Archive for Crime and Punishment

Joseph Losey really likes mirrors

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2022 by dcairns

Reflections of all kinds, in fact. Here are some from TIME WITHOUT PITY:

They become so pervasive that ordinary shots of people in doorways start to seem like full-length mirrors, in which the characters are startled to see not their own faces, but those of perturbed strangers.

But BLIND DATE aka CHANCE MEETING is maybe even mirrorier.

The late Hardy Kruger is fascinated by his own face, as well he might be. There’s an oval mirror that looks forward to THE SERVANT’s famous convex job.

Oddly, we’d just watched Elio Petri’s L’ASSASSINO, which is practically the same movie. It even has the same female star, Micheline Presle, as its murder victim (or is she?). The preening hero in that one is Marcello Mastroianni, and he’s likewise harried by a persistent detective determined to establish his guilt in a murder case. BLIND DATE and TIME WITHOUT PITY have a lot in common too, both hinging on innocent men wrongly accused, murdered mistresses, with a background of weird art and loud records, but they’re not as strikingly alike as BD and L’A. Petri MUST have seen the Losey.

Losey and Petri do relate in a lot of ways — both made pop art comicbook thrillers in the sixties (MODESTY BLAISE and THE TENTH VICTIM) — but more significantly, both are addicted to sinuous camera movements in artfully designed spaces. And mirrors!

L’ASSASSINO is also fascinating because it has soft-spoken raincoated proto-Columbo Salvo Randone instead of Stanley Baker’s belligerent bull. The slow, gentle persecution of the smug creep plays exactly like a Columbo except there’s a different narrative structure — flashbacks, and a crime kept ambiguous until the end — as in BLIND DATE. I guess this cat-and-mouse jazz all dates back to Crime and Punishment. Clouzot gave us TWO proto-Columbos in QUAIS DES ORFEVRES and LES DIABOLIQUES. The same year Columbo made its first TV appearance, William Peter Blatty wrote a gently bumbling inspector with a mind like a steel trap in The Exorcist, and had to change him a bit for the film so he wouldn’t seem like a Peter Falk knock-off. But this proto-Columbo has a particularly good name.

His name is Palumbo.

‘There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, “Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.”‘ ~ Ricky Jay, MAGNOLIA.

The Sunday Intertitle: You Raskol, you

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on August 21, 2011 by dcairns

Thanks to Neil McGlone for RASKOLNIKOV, admittedly jumped-around by random splices that teleport its cast short distances, and intertitled in a schizoid mix of Russian and Italian, just two of the many languages I don’t speak. But this film is so consistently hard to see, I’m grateful for an opportunity.

Robert Weine’s expressionist take on Crime and Punishment suffers an almost unique disparity between its prominence in all the literature on German cinema, and its frustrating unavailability on DVD and on the repertory circuit. Is this the result of some unspoken value judgement, silently declaring the film to be less interesting than its design, less significant than its place in history? A possible basis for such a dismissal lies in the undoubted fact that German expressionism and Dostoevsky are unlikely bedfellows. True, one must accept that the movie adopts the bare bones of the novel’s plot and doesn’t really attempt its nuance or depth: that being the case, we have to overlook its failings as an adaptation and consider what it achieves in its own right.

KOWMAP — Russian for “nightmare”? If so, how apt that would be! A map drawn by a cow would be a geographical nightmare indeed!

And what is that? Given my inability to read the intertitles, my findings are only preliminary, but I’d hold the film’s sheer visual beauty up as its prime virtue. More solid and less painterly than Weine’s earlier CALIGARI, it serves up a constant stream of striking images, setting its tale in an expressionist-constructionist St Petersburg of jumbled, off-kilter shapes. The actors hue to a roughly naturalistic style, somehow moving through the jutting diagonals without producing too violent a clash, although all interaction with the zany UPA-meets-UFA doors is fraught with peril. The Big Idea is obviously to portray Raskolnikov’s world as a nightmare, a slightly inflexible approach which struggles to accommodate subtleties —

For instance, here’s the stairway to the pawnbroker’s flat (above).

And here’s the same stairway in Raskolnikov’s nightmare, after he’s murdered the pawnbroker. Both sets and shots are wondrously striking, of course, but there’s something oddly unsatisfactory about the very idea of an expressionist nightmare version of something that’s already an expressionist nightmare.

By contrast, the scenes involving Detective Porfiry are relatively restrained — the angles are still skewed, but the structures within the police station mainly look as if they might actually belong to a real, non-avant garde building, reflecting the character’s status as an avatar of rationality. While outside, all is chaos ~

I guess the problem with all of this is that it’s vague and amorphous where the novel is clear and specific. In the book, Raskolnokov’s troubles stem from poverty (or that’s certainly how he sees it), which Weine can’t convincingly evoke on his shattered-mirror stages. The novel’s character has nightmares that reflect upon and deepen the central narrative in the allusive way typical of real dreams, while the movie’s character has nightmares which replay scenes we’ve already witnessed, only with even wonkier walls.

None of which stops the film being a jagged visual feast, and more than worthy of a full Institute Murnau-Stiftung type restoration and re-release. Are you listening, Herr Stiftung?

Scary Intertitle of the Week

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 27, 2008 by dcairns

Darn, I was sure I’d grabbed an intertitle from THE HANDS OF ORLAC (Robert Wiene version, with Conrad Veidt) or else Murnau’s PHANTOM, also with Connie V, but no, this is from Wiene’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Not that I’ve seen any of the above films, but I plan to fix that before the week is out.