Citizen Cohn (1992)

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Watching this old favourite again reminded me that US history is littered with corrosively corrupt people, some of them still inexplicably alive to continue damaging their nation and the people they ruin. Some are thankfully dead and unable to spread more of their virulent influence. One of the latter was Roy Cohn.

James Woods plays the malevolent Cohn with a relentless ferocity that made me wonder whether the actor hadn’t lost his mind when I first saw his performance in the early 1990s.

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The Maltese Falcon (1941)

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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.

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