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martin391

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  1. I too cannot access the link to the certificate. Nor can I find the Canvas in box. What to do? Thanks gm
  2. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is an excellent illustration for my observations on both TCM and the Summer of Darkness. Just as the Republican Party is aptly named the party of No, so TCM is as aptly representative of the dangers of positive thinking. Often it seems as if TCM has never screened a Hollywood film that it did not consider a “great” film, a forgotten classic, or a work of genius. It has rarely featured an actor who was not touted as the greatest of his era. In reality almost all of their offerings are nothing but commercial Hollywood claptrap; The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a prime example. The first indication of TCM’s over enthusiasm here is in Muller’s statement that Barbara Stanwyck was “the best actress to ever appear in Hollywood films”. I seriously disagree with that. Miss Stanwyck was highly respected in her industry. She was always on time, she knew her lines, she found her marks and she had her lighting preferences. She was, as one wag remarked, “a real gentleman”. And she was quite good at what she did. Unfortunately she almost always did the same thing in film after film. But there is no signature role …no Scarlett or Blanche or Tracey Lord, Margo Channing, Mildred Pierce, Norma Desmond or Lorelei Lee. Her roles seem to have always been directed to the entertainment of the women in the audience: for the men she was completely lacking in sex appeal. She almost always played powerful women but what was so illogical about this is that she was physically a small person and why one of the men she manipulated didn’t just punch her out has always been a mystery to me. In this film she stands at a window and asks Van Heflin to survey an industrial complex, a landscape she claims to have created. This is absolutely laughable. This character, as portrayed by Miss Stanwyck, has never soiled her hands with work. Despite the fact that she did not have a good figure, she wore clothes well. This brings us to one of the two really bad elements of this film: the wardrobe designed by Edith Head. Edith Head was a great designer and dress maker. But her creations in this epic seem more appropriate for a collection of paper dolls than for these characters. How Lisbeth Scott, recently released from prison, has come into all these fashionable items is a good subject for a separate film. And the funniest line in the script is when Babs tells Kirk that she’ll just run up and change, that she wouldn’t want Van to see her in the same dress twice. (Of course she is being facetious.) At the time she is wearing a dress that when seen with Van had a hood and when seen with Kirk had the hood draped over her shoulders. I suspect it had been designed to mitigate the audience having to see her in the same dress twice as well. The other dreadful component of the film is the symphonic rhapsody by Miklos Rosza that plays constantly under the scenes; an indication that the film makers think the audience is so stupid that without it they would not understand what was going on. The only film with a worse score is For Whom the Bell Tolls. The best element of this film is the presence of Van Heflin. Mr. Heflin seems to me to have always committed himself one hundred per cent to the characterization, the script, the director, and the picture. He was always a strong and reliable presence. When his co-stars would go off on a bombastic fit of hysteria, no matter how bad the acting of it, he always stood patiently and firmly behind his commitments. That his too was a career without a signature role, no great moments in film, indicates that Hollywood simply did not know what to do with him. He was so good in fact that I suspect many of the great screen “personalities” were afraid to work with him. In his scenes with Miss Stanwyck she fails to hold her own. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is not a film noir. It is a melodramatic family saga, in the realm of escapist literature made popular by Booth Tarkington, Edna Ferber, and John Michener. This is hardly the same genre as Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. Once again the organizers of Summer of Darkness are too eager to sweep up every miscellaneous scrap of black and white film in which someone points a gun at the star of the show and include it with a small body of work known as noir. Most if not all of the noir films were second feature programmers, films such as Pickup of South Street, Out of the Past, In a Lonely Place, and The Asphalt Jungle. I balk at Laura and The Maltese Falcon as being representative of the genre. Most of these films are so bad as to be unwatchable: they have value only as historical artifacts. I do plan to see The Hitchhiker but primarily to see the performances of Frank Lovejoy and Edmund O’Brien, two actors who I believe are much underrated. (And neither of whom is mentioned on the podcast.) And while I am an Ida Lupino fan I dread that this will prove to be as bad as the others. Ivers has a mediocre major studio script and mediocre major studio direction. It is yet another tired version of the Hollywood take on the well made play. Every scene exists solely to move the plot forward. Histrionics are mistaken for dramatic action. As I watched it I was aware that a European film maker might have focused on the moral dilemma of the Heflin character: having discovered an old crime in which he too was implicated and observing the mess these people have made of their lives because of it, should he say or do something or just continue his socially peripheral life as a gambler and go off with his ex convict chick. What is our responsibility to others and to society? It is an authentic existential dilemma. But the question is never asked here. Here it’s just a corrupt world. Ho hum. At the end of the play Hedda Gabler, Hedda goes off stage and is reported to have killed herself because of the mess she had made of the lives of those around her. George Bernard Shaw used her action to illustrate his belief that death itself was not tragedy, that the real tragedy was for a person to live the rest of his life with an awareness of the consequences of his actions. (His is a good argument for abolishing the death penalty.) He believed that suicide, or capital punishment, was an escape from one’s responsibilities. See also Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus. The weakness of the ending of this film is consistent with the many other weaknesses throughout the script. When you cast a broad net and haul in such a mixed kettle of fish, as I sense is being done by listing so many iffy films here as noir, you devalue the purity of the genre. And by over praising everything those who find little to commend in the examples provided begin to doubt the quality of all that is recommended, as well as the authority of those making the claims.
  3. Unlike the films noir that we have been seeing the opening of this film lacks the histrionics and the hysteria so common to the genre. Here everything appears “normal” although being a Hitchcock film we know that something is up already. And if we have seen the film, or if we know the work of Patricia Highsmith, from whose novel this is taken, we know that what might seem normal is in fact a coded homoerotic set up: here we have a sexual predator assaying the ability of the other to be his victim. While such a relationship might suggest an unhealthy coupling in the present day, we must remember that at the time the film was made homosexuality was a crime: thus, a crime of some description is being suggested. Noted for shooting from story boards and for his elaborate visual motifs, Hitchcock is in true form here by showing us two similar young men with each having a different screen direction …one enters left and goes right, one enters right and goes left. Finally they sit opposite one another in the club car as if by chance. However: since each is recognizably a famous film star chance should be more properly described as contrivance. They play footsey, smile, and say hello to one another and then the predator, already sure of his “man” squeezes into the seat next to him. Pleased, the “man” smiles knowingly and like a good victim falls silent. If nothing else Hitchcock is a master of contrivance …he is not one of my favorite directors. The shot of the tracks as the train leaves the station is a case in point. Union Station in Washington DC has about 25 gates for boarding trains. Leaving and arriving at the station all of these tracks are reduced to two …one north and one south. It’s a bit of an over interpretation to read into this shot a criss-cross of motives rather than just the beginning of a journey, etc. But because it is Hitchcock …we must. Yawn. You see what I mean. (The Raymond Chandler comments regarding Hitchcock, on the TCM Strangers page, are right on.)
  4. Thank you for including the Porfirio essay on existentialism in your course. It is the finest brief overview of the subject that I have ever read and it relates the philosophy to the arts better than any other. While I admire Camus almost exclusively above all other modern writers, and found the focus here on his work personally satisfying, unfortunately for Porfirio’s argument most of Camus works were written or translated into English after World War II. Other writers might have been mentioned, specifically Fredrick Nietzsche, he of the famous remark: God is dead. That, in turn made me aware of yet another possible influence on the development of film noir, America’s foremost playwright, Eugene O’Neill. O’Neil was a devoted reader of Nietzsche’s work and was known to have had always a well underlined and dog eared copy of his works, specifically The Birth of Tragedy and Thus Spake Zarathustra, in his back pocket. In his plays O’Neill’s protagonists are almost always men, often women, whose world view has been destroyed, whose belief system has been found wanting. They too experience displacement, disillusionment, despair, and martyrdom. As the foremost playwright of the American theatre in the 20’s and 30’ his work would have been well known in Hollywood. Indeed it was through Anna Christie that “Garbo spoke!” See also Paul Robeson in Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape, Mourning Becomes Electra, and John Ford’s The long Voyage Home, with photography by Gregg Toland. George Bernard Shaw said that O’Neill was a Banshee Shakespeare, but that that was still some kind of Shakespeare. I could easily imagine that film makers of the 40’s might have used the inspiration derived from his works in the hope that their own works would be understood to have achieved the same or a similar level of philosophical relevance and, hence, greatness.
  5. In the 50’s one went to the movies knowing, generally, what he was about to see, thanks to Previews and press releases and magazine and newspaper articles. And so when we see the small window with the limited view of “the outside” we can be fairly certain that the camera is in a police van …the siren on the track reinforces this …and that we are on our way to a jail where the passengers will indeed be “caged”. Our expectations are fulfilled. (Thank god …this goes on far too long.) Once the door is opened the film proceeds, a la Warner Brothers with their fast action and dialogue …in eleven quick cuts…the static action energized by the editing. In the penultimate shot the camera shows us the view down the main street of a winsome all American little town. It seems to me rather preposterous that a state prison would have been built in that particular location and with a view of the prison foreyard. Thus I have lost the thread of this film already.
  6. In a long sequence a man standing outside Los Angeles City Hall makes his way inside and through long corridors to the Homicide office. It is night and we see him only from the back. He asks to see the “man in charge” and he is pointed in the right direction. Two things stand out. 1. This is a very long sequence and so we wonder if it is because the credits scrolling over are so many or if there are so many credits because his trip is so long. 2. As a turnabout of the usual procedure he has not gone to a neighborhood precinct but straight to the head office. Either he is determined to get “to the center of things” in a bureaucratic world or he considers himself very important. Indeed they know who he is and seem to have been expecting him. As the opening of a film this is all too literal, contrived and uninteresting.
  7. A lot of thought went into this sequence …choreography, lighting, camera placement, rear projection screen …even when the lights are cheated in the sequence behind the car (they come from behind and the left whereas in the car they came from in front and the right) we accept the unusually strong lighting of a dark night on a deserted country road because it maintains the sense of the “mysterious” light source established earlier, mysterious in that it is little pools of flickering light rather than floods or brutes. All of this works because the actors carefully avoid histrionics, this is “real”. And it is far superior to Kiss Me Deadly.
  8. Several poor choices by the film makers make it difficult to surrender oneself to the fantasy being presented here. We see a woman running down a dark lonely road, in two shots, and trying to flag down a passing car. We see this same exact set up repeated two more times. One feels that there is a technical problem and that we are watching a loop. The woman is illuminated by a 10k spotlight that appears without rhyme or reason…there is no subtlety in the visual presentation. Although she is running toward the camera she attempts to flag down a car going in the opposite direction. This looks silly. The sports car has been heavily sprayed with dulling spray to reduce its glare into the camera. It looks like a cheap special effect prop. The backward scrolling titles are rather pretentious and laughable. All of the above indicates that very little creative thinking has gone into what is obviously an extremely low budget B film. We do have the themes of escape, desperation, dislocation, possible insanity, police, manly man, and high living (the sports car.). But with the consistently poor production values I doubt that anyone would take this seriously.
  9. Especially prevalent in the commentaries accompanying this week’s material are the abundant praises given to Orson Wells, all of which I think should have been more correctly paid to Gregg Toland. The one area of universal praise for Citizen Kane is the cinematography, Mr. Toland’s contribution. As to who suggested what and in which scenes, we will likely never really know, just as we don’t really know who suggested what in the films of D.W. Griffith shot by Billy Bitzer. But it is a certainty that as a novice film maker Wells would not have called for “deep focus” in this scene and not in that one, unless, of course he had seen The Grapes of Wrath or The Long Voyage Home several times over. The habit of citing only Wells illustrates how completely movies are identified by their “movie stars”. And when those who write about films are so equally “starry eyed” it diminishes the importance of what they have to say.
  10. If you know the film this Harry Lime entrance is effective; if you do not, it means nothing at all. In the first half of the film Holly has come to Vienna to find his friend Harry. He is told Harry has just died and he goes to the funeral. He then asks around as to how Harry really died. He meets a lot of people who regard him with suspicion. (Very noir!) One night on a dark street he is aware that someone is following him or watching him. When a light flashes on the scene, he is shocked to discover that it is Harry. He rushes to him, a truck cuts him off, and Harry runs away. We too are shocked to discover that it was Harry who was following Holly, thinking like Holly that it is one of the many others, and especially because in the opening credits it states that Orson Wells is one of the stars; however, this entrance occurs after the half way mark in the film …we had forgotten all about Orson. The scene is not realistic because it shows war torn Vienna. Quite the contrary; the street here looks to be rather upscale and in good repair. It has a certain character because the whole of the street is in darkness, on the gray scale nearly black, and all of the buildings have an architectural sameness. It is not a street in a grid pattern but a city square with any number of side streets going off into the darkenss.It is a film location in the actual streets of the story but its formal values are some very theatrical lighting featuring bright spots of light from instruments known as “brutes”, lights of ten thousand watts. One glaring (pun intended) error is the light that falls on Harry’s face. Behind Holly, nearly a block away, we see a woman come to her window to shush the loud voices and when she turns on her lamp, probably 60 or 75 watts, it floods Harry’s face half a block away, also exposing the film makers’ preference for mega wattage lamps. Another formalist value is the tilted camera, often called a Dutch frame, I believe, from German Expressionism. In fact a constant complaint about this film since its first release is that the tilted camera is greatly over used here. But it does explain one of the major problems with British films: they are too dependent on the London stage; they have always tended to be too stagey, too …formalistic. The music, the use of only a zither, was a welcome change from the standard British film London Philharmonic full Orchestra. But at times it is completely trite and second rate …and that pretty much describes its use in this scene …overwrought. I am uncertain that this film makes, or made, any contribution to film noir, but with all the above cited, it does contain all of what became the clichés of the genre/style/movement.
  11. His entrance is long and slow and developed in a series of establishing shots. She appears out of no where. Noir elements: voice over by main character, shadows all here and there, diagonal lines, his outsider status, didactic music track, and her overly stated femme fatale character. MGM house style: cleaned up reality ...perfectly lit perfect compositions, rich tonal values on black and white film, formalism: glamorous and fastidious details the complete opposite of a neorealism film.
  12. Lorre’s entrance is a common elevator, hallway, key in door movie entrance; see Fred Astaire in Top Hat. Greenstreet’s entrance is a common noir entrance …the sinister man in black who appears in a place other than his own. However, once the scene starts it shifts almost immediately into witty repartee. Compared to Falcon/darkness we have abundant similarities: static camera work, Static choreography of the actors, and way too much dialogue. It sounds like a bad Broadway play. (The actors are good Broadway actors. It’s fun to watch them but you lose track of the urgency.) John Ford would have eliminated almost all of this …see My Darling Clementine.
  13. If we assume that the noir” style” includes darkness and shadows this sequence includes those elements even though it is daytime. The street is a bright sun lit street while the interior of the bar, from our POV is dark. As she enters she passes under an overhead lamp which casts a strong shadow over her. Then she walks into darkness before entering into a pool of light that is fairly standard 40’s Hollywood studio lighting. This light comes from our right suggesting that it is the light around the bar. During this scene at the table Mitchum, sitting between her and the bar, occasionally moves into the light casting shadows over her. All of this is a very obvious and literal statement that despite her being pretty and chicly dressed she is a “shady” character. They drink and they smoke. In 1940’s Kansas they were understood to be “loose” characters. We know that he is tailing her; we know that she is fleeing. From this scene, and without seeing more of the film, we cannot know why. We also assume that because the pursuit is being made outside the parameters of law enforcement agencies, this is an example of film noir. Thus far all of this reads as an exercise in second rate film making. Based on this short scene I am inclined not to want to see the much more of this.
  14. In Falcon Bogie is all skeleton and sinews …nervous …and just half a step ahead of the law. He is rather cynical and fatalistic. Here, in The Big Sleep, he is suave, relaxed, somewhat debonair, an educated almost equal to the man with the money. They are comfortable together. He is honest and frank without being rude or offensive…or belligerent as in the earlier flick. While I note these differences I also notice that in both films he is Humphrey Bogart. As such I was surprised to hear the line directed to him: You’re not very tall. Bogart wasn’t very tall but I don’t recall anything ever having been made of it in his other films. Rather than mean and gritty nighttime streets in this film we are shown into the greenhouse with the orchid collection, hybrids no doubt, which reeks of heat, humidity and tropical decadence. And so the noir landscape is made broader…man lies, he cheats, and he steals …on every level of society. Because Marlowe is a detective we assume something is rotten in this family…we’ve met one of the “girls” All of this should serve as a forewarning of what’s to come.
  15. The first clue that we are here to watch another example of film noir is the music over the corporate logo and titles. Unfortunately it is too loud and too obviously histrionic and so many of us might already be lamenting our choice of film for the evening. The fields are being photographed from a low flying plane and as there is no bottom window in an airplane the camera must look out the side …and to one side …as every cinematographer knows. If the camera had been placed to look straight down or straight out there would have been nothing but stobing because of the 24 frames a second camera speed coupled with the speed of the airplane. (Strobing is what makes wagon wheels appear to roll backward when filmed by the motion picture camera.) Had it been possible to look straight down at the fields, as was later used in the opening of West Side Story …photographed in a slow forward movement from a blimp high above New York City …we would have seen nothing but the visually dull body of each field. Seen from the diagonal we see the body of the fields, the perimeter roads and lanes, and fragments of the adjoining fields. It creates visually interesting patterns. It also references the abstraction of modern art which broadens its appeal to an educated audience. Thus the limited technology has been artistically well resolved and makes for an interesting sequence. What this music and photography and stentorian declamation should tell us, however, is that the producer and director want us to see immediately that they believe they are working with a large issue, a large canvas. This is not being done for effect …to hit us over the hand a second time …with the announcement that this is Another Film Noir Motion Picture! The preface by Prof. explained that the film is in the documentary style. And I agreed that it was until, that is, I saw the farm laborers waiting behind the chain link fence …almost every one of them fashionably correct in their 40’s and 50’s fedoras and southern California sport shirts and sport coats…leisure wear. They did not appear to me to be Mexican farm workers. And what I really understood then is that I was back on the MGM lot and that dialogue was about to begin. As the best example of a dark film in a documentary style I recommend Bunel’s Los Olvidados.
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