Two films that aren’t particularly related

Tops
Charles and Ray Eames, US, 1969
 tops
At first glance this is just a film about people playing with tops, but with a little concentration you can almost hear the heavens proclaiming the glory of God.  The apparatus itself works as a result of balanced centripetal and centrifugal forces. The strong outward forces are focused and contained by the pin or post that balances them.  Parables anyone?  After a dizzying display of mechanical, cultural, and emotional diversity you come back to the fact that each top operates, each player benefits, because of the exactly identical physical principle. All for one, one for all.
The Eames’ usual methods and virtues are here, in spades. What would it be like to have Elmer Bernstein as your personal composer?  Note the little musical elaboration when that silver top starts spinning. Note also the shot in which the camera pushes forward into focus, then arcs to an overhead shot. Exact execution, on a practically microscopic scale. The heart catches.
Available on volume 5 of The Films of Charles and Ray Eames (Image Entertainment)
The Mummy
Karl Freund, US, 1932

The opening of this movie is terrific.  Patient, quiet, atmospheric, with a rising tension and thickening atmosphere.  It’s Mr. Freund, of course, here and through the duration of the piece.  Nice how a range of western/modern attitudes are embodied by the attending white guys.  One is a devoted scientist, one a scientist unto careerism or exploitation, one ridiculously credulous about the power of the occult.  It’s also interesting how those British Museum debates—are they preserving the world’s antiquities, or plain plundering?—are clearly and sort of complicatedly articulated. The indirectness of the Mummy’s awakening—a young expedition member barely whispers the portentous words as he tries to make them out—is superb, leading to a contrast in volume and a real frisson when the young expedition member actually cracks up.  Also, amazing make-up!

20100801215412!Boris_Karloff_The_Mummy

The ten-years-later thing causes a deflation of sorts, but it’s nowhere near as bad as what happens when Browning’s Dracula goes back to civilization.  That’s one crazy looking dame!  The romance is awful, of course: arbitrary, gratuitous, unconvincing.  A lot like what happens in L&H, or the Marx brothers films.  You find yourself hoping that Imhotep will prevail (though homogenized 1930’s audiences might not have seen it that way).  Maybe that’s why he starts to pull our heroine him-ward; it’s not just monster power, but their kindred relationship.  She’s his countrywoman!  Plus he has those really cool glowing eyes.
I love the flashback, and the kind of chilling, kind of thrilling explication of the blasphemy that caused this curse in the first place. It’s terrible, at the same time that it makes a lot of sense.  With regard to colonialism, or the presumptuous Western habit of demonizing anything that isn’t it, the film’s conclusion constitutes a pretty cool compromise. The parallel montage between the imperiled damsel and her erstwhile saviours only leads to the realization that these cowboys are out of their depth.  In the end it’s the Egyptian deity that dispatches the Egyptian baddie.
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