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Main article: Destiny

The Shabby, Greasy Joys of the Ralph M. Like Production

The Gorilla Is Just A Gorilla Here . . . (Astor Pictures/Like, 1932)

Few things are finer to me than the grimy joys of a super-impoverished production from some lost era of filmmaking. If that Z budget film was shot in some stinky variety of urban jungle--streets covered with cobblestones with horeshit forced down into the crosshatching between the stones--prior to the 1950's, well .  .  .  orgasm approacheth. Mop on standby.

I love cheap films, exploitation films (and those fans of the more modern exploitation fare/grindhouse of the 1970's will be pleased by the next addition to the Olanola series of blogs, migrating to this platform while maintaining its current URL .  .  .  TBA soon). I love the disorientingly odd mise en scene, I love the ratty acting of bottom feeder actors one step away from the street and visibly addled with all kinda awful human problems and vices that likely constitute--in part at least--the very reason why they are in such sandbagged productions in the first place. 

..suddenly we have Kong on deck...this was 1932 after all. (Astor Pictures/Ralph Like)

Cheap-o-matic films from the Long Ago and the Far Away require a completely different sensibility and approach from the viewer who at the same time treasures arthouse/quality cinema of the Criterion/MoC stripe. I see it not only as a benefit, but a duty--a gawd-damned obligation--to bend my arthouse-o-fied senses back to the open minded disposition of my youth .  .  . whereby to this day I not only crave watching an old episode of Planet of the Apes, the TV Series, Welcome Back Kotter or The Love Boat just as much as I do Andrey Rublyov by Tarkovsky, but that I place films like The Monster Walks or Chinatown After Dark in the same category of human enjoyment as something by Preminger or Murnau or Renoir or Kurosawa. They all give me a freight car's load of enjoyment--the only variable is the differentiation in style and manner of construction and intention of the input to my brain. All qualitative assessments rendered on planet earth are never representative of more than the sole individual who wrote or spoke them, and thus carry little to no weight in the overall, when you come right down to it. .  .   and this of course includes me. The only factual statements in a film essay are 1) the film was made by the people who made it on the dates it was made and released, 2) that the film affects that specific viewer in the manner described. No manner how the reviewer may try to speak for the masses, he speaks for none other than himself.

Aside from the nostalgic TV series of my youth, I have loved exploitation films and low budget films from the shadows of the disintegrated, collapsed past for one specific reason: these films allow a huge glob of then-current day life of the ordinary and the low in to their cinematic proceedings. They bring a certain smell alive to the viewer. The vanished vernacular, the look of the streets, the glossless reality of the cheap tenements and low dives in the the worst part of town, the cheap clothes worn by the commoner, the dances the working man did on the weekend, the sort of illicit behavior and entertainment that the underclass sought during after hours for escape from the backbreaking doldrums. The species of crime committed by immigrants oblivious to the English language and seeking alternatives to humiliating testes-crushing hard labor for virtually no pay. "Better carefully organized crime and graft for a dignified economic family life than humiliating poverty under back breaking labor," is a maxim that insured that cities in America were spangled from street to street with all manner of hustle, con, gangster, storefronts running numbers in back rooms, paid off cops, dancehalls, low dives, whorehouses, wisecracking asphalt talk, characters spangled with snide nicknames, corrupt politicans, and on and on. An entire ethos and human substrata that has vanished from the diorama of the 21st Century American City Street.

Super low budget films never had the high pretensions of multimillion dollar studios of today and yesterday; they are not fantasy worlds where escapist dreams are manufactured daily. The glossy, artifice saturated product of Hollywood is the highly controlled result of the studio universe, which does its best to erase the rough edges of the world outside.

Low budget films, on the other hand, by their very nature, cannot affect that level of filtration versus the world beyond their doors. Take a midcentury film from Hollwood like Double Indemnity: this is a film which scared its actors and stunned the industry by the grim portrayal of a couple of ordinary Americans as "fast buck motherfuckers," paraphrasing a writer on the Universal disc's documentary.

And yet--Double Indemnity, even in it's tiny milieu of backstabbing, murdering "fast buck motherfuckers" bears no resemblance to reality. The world outside of the doors of Paramount may have contained fast buck pieces of trash like the MacMurray-Stanwyk team in the film .  .  .  but they certainly looked nothing like that duo. . . the world of inequality, unfairness, of wrenching poverty, the tough world of survival, street corner hustles, legitimate cons and bunk--none of this is available to the viewer in the Paramount crime drama.

A so-called bad script is often a script that--by the professional Hollywood yardstick-- bears no resemblance to the demands of studio artifice at its best (and let's keep our eye on the ball here and remember that studio artifice is often glorious, enthralling, exhilarating, heartbreaking, wonderful... we are just celebrating something rarely appreciated and entirely different and giving it a moment in the bright sunlight--okay..cloudy skies-- of this blog).

But in the measure of the overall and the ever-after, a script like, say, Narcotic by Hildegard Stadie Esper is certainly running completely contra to everything that a Hollywood script requires .  .  .  as is the construction and execution in all departments of the film itself .  .  .  but this does not mean that the film is a) bad, or b) without value. This is an assessment or byproduct contingent upon each individual viewer on a case by case basis. Good for one, bad for another--a film is never anything but the prints, negatives and memories of those who made it once production has wrapped forever. All else--including this article--is mere keyboard thwacks, and disappating air from the lungs of unimportant civilians like me.

*           *           *

Ralph Like Productions operated at 1425/8 Fleming Street, Los Angeles, California, operating in a studio facility on that location that originally housed silent era production house Charles Ray Productions. Ralph Like, former soundman in the business, purchased the lot from Charles Ray productions when that house (that had produced some huge budget silents, one of which included a scale reproduction of the ship The Mayflower) folded.

There's naturally not an encyclopedic wealth of knowledge available out there about the studio, but from the remaining titles that exist we can get the sense of the product that the studio produced: quickly made, extremely low budget films; tales of low criminals; of streetwise undecorated cops; old dark house horror titles that were exceedingly common for the age .  .  . westerns, action and adventure titles. Like, before returning to his old craft of Sound Man, cranked out these genre pieces under the banners of Ralph M. Like Productions, Action Pictures, Mayfair Pictures and Progressive Pictures.

Chinatown After Dark, Docks of San Francisco, Dragnet Patrol, The Monster Walks, Tangled Destinies .  .  .  these are the precious treasure of remnant titles that have survived the dust and creeping must of the ages. To a title, each one of these films is acted in an often stilted manner, strangely tempoed, concerned with low sleazy characters, are shot either on oft-used locations or on studios that are redressed and used over and over again (Chinatown After Dark is a giant offender in this department).

And yet each of these films deliver to me an essential extract of the age that most glossy studio product from the early sound era deliver very rarely--a feel for the common, non-epic spirit of the times. The way the room of the common lower middle class person looked, a sense of the patter and vernacular, since the scripts were never highly labored over and the actors were typically not rehearsed into falseness. To tweeze out the feeling of authenticity that I mean, which is somewhat resident on the subliminal level of viewing, each of the films must be viewed more than once--these KIND of films must be viewed more than once to at last develop the craving. Then the key is given up to the viewer and he (or she) can start looking around within the proceedings and picking up items for closer examination: this line, that prop, this street, that action. Once no longer distracted or annoyed by the typical viewer's original untrained sensibility which informs the mind "This is a bad film," the aficionado has expanded their senses, formally and officially become widened in the amount of material they can step into and regularly participate with, forever-after.

Sublime grit and violence . . . and Mary Nolan. (Ralph M. Like, 1932)

The atmosphere of these films and others like them from the early sound era deliver a flavor of delicious, exotic strangeness; the bizarre Mischa Auer in Monster Walks; the bizarre line readings of Carmel Meyers' sinister Chinese female mastermind Madame Ying Su, as well as the eerie ethnic Chinese haunting the background, spying on Rex Lease and Frank Mayo through rainy windows in Chinatown After Dark; the weary eyed, gorgeous, junk-addicted, exhausted-in-real-life tragic figure of Mary Nolan in the fabulously tough and seedy Chinatown After Dark; the malevolent priest in Tangled Destinies in an unexpected plot twist and more.

These impressions are very personal and will vary from person to person depending on the elements they crave for transmission in their direction. The distant shadows in a crumbling plaster wall on a vacant leaning musty staircase from a vanished ancient NYC tenement past .  .  . it's an accidental visual poetry and their receipt triggers an enzyme release that is rather pleasant. The damp autumn leaves of Kirsanoff and Epstein.

This author's disposition is perfectly suited to the rank, weird and slimy residue that these early 30's films leave on the dashboard of his mind's eye. I don't kid myself that the masses love these films, and seek them out in their low budget packages (three bucks a pop, quite often) whenever and wherever they're found like I do; but there are many I know who do indeed exist in the same sphere of preoccupation as I, and thus know full well what this love-letter to a pre Cheepnis cheapness is all about.

Schreck / Clive

3/25/2015*** 


Preston Clive mar 26 15, 19:28
0 1

Nosferatu &. Destiny/Der Mude Tod (Murnau/Lang, 1921): Lest We Forget . . . .

The whole idea of a Silent Film Smackdown or kickboxing match to pronounce a "winner" in the end is an act bordering on a level of absurdity so profound its virtually without equal.

At the same time the idea of bunching these two supernatural films together just set upon me five minutes ago (approximately 12:45pm EST in NYC, 3/30/2015... we still have a little bit of time left before the planet blows up in a great fiery orgy of apocalypse because when a supermoon gets funky with a solar eclipse on the vernal equinox and god knows what-all else, being toasted down to a shivering microscopic cinder is the only possible outcome .  .  .  if you don't believe me then listen to Mystic Momma: she knows everything). I found the idea of a comparative appreciation unbearably alluring so I'm diving in without prep to close out this second calendar week of my resurrected blog.

Two foundational films from two foundational directors in Germany: Nosferatu by Murnau, and Der Mude Tod (aka Destiny) by Lang. Both made in 1921. Both the first undisputed masterpieces by either director. Both gloomy and dreary and filled with the inky charcoal of chiaroscuro. Both soaked with a cold damp wind of grey death. Both tone-setters for the way that Weimar Cinema would be perceived up to this very day. 

Both films are underpinned by awesome performances by singularly grim looking male actors portraying incarnations of death personified in worn, almost shabby costumes that have a perfectly weathered appearance, matching their heavily weathered faces.

Both films imbue the viewer with a hope that--as the narratives wend their ponderously gloomy way toward resolution--the forces of darkness can be defeated with a cipher of human innocence and genuine selflessness. And both crush that hope in conclusion with a rare power of precious, dismal poetry.

Both films harness the power of shadow in one of the earliest examples of sets bathed in shadow, soaked in broad swathes of inky darkness--aside from Evgeni Bauer, these are some of the first films to concretize the yet unspoken maxim of the great cameraman John Alton: it's not what you light, it's what you don't light.

Both films obsess over the rarest esoterica of the supernatural, a subject that was extremely rare in the cinema and would remain so for at least another ten years until the advent of the sound era in Universal Studios and the youthful risk-taking of Carl Laemmle Jr. From the birth of the full length five reeler in the teens and forward, most tales of the supernatural turned out to have rational explanations in the end: scheming relatives trying to scare an inheritor away from a fortune, a cop dressing up as a supernatural creature to scare the competition away, and on and on.

*           *           *

Not only did the two of these films concern themselves with the supernatural, they obsessed for obscurest esoterica of the supernatural. .  .  secret ciphers and glyphs of forgotten hidden societies, mysterious roots and bulbs that were believed to give off healing powers under the glow of a seasonal moon. .  .   the whirling of Muslim dervishes to celebrate the Sufist concept of God (in the much larger Earth of the early 20th Century, how many Europeans knew much about Islam beyond the Arabian Nights?), Paracelsian esoterica, the vampiric myths of eastern Europe and the legends about the foggy, hard-to-reach crumbling castles high on little-traveled passes .  .  .  ideas that in their actual form are as obscure today as they were back then almost a hundred years ago.

Through books like The Demoniac/Haunted Screen by Lotte Eisner, or From Caligari To Hitler by Siggy Kracauer, it's easy to fall into the ridiculous trap of thinking that the German screen of post-war Weimer was filled with little else but doom, gloom, death and the supernatural--but it's not true.

Like the films of Douglas Fairbanks or Llloyd or Chaplin here in the USA from the same period, these are simply the films that, because of their budget, skilled craftsmen, unusual quality and thus broad exhibition, gained great popularity with the public and thus were 1) duped and exhibited voluminously whereby 2) copies wound up surviving here and there and thus made it to the modern era in a far greater percentile versus the ordinary Westerns, adventure films, romances, serials, comedies by transitory flavor-of-the-moment actors and actresses, and newsreels that came out with far far far greater frequency. Eighty percent of the films from the silent era at very least have been lost. The number is probably greater.

Even the studio planet of UFA, known for its Pommerian universe of artifice and grand scale, was a factory grinding out typical studio fare. UFA was no more the studio of super-expensive giant sized productions any more than Universal in the 1920's was a studio that put out nothing but Stroheim and Lon Chaney million dollar super jewels. Universal Hollywood in those days was essentially a B studio--cranking out low budget westerns, serials, comedies, romances, and all the other drek that comes in between. They put out a super jewel feature complete with glossy printed magazine size programs, sheet music sold to the public, etc once a year. Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback, The Man Who Laughs, the Stroeheims, you'll notice that you will almost never find a year where a Universal film with towering, mindbendingly expensive sets is released alongside another of equal budget but of completely different pedigree and subject and art direction. The studio finances just couldn't handle it.

As far as UFA was concerned, it was the stretch from 24-27 where they attempted to ratchet up the studio superproductions to simultaneity (Faust/Nibelungen/Metropolis) that saw the studio stumble right into financial trouble and right into Alfred Hugenberg's mitts.

The point is this: even in the hallowed halls of the old UFA in the first half of the twenties, just pre and post acquisition of Decla Bioskop, the vast majority of cinematic fare in Germany was the same boring fluff made for as little as possible that plagues any era of film. At least when it comes to the connoisseur, with a taste for something different and somewhat more substantial.

How miraculous are both of these films--how so are both of these men. What different temperaments, yet how similar are both of these breakthroughs for both of them. Nosferatu's influence over the years has been endless, although upon its initial release its success was staggered by the Stoker family suit. Der Mude Tod--we know it floored Luis Bunuel; we know it bowled Hitchcock over and remained his favorite film. We know--speaking of the American swashbuckler-- Douglas Fairbanks freaked for the Lang film and bought its rights so he could cruelly shove it in a closet and first copy, then release a flying carpet sequence lifted straight out of the Oriental sequence first, before the appearance of Der Mude Tod in the states. Uncool.

It's very easy in this age of all manner of films everywhere, our senses dulled by porn and CGI and terrorism and apps and all manner of strange information available at the click of a mouse, to miss the impact of Nosferatu and Der Mude Tod

In a field of endless homogeneity and unspectacular, average, mindless prattle as far as the eyes can see--an occasional decent mind here and there, okay, it's true--suddenly two men walk in out of nowhere with completely overwhelming talent and brains, and demonstrate at the same time the strangest taste and aesthetic inclinations. People stop, stunned, staring at the screen, jaws agape. 

How is it that this happens? Just a few times every century? Men arrive almost as if they landed from Saturn, with minds concerned with subject matter that baffle ordinary folks .  .  .  strange men who scare people .  .  .and nonetheless awe the chilled common man to the marrow with the hitherto unseen level of talent that hurls all that originality flowing naturally through their veins direct into the beholding viewer as if by injection?

Almost above all other films from the era--there are others of course--savor these films. Never allow yourself to become numb to their meaning and what they say about the young, barely experienced men who made them and dazzled the planet .  .  .  still to this day. Generation after generation.

Schreck/Clive

3/20/2015***

    

 

 


Preston Clive mar 20 15, 23:09
+1 1

Nosferatu; General Blogging Update 3/19/2015

I've made a general decision to migrate the sum total of all my blogging, audio commentary included, over to this Olanola platform for the time being--it's essentially the same blogging framework as Wordpress, and as I have access to marketing and promotion tools here via the management and inner connections to our network of sites, there's no reason not to simplify and streamline.

As one of my favorite commentators David Kalat released a commentary on Nosferatu just as I was in preparation of my own back in 2013, I simply backed off and allowed his to shine; I don't want to be compared to David ;@}

Now that a year plus has gone by since the release of the German BD (and the Kino disc; I've acquired the MoC) and I've refired the ol' synapses, I'm going to resurrect the audio commentary component of my blog, but at a slower pace than I did previously .  .  .  they are a lot of work. I write them, time them, record and engineer them, compress them to mp3, get them hosted with a share link, and create a blog post to link them. It's a lot of work that makes my long blog entries of the current day look like a Sunday nap in late May.

I love doing them, and nothing would be more retarded than complaining about something I took upon myself--but if there's anything that makes me cringe, it's announcing something as forthcoming, and then not following through.

But since I've already begun the planning stage of organization and note taking, I should have the Nosferatu commentary up within the next (approximately) ten to fourteen days. I'll attach the commentary audio mp3 link right here to the announce when ready.

I'm actually flirting with a massive undertaking, doing a full commentary for Die Nibelungen; if I relent I'll likely do Destiny/Der Mude Tod instead.

*           *           *

In our expansion of the blogging platform, I'm getting them to dump some irrelevant content and bring in some new stuff including some flagship bloggers with an existing audience.

This aside, we're looking to open the rolls to two or three new voices--new bloggers that we'll actively promote. It can be on cinema of any stripe, it could be on engineering, it could be on anything--as long as you have a quality about you. If you've flirted with launching something, and you think you can carry it at least weekly and hold an audience, hit me up anywhere you'd like.

I'm working directly with a web magnate estimated by Fortune to have $650 mil, and we'll promote those couple of voices that rise to the challenge to grow a following for them.

As for the traffic from you guys it's been beyond expectations, so thank you all--especially since I had disappeared for so long, nearly two years. I'm such a retard at times it amazes me an audience sticks with me. Thanks all.

Preston Clive AKA HerrSchreck

3/19/2015***

 


Preston Clive mar 19 15, 22:19
+1 1
All topics: 3

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