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In its time the film boasted an unlikely leading man, Dick Powell, better known as a crooner in musical romances than as the hard-boiled tough guy Phillip Marlowe, so much so that the title of the film had to be changed from Farewell, My Lovely, that also being the name of a musical Powell had fronted prior to his contract with RKO.
Nevertheless, Powell gave a convincing performance as the smart-talking, slightly edgy Marlowe in this impressively atmospheric, low-budget screen adaptation of the Chandler story.
The plot is labyrinthine, leading audiences on a wild goose chase after clues that aren’t there right up to the final minutes of the narrative.
Marlowe is hired by the heavyweight-sized Moose Malloy, a recently released convict who’s more brawn than brains, to find his old flame, Velma, whom he’d lost track of while serving a stretch for an ill defined crime. Tracking her down annoys the wrong people and sees Marlowe set up for the murder of a new client, the effete Lindsay Marriott, while babysitting him on a pay-off rendezvous to retrieve a stolen opal necklace worth $100,000.
Officially titled Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, the film is nevertheless more the invention of its script writers than that of the author, whose original short story, first published in 1927, does no more than suggest a killing, sketching a single scene with a couple of thugs coming to a small-town diner looking for Ole ‘Swede’ Anderson to kill ‘him for a friend. Just to oblige a friend.’
Hemingway was not yet a celebrated Nobel laureate when the film was released, but he was already known for his reportage of the Spanish Civil War and his rumoured exploits during the liberation of France. Invoking his name in the film’s title brought with it a certain cachet.
Hemingway’s story leaves the suggestion of murder hanging, offering no motives or conclusions, and not even confirming whether the killers executed the Swede as intended. He did, however, offer a compelling clue on interpreting his story when one of his thugs tells one of the story’s characters that he ‘ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you.” To see a newsreel, perhaps, or a silver screen gangster story about events just like the one about to take place in the sleepy little town?
Following on from the success of the ‘sword and sandal’ epic Gladiator, Ridley Scott has delivered another impressive foray into historical spectacle with Kingdom of Heaven. Offering authentic scenery and sets, highly atmospheric, evocative photography by John Mathieson, and the large-scale spectacle of Jerusalem and warfare in the age of the crusades, it lives up to expectations of a visually powerful foray into the holy land of the Middle Ages.
Scriptwriter William Monahan has taken elements of authentic characters and events to present a story of an individual’s pilgrimage to seek redemption in a world scarred by the hypocrisies of religious fanatics and mercenaries gouging out their fortunes through rapine and pillage. Our protagonist might not have gained quite the redemption he sought, but he acquired instead wisdom, integrity and honour as part of his epic quest.
This review is a bifurcated foray, looking first directly at the film, in what might appear to be an overly laboured review, and then expanding on the topic of the ‘rich meaning’ that is suggested here to be the cause and justification for deeper examination than might be expected for a film of its kind. The aim is to explain a little bit about how a multi-layered, or richer than superficial meaning might be both constructed and decoded.
This film owes more to the conventions of stage performance than to the still developing craft of film-making, relying heavily on static indoor dialogue, though there are innovative crossovers, such as the seven-minute, single-take scene showing Bogart and Gutman ‘walk ‘n’ talk’ through four sets.
It was an incredible camera setup. We rehearsed two days. The camera followed Greenstreet and Bogart from one room into another, then down a long hallway and finally into a living room; there the camera moved up and down in what is referred to as a boom-up and boom-down shot, then panned from left to right and back to Bogart’s drunken face; the next pan shot was to Greenstreet’s massive stomach from Bogart’s point of view. … One miss and we had to begin all over again.
— Meta Wilde, Huston’s longtime script supervisor.
Cinematographer Arthur Edesons’s low-angle work,is unobtrusive if you don’t look for it, and can summon the vague discomfort of a claustrophobia not quite realised in framing ceilings and walls as containers. More obvious are his exaggerated shots of Greenstreet’s already considerable girth, and the barred shadows or patterns he used in various places to resemble the steel cage of a jail cell. The visualisation bears watching with the sound off just for its own sake.
This essay has been superseded in my thinking about film noir by my more recent critiques, especially the ones on Crossfire, Dark Passage, and especially Key Largo. I haven’t yet been able to spend the time to make a better effort of this piece, and it will remain here until I can.
Insomnia, I have discovered, can be put to good use if exploited the right way. Long hours of still darkness in which there is little to do but read, write, and … watch old films.
Some recent sleepless nights have been devoted to watching old American black and white films, each one proclaimed rather crassly as a ‘film noir classic’ on cheaply designed DVD jackets.
I became intrigued by the concept of a ‘black’ or ‘dark cinema’ and I broadened my ‘portfolio’ to include other films from the 1930s to the 1950s for which no such claims were made. Nevertheless, I came across a tangible but hard-to-describe common thread that linked a whole batch of these films by something other than genre, directors, actors or plot similarities.
One of the elements of this common thread was that many of these old films, though mostly devoid of special effects, colour or grand spectacle, were simply better than their contemporary successors. Somehow the stories seemed more meaningful, the visualisations more sophisticated, and the impact of the cinematography more powerful.
Another dynamic was that I thought I was beginning to get a somewhat deeper understanding of the psychology not only of the artists who made these films, but also of the imagined audiences they ‘spoke’ to with their art.
Underlying my thoughts on these dynamics was a deliberate search for common elements and patterns that I could apprehend as this elusive category of film noir.
That investigation was not as simple as it might have seemed, and ended up in a fairly personal survey of the films reviewed here.
On finally seeing the film I felt disappointed, almost cheated, that Tarantino had managed to attract so much publicity with such a minor film. In fact, it isn’t so much a film as a series of admittedly carefully observed but ultimately quite meaningless vignettes loosely strung together (the word ‘plot’ isn’t quite appropriate) by the characters Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent) and Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt).
The disjointed, episodic narrative is just bizarre enough to be based on truth, as is suggested in the credits of the film, but features the kind of seemingly nonsensical dialogues that are pure Tarantino.
It is the story of a young Jew, Shosanna, who escaped execution at the hands of the murderous SS Colonel Landa (Waltz) and manages to organise a far-fetched mass assassination of the entire Nazi hierarchy in her cinema in Paris. This plot-line intersects with another about an allied plan to do the same using a bunch of Jewish commandos notorious for scalping their Nazi enemies, and led by the red-neck hillbilly Lt Raine (Pitt).
There’s something not quite tongue in cheek about Grosse Pointe Blank’s approach to satirising the excesses of the 1980s; perhaps the subject matter is too close to home for me to really get it, having lived through that era as a contemporary of its main character. Nevertheless, it is an oddly enjoyable film — odd because it’s really quite hard for me to put a finger on why it was so enjoyable.
Apparently Grosse Pointe is a ‘nice’ suburban township near Detroit, Michigan. It certainly looks pretty ‘nice’ in the film. Just the kind of place you’d expect a high school reunion to take place, but hardly the location for a four-way showdown between seriously psychotic hit men, interspersed with sentimental nostalgia, and an extended existential awakening to the truth that it’s time to move on from a romanticised past and face the existentially awkward present.
We are drawn into the almost mundane life of hit man Martin Blank and see the world of that day, the later 1990s, through his eyes. John Cusack comes across as almost naively fresh-faced, youthful and … well, blank. An illusion quickly undermined by his profession as a hit man, and by his moral vacuity.
Given I know relatively little about Tony Abbott, my thinking about him has been shaped largely by his less than temperate right wing rhetoric, as featured gleefully as a sort of insider joke about ‘palaeo’ conservatives in the nation’s news media from time to time.
Imagine my surprise when he made some eminently sensible comments on the futility of punishing welfare recipients who also work a few hours (a speech Abbott gave to the Young Liberals Annual Conference on 11 January in Adelaide).
He points out that tax and reduced welfare payments for people who work only a few hours produce effective tax rates of almost 70 per cent. He acknowledges that this situation encourages people to conclude that they would be better off not working at all. This is a simple truism that appears to have escaped welfare policy-makers for some time.
Moreover, the welfare system has been fashioned into a monstrous bureaucracy that appears to be concerned with dehumanising its clientele, rather than helping them to find work. This is an issue on which Tony Abbott is remarkably silent. It may be that a deliberate policy has been implemented to make dealing with welfare agencies so unpleasant that its clients will seek any means to avoid such contact. If that is the case, it does not appear to be working, and may actually be counterproductive in that it further strips away self-respect, confidence and motivation.
Fight Club is slick, yet almost flippant, stylish, but brash and impolite, and gimmicky enough to be headed directly for cult status.
The story is challenging, confronting in parts, and iconoclastic in others. Its work of thumbing its nose at the unbiquitous anti-masculine, pseudo-feminism embraced so uncritically by American pop culture is almost undone by the presence of its teeny-idol stars.
The story targets millions of disaffected young men, like Jack (Edward Norton), an insurance assessor with yuppie pretensions, actualised in his catalogue-perfect domestic possessions, displayed for an absent audience in his yuppie condo apartment. A domicile empty, though, of signs of life and affection. Jack suffers chronic insomnia, probably as an indicator of the Nietzschean chasm he’s about to fall into, and seeks to address this manicured sickness by frequenting support groups for people with ailments he hasn’t got, meeting along the way the half-crazy Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) with whom he forms an inevitably love-hate relationship.
But the support groups are only a stop-gap remedy for the hole in Jack’s soul. A more profound change in his life occurs after the chance encounter of the feral Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a man with an eye for the profane and a penchant for anarchy. Left at odds by the mysterious destruction of his condo, along with all his yuppie possessions, Jack takes up residence with Durden in a falling-down derelict old house that is the antithesis of his former status ambitions.