Archive for The Public Enemy

Necktie Party

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2014 by dcairns

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Talking to Michel Ciment about the thinking behind CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Stanley Kubrick gave a summary of the anti-lynching movie which serves as a fairly devastating critique of William Wellman’s THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (and Fritz Lang’s FURY and the rest). Most anti-lynching movies show an innocent party being lynched or almost lynched, which would never deter a real lynch mob since they are generally convinced, however erroneously, that they have the right person. In CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Kubrick chose the guiltiest character imaginable, to show that even in such an extreme case, certain human rights should be considered inalienable.

(In turn, Richard Lester devastated PATHS OF GLORY as a supposed anti-war film by pointing out that the film basically shows some corrupt and incompetent generals: “If Kirk Douglas had been leading the troops we’d all have been able to go out and kill Germans more efficiently.” Neither of these arguments stops PATHS OF GLORY or THE OX-BOW INCIDENT from being great films, though…)

What’s sensational about OX-BOW is the emotional force it builds up, the psychological acuity of its analysis of lynch-mob mentality (I’ve never been part of one but it feels true), the boldly-sketched characterisations and the generous sense of plenty. It feels like nothing was enough for his scenarists –

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Let’s not just show a lynch mob, but let’s crowd the film with characters and situations. Let’s give Hank Fonda a sweetheart who’s jilted him while he was out on the trail and has married a short-arse Napoleonic stuffed shirt; let’s have a religious black guy as the conscience of the film if we can’t actually have a black victim (lynching as a social phenomenon chiefly impacted black people in the south, always); let’s have Jane Darwell as a cackling sadist on horseback (we can hire a matte artist to paint out the rocking chair grafted to her backside); let’s make Fonda a mean drunk who picks fights and kicks a guy in the face; let’s make him totally ineffectual as hero; let’s make the victims widely disparate and not wholly noble (they are sympathetic because Dana Andrews is nice, Paul Hurst Francis Ford is pathetic, Anthony Quinn is unbelievably cool); let’s have a twisted ex-officer and his coward son he’s trying to make a man of; let’s have the coward show more backbone than Fonda.

It’s very RICH, thanks to Lamar Trotti’s writing, Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s source novel (a novel is a good source precisely because it usually gives the scenarist TOO MUCH) and Wellman’s direction. At the film’s climax, a quiet scene contrasting with the violence of what would SEEM to be the climax, Fonda reads a letter. It’s a defense of the rule of law, but what makes the scene far more than an eloquent bit of preaching is Fonda’s steady performance — he’s basically re-doing his big speech from GRAPES OF WRATH, and it’s not just the cast that make the film seem very Fordian — and Wellman’s framing. This may be the best shot of his career, even factoring in Cagney’s two (two!) death scenes in THE PUBLIC ENEMY.

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It could easily seem contrived. As Fonda reads, Wellman tracks in slightly — no problem with that, since a long speech almost demands some camera movement to keep it alive. Rather than cut to the various listeners, Wellman just retains Harry Morgan, Fonda’s lovable rodent sidekick, in shot, or part of him anyway.

Where we end up is with Morgan’s hat brim occluding our view of Fonda’s eyes, so that Morgan;s eyes, as they listen, have to supply the visual emotion to compliment Fonda’s reading. It’s a very simple reading — Fonda doesn’t pretend to stumble over the words, but he plays it fairly flat, like someone who’s not much of a reader. The delicacy and restraint are more powerful than reaction shots and bluster could ever make it.

The closest equivalent in terms of this identikit shot — one guy’s mouth and another guy’s eyes — is VERY different in tone and effect.

Lynch mobs exist now mainly online: some news story provokes outrage and disapproval, and the public joins in condemning somebody. Sometimes the subject is serious and worthy of discussion, sometimes it’s just a feeding frenzy. The filmmakers have usefully portrayed the behaviour of a lynch mob so that you can tell if you’re part of one. You are part of a lynch mob if you have joined a crusade and ~

1) You don’t really care.

2) The sense of outrage is secretly pleasurable.

3) It’s reassuring to be surrounded by people all het up about the same thing.

4) Appeals for calm seem threatening.

5) Anybody who suggests you’re all hysterical must be an enemy.

6) Your own guilty secrets fade from memory in the warm pleasure of denunciation.

More suggestions are welcome, I’d like to make this definitive and free of wriggle-room.

The ’68 Comeback Special: Banditi A Milano

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2013 by dcairns

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Continuing our trawl (Scout Tafoya & I)  through the unscreened films in competition from the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, a project I share with Scout Tafoya of Apocalypse Now.

BANDITI A MILANO is an obscure polizzi directed by Carlo Lizzani, and it’s (to me, anyway) one of the more surprising selections in the ’68 line-up. Lizzani has some impressive credits (his 1967 spaghetti western REQUIESCANT, aka KILL AND PRAY, featuring PP Pasolini, is highly regarded), but is mainly a genre specialist, and the crime genre is usually not particularly respected at Cannes unless in the hands of the Americans. Lizzani is also one of the few directors from that line-up to be still alive AND working.

The movie begins as a mockumentary, and a not entirely convincing one. Tomas Milian as a youthful police commissioner with a long cigarette holder seems unable to pause convincingly to suggest extemporaneous speech. Then we meet a retired hood who can do that kind of thing brilliantly, and it becomes clear that stylistic consistency isn’t going to be the film’s strength… but then things get interesting…

With a sometimes-handheld look, Lizzani blunders about from anecdote to anecdote, seemingly attempting a kind of MONDO CANE portrait of criminal life in one Italian city. The glimpses into protection rackets etc don’t seem to offer any insights you couldn’t get from THE PUBLIC ENEMY, but the fast movement of the narrative is a compensation. There’s a bit about an aspiring female singer who gets abducted and set on fire, all set to swooning romantic music (by Riz Ortolani), thereby echoing the weird eros-thanatos admixture of the giallo genre. And then Gian Maria Volonte shows up as a bank robber and we settle into a longer story, and things get really quite interesting — (1) because this sweaty, lipless motormouth is a magnetically repulsive presence, tirelessly ranting, each phoneme jabbing like a stubby finger (2) because long stories have more room to engross than short ones and (c) because the very notion of beginning a film with a series of sketches and then lunging with no warning into a more developed storyline is a weird and interesting structural approach. So we award points for originality at least.

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Then there’s an action climax at the one hour mark where VO introduces us to a cluster of civilians going about their separate business, all on a fatal collision course with the latest bank robbery — the novelistic device of sharing future knowledge with the audience is one too rarely used. The movie’s cynicism climaxes in a “happy” ending where justice is seen to be done but nobody in the audience is likely to be satisfied.

Volonte’s media-savvy crook isn’t quite as interesting as his paranoid cop in INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, but it’s a close thing. Likening his gang to the Beatles and Milan to “America in the thirties” — cue cars screeching through streets blasting at each other with tommy guns — he’s the kind of magnetic psychopath who spews out provocative statements he may not even believe, but which do occasionally contain food for thought. Lizzani’s movie is at least good enough to deserve a proper subtitled DVD — it’s the best polizzi I’ve seen, thought admittedly I haven’t enjoyed many examples of that thick-eared genre. Any other Italian cop-show recommendations?

vlcsnap-2013-09-12-13h28m51s77Check out Scout’s previous entry here.

 

Sisters

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2013 by dcairns

Spent all of Thursday thinking it was Wednesday and went in to work on Friday thinking it was Friday. Despite not even opening that bottle of vodka I bought. Probably a good thing I didn’t.

Here’s yesterday’s entry in Dwight Frye-days at Limerwrecks, on SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. And so –

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LES ANGES DU PECHE, Robert Bresson’s nunsploitation film? Well, the title, ANGELS OF SIN is a fantastic one — Nigel Wingrove should recycle it for one of his softcore habits-and-tits films. The film itself is something else.

Bresson’s style is still at an early stage of evolution, which means he hadn’t yet eliminated everything he didn’t like, or modified everything he didn’t quite like — the movie is more like a traditional one of the period (1943), albeit a particularly elegant and tasteful one. And it has actors, not models, in the lead roles, including the brittle Jany Holt, who was leading a double life at this time, acting by day and working for the resistance by night. Her sharply-sculpted face, often chic, is here useful to suggest frosty, hard-bitten cynicism.

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She plays a woman framed for a crime she didn’t commit who resolves to kill the man who framed her. Bresson gives her a gun-buying scene to compare with Cagney’s in THE PUBLIC ENEMY or Schwartzenegger’s in THE TERMINATOR. “This is the best. It takes six bullets. Six more in the extra clip. Will that be enough?” Jany replies: “If it isn’t, I’ll come back.” Which fills the mind’s eye with the cold-blooded image of her plugging her betrayer twelve times, noticing some vestigial respiration in the ventilated form, and calmly returning to the store to buy another round, then strolling back and perforating him again. It doesn’t happen that way in reality, of course.

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Meanwhile, Renee Faure, a young novice, has become obsessed with saving Holt’s soul, and invites her to join the convent, which welcomes women with a shady past (the first scene shows the Mother Superior and her cronies planning to collect a parolee from under the nose of her pimp, the whole operation planned like a heist or a military raid–gripping stuff!). Holt moves in to the nunnery as a way of hiding from the law, but resents the way her would-be-rescuer sees her as some kind of personal project. She resolves to destroy Faure rather than be saved by her.

When John Boorman unwisely undertook EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, he said that rather than making a horror movie he wanted to make a theological thriller. Ignoring the fact that Friedkin’s original already is that, at least to an extent. Boorman made a gloriously silly film. When Paul Schrader unwisely undertook the film that, incredibly, wound up entitled DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST, he acknowledged that the first film had powerfully visualized the struggle for a soul (albeit in somewhat corporeal terms).

But Bresson’s film does all that much more simply, without the distraction of pea soup — it’s a really exciting movie, as exciting as PICKPOCKET though less mature in Bresson’s style, and even though I regard the business of marrying Christ with a certain amount of horror, I was able to get into it and see it from the point of view of the sisters. It’s a point of view that sees salvation as more important than life itself, which I always struggle with a bit, but this is one of the more compelling dramatic uses of the idea I’ve seen.

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Cinematographer Philipe Agostini also shot part of Ophuls’ LE PLAISIR, and all of Dassin’s RIFIFI, Carne’s LES PORTES DE LA NUIT, Duvivier’s UN CARNET DU BAL.

Strange to see Bresson so much part of the mainstream at this point. I enjoyed this so much I’m resolved to try LES DAMES DU BOIS DU BOULOGNE without delay.

You can buy it: Angels Of Sin / Les anges du péché / Angels of the Streets (1943) Region 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Compatible [DVD]

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