Friday, January 16, 2009


By Wood Soanes, March 12, 1932

Ernst Lubitsch gave some advice to movie directors in general, with those who ape his camera tricks particularly in mind, in a New York interview this week, the tenor of his remarks being an urge for simplicity in films.

“The time has come,” he told reporters, “when motion picture directors must stop exploiting the technical achievements of the screen to the detriment of the artistic side; simplification should be the keynote of future productions.”

“We need time to digest the technical processes now available. So much progress has been made technically that we have a difficult time keeping up artistically. The best camera angle is the angle you don’t notice. Any technique that is obvious is condemnable from the artistic point of view.”

“I like movement in a picture just as much as any one else, but moving the camera around like a twentieth century limited is insane. The moving camera is only justified when the movement means something to the drama; otherwise it is wasted footage and wasted time.

Instead of concentrating your story – and the story should always be concentrated – it prolongs the action. I am not interested in seeing a man walk through a whole room unless it has some significance to the story of the picture.”

And after counseling his associates, Lubitsch admitted that he had devised a new means of handling difficult situations in “One Hour With You,” the picture in which Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald will be seen soon.
The picture contains several monologue scenes which required different treatment.

“In these scenes,” Lubitsch went on, “Chevalier looks directly into the camera – that is, facing the audience – and takes them into his confidence. Of course, that aside is familiar on the stage, but I don’t think it has ever been done before on the screen.”

Thus, quietly, Lubitsch has stolen a march on M-G-M, which has to do something of this sort in the production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude,” where all of the characters have two sets of speeches – the one they deliver to the other character – and the ones they speak to the audience, representing their thoughts.

But Lubitsch is right, nevertheless, in his complaint about the over-emphasis of camera angles. These are all well and good when the plot needs pepping up, but so often they detract more than they add. A recent example of the effectiveness of straight photography was in the big scene of “The Broken Lullaby.” Unfotunately, however, there are not enough Barrymores to go around.

Speaking of camera angles and such like, M-G-M sends word that engineers there have completed work on a portable “sound studio” so small that it can be packed in the back of a flivver, but can record anything from a full symphony orchestra to a whisper, exactly as it is done on a sound stage.

The technicians have developed and built the new apparatus so that it will record sound and pictures on separate film, just as it is done in studio practice to facilitate cutting. It is in this point that it differs from ordinary portables used in news reels in which all sound and pictures are photographed simultaneously on one film and can not be edited or altered.

Among the regular studio features in the new apparatus are complete sound reduction monitoring facilities through the split-beam system, special light valves in their own dust-proof cases, microscope for inspection, oscillator for valve testing and the like. The machine was built entirely in the M-G-M shops, and is constructed mainly of aluminum and duralumin. It was used for the first time on Jackie Cooper’s new picture, “Limpy.”

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