pseudopodium
. . . Lazybones

. . .

Consumer Alert

We interrupt this incomprehensibabble for some straightforward advice. If you care about movies and you can get to Berkeley, California, make the trip while the Pacific Film Archive projects an unprecedented selection of films by Frank Borzage: 12 in its official Borzage series, 3 as part of a Janet Gaynor fest.

From what I've seen before, I'm particularly looking forward to Man's Castle (the reason Lars von Trier doesn't impress me), Lazybones (the most mysteriously moving experience I've ever had in a theater), and A Farewell to Arms, whose recent restoration transformed a warhorse into full Borzageosis. Among those I've never had a shot at, I'm especially excited by Little Man What Now? if only because goddamn what a great title for a Borzage picture.

Enraptured cinephiles "invariably" consider Borzage the most unrecognized of great Hollywood auteurs. Despite his unique long-career-long meld of earthiness and transcendence, the situation's unlikely to improve until his best work becomes more widely available. Join us in our privilege.

. . .

Lazybones (1925)

This film is the world, really, in an hour and a half, in eighty minutes, it shows us the world. And manages the job without donkey torture.

In most other ways, though, Borzage's titular saint anticipates Bresson's: patient, gentle, a bit obtuse, stubborn, and above all passive. What makes the difference isn't so much the leading man's species as the filmmaker's spirit. For all the catharsis he provides, Borzage is not in the least tragic. His waterworks run at full capacity in happy endings, and even in his unhappiest endings which can be very unhappy suffering's redeemed by a gain so vast that its loss still counts as treasure.

Lazybones, in particular, keeps to the cornball comic mode as closely as it can while circumventing a suicide attempt, casual cruelties, meticulous soul-crushing deceit, and the Great War. At least one writer associates that circuit with 1930s generic mélanges like Borzage's screwball-thriller-disaster-romance History Is Made at Night, but the tone isn't that much darker than the Americana of Will Rogers, or, later, The Strawberry Blonde and Meet Me in St. Louis, even if its final import seems more global.

Lacking the body-and-soul lust that propels Borzage's other transcendences, what power propels this one?

Not the characters or incidents or hoary gags of the script, certainly; types and tableaux wheeled atop and off the stage, they could have been drawn as stick figures, almost, in their unadorned familiarity.

The performers are wonderful, but never this wonderful with any other director. Dithering Zasu Pitts? Cowboy Buck Jones? (But then Borzage himself began as a movie cowboy.) Even the five-year-old engages us.

The conceptual audacity of centering a movie on a good, decent man has something to do it, but Borzage made other conceptually audacious movies kids invent fascism; Jesus harrows a prison break which never fully send us.

What makes Lazybones effective, for those affected by it, is all of the above: the unfussy performances, the drifty protagonist, and the parabolic simplicity they enable. Lacking the prefab Hollywood structure of goal and conflict and resolution, the film marks time by what marks it most forcefully in life: the growth of a child.

Young Agnes
Agnes
Mature Agnes
... and Agnes
Distraught Ruth
Ruth
Sick and distraught Ruth
... and Ruth
Mature Mrs. Fanning
Mother Fanning
Old Mrs. Fanning
... and Mother Fanning
Young Steve Tuttle
Steve
Veteran Steve Tuttle
... and Steve
Kit in infancy
Kit
Kit at five, comforting Uncle Steve
... and Kit

The only parental role accessible by Steve Tuttle is that of peer: a patient, gentle, and slightly obtuse peer.

Kit in her early teens
... and Kit

Understandably, if disturbingly, the pose deceives him more than her. There are reasonable limits to a child's playacting; to an adult's, none.

Kit all growed up
... and Kit

"Rip van Winkle" is mentioned in dialog only as an example of extreme age, but in retrospect the film embodies the sense of the tale itself, in its hero's life-long doze and occasional perplexing rouses, and in an audience who blinks across three decades into the sort of moments we recognize even at the time as memorable, instantly nostalgic or rueful or both. Moments which reduce us to points on a trite plotline. The moments we recognize we'll be left with.

 

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.