Being Filmic

Today would have been the 120th birthday of legendary British filmmaker Reginald Sir Coptic Mange. On this momentous occasion I can think of nothing more appropriate than to look back on some of the films that made him one of the titans of the screen. Without further ado, to the corpus go we.

Mange’s Follies of 1931. The very first feature-length motion picture from the then 38-year-old wunderkind (following short films such as Oblivious Penetration of the Madonna, comedy miniatures like Who the Butler Drowned, and his celebrated documentary Love and Boak in Wardour Street) found him still developing his style, but hardly lacking in ambition. Launching a Goldwyn-style musical review would have been challenge enough for any director, but doing so with an all-leukotomized cast, and further naming the highly electroconvulsive production after himself when his name was hardly well-known enough to be a draw on its own, were the marks of the aspiring and challenging filmmaker he would become. Ultimately, the musical’s reach exceeded its grasp, but it is nonetheless memorable for the Twitching Ballet sequence and the surprise hit song “Has Anybody Seen My Baby’s Femur?”.

Reginald Sir Coptic Mange: A Life in Film. This 1935 documentary struck many as daring, if not downright presumptuous — how could a man with but a single feature film credit on his c.v. presume to launch an autohagiography of his own work? Upon seeing the movie, though, all objections are answered: the documentary is not about his creative output, but rather his newfound obsession with cling film, which had recently been invented. Artfully avoiding the talking-heads approach that so often mars standard documentary work, the movie consists largely of silent sequences of Mange coating himself with various liquids, solids and semi-solids and then trapping them against his flesh with layers and layers of plastic wrap. A Life in Film is also notable as the motion picture debut of his wife, film star Lady Vaginal Sir Coptic Mange, who stars here as a bucket of strawberry-flavored lard. (Incidentally, Reginald Mange had not yet been knighted as of the making of this film; his claim to the peerage of Commas & Coptic was simply a remarkably prescient guess.)

Diddleus. Begun in 1937 and completed in 1941 with financial assistance from the Imperial Japanese Not Earmarked For a Theoretical Future Attack on American Naval Bases Fund, Diddleus is widely considered Mange’s first great film. A brilliant imagining of James Joyce’s masterful A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the film takes the metaphoric similarity of the name of the hero and the ancient Greek legend and makes it literal. We follow the torment and tragedy of young Stephen Diddleus (Mange was a notoriously bad speller and had the novel read to him phoentically by his longtime assistant, Yunus “The Bolshoi Bolshie” Schmendrikov) as he attains an engineering degree at Dublin’s Trinity college and attempts to construct a working flying machine with which to sail as high as the sun, then firebomb the Catholic school at which he was educated. The film, through a series of unfortunate coincidences (the somewhat shadowy funding of the project, the fact that Diddleus’ completed flying machine was a Mitsubishi Zero, and Mange’s decision to include a number of extremely pornographic title cards), had the tragic effect of slowing down his career for the next several decades, however, and the only movie industry work he would get until the nineteen-sixties was at a ticket-taker at a silent movie revival house at Scapa Flow.

Baseheart. Reginald Sir Coptic Mange’s triumphant return to world cinema in 1964 was a rip-roaring, two-fisted espionage epic that served as both his answer to and his expansion upon the then-hugely-popular James Bond films. Accompanied by a throbbing and memorable score by monotonalist composer Julian Cylinder, it told the story of Crackerton Baseheart, a senior operative for M.I.6 who was suave, debonair, sophisticated, cunning and sexually adventurous. Unfortunately, American and British movie audiences alike failed to respond to the story due to its lack of action. While praised by a handful of critics and experts as extremely accurate, Baseheart’s job as the agent in charge of translating communiqués from obscure southeast Asian dialects into English may not have been the best choice for the character. However, the movie will always be remembered for its (literally) heart-stopping score; its daring use of the inkwell-mounted “deskcam”, which provided many interestingly-framed shots of lead actor Camberly Stumpwell’s necktie; and its remarkably prodigious, if puzzling, use of the word “broomsquire”.

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