Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Borders and Borderers: The American film noir is a cinematic tradition whose representations are thoroughly liminal: the protagonists of these films characteristically find themselves straddling the border between competing forms of identity, as they often enter into perilous rites de passage through a nightmarish version of contemporary urban reality. Only seldom do these borderers emerge from that “dark city” (which is sometimes just a moral or psychological condition) to enjoy the transfiguration and triumph of a conventional happy ending.
The Noir Chronotope: In a groundbreaking study, Vivian Sobchack argues that film noir is most deeply marked by its unique representational response to a culture in transition between the collective, public experience of a world war that required the widest marshalling of all the nation’s resources and the desired, collective return to “the family unit and the suburban home as the domestic matrix of democracy”. This national experience of inbetweenness finds its most substantial visual reflex in what Sobchack argues are the “recurrent and determinate premises” of this Hollywood type, its obsession with the dark city. Earlier critics, most notably Paul Schrader, located noirness in a cinematographic style heavily indebted to Weimar filmmaking, but Sobchack importantly turns critical attention toward mise-en-scène, the characteristic settings of this film type such as “the cocktail lounge, the nightclub, the bar, the hotel room, the boardinghouse, the diner, the dance hall, the roadside café, the bus and train station, and the wayside motel”.
These are the publicly accessible spaces of entertainment, dining, travel, and lodging, whose function is to provide for those literally, and also metaphorically, in transit. They substitute for what cannot be obtained in a world where nothing is “settled,” where the family home is unimaginable because it would depend on relationships (economic, sexual, and nurturant) that in noir narratives are not yet finalized. Such formal elements of mise-en-scène, Sobchack plausibly suggests, are the geographical reflexes of “existential, epistemological, and axiological uncertainty.”
Intercutting joins these two worlds until Parkson arrives in California, where he seems out of place (as upon his arrival he walks across the Memorial Day parade whose purpose in part is to celebrate the man he has come to kill). Enley hastens to a place that is transparently “other,” a paradoxical projection of Enley’s desires and his moral needs that exemplifies what Iser identifies as one of the most important characteristics of fictionality, the way in which it “becomes the epitome of inner-worldly totality, since it provides the paradoxical opportunity for human beings simultaneously to be in the midst of life and to overstep it”.
In this journey, imaged at a length far in excess of its importance to the narrative, the film engages with what Northrop Frye calls “the fabulous . . . something admitted not to be true” but which nonetheless possesses great significance. But it is also a place where “great rewards, of wisdom or wealth, may await the explorer,” even though, at its “structural core is the individual loss or confusion or break in the continuity of identity.” Even to the very end, Enley is liminal man, inhabiting the permeable border between past and present, between a self he has become and the self he would reclaim. -"The Divided Self and the Dark City: Film Noir and Liminality" (2007) by R. Barton Palmer
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Wilder: Chandler was more of a cynic than me, because he was more of a romantic than I ever was. He has his own odd rules and thought Hollywood was just a bunch of phonies. I can't say he was completely wrong, but [he] never really understood movies and how they work. He couldn't structure a picture. He had enough trouble with books. But his dialogue. I put up with a lot of crap because of that. And after a couple of weeks with him and that foul pipe smoke, I managed to cough up a few good lines myself. We kept him on during the shooting, to discuss any dialogue changes. Source: imagesjournal."
In the character of Keyes, played by Edward G. Robinson, Chandler also had a Marlowe-type figure to play with. Keyes is Neff’s colleague, and nemesis, at the insurance company, where he is the company’s chief claims investigator. In Cain’s novel, he was a minor character of authority, but in the screenplay he is a fully sketched and cynical bachelor. He is fond of Neff and has an innate suspicion of all women which, in the case of Mrs Dietrichson, proves justified. At the start of the film he tries to persuade Neff to change departments and work under him as an investigator. It is a promotion, but Neff turns it down because he likes selling. Keyes isn’t impressed: ‘I thought you were a shade less dumb than the rest of the outfit. Guess I was wrong. You’re not smarter, just taller.’ Like Chandler, Keyes is a suspicious eccentric in his mid fifties and, like Chandler, he smokes throughout the film. It has been suggested by one critic that the screenplay version of the Neff–Keyes relationship became a subconscious commentary by Wilder and Chandler on their own working relationship: antipathy tempered by grudging respect. -"Raymond Chandler: A Biography" (2010) by Tom Hiney
The crucial difference between the character Scottie and the actor Stewart lay in their relative sanity. Scottie’s ultimate undoing is brought about by his belief in the power of possessive, obsessive sex as a curative, a liberating, redemptive act even after it has caused the death of his (so-called) loved one, a fatal trap disguised as a letting go that leads him eventually to the brink of suicide. The foundation of Jimmy’s sanity, meanwhile, lay in his abject refusal to ever let go of his unwavering faith in the curative, redemptive liberation of love as the reflection of the moral righteousness of Western Christian ideology. These beliefs, in turn, helped him realize the power of his continual on-screen persona, that of a spiritually based, romantic all-American beacon of enlightenment to millions of Americans for more than half a century of turmoil and upheaval.
In fact, the catalyst for Sullavan’s lobbying for Jimmy had been a chance encounter between the two one afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard, where Sullavan, being driven to the studio from her Beverly Hills home, happened to spot him walking along by himself, hands in his pockets, head down. She had the driver pull over, rolled down her window, and called him over. Soon he was sitting alongside her, reminiscing about New York City and Broadway. Jimmy, whose relationship with Rogers had by now begun to cool—she found him just too inexperienced— was ripe-ready for the return of Sullavan in his life, in any form, while for her, Jimmy was not exactly the one who had gotten away, but one of the many she liked and for one reason or another had let get away. With him, though, she was careful about breaking a heart so tender, one that he wore so plaintively on his sleeve. It was that very nonvoracious quality about him that she had always been attracted to. “She was protective, loving, maternal toward him,” Myron McCormick told Sullavan’s biographer. “She wasn’t usually like this with most men. If she wasn’t getting sexually predatory with them she was indifferent, or contemptuous.”
Stewart remained oblivious to the whispers floating around that the nights he was spending with Sullavan had less to do with rehearsals than romance. Being close enough that he could smell the perfume of her shampoo while she carefully tutored him was intoxicating and, for Jimmy, an act more intimate to his way of thinking and feeling than any he had ever done with Ginger Rogers. And, as a result, he would never be quite the same way as he was before, not as an actor and not as a man. “I’ll never marry until I find a girl like Margaret Sullavan,” Jimmy told a reporter from a Hollywood fanzine.
Alfred Kralik: There might be a lot we don't know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.
Klara Novak (Miss Novak): Well I really wouldn't care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I'd find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter... which doesn't work.
It took less time than it would to remove a six-gun and garter belt before Dietrich had taken Jimmy to her bed and showed him the way European women treated their men. If other women had been turned off by Jimmy, disappointed by his shyness or mistaking it for a rural aloofness, Dietrich was driven crazy by it. She loved playing the temptress, the seducer, and the more passive he was, the more aggressive she delighted in becoming.
Despite Harvey’s financial failure, it was part of a film deal that finally gained Stewart entrance into the millionaires’ club, thanks in large part to Lew Wasserman’s adjusted gross clause. After the studio recouped its original production costs, Stewart received 50 percent of the two films’ profits with net limited to 25 percent for distribution and studio overhead. While this may not seem like much today, it was revolutionary at the time. For a film that cost a little over $900,000 to make — the so-called negative cost of Winchester ’73, Stewart eventually earned more than $600,000, a figure that would have been inconceivable as a prefigured salary on a film with that kind of budget. With the added $200,000 plus percentage he earned for Harvey, the two-picture deal for the first time put him over the magical million-dollar figure in earnings for a single year.