Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Black Pirate

A funny thing happened on the way to the picture theatre. Well, not funny from my point of view, and all as a result of a silly omission in the morning. On Thursday I had three films back to back (Flame & Citron, Camino and The Black Pirate). But I left for the first film not knowing this vital fact. For some reason I got it into my head that there was quite a big gap between the second and third films and thought I could come home and blog a bit between films. So I thought nothing was wrong in going out without my ticket to The Black Pirate.

The first inkling I had of the impending disaster was discussing the rest of my day with Anna as we walked down the Courtenay Place after Flame & Citron. She said that all she knew about Camino was it was a long film. I did some mental arithmetic Camino was due to start in 25 minutes and The Black Pirate less than 3 hours after that. I hoped Anna was wrong and silently cursed my hubris. While buying a coffee I bumped into Lance which took my mind off things for a bit. Any hope that Anna was wrong was dashed as Camino is one of those films where the ending happens slower than global warming. I was glad I resisted the temptation to leave before the end, because the final two scenes are quite good, but I found myself in Courtenay Place again with 25 minutes to go and no ticket.

I decided to go home and get my ticket. 5:50pm is rush hour and while taking a bus might have saved me some time, I had no idea how slow the bus would be and trying to sit still while the bus crawled its way through town didn't seem a good idea. So I set off on foot, alternately walking and running (I think my lack of fitness slowed me more than my jandles). At home I rushed up stairs, grabbed the ticket and back down to the car. I backed it out of the garage and set off just as the film was due to start. Rush hour and Thursday night meant that it was a slow trip through town and the nearest park I found was on Oriental Parade. So I am running again, this time I catch my toe on the curb and find myself sprawled on my hands and knees in Wakefield St just as the lights turn green.

So that is why I can't tell you what happens at the beginning of The Black Pirate. But I am glad I made the effort. The Black Pirate is a silent film made in 1926 but surprisingly it was made in colour. The camera work is non-existent, no zoom, no panning or tracking, just a fixed camera. All the skill is in the action and the pianist (in this case Neil Brand playing with one eye on the screen). I arrived just as Douglas Fairbanks is marooned and the pirates are dividing some spoils and hide the gold in a cave on an island. Douglas Fairbanks decides to join the pirates and sets out to make himself their leader and calling himself the Black Pirate. Things become difficult when the first ship he captures has a beautiful female passenger, who he naturally falls in love with and tries to save.

The often repeated stunt where someone slides down a curtain or sail using a dagger or knife originated in The Black Pirate. There is another scene you might have seen repeated in a more recent pirate movie where a group of soldiers is filmed swimming in formation under water to retake the ship the pirates have seized. One of the funniest scenes is where a pirate is trying to keep awake by jamming dagger, point upwards, under his chin, and when nods off the dagger slips and and point goes up his nose.

The piano accompaniment was very well done, with a convincing piano explosion when one of the ships explodes. At the end Douglas Fairbanks gets the girl once she realises that he is actually a Duke in disguise (she turns out to be a Princess -- though what she is doing in the Caribbean is not explained).

We are so used to cameras following actors around or zooming in on the action that it is disconcerting when the camera does not act as we are used to.

Ian's rating 3/5

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