Too Much Is Never Enough

Thanks to George Eastman House, the Cineteca del Friuli and the National Film Preservation Foundation, here are a few more frame enlargements from “Too Much Johnson,” the recently rediscovered Orson Welles project of 1938. Among the performers are Joseph Cotten, Edgar Barrier, Arlene Francis, Virginia Nic(h)olson and Ruth Ford — and is that John Houseman in the Keystone Kop get-up?

Welles’s signature seems quite visible on many of these images, most conspicuously on that down angle of the crowded dock, which strongly suggests a certain climactic moment in “Citizen Kane.” Kind of makes you want to see the movie, which will have its premiere at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in October.

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67 comments to Too Much Is Never Enough

  • Barry Putterman

    Thanks for the kind words Mike. However, as many have no doubt noted, since that last sentence begins with “their practices,” it should have ended with “ARE deplorable.”

    Nevertheless we are now left with the tantalizing question; in a fair fight, would orange or teal save the cat? A possible debate topic for the next issue of “Film Quarterly?”

  • Oliver_C

    “In a fair fight, would orange or teal save the cat?”

    The twist being, it’s a ginger tom in the role. The cat is orange!

  • In addition to Welles’ interest in heights, it is also a major subject In Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan.
    In Dwan it often takes the form of people climbing buildings or trees, scrambling over roofs, and other human fly stuff. Dwan did a lot of this with Douglas Fairbanks in the 1910’s, and it stuck throughout his career.

    WIlliam Desmond Taylor also did this in his silents. Hey, Taylor was a good director, but his murder has pre-empted all other thinking about him.

    In Walsh the high places are often mountains or cliffs – remember HIGH SIERRA? But they also take the form of buildings, including the finale of WHITE HEAT, as Daniel mentioned.
    Detailed lists on both in my web-articles.
    ***
    The Wikipedia article on “Complementary Colors” has a long discussion, including blue-orange being used by masterpieces by Monet and Van Gogh in the 1800’s. See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementary_colors

    In Studio Hollywood, blue-orange was frequently used by Minnelli. Sometimes just in individual scenes. But it is especially pervasive in three of his dramas, THE COBWEB, SOME CAME RUNNING and TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN. Minnelli used many other color schemes as well.

    I don’t know of other studio era directors who used it regularly.
    But have some example of individual scenes in individual films:

    Allan Dwan:
    hero’s office, heroine’s rooms, meal: Montana Belle,
    shack at start, restaurant, hotel lobby: The River’s Edge

    Raoul Walsh:
    heroine’s bedroom, apartment, dining room: Band of Angels

    William Castle
    Native American costumes and camp: The Gun That Won the West

    George Cukor:
    A Star Is Born

    I’ve never seen blue-orange in John Ford.
    We can’t have a thread without Ford!

  • Daniel F.

    Mike, I really enjoy the way you extend upon these themes. There is a distinction, however, you should note re: the orange and teal schemes:

    I doubt that this earlier generation of directors you cite would have been able to create in-camera, mixed color temperature orange and teal contrasts, for the technological developments were not likely in place for them to do so. In particular, developments in film stock latitude, “faster” film and lenses, and perhaps some slighter developments in lighting technology, are the fundamental reason why a presumed color temperature (measured in Kelvins) “accident” on set could happen in the way it did. And those films beginning in the ’80s were likely some of the first, larger productions where the resulting contrasts were noticeable. Probably not the “very” first, but in the ballpark.

    So, I think what you are recognizing is more a factor of set / production design. Perhaps something akin to the way Demy painted the set of _Umbrellas of Cherbourg_ in primary colors, but just substitute the secondary color scheme of the color wheel to favor orange and teal. This would be quite different than mixing color temperatures of light sources to register within the same shot upon film stock. And, pre-digital, it is not an easy thing to pull off, even with highly capable D.P.’s, lab developers, and analog color correction.

    In these digital days of course, it’s a much different story, and perhaps one of the motivations for the ubiquitous use of O. and T. But even then, experienced D.P.’s would still be quite aware that they were mixing the opposing temperatures in terms of lighting the set, despite digital shooting and post-production.

    Now, I do allow the possibility that I could be wrong on this, but I am pretty sure the developmental history would bear out this distinction.

    That said, I also think the formidable list of directors you noted would likely have been even more capable and refined in their application of mixed-light source color contrast, had they the opportunity to do so with later technological development. Minnelli, I’d wager, could have had a field day with it.

    Finally, as far as extending directors and heights: I can’t say it’s a visual trajectory of his, but I absolutely love Anthony Mann’s final shots of Doc Tobin falling down the mountain heights in _Man of the West_.

  • Foster Grimm

    I wish to apologize for my truly idiotic post at the beginning of this thread. Coming off some very minor surgery, whatever I was taking clouded both my reading comprehension and my judgement. I am truly sorry.

  • Foster Grimm

    What I really wanted to write then was that what struck me about the screen caps for TOO MUCH JOHNSON was that they brought to mind Soviet cinema of the 20’s and early 30’s.
    The Young Turks of the American theater of the time were influenced by Soviet theater, whether the emotional realism of Stanislavsky, political agit-prop, or the stylization of Meyerhold.
    And Soviet films were often shown in New York at the time.

  • Robert Garrick

    Elmore Leonard has died. We’ve talked about him here before. At least a half-dozen films did justice to his great writing, among them “Out of Sight” (1998), “Jackie Brown” (1997), “3:10 to Yuma” (1957), and “The Tall T” (1957). Also John Frankenheimer’s really nasty little number “52 Pick-Up” (1986), which is probably the last film in which Ann-Margret got to actually play Ann-Margret, and which features a death (of Kelly Preston) that is one of the most sadistic things I’ve seen in a mainstream film. It’s one of those films, like William Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), that goes out of its way to feature the dark side of Los Angeles.

    Leonard is most famous for his crime novels, but he also sourced a dozen westerns. Besides the two already mentioned, we have “Hombre” (1967), Joe Kidd (1972), “Valdez is Coming” (1971), “Border Shootout” (1990), and “Desperado” (1987). And there’s a film that combines both genres, Richard Fleischer’s “Mr. Majestyk” (1974), starring Charles Bronson. It’s a cut above the others.

    Leonard was known for his dialogue, but his plotting and characters were also well above average. He was 87.

  • Alex Hicks

    For novels as late has his 2012 “Raylan” Elmore Leonard was getting raves like these.

    “[Leonard’s] finely honed sentences can sound as flinty/poetic as Hemingway or as hard-boiled as Raymond Chandler. His ear for the way people talk—or should—is peerless.” (Detroit News )

    “There is no greater writer of crime fiction than Elmore Leonard…” (The Guardian (UK)

    Nice selection of four great Leonard absed films, as well as of many fine ones, Robert Garrick.

  • John Heath

    That’s quite a list of films to have to one’s credit. I was just watching THE TALL T yesterday, and marveling at how remarkably consistent the quality of Leonard’s dialogue had remained between this film (which lifts lines verbatim from Leonard’s short story) and the latest season of my beloved JUSTIFIED (which does the same thing from Leonard’s recent stories in RAYLAN).

    Those of us who were fans of his writing will miss him, but we are left with a prolific body of work to explore. They will be making movies from Elmore Leonard’s work for years to come.

  • alex

    Incisive appreciation of Elmore Leonard ‘s plots at NYBOOKS.com.

  • alex

    Mike Grost,

    Here ‘s a response to your Monday call for some John Ford.

    His lustily vital MOGAMBO, a nice companion piece to the QUIET MAN of a year or two before and a nice reprise of his sure hand with vital stars, this Sunday at 6:00 on TCM.

  • Foster: “what struck me about the screen caps for TOO MUCH JOHNSON was that they brought to mind Soviet cinema of the 20′s and early 30′s.”

    This is an interesting observation!

    Some of the shots of the baroque architecture of Xanadu at the beginning of Citizen Kane remind one of the baroque basilica in Sergei Eisenstein’s Qué viva Mexico! (1932).

    It’s All True recalls Qué viva Mexico!, in that both are poetic documentaries shot in Latin America, with rich composition.

    Mr. Arkadin: The party with the Goya masks shows Welles’ deep interest in painting. They recall the Day of the Dead masks worn in Sergei Eisenstein’s Qué viva Mexico! (1932). The flagellants in Eisenstein’s film also anticipate Welles.

    Madrid Bullfight: Around the World with Orson Welles. The arcades that are a Welles trademark show up in the bullring, in the title credits. There are two stories of corridors, with Welles’ beloved rounded arches topping pillars at the top. The exterior of the bullring is also full of arched doorways, which form much of the background of the mid-section of the episode. There are similar series of arches in the bullring of Eisenstein’s Qué viva Mexico.

    Both Basque episodes in Around the World with Orson Welles end with the same sequence: a festival with a metallic bull shooting off fireworks, recalling a similar artificial-bull-with-fireworks in Eisenstein’s Qué viva Mexico!. These sequences recall the Chinatown processions near the end of The Lady From Shanghai.

    The emphasis on editing in F for Fake, combined with the scenes of the film itself being edited on a moviola, recall The Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1928). Welles’ film is as much of a montage film, as are many of the early Soviet classics.

    Citizen Kane shows a newsreel being made. This is a film-within-the film.

  • alex

    Welles was of course tied to both Eisenstein and Mexican iconography via his early 1940s affair with Delores del Rio, centerpiece of the classic Mexican films of EmilioFernandez and Gabriel Figueroa, the latter a camera man on QUE VIVA MEXICO — both apprentice to Tisse and instructor in the evolving iconography of Diego Riviera.

  • alex

    Del Rio, however, could not have served as much of a conduit for influences of Eisenstein on Welles until she was both acquainted with Welles and Figueroa –which was evidently not the case before 1942.

  • Blake Lucas

    Dave, are you going to link your more recent piece on Rene Clement’s “The Damned”?

    I read this piece and it was very interesting. I hadn’t even heard of this movie but Clement has been an interesting and engaging director at times and this definitely made me want to see it–it sounds fascinating. There are good insights about the relationship between the Occupation and French filmmaking in the piece.

  • alex

    Early Tati, Resistance-inspired films, GERVAISE, PURPLE NOON, the post -modern PASSENGER IN THE RAIN — Clement offers a lot to think about.