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Looking at the entirety of Handler's remarks is helpful. "I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind. And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, ‘You put that in a book.’ And I said, ‘I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morrison and Barack Obama saying, “This guy’s okay! This guy’s fine!’" 1. The obvious deflating of the win by letting the audience in on a secret about a Black person. 2. The "Just let that sink in your mind." As if he were peeling back the curtain to let White folk know what really goes on with Black people. 3. The coyness of "‘I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornel West, Toni Morrison and Barack Obama saying, “This guy’s okay! This guy’s fine!’" #2 points to the fact that a person (especially a White person) never truly knows what is going on with Black people -- as we saw played out in Ferguson last evening with a return of no bill of indictment -- part of the logic of the decision includes the belief that Michael Brown had to be doing something even if it cannot be determined what exactly that something is -- he was not just shot because of White fear of the Black male. There are always the hidden aspects of the behavior/being of Black people which justify White apprehension. #3 is the White victim card -- that it is perilous to say anything about Black people -- even a factual statement -- without first getting insurance that one's statements will be backed up. Much surface racism is gone (but far from all), but the deeper racisms that Handler's remarks betray are a bigger obstacle since they represent a deep and ingrained attitude toward Brown- and Black-skinned bodies that holds them in perpetual distrust. White people may divest themselves of their overt animus, but far too many hang onto their deep distrust.
Tom: I have no idea of the motivation behind the shot about which I posted. In my writing, I generally do not try to determine motivations since I do not think they can be determined (and when I do go down this path, I alert my readers that I am engaging in speculation). Rather through the practice of close reading, I was trying to situate the shot in the web of meanings, discourses and ideologies in which I experienced it. The link below is to an article which describes better than I can the passive and stereotypical representation of African-Americans in the film: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/13/opinion/in-spielbergs-lincoln-passive-black-characters.html Two important quotes: “. . . LINCOLN helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation” and “. . . Stevens literally hands the official copy of the 13th Amendment to Smith, before the two head into bed together — reveals, once again, the film’s determination to see emancipation as a gift from white people to black people, not as a social transformation in which African-Americans themselves played a role.” It is the enunciation of black passivity found in the film that informs my understanding of the shot we are discussing. You are correct that the shot is – in one aspect – an example of Hollywood 101 filmmaking. But the shot is deployed within the context of a film that elides black agency – which the shot does as well in addition to focusing on the hero – in this case a white man, reinforcing the white agency/black passivity dichotomy the film traffics in. A spectator can choose to see the shot as an example of Hollywood filmmaking tropes and nothing more. She can also, as I do, look to see how this shot connects to the larger ideological representations in the film. I do not think there is anything sinister in this practice. As stated above, it is just an example of critical close reading.
Toggle Commented Jan 13, 2013 on A prophet at Some Came Running
Finally saw ZDT; some thoughts about it and the conversation that has ensued: 1. First, it struck me as a film divided against itself. I noticed right off the affectless aspect that Glenn noted, but immediately afterward I got the sense of a tightly scripted/crafted narrative. As Glenn said, Maya is introduced as an audience surrogate, but then the film seems to lose sight of her, then she pops up again, but each subsequent appearance felt more and more forced, as if the movie wanted to get away from her, but Screenwriting 101 forbade it. ZDT suffers from Chinatown Syndrome: "Maya is the surrogate; Maya is not the surrogate." Maya writing the numbers on the glass wall is Norma Rae holding up the sign “Union”; the rivalry of the two women is out of OLD ACQUAINTANCE; and the final shot of Maya is a (negativized) lift from the end of STELLA DALLAS. 2. Does the film endorse torture merely because it shows it? No. No work of art endorses anything simply by depiction/representation. The film does, however, show torture to have been part of the chain of events that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. From the statement in the beginning about "first-hand accounts" to the use of actual 911 calls, the film presents itself as representing events that did occur -- dramatic license in depicting these events may have been employed, but wholesale invention, i.e., adding never-happened scenes to the chain of events, did not occur. As for the attitude of the film toward torture, these are my speculations on how the film wished to present itself: torture played a role in bringing about the desired end. I do not think the film wanted to raise the question about whether or not torture is wrong within the film itself, but rather to allow the viewer to raise the question within herself as a result of her engagement with the movie. ZDT set out to simply state that torture occurred and was useful in obtaining a specific result. Again, these are my speculations about the intended goal of the film. I think the film sabotaged its own intentions by giving Maya the hint of a narrative arc (and sometimes more than a hint). That arc messes with the neutral approach the film wants to take. ZDT never finds a way to be affectless and narrativized at the same time as, for example, the Dardennes brothers’ films can be. Maya’s having an arc (and a conventional one at that when all is said and done) imparts a sense that the film does have an attitude toward what it portrays since the main character changes over the course of the work. Maya’s arc poisons the film's attempt to be neutral. Also, the film’s mise en scene displays Bigelow’s training at the San Francisco Art Institute – the shots have an “attitude” (so to speak) to what they depict visually, which can lead a viewer to look for the “attitude” the film has toward its content as well. Brian Dauth
1) On the errors and pandering of LINCOLN: http://www.thenation.com/blog/171461/trouble-steven-spielbergs-lincoln Additionally, the mise en scene includes several reverential gazes from black characters toward Lincoln. The film has no awareness of Lincoln's conflicted attitude toward blacks: http://www.theroot.com/views/was-lincoln-racist?page=0,0 Also, when Thaddeus Stevens gets into bed with his common-law wife, the two-shot is narrowed down to a close-up on the white character, rendering superfluous the black character who had just shared the screen moments ago. This simplistic exaltation of Lincoln against the fact of a historical record that is far more complex/conflicted is what causes LINCOLN to pander to its audience. 2) I admit that I have never been a Tarantino fan. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS was the first film of his for which I had any regard. I do find, however, that DJANGO UNCHAINED is a good film. DU avoids the overly fussy/insular feeling his movies have had for me. DU is expansive, providing a viewer space to respond. O’Hehir misses a precision in this film which I had experienced as over-determined and suffocating in QT’s earlier efforts, but I think he is wrong when he avers that Tarantino is just “pretending to raise these so-called questions.” Tarantino does raise the questions and they are anything but so-called. Also, O’Hehir’s charge of incoherence does not seem right when he is able to lay out clearly how the film does cohere even if it does sprawl – I wonder if the coherence he asks for is actually a request for definitiveness -- http://criticallegalthinking.com/2012/02/20/is-history-a-coherent-story/ Glenn’s view that the film is unfocused seems to be one way to experience it, but to me the movie is episodic, not unfocused. By loosening the narrative reins, Tarantino achieves a relaxed coherence where the story he tells is one version offered in dialectic with earlier versions of the same history – and which (in opposition to his earlier films) allows space for a viewer to critique and then construct her own version in response. DU is not an art work that is sealed off from the world, but rather engages it – straddling the border of late modernism and postmodernism in a refreshing way. LINCOLN by contrast is modernist (in its reactionary manifestation), offering up hagiography to be hosannaed. Where DU visualizes how history was written/inflicted on black bodies, LINCOLN mostly keeps black bodies in shadow and off to the side, acknowledging them only to elide them. Brian Dauth
Toggle Commented Dec 31, 2012 on A prophet at Some Came Running
Sorry for the double post. It did not seem to take by just using my name, so I signed in to try and make it appear that way.
Toggle Commented Nov 10, 2012 on Speaking of Bond films... at Some Came Running
In some ways, watching SKYFALL a few days after the re-election of Barack Obama (and the vote percentages that won for him) is an odd experience. Here is a film that proudly asserts the need for white men after an election that showed definitively that they can no longer dictate outcomes. When at the end of the movie, Bond tell M that they are going “into the past where we will have an advantage,” he seems to be echoing Bill O’Reilly in his lament: “The white establishment is now the minority.” Now, O’Reilly has been using this “end of white civilization” meme since last autumn, but it has been picked up by others subsequent to the results of the recent American election, and SKYFALL is an urgent please-come-back-Shane beseeching to white male control and power. M, the first female the series has had, loses the list of agents embedded in terrorist organizations (women are always losing things in those big purses of theirs). When M is brought before a Parliamentary committee, the film cleverly has a woman lead the attack (having a man do it would just seem sexist, so have a talkative viper-woman do it as M is resolutely stiffer than any British lip in history). Even Miss Moneypenny comes back – and she is black this time! But alas, she is also the one who fires the shot (taken on M’s orders, of course) that misses the assassin and hits Bond – not only do girls lose things, they can’t shoot straight either. Moneypenny has decided that the field is not the place for her (Whew!), and settles in behind a desk to be a dutiful amanuensis. And wouldn’t you know – her first name is Eve (we know all about the trouble her namesake started; fortunately her descendant has been securely secretarialized). And then there is the super villain – Rosa Klebb resurrected as a gay man with a bad dye job. Silva’s (real name Tiago Rodriguez – those damn Latinos! – traitors to the nation who expose agents so they can be killed and, more importantly, do not vote Republican) entrance is lifted from SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, and when he begins to speak I was tempted to think that Cousin Sebastian did not die at Cabeza de Lobo after all. Once again we have the queer male killer – ruthless, heartless, turned out in the fashionable way heterosexuals think gay villains would dress. All he wants is revenge on M(other) for her sins (yes, SKYFALL brings back Momism with a vengeance – the 1950’s never seemed so near). Made me wish I could have Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd back! But do not worry – once Bond and M(other) get back to the past, they are able to defeat Silva (who even tosses hand grenades like a girl). M(other) dies looking at her good son, who takes up the cause again from the new M (who is white and male, of course). The film then ends with the resurrection (which is what Bond claims he wants at one point) of the classic shot (denied to the audience at the start of the film) through an eyeball of James Bond turning, aiming, firing and killing. As red pours down from the top of the screen, the old order has been restored and a new beginning announced. As I said: a most odd experience. Brian Dauth
Toggle Commented Nov 10, 2012 on Speaking of Bond films... at Some Came Running
A kind word for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER: it may have been one of the first Bond movies I saw – on television as a teenager – and it has always struck me as obviously set in the year of its making (a timestamp most Bond films seem to try to eschew). I remember when I first discovered the Village Voice, there was a column by Andrew Sarris and Tom Milne that listed repertory picks for the week and one television screening. Once, the television pick was DAF, and Sarris wrote that Bond was “sleazy” in this one. I wish I could remember more, but it was this little blurb that put me on the trail of DAF. In a way, DAF is a failed Bond movie that succeeds in its failure in that it is nothing like its predecessors, and, in fact, consciously turns away from the Bond formula without being certain what kind of movie it wants to be. As a result, the movie reaches out in different cultural directions for guidance on how to behave. The film inverts the more usual process whereby a film imposes its style/codes on its times, and instead invites all manner of contemporary references (and doubts and anxieties) to imprint upon it. Specifically, the film seems to riff on and worry about how to be a man in the Bond tradition. Connery’s performance has a lovely Vegas-lounge-act quality to it – as if he were channeling Matt Helm as performed by Dean Martin. One can imagine this Bond as the true Bond who in the previous five films merely performed the Bond viewers had come to expect – the formula cracks here and retrospectively shades what came before. Also, DAF comes two years after Stonewall, and we have the gay killers, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, and the lesbian jailers, Bambi and Thumper. Bond, of course, prevails over both pairs, but the presentation is far removed from the lesbian-crone-as-killer portrait of Rosa Klebb. Additionally, Jill St. John is a working-class Bond girl, neither a sultry seductress nor a smooth professional. Plenty O’Toole – the more conventional Bond girl – is given the cement treatment in a swimming pool as if that type of Bond girl were being eliminated (and the swimming pool motif resurfaces with the appearance of Bambi and Thumper who thrive in the environment that dooms Plenty). Other niceties: * The original Bond returns to replace the replacement, just as Blofeld (being played by a third actor in the series) has many copies of himself. * Diamonds are hidden in the alimentary canal of a corpse and twice Bond is encased – a coffin and a tunnel – in a restrictive space in an attempt to kill him – more signifiers of queer anxiety. * The final battle is disappointing, as if the film cannot even muster a proper climax. * The wonderful theme song that is so erotic and would work whether sung by a man or a woman. * “Metz? How do you spell that?” – James Bond “M … Get out, you irritating little man.” – Dr. Metz Two years later in LIVE AND LET DIE – where there is a conventional attempt to re-make the series for Roger Moore – the film fails in usual and uninteresting ways. But DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER fails by not being what came before and allowing the audience to see its indecisiveness about what it should become – a rare treat in the often over-determined world of cinematic art. Brian Dauth
I agree that the images were beautiful, but no I received no "vicarious thrill as the Norton raced across the desert" (but recognize that such a spectoral response is possible). For me, all these images -- primly conscientious in their deployment of beauty -- seemed aimless and folded in upon themselves as opposed to those in COSMOPOLIS where each shot opened up to multiple/contradicting meanings. I think asking how an art work's form relates to its content is a valid question. By using 70mm as part of the film’s visual scheme, Anderson invites the question as to why he has chosen to do so. Avedon's use of large format for the subjects he chose is understandable, but why 70mm for THE MASTER? The movie is about a fraud and a bully -- two time-honored American types, but is the use of 70mm (and what its use brings to the image) meant to bestow some type of eminence or grandeur upon them? In my own life I have had to deal with both frauds (in the form of those who would cure homosexuality or otherwise pathologize it) and bullies (in the form of gay bashers), but those types seems hardly worthy of the deluxe treatment. Unless, of course, Anderson is aiming for some sort of satire, but THE MASTER seems as satire free as a movie can get; in fact, its dead earnestness is one of its charms – there is a precise, pleasing sureness to each image that even their predictability cannot tarnish. The film seems intent on conveying something, but its stale dysfunctional-father-son dynamic seems too small an object of contemplation for the heroic mise en scene conjured up. As I said earlier, maybe as a queer viewer I am excluded from the frequency that the film operates on, but the choice of 70mm seems intentional beyond just being done for the sake of having done it.
Steve: I do not avoid connecting with material as a conscious choice -- it is just that when a connection does not occur, I notice this fact and then look for a reason for this lack of connection. But just because I am not connecting with a particular aspect of a work's content, does not mean that I do not connect with other content aspects or with the work's formal attributes. Each aesthetic experience has its degree of connectivity -- and that degree can increase and/or decline over time and repeated engagements (and usually does). FB: What is your difficulty? Quite probably I expressed myself clumsily.
Toggle Commented Sep 17, 2012 on Olio at Some Came Running
I think Seitz identifies a problem, but his solution can be as troublesome as that which it seeks to address. Simple courtesy would indicate that people attending a film should behave in the manner least disturbing to others around them. But Seitz' imperative demands more: he believes that the superior choice is to "connect emotionally and imaginatively — giving yourself to the movie for as long as you can, and trying to see the world through its eyes and feel things on its wavelength." But what if imaginative connection is prevented by the cultural biases of the work in question? As a queer progressive I cannot imaginatively connect with a work of art that is racist/homophobic/sexist. I can recognize these (and other) ideologies as present and refrain from making comments during the film, but to "feel things" on wavelengths such as this is not possible since my wiring does not run that way (and unable to feel these things is not a failure of imagination -- not to comprehend that a person could feel on this wavelength would be a failure of imagination). In the instance of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the images he points out were regarded as sexist even when the film was released (albeit by a far smaller segment of the population than might do so today), and it is not an act of historical revisionism to see them as sexist now (and there are other ways of viewing these images as well). Sophistication is the problem only insofar as people believe that their response demands immediate expression, and I do not believe this is so much a generational issue as one of class. The world is rife with Biffs and Muffys who were raised with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement -- always catered to by helicopter parents who demanded that all who came in contact with their Christ-children acknowledge each utterance as a pearl of wisdom and each action as a golden nugget of self-expression not to be interfered with lest lifelong damage ensue. When you have run your family since childhood, it is doubtful that you are suddenly going to discover restraint when loosed upon the world (especially when mommy and daddy help pay your rent so you can pursue whatever non-renumerative career you regard as your destiny). In my view, the spectoral imperative is to remain always open to the possibility of a connection, and when one does not occur, begin the process of understanding why the connection is absent and refraining from any immediate announcement -- an admittedly onerous request for many people in this age of Facebook and Twitter. After all: mommy and daddy never said shut-up, so why would anyone else?
Toggle Commented Sep 16, 2012 on Olio at Some Came Running
First: THE MASTER. I am with Warren here -- not sure what all the fuss is about. Certainly the movie is now the frontrunner in this year's Het Male Agonistes Sweepstakes (won last year by THE TREE OF LIFE which shares THE MASTER's caricaturing of women and veneration of male woe. And just as with TTOF, I am sure that THE MASTER's partisans are primed to go Freddie Quell all over dissenters). The movie is straight forward in terms of narrative with modernist ellipses, but the film's awe of its own solemnity (all 70 mm of it) does not invite a spectator into the film to rummage around -- discovering/creating connections and meaning -- but instead asks one to genuflect before its seriousness -- not only does the film take place in an earlier time, it asks a spectator to assume an outdated posture of viewer passivity (unless the film is a satire of just this request and was executed with such subtlety that the movie itself doesn't know it is a satire). As a queer viewer, I doubt I am Anderson's target audience, but the highbrow bromance aspects of the film left me cold. The movie offers: a) Freddie looking for guidance from Dodd; b) Dodd failing to help; c) Freddie moving on and adopting/adapting Dodd's methods to use on others. All that spread out over 150 minutes: if Dodd's second book could be cut down to a three-page pamphlet, THE MASTER could be beneficially reduced to a 20-minute short subject. Warren notes that Freddie and Dodd "feel like ciphers" to him, but I think that they are even less than that. Ciphers (well-executed) invite exploration and curiosity -- Quell and Dodd registered for me as bundles of authorial/performative tics seeking applause. For all his talent to combine image with sound, I find that Anderson is painfully constricted when it comes to positing the central dynamics of his films -- a parade of male contests that usually take on father/son overtones. Edward Albee knocked off the Oedipus Complex in Act III of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" when Dad murders his blue-haired, blonde-eyed son. Seems times enough for artists to adjust to the new reality and stop misrepresenting the past. Second: Van Sant's PSYCHO. Shamus: the three films you mention are not the important works for me in his career. The case I make for Van Sant rests on the films I mentioned along with MALA NOCHE; DRUGSTORE COWBOY; and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO. As for VS' PSYCHO being more harrowing, I posted about it extensively at davekehr.com In brief: I argue that Hitchcock intended Norman Bates to be a sexually undefined Other, neither gay nor straight. In keeping with this plan, Anthony Perkins plays an ostensibly het male role pansy-side up. But time has played a trick on Hitchcock's film: we are much more sophisticated about sex/gender/sexual orientation so Norman now comes off as strictly gay (due in large part to Perkin's performance). I found it interesting that a group of straight men who saw the film upon its release said they took Norman as straight, while I and other queers I know who saw the film in later years took Norman as gay. Norman as gay makes nonsense of him spying on Marion, but as society and the consciousnesses it gives birth to change, it is hard to take him otherwise. Van Sant having Norman masturbate to Marion marks him as heterosexual and brings to the fore the theme of male violence against women which Hitchcock's version ends up soft-pedaling (not intentionally I would argue) by its positioning of Norman (the key scene here is when Norman swishes up the stairs. There is no other character in the scene, so it cannot be argued that he is swishing to deceive within the film -- he swishes for the audience in order to signify). AH corrects this error in FRENZY, but it sends the second half of PSYCHO off the rails. By restoring Norman's heterosexuality, Van Sant expands the horror of male violence -- visually reinforced by the last shot where the camera pulls back indicating the vast expanse of where female bodies might have been buried.
Toggle Commented Sep 16, 2012 on "The Master" at Some Came Running
I agree that FINDING FORRESTER is bottom shelf Van Sant; and as for RESTLESS -- I was able to see it only once, so I am unsure. But PSYCHO is a remarkable movie and far from abysmal. Van Sant queers the original, eliminating the homophobia (unintended as I have argued elsewhere, and more the result of directoral choices founded upon limited available knowledge, but present nonetheless -- hard to fault an artist for not knowing what at the time was unknown), with the result being that Van Sant's PSYCHO ends up more harrowing than the original. And if one compares the final two images, you have a perfect visual correlative for the transition from modernism to postmodernism.
Toggle Commented Sep 14, 2012 on "The Master" at Some Came Running
No Gus Van Sant?!? Just in the first decade of the 21st century he expanded the possibilities of cinema (both non-narrative and genre-based) with GERRY; ELEPHANT; LAST DAYS; PARANOID PARK; and MILK. Who else in that decade was that consistently good? Almodovar for sure, but he is not American. Haynes' MILDRED PIERCE was great, but he had not been that good since SAFE and Kalin has also been hit-and-miss.
Toggle Commented Sep 12, 2012 on "The Master" at Some Came Running
Some quick thoughts (I will try and add more later, but work is very busy for the next two days): 1) To read Jameson on postmodernism is like looking to Fred Phelps for nuanced commentary on queer culture. Jameson hates postmodernism and distorts it in order to attack it. There are many better guides to postmodern thought, some of whom I have referenced in posts at davekehr.com 2) William Beard captures part of what I mean in his book "Persistence of Double Vision" when he writes: "Hollywood post-modernism, by contrast, almost always stages this disbelief in grand narrative in conjunction with the (classical) grand narrative itself -- and both sides of the contradictory antithesis are consumed simultaneoulsy and disavowingly." That is what I meant when I wrote that Fassbinder, Eastwood, and Pasolini were rooted in modernism, but work in a postmodernist key. All three artists are transitional figures and can be appreciated from a modernist perspective with nary a nod to post-anything. On the other hand, Almodovar is best appreciated through a postmodernist lens since his work builds upon the work of these transitional auteurs. 3) There has always been self-referentiality and audience address in art. In some ways, I find "Moby-Dick" to be symptomatically postmodern. Postmodernism, though, combines these two techniques with other concerns, e.g., interrogation of Otherness. I love both "Tristam Shandy" and "Gulliver's Travels" and their pre-post aspects, but neither have the postmodern trajectory of "Absalom, Absalom."
Toggle Commented Sep 11, 2012 on Ellis island at Some Came Running
Zach: postmodernism in American literature can be seen as far back as Chapter VIII of Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom." Some would say that postmodernism was co-existent for much of the life of modernism (Lyotard among others). In cinema, some of the great autuers of modernism find themselves moving to/embracing postmodernism at the close of their careers: Visconti (DEATH IN VENICE and onward); Antonioni (ZABRISKIE POINT and beyond); Hitchcock (the final sublime 5 starting with MARNIE). Other filmmakers, though rooted in modernism, start out in a postmodern key and never look back: Eastwood; Fassbinder; Pasolini. Still others are are rooted in post-modernism -- Almodovar; Van Sant -- from the get-go.
Toggle Commented Sep 11, 2012 on Ellis island at Some Came Running
Also saw FRENZY with my grandmother -- albeit on television. My grandfather did not approve of such films, so he sat in the kitchen and played solitaire. Worst with parents was WORD IS OUT on public television. I changed channels after about an hour. When I went to the New York Film Festival with my Dad when I was in high school, he was fine with the nudity in the films -- he said that European directors were different in that the nudity was a part of the film and not just there for the sake of nudity. When the rare occasion when Mom went she did not agree -- though they both adored Fassbinder films. Go figure.
Toggle Commented Aug 24, 2012 on Almost too easy at Some Came Running
Shamus: 1) The first playwright who comes to mind is Ferenc Molnar who (upon checking) was the author of the source play for ONE, TWO, THREE. Wilder Americanizes his Hungarian source material with Cagney and the pace of 1930's Warner Bros. films. I would also recommend Georges Feydeau. 2) I had forgotten about Keyes and Neff (bad cinefile!). I think you are right about Wilder shifting his focus - which may explain why I prefer his later films. Wilder's best subject is men and their desires/complications. You can also see it in the difference between SUNSET BLVD. and FEDORA -- SB is about Joe and Norma with Norma getting the edge (though it may not have started out that way script-wise). FEDORA's focus is Detweiler -- Fedora (or should I say her incarnations) is ultimately the mysterious object that Detweiler never succeeds in unraveling. As Wilder allows himself to focus on men rather than women, homosociality and its manifestations takes center stage. In his book, Crowe asks Wilder if he is a misogynist and Wilder responds that he doesn't know while Wilder's wife says yes.
From the Department of Brian Does Not Have Enough on His Mind: From the films LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON to FEDORA (12 titles), Alexandre Trauner was credited ether as Art Director or Production Designer on eight occasions with the following exceptions: THE FRONT PAGE (Henry Bumstead); AVANTI! (Ferdinando Scarfiotti); SOME LIKE IT HOT (Ted Haworth) and THE FORTUNE COOKIE (Robert Luthardt). Maybe Billy Wilder's visuals were also only as good as his Production Designers as well.
Shamus: 1) ONE, TWO, THREE has never struck me as a cartoon -- a frantic farce in the European tradition -- yes -- but never a cartoon. Tashlin for me represents movies-as-cartoon (or at least the start of the trend which has now seemingly taken over all types/genres of film). 2) The character of Boom Boom Jackson is problematic. I give Wilder credit for trying, but time has not treated TFC well (which is the exact opposite of what time has done for KISS ME, STUPID). In some of the scenes between Boom Boom and Harry, BLH's approach of turning off the sound might be the best course of action. 3) I think I read the Ciment interview, but cannot remember for sure. Is it in the "Billy Wilder: Interviews" volume? 4) Wilder has said in interviews that Diamond was the real cynic between the two of them, even though it was he (Wilder) who got all the blame and scorn. I think his partnership with Diamond was a profound relationship for him, and both PRIVATE LIFE and THE FRONT PAGE are expressions of the intense homosocial relationship that existed. Maybe BUDDY, BUDDY is about (on one level) the indissolubility of the relationship (for both good and bad. Wilder did part with Diamond for a time when he was preparing AVANTI!, but could not get on track with anyone else and re-joined with him). It is interesting that Wilder at the end of his career should focus two of his films on the nature and intensity of the homosocial bond -- first broached in STALAG 17 in an oblique fashion where the ability of Price to form a bond with the other prisoners allows him to be effective as a spy. Only Sefton -- the outsider who does not bond -- everything for him is transactional rather than relational -- is able to determine the truth about him (and here Wilder's visual sense does not fail him -- the reveal is visual and the audience is aware of the intense camaraderie that is taking place just off-screen. Sefton's exclusion which results from not bonding is what saves the day).
BLH: In the Brackett years, A FOREIGN AFFAIR is my favorite also, and I do think his work with Diamond is stronger and wonder if it was because (in part) the collaboration went from Brackett's patrician airs smoothing Wilder's coarseness to Wilder's moral critiques softening the scathing cynicism of Diamond.
Shamus: 1) I would say that Wilder is a major moralist and not a minor one. It is why T7YI fails -- he could not make it realistic enough to incorporate his usual moral critique. The material was too cartoonish for his sensibility, but the only way the subject could be broached at all in the 1950's was through cartoon stylings. Wilder said in an interview at the end of his life that he wished he had that material now to work with. 2) I agree that from KISS ME, STUPID onward the visuals in his films are much more expressive (with the exception -- sorry BLH -- of THE FORTUNE COOKIE. I watched it last night and it was still as awkward as I remembered). 3) I agree that Wilder was the dominant partner in the collaboration, but somehow Brackett and Diamond brought out the best in him. I will have to dissent about ACE IN THE HOLE since, once again, the images fail on more than a few occasions.
1) I must agree with Glenn: T7YI is visually undistinguished. Growing up, Billy Wilder was my first and primary auteur (Mankiewicz was in the top three). But as I have aged and learned more (I hope), I have found along with Glenn that Wilder’s visuals are in most cases dependent on who is photographing his films. There is nothing terribly wrong with his framing or editing – serviceable is the word that comes to mind – but there always seems to be a deficit of visual expressiveness in his work. I find his late films, especially AVANTI!, to be the richest in terms of visual meaning. Also, in many of his films, Wilder brings his European sensibility to an American subject, but Axelrod’s play is so thoroughly American, that it would have taken a complete overhaul to make it truly Wilderesque. Wilder seems to have added accent touches to a work he could not/was not allow to dismantle and reconstruct on his own terms. The play seems like Wilder material, but Tashlin would have would have been perfect for the American het male smuttiness of the material (and I say this as an admirer of Tashlin’s work). From an auteurist bent, T7YI seems like a property Wilder took on in order to work – it is also the first film he made away from Paramount after he left the only Hollywood studio he had ever known (except for a picture or two), having worked there for 20 years (maybe another possible source of anger?). The post-Brackett/pre-Diamond period has the superb SABRINA (a film that is visually all about glass and transparency and the only comedy I know that includes an attempted gassing), but there is a lot of treading water in this period – Wilder needed not just a collaborator, but the right collaborator. Lastly, Wilder was too much of a realist to ever be the bridge to postmodernism; Mankiewicz and others would be left to take on the task of transitioning from late modernism to postmodernism (one of the reasons JLM’s films are so rich is that he keeps the heft/texture of modernism while jettisoning its snootiness). 2) Milton Krasner also did incredible work with Mankiewicz on four films. The cinematography for ALL ABOUT EVE is among the best things he ever did.
Shamus: What I love abourt Preminger's dozen movies from ANATOMY OF A MURDER through THE HUMAN FACTOR (his strongest period for me) is his continuing passion for mise en scene while chronicling the decline of rational modernism as his male protagonists lose their footing and arrive at increasingly problematic conclusions. His earlier films maintained (an often small) hope that rationality and male initiative could bring about a just conclusion, but starting with ANATOMY, his films give up on that hope while still maintaining the beauty and rigor of their form. ANATOMY's Biegler wins the case, but rationality is trumped by irresistable impulse. In ADVISE & CONSENT, Brig commits suicide because of his own irresistable impulse since there is no rational way for him to continue his role as senator and husband. In a final twist of the knife, Munsion says that there is no desire to make Anderson's "tired old sin public" (a rational political decision), but would he have said that if the sin was on the opposite side of the aisle? THE CARDINAL is a fantastic study of male failure in that Fermoyle fails at everything he does, and yet is promoted ever upward. The one success he has is when he demonstrates that the "miracle" of the statue is the result of a rusty pipe. The one time he is "right," he serves to lessen faith rather than increase it (supposedly his calling). At the end of IN HARM'S WAY, Torrey has lost a leg and the war is going on (though a spectator knows it will end, I believe the closing credits represent its continuation/permanance in human existence). All these movies are large films, but their largeness results from representing the collapse of the giant edifices of rational modernism and male initiative. Though I cannot read his mind, these films give me the impression that Preminger wants to believe that the practice of rationality ("official surroundings") can save humanity from itself, but his honest reconnaissance of society does not permit him to report this hope as being born out. What remains is his astounding mise en scene.
ALL ABOUT EVE/SLEUTH THE BANDWAGON/HOME FROM THE HILL TWO RODE TOGETHER/THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE ADVISE & CONSENT/THE CARDINAL HATARI!/RIO LOBO MARNIE/FRENZY AVANTI!/KISS ME, STUPID LUDWIG/CONVERSATION PIECE THE GAUNTLET/LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA IN A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS/FOX AND HIS FRIENDS/CHINESE ROULETTE
The choice to mythologize the characters also has the effect of placing the movie in the history of films where the lives of black characters are stripped of their social context and presented as universal types. Add to this the invocation of the tragedy of Katrina (a tragedy which was intensified and worsened by social contexts), and the result is a film that can be experienced as problematic in terms of what it chooses to avoid. Zeitlin chose this avoidance -- agreed -- and we cannot infer anything about Zeitlin or his politics from this choice. But every viewer is going to respond to this choice in her own way. I think it is a safe bet to assume that Zeitlin would like the film to be understood as an “askew quest story” (though it is always dangerous to infer artistic intentions), but that does not mean the movie will be experienced that way. I do not believe that pointing out the problematic positioning of the film (with regard to class and race) amounts to complaining that Zeitlin did not think the politics through to the extent a viewer wanted him to. Zeitlin thought things as far through as he cared to, and the movie should be received on the terms it offers – inclusionary as well as exclusionary. Viewer responses to those terms will then produce a range which includes Glenn feeling gratified and I.V. being offended. All a critic can do is record her response to the aesthetic experience she has.