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About KirkG

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  1. As with several others who have already posted here, I find it difficult to be objective about Buster (though my favorite among Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd tends to be whoever I've just seen). One thing I find interesting in looking closely at this sequence is how one has a sense that Buster gets up off the ground, finds his mark for the window, has the building facade crash around him, reacts and then runs off, all in one shot (Dr. Edwards almost says as much in his analysis). It always amazes me that not only does he stand on the exact spot he needs to, after this two ton wall comes crashing around him he can remain in character to react and run off (imagine if he'd broken character - this is something you don't want to have to do twice). In fact, there are actually threes separate shots: Buster gets up and wanders a little dazedly, then in a second shot is seen standing perfectly positioned (how long did it take to set that?) for the fall, and finally we see him after the fact (and possibly after some recovery from the excitement and adrenaline of that second shot) giving his big reaction and running off. The editing is practically invisible here, so that we seem to experience it as one unbroken take. That said, if you look at the end of the second shot, you do see Buster start his reaction. What an incredible performer to have the presence not to break after having a two-ton wall dropped around him.
  2. One of the interesting questions raised in today's "Daily Doozy" is that the gags in the silent era were completely visual. Of course that's mostly true. However, just as visual humor didn't just disappear with the coming of talkies, silent comedies have their share of verbal humor, with intertitles that could be quite witty. My favorites are "Beanie" Walker's work for the Hal Roach Studios.
  3. I have to repeat here the common quote "silent films were never silent." Musical accompaniment (from piano to full orchestra) was almost always a part of the contemporary audience's experience, and good accompaniment is key for modern audiences to enjoy them fully as well. Of course, that doesn't excuse the kind of exaggerated accompaniment and sound effects that are sometimes found in clips such as these. I will say that as someone growing up in the '60s and early '70s, things like these Youngson compilations were a great treat. It was hard to get to see these films in any format, let alone uncut and properly presented. We're all fortunate for the ongoing work of preservationists and scholars, as well as leaps in technology, that can bring us so close to seeing these films as intended (and with a channel devoted to them).
  4. To be honest, I was somewhat confused by the introduction to today's Daily Dose. It seems to say the "Elevator to the Gallows" does not count as film noir simply because it was not made in America (or perhaps I'm misreading it). I have a reasonably narrow definition of film noir myself, but specific nationality of the film is not one of the requirements. As to jazz and noir, I think they tie together for two primary reasons. First, jazz seems to be the music of mid-century urban America, which is the prototypical (but not only) noir setting. Second, the minor keys of jazz provide a melancholy feel which matches noir's interest in the dark influence of fate. In many of the films we've seen to date with a jazz score, that score was more swinging and edgy, driving the plot forward almost immediately. Here, Miles Davis' score is more laid back and sensual. It serves to emphasize the attraction that draws these people together, and makes it palpable for us. It seems like they're going to do something they shouldn't, but their sexuality won't let them stop, and the music helps us understand that.
  5. In today's clip from "Beware, My Lovely," when we first see Howard he is putting up a window screen which somewhat obscures our view of him. There's a spot of dirt on the screen, which appears to be a black mark on his face (and on his character?) but he works to clean it off. When he gets his coat from the closet, we see him in a mirror, which tells us there may be more than one side to him. Finally, after discovering the body of Mrs. Warren, he is panic stricken and flees town. The running would seem to be the action of a guilty man, but his surprise at finding the body seems to indicate he wasn't aware of this (again, two side to the man, as in the mirror). Since Howard is played by Robert Ryan, we (and certainly audiences of the time) have even more reason to expect that Howard is a dark, violent character (and just as much reason to keep watching, since Ryan, even when typecast, is so damn good). However, all of these visual clues (the black mark cleaned away, the doubling in the mirror) may make us suspect that Ryan isn't just a killer. Is that also the message of the sign we see at the opening? "From the kindness of your heart" don't judge this man too harshly? Or am I just hoping for something more than this film will deliver?
  6. With this opening of "The Narrow Margin," we're challenged to note ways in which "noir conventions are being burlesqued." Brief though it is, we notice the dialogue is even more slangy than usual. In just about fifteen seconds, a woman is described as a "dame," a "dish," a "60 cent special," "cheap," "flashy," who's "strictly poison under the gravy" because "what kind of a dame would marry a hood?" The fact that it one of the toughest of tough guys, Charles McGraw, delivering this in his flat, gravelly tone emphasizes just how far we've come from Bogart and Powell tossing out Chandler bon mots. That description, of course, fits the stereotypical femme fatale. For those who haven't yet seen the picture, I'll say no more, other than it enjoyably subverts many of the expectations set up here. Is it parody, maybe not, but it sure looks like the filmmakers were having fun.
  7. In looking at today's clip from "Kansas City Confidential," I was stuck by the third suggested question. Why is a heist a good subject for film noir? First, it involves criminal activity, which must be a part of any noir film, and since we are following the story from the side of the professional criminal, we are deep into the dark side of life. Heist films take a purportedly realistic approach, familiar in many noir films, but rather than follow the authorities in solving a crime (as in "The Naked City") we see how the crime is planned. As things happen that (inevitably) put the plan at risk, the tension is increased, in a way that doesn't always occur in a police procedural. More importantly, however, in classic Hollywood films of the era, the filmmakers were still working under a Production Code that required that criminals not get away with it. Even though that Code was starting to weaken, you could still be pretty certain no heist in the movies would be a success. Thus, while we get the thrills of watching illicit activity, we know it is doomed to failure. Doomed protagonists are a cornerstone of noir. Even after the Code was eliminated, heist films still tended to end in failure. Was there ever a heist film that ended In success (other than con games and others where the target is worse than the perpetrators (like "The Sting" or "Ocean's Eleven") or spy films (like "Mission: Impossible") or even "Ant-Man")?
  8. In today's clip from "99 River Street" we see Ernie Driscoll reliving his glory days watching one of his old fights on television. The Curator's Note in The Daily Dose has already commented on the inherent critique in the visual presentation of film versus video, and little more need be added. What I find interesting is how this makes clear what Ernie has lost, as the visceral excitement of his days as a fighter have been marginalized into this small confining screen. Once again in noir the past is a powerful influence, this time not because of something done wrong, but because of what has been lost, as big dreams settle into middle class mediocrity. Also interesting is the presentation of Pauline. At first she seems concerned about Ernie, trying to get him away from the the television and over to dinner, seemingly worried that he's too absorbed in his past and it's hurting him. With him (and the T.V.) close in the foreground and her the back, we can feel the separation. It's soon clear that she is more concerned with the present than the past because the latter represents missed opportunities (he could have been champion, she could have been a star). Like Jane in "Too Late for Tears," Pauline wants material success. But where Jane seems to feel the pressure of society, Pauline isn't concerned with what anyone else thinks she should have, but what she thought she was entitled to by marrying an up-and-coming boxer, who turned out to be a pug.
  9. In today's clip from "The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers," several things work to establish the relationships of the characters. Walter is first seen slightly higher than Sam, but when Sam asks him for a "favor," he is the taller one, indicating he may have the upper hand here. Walter seems reluctant until Sam asks "for old time's sake" which seems to have a chilling effect on Walter, making us wonder what in the past Sam may have on Walter. Once Martha enters and recognizes Sam, they are photographed together, as a couple. Walter is seen in separate shots, or, if in the same shot, physically separated from them by a desk. Walter the D.A. would presumably hold the moral high ground over Sam the gambler, but he certainly is drinking a lot, at a time of the morning that even the gambler thinks is too early. When Sam asks how Walter knows he will win the election, Walter says he should ask Martha. This not only suggests she has some control here (and what does it take to guarantee an election?) but further diminishes him in relationship to his wife. Overall, the scene gives us a sense of mysterious doings in the past that keep reverberating in the present, a sense of corruption in terms of D.A.s doing favors for gamblers and elections that can be guaranteed, and a strong woman holding a man under her thumb - all noir staples.
  10. Today's clip from "Too Late for Tears" would seem to begin with a couple of completely innocent people who by random chance end up with a bag of (presumably ill-gotten) money. By choosing to drive off with the money it would appear the couple takes their first wrong turn, which will likely lead them down a road of noir complications. One can reflect that the idea of innocent people being drawn into a dark and violent world would have resonance in post-war America. Many Americans would feel that they had just been unwillingly drawn into a World War and its attendant hells. But what I find interesting here is whether this couple is really that innocent. They are quarreling from practically the moment we meet them. The women is concerned about being looked down upon by those with a higher social standing (giving her motivation to keep the money). Visually, we see the couple straight on looking into their car, so the center post of the windshield divides them, the angle of the shot only changing when the husband agrees to turn the car around, and then we see them together on the same side of the post. Note that the wife is insistent that he open the bag full of "paper" as if she already suspects (and hopes?) what they will find. And note how she takes command, driving their getaway while he sits impotent in the back seat. I don't know if this is "the best unknown American film noir" but I'm definitely intrigued and will be watching this weekend.
  11. I generally do not consider Hitchcock's films to be noir, though "Strangers on a Train" might actually qualify. To me, one of the important traits of the noir protagonist is that he has crossed the line somehow ("I did something wrong once"). It may be a big thing, it may seem minor, but this transgression sets the protagonist up for whatever happens to him. This may be too limiting of a definition, but there it is. In Hitchcock's world, the protagonist generally gets into trouble for no good reason, perhaps because he is mistaken. But "Strangers" could fit my noir definition because Guy does seriously consider doing away with his wife, and this gets him embroiled in Bruno's actions. But even in terms of style, Hitchcock is somewhat outside of the noir mainstream. In the opening we see today, the shots of moving feet, the directional lines on a collision course, etc. could all come from any noir director. But note the music. In a standard noir film, we'd expect the scoring to be building up the suspense. In "Strangers" the scoring is actually kind of playful. Hitchcock wants us not to feel too nervous about Bruno yet (we'll get there soon). One can almost imagine him smiling, anticipating the fun he is going to have putting us through this.
  12. In my quest to watch new-to-me films noir off each Friday's schedule, this week I certainly got a mixed bag. "Follow Me Quietly" wins the award for most interesting title, and it also had some interesting ideas for a police procedural. Unfortunately, I didn't think it was too successful in following through on them. "Red Light" was certainly interesting in its combination of noir themes and style with religious ideas. It was a bit heavy-handed in its handling of the latter, but what really sank it was George Raft. Change the leading man and you might have had something. Some might say that "Caged" was similarly heavy-handed in its message. However, I just wasn't expecting it to be as hard-boiled as it was. It's attitude completely took me by surprise, and I found the performances very effective. This was definitely my favorite this week.
  13. In today's clip of the opening of "D.O.A.", we're not in a car, but as we follow behind Frank Bigelow, we might just as well be in Mike Hammer's convertible or in the police wagon of "Caged." We're driven relentlessly forward into the frame. We can almost feel the lines of perspective drawing us in. We don't see Bigelow's face for the long time, and this increases our curiosity about this man. Who is he? We also (without the camera tricks of "The Lady in the Lake") find ourselves in almost a first person p.o.v. This, combined with making the character a cypher, causes us to identify with him, and, along with the relentless drive forward, pulls us further in. When we at last get it to see Bigelow's face, it's at the moment he announces that he has been murdered. As with the other clips this week, we are starting out at a dramatic high point in the story, though maybe no other film begins with such a remarkable revelation. We're certainly aware of other noir protagonists who are heading toward a fatal end, but here we have one who starts there.
  14. In today's opening shot from "Caged" we are once again traveling down a road, but this time our view is restricted to a very small window through wire mesh. The sound of a siren means we could be in an ambulance, but the title of the film makes it more likely we're in a police wagon. The interior is dark, with just a few Indistinct shadows moving around. Then the vehicle stop, the door is opened and we see we've been sharing this space with several women, the most prominent of whom is fearful (not unlike Christina). Once again we seem to be thrown right into the middle of a story, where bad things have clearly already happened, and it looks like things will get worse before they get better. The most interesting thing here: a cast list of eleven and not a man among them. And one of the screenwriters is female.
  15. Today's clip from "The Hitch-Hiker" is fascinating in comparison to yesterday's "Kiss Me Deadly." Both involve hitchhikers on a lonely road, but where yesterday we had a terrorized figure being picked up by someone with seemingly no empathy but who turned out to be entirely in control, today we have a figure who terrorizes others, picked up by good samaritans who immediately lose control to this stranger. This contrast is strengthened visually but the fact that, although both scenes take place on a dark road at night, Christina was seen fairly brightly lit, while Emmett is clothed in the deepest shadow, even after he gets in the car. His gun emerges into the light before his face does. Can there be any question that he is a figure of evil? The lighting in this scene is remarkable. For the most part it seems to come from limited natural sources (the dashboard, a flashlight) that heighten the sense of fear. Who hasn't driven in a car at night on a lonely road with just such lights, being the only respite from the surrounding darkness? Maybe you've even fantasized about something jumping out of that darkness. I think the filmmakers were counting on such memories to work with the lighting and shot selection to put the audience right in that car when something bad does emerge from the shadows.
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