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rewolfson

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  1. I watched this clip this morning and thought, "what bank robber would keep a written record of such incredibly simple observations and provide evidence if found?" All the director had to do was show the guy watch the delivery truck and the armored car, glance at his watch and nod his head or maybe make a check mark then destroy the paper, without the "delivery truck" "armored car" giveaways. Instead, the paper is a blueprint that screamed, "conviction!!" But what do I know? I'm just a criminal defense attorney with years of experience who knows successful and unsuccessful bank robbers. I'm sure Hollywood has technical advisors to tell the director what to spoon feed the audience so we can figure out this is a big carefully planned heist. Sorry. End of suspension of disbelief. This cheap flick lost me in the opening minutes. I can handle low budget, not insultingly bad writing. Leave this one off the list. Check.
  2. I was born in '59, late boomer. Some popular arts I always loved that are similar to noir that have received little mention: radio drama (Arch Obler's "Lights Out," for instance; Obler also directed some great short films); and the old pre-comic book code EC comics- very noir-like! I certainly do not connect to today's computer generated graphics. Give me well developed characters, believable dialogue, and a great story. I don't need special effects. Noir special effects were the subtleties of light and shadow, camera angles and implied violence and sexuality. These themes were understood by each audience member as a collective experience and as individuals bringing our own experiences to the theater. Even "Father Knows Best" had an occasional disturbing theme: remember the episode when Betty (Eleanor Donahue) is having an existential crisis, hearing a voice calling her "Betty Person?" It was creepy and great! Then Bud in real life was caught with a tiny amount of marijuana which, in the day, resulted in him being blacklisted from work. And then there's always Buffy (Anissa Jones) from "Family Affair" who died of a drugs overdose when she was 18. The happy family of television belied the troubled real life of all of us. Now they peddle so-called reality garbage as entertainment. Give me the fertile imagination, inventive direction and dark story lines of noir filmmaking any day.
  3. Excellent comments, perspective and points. I'm a baby boomer and I'll add my thoughts in the perspective of our class, films noir, and the opening of "Too Late for Tears." Many men who returned from WWII found it difficult to readjust to peace time and as importantly, find good jobs. My Dad was fortunate to complete school on the GI Bill, but for many I think, even in the single earner households depicted on shows like "Leave It to Beaver" or "Father Knows Best" (incidentally, Hugh Beaumont and Robert Young appeared in several films noir), gender roles were strained. Women enjoyed working as they had during the war. This may explain the ineffectual male role in "Too Late" contrasted with the dominant streak in Lizabeth Scott, seizing the opportunity to grab the cash and show up the other wife who flaunts her wealth, at least in her perception. Which leads me to my other observation of changing social mores of this period: birth control. The incredibly profound effect on all civilization of prescription birth control rocked the social fabric and worked an upheaval of the roles of women and men. It certainly led to the sexual revolution of the 60's (the "pill" introduced in 1960) and would test how anyone thought of gender roles, femmes fatale, good girls, religion, sexuality and on and on and on. To what extent this revolution led to the decline of film noir I've yet to consider, but there was probably more going on with couples staying at home rather than going to the movies and more activity in the back seats of cars at the drive-ins. Interested to read others thoughts on this, or am I totally off base? Wouldn't be the first time.......
  4. I enjoy most any Hitchcock film, "Strangers on a Train" included, but don't consider this iconic director's films "noir." From his early British silent work, Hitchcock's personality was the reason for seeing the film, like reading an Agatha Christie mystery or even, dare I say, listening to a Mozart symphony. He was an auteur, an artist whose work is so distinctive as to render it without compare. I've commented before: I think defining "noir" is like Justice Potter Stewart's Supreme Court opinion on obscenity, "I know it when I see it." Hitchcock's film presence, even literally in every film, is so overriding one cannot integrate wholly into the film other than to be gripped in the wonderful suspense, but not for the petty human frailties and neuroses necessary to identify with the characters, their fears, dark thoughts and actions. Hitchcock was wonderful. His films, at least to this viewer, ain't noir.
  5. A lot of discussion this week about the philosophical and psychological influences on film noir, as well there must be. I have a different interpretation of existential fatalism as described in the lecture and podcast. It seems to me (having had several years of Freudian analysis and now well over a decade of daily recovery from addictions perhaps nudged by having read Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" while in high school) that an absence of God would be depicted by chaos, rather than the neatness of "fate" catching up in the end with characters like the "Swede." Fate in these films is a de facto God, evidencing karma or perfect justice. Albeit at odds with studio censors of the period, an amoral atheistic landscape would have the wicked prosper, at least in the immediate lifetime. I think also that in the shared experience of movie-going at the time, the collective audience sits on the throne as God, watching the actions of humankind as did the audiences of Greek tragedy and comedy or the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare's time ("the world's a stage, its people merely players"). In economic terms, certainly the audience was the source of bread for the studios and art imitating life. If there is a prevailing fatalism, it would be a view that God has, at least in part, abandoned mankind, the view that God's role ended with creation and now the Creator merely sits back and observes, exactly the role of the film audience. If there is an American spin on the films of the period in terms of religion and philosophy, it might be the rise of the ticket buying public as a cynical consumer version of a material God, Dwight Eisenhower in the 50's adding the phrase, "In God We Trust" to money and fostering the view of the "ugly American" to the rest of the world, despite our help defeating the Axis powers. Finally, I think it worth noting that the French, as mentioned in the readings, were far from the only existential perspectives of the period. I think many of the films noir are a psychological exorcizing of guilt for not having done more earlier, disbelieving the horrors of the concentration camps and refusing entry to refugees, Jews and non-Jews alike, adrift on ships, particularly by the many Jewish studio executives who gained wealth and prominence during the period. The best example of a contemporary existential writer who did not share the God abandonment view was Viktor Frankel, whose book, "Man's Search for Meaning" was a personal response to his internment in the Nazi camps and from which many, many sufferers of despair and existential angst found and continue to find comfort and ultimate meaning and peace, despite the seeming senselessness of existence and in the face of man's inhumanity to man. Just thought I'd add these thoughts to our discussion. As always, grateful for the opportunity to learn with others and engage in discussion and dialogue. Thanks! richard
  6. The sinister introduction of Harry Lime on the darkened streets of divided Europe in the context of film noir on the cobblestone, in the shadow, in the doorway, in the dampness, light reflecting off the watery streets where war the starkest reality of mankind's evil set at the beginning of a tenuous peace and start of cold war. In Harry's smirk we see his (and our own potential for) contempt for humanity disappearing down the sewer, lurking and cleaning itself of stench like the cat licking its paws, called out by the search for truth (hey, sledgefoot!) Cotton trying to reconcile his past with his present, his friendship with Harry, now dark now light. Nothing is simple, the illusions of nothing all good/all bad, innocence vanished, Harry's boyish face and foreboding countenance. Zither music strange to Western ears, all treble, no bass, all melody repeated haunting, no harmony no chords no lush and beautiful strings or woodwinds or brass just that strangely metallic brittle on the edge about to snap can't get it out of my head tune. Seen the film, know Welles would water down the penicillin and kill even the survivors of war for his own greed, looking down from the dizzying heights so individuals looked like nothing more than ants to be crushed underfoot. Finally chased down the sewer. Goodbye, Harry. They changed the ending, didn't they? To make it more palatable or something..... Will watch it every chance I get.
  7. Well said and thank you. Clearly (at least to me), the re-pairing of Greenstreet and Lorre was an economic decision based on previous success. Just as obviously, the studio wouldn't repeat a formula that didn't work. I commented earlier that while I enjoy the formula, the novelty is gone and I am woefully aware of being marketed a product. Sans originality, it is merely a period piece; nothing groundbreaking and so, uninteresting. I refer again, the theme of our course being a "heist," to the phenomenon of an underground coup by a group of artists that grab the public's attention (and money) from under the control of the studios, e.g. the punk movement of the early to mid-1970's. Again, not the already too late McClaren Sex Pistols, but the years earlier NY scene of the New York Dolls, Television, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, and the sainted Ramones (of blessed memory). For a brief time, tapes and records were being made independently and fashion was created by rips and tears in anti-fashion reaction to the pretty boy period of the late 60's early 70's. Grunge and Cobain did the same thing a decade later, God bless 'em. By the time the studio execs recognized the marketability and reduced it to a formula, what I think we're supposed to be studying had long since left the barn. Your observation isn't a minority; just more critical and appreciated. Thanks.
  8. Mehhhhhhhh......I dunno. I love Lorre and Greenstreet, but the studio contract system that had them paired repeatedly reduces rather than enhances my immersion into the film's world. So familiar are they that they take on a kind of evil Laurel and Hardy persona (big man/little man). These pairings were exploited later in their careers when they would appear in comedic sketches, spoofing themselves. Unfortunately, the spoofing was projected in what I perceive as their comfort in portrayal and in the dialogue written just for them. By this time, films like we're seeing have become too formulaic for me; too comfortable. And that makes the sense of evil forboding disappear. Now it just feels like a comfortable in-joke. No, the iconoclasm of the earlier and/or lower budget productions strike me as more genuine. I have the same feeling for other art forms that broke studio molds and constrictions, like early punk rock. Not the later Malcolm McClaren Sex Pistols, but earlier NYC hardcore bands like NY Dolls, Television, Richard Hell, the blessed Ramones (R.I.P.). The London teddy boys usurped our good old American rebellion. Again, that's the noir heist we're learning about: how low-brow public art (old-time radio, pulp mags, pre-code comic books) made its way into Hollywood, until it could be harnessed, roped, packaged and marketed like any other product. You can use all the ingredients of noir: lighting, tough talk, locations, crime, evil thoughts, but if the film lacks original ideas and originality in presenting them, then I'm not spotting a ground breaking exhilarating film experience, I'm just overanalyzing a tired medium for no good reason other than to play spot the duck. Nothing original in this clip.
  9. Excellent discussion regarding "Gilda," if perhaps a bit off topic (this exchange of posts threads over the last couple hours). If one steps back and views the movie as forest, rather than tree, one can see the male dominated studio system using Ms. Hayworth (real name, Cansino) as an object, marketed for her sex appeal. But she plays the title character; the movie is named for her character. The name "Gilda" is reminiscent of "gilded," as in "only a bird in a gilded cage," a popular song in the early part of the last century. The character is on one level a beautiful woman caged within the male dominated, a) studio system; film reality of the powerful male characters, rich business owners; and c) caged by her own beauty. Like gilt (another play on Gilda), her outer beauty is gold plated.In German, the name Hilda represents a strong warrior and Hildegard von Bingen was one of the most important women in history, recognized even during her lifetime in the middle ages. In the end, the studio system (the topic for this week's lessons) makes of Ms. Hayworth merely a commodity. Contrast this with Ida Lupino, who lived her independence, directing and producing films of some importance. At the start of the picture business, there were far more women involved in the writing and production of motion pictures. By WWII, although women had joined the work force, Rosie the Riveter was supplanted by the pin-up girl. Put the blame on Mame, boys, but the real fault is on society's own unwillingness to recognize the inherent talents of both genders equally. "Gilda" didn't work for me as film noir. I saw the crime plotline as secondary to selling Ms. Hayworth's sexuality. I prefer the lower budget productions of "Poverty Row" that didn't have to make the huge profits necessary to sustain the studios and their lavish lifestyles. Call me a heretic, but I think "Gilda" was slumming, a poseur pretending to be noir. If ever there was a heist, it was the big studios trying to sell folk songs to the folks who made them songs. Strictly mass marketing consumerism, nothing iconoclastic or new.
  10. Jesus, this misses the point. I'm not gonna cross talk here, but Johnny was bad for Johnny. It may be that the character of Gilda was enlightened (rather than self-conscious) enough to understand what others would think of her objectively, but I'm not betting on it. Her deliberate Jessica Rabbit number was intended to draw attention to her, as the destroyer of men image to which she resigned herself- the fate of a beautiful woman (incidentally, I thought destroyed by the dubbing of voice for song). No, the interpretation you attempt to sell is one only possible if one loses the suspension of disbelief and sees the characters as chess pieces moved around the board by the Deus ex Machine of the unseen director. "Gilda," frankly, wrapped up too cleanly for me. Loyalty and obedience are rewarded in the end, triumphing over deceit and deception, embodied by the scheming, evil portrayal of Germans (necessary for the time, but carried way far more effectively and less heavy handedly in the brilliant "Casablanca," with a touch of humor. The focus on film noir for me remains on the internal struggle. The genius of "Put the Blame on Mame" is in Gilda's willingness to put herself on public display, making known that for which she has no choice: in the male dominated society a beautiful woman is not allowed freedom, respect and independence. I only wish Ms. Hayworth had been allowed her own voice. The message really was in the studio's decision to substitute hers for another equally talented, less comely, and un-credited woman.
  11. Was interested in this interpretation of "femme fatale." Seems to me the "femme" is not "fatale" because of the "bad" things she's done, but rather she is fatal to the protagonist because of his ill-fated attraction to her, despite the flashing danger signs. Kind of like a "fatal flaw" in Shakespeare's characters and typical of the nature of film noir, it is internal and specific to the character to whom it is directed. Gilda was certainly bad for Johnny. The relationship is focused on the immediate parties and their qualities in their private interactions. I have an ex like that. Just saying.
  12. My thought regarding "Out of the Past" in relation to previous films noir in our discussion is the contrast between individuals "hiding from" or burying themselves in cities amongst tall buildings and the anonymity of crowds as opposed to here, in the heat and white, bleached burning sun of Mexico. Of course, getting to this different environment required the same running, search for escape, or desire to hide in the identity of a different culture or language. Even there, the protagonists refer to a local cantina that reminds them of home, NYC- the same crowded landscape from which they ran. In our discussion of influences on films noir from other art forms, we reviewed a lot of high brow stuff: German expressionism, surrealism, etc., but I have been jarred to remembering the stuff I loved at the same time I was loving these films for the first time. I suspect other geeks like me probably loved the same stuff: old-time radio programs ("Lights Out" by Arch Obler), the old EC horror comics. This stuff was closely related to the pulp magazines. Radio in particular was great about firing the imagination, as is reading. We create our own images. When images are fed to us, as in film, we have to have an avenue for our imaginations within the images the filmmakers provide. This is why I think film noir works so well, delving into the psychological issues we keep hidden within us, but nonetheless share. And I think this is why the movie-going experience was so powerful: sitting in the dark with people we didn't know and realizing we all share the same fears and dark thoughts. We share and relish our humanity. Well, time for me to get to work....another shared reality. Looking forward to others' thoughts.
  13. May already have been mentioned during this well developed discussion, but occurred to me last night: Lorre's character, begun as a disembodied shadow during the opening, also has no name; only "M." The black and white, shades and shadows of noir reflect what is inside each of us: conflict and struggle with our own conscience. "M" might be "mich" (me).
  14. Good discussion. I cannot help but place this film in historical context: the rise of National Socialism in pre-WWII Germany. Surely the coming to power of Hitler's Nazi party was marked by a quelling of contrary voices and opinion, "As long as we can hear them, they are still alive." Surely Lang knew this. His work would be considered "degenerate," and he was fortunate enough to emigrate to America. "Casablanca," made years later, was notable for the voice of Viktor Laszo, the conscience of the underground the Nazis in Vichy French-Morocco were trying to kill. One can almost see the little girl's ball bouncing down the street outside Bogart's Rick's American Café.' What makes this film a gateway to film noir for me is the use of light and shadow to depict the sides and shades of humanity, human thought and action and the human condition. When we become complacent, when the clock is striking and its voice is "cuckoo," we should be awakened to the danger, not lurking, but present. And it is no excuse to say we acted under compulsion, or to let the criminals deal with the problem so we can return to business as usual. What is foreboding about the film is its commentary on the reality during which it was made.
  15. An interesting discussion. In pre-WWII Germany when "M" was made, Kurtl Weill and Bertholt Brecht were writing early dystopian musicals (Three Penny Opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogony) observing a society in which the only crime was to be poor. In America during this same time, gangster films were all the rage and Americans had a fascination with bank robbers. That good old American democratic spirit would soon fight the National Socialist Party (the Nazis), who came to power when the common folk DID sit by and do nothing, letting others watch their children (the Hitler youth), perhaps because they were so bedraggled pushing wheelbarrows of inflated currency to buy a loaf of bread (when they could get it) in Weimar Germany. "M" is an interesting precursor to this: looking for a scapegoat; mob mentality; bumbling police work; and finally the criminals working together to catch the killer who, in turn, pleads for mercy because of his compulsive illness, rather than accept responsibility ("I was only following orders."). Good to be having this discussion. America is again having a fascination with dystopian literature and films. I wonder what's next for the real world......
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