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HUAC – PARANOIA – FILM NOIR

Posted by keith1942 on June 19, 2015

Paranoia

The House of Representative Committee on Un-American Activities was most prominent in the late 1940s and early 19150s, at the same time as the genre of classic  film noir was at its peak. Whilst HUAC or its members or agents rarely get literal representation in these films, the subtexts seem to be full of them. The one notable example is not a film noir:  the pro-Committee Big Jim McLain (1952) has John Wayne  hunting down communists and includes actual film of the Committee hearings with studio inserts. Both the actual Committee and the fictional film world of noir have common qualities, notably a strong sense of paranoia.

HUAC

The discussions of the Committee are primarily of the 1940s and the 1950s but the roots of what has become known as ‘McCarthyism’ goes back several decades. There was anti-working class USA state action in the years prior to World War I, primarily directed against the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World). 1917 saw the Socialist Revolution in Russia and 1918 the official end of the W. W. I. However, a joint military expedition by the UK, USA, France and Japan involved an invasion of the new socialist state in an attempt to suppress the revolution.

The 1920s saw heavy oppression and repression in the USA against working class militancy and the young socialist movement. Edgar Hoover’s new Federal Bureau of Investigation was in the front line here. Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil gives a dramatic representation of these events; [representations completely excised from the film adaptation There Will be Blood, USA 2007].

1929 saw the great financial crash and in 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated the National Recovery Programmes with radical economic policies. The conservative elements in the political establishment, notably in the Republican Party, regarded this as ‘socialist’: their common language reflected what can be described as ‘political illiteracy’. It in this period that the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities [also known as the Dies Committee, from its chair Martin Dies Jr.] was set up, to expose ‘communists and subversives’. One of their targets was the Federal Theatre Programme, which provided employment for theatre professionals and theatrical presentations for ordinary people across the states. It included many radical elements, among them members of the Communist Party USA. It is worth noting that many of the people who joined the Party in this period were motivated by anti-fascism; their grasp of the analysis of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was often limited.

One important factor in the conflicts were strikes by Hollywood workers, notably by members of the Screenwriters’ Guild. Walt Disney, whose autocratic style occasioned one strike, blamed it on ‘communist subversives’. In 1938 Dies conducted an early investigation of Hollywood including questioning actors and film crafts people. One actor, Lionel Stander, was fired from the Republic Studio: in No Time to Marry (USA, 1938) the film, [scripted by John Howard Lawson, another blacklisted writer]  has him whistling the Internationale.

Committee

Cradle Will Rock (USA, 1999) presents a picture of some of the work of the Dies Committee in relation to the Federal Theatre Programme. John Houseman and Orson Welles produced the show of the title, which was a sort of Brechtian musical exposing the exploitation and oppression rife in the USA. The play’s opening night coincided with the shutting down of the Federal Theatre funding. In the film [written and directed by Tim Robbins] there are several sequences that show the Dies Committee in action  One sequence [80 minutes into the film] has the Committee grilling a Federal Employee re this ‘subversion’: humorous but frightening. The exchanges with the Committee in the film are based on actual records.

The agitation around left politics continued at the end of the Second World War. This period was characterised by Winston Churchill [and George Orwell] as the ‘cold war’: with the Soviet Union and its allies. It is worth noting that there was wholesale repression of National Liberation Movements in the colonised countries and a rapid expansion of US neo-colonialism. Racism, including what is termed anti-Semitism, and homophobia were also rife. And there was a strong strand of misogyny in the culture. In this atmosphere HUAC pursued the phantom of communist infiltration across a host of US institutions, including the media.

Between March and September 1947 HUAC, under the chairmanship of Parnell Thomas, launched an investigation of Hollywood. It is clear that this was partly motivated by the desire for publicity: at the later hearings Arthur Miller was advised he could be excused a hearing if his wife, then Marilyn Monroe, would agree to have her photograph taken with members of the Committee. The initial response of the Industry was strong resistance. But as the investigations continued, with public hearings, the producers buckled. When the Committee cited ten ‘unfriendly witnesses’ for ‘contempt of Congress’, with subsequent jail terms, the Motion Picture Producers Association of America responded with the ‘blacklist’.

The Hollywood Ten – Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Lester Cole, Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Samuel Ornitz.  Ring Lardner Jr., Edward Dmytryk, Adrian Scott.

The ‘Ten’ can be seen in the film produced to defend them in 1950 when they were fighting their sentences for ‘contempt of Congress’ in The Supreme Court, The Hollywood Ten written and directed by John Berry.

Red Hollywood (1995) is a documentary that studies the influence of radical filmmakers on Hollywood’s output in the period: a contentious area. It uses an opening clip from Johnny Guitar (1954) as an example: there are numerous references to ‘naming names’ in Hollywood films of this time. But the opening of this documentary also briefly displays the operation of the Committee with clips from films of the period. The film does not really address of the post-war politics of ‘the left’ and the Communist Party USA. The subservience of  the CPUSA to the interests of the Soviet Union meant that revolution in the USA was no longer on its agenda.

When HUAC returned with a fresh investigation between 1951 and 1953 the industry and its members generally collapsed before this attack. Actors and craftspeople who had been friends and/or colleagues of the ‘Ten’ now confessed their activities and even named names. Apart from The Ten many other people in the industry suffered blacklisting and there were similar purges in Television, the media and institutions like the State Department. One result was refugees working in the UK and Europe – Joseph Losey’s career in British film was a direct result of HUAC.

Ten demo

The Way We Were (1973) has a sequence from 1947 presenting a fictionalised version of one attempt by Hollywood stars and filmmakers to support the ‘Ten’. This is followed by a sequence with a conversation between Hubble (Robert Redford) and Katie (Barbara Streisand) that shows some of the attitudes and arguments circulating in Hollywood at the time. Some of the filmmakers involved in the project [like writer Arthur Laurents] had suffered during the blacklist:  it is worth noting that the film was cut of several important scenes for general release.

Film Noir

This Hollywood genre has its roots in German expressionism and many of the filmmakers involved were either émigrés or refugees from Europe, especially Germany. It was also influenced by the French poetic realism of the 1930s. The genre’s title was only applied in retrospect: at the time most of the films fell into crime genres or similar.

The most common and basic plot involved a hero [nearly always male] who is drawn by an attraction, commonly a femme fatale or dangerous woman, into a world of criminality and chaos. The main focus of the plot is whether the hero wills survive – the seeker hero; or whether he will perish – the victim hero.

Double Indemnity (Paramount, 1944) has a victim hero: Murder My Sweet / Farewell My Lovely (RKO, 1944) has a seeker hero. The latter film also has filmmakers involved who suffered under HUAC and the blacklist: Adrian Scot and Edward Dmytryk. A number of the radical and noir films were made at the RKO Studio: Orson Welles worked there. When Howard Hughes acquired the studio in 1948 he closed it down for six months whilst he carried out a check [witch-hunt] of the studio personnel; followed by a number of sackings.

Both of the above  films above demonstrate the stylistic tropes of the genre, which make it rather distinctive for the time. Extensive use of chiaroscuro or light and shadow: notable camera angles: the voice-over and confessional mode. And overall the films frequently project an atmosphere, of cynicism, fear and paranoia.

Critics have offered many suggestions for the rise and influence of this genre in the 1940s particularly. There were the dislocations and uncertainties in the post-war world. An air of cynicism was common. The changing roles of women with changes in the mores of sexuality produced a reaction and often misogyny. Despite the horror at the excesses of the Third Reich there was frequent public anti-Semitism, racism especially directed at Negroes or Afro-Americans, and pronounced though not usually explicitly articulated homophobia. But undoubtedly the activities directed at so-called Un-Americanism also had a powerful effect, especially on the workforce in Hollywood.

Arthur

Lady from Shanghai (Columbia, 1947, written and directed by Orson Welles) offers an example of coded language which could be seen as anti-capitalist [the dominant value system in the USA] or anti-USA  values, with subtle allusion to US racism. The scenes with an argument between Michael (Orson Welles) and Arthur (Everett Sloan), with Elsa (Rita Hayworth) and George  (Glenn Anders ) looking on, is a good example.

Red Menace (Republic, 1949) shows some of the attributes of noir being used to attack ‘anti-Americanism’ and communist ‘subversion’ with a portrayal of a villainous Communist Party USA akin to the mafia.

Another critical example  is Body and Soul (Enterprise, 1947) which was written by Abraham Polonsky, later one of the Hollywood Ten. The film demonstrates how crime organised crime is effectively ‘business’ and capitalist business.  The film stars John Garfield, whose treatment by HUAC was possibly a factor in his early death. Both men were involved in a number of film noirs or films with liberal values and both had Jewish heritage. Polonsky would go on to write and direct Force of Evil (MGM, 1948).  This is the great ‘political’ film noir. The drama is set in the numbers racket, [organised gambling controlled by a criminal ‘mob’]. During the story a take-over is organised by a larger combine: the parallels with a critical observation of the operation of capitalism run throughout the film. The film includes wire-taps, surveillance, the ‘naming of names’, betrayal and tragedy. And in the personal dramas, interweaved with this corporate action, there is a frequently a strong sense of paranoia.

Named

The above is taken from the notes for a Study Day at the Swarthmore Centre in Leeds.

Wikipedia has detailed pages on ‘The Hollywood Blacklist’ with links to other Webpages.

The Inquisition in Hollywood Politics in the film community, 1930 – 1960 by Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, University of California Press, 1983 is the best study of HUAC in Hollywood that I have read.

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Posted in History on film, Hollywood, Movies with messages, Political film | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Strangers on a Train, USA 1951.

Posted by keith1942 on May 8, 2015

strangers on a train poster

I was able to revisit this film at the Leeds Young Film Festival. We were fortunate to have the film in a relatively good 35mm print. Intriguingly I realised later that this was the ‘pre-release’ version, which only came to light in 1995. Michael Walker, in Hitchcock’s Motifs (2005), provides a description of this version: it has additional footage but lacks the final humorous encounter by Guy and Ann on a train. Michael also makes the point that Strangers on a Train has the greatest number of the motifs that he identified across Hitchcock’s work: this makes it not only a very enjoyable but also a very interesting film.

The film has a striking opening as we follow two pairs of shoes from a taxi rank through Central Station to a waiting train. The shoes suggest something of the owners. The camera shots are deliberately placed in opposing angles. And when the shoes finally meet in the lounge car on the train a slight nudge provides an introduction. Guy Haynes [Farley Granger) is a restrained conventional character, a successful tennis star: he works for a US senator and is having a romance with his daughter Ann (Ruth Roman). Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) does not work but lives off his affluent parents: He is coded as gay. He appears exuberant and is obviously unconventional. What they have in common is a problem: in Guy’s case a separated and pregnant wife who will not divorce him: in Bruno’s case a father who he finds oppressive, ‘I hate him’. Out of this chance encounter the original Patricia Highsmith novel developed a distinctive murder mystery. If you are familiar with Highsmith’s writings then it will come as no surprise that the film makes considerably alterations to the plot of the novel, especially in the latter stages. Whilst the script removes the darker aspects of the novel it also introduces effective additions: for example the issue of competitive tennis which provides a suspenseful climatic sequence.

The audience can enjoy a film that has many of Hitchcock’s virtues. The plotting is ingenious and absorbing. The mechanics of the murder investigation are carefully spread out over the film. The character of the apparently innocent man provides a moral force to the tale. And the stylistic touches, including expressionist techniques and carefully suspenseful editing, add to the brio and allure of the film.

The most notable of these techniques is a reflection of a murder in the lenses of a pair of spectacles. The spectacles are passed to Guy by Bruno and then seem to disappear from the plot. They clearly suggest overtones of guilt but unlike another object – a lighter – their fate is unknown. Michael Walker also draws attention to another facet – both Miriam and Ann’s sister Patricia (Patricia Hitchcock) have a similar look, partly due to the spectacles they wear. He makes a general point regarding women characters who wear spectacles:

strangers-on-a-train

Apart from the connotations of ‘cleverness’ (in itself, a potential threat to a man), they also serve to draw attention to the fact that she was looking and lent her a certain intensity, the sort of intensity that men, apparently, find disturbing.

This is apt, for both Miriam and Patricia are ‘sassy’ women: they answer back to men. Miriam does this in an argument with Guy: Patricia to her father, a patriarchal figure who is also a lawmaker. Ann on the other hand is the dependent non-threatening woman. She stands by Guy even to the point when he appears to be guilty of a crime.

This gives the film a subversive edge, but the resolution – different from that offered by Patricia Highsmith – recoups this for the audience.

 

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Selma, USA 2014.

Posted by keith1942 on April 30, 2015

 

selma-movie

This is the best mainstream film that I have seen for some time: it is certainly better than the competitors that carried off Academy Awards. It may sound banal but perhaps the members of the Academy felt that honouring 12 Years a Slave in 2014 sufficed. Perhaps more tellingly, the only Oscar awarded to Selma was for Best Song ‘Glory’. It would seem that the US discourse around “race”, ethnicity and colour still suffers from stereotypes, such as Afro-Americans only make good entertainers and sports people!

Revisiting on film the Civil Rights movement in the USA of the 1950s and 1960s is like revisiting the European holocaust or some of the brutal events of colonial and neo-colonial history – always something of a shock. The sheer violence and viciousness of the system of oppression and apartheid turns out to be even more extreme than one remembered. Here the story is the organising of a march by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in order to pressurise President Johnson to pass a Voting Rights Act. The main aspect of the film is a portrait of both the public and private figure of Dr. Martin Luther King. But it is also a portrait of an important group of black leaders in the Civil Rights Movement: of some key individuals involved in that struggle: and of other key political figures involved in these events, which occurred in 1965. The film presents and dramatises the conflicts between King’s public and private life: the tensions and conflicts in the black civil rights movement: and the conflicts within the US political establishment between leaders seen as liberal or conservative.

The film has a striking opening. Dr. King (David Oyelowo) stands in front of a mirror rehearsing a speech: his wife Coretta (Carmen Elogo) helps him adjust his tie/Ascot: Dr King receives the Nobel Peace Prize. As he delivers his speech the film cuts to a Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A group of children playfully descend a staircase and a violent explosion, killing four young black girls, shatters the calm. The last sequence was shot using noticeable CGI techniques, which the film tends to eschew later on. It provides a shocking moment, which of course, was the frequent experience of black people in the South at that time.

The film continues with scenes from the private life of Martin and Coretta. We see the preparations by black leaders for the march, including some dissension and arguments. Cameos of ordinary black characters fill out the actual day to day experience of the black population. And there are high level meetings between President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and Dr. King and his colleagues. One effective technique is the use of onscreen Teletype titles, which record the spying by the FBI on Dr. King and his colleagues. We also get a brief glimpse of J. Edgar Hoover.

The early parts of the film tend to the low key, with limited musical accompaniment. When we do hear it there is frequently a noticeable percussion strand.  Church meetings, where Dr. King’s charisma electrifies and galvanises the ordinary black population, punctuate the plot.

When the film reaches the actual march the drama and the onscreen violence increase dramatically. The sound of noises, such as truncheons hitting heads, are obviously increased in volume for effect. And the musical accompaniment moves up several notches: as the marchers cross a now famous bridge it swells with orchestral accompaniment: an infrequent trope in the film. This is the mode of the melodrama of protest, and the film very effectively uses those conventions to draw the audience and their sympathies to the courageous black marchers. Somewhat unusually in this genre, though the film ends with the torch of the struggle for Civil Rights carried forward, it does also close with an identifiable victory, the passage of the historic Voting Rights Acts. On screen titles chart the course of the central characters: the continuation of white-on-black violence: but also the effect of the right to vote for black citizens.

la_ca_1021_selma

Whilst in this sense the film is agitational it also addresses more complex matters. So the speeches and discussions by the black leaders gradually impart to the audience the actual mechanics of the racist denial of voting rights. The politics and political manoeuvring are also apparent: and the film delineates the actuality of non-violent protest in an extremely effective manner. The meetings with Johnson demonstrate how this ‘liberal’ politician was actually driven [like F.D.R.] by popular and organised pressure to effect the historic legislation of his Presidency. And the range of attitudes and prejudices within the political establishment are well aired. What the film does not essay, perhaps understandably given its intent, is an attempt to understand the basis of white prejudice in the way that it explores black resistance.

If the Academy’s Best Picture Award is for a film that has the highest quality in every department, [and is invariably an English language film], then I cannot think of a better candidate than Selma. Indeed, it is worthy of an Oscar in several other categories. It is beautifully produced, has an intelligent but highly dramatic approach to its subject, and this itself is an important topic and not just in the USA. I have seen the film thrice now, on each occasion there were good sized audiences who were clearly impressed by the film – you can tell by how many and for how long the audience sit through the final credit sequence. After the most recent screening the manager told me a number of people stopped to remark on the power and emotional impact of the film

The film is obviously well scripted, by British Paul Webb. However, in an interview in Sight & Sound (March 2015), the director Ava DuVernay explained how she had rewritten and added to the script. This was cleanly a substantial addition though she does not seem to have an onscreen credit: she does though get ‘a DuVernay film’. Judging by her comments she added considerably to both the intelligent and dramatic treatment of the subject. And whilst the film is serious it has its lighter moments. At one point Mahalia Jackson renders a spiritual down the telephone to hearten Dr. King. And when activists preparing for the final march hear that some Hollywood black stars, including Harry Belafonte, are coming to join them they break into a chorus of Deooooo! Daylight come….  [The opening lyric of a Belafonte hit].

The film is also conscious on the issue of gender. On the way to Selma the black leadership group stop at the home of a female activist for a meal: women nearly always provide the food in this film. When Malcom X appears to the chagrin of the black male leaders, Coretta King is deputised to meet and talk with him. However this is followed by a scene where Correta visit Martin in prison and shows herself more open to the political implications of the visit.

In addition to this DuVernay has ably marshalled a sizeable production team, all of whom should be commended for their inputs. The acting in the film has been duly praised and honoured. David Oyelowo has been singled out deservedly. Ironically along with two other fine performers, Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth, we have a key ‘American film’ where major characters are performed by British actors. Carmen Elogo is excellent and so are the many performers working as colleagues of King. And the cameos are finely drawn with Ofrah Winfrey offering one as activist Annie Lee Cooper. White characters do tend to the stereotypical, but that too is in line with the intent of the film.

The cinematography by Bradford Young is excellent. At times mid-shots and close-ups takes us into the personal drama. But longer shots and high and low-angle shots accompany the action sequences. What struck me especially on the second viewing is the use of lighting. Young uses an amount of rim lighting, which is very effective in setting out the black faces with their darker pigmentation. In an early speech Dr. King tells the congregation that they must stand up ‘in the daylight’. This becomes a theme in the film, as the lighting develops a pattern of light and shadow, reaching its culmination at the final rally in Montgomery. Here in bright sunshine and standing before the white capital of the State, King addresses his jubilant followers. Just to give an example of two sequential scenes. At a moment of doubt in the campaign King has a conversation with a young activist in a car. They are partly in darkness, mainly lit by spill and reflective lighting. As the conversation develops we see moments where the light falls frontally on them. And in the following sequence a rejuvenated King stands with his colleagues in the brightness of the State Supreme Court Building and is joined by Coretta. [In what is almost now a convention Martin Sheen appears as the Judge].

The film was mainly shot on location. This in itself provides rich denotative and connotative meanings. A key site, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, was named after a southern general, Senator and one-tine leader of the Ku Klux Klan. There is a very effective recreation of the period both in settings and costumes. And there are nice touches that set off the subject. There is King and Johnston arguing beneath a portrait of George Washington. Then we see a Southern style meal eagerly despatched by the black leadership, waited on by a female black activist. The meeting between Malcom X and Coretta is shot against a brightly coloured stained glass window. Right at the end we see Johnson, with the Stars and Stripes on either side, siting regally in the Oval office. More subtly King’s home features a portrait of Gandhi. However, at one point marital tensions arise when Coretta is sent a tape recording by the FBI that suggests King’s extra-martial affairs: a small statuette of Gandhi, notable for his calls for purity, is positioned in the foreground.

And the film has a very effective and well-balanced soundtrack. Whilst the voices and accents seemed to be authentic the dialogue is mainly easy to follow. There is a judicious use of noise, which is amplified for the action sequences. And the music is minimal at times and then reaches effective crescendos at times of action. This is several times combined with well-known songs or offers music which clearly has a base in the spirituals beloved of the black communities. At one point as police violence is meted out to the black protesters on a key site, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we hear Mahalia Jackson on the soundtrack: later, again on the bridge, the marchers are accompanied by Odette’s rendering of ‘Masters of War’. And at the end of the credits, after the Award winning ‘Glory’, there is a medley of protest songs sang by ‘workers in Selma’.

The end of the film uses archive footage of the actual march intercut with the film’s recreation. Both are in the 2.39:1 anarmorphic ratio, which means stretching or cropping the archive footage – this is not a technique with which I am happy but it seems to work well here. I did have other concerns. It seems that the production could not use King’s actual speeches as they are already copyrighted: though those in the film seemed perfectly in keeping with the King I remember from television and film. The speeches have been copyrighted to Steven Spielberg, who also planned a film on Martin Luther King. I assume that this production requested their use – I would have thought Spielberg could have been satisfied with offering an effective portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Finally the film was shot on 35mm but has been digitally re-mastered for cinema exhibition [and for other formats]. The re-mastering has been done at 2K. I do not think the 2K standard does justice to good quality 35mm. The longer the shot, the greater likelihood of a lack of definition and I noted this at times in this film. And given the film’s play with light and shadow the dynamic contrast of 35mm or 4K digital would have served this better. In the scenes with chiaroscuro there was sometimes a lack of definition in the background, and I am sure this would have improved with higher quality. When filmmakers are using 4K for digital film and exhibitors proudly advertise 4K projectors this seems an unacceptably stingy practice by producers and distributors.

selma-movie-david-oyelowo-thatgrapejuice

Religion and religious motifs are central to the film, as one would expect. In a key scene between the imprisoned King and a colleague, shot in chiaroscuro, we hear a quotation from the Gospel of St Matthew. King’s sermons/speeches to church congregations are vital moments in the development of the political campaign. Comments and discussions are full both of political and religious illustrations. And moment like the initial explosion or before the stained glass window constantly remind of the central role of religious experience and commitment in the black civil rights movement.

In terms of its politics this film is only partly radical, as you might expect when the distributor are C20th Fox and Pathé. A colleague suggested that the film reflected the politics of Ofrah Winfrey, who is also a producer. I only have a generalised notion of her political values, but the film is clearly reformist. One can see this in its treatment of the agreement between the black leadership and the US political establishment. It is clear again in the cameo for Malcom X, who in the last days of his life was rethinking his politics. However, the struggle around voting rights is mainly about the oppression of the black US population rather than their exploitation. In that sense the film charts an important opening up of black political power.

However, the film’s ending does emphasise one side of the struggle. Among the end credits, which give ‘what next’ for the main characters, we find a woman who shortly afterwards was killed by the Ku Klux Klan. And of course, Martin Luther King, Malcom X and even George Wallace died or suffered from extreme violence. But others leaders, like Andrew Young, had successful political careers: the dominant tone here. Yet in recent US elections it has been clear that, especially in the South, that the restriction of entitlement for black voters is a continuing problem. There are the continuing series of deaths of Afro-Americans at the hands of the police.  And Barack Obama, who obviously approves of this film, himself still suffers some of the derogatory attacks endured by King and his colleagues decades earlier.

Still this is a powerful and moving drama with a lot more politics at its core that is the norm for Hollywood.  If you see one Oscar winning film this year, make it Selma – you will be absorbed, shocked, moved and entertained.

 

Posted in Hollywood, Political film | 1 Comment »

Citizen Kane, USA 1941

Posted by keith1942 on April 27, 2015

Nurse

In September 2012, in a Film Extra programme at the National Media Museum, we followed up the Sight & Sound once-in-a-decade Poll of the ‘Greatest Film of All Times’. Given that it seems irrefutable that no single person has seen every film ever made the Poll needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt. However, the Museum programmed the top three films in the recent Poll – Vertigo (1958), Citizen Kane (1941) and Tokyo Story (1953). There was a chance to discuss the films and the Poll following the screenings with myself pitching for Citizen Kane, Jen [the then Education Officer) pitching for Vertigo and Roy (of ITP World) pitching for Tokyo Story.

It is worth noting that Citizen Kane was the only one of the three screened in 35mm: the other two were screened from DCPs. I have seen all three films a number of times. I found that the critics first choice, Vertigo, did not really stand up to another viewing. Citizen Kane delighted me as much as in earlier viewings: it is the film that has the most panache. Tokyo Story also stood the test of an umpteenth viewing: and since this film and that by Orson Welles represent entirely different types of cinema, how do you compare or contrast them?

I was reminded of that earlier occasion when I noted an article in the Review section of The Guardian (Saturday April 25th) in which Peter Bradshaw discussed the memorable Welles film. In particular he claimed to offer a new reading of that most famous word from the film, ‘Rosebud’. He joins a long line of interpreters of this particular metaphor, as it is nearly always seen to be. I have a feeling that I have made this point on earlier occasions and surely someone else has, though I do not remember reading it. How does anyone know what is the final breathy word of Charles Foster Kane. In the film a series of cuts carry us through the grounds of Xanadu: a further cut transports the camera and the audience into the chamber where Kane lies dying. Only after he breaths his final word and drops the snow toy does a nurse enter the room. There appears to be no one else in the room at this point?

The explanation usually relies on a line of dialogue by Raymond, the major domo at Xanadu. He, with other servants, heard Kane say ‘Rosebud’ after Susan leaves, and Kane was also holding the snow toy then. Raymond adds a repetition for Thompson, ‘that other time’, the death sequence. But why would Raymond be alone in the chamber with the dying Kane. There is no acknowledgement by the nurse to any one when she enters the room. It is entirely plausible that since no one heard Kane’s final word or words that Raymond invented it for the newspapers. He is certainly trying to milk the journalists for money.

At a more general level the film critiques the reliability and reliance of memories. Those of different characters contradict each other. And they clearly suffer from the personal stance of the character. But more than  this memories can represent very different experiences. Thompson, the investigative reporter, interviews Berstein, Kane’s old manager. He asks him about Rosebud and Berstein suggests ‘some gal’.  He expands.

  “One day back in 1896 I was crossing over the Jersey on the ferry. And as we pulled     out there was another ferry pulled in. And on it there was girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. And she was carrying a white parasol. And I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all. But I’ll bet a month hasn’t got by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”

Visually a series of symbols seemingly refer to Rosebud – a number of these are consigned to the flames of the final furnace. Among them is at least one of the jigsaw puzzles that occupied Susan in Xanadu. Certainly Rosebud can be seen as piece of a jigsaw puzzle, the final piece in the film. Individually not that significant, but in terms of the whole puzzle it takes on added connotations. And the structure of the film resembles the playing of a jigsaw puzzle: a point suggested by Thompson’s final lines of dialogue.

Covering slight holes in the plot is a common device in Hollywood films: so Raymond’s line ‘explains’ the characters’ knowledge of Rosebud. Given how smart Welles and Mankiewicz were I am sure they noted this cheat. I rather imagine they had moments filled with quiet chuckles as they read the interpretations offered for this single word.

As the journalist Thompson remarks,  “I don’t think one word can explain a man’s life”. Nor indeed does the sledge, which the privileged audience seen consigned to the flames. What Rosebud really does is subvert the apparent closure of the film. Thompson goes back to his news agency; the audience go home, but Kane remains, the enigma. Surely one of the reasons that the film has endured so long.

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Into the Labyrinth – The Serial Killer Cycle.

Posted by keith1942 on January 2, 2015

The final labyrinth in Se7en.

The final labyrinth in Se7en.

One of the films I enjoyed back in 1996 was Se7en and it occasioned the following study. Whilst the film’s subject of multiple murders was not pleasant, the richness of its narrative and visual texture was immensely stimulating; it made me think again about serial killer films. It seemed to me an example of a classic genre piece, rather in the way that Double Indemnity defines classic film noir or Bladerunner the dystopian city. So I want to use Se7en to explore some ideas about the themes and motifs found in serial killer films, and the questions around film values that these raise. Se7en is (I believe) a fictional account, as are most of these films; even the ones that relate to recorded events (e.g. The Hawk (1992) to the Yorkshire Ripper) are obviously more fiction than faction. The facts of serial killings would require more than one article to discuss.

The Internet Movie Database lists 73 serial killer films, sticking mainly to recent versions and with a only few foreign language films. To be included in this pantheon of repetitive killings a film must have three victims. The crimes are defined by the need to kill rather than other motives for murder. They are committed by a gallery of murderers. from the teenage duo of Natural Born Killers, through the dream-like terrorism of Michael Myers, to the urbane aesthetics of Dr Hannibal Lector. These killers have appeared in the science fiction, horror and detective genres, even once in the style of a spaghetti western.

Such movies go back to the early days of cinema. Three classic variants date from the post First World War decade, products of an early creative movement in cinema, German Expressionism. The first, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919), broke new ground both in its style, (conscious artificiality, stark lines and black and white contrasts) and in its story-line of a somnambulist (sleepwalker) murdering people whilst in a state of hypnosis. In 1922, the recurring story of Dracula was bought to the screen as Nosferatu: this vampiric serial killer threatened both film characters and audiences. In 1930, Fritz Lang’s M was based on the actual Düsseldorf serial child murders. Lang ended up in Hollywood escaping real-life fascist serial killers. He was part of an influx from Germany that was to heavily influence the themes and style of Hollywood, most notably in film noir; dark journeys through the city underworld, often fatal to the usually resilient film hero.

In England, the serial killer entered films in Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1926), which referred obliquely to the infamous Jack the Ripper. The Ripper re-appeared at regular intervals over the years, London and its fogs providing a suitably scary location for such deeds. In more recent times the cycle has proved fruitful, both for auteur fans, who seek singular works by a particular director, and Hollywood, which seeks films audiences are captivated enough by to pay to see. Two key movies come from the sixties, Peeping Tom and Psycho (both 1960). Each was seminal for this particular cycle. Each used a close focus on the serial killer to produce disturbing waves for the filmic heroes/heroines and the watching audiences.

Peeping Tom was rubbished by critics inflamed by its subject matter, virtually ending the film career of director Michael Powell. Psycho, an early example of mass systematic marketing, turned such horror to its advantage and was a key film in ushering in modern film packaging and consumption.

The 1980s saw exploitation in the teen market, with the `Freddie’ and `Halloween’ killings; and shared with the adult market were the less visceral explorations of Manhunter

(1986) and Silence of the Lambs (1991). The Alien trilogy provided an alternative science fiction nightmare, inhuman, but equally terrifying. The late 1980s and early 1990s were especially fruitful, with a number of popular key movies of which Se7en was one.

The environment.

Se7en, dark and dank.

Se7en, dark and dank.

Whilst some serial killer films “…are set in white neighbourhoods – surburbia, the farm belt, the backwoods.” (Taubin 1991) – this is not always so. Se7en is resolutely urban and multi-cultural, depicting a contemporary inner-city that is a modern hell. It makes explicit this long running motif of both serial killer films and noir films. The association with hell is firmly stated with the film’s liberal use of metaphors from two classic literary texts, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. The characters refer to these stories and the film itself recreates some of their imagery, most notably in the stygian darkness and the continuous rain. This fits aptly with the noirish world which is common in serial killing movies.

Other films in the cycle repeatedly display infernal features, like Lector’s prison in Silence of the Lambs or the lock-up garage in the British TV Prime Suspect 1. The killer in Manhunter recycles the paintings and poetry of William Blake, another artist obsessed by hell. In the earlier The Boston Strangler (1967), the killer’s memories of one murder are intercut with a daytime task, stoking a furnace.

A recurring image is the hero searching dim, labyrinthine buildings and spaces or pursuing down never ending corridors. Mills’ (Brad Pitt) chase in Se7en is remarkably reminiscent of an earlier example in The Boston Strangler. Graham (William Peterson) in Manhunter flees Lector’s (Brian Cox) cell down an interminable and winding ramp. M includes a search through the labyrinth of a huge office block, followed by the trial in dark, gloomy cellars. The use of the Internet in Copycat (1996) can be seen as a modern labyrinth.

In the film noir, the hero is submerged in an underworld of vice and danger. Se7en resolutely incorporates this world into the serial killer cycle, so that the opening credits show light escaping darkness through the titles. The rest of the film is a slow journey towards the light of the final climax.

Heroes / heroines.

Somerset in Se7en.

Somerset in Se7en.

Se7en is typical of modern Hollywood in its use of a black and white male duo, however its characterisation of the black Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is not typical. He is a Renaissance man, intellectually and morally above the other characters. His understanding and intuition are displayed in the way that he analyses the problems and events. His systematic working methods exemplified in the library sequence, his persona emphasised by the record of classical music that is played by one of the guards. The attitude of his colleagues on the force is shown by the comment, “we’ll be happy when you leave”. He would seem to be a variant on such earlier investigators as Sherlock Holmes or William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose. Like them, he is a loner, unmarried and with no apparent social life.

If Somerset is a hero in the classical mode then Mills is very much the postmodernist. When Somerset suggests that Mills study Dante and Milton he uses, not the originals but, Student Notes to the `texts’. Unlike Somerset, he is married, but there are no offspring, only two dogs whom Mills calls ‘the children’. As the investigation proceeds it becomes apparent that, in a noir sense, Somerset is a seeker hero and Mills a victim hero.

In this film both central characters are male, however, other films have placed women centre stage. Most notable are Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in Silence of the Lambs, and recently the Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver) and M J Monahan (Holly Hunter) double act in Copycat. However these women’s success in the male world is somewhat problematic. Clarice is caught between Lector and Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), alternative good and bad father figures. Copycat, which uses Weaver’s star persona to develop a serial killer plot, did not do well at the box office.

Villains.

The villain's lair in Se7en.

The villain’s lair in Se7en.

Many of the serial killer films concentrate on the pursuit and confrontation between the detective and killer. Sometimes there is a limited sympathy for a creature produced by the distortions of family, society or biology. This is true of both Mark (Carl Boehm) in Peeping Tom, and Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho. But the latter, especially in its sequels, also presents a threatening monster who is more feared than understood. Amy Taubin comments, “. . . classic examples include Fritz Lang’s M (1931), Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and more peripherally, G W Past’s Pandora’s Box (1928). They depict, respectively, three pathological archetypes: the child murderer; the Bluebeard figure whose victims are wives (i.e. good girls); and Jack the Ripper who specialises in killing prostitutes (i.e. bad girls).”

On this basis, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) and Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) are Bluebeards; the `tooth fairy’ (Tom Noonan in Manhunter) combines that with child murders; Freddie develops child murders in the epoch of the teenager; and Doe (Kevin Spacey in Se7en) is a Ripper type. However, Se7en’s emphasis on the religious and classical aspects also draws out the satanic side of the killer.

Doe is a Faustian character, both in his diabolical cleverness, in the environment of his flat, which reeks of the atmosphere of a coven’s lair, and in his usurpation of the prerogative of the deity to judge and punish. This aspect is present in other films; Lector tells Graham in Manhunter, that “if one does as God does enough times one will become as God is…”. This is the original sin of the archangel Lucifer, doomed to hell for aspiring to God’s unique position; the deadly sin of envy which is Doe’s sin in Se7en. Doe’s Faustian powers result in Mills falling under his sway. It is a victory for the power of evil that few of the other films care to essay. Whilst the Aliens and Freddie return again and again, we can be confident that a heroine/hero always appears to offer salvation. Se7en fulfils the logic of Paradise Lost with Satan successful and heroic.

This aspect crosses over with Dracula and the horror genre. In his study of Hammer Films (1973), David Pirie refers to Lord Byron, “in his conversation and poetry (he) took up the part of a fallen or exiled being, expelled from Heaven or sentenced to a new avatar on earth for some crime; existing under a curse, pre-doomed to a fate… which he seemed determined to fulfil”. His comments apply especially to the Bluebeard and Ripper types. Both Lector and Doe have the urbanity and aristocratic style of the gothic villain described by Pirie. The choice of English actors for the Lector characterisation brings with it the associations of the Gothic and the Marquis de Sade in Hammer films.

In an article on Peeping Tom (1994), Peter Wollen quotes Thomas De Quincey’s `Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts’. This is an aspect consciously emphasised by Se7en; the film’s director of photography, Darius Khondji “saw these crimes as the work of an artist” and designed his lighting with this in mind. And the director, David Fincher, seems to have carried over both stylistic points and motifs from his earlier Aliens 3. In that film we (and Ripley) visit a penal colony, where the inmates are obsessed by religion (and played by mainly English actors). Their battle with the alien serial killer takes place in a labyrinth of a disused space colony facility. The climax occurs in the central furnace.

Victims

Tracy in .

Tracy in Se7en.

Amy Taubin comments, “almost all serial killers are white males who kill within their own racial group.” This is in fact true of only part of the cycle, The Boston Strangler is more egalitarian with black and white victims. In Prime Suspect one part of the series has white women as victims, the next both black and white. Se7en fits the dominant model, with its victims all white, but both male and female. Is this part of the explanation of the black Somerset as the seeker hero? In Dust Devil the killer, possessed by a magical spirit kills the white neo-colonialists and is pursued by a black policeman. Repressed fears surfacing?

Se7en is typical in other, more worrying ways. The key victim is Tracy Mills (Gwyneth Paltrow) with her unborn child and her presence in the film is essentially to set up the climactic revelation that subverts Mills. Women figure strongly as victims in all parts of the cycle, just as the killers are usually male. From Caligari to Copycat, good women, like children, make fine victims, being considered (in dominant values) as defenceless and in need of protection. So Starling and Hunter are welcome exceptions.

Equally value-laden, punishing bad women serves to protect patriarchy from subversion and is open to accusations of misogyny. From Lulu onwards, `Rippers’ look like a handy way of disciplining unruly women. In Se7en for example, though both the prostitute and her client suffer pain, the punishment is directed at the woman. That Tracy is pregnant would seem to relate to different fears: concerns about the threat to our society and its future. DCI Tennison

(Helen Mirren) in Prime Suspect decides to have an abortion as she unravels the gruesome tale of a Bluebeard sex killer. Se7en’s use of children re-inforces a similarly bleak view. Prior to the climax Somerset meets Tracy who tells him she is pregnant, but is unsure if Mills wants the child. Somerset admits that once faced with the same choice he opted for abortion. It is Doe’s final taunt, revealing to Mills his wife’s pregnancy, that seems to drive him over the edge. Satan has successfully suborned the hero and destroyed the future.

Other examples usually avoid such bleak endings. Manhunter, typically of Hollywood, closes by re-uniting the family; after Graham’s victory over the killer there is a cut to the quartet, father, mother, son, dog (plus pet turtles) on the family beach.

As myth.

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The centrality of the labyrinth in the serial killer form takes us back to an ancient version of the story, That set on the island of Crete which housed the Minotaur. King Minos annoyed the gods by refusing to sacrifice a bull that appeared miraculously from the waves; the punishment was the obsession with the bull by the King’s wife Pasiphae resulting in an offspring, the Minotaur – part human, part bull. The Minotaur was imprisoned in the labyrinth and the subject city of Athens was forced to send young men and women as sacrifices for the beast. Theseus, crucially with the assistance of Ariadne, entered the labyrinth, slew the Minotaur and emerged victorious.

This potent myth has appeared and re-appeared many guises and in many art forms – including Shakespearean drama, opera and modern avant-garde art. It would certainly seem the basis of the majority of serial killer tales. Not just in the labyrinth but in the young innocent victims and in the necessity for the hero to confront and slay the monster. The numerous classical references in Se7en seem particularly appropriate in this sense. And the idea of sacrifice and atonement are also central to the film. Whilst the film does not end in a labyrinth it sends in an equivalence – a forest of pylons and cables poles which shield the monster and the seekers from the observation of the watching authorities. And it is the blonde heroine [though now dead] who leads the seekers into this lair- though to a radically different conclusion. But even here there are parallels to the original myth. The victorious Theseus occasions the death of his own father through negligence.

Values

One of the seven deadly sins.

One of the seven deadly sins.

Whilst the audience’s initial memories of the films are often of the fear and trepidation caused by the serial killer activity, the best films do not merely titillate or make the flesh crawl. Over the genre there is a high degree of social comment, frequently placing the murderer and his/her acts within a very specific social context. Dr Caligari figures both as the manipulator of the murderous Cesare and head of the local asylum. There are two versions of this film, with different endings, but both pose questions about authority and repression.

M draws parallels between the criminal underworld, who organise a trial of the murderer, and the state police. In Hitchcock’s The Lodger an innocent Ivor Novello is suspected of the ripper murders and narrowly escapes lynch justice at the hands of a mob. A similar moral position is suggested in the sixties classics. Peeping Tom shows a killer produced by the sadistic psychological experiments of a father, the son killing and dying from the excesses of patriarchy. And the point has been made that Psycho does not simply play with notions of guilt and repentance in the death of Marion Crane. It is shot through with references to money and people’s responses to it – the film’s opening contrasts a lack of money with someone else’s excess.

Modern serial killer films have played with the contradictions of class, gender and racism to good effect. Silence of the Lambs has the central conflict between the ‘backwoods’ Clarice and the classier Hannibal Lector. The Boston Strangler has the upper class John S Bottomly (Henry Fonda) pursuing the working class and immigrant Albert DeSalvo (Tony Curtis). The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has lumpen proletarians wreaking vengeance.

Some films offer a strong dose of white fears of the return of the repressed black man, e.g. Candyman, though here any comment seems overwhelmed by shock tactics. Two films based on a real-life African story are better. Windprints embodies a naturalistic comment on apartheid and racism where the murders are instigated by white farmers on black people. Dust Devil is more non-naturalistic: there are overtones of witchcraft in its story of the possession of a white male who kills white colonialists in a Namibia passing from subjection to Independence. The film ends with the possession transferred to a white woman who strides purposefully towards the UN troop carriers policing the new land. Repression is really returning.

Many of the films raise issues of gender and sexuality, e.g. the preponderance of women as victims. The recurring use of knife-like weapons for the murders and accompanying mutilations carries phallic overtones. (One of the more disturbing aspects of Somerset is his skill with a flick knife). In psycho-analytical terms a killer like the murderer in M or the `tooth fairy’ in Manhunter manifests instinctual needs and drives at an individual level. A killer such as Doe seems to express the moral demands at a social level (see Wood and Walker).

With both examples it is worrying that the serial killer phenomenon is directed so frequently by men at women, children or sometimes homosexuals. In Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher (1969) Popaul, the serial killer, faced with the woman he loves turns the knife on himself. In a similar scene in The Hawk the wife uses a knife on her killer husband.

Silence of the Lambs, Prime Suspect and Copycat offer other women characters who resist and battle against this oppression. DCI Tennison (like Clarice Starling) excels in a male world of manipulation; but what is really interesting is that Prime Suspect encourages the audience to judge both her actions and their cost to Tennison. Her motherhood and her emotional life are the price of her work. In The Hawk, the same actress, Helen Mirren, plays Annie Marsh, the wife of a serial killer. Her growing suspicion has to overcome the stigma of prior mental treatment after childbirth and the patronising male attitudes of the police. After the killing of her husband, Annie observes police self-congratulations (in a scene strongly reminiscent of Prime Suspect) over the success actually engineered by her. The final image of her re-union with her children blends female independence and courage with the joys of motherhood.

An aspect of both the films and the literary texts is judgement. M notably ends on a trial of the murderer, not by the state but by the criminal underworld. In Se7en judgement is central to the development of the narrative through the device of seven deadly sins. As an ineffective police force fails to cope with `evil’, Doe assumes the mantle of judge and jury and takes the law into his own hands. He despatches morally unsound characters missed by the official judicial system; a continuation of the Ripper in Lulu. Se7en offers a particularly damming judgement on modern urban life. It is one of the bleakest views of the city following a decade of downbeat displays that make some early noirs look positively optimistic. Early in the film Somerset offers a quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Long is the way, and hard that out of hell leads up to light”. This is the route followed by the narrative, from the opening titles, surely some of the darkest images ever seen on screen, to the final confrontation staged in the bleak, unrelenting light of the desert.

At this point the typical Hollywood ending, when a law enforcer provides the vigilante justice which the official system cannot provide, is reversed. As John Wrathall wrote in the Sight & Sound review, “it’s hard to imagine even the most morally degraded audiences cheering when Mills shoots Doe.” It is as dark as the ending of Aliens 3, where the abortion is achieved by the mother’s suicide. To avoid total despair the audience are left with another Somerset quote, (from Hemingway), “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for… I agree with the second part.” But still a world away from having Norman Bates and company safety tucked away in the sanatorium.

Bibilography

Gross, Larry (1995) `Exploding Hollywood’ in Sight & Sound, March 1995 (Natural Born Killers).

Kermode, Mark and Franke, Lizzie (1992) `Blowing Up a Storm: The Making of Dust Devil’ in Sight & Sound, September 1992.

Newitz, Annalee (date unknown) `Serial Killers, True Crime and Economic Performance Anxiety’, in Cineaction No 38 – the whole issue is around `Murder in America’

Pirie, David (1973) A Heritage of Horror, London.

Gordon Fraser Bernard Rose, Bernard and McCabe, Colin (1993) `More Things in Heaven and Earth’ in Sight & Sound, March 1993 (Candyman).

Taubin, Amy (1991) `Killing Men’ in Sight & Sound May 1991.

Taubin, Amy (1996) `The Allure of Decay’ in Sight & Sound January 1996, (Se7en)

Williams, David (1995) ‘The Sins of the Serial Killer’, interview with Darius Khondjii in American Cinematographer October 1995.

Williams, Linda (1994) `Learning to Scream’ in Sight & Sound December 1994 (Psycho)

Williams, Tony (1978) ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ in American Movies in the Seventies, Movie 25.

Wollen, Peter (1994) ‘Dying for Art’ in Sight & Sound December 1994 (Peeping Tom)

Wood, Robin and Walker, Michael (1973) Claude Chabrol, London: Studio Vista (They discuss the relevance of Freudian notions to serial killing).

Wrathall, John (1996) Review of Se7en in Sight & Sound, January.

Originally appeared in the itp Film Reader, itp publications 1996.

Posted in Film noir, Hollywood | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

The Big Sleep, USA 1946.

Posted by keith1942 on December 30, 2014

Marlowe with Vivian.

Marlowe with Vivian.

A reel treat at the end of the year was the screening of this classic film at the Hyde Park Picture House in an excellent 35mm print.

The film is classic in a number of ways. It is a star vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, whose silhouettes grace the background as the credits unroll. Apparently after the success of To Have and Have Not (Warner Bros. 1945) commissioned Howard Hawks to develop a follow-up, (this film also includes Bacall singing). It certainly seems that the box office success was very much down to audience’s delight in this new onscreen romantic couple. Some of the best moments in the film are the scenes between the couple. One, added late in the production to increase the star attraction, is a delightful conversation involving the risqué use of horse racing metaphors. And there is a two-handed telephone conversation between Marlowe (Bogart), Vivian (Bacall) and at the other end of the telephone a bemused police officer. If the lead couple are good, so are the supporting cast. Elisha Cook Jr. has one of his greatest and glummest screen characters in Harry Brown. And Sonia Darrin is the suitably hard-bitten Agnes. Even more memorable is Dorothy Malone as a Bookshop girl: there is superb moment as she takes off her spectacles and shakes out her hair.

Then this is a Howard Hawks’s movie; [Michael Walker has an interesting discussion of this aspect in The Movie Book of Film Noir, Studio Vista 1992). The professionalism central to Hawk’s films is here, even if the male camaraderie is downplayed. And Bacall beautifully projects the androgynous quality that often hangs about his heroines. The film’s production is well served in the cinematography by Sidney Hickcox, editing by Christian Nyby and Production Design by Robert B. Lee. The music by Max Steiner, as with the male lead, also recalls Casablanca (1942).

The complications of the novel by Raymond Chandler and this film version (scripted by William Faulkner, Leigh Bracket and Jules Furthman) are legendary. However, I reckon that one can follow it with attention and despite possibly apocryphal stories, all the murderers are identified. This is Chandler at his best – the book is a gripping read and a BBC radio 4 adaptation last year was also excellent.

The big question mark is whether to place the film in the private eye or the film noir genres. Certainly Bogart is a seeker hero and he encounters a world of chaos and criminality. The film also has light and shadow but not with the intensity of, say, another Chandler Adaptation Murder My Sweet / Farewell My Lovely (1944). And Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) lacks the malevolence of the really great noir villains. This was one of the films I discussed with students on ‘the World of Noir Course’ The consensus was that the film lacked a sharply defined femme fatale. The contenders would seem to be the two Sternwood sisters, Carmen (Martha Vickers) and Vivian. No serious femme fatale would suck her thumb in the manner that Carmen does. And Vivian ends up saving the seeker hero.

But then many great films defy easy categorization. What the film does offer is an absorbing and entertaining 114 minutes. The audience at this screening certainly enjoyed the film.

 

Posted in Film noir, Hollywood, Hollywood stars | 1 Comment »

My Darling Clementine, USA 1946.

Posted by keith1942 on November 27, 2014

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE-008-(1000003974)My Darling Clementine-008

This classic western directed by John Ford was screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014. The screening used a 4K DCP, which offered excellent visual quality. The film had been digitally scanned at 4K from the Museum of Modern Art’s 35mm nitrate fine grain master. Then it was restored at 4K at Cineric Inc. with the audio track restored from a source element at Audio Mechanics. This was a demonstration of how good digital can be when the technology is set at the right level of quality and used well. A discussion on digital restorations and screenings produced the comment that 4K should be the minimum for digital cinema: something my experience of viewing confirms.

This great western, filmed in Ford’s favourite Monument Valley, makes excellent use of the landscape and vistas. This provides the setting for one of the finest performances by Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp. The Catalogue quoted Tag Gallagher; “Wyatt combines the godhead of Lincoln, the passion of Tom Joad, the directness of the Ringo Kid.” Somewhat over the top, as indeed is the film, but it aspires to and achieves mythic status. It is worth noting that two of the performances quoted are indeed by Fonda, but the third is by John Wayne. Much of the strength of the film arises from this combination of two artists, Ford and Fonda.

But it also arises from the writing – Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller: the superb cinematography by Joe Macdonald; and fine production design by James Basevi and Lyle Wheeler. The music also aspired to mythic status, and the use of the traditional song, ‘We’ll gather at the river’, is memorable.

And the quality also stems from the fine supporting cast. Walter Brennan as the Clanton patriarch is splendid. And Victor Mature as Doc Holiday has a memorable sequence in which he quotes Shakespeare: far better than the ham he is sometimes thought to be. As you might expect for the genre the women characters are less developed, but Cathy Downs is excellent as Clementine and Linda Darnell makes Chihuahua memorable.

This was one of the great pleasures of the Ritrovato week, and unsurprisingly the Arlecchino cinema was packed. The film looked great on the large screen, wide enough for scope but masked to 1.37:1. Undoubtedly this restoration will circulate in the UK in the not too distant future. My fear is that we will only get a 2K DCP. Despite there being quite a number of 4K projectors around – we have three cinemas in Leeds and at least one in nearby Bradford with this technology – the UK distributors rarely expend the effort of resources to provide this quality. Several exhibitors have told me that one requires a minimum screen size for 4K projection: 10 metres in quoted. However, Torkell Sætervadet in the FIAF Digital Projection Guide (2012) provides several pages of refutation. One aspect that gets overlooked is that digital is not just about the number of pixels – 4K offers a greater degree of dynamic contrast: and My Darling Clementine is a film with magnificent dynamic contrasts. Let us wait and hope.

 

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The Deer Hunter, USA 1978

Posted by keith1942 on August 4, 2014

The friends leaving the steel mill.

The friends leaving the steel mill.

This Academy Award winning film is being re-issued this summer. This follows on from the ‘restored’ version of Heaven’s Gate (2013), also directed by Michael Cimino. Like the later film this comes with high critical praise. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw awards five stars for what he terms a film with ‘anti-war imagery’. However, Andrew Briton, in a major article on Hollywood’s Vietnam movies (Sideshows: Hollywood in Vietnam, Movie issue 27/28) makes the point that

The ‘anti-war’ film tends to protest against war as such from an abstractly moral point of view …war is extrapolated for its socio-economic causes and functions, and we are confronted with its ‘horrors’ –.

It is this mis-reading [ideological in the proper sense of the word] that is made in The Guardian review. There is a complete absence, as in so much critical writing on film, of any sense of the ‘socio-economic’.

But actually this film is far worse than merely ‘anti-war’. It has as reactionary a viewpoint as the more frequently lambasted The Green Berets (1968). That film has at least the merit of being explicit in its right-wing views: merely transferring the racist treatment of Native Americans in westerns to the war in Vietnam. The Deer Hunter masquerades as a liberal critique whilst not only justifying the colonial war and the war crimes of the USA but vilifying the Vietnamese with racist stereotypes.

The film is effectively divided into three parts: an opening act set in the steel town of Clairton  Pennsylvania, which runs for over an hour. The second act, running about 40 minutes, is set in Vietnam. And the final act is back in Clairton but with another short venture to Vietnam, to Saigon just before the US flight. The film’s plot revolves around a group of friends, the members being Michael (Robert de Niro) and Nick Christopher Walken), along with Stevie (John Savage) all about to leave for service in Vietnam: the group’s oddball Stan (John Cazale) plus Axel (Chuck Aspegreen), all of these work in the local steel mill: Linda (Meryl Streep) Nick’s girlfriend, and Angela (Rutanya Alda) pregnant and about to marry Stevie: and John (George Dzundza) who runs a local bar where the friends regularly socialise.

The first part of the film, set in an ‘ethnic Ukrainian’ working class community in Clairton, a Pennsylvanian steel town, is frequently praised. But as Britton argues cogently in his article

the film relies on its inert reiteration of the appearance of concreteness – its ‘naturalism’ to camouflage the fact that its community is an abstraction, which can only be arrived at, and come to serve the end which it does serve, through systematic mystification.

It can be added that the settings, steel works, ethnic churches and celebrations, misty mountains – all lend themselves to high-value and costly production design and cinematography: and the film enjoys the services of one of the outstanding cinematographers Vilmos Zgismond. Clairton is a construction from eight different locations: Thailand stands in for Vietnam, though the film does use actual footage of the US evacuation: and some of the close-ups use back projection.

The mystification is served by the use of star power. De Niro, Walken and Streep, in particular, bring personas associated with their ability to create ‘authentic characters’. Intriguingly in the subsequent film Heaven’s Gate, we once again are presented with ethnic migrants, but on this occasion they are not served by star performers. In both cases, as Briton argues, ethnicity enables the filmmaker to avoid the fundamental issue of class.

If the real relations of class escape the film so do those of gender. Briton points out that the first hour of the film is dominated by two rituals – the female ritual of the wedding and the male ritual of the hunt. However, male rituals take precedence. As in other Cimino films [Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, 1974 and Heavens Gate) the central focus is the friendship between men – a buddy movie.

The Clairton act also contains premonitions that look forward to later in the film. At the wedding of Stevie and Angela, Michael and Linda exchange a look and a smile. At the subsequent reception Michael, Stevie and Nick attempt to question a Green Beret Vietnam veteran, whose only response is ‘Fuck it!’ Then, in one of several ethnic rituals, Stevie and Angela drink from double entwined cups, but red drops of wine fall [un-remarked] on Angela’s wedding dress. After the reception Nick makes Michael promise ‘Don’t leave me over there’ [Vietnam]. One of the most emphatic motifs in the film, is the ‘one shot’ endlessly preached by Michael. This is first played out with a stag on a mountaintop and repeated in variations several times later in the film.

The second act in Vietnam is, as Bradshaw concedes,

just as much fantasy as Francis Ford Coppola’s Wagner-fueled helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now (1979).

With a powerful ellipsis, the film cuts directly from Clairton to a battle scene in Vietnam. What one presumes is supposed to be a Vietcong soldier casually drops a grenade into a pit of women and children. He is subsequently torched by Michael with a flame-thrower. This serves as a warning that the film intends to completely invert the violence and responsibility in Vietnam. We are back to the inversion typical of the classic western.

Much of the act is taken up with the imprisonment of Michael, Nick and Stevie in a brutal riverside containment by the Vietcong. They pass their time by inflicting the game of Russian Roulette on the prisoners, and betting on the outcome. Michael is able to subvert the game to effect their escape.

Michael and Nick 'play' roulette.

Michael and Nick ‘play’ roulette.

The Guardian response is

The Deer Hunter has been criticised for this literal inaccuracy and showing Vietnam in terms of American victimhood. But for me, those macabre Russian roulette sequences stunningly proclaim war to be dehumanising and arbitrary.

The use of ‘literal’ is typical of bourgeois discourse where there are one set of terms for the oppressors – powerful states like the US – and a different and negative set for the oppressed – like Vietnam [or currently Palestine]. The film’s use of this ‘game’ is downright mendacity. The reports of such torture were by US military inflicted on Vietnamese: along with various other war crimes including dropping them alive from flying helicopters. And, of course, in typical Hollywood war film fashion, the ‘Yankee hero’ is able to outsmart and out fight the enemy. It is worth noting that by the end of the film, there are more dead Vietnamese than there are dead Yankees. Bradshaw also writes that:

The idea of sacrifice permeates everything, along with the cruelty and horror.

But the sacrifice, like the violence, is extremely one-sided.

Towards the end of this act the three friends are separated, but in another script plant Michael and Nick nearly meet up at a covert Saigon gambling den – gambling on an another game of Russian Roulette.

The final act again runs about an hour, though it includes a twenty-minute return to Vietnam. Returning to Clairton Michael starts to develop a relationship with Linda: Nick is AWOL and seemingly lost. Michael learns that Stevie has had both his legs amputated and is confined in a Veteran hospital. The traumas from Vietnam are demonstrated when on another hunting trip Michael’s ‘one shot’ philosophy is shown to be neutered.

Michael returns to Saigon now in chaos as the US military prepare to ‘abandon ship’. Saigon, as in the earlier act, is a noir world, full of shadows, neon signs, death and destruction. The femme fatale of the film turns out to be the same Russian Roulette game – with Nick as the victim hero and Michael as the seeker hero. Inevitably Michael returns to the US with Nick in a casket.

In the final movement of the film we are back in Clairton for Nick’s funeral. Stevie has been rescued from the hospital by Michael and is attempting to rebuild his life and marriage. After the burial the group of friends return to John’s bar – their regular haunt throughout the film. As they prepare a breakfast wake John, cooking in the kitchen, starts to hum ‘God Bless America’: It is taken up in faltering fashion by the others and gradually it strengthens in to unified singing. The film ends on a freeze frame of the group toasting to Nick’s memory seated in the bar.

Toast

Robin Wood sees The Deer Hunter as

the culmination of and elegy for a whole tradition of American cinema and American mythology.

The comments repeat the dubious convention in US English of equating the United States with two whole continents and 22 states. But it also misreads the film. In this film and in Heaven’s Gate Wood suggests that the films explore the diminishing viability of the US hero on film. One film he uses as comparison is The Searchers (1955). In that film Ethan Edwards at the close has to leave the community for the wilderness. But in The Dear Hunter Michael actually outwits and defeats the Vietcong. As a seeker hero he survives where the victim hero, Nick, fails. He returns Stevie to family and community. And the final camera shots of Michael and Linda suggests a resumption of their relationship – he wins the girl. He has been reintegrated into the community. In the context of the film’s representation of the USA and Vietnam, the final rendering of ‘God Bless America’ seeks to recoup the historic defeat there. Re-watching the film I was reminded of the apt line in A Fish Called Wanda (1988): Otto (Kevin Kline) is taunted by Archie (John Cleese), ‘You lost in Vietnam!’, to which he responds ‘It was a draw!’

Andrew Britton, having emphasised the social-economic, continues his analysis in terms of the film’s ’homo-erotic subtext’.

The function of the Russian Roulette game is to solve the problem of the American hero by transposing the dubious aspects of his authority to the Vietcong, whose role in the power-structure of the game is analogous to Mike’s in the hunt. By the very token of this symbolic link between them, the Vietcong also appear as displaced manifestations of repressed sexual desire …[between Michael and Nick].

Andrew Britton’s and Robin Wood’s comments are influenced by their being gay and their interest in psychoanalytical criticism. But purely at a surface level, accessible to audiences unfamiliar with either, Michael and company are the ‘good guys’ and the Vietnamese are ‘the bad guys’. Notably, the European involved in the Saigon Roulette den is French. Films like The Green Berets, and to lesser extent Apocalypse Now, ignore history and indulge in cinematic fantasy. More radically, The Deer Hunter takes history or a seemingly naturalised recreation and inverts it for similar purposes.

Bradshaw also comments,

A simple much-forgotten fact slaps you in the face after watching The Deer Hunter. Vietnam was different to Iraq and Afghanistan in one vital respect: the soldiers were drafted. They had no choice.

In fact, I don’t think the draft gets a single mention in the film. And Michael, Nick and Stevie are all itching to go: the war appears to them as an extension of their hunting sport. One could also point out that the methods used by the US administration to keep up military numbers in both Iraq and Afghanistan were just as coercive as the draft. But most importantly, the Vietnamese people had no choice either. They were drafted into war by French colonialism, Japanese expansionism and finally by US neo-colonialism. As in Cimino’s later Year of the Dragon (1985) the representations of Asians are racist. The Vietcong are brutal and mindlessly violent: ordinary Vietnamese are passive victims: and many of the urban Vietnamese dwellers cater to the worse excesses of the occupation: and not in a single instance is their dialogue accorded translation in subtitles. For this film ‘oriental life is cheap’.

Rather than an ‘anti-war’ film The Deer Hunter is an ‘anti-losing the war’ film.

 

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The Way We Were, USA 1973.

Posted by keith1942 on May 28, 2014

Katie's apartment in The Way We Were

Katie’s apartment in The Way We Were

This is a film that I have enjoyed several times, partly because of the effective star pairing of Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, and partly because it attempts, in a confused way, to address one of the darker periods in US film history. The film was re-screened at the Bradford Widescreen Weekend in a 4K DCP. This means that the original Panavision 2.35:1 was altered to 2.39:1, but it was a good transfer and great to watch. The Widescreen Weekend at Bradford is noted for the care and attention to the projection of films.

The film’s story follows the relationship of an unlikley romantic couple: Jewish Bluestocking Communist Katie (Streisand) and [in his own words] ‘White Anglo-Saxon Protestant’ Hubbel [Redford].  The film opens in 1937 with campus agitation by communists and fellow travellers for intervention in support of the Spanish Republican Government against the fascist rebellion led by General Franco. However, the focus in the story is more personal, Streisand and Redford are both would-be writers taking classes. He has talent but [in his own words] ‘everything came too easily to him’. He socialises and wins sport events whilst she works part-time to fund her studies.

They meet again in New York in the later stages of the war – he is supernumerary naval officer, she is working in radio. Here a relationship develops, though Streisand rather than Redford takes the lead. After the war they marry and move to Hollywood. But their differing value systems lead to tensions: aggravated by the HUAC investigations and the case of the Hollywood Ten.

The pair part, though they have jointly sired a daughter. They meet briefly in New York in the mid-1950s. He now writing for television, she is married and still supporting liberal causes.

The film’s treatment of liberal and left politics is fairly underdeveloped, [in typical Hollywood fashion]. However, Streisand brings a fire to the scenes where she expresses her convictions. The CP-USA line on Spain is fudged though there is a brief dig about the change of the line during World War II. When we reach the HUAC hearings and the Hollywood Ten there is little sense of the Party activities, but a lot of liberal protest. In the final scene Streisand is collecting signatures against the Atom Bomb. In fact the most political point in the film is in her New York flat, where, in a rare combination, we see pictures of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Paul Robeson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Symptomatic is the fact that I am pretty sure that we never see a picture of Karl Marx.

However, the screening was illuminated by a really interesting introduction by Tony Sloman. It appears that the film was cut shortly before release. It seems that five scenes comprising seven or eight minutes were cut by the director Sydney Pollack. This followed on from a very disappointing preview screening. It seems that after the cuts the film received a better reception. The content of the cuts is not completely clear. However, Streisand, who seems to have opposed the action, kept the deletions. Tony Sloman showed us a two-minute clip, an argument between Redford and Streisand on the eve of the well-publicised flight to Washington by Hollywood stars to support the ‘Ten’. To be honest it did not seem to have any more political content than scenes that remain in the released film.

However, it seems that some viewers found Streisand’s performance ‘strident’, which is part of the characterisation, though she is also a powerful performer. Hollywood films have almost made a convention of avoiding demanding political analysis. One thinks of the scene in Reds (1981)where Reed (Warren Beatty} explains to his politics to Louise Bryant {Diane Keaton) – thanks to cuts we never actually hear a complete sentence.

Revealingly Redford initially turned down the treatment as he thought that ‘Hubbel’s point of view’ was not given sufficient attention. I think he was probably wrong, even of the uncut version. Streisand’s several speeches are long on rhetoric but short on content. This is true of the initial meeting to ‘Support Spain’ right up to the arguments on HUAC and the Hollywood Ten. Moreover, Hubbel is given a notable speech of response at this point: [this may have been added at Redford’s insistence]. His argument is that despite any actions ‘nothing’s goin’ to change’. He claims that ‘people are more important …not causes, not principles!’. This fits with the Hubbel character, but also is a more general attitude across Hollywood films. It is what would be termed ‘apolitical’ [dictionary – politically neutral]. In fact of course such a position is quite reactionary, as it leads to a form of quietist inaction. Katie’s response is that ‘people are their principles!’ but the point requires a more political and a more concrete response: such a response may have been in a deletion?

The screenplay for the film was adapted by Arthur Laurents from his own novel [which I have not read]. However, Laurents had direct experience of HUAC and the blacklist. In that sense the film takes a ‘liberal’ rather than a left or communist line on the period covered. Having noted that Streisand’s character calls for support for the Republican fighters and the Soviet resistance to fascism with immense gusto. I mentioned Reds earlier. The film has a little [only a little] more politics in it, but certain no more gusto for the cause than exhibited by Katie.

One interesting aspect of a very effective mise en scène is Katie’s hair, as hair is often a potent signifier for female characters. At college her hair is in tight, little curls. By the time of the New York sequences it is more or less straightened…’I have it ironed’. It stays like this all through her relationship with Hubbel. Then in the final meeting the hair has reverted to the tight, little curls!

Afterthought:

Since re-seeing the film the issue of  ‘the male gaze’ (Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey in Screen, 1975) has come up in an Adult Education class. I never found this particular concept convincing and I was always puzzled that feminists should be influenced by the essentialist and idealist theories of Jacques Lacan. And this film is a mainstream narrative offering that does not comply with the claims of Mulvey and others.

The Way We Were is constructed around the ‘female gaze’ of Katie. The film opens in wartime New York with Katie working as a producer’s assistant in radio. Later, at a night-club, she encounters a stupefied Hubbell, [a combination of fatigue and alcohol}. We then are presented with a flashback from Katie’s point-of-view of ‘the way they were’ in the 1937 college days. The early stages of the flashback celebrate the physical beauty of Hubbell for Katie, mainly in athletic pursuits. The key scene in classroom where the lecturer reads Hubbell’s short story is mainly from Katie’s point-of-view. The story is titled ‘The All American Smile’ and the opening line runs – “In a way he was like the country he live in, everything came too easily to him”.

The flashback leads us back to the then present and the wartime relationship that develops between Kati and Hubbell.  It seemed to me that Katie’s point-of-views still predominates though we are offered more frequent ones from Hubbell. Certainly the first scene of sexual intimacy between the pair is seen as Katie experiences it.

As I suggested above when we come to the Hollywood sequences more of Hubbell’s side is presented. For example we see scenes between Hubbell and his friend J.J. [Bradford Dillman], something that did not occur in the flashback or in the New York sequences. And Hubbell’s interventions regarding the actions in support of the Hollywood Ten are given parity with those of Katie. Yet even at the end it is Katie we follow into the New York Street and then we encounter Hubbell, as she does.

Katie is clearly the central focus of the narrative and her point-of-view if the privileged point-of-view. And as an audience we enjoy the pleasures, along with her, of gazing on Hubbell [Redford] body. What strikes me about the way that the film shifts towards Hubbell’s position is that this is not because he is masculine, but [as with his short story]] he seems to embody the values of the primary audience’s country, the USA. Hubbell embodies the values of the dominant forces in US culture. In particular, he expresses a strong individualism, which is central to the ‘American way’.

 

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From Rover to Uggie: Dogs on Film

Posted by keith1942 on April 19, 2014

laSSIE

This was the title of an illustrated talk that I gave at the Cinema Museum in London in November 2011. Since when I watch films on DVD or the TV I am accompanied by my Border collie, Dusty, this is an area of significant interest to both of us. Of course, there are thousands of dogs across cinema, and this is especially true of the early years of the medium, when any cameraman setting up in the street was sure to record at least one of our canine friends. But as a narrative cinema developed dogs became a frequent and often conventionalised character in stories. D. W. Griffith set the tone for Hollywood when in The Birth of a Nation he showed one of the Southern belles with her dog and a little later had the chief villain kicking a dog. So I based the selected clips in a series of extracts that seemed to equate to the most common canine characters and their roles.

Importantly though I first explained one of the basic maxims that apply to dogs in film. This was an early lesson given by my friend Sue to her scriptwriting class at the Leeds-based film school – ‘Never kill the dog! Especially if it is a golden retriever’. There is an example of the latter part of this maxim in Independence Day (USA 1996). However, a more effective example can be found in The Day After Tomorrow (USA 2004). As the world freezes a group. including the young hero and heroine, take shelter in the New York Public Library. Along with them is an African-American hobo with his dog, a Border collie. Temperatures drop everything freezes – but the hero’s dad, a meteorologist, struggle through ice and snow to rescue him and his companions. To my consternation when the rescue was effected there was no sign of the dog? However, when the rescue helicopters arrive at the film’s ending the hobo and his dog re-appeared. There was clearly some continuity problems here. But on the Internet I found an explanation. A provisional cut of the film, including the poor collie being frozen to death, was screened for preview audiences. Almost to a woman and a man they complained on their cards – ‘You killed the dog!’ So some last-minute additions had to be made to the film. Fortunately this sort of error is relatively rare in the movies.

The illustrations included both silent and sound films [the latter dealt with here]. The first set of clips was under the heading Thy Friend the Dog. These included two of the most famous cinematic characters, Lassie and Uggie. Since Lassie has had possibly the longest career of any canine star we started with the first – Lassie Come Home (1943). This is set in one of the idealised Hollywood landscapes, not exactly like the Yorkshire where I walk my own dog.

The second set of clips was under the heading of To the Rescue. This must be the most common action taken by dogs in relation to human film characters. We had Toto from The Wizard of Oz (USA 1939) dragooning the three companions into a saving Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the East. But the most exciting clip was the second episode of a Rin Tin Tin serial, The Lone Defender (1930). This has a cliff-hanger ending which provided the question for a competition – the winning entry was more imaginative than the original film.

We also paid a short tribute to a couple of humans – auteur directors with empathy for dogs. One was Alfred Hitchcock; dogs are very common in his films. A typical example is in Strangers on a Train (1951). Guy breaks into Bruno’s mansion, but his errand is to warn Bruno’s father about his psychotic son. The guard dog’s moral sense tells him Guy is a friend. The other notable director was Luchino Visconti, another dog lover. The favourite of his sequences with dogs is in Ludwig (Italy, France, and West Germany 1972) where Trevor Howard as Richard Wagner wrestles on the floor with a white Pyrenean mountain dog.

The next category was In the Pack In the Wild, with dogs reverting to nature or at least to type. This commenced with a musical ensemble from an MGM sound film, Dogway Melody , which offered a canine pastiche of the studio musicals. The climax is a really well executed chorus and soloist rendering Singin’ in the Rain to an enthusiastic doggy audience. The skills in the next clip earned a round of applause as Owd Bob (1938), the sheep dog demonstrated his skills at rounding up sheep at a Lakeland trial. This set ended with a specially requested clip, Old Yeller defending his master from a black bear.

Four Legs was concerned with the major pre-occupations for dogs food, food, food and sex. The clip featuring Pluto was concerned with food but made really nice use of mirrors. Lady & the Tramp was concerned with romanceand featured the famous spaghetti meal accompanied by the equally famous song.  Whilst Bonbón el perro (Argentina 2004) was devoted to the most basic instinct.

Asta with supporting stars

Asta with supporting stars

Two Legs Good Four Legs Better demonstrated the superiority of the canine species. We had Asta in a Thin Man feature. And then rounded off the topic with the Italian part documentary, part-feature Le Quattro Volte (2010). This has an ingenious sequence with a sheep dog, a block of wood and a van – it is very slow but worth the wait. [Note the film is as much about the dog as it is about the much-hyped goats].

The final category was Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow. This is a somewhat downbeat subject but the films have a high quotient of emotion. There was Umberto D (Italy, 1952) and the final slightly traumatic but ultimately upbeat ending. Then we had the penultimate sequence from the 2005 Lassie, beautifully shot and set in the real Yorkshire. The final clip was from Hachi (1987). This Japanese film recounts the story of a faithful dog who accompanied his master every day to the Station and then met him on his return. One day the master failed to return. So the faithful dog waited morning and evening at the Station year on year. This is a sad ending but beautifully achieved with a reassuring sense of renewal.

Hachi's statue.

Hachi‘s statue.

There was deserved applause for David Locke and his assistant who juggled 16 mm, Blu-Ray and DVD in screening the programme of film clips. Also a thank you to the Cinema Museum for hosting the event. They were happy enough to organise a follow-up, coming on Thursday April 24th. The illustrated talk will follow the example of the Golden Collar Awards. Setting right over 80 years of the Hollywood Academy [and the BAFTA’s] failing to recognise the important contribution of canine actors – The Award Goes To ….

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