Monday, November 23, 2015

Kevin Brownlow: it's nice to get an answer sometimes

-----Original Message-----
From: Kevin Brownlow
Sent: Monday, November 23, 2015 1:41 PM
To: Margaret Gunning

At long last I have located that film you enquired about. LE MOULIN
MAUDIT was made in 1909 by Alfred Machin. The English title was THE
MILL, it was made by Pathe and the print emanated from the Cinematheque
Francaise, not the EYE Institute, Amsterdam, as I thought, It was
restored by the CNC. Here is the description in the Bologna catalogue
for 2009; 'Adultery, madness, murder, suicide and a sinister windmill
which confers epic dimensions on this six-minute film. The elderly
husband crucifies his young rival on the mill's sails and their sombre
shadow in the river beats time as the deadly finale is played out. Is
this the film that Julien Green (1900-1998) saw as a child and which
gave him nightmares? The elements and the atmosphere are the same: a
river, an "avenging mill" and a nightmarish escalation of horror.' (I
think Mariann Lewinsky wrote that).

You won't be surprised to learn that the director, Alfred Machin, was
primarilly  famous for making films for children! He was also a
front-line cameraman in WW1. Julien Green was an American  who wrote in
French, and who became the first non-French writer to be elected to the
Academie Francaise.

Very best

Thank you for that - it's pretty gruesome stuff. So, would this be shown as
a double feature with a comedy, perhaps a Chaplin film?  I am not sure who
the target audience was for this sort of dark expressionist stuff. The first
time I watched it, I thought it must be some kind of faux silent film or
even a parody (the heroine tied to the railroad tracks?). It's just so
sadistic, actually shocking. A morality tale, too - everyone gets punished,
even the punisher. (Those pants, though - I guess he just had to go.) My
favorite moment is when the husband finds the wooden shoes at the bottom of
the ladder. The two of them aren't actually shown going up it  - I guess
that would just be too immoral. But the idea of him scurrying up there in
bare feet - . Much more is left to the imagination here. I note too the
woman is wearing an actual corset, not a costume one. I think women were
still wearing them then.

These things are time machines, for sure.


I made a gif of this - I'll try to send it - the guy going around and around
strapped to the windmill.

POST-BLOG COMMENTS. Along with my gifs of Le Moulin Maudit (which I will post in its entirety when I get around to it, because I have a lot more I want to say about it - it's a brilliant little devilish piece of early filmmaking/storytelling), I wanted to include my lovely email exchange with Kevin Brownlow, which happened today. In case you don't know, he's the world's foremost expert on silent film and an Oscar winner for lifetime achievement in silent film restoration. And! Of all the people I tried to contact and get interested in The Glass Character, he was really the only one that took any interest or bothered to respond. I had initial interest from Rich Correll, who used to be considered Harold's "second son" and who actually phoned me from Los Angeles a couple of years ago. But there was no followup. The trail went cold when he stopped answering my emails and calls for no reason I could ascertain. Likewise with Annette Lloyd - I somehow turned her off, I think, maybe by making too familiar with her biographical subject.

Of all the people I contacted, or tried to, Kevin Brownlow was the least likely to respond because of his tremendous status and obvious busy-ness as a world figure in cinema. He's also well into his seventies and has devoted decades to the cause. As a matter of fact, he began when silent films were still being melted down and made into bootheels and such, tossed aside as dross that no one would be interested in watching. He met Harold Lloyd when he was a young  film student and immediately loved him, seeing him as charming, unpretentious and not at all vain or self-obsessed.

The first time I sent an email to a major film figure and actually got a RESPONSE, I was amazed. Kevin Brownlow, for whom words like "distinguished" seem invented, with that cut-glass English accent, turned out to be jolly good fun, accessible, and friendly. He usually answered my questions promptly and with pleasure. Though I knew he wouldn't have time to read it, he agreed to write a blurb for my book that leant the back cover more than a touch of class.

If you're interested in silent film, then he is interested in talking to you. I didn't find this kind of courtesy and respect anywhere else, and I don't think I ever will.

This doesn't bring me any closer to my movie version of The Glass Character. It doesn't make the book A Success in the mysterious way it is supposed to be. But it was and is a wondrous thing to connect with someone like this. And to have him do some homework on this movie I asked about, and to GET BACK TO ME about it, is nothing short of a bloody miracle in an age when the unanswered email and the ignored request seems like the norm.

POST-BLOG-POST REVELATION! Today, a couple of weeks later, I actually got something in the mail - but it wasn't just anything. It was postmarked from Britain, neatly addressed by hand (a rarity in itself) with no return address.

I opened it, and saw a greeting card:

A Christmas card from Kevin Brownlow, signing himself as Kevin, yes, as if we're friends. . . or at least, as if he's a wonderful and warm person who goes to the trouble to handwrite a card and send it all the way over the ocean to me.

He has done this sort of thing before, when he sent me a wonderful antique postcard of Rudolph Valentine which sits on my desk in a lucite frame.

Somebody has to come through for me, I guess. And the fact that it's the one who knows the most about this subject is not lost on me. Some days, rare days, almost nonexistent days, this all seems worthwhile.

POST TO THE POST-POST! The card contained an enclosure: a photocopy of a page from a book. It's a little hard to read what's on it, so I'll transcribe:

"Lashed to a windmill by a Nebraska mob that dragged him from court, a murderer faces an exotic death. The sherriff halted the rite - depicted in the Police News in 1884 - and the man got a life term instead."

Kevin's comment was, "This isn't very Christmassy but it certainly is a coincidence! Just came across it in Time/Life's THE OLD WEST."

Nebraska, eh? That's where Harold was born and raised. But this poor man, like St. Peter, is being crucified upside-down.

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