Category Archives: Uncategorized

Coding Lesbianism in Desert Fury

In Desert Fury, Mary Astor is Fritzy, the Vice Queen of Chuckawalla, who runs the Purple Sage gambling joint in town and perhaps a bordello or two. She’s got a housekeeper who can’t stop looking at the mirror, wears slacks and a short do, is the most powerful person in town, with the judges and the cops in her back pocket, and loves *everything* about her daughter Paula (Lizabeth Scott), sometimes seeming on the point of incest:

 

 

José Arroyo

More Burt Joy from The Crimson Pirate

More Burt joy from The Crimson Pirate. The gif above is at normal speed, to highlight the appreciation of Lancaster’s athleticism. The one below is at double the speed, which renders it more comic and also keeps the size down, which makes it easier for uploading and sharing.

 

José Arroyo

Criss Cross: an experiment in sound mixing and slow mo

 

 

CRISS CROSSIn Criss Cross Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster)  returns home to LA after 8 months of wondering around working odd jobs and trying to forget his ex — Ana (Yvonne de Carlo) — after their divorce. And yet, in spite of his conscious efforts, he can’t help looking out for her. She’s got the hots for him too. But she wants material things he can’t get her. They of course meet, not so accidentally. When he sees her new husband — Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) — is wacking her around, he decides to engineer a bank robbery so that he can get her out of her husband’s clutches, enable him to get her all the things she wants, and allow them to start a new life together….but is that what she wants? It will not end well.

When Criss Cross was released in the UK, The Monthly Film Bulletin of Jan 1, 1949 described it as a melodrama saying ‘this extremely sordid story is not helped by silly dialogue and trite situations, although the actors make every effort to rise above the poor material provided’.

In the years since, its reputation has risen. Alain Silver in Film Noir: The Encycopledia (London: Overlook Duckworth 2010, p.78) ranks the film one of the ‘most tragic and compelling of film noir’. Silver considers the  scene above as key to the film and is worth quoting at length:

Anna is suddently there, oneirically before him as if sprung from the depths of that initial reverie. In fact, Thompson might at first suspect that he is hallucinating since there is no reason, other than his overwhelming desire, for her to be in the nightclub. Because this articulation of their relationship is purely visual, it cannot be misconstrued. The audience is not given a perspective that is literally what Thomson sees, the long lens and slow motion belie that. Rather the shot is remarkably subjective: it is what Thompson sees as distorted by the powerful emotion that he feels.

The video below is an expansion of the above, playing with the sound mixing and the slow mo to illustrate Silver’s insight that what the film shows is what ‘Thompson sees as distorted by the powerful emotion that he feels’. I have taken every shot in the sequence of Steve looking at Ana, slowed it down, and overlayed it with mix of voice-over narration and dialogue where Steve tells us what he thinks of her, of them, of his actions. I could have added the beautiful last shot of them together….but it’s not as if we didn’t know what was coming.

 

José Arroyo

 

A thought on Burt Lancaster ageing

 

Reflecting this morning that one of the interesting things about watching Burt Lancaster film in chronological order is that you see him age before your eyes, in an accelerated fashion, day by day. And one mourns and admires in equal measure. One mourns the loss of beauty –that little aquiline tilt of the nose that in some angles transformed him from handsome to beautiful, snipped by the surgeon sometime in the early sixties. Seeing his face day after day one notices the oncoming liver spots, the increasing scars, the hair thinning, dyed, then left white, the heroic attempts to stay fit even as the body expands before finally sagging like everyone else’s. One also notices, the increase in skill, the risks, the intelligence of the choices, the struggle to stay relevant, to comment on current conditions, sometimes with worse directors in central roles, with better ones in key small roles, in material that is risky and pertinent, and being in such works becomes more important than the role offered. He dies young and heroically early on and then in the later films the death scenes take on another meaning, hit closer to home, offer moments of a different type of reflection. His audience, for he did have one, huge early on, smaller later, must have reflected on his ageing in relation to their own. It’s one of the functions of stardom. Like with great beauties, or action stars, stars for whom the physique was central to their value as commodities and in relation to meaning, the gradual loss of what others valued, what constituted their value, and the attempt to alchemise it into another type of value, to offer something else, seems moving and heroic.

José Arroyo

Hustle (Robert Aldrich, USA, 1975)

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A sad and melancholic noir, imbued with sadness, about all the grey areas of feeling, and set in the dark netherworld of LA crime, prostitution, go-go bars, stag flicks. A girl washes up on shore, the verdict is suicide, the father (Ben Johnson) doesn’t accept it and starts investigating on his own. Lt. Philip Gaynes (Burt Reynolds), the police investigator assigned to the case,  is living with Nicole (Catherine Deneuve), who’s a hooker. Their relationship starts as playful and satisfying but Burt begins to have visions of her with other men and can’t stand it. But will he commit, does he love her? We only find out when it’s too late.

Hustle is  fascinating film, a real Watergate film with the US seen as Guatemala with colour television, where somebodies get off scott-free with the worst crimes and nobodies can’t get their day in court. There are aspects of this film that resurface in better known 70s neo-noirs by younger directors like Hardcore (Paul Schrader, 1979) and Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976). An unjustly neglected film, by the director of some key films in the genre such as Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and The Big Knife (1955), with Burt Reynolds as his most charming and playful; Catherine Deneuve beautiful and with a languid common sense to the ugly realities of life; and Eileen Brennan, who in the movies always seemed bruised by life. Reynolds and Paul Winfield look smashing and have excellent chemistry, though in their shots together one does notice the technology blotting out Winfield’s presence with the light positively bouncing off Reynolds’ skin.

The film is a real noir in the classic vein: the shadows, the bars, the underworld, the complex feelings. Aldrich beautifully conveys all of this in a film where every colour and every angle seems purposeful; and yet the film lacks a central drive, a desire, unless one counts that for the past. It’s imbued with a nostalgia: for Italy, for film stars, for movies and music of the past, for the thirties, for the type of love that exists only in movies like  Lelouche’s A Man and a Woman; for a sense of fair play that the film claims no longer exists, it’s like a cloud of feeling where happiness was once possible but no longer is. The film’s Spanish title, Destino Fatal/ Fatal Destiny better describes the film than Hustle. Everyone in the film is hustling, but against the odds and with a deck stacked against them.

Pauline Kael in her New Yorker review found it too pulpy and in its own way amoral, a liberal equivalent of Dirty Harry, with the added sin of wallowing in Weltschmerz, a feeling of deep sadness and world-wearyness that arises out of being too aware of evil, suffering and injustice and that one accepts as one’s portion in life. Kael damns the whole film as an excuse for ‘philosophy sweetened by sex’. She’s not wrong. But those elements are in fact what I most loved about the film.

The faults and virtues in each of those positions can be teased out of this scene:

which a propos of nothing reminded me of this ferocious version of the song by Lena Horne:

 

José Arroyo

 

 

The Island of Doctor Moreau, Director’s Cut, (John Frankenheimer, USA, 1996)

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A legendarily troubled production, which would make a good case study of the excesses of 1990s cinema. Bruce Willis was supposed to play Edward Pendrick, the UN negotiator who survived a plane crash, is rescued by Dr. Montgomery (originally meant for James Woods) and lands in a land of animal experiments where Doctor Moreau (Marlon Brando) plays God with his new creations. But he had to bow out because Demi Moore was divorcing him. He was replaced by Val Kilmer, who was then served with divorce papers by Joanne Walley, which rendered him unavailable to shoot all the scenes necessary for Pendrick and thus he switched roles to Doctor Montgomery. Brando only shot 40 percent of the scenes he was meant to and refused to learn his lines, which had to be fed to him via an earpiece, which also caught the police radio call outs and which according to David Thelwis often resulted in Brando saying lines like ‘Shootout at Woolworths! ‘All this and more after the original director Richard Stanley was replaced by John Frankenheimer. In other words, it’s a mess.

That said, its themes, individual will and responsibility, the existence of God, nature versus nurture, the value of life, and all the other themes H.G. Wells initially dramatised are still evident in the film, in however messy a manner, and mostly intriguingly filmed. David Thewlis, who ended up playing Pendrick is excellent, as is Fairuza Balk as Aissa, the cat-hybrid who is in the process of regressing to her original nature (and who deserved a better end from the filmmakers: it’s almost like her character, and what she represents, is thrown away near the end).

Marlon Brando only makes his entrance 30 minutes into the film, in a type of Pope-mobile, looking not unlike Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, encased in a series of increasingly loud kaftans that cannot hide his mountainous baulk, and camping it up outrageously. Later in the film Kilmer will do a pale imitation that will not erase one iota of the joy of the original. A very messy film, structurally skewed, and thematically inconsistent that none the less looks and moves engagingly. I liked it very much and it’s worth seeing for Brando alone.

 

José Arroyo

The Killers as Male Melodrama in 1 minute

I’ve long argued that many noirs are male melodramas about men who meet the wrong women and die from love. This is my failed attempt at a PechaKucha — I wanted to keep the dialogue and diegetic sound elements and I’m not skilled enough yet to make titles– that I think nonetheless well reveals those elements in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers,

 

José Arroyo

Burt Lancaster & Ava Gardner by Mandy Rennie

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Another scammy publication. I´ve now learned how to tell: the cover is numbered as p. 1. I now also see that it´s by the prolific Mandy Rennie. I can´t quite call it a vanity production, firstly because the book itself is so badly produced, and secondly because you have to go to Amazon to find the name of the author: it´s nowhere in the book itself. What´s of interest to me is that there is a whole book on Ava and Burt, who appeared in three films together — The Killers (Siodmak, 1946), Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer, 1964) and The Cassandra Crossing (George P. Cosmatos, 1976) but, if memory serves, only share scenes in The Killers. So an interesting example of the impact of casting in one film on the popular imagination (if one can use such a loose term) across decades. And that there’s a book demonstrates that there must be a public interest in the pairing beyond myself.

 

Most of the photos in the book are from one photoshoot to publicise the film and are easily available online. Adrian Garvey has pointed out to me  that there is considerable information on them:

…though the book does include a more complete group photo:

 

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Neither the book,nor the link to the UMKC Special Digital Collections provides information on the photographer, so if anyone knows the name do please let me know

 

José Arroyo

Rip-off Burt Lancaster by Mandy Rennie

burt lancaster

One of the risks of shopping for books on amazon is that you often end up with the likes of this one, seemingly privately published, the name of the ‘author’ — Mandy Rennie, who should be ashamed — credited on amazon but not on the book itself. It´s a book one would never have bought had one been able to leaf through it: 110 pages, of which 80 are photographs, all easily available online, and of which ten are a filmography, seemingly off an excel sheet. The rest of the text is not worth reading. It was £10.79.

José Arroyo

Lighting Burt Lancaster into Stardom

Burt Lancaster became a star in The Killers (1946), his very first film. There is probably a combination of many different reasons as to why: the time the film was released in, the story, the production, the role, the performance. Surely, Burt Lancaster’s looks had a lot to do with it. And on top of that, how Robert Siodmak directed cinematographer Woody Bredell to light him was surely the perfect mise-en-scène not only for his looks but for his stardom.

 

You can see him below as a man in the throes of suffering, physically and emotionally. In the movie, he’s looking, mainly at Ava Gardner, and to-be-looked at, by us; the desiring  subject in pain pictured as that which is most desirable:

 

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Ron Moule has pointed out to me the similarity of the image above to Bernini´s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa below:

bernini st. teresa

You can see other images, only from the first forty minutes of the film, below:

 

 

Sheldon Hall informs me that The Killers was  first shown on British TV under the intriguing and suggestive  title, A MAN AFRAID, presumably so as not to confuse it with the 1964 Don Siegel version:

a man afraid

José Arroyo