Archive for Joan Didion

A Useful Line from ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958)

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2015 by dcairns

This is a guest piece by loyal Shadowplayer Chris Schneider.


“There’s nothing out there, just emptiness.”

~ William Hudson as Harry the louse husband, having accompanied his wife to search for a flying saucer and a 30-foot giant.

Writes Joan Didion, at one point in SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM, “I just can’t get that monster out of my mind. It is a useful line, and one that frequently occurs to me when I catch the tone in which a great many people write or talk about Hollywood.” She describes, but doesn’t name the monster movie — THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958) — in which she discovered that line.



In a similar way, you could say that the 50 FOOT WOMAN line quoted above, which I heard while watching the film on TCM today, is “useful.”  It has a certain existential ping! to it, which is easier on a producer’s pockets than the creation of actual decent special effects. There are some crisp and contrast-y b&w images to 50 FOOT WOMAN, which was shown in a nice print, but the special effects are execrable. Even by 1958 standards. How do you make a creature look glow-y and alien in a b&w movie, we ask photographer and co-producer Jacques Marquette? Make it slightly out-of-focus and seemingly unconnected with the rest of the image, or so it seems.


The script was written by Mark Hanna, who also wrote THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) and was clearly drawn to stories of gigantism.  The direction was by “Nathan Hertz,” a name used by Nathan Juran on this film and on THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957). Both 50 FOOT and AROUS are low-budget, low-expectation science-fiction tales never too far away from comedy in their depiction of sleazy and venal behavior.

©Chris Schneider, 2015

“Out there where nothing is.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by dcairns

Frank Perry and Joan Didion’s PLAY IT AS IT LAYS is indeed as terrific as David Ehrenstein says it is.

Starring the Eternal Tuesday.

Strange to find a scene shot in a location familiar from SE7EN, and at dusk, too.

“There’s no there, there.” That line about LA is echoed in Anthony Perkins’ line about where he and Weld have both been — “out there where nothing is.” But that’s a state of mind, not a place. The film is agnostic about whether any of the characters are mentally ill. Whatever malaise is eating at Weld and Perkins, it doesn’t have the outward hallmarks of clinical depression — they’re too warm and smiley. Maybe that’s Californian depression. Everyone lying there, smiling.

Is this so-called Paradise Syndrome? I think to call it that would be overly cynical. But with the need to struggle to survive excised from their lives, Weld and Perkins’ characters are floundering in a world of pointless luxury. I guess that’s better than pointless poverty. But it does kind of spotlight what’s missing.

“Nothing applies.”

This is more spiritual or existential (a word the characters throw around but don’t show much sign of understanding). The down-to-earth motelkeeper urges Weld to keep busy, but as she’s sweeping a porch in the desert, the Sisyphean pointlessness of busy-ness is glaring.

None of these characters have what poor people would call “real problems.” But it doesn’t seem like their suffering is self-indulgent. Although if they felt connected to the world outside Hollywood maybe they’d see it that way. But this is life in a bubble.

“I don’t ever wanna be where you are.”

“You don’t wanna be… … … but… … … you will.”

Perkins has some of the great line readings of all time. Weld’s performance could be called brave. Whatever, it’s incredibly compelling. Adam Roarke, as her film director husband “Carter Lang” is good, if utterly unsympathetic. His glasses call William Friedkin to mind, which adds to the suspicion that he may not be the nicest of guys. I don’t know, maybe Sherry Lansing would disagree with me.

The film really wrestles with the idea of adapting an interior novel without copping out. It takes a while just to get the relationships sorted out in your head, and then issues of motivation can go unresolved for the longest time. Feels like I’ll get more out of this each time I see it, like with PETULIA.

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

Funny coincidence department: in PRETTY POISON (also excellent, in a very different lane) Perkins gets out of the psych ward and meets Tuesday Weld. In PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, Weld meets Perkins and then goes into the psych ward.