Saturday, January 17, 2009

They Had to See Paris


Notes on Borzage's First Sound Film, Which Was Very Much an "Event-Picture"


This man Will Rogers, with the perfect hairline and hair-volume, shakes his finger and controls the scene, — he is a coach without a headset.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:



The filmmakers in this period (Year One of synch-sound, of 'talking') invent the conversation-initiated shot/reverse-shot grammar because they don't know what else to do. But the bulk of the master-shots are similar to those of Lubtisch from this period — they're 'the shooting of men'. A tension between this 'set' (in the sense of 'group', not 'shooting location'), and another set (and thus an overarching dialectic of dialectics): shots that bear a concerted attention to the rigorous geometries of space (and social order) lie within the vicinity of shots that evince the hayseed-ethos's compulsion toward deflation and the loosely (and sharply) improvisatory.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:




Like sidereal cosmos-dust dispersed by meteorite: insane gay-subplot with barmy Russian aristo.

The melodramatics are topsy-turv'd to comedics in the moment when the Marquis can no longer court(-to-marriage) or be persuaded to court on her own terms the Oklahoman's dear daughter Opal, as a result of Pike's/Rogers's monikering of the bearded Frenchman "Plugnickel". The Frenchman's entrance and declaration of insult are pure Feuillade.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:




Resplendent documentary shots pervade the fiction/action — no, just action — like the pillow-takes of Ozu a few years later.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:



There's no need for montage when the words are strong enough to put across the cuts. Borzage holds it in medium-shot, and when he's over goes back to the master. Everything's stoned-still.

Pike: Oh, Ross, — a thing like this might be all right with a few people over here in Paris, and it might be tolerated in some places in America, but I — oh I don't know, I — it ain't hardly what you and I was raised up to...

Ross: Why that's a lot of puritanism. My mind is made up! I've got my own life to live and I'm gonna live it my own way!

Pike abandons women. Gumjawed long-shot sincerity. Hand-clasped hysterics. Sinister cheek-raise, gulping shoe-stare introspection. "A WOMAN. Oh Ross — tell me THAT's not TRUE." The family clings to casual adultery confessions. A sitcom filmed in 1929. The whole family doesn't even come together until 1h 18m into the thing. The last scene, 'virtuosic' posing as 'virtuous', is one of Borzage's most terrifying climaxes.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:



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