FC5: Left-Handed Guns

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vlcsnap-11572401) THE ASPHALT JUNGLE 2) THE KILLING.

“THE ASPHALT JUNGLE became the model for a number of films of this genre,” wrote John Huston, modestly enough. As well as inspiring probably 60% of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films, the movie served as a source of inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s first really good picture, so it seems worthwhile to look at the two together, to see what aspects of Kubrick come from Huston and where he breaks out on his own. Film Club meets the Fever Dream Double Feature.

vlcsnap-154983Calhern and Lawrence.

“Crime is a left-handed form of human endeavour,” opines the paymaster of Huston’s gang, Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania (Louis Calhern), and Huston says this line encapsulates “the tone of the film.” Not it’s message, you understand. Huston, who arguably didn’t believe in very many things, doesn’t tend to have messages in his movies, he merely adopts different tones. He’s sincere in his belief that these tones are honest representations of the way the world feels to some of his characters. He doesn’t necessarily give them credit himself. When he was preparing to work on the script of SERGEANT YORK, co-writer Howard Koch reminded him that their previous collaboration, a stage play entitled In Time to Come, was about peace through collective security, and that this, by contrast, was a pro-war picture. “Well, we’re in a war,” said Huston, sketching away unperturbed.

Huston disdains to preach at us, which makes him seem quite modern in some respects — THE ASPHALT JUNGLE picks up on those aspects of ’30s Warner gangster movies which made it past the censor without neat morals branded on their hides, and looks forward to the movies of Scorsese. It coolly portrays a certain lifestyle with the eye of an anthropologist, not an apologist. Huston has some sympathy for his characters, especially the most hopeless. His later masterpiece FAT CITY would likewise find most compassion for those most without a chance. It’s odd that Huston, who some people found cruel and sadistic, should show these traces of tenderness in a tough movie. And it’s odd that MGM made this one — I guess somebody was dazzled by the “Crime Does Not Pay” conclusion. But it’s really “Crime Often Does Not Pay — Sadly.”

vlcsnap-154719Whitmore and Hayden.

The biggest loser in this bunch is the hooligan, Johnny Guitar/Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden), a failed farmer, gambler and strong-arm man. His backstory (“that black colt”) gives him a poetic sadness, which in Hayden’s gristly hands becomes a kind of monomania. It’s also noteworthy that his self-pity prevents him from feeling anything for his sometime girlfriend, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a rather pitiable creature and possibly the model for all the women in Kubrick’s more misanthropic THE KILLING.

Huston’s adaptation of W.R. Burnett’s novel, co-scripted with Ben Maddow (INTRUDER IN THE DUST, which I hope to see soon) reputedly sticks close to the book and only made adjustments for the sake of the censor, working around their strictures with care and guile. When the Production Code enforcers stipulated that Louis Calhern couldn’t kill himself if he was in his right mind, Huston had him tear up his suicide note before blowing his brains out. The fact that this professional lawyer can’t finish a simple note proves that his mind is in total disarray, argued Huston. They bought it.

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The other main sop to the censor was the police commissioner’s speech near the end, designed to excuse the presence of a corrupt cop in the story. This is very nicely written but rather drags the film down in its last third, and in plot verisimilitude terms the cop shouldn’t really have  been caught at all.

Albert Band, later a producer of drive-in trash and straight-to-video nonsense, was Huston’s production assistant, according to Lawrence Grobel’s excellent book The Hustons. Huston announced that he was going to cast unknowns, and started with Marc Lawrence as Cobby, the bookie who finally puts up the money for the heist when Calhern can’t. “Marc was probably the most famous criminal face in the movies at that time,” laughed Band. Huston had already used him in KEY LARGO. (And THIS is why I’m referring to the actors by character names from other films.) Huston also screen-tested writer and artist Ludwig Bemelmans for the part of the gang’s mastermind, but when producer Arthur Hornblower showed him a reel of Sam Jaffe, Huston happily cast his actor friend. “The film was very well cast,” is just about the only thing Huston says about it in his autobio.

vlcsnap-155770Only Huston wanted to cast Monroe. “Look at the ass on that little girl,” he mused.

With the High Llama’s plan, the job goes ahead, amid extreme chiaroscuro lighting effects, beautiful unfamiliar cityscapes (especially scene 1), and an atmosphere of foreboding, since Ambassador Trentino plans to sell them all out, ditch his invalid wife and run off with Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe), his mind-bogglingly luscious girlfriend. Joining the gang are Anthony Caruso (whose honest wife is the only woman with any backbone in the film) and hunchbacked James Whitmore. The scheme itself seems surprisingly simple, at least since we’ve become accustomed to the Rube Goldberg-meets-Machiavelli scheming of THE KILLING, RIFIFI, et al. There are two reasons it goes wrong (discounting the requirements of the censor)…

The first is luck, or fate, and it’s explicitly pointed out by Jaffe. A prowl car responding to another crime unexpectedly shows up. A gun goes off by itself. The kind of things you can’t plan for, or if you did, you wouldn’t risk doing anything.

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But Jaffe himself comes to realize there’s a second reason. The plan fails because of who the people are. Calhern is untrustworthy. Lawrence is weak. Jaffe himself is undone by his fondness for pretty girls. So Jaffe and  Whitmore are caught (Whitmore will still be serving his sentence in 1994, as the Birdman of Shawshank). Caruso and Hayden are killed, Hayden’s death a strange variant on that of the donkey protag in AU HASARD, BALTASAR.

It’s a stunning film, and I’v very glad I watched it again. I’ve been working my way through the lesser-known Huston films in recent years, which are often far better than their reputations suggest, so it was interesting to come back to one of the celebrated films and find it holds up. The cast are extremely good — I especially like the weaklings, when they break down (I empathise so readily with a good sniveling weakling): Lawrence and Calhern. The burst of violence when Hayden erases Calhern’s private eye sidekick is sensational in its staging, anticipating the startling abruption of THE KILLING’s massacre. Harold Rosson lights the seedy locations with harsh yet moody effects, and Miklos Rosza not only contributes a marvelously doom-laden score, he does something he rarely ever did: stays out of the way for most of the film. I love Rosza, but he has a tendency to overdo things. Not here.

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Gerald Fried’s music for THE KILLING, a bunch of snare-drum and aggro, is a lot less pleasing to the ear. I wonder if Kubrick didn’t switch to largely sourced music because so many of the composers he worked with weren’t very interesting? But he always had a weakness for this kind of martial theme, just as he frequently turned to war as a subject or metaphor in his work.

And, ugh! that voice-over. I guess they needed something to make sense of the timeline, especially for audiences at the time, but it does make me wince a little, especially compared to the beautiful VO in BARRY LYNDON. Although I guess it wouldn’t have made sense for them to hire Sir Michael Hordern to narrate this one. Might make an amusing mash-up though. The KILLING guy, Art Gilmore, sounds kind of dumb. The writing is part of it: since this is a spoken element of the film, it should really have  been scripted by Jim Thompson, but I fear it wasn’t.

A little bird tells me there’s actually a mistake in the film’s complicated timeline, but doesn’t tell me where. Seems too dull to go looking for it, even though I’ve long championed the notion of Kubrick not as a perfectionist machine-mind, but as a kind of shambling, dopey muddler — but I’ll reward anybody who locates it for me. But I *did* notice that one of the horses in the first race we overhear appears to be called Stanley K. The first example of SK’s in-jokey side (given free rein in EYES WIDE SHUT)?

Sterling Hayden is back, as a very different kind of character, less sympathetic but the perfect man to mouth Jim Thompson’s hard-boiled, hard-assed dialogue. Boiled-ass? Having a half-decent budget for the first time, Kubrick is able to build upon his experience from his first two cheapies and make a far more tight, visually logical film, and he’s able to fill the frame with great character players. Jay C. Flippen is robbed of all his usual aw-shucks mannerisms and plays it hard but human. Elisha Cook Jnr. is maybe the first guy to go Over The Top And Beyond Infinity in a Kubrick film. And Marie Windsor, as his scheming wife, now strikes me as the heart and soul of the film. “You’ve got a great big dollar sign where most women have a heart,” as Hayden tells her.

vlcsnap-1157156A handsome couple.

Kubrick, like his hoods, was always on the lookout for the main chance, picking his next film with care to raise his profile, consolidate the critical respect he had so far, and move higher up. In 1956 his chief task was to get a really good B-movie under his belt, something that would qualify him for A-picture jobs. PATHS OF GLORY (one of my very favourites) was the A-picture, where according to Kirk Douglas (whom I don’t exactly trust) Kubes’ greatest concern was to have a commercial hit, to which end he attempted to add a happy ending. Never quite been able to bring myself to believe that, wholly. SPARTACUS was the epic, but without any artistic control, Kubrick was unhappy and shrank down for LOLITA, using the book’s reputation (as masterpiece; as scandalous and unfilmable) to garner a rep for iconoclasm. And so on. The difficulty in choosing a project increased as SK’s acclaim increased, and the more things he was celebrated for, the fewer things were left for him to try…

So one of the terrific and liberating things about THE KILLING is that it’s made at a time when Kubes has everything to prove, and he goes all out to do so, but on a small scale. The artistic ambition of the film itself is modest, Stan’s ambitions in general are vast. Borrowing Huston’s set-up, leading man and lighting style, he grafts on Ophuls’ unchained camera, gliding through walls like an Overlook Hotel spectre, shamelessly foregrounding the cheap sets and cheaper dialogue, making one of the first art-house noirs (maybe DETOUR is the first?) if we can allow such a thing. That non-linear timeline — who else was doing that in ’56?

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Against the obvious strengths, weaknesses are pretty insignificant. Hayden’s plan is over-elaborate (the great Timothy Carey’s role is redundant and if he got caught and told who hired him, the gig would be up) and could easily miscarry in a thousand ways. As in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, Hayden has apparently the ability to knock out a healthy cop with a single punch. I never quite believe this in movies. I’m not sure about the biology of it, but if Mike Tyson takes several blows to fell an opponent, I don’t get how a man like Hayden can do it in one. OK, he’s not wearing gloves, but that’s surely more likely to result in busted teeth/nose/jaw/knuckles, and doesn’t increase the chances of unconsciousness greatly. It’s the back of the head you have to hit to bring on that kind of brain damage (Joe Turkel’s injury in PATHS OF GLORY is much more convincing, horribly so: and spot Joe at 4.57 into this one), preferably with a blackjack. Sorry, I didn’t intend this as a how-to guide, I’m just saying movies win extra points from me if they avoid implausible cliches.

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The photography by Lucien Ballard (Mr. Merle Oberon) does a superb job synthesizing the stark, source-lit noir aesthetic with the fluid camera style, even if Stanley K. had to threaten to fire the guy on day one (a case of establishing the juvenile auteur’s authority over the pushy veteran cameraman: Kubrick was just 28). The Elisha Cook massacre, perhaps inspired by THE ASPHALT JUNGLE’s shockingly sudden whip-pan shooting, is jolting and quite credible, even if the aftermath is hard to make sense of. By reducing the action to a couple of quick shots, Kubes gives us the impression that we’ve seen a coherent exercise in gunplay, even if we haven’t.

The movie’s  influence is all over Tarantino’s work, from the questions-first, answers-later structure of RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION to the way the guy comes out of the kitchen shooting in the latter film (although the outcome there is different: it’s kind of a joke about THE KILLING’s total slaughter that the guy blasting away at Travolta and Jackson misses every shot). More than spaghetti westerns and kung-fu flicks, THE KILLING is the film that’s necessary to QT’s existence. But personally I think Kubrick’s morally blank, cool stare is more compelling and meaningful than QT’s hip, flip referencing.

vlcsnap-84081A teenage audience member in Belfast once asked me about this scene. I was amazed: “You’re a teenager in Belfast and you don’t know what a cavity search is?”

I’ll own up to the latter myself though: in my film CRY FOR BOBO I shamelessly swiped Kubrick’s faulty suitcase for my own CRY FOR BOBO (non-UK residents, see HERE), along with the strip-search from CLOCKWORK ORANGE, also drawing on Kubrick’s symmetrical, wide-angle lensed compositional style. It’s the post-modern age, I’m afraid.

The burst suitcase is another instance of the Fickle Finger (or poodle) of Fate meddling in human affairs, as in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, but it can also be argued that Hayden’s impatience is to blame. If only he’d bought a couple of smaller, better cases! It’s been argued that Kubrick’s films are all about what HAL 9000 would call human error, the inherent faultiness of human nature leading to complex systems collapsing in disarray. That certainly holds good for DR STRANGELOVE, and can be read into 2001… is the system in question in EYES WIDE SHUT the institution of marriage? Is THE SHINING really just about how not to look after a hotel? A sort of gothic Fawlty Towers? But it’s fair to say SK’s work is united by a somewhat skeptical view of humanity’s virtues, with the Spielberg footnote A.I. looking forward to a day when we will all be replaced by more efficient, humane machinery, lording it over an ice-palace New York. So there’s that to look forward to.

Love the vacant taxi which blatantly drives right past Hayden and his girlfriend without slowing. “I don’t stop for losers!”

vlcsnap-1163840-1Photoshopping Hayden doesn’t seem to make that much difference.

“What’s the difference?” mumbles Hayden at THE KILLING’s end, a more than usually pointed and depressing summation of the noir ethos.

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38 Responses to “FC5: Left-Handed Guns”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    The non-linear chronology of THE KILLING is anticipated in films like Siodmak’s THE KILLERS, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY and CRISS CROSS.

    The Kubrick is I suppose interesting because it is less sentimental and more hard than the Huston, less stately by comparison and so it lends the film an authenticity but it’s also not very interesting beyond the gimmick and Marie Windsor and Sterling Hayden.

    THE ASPHALT JUNGLE is one of my favourites of all “official classics”, it’s a terrifically entertaining and deeply moving film. One line especially, the doctor’s pronouncement when Sterling Hayden drives to his land is terrific, “He doesn’t have enough blood to keep a chicken alive!” The ending, a man burning out his depleting blood was re-used in RIFIFI but the poetry of this film and that final shot is more elegiac.

    The film was Hayden’s first major role and Bertolucci used it as the basis for casting him as a peasant in NOVECENTO(when all the other American stars were playing landowners).

    Melville’s description of his philosophy of life as “an uphill struggle to failure” fits THE ASPHALT JUNGLE well. And the camaraderie of the characters anticipates LE CERCLE ROUGE.

  2. Yet again I’ve managed not to take part in the Film Club, but this time I thought it was because I know these two films so well that nothing is likely to come of yet another viewing, even in tandem. But there you go, pointing out previously un-noticed parallels and assonances in them that make me want to have another look.

    There’s another James Whitmore movie where he plays almost exactly the same character – even working in pretty much the same greasy spoon if I remember correctly – but IMDB isn’t giving me much help.

    For more on Albert Band, see Lilian Ross’s book, Picture, which tells the story of the making of The Red Badge of Courage with an unflinching clarity no movie book can afford to bring to the table today, going all the way from the individual battles over creative decisions on the set to the Olympian heights of Nick Schenk’s office back in New York.

  3. That book is rather terrific. I’m convinced the Louis B Mayer interview inspired the movie boss in Barton Fink. Huston later tried to distance himself from it and suggest that the studio hadn’t made such a bad job of Red Badge of Courage, but it’s pretty clear they tore the guts out of it.

    The Undercover Man or Crime in the Streets, maybe, for the Whitmore film.

    I think The Killing is more interesting than you give it credit for, Arthur. Obviously it’s not as emotional as the Huston, but that can be seen as part and parcel of its Kubricity. And the non-linear thing is on a different level than the examples you cite. The Killers uses flashbacks basically like Citizen Kane (from whence the whole structure seems drawn — I’d love to write something on the parallels).

    Likewise the flashbacks in Criss Cross and Christmas Holiday, and Out of the Past and even The Locket, which with its flashbacks within flashbacks is the craziest of them all, are all triggered by characters remember. Whereas Kubrick simply chooses to tell the story out of sequence in order to follow each step of the robbery through. It’s more Mystery Train than The Killers.

    “The uphill struggle to failure” applies quite well to most Kubrick films, in which vast amounts of planning and equipment (things SK was a great believer in) typically result in destruction, death, madness, ruination.

  4. … and there’s the downright inverse chronology of the fantastic Murder Inc./The Enforcer from 1951, which knocked my socks off when I first saw it. We open with Ted De Corsia in a state of gibbering fear of his unseen boss and then work backwards, watching Corsia grow in stature before our eyes, blossoming into a kind of baffled swagger upon their first meeting, and the reveal of Everett Sloane (this film has to have been an influence of The Ususal Suspects). If only the makers could have settled on a name.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    Yes but with Kubrick the failure registers as something facile rather than the tragedy you get in Melville or Huston. DR. STRANGELOVE ends with an apocalypse yet we can’t bring ourselves to care because the guys who try to stop it are such morons. The exception is LOLITA or BARRY LYNDON I suppose which are my two favourites of his films, the former for having the best cast and performances, the latter for outlining his worldview completely.

  6. Murder Inc sounds great!

    Yes, the Coens seem to have drawn extensively on Picture and another great movie book, Neil Gabler’s An Empire of their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (which contains the “Get down on your knees and kiss this man’s feet!” scene from Fink almost verbatim), which is one reason I don’t rate that movie as highly as a lot of people (the whole subplot about the painting on Barton’s wall is also drawn in its entirety from a Martin Scorsese short film, the name of which I temporarily disremember, but it’s obviously not The Big Shave).

  7. The producers of The Enforcer should have settled on a director too. I suspect Walsh did the best bits. Need to revisit that movie.

    Kubrick is not so much interested in emotion, especially in Dr Strangelove. The nightmare quality in that film comes from imagining ourselves in that apocalypse, while the morons who caused it are all safely underground. It’s a black satire, with no onscreen figures of identification except very provisional ones like Mandrake, who’s pretty ridiculous, or Muffley, who’s really as guilty/incompetent as anyone.

    The Killing might be facile, but I see that as more a choice than a failing. Everybody’s like those cardboard cutouts on the firing range, only with cool dialogue. It’s 2d like a great pulp or a comic book. Not in the same sphere as Asphalt Jungle for depth, but not trying to be. The depth is more in the portrait of a seedy world that crushes the rats who run around in it. A less realistic but more insinuatingly creepy world than Huston’s.

  8. Ah yes – What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? is the one I was thinking of.

  9. Yes indeed. Scorsese deliberately made a film without a single match cut, then belatedly realized that maybe producers would like to see that he could match shots.

    There’s a tiny bit somewhere on this blog about Zero Mostel’s hand acting in The Enforcer, but I’ve almost entirely forgotten the odd narrative structure.

    Barton Fink always struck me as empty and cobbled-together, with the serial killer thing a real last minute act of desperation. But I rather like the style. As with Tarantino, the Coens seem mildly obsessed with Kubrick, who offers them a dignified take on their own emptiness. Check out the OPE/POE graffiti in Raising Arizona.

    The other big Sk referencing filmmaker is… John McTiernan. Which is just weird.

  10. THE ENFORCER really is worth a visit, great cast (Zero Mostel!) and pretty engaging story. Not to be confused with the MURDER INC. starring Peter Falk, which I’ve yet to see.
    Re. ASPHALT JUNGLE, Huston had been given QUO VADIS to direct just prior to taking on AJ. LB Mayer had in mind more of a CB DeMille-type picture, and Huston wanted no part of that, so he removed himself gladly from that project and immediately turned his attention to ASPHALT JUNGLE. Marc Lawrence’s Cobby is great visually, that weaselly pencil mustache combined with the sweat and pockmarks on his face, it’s the face of the weak link in the chain. Lawrence was a turn-of the-century Mafioso in BLACK HAND, made just prior to AJ, an underrated film where he’s genuinely scary, I think Huston cast him against type here. Lawrence had also been in JH’s KEY LARGO not long before the making of AJ. Incredibly, Marc Lawrence was in Rodrigues’ and Tarantino’s FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, he died in 2005 and kept pretty busy right up to the time of his death.

  11. Arthur S. Says:

    Gus van Sant is another film-maker interested in Kubrick and honestly I can’t really see the influence in his style and aesthetic. Some people mentioned the long tracking shots in the corridors in ELEPHANT as being like the SHINING but the composition in Van Sant seems more calibrated than Stanley K who as you say is misunderstood as a “perfectionist”.

    I will say that I have mixed feelings about Kubrick as a film-maker in that I always found his coldness, his lack of emotion, as a pose rather than something authentic like the “coldness” of Antonioni or Bergman or Melville. It feels like his cinema is one where the characters are concepts and caricatures drawn to prove the venality of humans. That is of course his weaker films, at his best, or when he casts well, he can be a subtle and nuanced film-maker or as in 2001 where he finds the perfect concept for his aestheric.

  12. I’d always thought that the opening sequence for THE KILLING was newsreel or documentary footage utilized for budgetary reasons. Not so. Lucien Ballard had been sent out to shoot these racetrack scenes, and Kubrick with co-partner Jimmy Harris were both in agreement that what he’d shot was unusable, it didn’t have the raw, grainy look they were after. Kubrick turned to Alex Singer to get the job done (Singer called Ballard’s racetrack footage “trash”), and was pleased with the results. Singer was someone Stanley had known since he was sixteen years old, they had both worked on a literary arts magazine for Taft High School in the Bronx.
    Here’s an interesting description of Lucien Ballard from John Baxter’s Kubrick biography:

    “Twenty years Kubrick’s senior, a veteran who’d begun with Josef von Sternberg in the mid-thirties… Still startlingly handsome, tall and broad-shouldered, with a chiselled face and copper skin that hinted at his part-Cherokee heritage, Ballard presented Kubrick with an unignorable challenge, both as filmmaker and man… Seeing the completed film was Ballard’s first intimation that Singer had been backstopping him- not the last time Kubrick would behave in this way toward a cameraman.”

  13. interesting stuff here, as always… I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of either of these films (although I certainly enjoy both of them)… I do agree that THE KILLING distinguishes itself by jumping about in time WITHOUT memory cues… definitely a liberating moment in popular film narration history!

    Still, my favourite heist films are Siodmak’s KILLERS and CRISS CROSS… I love Siodmak in general… almost as much as Dieterle…

    I will also add my voice to the chorus of ENFORCER admirers…

    regarding the lack of emotion in KILLING—it’s definitely by design, of course (just as the progress of the relationships in Woody’s WHATEVER WORKS is mechanistic)… but, you know, thing that has always stood out for me is the way that cool backdrop throws the incredibly emotional scene at the track into stark relief… the scene in which Carey’s character chooses to sync up with the distinctive codes of American white supremacy in order to further his economic agenda stick with you long after any of the other more typical futility dramatized by the film…

    but now I’ll sit back and read the comments–I failed to watch either film this weekend, sadly….

    Dave

  14. The Coens are always cobbled-together. Cynical and empty as a paper cup. I despise the way they set their characters up to be inferior to the spectator and unworthy of respect.

    Elephant is definitely Gus’ Kubrick movie. Paranoid Park also has Kubrickian traces — though Stanley would never go for slo-mo.

    Or teenage boys.

    The main thing that separates The Killing from The Asphalt Jungle is the former’s narration. It’s a kind of “Voice of God” cum newsreel commentator who only serves to undercore the pathetic hopelessness of everything we’re about to see unfold.

  15. Kubrick did resort to extreme 100fps+ slow-mo for the shootings in Full Metal Jacket. And the bone smashing in 2001. And Alex knocking Dim in the Thames in Clockwork Orange. Pretty much always straightforward violence, actually, except for the elevator-load of blood in The Shining, which is SORTA violent…

    Elephant is a bit Kubrickian in effect, but the aesthetic really comes from Alan Clarke’s Elephant, made when Clarke was really getting into prolonged steadicam moves, and made the entire movie out of them.

    But yeah, Kubrick’s not so interested in teenage boys. Girls, maybe.

    The narration does kind of reduce everybody to insect level, which is good. I just wish it were a little more elegant.

    I’m crazy about Siodmak, it’s odd that I haven’t written more about him here. I think I’d finished catching all the noirs I could find just before I started this blog.

    Ballard tried to con Kubrick on the first day, claiming he could move the camera further away and put a long lens on it to get what SK wanted. But Stan was very clear that he was after a wide-angle look. I do think the racetrack stuff is a bit TOO newsreel-like, it sticks out. Whereas the battle in Strangelove merges somehow with the other footage: possibly because the grain is consistent throughout.

  16. Oh yes you’re right about those slo-mos in Kubrick. But they’re not elegiac as in Gus — particularly Paranoid Park.

  17. Yes, there’s almost a straight divide between filmmakers who use slomo for violence — Kubrick, Peckinpah (of course), Leone (most interestingly) — and those who use it tenderly, like Van Sant, Vigo, Truffaut.

    It’s a very interesting tool, since it’s inherently neutral: all it does is celebrate movement. But it can be so emotional in the hands of a master.

  18. The opening of Taxi Driver with its slow-motion reaction shots of Travis Bickle, underscored with Herrman’s dreamy sax solos, intercut with the ‘street trash’ POVs, is one of my favourite uses of slo-mo in all of Hollywood cinema. There’s a tenderness combined with an alienation effect there – in fact, it’s not any one thing, and you can watch it different times and get different things from it. Scorsese claimed to have gotten it from Tales of Hoffman but no matter how many times I watch that film I can’t see the close-ups as a real influence – the opposite of Tarantino, Scorsese sometimes claims an influence that isn’t there, just because he respects his forebears so much.

  19. Arthur S. Says:

    Scorsese claims that the boxing scenes of RAGING BULL was modelled on Vincente Minnelli musicals and THE RED SHOES and THE TALES OF HOFFMANN…

    Scorsese’s use of slow motion in RAGING BULL and afterwards is unique in that he makes use of the fact that the cameras in the late 70s could be cranked at a lower frame rate during the shooting itself rather in post-production, he uses small doses of slow motion many times in all his movies afterwards. Litte bits. A famous bit is THE AGE OF INNOCENCE when Winona Ryder gives Daniel Day Lewis the message of doom when there are separate cuts of her getting up of the chair, each cut is shot at a different frame rate, making her almost as ominous as Godzilla(as Kent Jones noted).

    The interesting part is that Murnau and Keaton used slow-motion to similar effect in the silent era but the arrival of sound kept that innovation out of the film-maker’s hands for sixty years.

  20. Arthur S. Says:

    Peckinpah’s use of slow-motion was pioneering and incredibly visceral. I remember the opening of PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID the cross-cutting of the slow-falling bodies and the flying feathers of the chickens getting blown apart was something quite vivid. The past conjoined to the present by violence.

    The funny thing was that when I saw BARRY LYNDON, I could have sworn that the seduction scene between Redmond Barry and Lady Lyndon(set to that gorgeous Schubert piece) was done in slow motion by careful reduction of the frame rates. The movement of the actors was so precisely done and rendered so rhythmically. I can’t tell if it was done that. Maybe it’s entirely the way the actors undeplayed the scene and of course the precise cutting up of the scene.

  21. My favoirte bit of slo-mo is in Demy’s Lola — the scene where Frankie helps Cecile off the ride at the carnival. The slo-mo indicates that this is a moment she will remember all of her life — and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful.

  22. Arthur S. Says:

    Oh I remember that too…I found it quite strange and bewitching when I saw LOLA, didn’t know what to make of it.

  23. People always forget the great Marie Windsor when they say Kubrick can’t direct women. I’d say Elisha Cook AND Windsor are the heart of THE KILLING. I love Cook and Windsor as George and Sherry, the best roles either actor ever had, and I think their Thompson-scripted dialogue and the way the two actors play off one another partly inspired Edward Albee’s George and Martha. (Edward “What a dump” Albee has always been a great film buff.) What I would give to have seen a production of VIRGINIA WOOLF with Cook and Windsor in the leads! At least, we get to see them reunited (briefly) in Tobe Hooper’s SALEM’S LOT.

  24. Wow, that does sound like a dream play. Kubrick got a stupendous perf from Shelley Winters in Lolita, and an excellent one from Sue Lyon as well. The women in Clockwork Orange divide neatly up into naked or funny — there’s a whole range of Joyce Grenfell type funny actresses in that.

    Scorsese may be the guy who most combines the dreamlike and violent functions of slomo — perhaps this is part of the Powell influence. I don’t know if he admits to influences that aren’t there, or if he just absorbs and transmutes his influences until they’re no longer recognisable. Even when the source is clear, I usually feel he’s made it his own, unlike say with DePalma or especially Schrader.

    I think the Lady Barry wooing scene was shot normal speed: originally it led into a conversation, which SK cut, partly because it fell in the middle of a reel change. Suddenly he realised it worked as silent cinema.

  25. Tony Williams Says:

    Let us also not forget Diana Decker (1926- ) as Mrs. Farlow in LOLITA. She made a career of playing cute little American adolescent girls in her career up to her 30s so it is a pleasure to see her as a swinging Eisenhower era seductress in this film and her performance must owe much to Stanley. Marie Windsor was always great. I remember her fondly in an old wpisode of RAWHIDE when she failed to get Gil Favor. Didn’t she and Elisha also reprise their act in Tobe Hooper’s SALEM’S LOT?

    Again, it is always so refreshing when David E. states something I feel in isolation, namely the Coens, especially since I’ve just been in a battle concerning the merits of b/w films and how Sirk, Minelli & Co did the world of MAD MEN much better.

  26. I put up with the Coens’ smugness on a number of their earlier films, because I felt in Raising Arizona and maybe Fargo it was possible for me to have sympathy for certain characters even if they didn’t. But that kind of ebbed away, mostly. No Country is very impressive photographically, there are usually one or two excellent performances… Burn After Reading was just depressing.

  27. Re the Coen boys, I quite liked The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski.

  28. A heist movie I am very fond of is The Score, with Robert de Niro and Edward Norton.

  29. I couldn’t get on with The Score at all. It had a top-heavy cast but no originality that I could see.

    I like those Coens films — maybe The Man Who Wasn’t There appeals less, but the character dumbness in the other two works for the story, and you even get the feeling they like the Dude. Plus I like that O Brother, unexpectedly, is a musical.

  30. The Coen movies I like is FARGO and (I plead guilty) THE LADYKILLERS. I also like THE BIG LEBOWSKI up to a point, it’s essentially a remake of Huston’s BEAT THE DEVIL with Julianne Moore totally delicious in the Jennifer Jones role and Jeff Bridges holding his own in the Bogart part.

  31. O Brother in particular was a very pleasant surprise for me, a genuinely happy ending and for all its goofy slapstick a surprisingly vivid sense of that era’s imaginative landscape, echoing “Night of the Hunter”‘s Baptist-skewed Magical Realism.

  32. Don’t they kind of take the happy ending away at the end? Still, I liked the mixture of myth and history and comedy, the recombining of elements of Sullivan’s Travels with the Odyssey, and the setting. Plus some great character performances.

    I’ve read some quite interesting defenses of The Ladykillers, but I did find it utterly horrible and unfunny.

    I think Lebowski owes quite a lot to Altman’s Long Goodbye — Marlowe in the age of the supermarket.

  33. The Altman film kind of invented the Coens and even Quentin Tarantino. I had seen PULP FICTION before I saw that film, and after seeing THE LONG GOODBYE, the QT movie felt like a stale imitation. Not in terms of plot but the overall aesthetic was totally imported from that film. And it’s shot in LA.

    THE BIG LEBOWSKI has the same relationship with BEAT THE DEVIL, the over-the-top noir parody of the Huston updated to the 90s.

    One thing about Kubrick’s KILLING, it may have borrowed from Huston but the aesthetic is totally different, the philosophy is individual and unique.

  34. What I liked about The Score is the low-key and believable characterisation, helped of course by screenwriter Lem Dobbs, who was also involved in another film I like, Soderberg’s The Limey. I also liked the meticulous plotting and the jazzy and evocative score by Howard Shore. It was perhaps the ordinariness of the film that I found engaging.

  35. The Long Goodbye is one of the all time greats—and its influence is still being felt–haven’t read Pynchon’s new novel yet, but it clearly owes a lot to the Altman film

  36. Pynchon’s THE CRYING OF LOT 49 feels a lot like Aldrich’s KISS ME, DEADLY which is the first great deconstruction of film noir.

    Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE is fascinating in that for all it’s parody of the Ray Chandler ethos, Philip Marlowe is still damn good at his job as a detective and a total professional whereas in the Aldrich, Mike Hammer’s efficiency is down to his ability to bully. Marlowe is still king, like the way he rescues Sterling Hayden(in his best performance) from the clutches of Henry Gibson, sneaking back when no one’s looking. It’s just that he has become obsolete and can’t live and let live anymore.

  37. This comparison is of special interest to me because back in my early 20s when I was first woken up to the possibilities of cinema, I went through a few years of idolization of Kubrick, thanks partly to Thomas Allen Nelson (who taught a class I took at SDSU in 1995.) I loved “The Killing” and thought “The Asphalt Jungle” was a bit hokey by contrast. Now, two decades on, the Huston film seems more tragic and involving and more the sort of thing I want to watch, while the Kubrick film looks like a chilly technical exercise–but that’s just what I was lapping up back then, all the tracking shots and symmetrical compositions and the emotionless distance of the whole affair.

    I’d love to see someone, anyone, attempt to write a credible prequel to “The Killing” explaining just how Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook got married in the first place.

    A word about the bloody shootout in the apartment that leaves everyone dead except Elisha Cook (sort of): Vince Edwards barges in with Joe Turkel at his side, but when the shooting starts Turkel disappears off-screen. Edwards gets off one convulsive shot from his shotgun before dropping. So presumably the unseen Turkel was *really* busy before Cook finally nails him.

  38. And indeed, Turkel proves to be the last of the cast still with us, I think.

    A mystery to rank alongside “Who shot Nice Guy Eddie?” in Reservoir Dogs.

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