Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Night Has a Thousand Eyes 

…which brings us back to Fritz Lang. Yes, our Waltz of the Eye Patches concludes with the monocled maestro himself, who suffered an eye injury as a cavalry officer in the Great War, necessitating the monocle which became a symbol of his dictatorial, “Prussian” style of directing in Hollywood. But in later life he suffered from progressive deterioration in the other eye, bringing on the eye-patch years — his bad eye became his good eye, and he now wore both monocle and patch — the belt-and-braces approach to being a crazy film director.

Get your stinking hands off me you damn dirty apes!

I do cherish Lotte Eisner’s story about trying to introduce Lang and Bunuel, but failing because Lang was to short-sighted to recognise Bunuel and Bunuel was too deaf to hear Eisner. Human frailty is a great subject for art and anecdote.

I also admire, in a strange way, the contrasting approaches to cigarette smoking shown in the archival interview clips of Lang and Nick Ray in A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN FILMS.

Lang, minus his usual long cigarette holder (possibly his lungs by now were too swampy to get the smoke up the tube) clutches his ciggie Alec Guinness-style between the second and third fingers of his flat hand, and sucks eagerly on it mid-phrase, as if unable to make it to the end of a clause without another wheezing puff of the life-giving cancer.

Ray lets his cigarette hang from his lip, paper grafted to dry skin, bobbing like a sprinter’s erection as he mumbles away, ignoring the clinging coffin nail and only managing to inhale what drifts his way through natural air circulation, passively smoking his own cigarette.

The Big Zapper

Ray, I forgot to mention earlier, is the only one of the five canonical patch-wearers to have suffered injury to the eyeball in the line of duty, apparently bursting a blood vessel due to the stress of making WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, his final film.

My only other eye-patch-related story concerns another Edinburgh Film Festival, the year of VELVET GOLDMINE as opening film. A perfect film to theme a party around, which may have more to do with opening and closing film selections than anything else, but nobody much minded this choice, especially with Todd Haynes in attendance. (Actually, it’s one of his lesser films, with a half-hearted engagement with narrative but a great deal of visual and aural pleasure to compensate.) Festival director Lizzie Francke wore an eye-patch through the entire two weeks, as a result of a tragic glitter accident during her party preparations. Still, it was another injury in the line of duty, and an eye-patch does in fact make an excellent glam rock accessory.

Eyes Wide Shut

9 Responses to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”

  1. Can’t quite agree with you about Velvet Goldmine. While it surely didn’t please the glam-rock faithful (or what’s left of it) it’s central to any number of Todd’s concerns. And I treasure the scene where Chistian Bale buys a Brian Slade album and goes to his room to play it — treating the disc like a holy relic/fetish object.

    Originally Todd thought of deal with the glam scene from an L.A. perspective, pertaining to the group of fans who used to circulate around Rodney Bingenheimer’s club on Sunset Blvd. But he changed his mind and decided go whole hog into the UK. Bowie was a perfect bitch — refusing to give Todd access to so much as ONE number. Dylan, by contrast, let Todd have the entire catalogue to do whatever he wanted.
    And I’m Not There goes WAY further than Todd has ever gone before with music, history, space time and (thanks to Cate Blanchett and Charlotte Gainsbourg) sexuality.

  2. VG is undoubtedly thematically and visually rich. The trouble comes when it tries to tell a story. I think from Haynes’ comments at the time he was reluctant to fully engage with narrative,: the film sets itself up as an investigation, Citizen Kane fashion, but Haynes’ own lack of interest in detective-work communicates itself to the audience. The “solution” at the end is both a cheat “using a different actor” and an impossibility in real-world terms (one celebrity vanishing and coming back as another!) but the film, for all its stylisation, hasn’t set up a story-world where that kind of impossibility could seem possible.
    For all that, there’s lots to enjoy in music and photographic and performance terms (not sure about my countryman Mr McGregor though). I loved Bayle blurting out “That’s ME!” to his parents upon his first sight of JR Meyers.

  3. Well that’s because Todd has always distrusted narratives. His greatest effect has always been in the corners of narrativity. Safe nominally has a story, but it’s really an extended sketch — a snapshot of Todd’s nightmare of turning into a Valley housewife. Far From Heaven is a dissertation on Douglas Sirk coupled with an attack on psychoanically “recieved wisdom” on gayness. Velvet Goldmine is about Oscar Wilde. I’m Not There is about Fellini’s 8 1/2

  4. But I think Safe and Far From Heaven are more effective because their narratives do WORK, and I’m Not There basically dispenses with the idea of sustained narrative, which also works. The aspects of VG that have to do with its narrative and to do with the real Bowie are the weakest.
    Dylan definitely gets points for letting Haynes do what he liked with the life and music, and Dylan isn’t always a sympathetic figure in the film.
    On the other hand, I’m not sure if I were Bowie I’d want to support the maker of VG, which basically portrays him as a self-centred sell-out… it’s not entirely untrue, but I wouldn’t expect Bowie to agree with it!

  5. Their narratives work in spite of Todd.

    Are you familair with his banned film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story ?
    It’s a recit, not a narrative — as is I’m Not There.

  6. Yes, I managed to get a copy of that — and then it got wiped before I could watch it! In fact, *I* wiped it by mistake. I was very cross.

  7. It occasionally turns up on ebay.

  8. SUPERSTAR is my favourite Haynes film, with [SAFE] following on…

    Here’s KAREN for you, Monsieur C:

  9. Thanks — downloaded it!

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