Archive for the Politics Category

High Wire Actors

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2019 by dcairns

How nice! Out of the blue, regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider offers me a piece on Elia Kazan’s oft-dismissed cold war/iron curtain circus drama, MAN ON A TIGHTROPE. And I am delighted to receive it, and pass it on to you ~

What a joy to find out that the Kazan-directed MAN ON A TIGHTROPE is every bit as good as one hoped it would be.

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I had vague memories of seeing MAN ON A TIGHTROPE as a child. A decade or two later, I chanced while channel-surfing on Terry Moore and Cameron Mitchell being swept by a river with “The Moldau” on the soundtrack. This time ’round I watched because of the names Elia Kazan and Gloria Grahame, the latter visible as a circus-director’s sluttish second wife. And I’ll stand by my verdict offered midway through: heavy-handed, yes, but drippin’ with atmosphere and good performances.


Franz Waxman’s score for this story of a Czech circus is heavy on the “Moldau.” Also on the Harry Warren tune “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” which must have made the Fox studio people happy. The clowns dance to it, you see.

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MAN ON A TIGHTROPE stands midway, in Kazan’s credits, between VIVA ZAPATA! and ON THE WATERFRONT. We get Kazan as director, Robert E. Sherwood of THE PETRIFIED FOREST as scenarist, and Gerd Oswald of A KISS BEFORE DYING and CRIME OF PASSION as one of the producers. Also, crucially, there’s out-of-studio shooting on Bavarian location, which makes for a look that’s black&white, bleak, and full of mittel-europaische detail.


Gloria Grahame is always worth seeing. I’ve yet to watch MANSION OF THE DOOMED, but I probably will. Hell, I’m even happy with her talking at the tv contestants in MELVIN AND HOWARD.

Here Grahame’s fine, at the end, tossing aside a life-sized doll, one of the clown props, with the implication that she’s tossing aside her assigned role as pretty useless wife. There’s a good MARNIE-esque bit with husband March veering and the camera getting closer and closer.

Not exactly defensible, this last bit of behavior, but effective as pathology.


I should probably expand on that “heavy-handed.”

This is very much a Cold War film. Fredric March, as protagonist, plays the weary cuckolded director of a shabby circus who leads his people in an escape from behind the Iron Curtain. (That’s a phrase my Spellcheck keeps changing to “Zircon Curtain.”)

March “regains his manhood,” if you wanna call it that, and the respect of wife Grahame in this escape, leading the circus from a place where authorities demand that he adjust — and ruin — the ideological implications of a clown act to a place where U.S. border guards laugh at the clowns freely. In other words: it’s a case of “East Europeans, glum; U.S. representatives, uproarious.”

There’s also the presence of Adolphe Menjou as a party lackey who smirks and threatens March. Similar in function to the Ward Bond role in JOHNNY GUITAR, I thought; both instances of off-screen rep adding to on-screen menace.

Which leads to that river and “The Moldau” sweeping along March’s daughter Moore and her Americanski boyfriend Mitchell. A bit reminiscent, this, of that old James Agee joke about tendentious WW2 melodramas and how “You cannot keel da spirit off a free pipples!” Or words to that effect.


People complain about the atmosphere of guilt and humiliation on display in MAN ON A TIGHTROPE. But isn’t that the bread-and-butter of circus pictures, from HE WHO GETS SLAPPED up through SAWDUST AND TINSEL and onwards?

“Women are not angels,” Grahame half-sings at one point. Neither are the people who made MAN ON A TIGHTROPE. And that includes directors who name names.


I admire the atmosphere of MAN ON A TIGHTROPE.

I admire the performances — even by a post-LITTLE SHEBA Moore playing what one lyricist once called “a nice girl who’s really not too nice.”

I admire the film’s passing bits of schmerzlich-suss … such as, f’rinstance, Alex D’Arcy’s lion-tamer remarking that his curse has been his good looks.

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The film itself is schmerzlich-suss. Indeed.

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Birdbrained

Posted in Politics, Television with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2019 by dcairns

Hmm, Bird Box is quite offensive, really. Well made, compelling, but with a truly obnoxious concept, not quite at the heart of it, but close. I’d say it was operable: if you were concerned about defaming the mentally ill you could remove the offending material, replace it with something less fascist, and go about your business.

No way to get into this without some spoilers. As I say, the show is tense and involving so you might want to watch it first. But then you should think about what you watched.

Alien, windy things arrive on earth and everyone who sees them has to commit suicide. They’re like the little girl in KILL BABY KILL, or worse, THE WOMAN IN BLACK. That part isn’t offensive. It doesn’t say anything about real-world self-harm that I object to. It’s a pure fantasy concept.

But mentally ill people are affected differently. They don’t kill themselves, but they run about forcing other people to look at the that-which-must-not-be-looked-upons. The crazies in question include the escaped populace of an institution for the criminally insane, but also a hitherto harmless but weird guy who works at the local supermarket.

Tom Hollander is really good in this, by the way.

But what the show is saying, it seems, is that all mad people are basically the same, so that they might all be affected by an alien influence in the same way. And you can’t trust them.

Pretty clearly, if they’d made a show in which all black people or all gay people are turned into agents of the alien invader, that would have been seen as offensive.

Of course, insane people ARE different from any ethnic minority or sexual preference. But they’re also different from one another.

You could make a comparison with Joe Dante’s grim Masters of Horror episode, The Screwfly Solution, based on Alice Sheldon’s story. In that alarming anthology episode, an alien influence causes men to become murderously violent towards women when sexually aroused. The differences between that and Bird Box being that (1) you’d have to be a seriously butthurting male chauvinist to object to this premise. If the story is offensive to men, it’s offensive to the group who has the most power in human society. Also, this story touches base with our reality in several places: serious male-on-female violence is much more common than the reverse; the male sex drive and the aggressive drive are somewhat intertwined; making one gender kill another rather than procreate with it would be a wickedly effective way to exterminate a species. And (2), closely connected with the previous point, the makers of The Screwfly Solution and the original author pretty clearly thought about what they were saying and portraying.

The makers of Bird Box pretty clearly didn’t.

Bandersnatch is really good, though. Watch that.

 

The Sunday Intertitle: Dead Soldier

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on January 13, 2019 by dcairns

An impressive cinephile moment in the first, Scorsese-directed episode of Boardwalk Empire. A family trip to the cinema shortly after Prohibition takes effect. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, onscreen, discovered an empty whisky bottle and gives it a decent burial, using flowers he had gathered for his girlfriend.

   

Somebody did very well, finding out about or remembering this apposite clip. It ties in with an earlier mock funeral for booze, which in itself seems like a cinematic homage, referencing the jazzy wake for Prohibition held in Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.

We finally caught up with the start of this show as side-research for our latest podcast, which has to do with a certain real-life historical character and which should be appearing in time for Valentine’s Day. I think that’s a big enough hint.

P.S. Anyone know the name of the Arbuckle film?