Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A King in New York

Civil Rights

Short and sweet: I watched Chaplin's A King in New York [1957/1973] recently, for the first time in probably six or seven years. So refreshing — one of those pictures that acts as an anthropology, as a sociology of the there-and-then doubling as the here-and-now, and does so with the ease and grace, expansion-contraction, characteristic of an Old Master at this game of cinema. (It's not only the precursor to three instances of Godard's oeuvre, but also to Renoir's Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier [The Testament of Doctor Cordelier, 1959], that early New Wave film which will remain forever young, seven steps ahead of the cable shows.) To boot, its Master is front and center: Chaplin, as one King Shahdov, monarch-in-exile — Chaplin here in "Charles"-mode, gone further still than enacted in Limelight [1952], far enough to circle back from behind till he meets the source again, the man Chaplin, completing the avatar first hinted at in the close of The Great Dictator [1940]. Shahdov — which I infer as the phonetic rendering of the likely native-spelling of this poly-European king's name: "Shadow". Shahdov — which I likewise infer as the phonetic off-shoot, and affirmation, of the French: chef-d'oeuvre.

The purpose of this post is relatively minor, insofar as it's just to register, for reference-sake — and this may be widely known and circulated already, I don't know — that the footage from A King in New York used by Godard for the final shot of Episode 2B: Fatale Beauté in the Histoire(s) du cinéma [History(s) of the Cinema / Story(s) of the Cinema, 1988-1998] does not originate from the version of Chaplin's film that currently circulates on disc. Yes, the version made available by the MK2/Warner Bros. DVD (the American edition of which is to be avoided at all costs, due to unspeakably ghastly authoring in the way of PAL-to-NTSC standards-conversion; — and, in some of the earlier films, CROPPED ASPECT RATIOS), and on the out-of-print Region 1 DVD from Image, stands as the correct cut, the one sanctioned by Chaplin c. 1973 — but the aforementioned shot that closes 2B was removed, by Chaplin, at the time of the '73 American theatrical release. Still, this shot, and a wealth of other footage excised by Chaplin in his second pass through the editing of the film in the early '70s, has been maintained within the "Outtakes" section of the MK2 disc. ( — This supplement wasn't included on the earlier Image release — whose snapper-case nevertheless boasted its presence.)

Whether Godard took this shot from a VHS based on a telecine of the earlier/premiere cut of the film, or from a tape that included the shot within an appended "Outtakes" section, I don't know. Anyway, it doesn't matter — it serves its purpose, in the Histoire(s), in figuring into 48 of the most ingenious, virtuosic, profound seconds in the whole History of Montage.

A King in New York by Charles Chaplin, 1957/1973:

Frame from a shot removed by Chaplin from his 1973 recut of A King in New York:


A few days ago Nick Wrigley passed the following clip on to me, following a small bit of organic archaeology on the part of Andy Rector; by coincidence, this Will Sheff fellow from the group Okkervil River, and who looks like my friend Dan W., mentioned / linked to it (as pointed out to me by Nick) on Drowned in Sound, and in turn mentions it was passed on to him, initially, by one of the Shearwater people.

Without further introduction — the year is 1976, and Nina Simone is at the Montreux Jazz Festival:


And Odetta is dead — just under two months away from her slated performance at the Obama inauguration. (This clip is extracted from Scorsese's Bob Dylan: No Direction Home [2005], FYI.) —


And this is the cover of the forthcoming Morrissey album:


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