Amoeblog

The Dumb Watchmaker: The Killing (1956)

Posted by Charles Reece, August 21, 2011 10:44pm | Post a Comment
killing criterion interior art

Stanley Kubrick's The Killing just came out on blu-ray from Criterion. In addition to being the best looking version I've seen on home video, containing a hilarious interview with Sterling Hayden on the meretricious qualities of being a film actor and a barely promoted new high-def transfer of Kubrick's second feature, Killer's Kiss, there's an excellent essay from Haden Guest analyzing the formal virtues of what is undoubtedly one of the top 5 greatest film noirs (or heist films) ever made. For example:

The synchronized, semaphorelike movement of doors throughout The Killing suggests some sort of mysteriously vast machine, an intricate apparatus vaguely built around the horse race itself, whose very signal to begin is, after all, the precision opening of the multiple gates that simultaneously release the horses and trigger the robbery. The machine metaphor elaborated throughout The Killing is also closely tied to Ballard’s assertive camera movements and the remarkable extended tracking shots that follow characters with an unsettling fixity, as in the scene introducing Clay. Keeping exact pace with Clay as he ambles toward the anxious embrace of his winsome girlfriend, Fay (Coleen Gray), Ballard’s gliding camera cuts a neat cross section through a series of connected rooms in its path, transforming the apartment interior into a type of controlled tunnel that exactly describes and limits the possibilities of movement—a striking illustration of entrapment that subtly parallels the camera’s and actor’s “tracks” with those of the horse race. Indeed, a comparison between man and horse runs throughout the film, captured cruelly in the whinnying, equine look of Carey’s face as he is shot—after his car tire is punctured by a horseshoe, no less—in a distorted carnival-mirror reflection of the horse he himself has killed just moments before. In addition, during the long execution of the robbery itself, each member of the gang seems to be locked in an extended relay race, tracked by the mobile camera as they move across the screen, their actions closely commented upon by a stentorian voice-over narration echoing that of the horse race announcer.

Rather than seeing Kubrick as some cold, art-for-art's-sake formalist, Guest elaborates on the way form and content inform and determine each other in the film. The style expresses a metaphysics: in one film after another, man's attempt to dominate through rational planning is thwarted by a world filled with what appears as contingency to finite beings. In the present example, the real makes itself known in the form of a poodle. Hayden draws the parallel between Kubrick's characters and the director's own struggle to make art in the racetracks of genre and Hollywood money. Kubrick was a pessimist, but he clearly thought there was more than hubris in our attempt to find/construct order in the world around us. When receiving the D.W. Griffith Award from the Director's Guild, he said, "I've never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, 'don't try to fly too high,' or whether it might also be thought of as 'forget the wax and feathers and do a better job on the wings.'" [p. 23-4, James Naremore, On Kubrick] There's something human about rationalizing monoliths and starbabies, axe-wielding husbands who talk to ghosts, and poodles. There's a love for humanity in his work.

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A Rumpus Orange: Where The Wild Things Are & Bronson (2009)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 18, 2009 10:28pm | Post a Comment
where the wild things are rumpus

I dreamt that it was night and that I was lying in bed. (My bed stood with its foot towards the window; in front of the window there was a row of old walnut trees. I know it was winter when I had the dream, and night-time.) Suddenly the window opened of its own accord, and I was terrified to see that some white wolves were sitting on the big walnut tree in front of the window. There were six or seven of them. The wolves were quite white, and looked more like foxes or sheep-dogs, for they had big tails like foxes and they had their ears pricked like dogs when they pay attention to something. In great terror, evidently of being eaten up by the wolves, I screamed and woke up. My nurse hurried to my bed, to see what had happened to me. It took quite a long while before I was convinced that it had only been a dream; I had had such a clear and life-like picture of the window opening and the wolves sitting on the tree. At last I grew quieter, felt as though I had escaped from some danger, and went to sleep again.
-- Sergei Pankejeff, the Wolf Man

 where the wild things are max plush doll   where the wild things are max kubrick toy   where the wild things are max costume   

I caught what might be called a double-feature of the Id this weekend: Spike Jonze's long-awaited adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are (co-written with Dave Eggers) and Nicholas Refn's adaptation of the long-waiting life of Michael Peterson, Bronson (co-written with Brock Norman Brock). If little Max hadn't eventually come back to the comforting constraints of familial order, then he would've found out as Peterson (aka Charlie Bronson) did that society is always ready to force that order on him.

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Killer Film Noir Double This Wed & Thurs @ New Beverly

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, August 17, 2009 11:30pm | Post a Comment

The Vince Edwards & Marie Windsor pairing in Kubrick's The Killing is one of my favorite low life partnerings in film noir. Both actors play it to the hilt, setting off a serious time bomb by arrogantly smothering cuckold Elisha Cook Jr. with their sleazy and obvious relations. Although they do not star together in these films, Vince is in the first feature and Marie is in the second. I don't think I've seen a noir with either of them in it that I didn't love! Also, the New Bev just replaced all their seats-- no more ass fatigue! Neither title is available on DVD, but keep an eye out in the noir section of our mezzanine late this year, as both are scheduled for release.

New Beverly Cinema
Wed & Thur
August 19th & 20th

Murder By Contract (1958) 7:30

The Sniper

(1952) 9:10

7165 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036-2548
(323) 938-4038




Clip from The Sniper

Art! What Is It Good For? More on The Lives of Others Vis a Vis Clockwork Orange

Posted by Charles Reece, January 10, 2008 09:44pm | Post a Comment
Regarding what I wrote about the the transformative power of music in THE LIVES OF OTHERS being a lie, a pal of mine, K, suggested the possible counter-example of the Nazi being moved by piano music in Polanski's THE PIANIST.  I still haven't seen that film due to its starring Adrian Brody, but I suppose if a digitized giant ape can get me to put aside my aversion for 2 and half hours, the name 'Polanski' ought to, as well, even if it's later Polanski.   So maybe I'll get around to that film at some later date. 

A film that does approach what I was talking about from a truer perspective than Donnersmarck's is Kubrick's CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  The film was based on Burgess's novel, which was a rejection of the panglossian futurism of B. F. Skinner's behaviorism, most notably his sci-fi novel, WALDEN TWO, where the happiness of individuals is derived from the outside-in, every aspect of culture being a stimulus which, if functioning properly, keeps the whole community flowing along in prosperity, promoting the desired actions/"responses" -- the providence of which is defined by the organizers.  Things like art have value insofar as they help shape the "proper" behavior, value being defined top-down.  If that strikes you as totalitarian, that's because it is.  And Kubrick's film is an all-out satirical attack against the reifying tendency of the bureaucratically minded whereby value obtains as a place within the system, never for the thing itself.

Contrary to the story Donnersmarck tells of the incommensurability of violence and art, the love of both happily co-exist in CLOCKWORK ORANGE's protagonist Alex.  As it was with Lenin, he loves smashing heads, but unlike with Lenin, he does so to the accompaniment of Beethoven.  It's not until Alex undergoes reconditioning at the Ludovico lab that Beethoven becomes associated with nonviolence.  Getting a dose of some noxious serum while being forced to watch acts of violence and hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony results in just the sort of transformative effect Donnersmarck associates with art.  Donnersmarck might argue that his Stasi Captain gives up his ideology in favor of the intrinsic qualities of the piano piece he hears while spying through headphones, whereas the effects of the Ninth on Alex are due to its extrinsic associations with negative stimuli (via Pavlovian, not Skinnerian, conditioning, but the point remains the same).  This potential distinction, however, rests on the shaky notion that such music has ideological content internal to its nature as art-object, rather than associated with it as a social object.

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