Tag Archives: Kate Winslet

Some more thoughts on Mildred Pierce

Preparing a class on Mildred Pierce and binged on the Todd Haynes TV series yesterday, which I thought beautiful and moving. It reinforced my feeling that cinema is not only condensed — condensed I suppose could also mean insufficient, missing out important bits, truncated — but poetic; that that condensed form needs to be used variously, that everything has to contribute, allegorise, fulfil the obvious function and do something else. Even the speech in the Curtiz version seems to mean not only what it says literally but also something else. The Haynes version also uses visuals beautifully but has more space. Curtiz’s visuals are striking; and that also made me think of a comparison of the performances in the two adaptations. Crawford is so impactful, and her performance certainly hits all the notes….but not the spaces between the notes like Kate Winslet does in the Haynes version. Winslet moved me so whereas Crawford leaves me awestruck. Anyway, a thought.

The close-up below, part of the magnificent star entrance at the beginning of Mildred Pierce. After two years away from the screen (not counting her cameo in Hollywood Canteen), Crawford returns in rainy streets, under lamp-pots, weaving in and out of the shadows wearing fur that seems to bristle with a dark and luxurious sensuality….and now about to throw herself from a bridge. Why? It’s terrific…and a hint of what Crawford might have carried over from her ‘Silent’ movie days.

‘The wool gets pulled from her eyes’: light as dramatic revelation and narrative device:

Mildred Pierce is chock-a-block with brilliant examples of the Expressionist work so characteristic of Curtiz. This moment, were Bert finds his wife has remarried is a favourite, partly because it’s not only expressive in many ways (Burt’s feelings, his anger, perhaps jealousy) but also via the shadows and timing, that they’re hidden, only partly perceptible, and full of a passion and violence we haven’t seen him exhibit before.

Winslet in the TV version, shot like a woman in a Hopper painting — lonely, lost — but also evoking another range of feeling: anxiety, fear, defeat, desperation. The look in the last five seconds or so is beautiful.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 218 – Contagion

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

We may be living under lockdown conditions, but no virus can stop us, and to prove it we’re taking on Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion, about a virus that rips through every country on Earth, the scientific work to stop it, and the social decay that it leaves in its wake. Suggested as a podcast by an irony-seeking Mike, it backfires as it actually just frightens him.

At least, for a while. We think about the film in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic currently upon us, of course, praising what we recognise in the film’s imagined crisis, remarking upon the differences. Much of what it depicts feels very true to life, and it strongly evokes panic and a sense of uncertainty; on the other hand, the difference less than a decade makes is thrown into sharp relief with the film’s essentially competent and well-intentioned government response to the disease, a far cry from the lies and bluster being spouted by certain American presidents today – something that would have been not only unimaginable but laughable at the time of the film’s release. José notes that a high proportion of the public worry in our current outbreak comes down to its economic effects, which again, Contagion does not imagine as even a minor point.

It’s a well-made film, tightly plotted and paced, juggling several plots and sets of characters, understanding keenly how and when to jump between them, and its staging, editing and cinematography bring to life the paranoia of living in a society in which any surface innocently touched by any stranger’s hand could spread a deadly disease, and the fear and confusion engendered by a lack of trust in the government and loud countervailing voices. Contagion uses its characters and scenes as representative of ideas as much as, or more than, things in and of themselves, which Mike argues leaves it emotionally distant and overly simplistic – though there’s plenty of room for debate, particularly over Matt Damon’s performance.

All in all, Contagion is an impressive piece of thriller fiction whose successes and failures are both given oxygen in the light of very recent developments. If you watch it, be prepared to be made even more paranoid than you currently are… because the world we’re living in now is even more insane.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.