The Look of… what?

Or how a certain dead-eyed shark gaze was handed down through film history from the forties, to the fifties, to the nineties — I haven’t found the sixties, seventies and noughties versions yet.

“One who follows his nature keeps his original nature in the end.” Rita Hayworth’s psycho stare here is clearly an echo of Glenn Anders’ loony gaze earlier when he proposes his crazy murder scheme to Orson on the clifftop. Does the film propose Rita as the source of this madness, transmitted to those in her circle? A gaze-borne mental malady?

Bardot, in one of the few roles that deployed any of her many qualities other than a certain physical pertness — LA FEMME ET LE PANTIN. Here, she actually manages to drop a hint of PITY in with the psychopathic chill. It’s not a warm pity, though, it’s much more a look that says, “It’s such a shame I’m going to do this to you, but because you are who you are, I totally am.”

“Gone, gone, like a turkey in the corn.”

The greatly underrated Sheryl Lee in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. I still remember the reviews carping that she wasn’t up to playing a leading role, which was grossly unfair as she is ASTONISHING in this film. Again, like Bardot she was discovered and cast for her cuteness, to play a good-looking corpse, and turned out to have so much more going for her. See also: MOTHER NIGHT, WINTER’S BONE… hmmm, those two sound like parts of a series. What would the third film be called?

Anyway, the above movies are only touched upon in this week’s edition of The Forgotten, which is about something else. Find out what by going here.

Here’s the Bardot scene, which is fairly understandable, and fairly interesting, even if you don’t speak French of have the invaluable Mr Wingrove to hand to translate for you…

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15 Responses to “The Look of… what?”

  1. “…fairly interesting, even if you don’t speak French…” I’ll say. I particularly liked Bardot’s line “Go ahead – frappé me!”

  2. These French, with their culinary perversions…

  3. There’s one terrific example in MULHOLLAND DR. It’s a close-up of Naomi Watts just after the lengthy first section. She’s at the film set and she sees Laura Harring making out with the director. Scary.

  4. You do see some extraordinary expressions in Lynch’s work generally — partly because he puts great actors into unusual situations, but because, as can be seen in the documentary Lynch, he has a real gift for talking them into a frenzy of excitation.

  5. I like your idea to gaze into the gaze as the films nowadays often offer only flashing fast speeding glimpses of human faces
    Eye contact depicted on the screen is having powerful impact and if nicely depicted then it can transfer the observer into the world of others with chilling authenticity. Anyway, it its nice to actually write about eye contact in movies as it might be detail within the whole story, but very powerful detail – the story is being told with much more impact if there is use of actors eye contacts (however, it obviously must serve the purpose).

  6. These days dead-eye shark gazes are most strongly associated in the U.S. with Republican (ie. neo-fascist) women running for President.

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    And to think that by 1959, Duvivier was considered a despicable-pitiable fossil by La Nouvelle Vague guys.

    My favorite beautiful dead-eyed female gaze is that of Dana Wynter’s at the end of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (56), which sends the hero into an instant hysterical, sweaty frenzy.

  8. Sarah Palin et al manage the difficult feat of appearing dead-eyed and mad-eyed at the same time.

    This is quite late in Duvivier’s career, but he’s far from a spent force.

    Incidentally, I’m fairly sure Duvivier is thinking of the Welles, but it’s unlikely Lynch is thinking of either. The link is less to do with influence, more to do with synchronicity.

  9. Christopher Walken is something of a maestro as far as the “dead lethal eyes” thing goes. My mind immediately goes to this, at approximately “1:25” (at the “If you’d be just so sweet …” stuff)

  10. Well… there’s just so much to enjoy there…

    Design by Ken Adam… and I’ve never been particularly a Marvin Hamlisch fan, but he does a fine job extending the instrumental break to allow CW to strut his stuff.

  11. And to think he started out as a chorus boy for Monique Van Voorhen.

  12. My touchstone for transformation into a desperate carnivore is Jane Greer whenever she feels trapped in Out of the Past. Tourneur was better served by her acting than by the makeup artists in Cat People. (But of course one of the most painful points of Cat People is that alienation was always there, just ignored or not.)

  13. Oh, and for a nightmarishly familiar example of not-here-anymore which for some reason I can’t remember being captured anywhere else on film, even in a Tuesday Weld picture, there’s Nina Van Pallandt’s next-to-last drive through The Long Goodbye. “Mrs. Wade! Hey! Mrs. Wade!”

  14. Oh yes, that’s a very good one. Noirs often hinge on these moments of transformation, sometimes the human mask drops and behind there’s just emptiness…

    “I’m not crying, you fool, I’m laughing!” says Joan Bennett.

    Kim Newman’s BFI Cat People book is very good, I think, because he really hones in on the film’s seeming assumption that we empathize with the “normal people” which runs in counterpoint to the actuality, which Tourneur seems quite aware of, that we only care about Irena. That slight mismatch between what the words and images tell us provides a good deal of unstated tension.

  15. david wingrove Says:

    Is it Christopher Walken who started as a chorus boy for the lovely Monique van Vooren?

    Apparently, Monique was Rudolf Nureyev’s best pal. I wonder if they like to share?

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