Archive for the literature Category

Carol & Alice

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on March 9, 2018 by dcairns

Research for a new project: went to the library to get material on Natalie Wood. Most of the books in the biography section were either written by Simon Callow or about Gypsy Rose Lee, it seemed, but I eventually found Gavin Lambert’s sensitive bio, and as a bonus, Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon, which also ties in with this project.

And so in the space of half an hour I read about a drunken Nick Ray accidentally drinking Natalie Wood’s urine sample, and Cary Grant getting his foot frozen to a window. Neither story is particularly useful to my project or anything at all really, but they seemed like enough for a short blog post. If you require more detail, ask for it in comments, but you might prefer to work on your negative capability or just use your imaginations to embellish the scenarios.

I’m mostly better but my stomach is still as sensitive as Mr. Lambert’s writing.


Humphrey Bogart had horns, apparently

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2018 by dcairns

The same evening that we watched CHRISTOPHER STRONG, in which Katherine Hepburn wears silver moth antennae, we watched THE PETRIFIED FOREST, in which Humphrey Bogart has horns. He totally has horns.

This was Bogie’s breakthrough, or one of them. It got him showy heavy roles. MALTESE FALCON moved him up to leading man roles in A-pictures. And he got to stop being showy, and just be Bogie. (Jeap-Pierre Melville claimed that Fred MacMurray invented underplaying, and that Bogie didn’t underplay until after DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I wonder.)

Now, I don’t know if Bogie had his horns filed short for other roles, like Hellboy, or he kept them long and Warners had them removed using the 1930s equivalent of photoshop (basically a sweat shop full of girls with paintbrushes, ruled over by a whip-wielding Hugh Herbert). I leave that for the likes of Rudy Behlmer to determine.

The horns are, arguably, a silly idea, but there’s other business, like a radio announcement in one scene starting to describe a car, followed by a series of hard cut to the bits of the car being detailed, leading out to wide shot showing that car in the desert, broken down but with the radio still describing it. That stuff is smart. Delmer Daves contributed to the script (from RC Sherwood’s play), so…

The Painted Desert

It’s taken me a VERY long time to get around to this film. I had heard of it as stagey and unconvincing in its set design. It IS remarkable how the same studio could make HEAT LIGHTNING, which has basically the same single location, a desert auto camp, and make of it a striking blend of reality and artifice that basically convinces, and then make this a few years later, with its weird, slanting cycloramas that feel close enough for Bette Davis to kick a heel through. As for the staginess, a hostage scenario creates a built-in dramatic tension that can basically let the writers get away with almost anything, so it’s not like it’s ever dull, and even in the long build-up, the whole setting is such a prison, there’s still tension before anything has happened. What makes it feel overly theatrical is the tendency to push character at the expense of situation, having characters reveal themselves in ways they wouldn’t, and eventually playing a love scene during a shoot-out.

Bette is miscast, I fear. You certainly believe she doesn’t belong in this desolate environment (“What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?” as the Waco Kid once inquired) but you don’t see how she ever got there and there’s no trace of the naive hick about her. She has to be able to call Villon’s poetry “swell” and sound like she really does appreciate it BUT doesn’t understand that “swell” is a gauche word to use in the circumstances. With Bette, that moment is just kind of surreal. Still, though I can think of other Warners starlets who might have embodied the character more aptly (Ann Sheridan?) I can’t think of any with more star wattage (or oomph, if you will).

Leslie Howard is great. Kind of hated where the character was headed, but he made it electric. I guess we’re in the same phase of inter-war fatalism that gave us French poetic realism. It’s a beautiful, dreamy, melancholic mood, but probably the worst possible mood to have with fascism on the rise. KEY LARGO would have been a more switched-on version of this story to make in such a climate.

And then there’s the great meeting between two contrasting black characters, a moment that allows this film to pass whatever the African-American Bechdel test is. The stick-up man, Slim (Slim Thompson) greets the chauffeur, Joseph (John Alexander) with a jaunty “Hello, colored brother!” and gets a stiff “Good evening!” in reply, which makes his head go back about a foot in surprise. An amazing moment, built on in subsequent interactions. There’s the fact that these two black men ARE contrasting. And while the gangster expects them to have something in common, the driver knows he has NOTHING in common with this crook, and is positively alarmed by the other’s bonhomie, as if he were being cheerfully hailed by a rattlesnake or a hand grenade. And Slim looks at Joseph like he’s just plain from another planet. Warner Brothers’ progressive tendency could fire off in all kinds of directions…


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2018 by dcairns

So, I read Joseph Heller’s autobiography, Now and Then. I’m a big Catch-22 fan but never got into his other novels. When someone told Heller he’d never written anything as good as his first novel, he’s said to have replied, “Yes, but neither has anyone else.” But I do really like No Laughing Matter, Heller’s other memoir, co-written with Speed Vogel, which deals with his year struggling with Guillane-Barré syndrome, a nasty but thankfully temporary neurological complaint, with the two writers taking alternate chapters, which leads to a great bit where Vogel announces his friend’s tragic death and Heller bounces back in the next chapter with “I certainly did not die, and I don’t know why Speed insists on telling everyone I did.” (Later, Heller did die, which either spoils the joke or adds a fresh punchline depending on your level of morbid humour.)

Anyway, the autobio is good, but I was mainly interested in reading about the events which influenced Catch-22. An unexpected one occurs before Heller even gets overseas. He was working in flight training when his mother fell and injured herself. He got leave to go visit her ~

Entering the hospital in Brooklyn some five days later by myself some five days later I had no idea what I would find. For reasons I don’t understand and never expect to, I had constructed the bizarre scenario that I might not recognize my mother and feared that my failure to do so might sink her into deep despair. A couple of dozen beds in the women’s ward of Coney Island Hospital stood before me. Facing the entrance when I stepped in was a bed holding a white-haired woman of about my mother’s age whose attention I captured instantly. She rose on an elbow to observe me more intently. I stared right back with the tentative beginnings of a smile. Her gaze remained fixed on me and I started across to her. I hugged her gently while kissing her once or twice and sat down. I was appalled that she didn’t seem to recognize me or respond appropriately to my name. This was worse than I had imagined. It required a few more awkward minutes of uncomfortable talk for both of us to realize we had never set eyes on each other before. I glanced about wretchedly. At the far end of the ward I then clearly spied my mother, practically levitating out of her bed, plaster cast and all, and waving wildly in furious and frustrated exasperation to attract my attention. She looked exactly as I remembered, and she told me yet again that I had a twisted mind.

Lots of interest there. I’m struck by the fact that when I’m waiting for someone, and they’re late (I’m usually early, and I’ve always had the misfortune to socialise with people who are usually late), I cast around and seem to see them in every stranger. But then, when the real person turns up, I KNOW it’s them. Recognition is a frail, fallible thing, until suddenly it’s not. Heller had seen his mother every day of his life, then suddenly he’d been removed from her, and found he didn’t have a reliable image he could call to mind.

He goes on to say ~

After reading this, anyone who has recently read Catch-22 for the third or fourth time might be struck by the parallel between the account of my mother I’ve just given and an episode in the novel in which Yossarian is visited in a hospital bed by a family of tearful strangers, but I don’t remember that I consciously had the former in mind when I was devising the latter.

And the scene made it into Mike Nichols and Buck Henry’s movie adaptation, so there you go, a movie connection. I wish they’d found time for the soldier who sees everything twice, and Yossarian’s psychiatrist, but then the movie would be three hours long.

I think the scene in the novel isn’t about the vagaries of recognition in the same way. The family, who have lost a real son, embark on a sort of role-play where Yossarian stands in for their son/brother who died before they could see him. The mother seems to believe that Yossarian is her dying son, and dad keeps correcting her, until she says, “What does it matter, he’s dying, isn’t he?” (Yossarian is not, in fact, dying, or no more than the rest of us.) So it’s about knowing self-deception and rites of passage. Saying goodbye. Maybe it doesn’t matter who you say it to.