keep reading this article here: http://drnorth.wordpress.com/2008/11/23/why-dont-you-send-us-a-photo-chantal-akermans-news-from-home/
May 22, 2012
May 21, 2012
Director of Programming, Austin Film Society
Wilder’s 21st film, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, was a project he had dreamed of starting for a long time. After the Peter Sellers fiasco when beginning KISS ME, STUPID, Wilder gave up on his dream duo of Peter O’Toole and Sellers as Holmes and Dr. Watson and went on to other projects. By 1968 he was finally ready to make a more honest portrayal of Doyle’s detective by including references to his use of cocaine and suggestions of his sexual orientation. He chose two members of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company to play Holmes and Watson: Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely. This production was designed to be released as a special engagement “road show” – a long, elaborate film with an intermission and only two screenings a day, like other “big” movies of the 1960s. It was budgeted at $10m, the largest of Wilder’s career. Elaborate sets were erected at Pinewood Studios in London: a large segment of Baker Street, an ocean liner, and a working submarine with a Loch Ness monster turret/periscope. Filming began in May 1969 and continued through the summer, 12 hours a day, every day. Wilder was a stickler for detail and timing. By October the strain was becoming too much on Robert Stephens, who accidentally-on-purpose took a large quantity of sleeping pills washed down by glasses of whisky. He survived, but there was a two-week shutdown of the production. Wilder was contrite and told his Sherlock that they would slow the pacing down, but once Stephens returned to the set, it was just as frenetic and precise as ever. Shooting finished on December 13, 1969 after seven months of intense filming.
Wilder’s version of the completed film was 3 hours and 20 minutes long. Preview audiences found it dull and the Mirisch brothers (producers) and United Artists (distributors) panicked. They decided not to do the road show or the special roll out and simply distribute it as a regular film of a “normal” length. The chopped up version came in at 2 hours 5 minutes, with 1 hour and 15 minutes cut out. Conceived as a four-movement “symphony,” THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES was severely re-edited, loosing one story altogether and seriously truncating others. It opened in the fall of 1970 and made only $1.5m before disappearing. Wilder had suffered another major disappointment.
So, it was rather foolhardy to take on a failed Broadway play as his next film project. Samuel Taylor’s AVANTI! had run only 21 performances on Broadway in 1968. Even before it opened, Charles K. Feldman (producer of Wilder’s THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH) had bought the rights, specifically with Billy Wilder in mind. But Wilder was focused on his Sherlock Holmes film and put AVANTI! aside until 1970.
By then, IAL Diamond was busy with some other project, so Wilder began work on the script with Julius Epstein, followed by Norman Krasna, and concluding with Luciano Vincenzoni, who had collaborated with Sergio Leone on THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1967). With his new co-writer ready to work in 1971, Wilder shifted the story from a rich, young American falling in love in Italy to an Italian-American trying to “recapture his father’s romantic past.” However, when IAL Diamond became available, Wilder turned to his trusted co-writer to work out yet a different plot. Once Jack Lemmon had expressed interest in the film, the character of the rude antagonistic protagonist became a man in his 40s, the highly successful son of a highly successful father, director of the family businesses, and friend of the rich and powerful. Wendell Armbruster Jr would be going to Italy strictly on business: to pick up his father’s corpse after a car accident and return him to a large corporate funeral to be eulogized by Billy Graham. Armbruster Jr. was not to be a likable man, but an up-tight, finger-snapping Ugly American for whom “foreigners” in their own land can’t do things “right” (i.e., the American way) or fast enough to suit him. The opening pages of the screenplay describe Wendell Armbruster Jr: “He went to Cornell, he’s a young Republican, he occasionally plays a game of squash with S. Agnew [disgraced VP under Nixon]. To him, W. Cronkite is a Maoist and R. Nader is a pain in the ass.” Jack Lemmon, often likable in his roles, seemed to enjoy playing opposite his usual type.
Wilder had only one actress in mind for the role of Pamela Piggott, Juliet Mills, whom he had first seen in the play Five Finger Exercise in London when she was only 16. She was the daughter of veteran actor John Mills and sister of Hayley Mills (THE PARENT TRAP). By the time Wilder was ready to make AVANTI!, Mills was living in Los Angeles and was available after the cancellation of her TV sitcom Nanny and the Professor. Wilder felt no need to audition her; he simply asked her to add 25-35 pounds to her petite frame. She did so by eating three huge, starchy, fatty meals a day and drinking lots of Guinness stout with her father. To keep her weight up during filming, Wilder had ice cream brought in at 4pm for a snack, a big snack. He couldn’t afford to have her returning to her original, petite size while the cameras were rolling.
For the role of the solicitous hotel manager, Wilder considered a number of Italian actors bur finally settled on British actor Clive Revill, who had so adroitly played the Russian impresario in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Screenwriter Vincenzoni returned to the fold to help with the Italian dialogue and customs. For director of photographer, Wilder chose Luigi Kuveiller, a respected Italian cinematographer who had shot A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, which impressed Wilder and captured the kind of light that he desired in AVANTI!
Ischia, Italy would be the main location with smaller scenes shot in Amalfi, Naples, and Portofino. Interior shots were done in a studio in Rome, where the hotel corridors and rooms were constructed. For this film Billy Wilder abandoned his beloved Panavision wide-screen and returned to the increasingly standard screen ratio of 1.85:1 (almost twice as wide as tall), the same format he had used in SOME LIKE IT HOT.
Interestingly, Wilder had the sets designed to accommodate the dialogue: how long would it take to move from one point to another while delivering the lines? For that he worked closely with the production designer, Ferdinando Scarfiotti, who was intrigued to be working with a director who found a way to complement set design and dialogue.
In this tale of a son discovering his father’s secret life, there was a bit of Wilder’s own life. Billy was 66 years old and Armbruster Sr. died at the age of 67. Wilder had certainly had his fair share of affairs and liaisons, as well as marriages. He just didn’t keep very much secret, unlike Armbruster Sr. He doubtlessly saw some of himself also in Armbruster Jr – always busy and full of nervous energy. But it was that energy that allowed him to make movies, not run a corporation, which he would have hated. And Wilder embraced all the joys of life, unlike Armbruster Jr. who seems to be trapped by his frenetic success. And finally Wilder had buried his father in Berlin around 1930. His father was visiting the city and ended up being buried in a country not his own. Wilder was so busy with his own life that he probably came to feel that he hadn’t really gotten to know his father at all, much like the father-son in AVANTI!
Just because there were a few topical references in AVANTI!, critics in 1972 decided that Wilder’s latest film was a political film and therefore a flop since it didn’t go far enough in castigating America for being in Vietnam. There is certainly a time and place for political analysis of movies, but AVANTI! should not have been criticized for not doing well for what it wasn’t even trying to do in the first place. Wilder saw the film as about love: a son’s new-found respect and love for his dead father, love between an American businessman (Sr) and a British manicurist, who died together, new love between a middle-aged man (Jr) and a younger woman, and love of Italy and its beautiful settings. Unfortunately, this ultimately sweet romance failed at the box office and lost $700,000.
Billy was heartbroken once more, just as he had been by the merciless editing of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, but with AVANTI it wasn’t a studio cutting his film to bits. It was critics not understanding what he was saying with the film. In a way, the censors had been far easier to deal with and get around. Wilder realized that the film world was no longer the one he had come into in 1934. What he had considered as one of his better films began to seem “too soft and too tame” for the times and the new breed of directors taking over Hollywood and American screens.
Still, he went on and made a remake of THE FRONT PAGE (another pairing of Lemmon and Matthau, 1974), FEDORA (a disastrous return to aging actresses hiding from the world, 1978) and BUDDY BUDDY (final pairing of Wilder-Lemmon-Matthau, 1981). That would also be Wilder’s last film even though he would live another two decades.
In 1988 longtime co-writer I.A.L. Diamond died, but Billy kept thinking of new script ideas and continued writing on his own. He never lost hope that he might return to the soundstages again. He revealed that he thought of himself as middle-aged until he reached the age of 90; when he mentally multiplied 90 by 2, he knew he was no longer in the middle of life. In 1989 he auctioned the bulk of his famous art collection through Christie’s and made $32.6m, more than he had earned from all his films.
Letting Billy Wilder have the last word, I’ll close with quotations that he felt described his life and viewpoint:
“People say I am cynical. I am not. I deal with the rat race and the human condition, the people who aren’t rats who are caught up in it.”
“I am a writer. I only became a director so they wouldn’t get my script wrong.”
“I’m the lion tamer who has lasted and not been eaten by the lions.”
Ed Sikov, On Sunset Boulevard, the Life and Times of Billy Wilder (Hyperion, 1998)
Kevin Lally, Wilder Times, the Life of Billy Wilder (Henry Holt and Co., 1996)
Charlotte Chandler, Nobody’s Perfect: Billy Wilder, a Personal Biography (Applause Theatre and Cinema books, 2002)
first published here: http://www.austinfilm.org/Page.aspx?pid=1155
May 20, 2012
michael j. anderson on Michael Snow & the 1970s Aesthetic of Excess: La Région centrale (1971)
If 1970s film aesthetics was defined by a single common feature, it was the principle of excess. In Hollywood, this quality of excess manifested itself in the further roll-back and transgression of Hays-era prohibitions, leading not only to the so-called Hollywood Renaissance of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but also to the well documented explosion of exploitation cinema. In Japan, the X-rated pink movies of the era bested Hollywood’s comparatively mild attempts to create a morally retrograde cinema. India witnessed the emergence of a relatively artless blockbuster cinema to compete with similar developments in Hollywood excesses in their own right – while Europe seem to discount the concept of popular cinema altogether. Indeed, in that latter context, the art film experienced its least commercial instantiation with running times often exceeding the 180-minute mark: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) comes in at a lean 165-minutes when compared with Céline and Julie Go Boating’s (1974) 190 minutes, Jeanne Dielman’s (1976) 201 minute-length, The Mother and the Whore’s (1973) 210 minutes, the four hours of Theo Angelopoulos’s Travelling Players (1975) and Manoel de Oliveira’s Doomed Love (1979), and of course, most spectacularly of all, Jacques Rivette’s 773 minute Out One (1971) and its 4-hour abridgement, Out One: Spectre (1972).
Along with Stan Brakhage’s Scenes from Under Childhood (1967-1970), Michael Snow’s 180-minute La Région centrale (1971) extends this principle of excess to the avant-garde. Of course, it is not simply for the film’s punishing duration, but more importantly for the scope of its ambitions – another era hallmark – that La Région centrale rates as one of the defining examples of 1970s film art. Like the cinema of Rivette, Snow’s concerns itself foremost with allegorizing his medium’s basic ontology. Before expanding on the particulars of this process, however, a brief description of the film’s singular technique might be helpful. From IMDb:
[La Région centrale was] entirely shot using a robotized camera set on the top of a mountain in the Canadian wilderness – in winter. The camera was mounted on a mechanical arm that could move in any direction (even upside down). Using instructions recorded on magnetic tape, the filmakers could control the arm’s movement, creating short “routines” that had do be checked and programmed daily. During the entire movie the only sound heard are mechanical blips and electronic noises synchronized with the camera movement…
From the start, we see a series of fluid, spiraling camera movements punctuated by jerky in-camera reframings. The shadow of the aforementioned apparatus is visible on the frozen ground. Shortly, the view shifts from a Smithsonesque (“Spiral Jetty”) pebble field to the horizon of this Northern Québec locale. As the film continues to unspool, the pre-programmed ‘routines’ slowly omit more and more of the icy, light blue sky until we are faced with this barring-less color field. At this juncture, the camera movement of the prior passages has become virtually invisible, though it is equally clear that the same strategy continues (which the return of the horizon will soon confirm). In the meantime, Snow’s image has collapsed into virtual abstraction, rendering the texture of the grainy 16mm stock increasingly visible.
So too are we made aware of the camera’s lens in the extensive flaring that characterizes this and a number of the film’s subsequent ‘routines.’ In these, moreover, the glass surface becomes progressively dirtier, thus giving us a sense of a world delimited by the lens’s impermeable boundary; the camera at this moment is more than the lens – it is a behind the glass as well.
The physical properties of the camera, however, are made clearest still in a series of jagged, diagonal vectors that imitate a bouncing when the camera quickly shifts directions after reaching the ground line. In these moments, the camera’s physical volume, its embodied quality in essence, is made manifest: the camera can only move through negative space; its lower limit is the same as the human body – even as it seems to travel freely through the heavens.
Speaking of the camera’s export to the upper reaches of the visible, Snow begins by offering us progressively larger glimpses of the Québec skies again before thrusting into the deep blue. Thereafter, Snow offers us segments of each splitting the screen, first horizontally and then vertically. With the latter configuration in particular, especially once the camera movement is sped up to the point of abstraction, Snow imports a sense of his mise-en-scène as film stock, passing through the projector in a succession of moments too quick to glimpse on the atomic level of the individual frame. In a similar passage rapidly skimming the surface of a mountain lake, La Région centrale mimes an image stream, run too quickly to be examined, but theoretically subject to a slowing that could again make the image readable once more. What we have is projection in short.
Snow’s work, in sum, highlights both the element nature of the medium – its division into discrete frames unspooled too quickly to be seen – and again the process of projection itself, with landscapes running horizontally and vertically before our eyes, at an ever-changing pace. In this respect, La Région centrale bares more than a passing resemblance to the work of Brakhage, from Anticipation of the Night (1958) onwards. This particular film is echoed in the film’s brief night-time segment with the moon swinging quickly across the upper right corner of the frame. In fact, as we see this single, luminous object crossing the screen, its projection like a flashlight broaching an otherwise pitch black theatre, we are made aware of its trail scorched onto our retinas in its absence. Metonymically, we are reminded of the film’s winter landscape, out-of-view, but still present in our collective remembrances. No less than Brakhage, La Région centrale is about the act of seeing.
As the film reaches its conclusion, Snow’s abstraction becomes even more pronounced with a thin band of land briskly moving in and out of our view. On this occasion, a second of the director’s work, Mothlight (1963), serves as a reference. However, in those moments of purest absence, the films of Paul Shartis emerge as the closer point of comparison, as for instance the filmmaker’s N:O:T:H:I:N:G (1968), which seems to counter Wavelength’s arguments for an ontology of cinema emphasizing space with one that highlights the fundamental work of light in the medium. (I was fortunate enough to see both films on a Madrid double bill eight years ago – one of the finest avant-garde double features I suspect I will ever see.) In this regard, La Région centrale positions itself as summa for the North American avant-garde of the previous two decades, while reframing this tradition within the newly emergent aesthetic of excess that would characterize the rest of the decade.
In the end, La Région centrale is the spiritual twin of Jacques Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) and that film’s allegorization of the filmmaking process. Then again, if there is greater emphasis on the act of creation, of invention in Rivette’s subsequent opus, Snow’s film emphasizes the projected image and therefore the experience of film viewing itself. (So they are fraternal twins, I guess.) In other words, Rivette seems more concerned with the making and Snow with the seeing. Of course, this is not to limit Snow’s ambitions: La Région centrale further makes us aware of our place on this planet, the workings of gravity and its stipulated absence, and finally this planet’s revolving trajectory through the heavens. Snow’s masterpiece is not only reflexive, it’s cosmological. There is, in other words, an excess of ambition here.
michael j. anderson
this review first published here: http://tativille.blogspot.com/2008/04/michael-snow-1970s-aesthetic-of-excess.html
May 19, 2012
May 18, 2012
this review first published here: http://notcoming.com/reviews/womanisawoman/
May 16, 2012
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May 15, 2012
first published here: http://sensesofcinema.com/2007/cteq/bellboy/
this review first published here: http://www.japannavigator.com/2011/09/japanese-film-akibiyori-1960-by-ozu.html
May 14, 2012
Screen: Danish Drama; Carl Dreyer’s ‘Ordet’ Is a Visual Sermon
Published: December 16, 1957
TWO unyielding forces permeate Carl Dreyer’s “Ordet”—the revered old Danish film-maker himself, and his beloved, omnipotent God of Elijah. And since each demands the same thing — total submission — every paying customer at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse must eventually gauge “Ordet” for himself. For in his latest screen drama the painstaking scenarist-director has remolded, as only he could, or would, a “miracle” play, originally penned by the late Rev. Kaj Munk in 1932.
This Kingsley International release, which opened Saturday, is an experience, not a show, and certainly no entertainment—a visual sermon of scalding, spiritual intensity. It uncoils, when it moves at all, like a majestic snail. Dreyer novices are warned.
The time, apparently, is some twenty-five years ago. At the fade-in, a family of marshland farmers worriedly trails an idiot son, who calls himself Christ. It closes, like the thickest of Bibles, as the demented theological student approaches the open coffin of his sister-in-law and, at the simple urging of her child, calls her back to life. These simple-living people are stern practicing Christians, frankly puzzled by varying doubts and at ideological odds with an even sterner clan down the road.
Mr. Dreyer’s primary concern is the first patriarch, magnificently played by Henrik Malberg. The old realist simply can’t accept the idea of modern miracles, not with one vigorously indifferent son, Emil Hass Christensen, and the other, his “cross,” a scriptural-tongued lunatic. In this role, as the catalyst who miraculously solidifies the family, Preben Lerdorff Rye (from “Day of Wrath”) glides in and out eerily, moaning in concert with a relentless wind howling outdoors.
Confronted with such a plot, most film producers would take to the hills. Mr. Dreyer, instead, reportedly took a quarter-century for thought, and it shows.
Framing a superlative cast in the simplest of settings, he has evoked a rigid but powerful blend of speeches and faces—the Dreyer trademark. Photographically, the canvas suggests a stained-glass window, with graying daylight, more often lamp glow, washing over a few cottage interiors. Very rarely, a wagon lumbers across the grassy horizon outside.
Both emotionally and intellectually the picture is hypnotic, and some portions will nail the spectator to his seat. One sequence of a sheeted woman, Birgitte Federspiel, dying in childbirth, as up-stairs her unhinged brother and little daughter equably discuss the hereafter, is even more harrowing than the witch-burning in “Day of Wrath.” In perhaps the most indicative scene of all — Mr. Rye’s spiritual babbling about a car’s sweeping headlights—the car remains out of sight.
Both the dedicated old man who created it and this extraordinary film are best appraised in two lines of the competently subtitled dialogue. “It takes him a little too long to make the Amen,” notes Mr. Malberg (of the village pastor). Then, “I prayed with all my heart; you see the result.”
ORDET, written and directed by Carl Dreyer, based on a play by Kaj Munk; produced by Palladium Film, Copenhagen; released here by Kingsley International pictures. At the Fifth Avenue Playhouse.
Morten Borgen . . . . . Henrik Malberg
Mikkel . . . . . Emil Hass Christensen
Johannes . . . . . Preben Lerdorff Rye
Inger . . . . . Birgitte Federspiel
Peter, the tailor . . . . . Ejner Federspiel
Anders . . . . . Cay Kristiansen
Kirstine . . . . . Sylvia Eckhausen
Anne . . . . . Gerda Nielsen
Doctor . . . . . Henry Skjaer
Clergyman . . . . . Ove Rud
Maren . . . . . Ann Elisabeth Hansen
this review first published here: http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9806E1DA1E3EE23BBC4E52DFB467838C649EDE
Voyage to Italy (1953)
reviewed By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Cahiers du Cinema called Robert Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, “the first modern film.” It’s hard to dispute that. Watching Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders playing a struggling married couple traveling abroad, we get the sense that movies were no longer fooling around and had finally gotten down to business.
This great masterpiece was the third of five feature films that Rossellini and Bergman made together (plus one short, a segment in the omnibus film Siamo donne). The others are Stromboli (1950), Europa ’51 (1952), Joan of Arc at the Stake (1954), and La Paura (1954). The legend has it that Bergman wrote to Rossellini after having seen some of his early films, and offered her services as an actress. Though they were already married to other people, they fell in love and caused an international scandal. They were married for seven years and had three children, including Isabella Rossellini.
Their body of work together is considered one of the pinnacles of cinema, with Viaggio in Italia at the forefront. The movie was a failure upon its release, and as best as I can tell, it was re-issued at different lengths, with different titles, including Journey to Italy and Voyage to Italy. Now, however, even though the general consensus has shifted, no effort has been made to restore and release the proper version on DVD in the United States, not to mention the other Rossellini/Bergman titles. Hopefully this oversight will be corrected soon.
Bergman stars as Katherine Joyce. An uncle has died and she and her husband have traveled to Naples, Italy to see their inheritance, a huge villa, and hopefully sell it. Sanders, who was probably best known for his Oscar winning role in All About Eve (1950), stars as the husband, Alex. The movie opens with Alex sleeping in the passenger seat of their car, with Katherine (Bergman) driving. This silence continues after he wakes; they can’t seem to talk truthfully. They complain and comment to one another, but neither one seems to really know how to approach the other. When Katherine tells a story about an old flame, a poet, Alex dismisses the episode as “foolish.”
Waiting around for some buyers to decide, Alex visits Capri, leaving Katherine at the villa. He tries to pick up a girl there, fails, and considers sleeping with a prostitute. Katherine, meanwhile, sees all the sights; the ancient sculptures and other attractions seem to lend a huge sense of perspective to her troubles, but leave her feeling sadder than before. The couple begins to talk about divorce.
The movie ends in a moving, triumphant moment, but perhaps the most poetic moment comes a bit earlier, when Alex and Katherine visit a site in Pompeii that has been newly excavated. They watch as two ancient bodies, locked in an embrace, are uncovered. The scene has a profound effect on Katherine, and then on Alex as well.
Viaggio in Italia does have a realistic look, and the scenes of awkward non-communication between the two actors take center stage. But Rossellini’s skill is apparent in the so-called throwaway scenes, the sights, the locals, and the way they enter and leave the frame. Like this year’s The Tree of Life, Rossellini manages to throw in centuries of history for perspective. By comparison, the problems of these two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans.
this review first published here: http://www.combustiblecelluloid.com/classic/viaggio_in_italia.shtml
May 13, 2012
April 24, 2012
April 23, 2012
keep reading this review here: http://eightandahalfcinema.blogspot.com/2007/03/mgm-musicals-02-summer-stock.html
April 22, 2012
this review by dennis grunes was first published here: http://grunes.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/rio-grande-john-ford-1950/
April 20, 2012
Felicitous Rooms: Fritz Lang’s House by the River
David Cairns October 20, 2005 Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 37
House by the River
House by the River (1950 USA 88 mins)
Source: NFVLS Prod Co: Fidelity Pictures Corporation/Republic Prod: Howard Welsch Dir: Fritz Lang Scr: Mel Dinelli, from the novel by A. P. Herbert Phot: Edward Cronjager Ed: Arthur D. Hilton Art Dir: Boris Leven Mus: George Antheil
Cast: Louis Hayward, Jane Wyatt, Lee Bowman, Dorothy Patrick, Ann Shoemaker, Jody Gilbert, Sarah Paddenn
Why does the crime of murder have such a potent clutch on the imagination of all human beings? I freely admit that I don’t quite know, this after years of studying murder from the viewpoint of the dramatist. The fascination of murder and violence for the human psychology is probably inherent. […] Gradually, and at times reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that every human mind harbors a latent compulsion to murder. (1)
In fact, Fritz Lang (1890-1976) was more than a student of murder – he was interrogated by German police in 1920 under suspicion of having actually murdered his first wife. The death was eventually – and not too convincingly – labelled suicide, but murder, suspicion and legal persecution haunt the director’s subsequent work, and are duly present in House by the River.
Lang, who trained as an architect, made many films with architectural features in the titles: The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), Secret Beyond the Door (1948), are and the fascinating B-movie rarity House by The River.
In 1950 Lang was coming off a flop, the aforementioned Secret Beyond the Door. This gothic romance/psychodrama about a deranged architect who may have murdered his wife, and who collects “felicitous rooms” where famous murders have been committed, on the theory that certain spaces preordain the events that unfold in them, was a project close to his heart and for which he had helped develop the script.
As a result of this failure, and perhaps due to his troubled relationships with movie producers, Lang’s stock in Hollywood had now fallen somewhat, though it would later rise again and allow him to make several A-list noirs.
But now he faced a choice between handling subjects less suited to his temperament (like the Technicolor war-yawn An American Guerrilla in the Philippines, which he shot later in 1950) or making his own kind of film – the dark psychological thriller – on greatly reduced budgets. House by the River represents an instance of this latter option.
House by the River is a gothic melodrama, and it marshals its limited resources to create a rich and pervasive atmosphere of decay and corruption, even though the threadbare production values often show. It’s also the Lang film with the strongest camp appeal. Though the director never attempted a comedy, and his work is not generally noted for its humour, here there is an unusual vein of absurdity which infuses the plotting, the performances, the cheap sets, and Lang’s immaculate but overheated mise en scène. It has some of the low-rent madness of Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (1945) – it’s Lang’s most Ulmeresque film. Both films feature accidental but felicitous strangulations of inconvenient women, and Lang’s star, Louis Hayward, starred in several of Ulmer’s films. Like Ulmer’s best work, The House by the River comes from poverty and it goes insane almost immediately.
Hayward, exuding fey neurosis, plays an unsuccessful mystery writer who finds himself – as Lang heroes rather tend to do – embroiled in a nightmare of concealed homicide. Attempting to seduce the housemaid, he inadvertently throttles her, and must spend much of the rest of the film vainly trying to dispose of her body and explain her absence, with the unwilling cooperation of his better-natured brother (Lee Bowman). Hayward then, somewhat perversely, appropriates his own homicide as material for a best-selling book, and the possibility of financial profit accruing from the crime is too much for his accomplice’s conscience. And all the while the ceaseless movement of the flooded river threatens to deliver the slaughtered servant back to her killer…
Amid tatty sets (actors practically scuttle sideways to avoid brushing the backdrops and rumpling the sky), Lang presides over a highly stylised, near-expressionistic drama of human corruption and implacable fate. At turns bizarre, hysterical and compelling, House by the River embodies all of its director’s idiosyncrasies, and takes some of his obsessions to ludicrous extremes.
Lang’s lead, Hayward, is a fine, sensitive actor, a South African who had been traumatised by his service in the Second World War. Hayward’s career boasts three macabre masterpieces. In James Whale’s The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), he plays identical twins, and differentiated his performances by playing them an octave apart. “You’ll never sustain it”, protested Whale, but Hayward, a trained singer, proved him wrong (2). In René Clair’s rarely screened and under-appreciated comic whodunit And Then there were None (1945), he’s a perfect light leading man, whose glib charm remains unsullied by the audience’s belief that he’s recently slaughtered an entire African tribe. He’s that kind of actor.
Here, under the eye of another master of the macabre, a wayward Hayward twitches and overplays like Vincent Price on speed, but the terror you see in his face is real: he was petrified of Lang, who persecuted his entire cast without compunction, creating a poisonous atmosphere on set which seems to seep into the celluloid of the film itself. Lang may have intended this exact effect, though it’s hard not to suspect that his behaviour would have been just the same if he had been directing Herbie: Fully Loaded (Angela Robinson, 2005).
Despite the low budget and quickie schedule, House by the River is often visually arresting, displaying Lang’s genius for composition and cutting. As his biographer Patrick McGilligan writes:
Light splashes off surfaces, moonlight spills through frosted windows, the wind riffles the trees and curtains. Everything in the film is dark and shiny and foreboding. Scene after scene shows the director at the height of his ingenuity – working out of the depths of his own despair. Lang’s direction was never so lush or smothering. (3)
The resulting film is flawed, but its flaws are Lang’s own, and fascinate just as much as the more successful sequences. House by the River may not be one of the very best of Lang’s American films, but it is perhaps the most characteristic, showing all his obsessive themes and stylistic mannerisms at their most florid and intense. The film is seldom screened, and any chance to see it should not be missed.
Fritz Lang, “Director Tells of Bloodletting and Violence”, Los Angeles Herald Express 8 December 1947, quoted in Fritz Lang: His Life and Work. Photographs and Documents, ed. Rolf Aurich, Wolfgang Jacobson and Cornelius Schnauber, in collaboration with Nicole Brunnhuber and Gabriele Jatho, Filmmuseum Berlin – Deutsche Kinemathek and jovis Verlag GmbH, Berlin, 2001, pp. 391-392.
James Curtis, James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters, Faber and Faber, London, 1998, p. 333.
Patrick McGilligan, Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, Faber and Faber, London, 1997, p. 369.
this article first published here: http://sensesofcinema.com/2005/cteq/house_by_the_river/
April 18, 2012
Bitter Rice (Riso amaro 1949)
Giuseppe De Santis’s 1949 film Bitter Rice (Riso Amaro) is powerful, exciting stuff. It’s a bewildering, multi-layered, and voyeuristic experience that borrows from so many different film styles, particularly American film noir, that it defies categorization. While it’s usually easy to red-flag films with multiple writers, this is a rare example where too many cooks did not spoil the broth: Bitter Rice credits a whopping eight different writers, and while this may account for the film’s slight case of schizophrenia, it nevertheless netted an Academy Award nomination for Best Story — and with or without accolades it’s still one hell of a movie. It also features a gloriously charismatic new actress who electrifies the film. There’s so much, on so many different levels, in Bitter Rice worth talking about that description becomes frustrating merely for the lack of a good starting place! One certainty is that this is a movie better seen than read about; so if it weren’t nearly impossible to find a copy I’d happily advise all to stop reading and just go watch.
On a water-cooler level Bitter Rice could be described as a romantic crime piece with undercurrents of Greek fatalism, and that if it has a flaw it’s an admirably pedestrian one: it tries too hard. Instead of the typical boy / girl story we get two of each, comprising a complex romantic quadrangle. Introductions are in order: Walter (Vittorio Gassman) is a thug and petty thief — as greasy as he is good-looking. His squeeze and sometimes-accomplice is Francesca (American actress Doris Dowling), a pretty but bitter thing who could be Ann Savage’s sister. Italian stud Raf Vallone is Marco, a cynical veteran about to drum out of the army after a decade’s service. Finally, there’s Silvana — Bitter Rice’s ball of fire. In the late forties former beauty queen Silvana Mangano made the easy transition to film; this is the picture that made her a minor international sensation. Walter Winchell offered the understatement of the decade when he said, “Silvana Mangano is sexier than both Mae West and Jane Russell.” Winchell didn’t go very far out on a limb but his point is well taken; even with her unshaven arms (leading countless critics to describe her as “earthy”), Mangano has a positively spectacular screen presence: it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off her — she owns the film. Mangano keeps her real first name intact here: the Silvana of the movie is an “earthy” peasant girl, one fully aware of her own sexuality and the powerful affect she has on men and women alike.
keep reading this review here: http://www.noiroftheweek.com/2011/01/bitter-rice-riso-amaro-1949.html
April 17, 2012
by Alan Rode
“I don’t think you fully understand, Bigelow. You’ve been murdered.”
The portrayal of an innocent John Q. Public suffering punitive consequences due to a seemingly minor transgression is an essential film noir theme of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. This compelling formula was used effectively in numerous films including Phantom Lady, Detour, Quicksand, Side Street and Desperate. All of these noir vehicles are based on the proposition that the slightest misstep by an Honest John (or Jane) can turn a pleasant existence into a one way trip to Miseryville.
This noir motif reached its zenith in D.O.A. (United Artists, 1949). D.O.A. takes the victim of circumstances theme to its darkest apogee. An entirely innocent man has his life turned upside down and horribly ended due to the most inconsequential of acts.
The film opens with the camera trailing the back of Frank Bigelow (Edmund O’Brien) as he walks into the L.A. Homicide bureau accompanied by the somber Dimitri Tiomkin score. Bigelow eases himself into a chair by the Homicide captain?s desk and proceeds to report a murder- his own. A literal whirlpool appears on screen to denote a flashback while Bigelow starts relating the final twenty-four hours of his torturous existence to a room of transfixed homicide dicks.
Frank Bigelow is a CPA from the backwater desert town of Banning, California. He is in love with his girl Friday, Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton) who is pressing him for a serious commitment, but Frank has the restlessness of a sailor who hasn’t hit a good liberty port. At length, he decides a solo vacation to San Francisco is the ticket. Bigelow tells Paula that his objective is relaxation, but after checking in at the Hotel St. Francis, he immediately hooks up with a group of hard-drinking traveling salesmen. Frank concludes the evening making an unsuccessful play for a milieu-obsessed blonde in an Embarcadero juke joint. Seated with his back towards the bar, a mysterious stranger wearing a scarf is shown switching the glass containing Bigelow’s drink.
Bigelow awakes the next morning at the St. Francis, hung-over with a bellyache to boot. After declining a hair-of-the-dog remedy from room service, he jumps on a cable car and, still feeling queasy, enters a doctor’s office. The avuncular doc initially assures him everything is okay then does a double take when the lab reports are checked. Frank Bigelow has absorbed a luminous poison that has no antidote and is 100% fatal within the week. After being advised of his diminished life expectancy, Bigelow panics and runs out of the doctor’s office. He bursts into a hospital emergency room and implores the doctor on duty for a second opinion. The doctor confirms the original diagnosis, (an era before HMOs) brandishing a glow-in-the-dark test tube containing a poison sample from Frank’s innards. When the doctor theorizes that the poison was mixed with the prodigious amount of booze Frank consumed the night before, Bigelow rants that he is clueless about why he was poisoned. It’s now the doctor’s turn to get panicky as he phones the Homicide Squad. When the shaken Frank inquires about the phone call, the doctor replies, “I don’t think you fully understand, Bigelow, you’ve been murdered!”
Bigelow flees the emergency room, running off-tackle through crowds of San Franciscans until he runs out of gas in front of a newsstand. He reflects on the finality of his dilemma, then determines to find out why he was murdered and by whom. Paula phones him at his hotel room and casually relates that a Mr. Eugene Phillips from Los Angeles, who was trying to get ahold of him repeatedly the day before has unexpectedly died. Bigelow is immediately off to L. A.; frantically pursuing the only lead to his murderer before time runs out.
The complex trail of clues and red herrings rapidly multiply in the City of Angels. Bigelow speaks to Phillips’ business partner, Halliday (William Ching), his secretary, Miss Foster, (Beverly Campbell (Garland)), Brother Stanley Phillips, (Henry Hart) and Phillips’ widow (Lynn Baggett) in rapid succession. Bigelow learns that Phillips committed suicide shortly after being arrested for selling stolen rare metal, iridium, which was purchased from a man named Reynolds. Bigelow subsequently discovers that he notarized the iridium bill of sale for Phillips when he passed through Banning some time ago. After a series of U-turns, Bigelow is kidnapped from his hotel room by a group of thugs led by the sadistic Chester (Neville Brand).
Bigelow is brought before an urbane, but sinister man named Majak (Luther Adler) who is more than curious about Bigelow’s probe. Majak tells Bigelow he is looking for the wrong man, relating that while he bought the stolen Iridium, he had no reason to kill Bigelow, until now. Chester drives Frank Bigelow to his pending execution, salivating over the prospect. Frank eschews his last rites by jamming his foot on the brake pedal and jumping out of the car. After a drug store shootout, Chester catches two slugs from a cop, and Bigelow escapes.
Bigelow bursts in on Miss Foster and Stanley Phillips and discovers business partner Halliday and William Phillips’ widow are having a long-term affair. Stanley relates his sister-in-law’s treachery while doubled over after being poisoned dining with Halliday and Mrs. Phillips. Bigelow confronts the duplicitous widow and offers to toss her over the same threshold her husband recently departed from. Mrs. Phillips admits that Halliday is actually the mythical Reynolds who brokered the crooked iridium deal and left Phillips holding the bag as the fall guy. Halliday threw Phillips off his own balcony with the sudden death being chalked up to suicide. After he discovered that Phillips was phoning Bigelow’s office trying to locate a copy of the bill of sale, Halliday poisoned Bigelow in San Francisco to take care of loose ends. Bigelow finally catches up with Halliday outside his office in the Bradbury Building and empties his revolver into him.
As the flashback returns to the Homicide Squad Office, he finishes his tale, “All I did was notarize a bill of sale!” Bigelow then drops dead on the floor. When one of the cops asks the hard-bitten Homicide Captain how to annotate the file, he barks, “Better make it dead on arrival.” A black ink stamp of “D.O.A.” is appended on Bigelow’s file and the credits roll.
D.O.A. reflects the photographic roots of director Rudolph Mate. He compiled an impressive resume as a cinematographer in Hollywood from 1935 (Dante’s Inferno, Stella Dallas, The Adventures of Marco Polo, Foreign Correspondent, Pride of the Yankees, Gilda, among others) until turning to directing in 1947. The lighting, locations, and atmosphere of brooding darkness were captured expertly by Mate and director of photography Ernest Lazlo.
Dimitri Tiomkin was one of Hollywood’s most renowned film composers who linked up with pantheon directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and Frank Capra to create some of the most memorable film scores in movie history. Winner of four Oscars (High Noon, The High and the Mighty, The Old Man and the Sea) and nominated for many others, Tiomkin’s D.O.A. score is integral to the melancholy mood of the film.
Edmund O’Brien carries the film with a frenetic energy that occasionally goes over the top. D.O.A. is so rapidly paced that a viewer is inclined to search for a towel to help O’Brien dry off during the movie. O’Brien was a veteran of many film noirs (Act of Murder, 711 Ocean Drive, The Hitchhiker, Shield for Murder, among others) and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1954 for his portrayal of a (you guessed it) frenetic press agent in The Barefoot Contessa.
A true craftsman, Luther Adler’s portrayal of Majak is the personification of understated evil. The film debut of Neville Brand as the vicious Chester is also notable. Brand, one of WW II’s most decorated combat soldiers, parlayed his primitive visage and simmering rage into a successful film career of nut-jobs, heavies and he-men.
D.O.A. holds up well after a half-century and provides first-rate entertainment. For film noir enthusiasts, it is a mandatory commodity. As a warning, steer clear of the 1988 remake with Dennis Quaid and Meg Tilly. Like numerous remakes of original works, it is hard to imagine a worse film.
Alan Rode is a film noir aficionado living in San Diego, California.
this article first published here: http://www.filmmonthly.com/film_noir/doa.html
April 16, 2012
keep reading this article here: http://www.randybyers.net/?p=239
April 15, 2012
by martin scorsese
read more of scorsese’s guilty pleasures here: http://mubi.com/lists/los-placeres-culpables-de-martin-scorsese
keep reading this article here: http://www.rouge.com.au/12/leisen.html
April 14, 2012
more info about the films of sacha guitry here: http://edinburghfilmguild.org.uk/wordpress/?page_id=58
April 13, 2012
April 11, 2012
keep reading this article here: http://www.harrys-stuff.com/cinema/lubitsch-merry-widow-music.php