Measuring Film-Feeling With A Ruler
From IRIS CONLAY, Catholic Herald Film Critic
2937 has got itself all taped out by now. All its films have had labels tied round their necks to identify them to posterity, and been carefully docketed, pigeon-holed and classified, till you wouldn't believe.
This chart represents the official list much simplified, Like all official statistics, these, in their original state, were so divided and sub-divided into hair-split widths that the tree of intelligent understanding got lost in the wood of complexity of facts.
As it is, there emerges the fact that in England some seven hundred and ninetytwo full-length films have been exhibited, and that more than half of the total ntunber have been drama. Going a little deeper into the official sub-divisions of drama, I discover that more than half the dramatic films have been melodramatic ones, and a very small percentage tragedies.
Older or Colder ?
Next in popular taste come comedies. But they lag a long way behind drama. Nor are romantic comedies half the box office draw they used to be. Are we grown older or colder? It is difficult to gauge, but producers say that embraces last less time on the screen. At one time more than a minute would not have seemed too long, now they must be completed in less than 20 seconds.
Fred Allen, who " cuts " film for Goldwyn, has to use sharp scissors with romance today. " Ninety-five per cent. of the film must deal with cinematic actien. Instead of becoming the dominant factor in film, pure romance now is a minor necessity, useful only to give purpose to a story.
" During the past year at least ten box office hits have been made in which the love angle has been reduced to less than three per cent. of the whole story—'and these pictures have been highly successful."
So spoke Fred Allen, and it just goes to show how statistical the whole business is.
Religion of a Czech
Fantasy may sound a strange category at first, but to what other common denominator can one reduce those Ruritania romances; those costume pieces that are all show and fun; and those extravaganzas that America, in particular, is so fond of? Fantasy seems a strange import from practical Australia, I agree, but not stranger than the existence of a Russian comedy, nor yet stranger than that most amazing phenomena of the Czechoslovakian religious film.
Far and wide I have searched for a single trace of that Czech film. Never have I heard of it before, certainly never seen it, nor can I quite be sure of which religion it deals, Catholic or Orthodox. Perhaps some reader who has been more vigilant than I, will enlighten my ignorance, because I should like to have knowledge of its existence, and at least, its name.
America's Numerical Lead
It will be no surprise to anyone to learn that American films predominated this year in England. Britain follows, and after her France, Germany, Austria, Australia, Russia, Italy and Canada (together) and finally Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, Poland and lreland (her first producing year).
So the march of cinema goes on. Each year a veering of popular opinion shows the tendencies of next year's productions. With the decline of romance we may expect more action perhaps in 1938, more tough stuff, maybe; but I suspect more than that. A gradual shedding of crudities in the cinema world is imminent; more subtlety will be employed; more imagination, more culture—and dare I breathe it— more art may creep into this industry.
Frivolity week, evidently. Three romantic comedies without serious relief anywhere. A little overwhelming.
Tovarich (Tivoli) goes furthest, and is the most successful. Russia on the films only suggests two moods—deep solemnity (the way the Russian takes himself), and flippant gaiety (the way everyone else takes the Russian). Tovarich, born of a stage success by Jacques DeNal and transported on to American screen, is decidedly of the latter quality.
In it Charles Boyer, who always has a little difficulty with his English, and Claudette Colbert have to go deliciously Russian for their parts of the impoverished Duke and Duchess living in picturesque squalor in Paris. The Duke gets hungry and must eat, so the Duchess goes forth into the picturesquely squalid market to buy — a delicate way of expressing a pilfering expedition—a few cans of caviare and a bottle or two of champagne.
All the squalor sets are particularly rich in detail and this accounts for the very great expense of the whole production. Warner's say " most expensive since Anthony Adverse." Extraordinary what dirt costs in Hollywood.
Social Satire, Perhaps ?
Being the very astute, but the very idealistic kind of Duke and Duchess, Colbert and Boyer first refuse to touch a bean of the billions of francs that they arc informed sit waiting for them in the French bank. Instead they set to work to get jobs as valet and parlourmaid in a family of pleasant nobility nit-wits.
Here read into the absurdities of the situation, much social satire. Or, if lowbrow enough, don't read anything, but laugh and laugh and laugh. Melville Cooper, Isabel Jeans and May Boley will provide necessary humorous material in the snatches of rest taken by the Colbert-Boyer partnership.
In case you want to know why the Duke and Duchess would not touch their money —it is because they wanted to give it all back to Russia, and live ever after washing very richly greasy dishes in someone else's kitchen. Can you believe it?
Solomon or Freud ?
Anyway, it's all made much more believable than the things that happen in Met My Love Again (London Pavilion). In a very long story is told how a romantic young man reads, in a very soapy voice, passages from Solomon's Song of Songs to his girl friend who immediately jumps to the conclusion (rightly) that these passages are meant to apply to herself. Then she (wrongly) marries another gentleman who quotes Freud to her instead of Solomon with more instant results.
Shattered lives fill the intermediate parts, and towards the end the young man becomes a little less callow, early widowhood sobers his girl friend—and what could happen next? Nothing except another marriage, of course. Joan Bennett, Henry Fonda and Dame Mary Whitty are offered our sincerest condolences.
Magnified Rosalie Rosalie (Empire) is another immense affair, after the pattern of the enormous Ziegfeld. Eleanor Powell and Nelson Eddy are allowed intervals in which to exercise their leg and throat muscles respectively, but the picture is the country of Romania's great scenic effects. (Where is Romanza?---One of the unending list of those vague Balkan states, you know.) Mexican's First-born Mexico 1937 produced its first national sound picture. It couldn't be just beginner's luck that created such a lovely thing as Janitzio (Film Society presentation last Sunday)---ct picture that floodlit all the vulgar artificialities of the average American-British film by the blaze of its own sincerity. Only high creative powers, technical virtuosity and imagination as wide as humanity could dare the
(Continued at foot of next coliann.) terrifying solemnity of such a theme as Jan itzio's.
The story of the remote Mexican village cut off by sea, without adequate communications, is one of primitive customs and a life in which faith (Catholicism) and fatalism (pagan survivals) intermingle. Words (Spanish, of course) are few between these natives whose fight for livelihood leaves them scarce time for chatter. Emotions, too, are primitive, which does not mean they are degraded. On the contrary these dark-haired, tough-tall built, Spanish Mongolian people have dignity, reserve, calmness and sturdy spirituality against which the puny materialism of the European " civilised" trader is unheroic.
Magnificent Restraint Without one superfluous gesture, without ever playing with all the emotional stops out at once, Emilio Fernandez and Teresa Orozco take the leading parts in Janitzio as Sirahuen and Erendira, two lovers whose fate it is to come under a relentless pagan law which hunts them to a fiendish death by stoning.
Surely Janitzio heralds great achievement for Mexico, and I wait impatiently to see it again at a public cinema—I hope, not in vain.