Archive for August, 2022

Short sharp shots

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 31, 2022 by dcairns

Orson Welles said that you should edit in such a way that the really beautiful shots are kept brief. Of course he didn’t always follow this practice himself, but in his montage sequences in THE TRIAL, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT or THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND you can see this in operation. A very brief but breathtaking shot makes the audience take notice, creates a different kind of tension, which has nothing to do with dramatic tension but can work alongside or in place of it: the feeling that if we blink we might miss something wondrous. They go by so fast we snatch at them with our memory banks.

This idea may lie behind Welles’ dislike of Antonioni, who he accused of lingering on things beyond the point they can sustain interest. “Are we going to see her disappear over the horizon? … yes.” It’s not really accurate, but Antonioni does serve up shots that are visually gorgeous and which you get time to appreciate.

Fellini seems to have gotten Welles message. Sometimes, in AMARCORD, he just can’t help himself and a picturesque image will be allowed to just exist, with no immediate threat of a cut to curtail it. But all the images quoted here are only a few seconds at most. Far from subliminal, but fleeting. They make me want a coffee table book. And then I remember that I have one, and it’s NOT ENOUGH. A true Fellini coffee table book would be ten thousand pages deep and smash any coffee table on earth with its weight.

Forced March

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2022 by dcairns

Rewatched MEN IN WAR, this time in a proper widescreen copy. Previously wrote about it here. It’s even more interesting than I previously gave it credit for.

The blacklisted writer was Ben Maddow, who also penned THE BIG COMBO without credit. Maddow spent the war writing training films, so his knowledge of the army is strong but of combat less so. The film’s structure is a series of suspenseful crises akin to WAGES OF FEAR, as Robert Ryan marches seventeen men back to US lines, having been cut off. Some of these crises aren’t wholly convincing: there’s a short piece of road they have to run down under enemy shelling — at either end of the road they are apparently completely safe, though there’s no apparent geographical reason which this should be so. When a soldier discovers a concealed landmine, everybody assumes this is the START of a minefield, rather than that they’re already IN the minefield. The continue running up and down the line even after somebody is blown up back there.

But I note all this without being unduly bothered by it. The compositions are taut, the performances sweaty, the cutting tense, and you sort of go along with the flawed logic.

I really like Robert Ryan’s tough but uncertain commander, but what makes the movie is Aldo Ray’s unique character. He’s pursuing his own personal struggle, determined to save his shellshocked Colonel (Robert Keith, superb in a near-wordless evocation of catatonia). There’s that discussion in JULES ET JIM about whether a man can indulge in his own conflict during war. “You two have taken yourselves out of this war,” says Ryan, explaining why they don’t matter to his plans.

Ray’s insubordination may not be without precedent, and I guess his indifference to the war finds an echo in A MIDNIGHT CLEAR (1992), where the young G.I.s just want to survive, but I never bought that film. Soldiers have training, and mostly they want to do a good job. It’s improbable to have a whole unit just crapping out. But one guy, sure. What’s particularly compelling about Ray is he’s not given up on the war out of weakness. He’s a tough guy, except he loves his Colonel. Never had a father.

He’s also too tough — particularly prejudiced against “gooks” — soldiers’ racism towards their enemies is something I suspect has been largely phased out of war movies — and he enjoys killing a little too much. The horrible thing is, you’d want him on your side. See Ray sit by the roadside to patiently await the arrival of assassins, so he can kill them instead. He covers his nose with one giant meaty fist, the way a polar bear does when it’s hunting…

This might be my favourite Anthony Mann movie? But there are still several I haven’t seen, I should correct that.


Posted in FILM on August 29, 2022 by dcairns

Thanks to HB.