This week's Movie Morlocks blog at TCM concerns my fascination with the effects achieved by the studio era artisan, Slavko Vorkapich, a man whose blend of technical proficiency and artistic purpose left us with several remarkable sequences in several cherished films, as well as a series of though-provoking experimental films. This piece begins below:
Think of a montage in a classic movie. Are you picturing falling calendar pages, or swirling newspaper headlines spinning toward the camera lens, stock market crashes, the outbreak of wars or the mounting hysteria of an anonymous crowd evolving into a mob?
Perhaps we've seen them so many times, we are no longer conscious that these sequences in familiar movies were often composed with such artistry by unseen hands. Yet, if you are an inveterate credit reader of classic films, one of the guys who developed these artful transitions had what is still an unfamiliar name to many of us.
Even if the name of Slavko Vorkapich (1894-1976) fails to ring a bell, you definitely know his work, especially if you happened to catch Wednesday evening's broadcast of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939-Frank Capra) on TCM. In a matter of moments, a lively montage unfolded in that film, telescoping the overwhelmingly heady experience of Jimmy Stewart's impressions of the nation's capitol as he went on a whirlwind travelogue of the sights, ending at one of the most moving, the Lincoln Memorial. Bursting with movement and rapid visual imagery, the sequence conveys the naive Stewart's ebullience, awe and sense of freedom once he eludes his handlers, (led by the inimitable froggy-voiced Eugene Pallette).
That was just one example of Vorkapich's remarkable ability to goose the story of just about any film using a visual shorthand blending wipes, dissolves, flip-flops, and super-impositions to summarize and punctuate events during films, especially in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s.