Archive for Lost Highway

Ghetto Fabular

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2022 by dcairns

Met some of my new students yesterday. Oddly, our first official class has been postponed due to somebody called Elizabeth dying. There’s a national holiday to allow us to watch television, a spectacularly British idea which should become an annual, or daily, event.

Since the entire university is shutting down, my eleven screenings will be reduced to ten. I’m definitely starting with Keaton. But if I show SHERLOCK JR I can fit in a Chaplin too. Or a bunch of shorts — could cram in a Lumiere, a Melies, and a couple of something elses to show the development of silent film language… Maybe a Guy and a Feuillade?

I have a week and a bit to decide. It’ll be a last-minute thing, I’m sure.

A little more on THE GREAT DICTATOR. As I said before, the ghetto scenes show Chaplin more than usually constrained by the laws of good taste. While, normally, we can show Charlie having difficulties and we laugh but still have sympathy for him — as was shown in all the WWI gags — we can’t laugh when he’s being bullied by stormtroopers, even when they’re unreal Hollywood goon type stormtroopers. We can’t be encouraged to laugh along with those thugs. Chaplin can use their bullying to build up tension — increased by the fact that the Jewish barber character is an innocent who doesn’t even know what stormtroopers ARE, and so doesn’t realise what danger he’s in — and release that tension as laughter when Paulette starts clunking them with a frying pan. And we can laugh — just about — when she accidentally clunks the J.b. But the notion of being able to beat up Nazis in Nazi Germany without consequences, even if it’s “Tomainia” instead of Germany — is so obviously a fantasy that the film can’t really lay claim to being a satire while this material is being unfolded. It becomes even more a fairy tale than LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, which admits to being one (a shrewd bit of damage control by producer Harvey Weinstein, who must have known the film was unacceptable but would be extremely popular).

Sidenote: the slapstick business with the stormtroopers is also hampered by being shot and shown at 24fps, without undercranking, and the tracking shots seem to reinforce the HEAVIER quality this gives it.

When, later, Charlie is being strung up from a lamp post — lamp posts have been dangerous since EASY STREET — things are so serious they’re not funny at all. It’s a bigger problem than the one first diagnosed when he wanted to combine comedy and drama, and a friend advised that the two values would surely fight one another. Chaplin believed, and proved, that they could be held in balance. But I think it’s fair to say that in a comedy, violence by anti-Semites against Jews will be upsetting enough to kill subsequent laughter if it’s done with realistic intensity, and if it’s tamped down to be less upsetting, will seem like an unacceptable softening of the truth.

Of course, this is where having a copy of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED to look at would be very useful. It’s just possible that Jerry Lewis, king of the conflicted response, might have solved the problem, even if he did it unintentionally — his likely mingling of broad comedy, schmaltz, and horror could (and we can only speculate) have fermented into something truly unbearable. The late JLG said that the only film to make about the Holocaust would be a very technical study of how many bodies could be fit on a wheelbarrow, and it would be unbearable. Jer might be the man for that. (Welles: “When he goes too far, he’s wonderful. When he doesn’t he’s unbearable.”)

So, no, I’m not a huge fan of the stormtrooper schtick. And it’s interesting that this business is really the only use Chaplin makes of the J.b’s amnesia, other than as a convenient ellipsis to skip over most of the interwar years.* Our protagonist lays down no memories during this period, so we can jump ahead to the next bit of interest to us. And, to return to my crackpot theory, when the Jewish barber is imprisoned, he splits in two, like Bill Pullman in LOST HIGHWAY. Here, one persona is exaggeratedly innocent. The other is pure malignity. One copes with his war trauma by a near-total memory dump. The other prepares a second global conflagration as revenge.

More Hynkel frolics soon!

*The return to the cobwebbed barber shop does give us a great uncanny moment, where the barber suddenly notices the disrepair, which makes no sense to him since he believes he’s been gone perhaps for a day. The camera tracks in to a medium shot, pans to a web-shrouded sink as he looks at it (a non-optical POV shot, effectively), then back to him, and Chaplin graces us with a very fleeting Look To Camera.

“Do you see this too?”

Garage Noir

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2021 by dcairns

Trunk item: started writing this ages ago, set it aside. Hope it can withstand daylight.

It’s a film noir axiom that if you’re hiding out from killers, you should go undercover working at a gas station or garage. They’ll find you, but it’ll take a while.

HEAT LIGHTNING may be the first proto-garage noir, with Aline McMahon as a former moll now running a “gas farm.” Then of course we have Burt Lancaster as the boxer-turned-mechanic in THE KILLERS, Robert Mitchum as former private eye now running an auto shop in OUT OF THE PAST, and Brian Donlevy as amnesiac-businessman reinventing himself as a car repairman in IMPACT. And the neo-noir reprise comes in LOST HIGHWAY, where jazzman Bill Pullman gets reincarnated on death row into Balthazar Getty, who promptly resumes his apparently continuing life at Richard Pryor’s garage.

Boxing, saxophony and mollwork, or course, are all readily transferable skills that come in useful when you make career change to greasemonkeying.

I thought it would be fun to have a garage noir double feature, with IMPACT, which I’d never seen, and THE KILLERS, which we needed to rewatch for work-related reasons… Hmm, do the various other versions of this story — the Tarkovsky short and the Siegel TV remake — use the garage setting? And has anybody got more examples? Let’s make this a thing!

THE KILLERS holds up brilliantly — uncredited John Huston and Richard Brooks. along with Anthony Veiller who has his name on it, adapt Hemingway’s story by turning it into a crimey CITIZEN KANE, with the Thompson character fleshed out into Edmond O’Brien at his most charming. Newcomer Burt Lancaster gets the CF Kane part, dying at the start only to pop up in the flashbacks. Director Robert Siodmak’s rematch with Lancaster, CRISS CROSS, may be even better.

IMPACT is stodgy, despite a lot of actors we like: the plot has some interesting elements but unfolds in a plodding, A-B-C-D fashion. Flashbacks might have helped — jumble the scenes, amp up the intrigue, skip some of the steps. It’s an indie production and I have to think that had it been a studio film, somebody like Harry Cohn would have got an itchy ass and slashed it from 111 minutes to something more nimble.

The dullest part is the romantic idyll. Ella Raines had experience projecting adoration at, you would think, ill-suited mates (Laughton, Sanders, Bracken, that Alan Curtis guy), but Brian Donlevy is required to reveal some tenderness of his own, and that cupboard is bare, baby.

IMPACT stars Quatermass McGinty; Carol “Kansas” Richman; The Honorable Betty Cream; Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman; A Flower of the Orient; Mr. LeBrand; Quigley Quackenbush; President Harry S. Truman; Philo Vance; The Dear One; Saburo Goto; The Gilded Boy; and Roger Bronson.

THE KILLERS stars JJ Hunsecker; Pandora Reynolds; Marty ‘Fats’ Murdock; Dr. Thorkel; Frank D’ Angelo; “Goldie” Locke; Princess Ananka; Philadelphia Tom Zaca; Big Mac; Sebastian Sholes; Herr Kastner; Frank Cannon; Uncle Owen; Wild Bill Hickok; Ming the Merciless; The Blind One; and Mr. Waterbury.

I Understand

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by dcairns

No I bloody don’t!

Still wrestling with Twin Peaks: The Return/Twin Peaks season 3, a show whose troubling ambiguities extend even to its title. Of course, you can’t SOLVE a David Lynch (& Mark Frost) mystery, and you’re not meant to. Except MULHOLLAND DR., which comes equipped with clues and Lynch helpfully told us where to look and a lot of the film DOES make a kind of sense when you apply them. but some bits still seem to have no logical reason to be there.

But I like puzzling things out. I even spent a certain amount of time trying to interpret MARIENBAD, and that one REALLY isn’t meant to be solved.

Who is Judy? I want to solve that one, for the sake of poor old Mr. C, who asks that question.

“You’ve already met Judy,” says Philip Jeffries, in the form of a big kettle. So, Judy was at some point known to Mr. C, or two BOB who is inside him, or to agent Cooper whose life he’s taken over. That narrows it down, but not by much. The three-in-one-meet a lot of people, some of whom even survive the experience.

Judy was first mentioned by Jeffries back in FIRE WALK WITH ME, when he was David Bowie. “We’re not going to talk about Judy,” he insisted. Well, you brought her up, mate. In episode 19 of The Return, FBI director Gordon Cole (Lynch himself) tells us that Judy is a corruption of Jowday, an extreme negative force he and Jeffries were investigating. OK, so probably not Lucy, then. And maybe not even female, as the name has apparently been distorted over the centuries.

In THE MISSING PIECES, a collection of outtakes from that movie — Twin Peaks‘ answer to TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER — we see Bowie in Buenos Aires, asking if Judy has checked into a hotel. An oddly mundane thing for an extreme negative force to do, but I suppose she/he/it has to sleep somewhere. But back when this was filmed, Judy was supposed to be the twin sister of Josie Packard (Joan Chen). Furious retconning has since occurred — still, I think it’s legit to look for clues here. In this version of events, Jeffries says, “I been to one of their meetings. It was above a convenience store.” Also, that he found something in Seattle, at Judy’s, and then, “there they were. And they sat quietly for hours.” Which seems to link Judy to the Black Lodge entities.

Things play out differently in FWWM, where Bowie’s recollections are interrupted by what seems to be a garbled flashback, breaking in like interference. The viewer assumes that this sequence showing the room above the convenience store inhabited by sinister characters is Bowie’s memory of something he somehow spied on. We get our first look at a couple of woodsmen (but they haven’t gotten all dirty yet), there’s Bob, there’s Mrs. Tremond/Chalfont and her grandson, and the malign, doppelganger version of the Arm/man from another place (I’m pretty sure it’s not the nice one we’re used to, though I only just figured this out: the film doesn’t bother to remind us that he has a doppelganger). But the first person we see is this geezer ~

He’s billed as The Jumping Man. He wears a loud suit exactly like The Arm’s, a sort of flat-top afro, and a plaster mask with a pointy, Commedia Del’Arte nose.

Now, there’s an old prison song, recorded by folk music specialist Alan Lomax, one version of which goes like this ~

Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
Jumpin’ Judy, jumpin’ Judy, hanh!
All over dis worl’, hanh, all over dis worl’, hanh!

So there’s a connection of sorts between jumping and Judies.

In Episode 15 of The Return, this fellow makes one of his rare appearances, as Mr. C. goes above the convenience store, which apparently has the ability to TARDIS about from place to place. On this occasion, the JM has Sarah Palmer’s face projected on top of his mask.

But there’s another jumping man, or anyway jumping boy, in FWWM. He’s the grandson of Mrs. Tremont/Chalfont, who appears in both season 2 of the original TP, and in FWWM, though he’s played by different kids each time. Leland sees him jumping in one scene. Here and in the convenience store scene, he wears a mask like the Jumping Man’s, and at one point whispers “Judy.”

The grandson (who may be the Magician of that bit of Black Lodge doggerel — he performs magic tricks in the original series) and his grandmother are quite hard to figure out, in terms of their intentions. They seem associated with negative things, turning up around the time of Teresa Banks and Laura Palmer’s murders, but they also give Laura valuable information. But then, there they are, sitting calmly with BOB and the woodsmen etc. And this guy.

So, we might infer that the grandson and the Jumping Man have to do with Judy. It would certainly make sense of Jeffries’ comment, “You’ve already met Judy.” Mr. C. literally passed the Jumping Man on his way in.

There are other candidates, however. In Episode 1 we meet The Experiment, a violent, faceless woman who appears in a glass box apparently constructed at the behest of Mr. C. Mr. C. is looking for something with a sort of bug-like aspect, and it’s probably The Experiment. In Episode 8, she turns up inside the first atomic test, sneeze-ejaculating BOB into the world. So it feels like Mr. C. is looking for BOB’s mother. But he doesn’t know the name Judy until Phillip uses it. He has no clue why Phillip has brought her up.

(But then, does Phillip ever really understand which Cooper he’s talking to? He was apparently part of a task force with the real Cooper to find Judy. Although in FWWM it’s obvious they’ve never met before. Still, when you’re floating in a tin can, it’s slippery.)

I like the idea that BOB is looking for his mother. Sweet.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palmer has an extreme negative force lurking inside her. It rips a trucker’s chin off. It seems to feature Laura’s smile, and her finger. (Both Sarah and Laura apparently have faces that open on hinges. Not sure what this means.) So a lot of people think this is Judy. Poor Laura: with BOB inhabiting her father and Judy in her mother, what chance did she have in life?

“You’ll find Judy in here,” says Phillip, before sending Cooper into the past. Cooper eventually ends up in the present but in Odessa, Texas (arguably worse than the past) where he finds a diner called Judy’s, which leads him to Laura Palmer, living under a new identity with no memory of her old one. He then takes her to Sarah Palmer’s house, but instead finds a Mrs Tremond, who bought the house from Mrs. Chalfont.

Ever since LOST HIGHWAY, Lynch has been exploring the slipperiness of identity. This series is probably the most convoluted and involuted rendition of that theme, even more so than INLAND EMPIRE. When the new Mrs. Tremond gives her name, and her predecessor’s name, we can be pretty sure that she’s the same character (whatever that means in this universe) who previously bore that name (sure, the show is full of Bobs, Mikes, Philips, but surnames have a specific quality). Also, she has an offscreen husband she talks to, lurking within the house, reminding us of the “something” in Sarah Palmer’s kitchen.

So, has Coop found Judy as he was promised? In this universe, is she merely the name of a franchise of threatening diners? Has she gone abstract, the way Mabuse did? Or does this extreme negative force still attach to human vessels, sometimes? Is Alice (through the looking glass) Tremond and her troublingly abstract husband also Mrs Chalfont, the Jumping Man, the inside of Sarah Palmer, AND Judy?

It’s quite a houseful in there.