Archive for Joan Crawford

Enemy Agent

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2021 by dcairns

Black Sunset by Clancy Sigal, with its catchpenny subtitle Hollywood Sex, Life, Glamour, Betrayal & Raging Egos, was a chance discovery – they had a copy at St Columba’s Bookshop, which is the destination of my favourite long walks (my new low-carb diet requires exercise to accompany it, also apparently random blood-sugar crash collapses). They had the book in the movie section, which is correct, even though it looks like and reads like a thriller, or almost.

Sigal was, it seems, a genuine Hollywood agent working for Sam Jaffe (not the High Llama guy) at the time of the blacklist. His memoir seems trustworthy, since although he fills it with celebrity cameos and broiling tension, he doesn’t concoct anything resembling a plot. He writes propulsively, which is impressive since he was apparently 90 when this was published. He died a year later.

It’s hard to know for sure how factual it all is, but asides from consistently spelling Joseph Cotten’s surname incorrectly, it all seems to be in keeping with the known facts. Numerous names are changed to protect the guilty by association — the only writer I could ID from Sigal’s description (a woman working on the script of the first Hollywood film to feature Nazi murder camp footage is a pretty specific description) is Decla Dunning, the film being Welles’ THE STRANGER.

Among those cameos are Joan Crawford, discovered throwing up on the Universal lot, Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, both Jaffe clients. Lorre’s chapter is terrific —

On learning of Sigal’s rep as a killer agent who even resorts to violence: “What’s that I hear? You beating up people for Mister Jaffe? THEN WHY DON’T YOU DO IT FOR ME, FAULER SACK? [lazy shit]”

On learning that, as a soldier, Sigal had gone awol to attend the Nuremberg Trials with the intention of assassinating Goering, but had muffed it: “You were there and did nozzing! Schwachkopf! […] Idiot! No wonder you get me only these crazy parts. […] You noodle, why didn’t you shoot?”

On HUAC members anti-semitic tendency to call unfriendly witnesses by their foreign, rather than their Americanized names: “Wait until they get to Ladislav Lowenstein.”

There are also a memorable walk-on by Martin Berkeley, a psychotic case who named more names that anyone alive, compulsively, like a ratfink tic. He named names he didn’t even know. His brief scene here suggests a psychological explanation: he felt guilty after naming names, so he named more names to convince himself it was nothing to be ashamed of. And felt MORE guilty, so named MORE names… And there’s a guest appearance by William Alland, Thompson and News on the March from CITIZEN KANE, by now a B-movie scifi producer at Universal, who seems equally demented.

With images like movie stars and agents gathering for a rooftop party on the Jaffe offices to watch a nearby atom bomb test, this could make a great movie, but you’d have to invent a plot. Sigal’s life was too disorderly to provide one, it seems (he later partnered in R.D. Laing’s experimental mental asylum, had a relationship with Doris Lessing, and co-wrote Julie Taymor’s FRIDA.)

Shadowplay Goes West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 1, 2021 by dcairns

Two more video essays —

For Arrow, I wrote and narrated and Stephen C. Horne edited a piece for the MAJOR DUNDEE restoration, entitled inevitably I suppose MOBY DICK ON HORSEBACK. If R.G. Armstrong’s famous phrase causes you to picture a top-heavy, untenable situation on the brink of collapse, that would not be entirely inappropriate. MAJOR DUNDEE is major Peckinpah but universally acknowledged to be flawed. But Peckinpah’s flaws are always interesting.

The main thing I wanted to avoid with this piece is weighing in too heavily on whether Peckinpah’s vision of the film would have resulted in a triumph had he been allowed to finish it the way he planned. I always get a bad feeling when anyone pretends to know whether footage none of us have seen would transform a film. It’s legitimate to ask whether perhaps the Indian raid intended to open the film was poorly filmed owing to time pressures, but unless you have awfully compelling witnesses — and even then — I don’t think you can draw any conclusions for sure.

My other western vid essay is on JOHNNY GUITAR, as contrasting a subject as you could hope for. Chase Barthel is editing this one. I was in the process of planning this one when I woke up one morning from uneasy dreams, mulling over how I was going to make Plasticine models of the characters. As I slowly woke up fully, I realised this would be madness.

A little while later, I decided to do it.

Well, Truffaut calls JOHNNY GUITAR “a dreamed western.” This will be in part a dreamed video essay.

Gayer Than Thou

Posted in FILM with tags , , on May 18, 2021 by dcairns

And remember, the correct pronunciation of “dinosaurus” rhymes with “rhinoceros.”