Archive for Rebel without a Cause

Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon II

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2019 by dcairns

I picked up a second-hand copy of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon II for 50p. Now I have the set.

Kevin Brownlow quoted to me Anger’s answer to the question, “How do you do your research?” “Mainly by mental telepathy.” And so it has become sadly fashionable to debunk Anger’s investigations speculations lies, as in the commendable You Must Remember This podcast. Well, I never saw a bandwagon I didn’t want to jump on, even at the risk of upsetting the applecart, so I thought I’d have a go at fact-checking Anger using his own methods. Tuning my mental aerial to UHF, I leafed through the sordid pages of the discounted scandal sheet, and attempted to pick up Corrections from Beyond. This is what I come up with:

Page 96: “Meanwhile, back on d’Este Drive, left with a lonely libido in his spacious hacienda, along with his python-mistress, Elsie, a half dozen bed-trained dobermans, a talking macaw named Copulate, zoo-keeper Lionel [Atwill] maintained a rigidly disciplined schedule as a cog in the factory-studio wheel during the week.”

THE TRUTH: Yeah, none of that happened.

Page 127: “During production of Rebel without a Cause, James Dean was host to a thriving colony of crabs.”

THE TRUTH: There is no such film as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. The sentence should probably read, “During production of A THRIVING COLONY OF CRABS, Dean Jones was host to a raven without a caw.” Or maybe “During production of THE HOST, crabby Jim Dale was cause of a rebel colony, or craved a threnody.” Or maybe it shouldn’t be there at all.

Page 185: “After a three-year absence, [Bobby Driscoll] returned to the screen in 1958, in a B-programmer–Bernard Girard’s The Party Crashers. By a curious coincidence, his co-star was the lobotomized Frances Farmer, making her benumbed comeback after sixteen years away from the movies.

THE TRUTH: it’s hardly a “curious coincidence” that two actors happen to appear in the same film. Is it a curious coincidence that WHITE HOUSE DOWN co-stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx? In fact, my telepathy tells me that’s probably the film Anger was thinking of. Anyway, Frances Farmer never had a lobotomy, and by a curious coincidence, THE PARTY CRASHERS also stars Doris Dowling, Denver Pile and Onslow Stevens. Uncanny, isn’t it?

Page 235: “Shapely blond Carole Landis rose to stardom in Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. in which she played a primitive cavewoman. her 1948 Fourth-of-July suicide, provoked by unrequited love for Rex Harrison, caused a hullaballoo and a half for Mr. and Mrs. Moviegoer.”

THE TRUTH: Carole was a blonde, not a blond, and the cavewoman she portrayed for Roach, far from being primitive, was really a quite sophisticated troglodyte by the standards of the time (1940). Rex Harrison did not appear in the picture. Nor do George Moviegoer and his wife Ethel (nee Theatregoer). Landis’ tragic suicide cannot properly be called a “Fourth-of-July” affair since I doubt any festive tie-in was intended and anyway it occurred the following day.

Anger tastefully has a whole chapter on suicides. On the page opposite Landis, we get the following:

“A large quantity of sleeping pills had cured [Dorothy Dandridge] of her amnesia.”

THE TRUTH: Dorothy Dandridge did not suffer from amnesia, which cannot be treated with sleeping pills anyhow. I think the word Anger is groping for is “insomnia.” I think possibly it’s Anger who’s suffering from amnesia, or maybe aphasia.

Page 312: “[…] Claudette Colbert who was said to be among the first to advise the President to invade Grenada–she was far from delighted at the prospect of an island full of Reds so near to her palatial Barbados estate.

THE TRUTH: No such person as Claudette Cobert ever existed. Anger is evidently thinking of British actor Claude Hulbert (pictured). Though Hulbert never actually invaded Grenada, he was famous for his fussiness about being filmed from the correct side. Whole sets had to be rebuilt to avoid catching him from an unflattering angle. The most famous instance of this was on HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), where an entire western town had to be razed to the ground because it was facing the wrong way. This was all the more remarkable because Hulbert was not cast in the film, but perfectionist director Michael Cimino was taking no chance of offending the powerful star, who died in 1964.

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Bible Studies

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2013 by dcairns

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Spectacular split-focus diopter lens shot, one of many…

KING OF KINGS, the Nick Ray version, really is a good film, it just doesn’t have a very good Jesus. A shame, since everyone else in it, apart from a few dubbed Spaniards, brings something interesting to the feast. The array of bad guys are amazing fun, rather like in DUNE (in epic cinema, only the villains get to enjoy life) — Gregoire Aslan and Frank Thring make a smutty brace of Herods, Hurd Hatfield and Viveca Lindfors are a smooth Mr and Mrs Pilate, and Brigid Bazlen a red-hot jail-bait Salome. Also Rita Gam from SIGN OF THE PAGAN — and Orson Welles’ VO mentions “the sign of the pagan” being nailed to the temple walls, in straight-faced homage to the Sirk cheesefest.

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The clothes-line of evil.

Harry Guardino, though apparently determined to give us his best Burt Lancaster impersonation, is awfully good as Barabbas, and Rip Torn (unrecognizable in his svelte and vulpine youth) is an ace Judas. Flawed is interesting.

Of course, people like Robert Ryan as John the Baptist, or Royal Dano as Peter aren’t allowed to play flawed (except in Peter’s denunciation scene), but both manage some good scenes. RR is just such a powerhouse. I bet even when they cut his head off he was still the tallest man in Judea. Not sure about his caveman costume, but you can’t have everything.

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“I found his casting offensive at the time.” ~ Martin Scorsese.

As everybody already knows, Jeffrey Hunter as J.C. is the weak link in the Super-Technirama chain. It’s American Epic Acting at its most lifeless, without the muscularity of a Charlton Heston to give it basic dynamism. When Ray stages the Sermon on the Mount on the move, it’s terribly effective (one of the things Scorsese borrowed for his LAST TEMPTATION was the idea of Jesus in action, rather than posing for a stained glass window as in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD), but doubly hampered by the facts that Hunter is a poor orator and walks awkwardly.

The best thing I can say about Hunter is that his smug smirk when he’s being all mysterious adds a bit of irritation to the character, which is something few actors have pursued (well, maybe Ted Neeley in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR). You’re not supposed to want to slap Jesus. The sensation is surprising, and therefore interesting, and so the movie starts to breathe.

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Thring enthroned.

Unfortunately, it sometimes seems to be drowning under the waves of Miklos Rosza music. I love M.R., but he does tend to do the expected thing, especially in epics. It’s schmaltzy, and that’s fine in BEN HUR but it’s not the effect Ray’s aiming for here, mostly. One the other hand, the Welles VO, scripted by Ray Bradbury from an original idea by God, rarely lets up but gives the film the grandeur and religious emotion Hunter lacks. Welles may not have been the greatest actor ever, but he had a terrific gift for evoking awe and terror in his voice — hammy, perhaps, but effective, like the film.

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The production design  and costumes by Georges Wakhevitch are incredibly imaginative, convincing and distinctive. Not quite as monumental as some other Bronston productions of the era, though certainly not skimping on grandeur, but the use of patterns, wall paintings, and even graffiti creates a unique world that recalls Fellini’s call for his SATYRICON to be “a science fiction film set in the past.”

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What nobody seems to talk about is the film’s intent. The assumption may be that a Bronston film has no intent, beyond spending the Hollywood money trapped in Franco’s Spain, creating something that could be exported and profitable. But a Ray movie does have a cause, or at least a personal angle.

The first things that struck me was the this was a truly post-Holocaust bible movie. The opening features Rabbis executed by firing squad, and bodies being slung into a pit and burned on mass pyres. Accordingly, the film plays like the antithesis of Mel Gibson’s antisemitic sermon of hate THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST — here, it’s stressed that Herod is not Jewish, and Pilate, rather than being portrayed as a struggling politician trying to make the best of a rotten assignment, as is often the case, is a hissy, sadistic oppressor, and an idiot who stirs up political foment against Rome by his insensitive response to local traditions. The scene where the mob is offered Jesus and chooses Barabbas happens off-screen — we hear about it along with Barabbas (“Your supporters yelled loudest”) and the dramatic point being made is that Barabbas is moved by the greatness of Christ, not that the durn Jews killed Jeebus.

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The other shift of emphasis is away from the miraculous. Ray shows healings, some of which are staged to look as if Jesus might be raising the dead, but we don’t get any unambiguous statement that he does so. The drooling maniac is healed in a way that doesn’t look supernatural so much as spiritual or even psychological — Jesus embraces him and brings him to his senses. The walking on water and feeding of the five thousand bit is only described to us in a report to Pilate — the strong impression is that these wacky tales may be merely mass hysteria and rumour-mongering.

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THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST similarly tried to soft-pedal the magic-working, showing Jesus using herbs and stuff in his healing (though Willem Dafoe does cure one guy using a Thelma Schoonmaker jump-cut to vanish his deformity). You can’t altogether strip the wizardry from the New Testimony without upsetting the very people who are likely to buy tickets, but Ray’s shift of emphasis confirms that he’s not particularly a religious artist, but definitely one involved in humanity — violence, sexuality, politics and psychology are his daily bread.

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This impressive closing shot, by the way, was merely a test Ray did to see if the idea had legs. The producers, who had abruptly tired or pouring money into the mega-production, refused to let him reshoot it, and stuck the temp version in. Another compromised Ray ending — if you have the DVD of REBEL, you can see the last shot the movie was supposed to have — one of the best widescreen closing shots ever executed. The day somebody decided not to use it (after Ray had walked off the picture in post), Warner Brothers must have been home to the largest concentrations of human stupidity anywhere in the world.

This boy…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2011 by dcairns

Watching THEY LIVE BY NIGHTS (LES AMANTS DU NUIT, according to my rather bluish French DVD) as a mini-tribute to the late Farley Granger, was struck all over again by how this, the first Nick Ray movie, really doesn’t move, cut, frame or talk like anything else from the period. From the dynamic (and hazardous-to-shoot) opening helicopter shot, which doesn’t say “1949” at all, to the terse dialogue, leaving everything important unspoken (we wait the whole film for an “I love you”), which seems like it may have been written with ’30s zip in mind, but is delivered more ponderously, emphasising the ellipses.

Farley, of course, is a minor miracle — arguably too sweet and innocent for someone who’s been in prison seven years on a murder rap, but Ray didn’t have a problem with occasional sentimental distortions for dramatic effect. Granger, and Cathy O’Donnell, never had this poetic effect again, despite reteaming in Mann’s SIDE STREET. She plays the first half with no makeup, which also seems very un-49, although Fiona noted that she’d discovered a comb and lipstick by the halfway mark — a little transformation akin to Natalie Wood’s move from sharp reds to soft pinks in REBEL.

Of course, knowing what we now know about Ray and Granger, dressing O’Donnell as a boy in her first scene takes on a deliciously subversive flavour.

You know, I’ve never watched Altman’s THIEVES LIKE US, because I’m slightly afraid of what it might do to my experience of this movie. Altman had the freedom and courage to go the distance with realism, but what I love about the Ray includes how close to a poetic form of reality he can get, within so many studio strictures.