More Roegery. The recent BBC documentary about Nicolas Roeg has yet to appear on YouTube but this Guardian Lecture appeared there a few days ago. Roeg was in the news in 1983 following the release of Eureka, a film with a solid reputation today but one which the distributors weren’t happy with at the time. There’s no mention of these problems in this 37-minute interview with the late Philip Strick which ranges throughout Roeg’s career, and even includes some mention of his ill-fated plan to direct Flash Gordon for Dino De Laurentiis. It’s too short, of course, as these things always are, and Roeg has always been a somewhat rambling interviewee, but for Roeg-philes it’s worth a watch. The documentary I’d really like to see again is Nothing As It Seems: The Films of Nicolas Roeg, made the year before by Paul Joyce, and featuring contributions from two key collaborators: Donald Cammell and Paul Mayersberg.
Halloween approaches so here’s a frivolous piece of Hollywood Diablerie. The Devil’s Cabaret (1930) was one of several short films made to showcase dance sequences shot for The March of Time, an MGM musical abandoned by the studio halfway through production. The footage from the earlier film is a short ballet sequence featuring a company of horned ballerinas dancing around an enormous, leering Devil’s head. Dimitri Tiomkin composed the music. All the footage was shot using an early Technicolor process so the film is subtitled “A Colortone Novelty”.
The framing narrative is a sequence of short sketches that offend many of the principles the Hays Code was brought in to protect a few years later. An uncredited Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon films) is a CEO-like Satan urging his Vice President Howie Burns (geddit?) to counter Heaven’s successes by bringing more souls to Hades (the word “Hell” only gets used at the end but after 1934 it was banned from use altogether). Burns does this by interrupting a religious meeting on Earth with a jazzy dance sequence that turns into a strip show; everyone in the audience rushes to join the damned. Once in Hades the newcomers are treated to the March of Time ballet. Elsewhere there’s some laboured humour, references to the Wall Street Crash and Prohibition, and a fair amount of salacious dialogue. Films such as these are always a good reminder of how risqué Hollywood could be before everyone adopted the production code. (Thanks to Gabe for the tip!)