Hayden plays a totalitarian-minded chief detective whose brutal methods are currently being investigated by bureaucrats intent on making crime easier and policing harder. Dwelling in the loopholes of law and order, these hobgoblins are always the real villains in films with the ultimate goal of undermining what namby-pamby liberal types call checks and balances that are supposed to keep our country from being a police state: elected officials, lawyers and, of course, the press. Against the knee-jerks, the film suggests that the chief's mind is like a vast differential engine, intuiting the deterministic equations in the chaos of criminality where a wavering eyebrow inevitably leads to multiple homicides -- imagine a cross between Harry Callahan and the precogs from Philip K. Dick's The Minority Report. When he tries to explain how he knows that a church-going, family-oriented baker is a copkiller despite having solid character witnesses, airtight alibis and no priors, a fellow detective looks about as comprehending as a neanderthal hearing the obelisk play Ligeti for the first time. Rational deduction becomes mystical, a voodoo conjuring best left to the professional witchdoctors. The audience is assured of the chief's preternatural acumen when Gloria Grahame shows up as the baker's girlfriend in a border town. Anyone who's watched enough film noir knows that dating her means you're guilty of something and will soon die for what you've done. Had this film been made today, it most likely would've been about police brutality and the dangers of trusting those in power, but because it has Joseph Breen's stamp of approval, the "criminals" had to be punished and "cop" was mutually exclusive to "evil." Which means that'll you'll enjoy the film if you tend to wax nostalgic for 1930s Italy or lean left with a masochistic sense of humor.
It's film noir festival time again at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. First up for me was a Sterling Hayden double-feature.
[This essay originally appeared as part of a roundtable over at The Hooded Utilitarian.]
Reading Daniel Clowes' Ghost World again got me to thinking about John Barth’s nihilist novel, The End of the Road. The latter begins at a bus station; the former ends at a bus stop. And much like Barth’s protagonist, Jacob Horner, Enid spends the duration of the story searching for an identity, but only succeeds in finding what she’s not. Horner is a middle-aged academic type who’s managed to think himself into a hole, not seeing any potential action as better grounded than another -- sort of an infinite regress of self. Thus, he’s sitting in a bus station in a state of existential paralysis, not able to even come up with a good reason to get on a bus and leave his former (non-) life behind. The abiding gloom that pervades all of Ghost World's vignettes -- undercutting Enid’s hipper-than-thou detachment from those around her -- is a sense that she’s headed to the same destination as Horner: nowhere.
I figure there must be some consilience here, since kinukitty’s main reason for not liking Clowes’ book -- that it’s neither real nor funny -- reminds me of Barth’s prefatory defense of his story:
Jacob Horner […] embodies my conviction that one may reach such a degree of self-estrangement as to feel no coherent antecedent for the first-person-singular pronoun. […] If the reader regards [this] egregious [condition] (as embodied by the [narrator]) as merely psychopathological -- that is, as symptomatic rather than emblematic -- the [novel] make[s] no moral-dramatic sense. [p. viii]
I realize that if one has to defend something as funny, it’s never going to make it so to those not laughing. This is particularly true of existentialist humor, since it’s kind of the obverse of prat falls, namely only funny when it happens to me. So I’m going to stick to the reality of Enid’s predicament. The End of the Road is a bit abstract, where Horner goes through a series of fanciful psychotherapeutic treatments in search of a cure (the search is, of course, at the insistence of a psychiatrist). The most relevant of these is mythotherapy, which involves acting in a chosen character role with the purpose of having it stick through habituation -- an irrational solution to a rational psychosis. Clowes treats the identity formation of teenagers in much the same way, but with a recognizant teen who, like Horner, can’t ignore the ontological arbitrariness undergirding the whole process. Just because teens regularly slip into an adult role without much of a hitch doesn’t mean that there’s not a good deal of truth in her depicted inertia.
[This essay originally appeared as part of The Hooded Utilitarian's roundtable on Jean-Luc Godard here.]
To begin with, a generalization: Godardians really don’t like Quentin Tarantino. But, fear not, this post isn’t going to be about the latter, only the reasons expressed by the Godardians for their contempt. Wasn’t it Jean-Luc Godard himself who argued against a clear distinction between the fictional film and the documentary? For him, being even more opposed to naïve realism than Andre Bazin, the camera always had a perspective, a position, or as Colin MacCabe puts it: “there is not reality and then the camera – there is reality seized at this moment and this way by the camera.” [p. 79] It was this foundational belief that led to Godard’s dismissal of the anti-aesthetic implicit within cinema vérité, that reality comes from letting the film roll. Yet, Jonathan Rosenbaum (and I might as well mention Daniel Mendelsohn and HU’s very own Caroline Small) condemns Inglourious Basterds for “mak[ing] the Holocaust harder, not easier to grasp as a historical reality,” because “anything that makes Fascism unreal is wrong.” Evidently, contrary to Godard, fascism is just there waiting to have a camera pointed at it. No truth could possibly come out of a fantasy involving Nazism.
A portrait of yours truly, courtesy of my pal, David, tattooist extraordinaire at LA's Sunset Strip Tattoo.
Presidential beards were popular in the 19th century and they become popular again sometime in our dystopian
future. On the left is President Coriolanus Snow of Panem and on the right, President Ulysses S. Grant.
When blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifer Lawrence was cast last year as the dark-haired, olive-skinned and grey-eyed heroine Katniss for the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy the decision was met with outrage from some bloggers. Perhaps they hadn't considered hair dye or contact lenses, but that doesn't diminish the fact that it's much more rare to see Hollywood go darker than lighter when casting films. One exception was Will Smith in I Am Legend, which suggested cross-racial casting is rooted just as much in the stupidity of star power as it is racism. Lawrence had just been nominated for playing a hillbilly in Winter's Bone, so she was as obvious a choice for the role of the Appalachian Katniss as Peter Dinklage is for any character under 5 feet, or Hayden Panettiere a cheerleader. Having just seen the movie, what's baffling to me is why anyone would find it preferable -- as in less offensive -- to have a black or mixed-race girl in the role given the fantasy world that's been (re-)constructed.