally involving it could be. His direction of those shows apparently had many of the same qualities you find in his early movie musicals. Unfortunately his movies from the same period were either work-for-hire projects where he wasn't fully engaged, like Silk Stockings, or just didn't have good enough material. But I wonder whether he might have returned to form if he'd made films of Oklahoma! or Carousel. (He was hired to do the Porgy and Bess film but, as with many projects, got fired early in the shooting.)
Lubitsch never seemed very interested in exploring the possibilities afforded by cinema; his greatest delight resided in the human element onscreen and by rote in the audience by giving everyone a good jolt of spieling humor mixed with tingle of the risque.
I'm not honestly sure I agree with that. Or at the very least I think exploring "the human element onscreen" is mise-en-scene in itself. Lubitsch was one of those directors who was mostly obsessed with human behavior within the shot and as you probably know, he had a tendency to coach actors in every movement and inflection (with the result that no matter which stars he's working with they all have similar tics of movement, line delivery, timing). But none of these movements, inflections and other mannerisms are really ones that would work on a stage. They're cinematic gestures made by actors.

The lack of depth you find in his films is a complaint a lot of people have, and a legitimate one; even Lubitsch seemed to feel that some of his movies lacked feeling and Raphaelson (who, let's remember, specialized in dramatic/sentimental writing on his own, like The Jazz Singer) definitely felt dissatisfied with some of the mechanical aspects of their movies. If I don't agree it's because I think the thematic content of some of these movies -- played out in the form of running gags, objects and references that Lubitsch always wanted built into the script (like his famous insistence that the change of character in Ninotchka had to be a payoff from some object seen earlier in the film, like the fashionable hat) -- give a certain weight to his best films. What grabbed me about The Smiling Lieutenant was the way the whole film played on and developed the theme of the intersection of music and sex, and varied that idea in all kinds of different and ingenious ways right from the opening bugle fanfare.

American comedies have never been particularly noted for thematic discipline, in my opinion; they tend to be kind of loosely structured and move from one set piece to another. And that's great -- and there is a limitation to the tight structure and control-freaky direction of Lubitsch's movies that they don't give full freedom to performers or to spontaneous comedy moments. But there is something special to me about how his best movies have the discipline to really develop a theme or a point of view until, by the end, you feel like there was more to this story than the characters themselves may have fully understood. Love Me Tonight is a better musical than The Smiling Lieutenant, and in many respects a better movie, but it doesn't give me the same feeling that it was about something more than just the surface story.

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