Archive for Leave Her to Heaven

You Go Girl

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2014 by dcairns

gone-girl-poster

Kind of impossible to write anything about GONE GIRL without spoilers. I can try not to be gratuitous with it but if you haven’t seen or read it, you should stop right here. And go see it, it’s entertaining! David Ehrenstein has compared it to a certain forties melodrama and he’s right, but even naming it would give too much away if you like to experience plotlines with newborn innocence.

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Gone-Girl-Trailer

David Fincher used to make two kinds of films — interesting ones like SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB and not-so-interesting ones like PANIC ROOM, but they were all stylistically indulgent and visually enjoyable. Then he made BORING BASTARD BUTTON which was kept afloat entirely by technological and stylistic excess, and then he kind of stopped being flamboyant and started doing television. Though ZODIAC had some extravagant visuals, it also ushered in what has become more typically the Fincher look — cool, snappy, dark, bluish, classical — traditional enough in framing and movement that he could use it to set up House of Cards and then pass it over to other directors who were mainly able to continue the style seamlessly.

So for GONE GIRL, Fincher marshalls the performances and Jeff Cronenweth lights things in his attractively chill manner and no excesses obtrude. Ben “low affect” Affleck has the right blend of everyman and doofus, is blank enough to potentially harbour dark secrets, and his puppyish aspects contrast nicely with Rosamund Pike’s more feline quality. When the movie needs more energy, Tyler Perry brings it as a celebrity lawyer. All the supporting cast are strong, and there’s a particularly pleasing mix of women — Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens deserve special mention.

The film GONE GIRL owes most to is (as acknowledged by author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn) 1945’s LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, in which (last chance spoiler alert) Gene Tierney commits suicide and frames her husband for her murder. But instead of coming as conclusion, in GONE GIRL, this is the whole set-up, revealed as a mid-film turning point — since the suicide itself is deferred, the rest of the film can play out the consequences and complications, which are legion. Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.

The idea that the film is in some way anti-woman strikes me as dumb, since it contains several other female characters besides the wicked (yet quasi-justified) wife. Affleck’s sister and the detective investigating the case seem to me wholly or largely admirable people, just imperfect enough to be human and interesting. There is another female monster, the representative of tabloid television, who is just this side of caricature — but really, tabloid TV is by now impossible to treat unjustly — it’s a monster about which anything you say is likely to be true.

I may have to make an exception for Emily Ratzkywatzky Ratajkowski as Young Woman With Large Breasts, who fulfills the job description but doesn’t add much to it. The character, amusingly called Andie Hardy,  is a lust figure for males (in the audience and behind the camera and onscreen) and is regarded with contempt by the women in the film, and obviously their assessment that she’s not super-bright has some basis, but if played by an actor rather than a model (and not in the Bressonian sense) the part could possibly have been more, ahem, fleshed out. “The other woman” character is often a problematic one, but she’s still a human being.

 

gone-girl-trailer

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I can’t say for sure if the plot twist would have worked differently if I hadn’t had a tip-off. (This is why “serious” criticism may need spoiler alerts too — how to assess the impact of a plot if you know what’s coming? Some movies don’t care if you know — Orson Welles had a fondness for beginning at the end — but some very much do. GONE GIRL is somewhere in between.) It seemed to me that Rosamund Pike’s narration was less than gripping in the first half — the romance stuff was fine but the slow deterioration of the marriage felt under-imagined, which I gather is not the case in the book. In part 2, the urgency of her flight and Affleck’s plight are intimately entwined and reinforce each other, but in the first half her soap opera can’t compete with his thriller.

But when the twist is revealed, the movie moves into high gear — we now have no idea how it’s going to fill its running time, but there is certainly a dangerous situation in play and we’re going to have to find out. Here is where a spoiler could be really annoying. The movie’s solution involves more melodramatic elements, some possible plot holes (video evidence that may contradict Pike’s account) and a really interesting suspended anxiety ending, which is the movie’s boldest stroke.

It’s the kind of film which seems exceptional in the modern movie culture, but could conceivably be the norm if only movies enjoyed the same conditions as quality TV. In other words, it’s a good, edgy thriller. Liberate the filmmakers and this kind of thing could be the median level for Hollywood.

 

 

Hail to the King

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-1904556

How did King Vidor get to be called King? Did he have a son called Prince?

On regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider’s recommendation I ran LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE, a slightly gothic noir with a western ranch setting — something of an oddity. But Ruth Roman is excellent in it, fun and relaxed in a way she doesn’t get to be in the other films I’ve seen her in, like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN or BITTER VICTORY.

Ruth plays an actress — no jokes about this being a stretch, please — taking a rest cure after a chest infection. If there’s anything wrong with her perf it’s that she seems healthy as a horse (there are frequent shots of horses so we can compare with ease) but she’s such a lively, humorous, modest and intelligent character we overlook that — the supposed ill health is just plot.

vlcsnap-1907575Merecedes McCambridge: Greater Emotion Through Postural Strangeness.

Ruth gets mixed up in a more interesting plot involving Richard Todd (Irish actor, successful in England, never quite made it in America) recently acquitted of murdering his wife: there’s just enough vulnerability in Ruth to make you believe she might fall for this piece of surly damaged goods. Mercedes McCambridge is also in the cast, so it’s not a whodunnit. Her crippled brother is played by Darryl “But he’s a cripple!” Hickman, who was also disabled in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN — what’s with that type-casting? Hickman’s character is called String McStringer, which one would have thought was disability enough.

vlcsnap-1905900Zachary Scott — the Thin White Tube.

Generally all is compelling, with a welcome late appearance by Zachary Scott to thicken the plot (Zachary Scott = corn starch?) and add a light drizzle of man-sleaze. Todd does brooding quite well, but Roman is the heart and soul. This was the first film where I really got a sense of the hysterical emotionalism everybody singles out in Vidor’s work, but apart from McCambridge and Hickman, who are both extremely clear conduits for shrill frenzy, it only comes into play in one Ruth Roman bit where she starts to suspect that Todd is really guilty, and we get the full voices-echoing-in-her-head bit, complete with thunderstorm and furniture chewing. Jolly good!

vlcsnap-1913045THE FOUNTAINHEAD’s quarry scene: CALIGARI in marble.

THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a different matter — Ayn Rand’s putrid writing gives King plenty of scope for serious expressionistic bombast and flash. He turns everything up to eleven and all his knobs falls off. The compositions he slams onto the screen like a light-headed gambler wielding foot-long brass playing cards, are hyper-emphatic and triumphalist, and they just keep coming. It’s visually spectacular and beautiful enough to make the film very watchable, although creeping dismay and contemptuous laughter are its companions throughout. It’s supreme macho camp, but Vidor apparently took it quite seriously (he was, by this time, apparently, a concentrated wingnut, who would go on to approve of the blacklist). It’s beautiful, but on the level of a David Fincher video for a Madonna track: immaculate style with dubious taste; elegantly dynamic cheese; hysterically butch camp.

vlcsnap-1913078Drilling is so thrilling!

I’m not sure what my favourite aspect of the bad bad writing is — the repulsive philosophy at times almost seems creditable when applied to the specific dilemma of the artist, and by stretching every neuron to snapping point I just about see why a Hollywood director would find validation in it (“Could the interfering mediocrities of the front office please let me do my job?”), but the plot turn that has walking hard-on “Howard Roark” (Gary Cooper) dynamite a poor people’s housing estate for aesthetic reasons rather beggars belief. But I think the “dialogue” spouting from Robert Douglas’s mouth, in his role as all-powerful architecture critic (?) Ellsworth M. Toohey puts the tin lid on it. Unable to actually imagine another human being with another point of view, Rand assembles a “character” entirely composed of straw man arguments and moustache-twirling. When Toohey talks about how he was able to “corrupt” oligarch Raymond Massey’s newspaper staff, one splutters in vain, “But he wouldn’t see it like that! Not if he’s the one doing it!”

vlcsnap-1913138The great stoneface.

There’s bad writing which exposes stupidity, bad writing which exposes prejudice (often the same thing, and most often in the form of sexism) and there’s bad writing which exposes near-lunacy. THE FOUNTAINHEAD is almost entirely clapped-together out of the latter kind. The climax, in which Cooper is cleared of blowing up a massive construction site on the grounds that he’s a good architect, is so spectacularly demented as to be almost believable in this age of ours — perhaps Polanski should model his defense upon it.

vlcsnap-1911485Neal!

THE FOUNTAINHEAD should be avoided by persons vulnerable to demagogic blandishment, but is recommended for those who enjoy spluttering. You could splutter at it for the full 114 minutes running time, then hit “Play” again and splutter all over. Keep a napkin handy.

vlcsnap-1911517I am Howard, hear me Roark!

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Gary Cooper – The Signature Collection (Sergeant York / The Fountainhead / Dallas / Springfield Rifle / The Wreck of the Mary Deare)

Pin-Up of the Day: Gene Tierney

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2008 by dcairns

“Without any question the most beautiful woman in the history of the silver screen,” said Darryl Zanuck, or words to that effect, and he ought to know, having slept with most of them. (He HAD to sleep with several at a time, honestly, otherwise he could never have racked up such a total. It’s not troilism, it’s just efficiency.)

Gene Tierney moved from early incompetence as an actor, through decent performances, and into really good work, aided by a truly amazing face that made her a pleasure to watch even when she sucked. Those distinctive features could suggest madness and evil in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, innocence and decency in HEAVEN CAN WAIT, wisdom and goodness in THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR.

I now list the features, and excuse me if I get overcome and have to go lie down:

The eyes: large, long, and very wide apart. I have a vision of walking up to Gene and putting my hand over the centre of her face, and of her looking back at me from around either side of my palm. THOSE EYES IS WIDE APART.

The big pale moonlike forehead. I am a man who likes a forehead. (Paulette Goddard, what a forehead that is! An eighthead, in fact.)

The nose, apparently hand-shaped from some soft, wonderful material — butter, perhaps — by tiny master craftsmen.

The cheekbones, beautifully defined, as if constructed especially to receive Von Sternberg’s light.

The mouth, completely redesigned by ambitious lipstick in these images, but in reality a wide, full and elaborately flared labial sculpture, balancing the eyes, and containing slightly erratic teeth which add charm to what could otherwise be chilly perfection.

In THE SHANGHAI GESTURE Tierney has moments of strange, erratic, embarrassing emoting that rival Elizabeth Berkeley’s mad flailing in SHOWGIRLS, but who’s to say what’s appropriate in a Sternberg menagerie such as this? Her perfect nose tilting under the lights, which seem to be dissolving into a dew the all-butter mannequin that is Victor Mature, she shows no trace of the control and grace that focus her best performances, but she certainly throws herself into the spirit of the thing. A gutsy, dynamic, original and deeply dreadful performance that’s never less than eye-catching. More decorous work was to come, but with the high frontal key-light shading her cheekbones, and the very hot backlight on the top of her head, Tierney showed she could be lit like Dietrich and come out just as well.

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