Monthly Archives: June 2008

Anthony Mann

THE FURIES, directed by Anthony Mann (1950, 109 min.), in a Criterion box set.

Last night, I saw this grand, exciting, unruly failure, Mann’s first western, for the first time, thanks to the timely arrival of the DVD from Criterion, handsomely boxed with the Niven Busch novel that Charles Schnee (and Mann, uncredited) adapted it from. I haven’t yet sampled the Jim Kitses commentary, but there’s also an excellent new essay by Robin Wood that’s very attentive to both the strengths and weaknesses of the film, cross-referencing KING LEAR in all the right ways. And on the same disc, a Paul Mayersburg interview with Mann shortly before his death that was recorded for British television–the first I’ve ever seen–as well as a no less revealing interview with Mann’s daughter Nina, which introduces me to certain relevant aspects of Mann’s childhood: specifically, growing up mainly without parents in a Theosophical Institute in San Diego where there was an outdoor amphitheater that produced Greek tragedies, among other things.

My only complaint, really, is that there’s no allusion in the booklet to Arthur Hunnicutt’s uncredited appearance in the film––the same year he appeared as Chloroform Wiggins in Jacques Tourneur’s STARS IN MY CROWN. But maybe Kitses points this out.… Read more »

Horace Liveright/Noel Coward/Ben Hecht

THE SCOUNDREL, written and directed by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, with Noel Coward (1935, 76 min.)

Interesting to discover from Alfred Kazin’s AN AMERICAN PROCESSION–specifically, from the beginning of his chapter about AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY and THE SOUND OF THE FURY–that Horace Liveright, the onetime publisher of Dreiser, was “the model for Ben Hecht’s maliciously engaging film THE SCOUNDREL“. Having recently reseen and again hugely enjoyed the second feature codirected as well as cowritten by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, starring Noel Coward in the title role as Anthony Mallare (apparently his first film part, unless one counts his uncredited cameo in Griffith’s 1918 HEARTS OF THE WORLD), I’d been wondering how much of this memorable antihero was attributable to the imaginations of the writer- directors and how much came from life.

Hecht directed or codirected seven features in all, starting with the equally mannerist CRIME WITHOUT PASSION (with its deliriously campy avant-garde prologue) in 1934 and concluding with the rather awful ACTORS AND SIN (codirected by Lee Garmes) in 1952. All of them are difficult to find nowadays, though I’ve managed to track down a few from various Mom and Pop operations on the Internet. If memory serves, I’ve seen all or almost all of them in prints at one time or another–I’m not sure about ONCE IN A BLUE MOON (1935)–and it’s hard to think of many other American movies that are quite as eccentric in their fancy rococo dialogue and sometimes tortured artistic pretensions.… Read more »

Barack Obama/TV Commentators

Cable TV news on the night Barack Obama becomes the presumptive Democratic candidate for President, June 3, 2008.

I’m still trying to decide: Which is it that better deserves the label of Capitol of Doublethink–the United States, or television in general? On the one hand, there’s the doublethink of a seeming victory undermined by the refusal of Barack Obama’s main Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, to concede defeat—- apart from a dropped hint that she would accept the slot of Vice President on the Democratic slate, which also conceals the implicit threat that she might withdraw her support if he doesn’t offer her that position. Maureen Dowd in her NEW YORK TIMES column this morning catches at least part of the anomalous drift pretty well:

“But even as Obama was trying to savor, Hillary was refusing to sever. Ignoring the attempts of Obama and his surrogates to graciously say how `extraordinary’ she was as they showed her the exit, she and a self-pitying Bill continued to pull focus. Outside Baruch College, where she was to speak, her fierce feminist supporters screamed `Denver! Denver! Denver!’”

On the other hand, absolutely no one I saw on any of the cable TV news shows last night—-friend or foe, partisan or nonpartisan, on CNBC or CNN or Fox-—is willing to call Barack Obama anything except an Afro-American, racially speaking, despite the fact that his mother was white.… Read more »

Neil LaBute

IN A DARK DARK HOUSE by Neil LaBute. Performed at Profiles Theatre, Chicago. Directed by Joe Jahraus. With Darrell W. Cox, Hans Fleischmann, and Allison Torem.

I attended this excellent production exactly a week ago, after discovering that it was playing in my neighborhood, only a few blocks from where I live. As a film critic, I’ve seen five features that LaBute has directed, and liked most of them: IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS (the only one I didn’t like), NURSE BETTY (the only one he didn’t write or cowrite), POSSESSION, and THE SHAPE OF THINGS (probably my favorite).

This is a fairly compact three-act, three-character play without an intermission, each act running, if memory serves, for about half an hour. Each act begins with one character saying to another, “Go for it,” which is only one of the interesting rhyme effects. Most of it’s about the agonized and edgy relationship between two brothers, both in their 30s, although a teenage girl figures in the middle act, and this being a LaBute play, the onstage flirtation between her and the older brother, which may or may not lead to offstage sex, is really an act of aggression—the brother’s revenge against her offstage father (whom she may also want to get even with), a pivotal offstage character in Acts 1 and 3.… Read more »

Jean-Pierre Gorin/Jean-Luc Godard

A “PIERROT” PRIMER by Jean-Pierre Gorin, a 36-minute audiovisual analysis of Jean-Luc Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU included on the second disc of the Criterion DVD of PIERROT LE FOU (Criterion 421, 2007).

For some time, I’d been lamenting that the highly original manner and method of lecturing on a film inaugurated by Manny Farber as a teacher at the University of California, San Diego and subsequently developed there by Jean-Pierre Gorin had still never been preserved on a DVD, which in some ways may be an ideal place for it. Then, when J-P’s inventive and perceptive remarks on portions of PIERROT LE FOU turned up on the Criterion DVD last year, I was thrilled and gratified to discover that it had finally happened. I even resolved to write about this in my next DVD column for Cinema Scope. But then I somehow managed to forget this resolve (so many DVDs, so little time)–at least until I accessed and started reading Royal Brown’s online review of the DVD in the summer issue of Cineaste, where my eye came upon a reference to Gorin’s “professorial and often rather smug and empty analysis of the film’s first fifteen minutes”. Since none of these three adjectives comes even close to describing my own responses, I regret my failure to note my own admiration for what Gorin has done.… Read more »