Friday, February 15, 2008

Uncanny Overlaps

This morning I received an e-mail from a cinephile friend, Christian Keathley, who teaches at Middlebury College and is the author of the book Cinephilia and History, or The Wind in the Trees (2006). A while back, I did a post on his idea of the "cinephiliac moment." With Chris's permission, I'm excerpting from his e-mail below. -- Girish.

We've just started our spring term here, and the first week has been hectic as usual. I wanted to write again about something I'm interested in -- perhaps you might have some examples/ideas. (If I had a blog, this is probably the kind of thing I'd post.) For lack of a better way of putting it, I'm interested in the often uncanny ways in which one film's diegesis trespasses onto another's.

Here's an example: There's a scene early in Anthony Mann's The Far Country in which James Stewart, running from the law for having allegedly killed two men, is invited to hide in the steamboat stateroom of Ruth Roman. The crew comes in looking for him. "There's a killer on board, miss." "And you think he'd be in here?!" That sort of thing. When I watched the film with my senior seminar last term, I thought of how closely this scene resembles the one in North by Northwest in which Eva Marie Saint hides Cary Grant (another killer on the loose) in her train compartment. There, too, the authorities come in and question her and she plays dumb. In both scenes, the man hides in the woman's bed. This similarity can of course be explained by the simple fact that Hollywood routinely recycled scenes and situations, and not just in B grade features.

But watching it a second time I noticed two more similarities -- the first a coincidence, the second wildly uncanny. After the steamboat crew leaves, Ruth Roman pulls back the blanket and Stewart sits up. She remarks, "I imagine you look better with a shave." He replies, "My razor is in my saddlebag ... unless you've got one I can borrow." Of course, that's exactly what happens in N by NW -- Cary Grant borrows Eva Marie Saint's tiny razor, which leads to a comic scene in the Chicago train station men's room.

Here's the uncanny part. In The Far Country, just before the authorities begin to chase James Stewart, the steamboat captain calls out to the pilot, "Full ahead. Pull her north by northwest." Most curious here is the fact that there is no "north by northwest" on the compass: it's a cartographic impossibility (see Donald Spoto's book on Hitchcock, but others have commented on this as well).

So, are there other such moments? More importantly, what can we do with moments in which two films' diegeses suddenly and unexpectedly overlap like this? A fun puzzle to chew on over the weekend...

[from Chris's follow-up e-mail] Along similar lines -- the statue that appears in the first shot of Laura also shows up five years later in Whirlpool - same director, star, and studio. Apparently Fox's prop closet wasn't as big as we might have guessed. [A friend] tells me that there's a set of draperies that shows up somewhere in virtually every film Monogram Studios produced. These coincidences are explainable – or rather, they are easily explained away (which isn't much fun)...

* * *

Any other examples/ideas of such overlaps or coincidences?

* * *


-- Jim Emerson at Scanners: "A Journey to the End of Taste".

-- Steve Erickson at Gay City News on Film Comment Selects: "Much of this year's programming suggests an emerging "Europe Extreme" aesthetic, influenced by directors including Gaspar Noe and Michael Haneke."

-- Gerry Canavan at Culturemonkey with a post full of Philip K. Dick links.

-- David Bordwell: "Strategies of staging, like other principles shaping how films tell stories, lie behind each concrete creative decision the film artist makes. They run as undercurrents through film history, almost never discussed by critics. They form a body of tacit knowledge, flowing across our usual distinctions of period, genre, director, national cinema."

pic: "I imagine you look better with a shave."


Anonymous dm494 said...

The similarities between "North by Northwest" and "The Far Country" remind me of the really strange (intended?) allusion to "Faces" which occurs at the end of "The Fury"--John Cassavetes cheering up Amy Irving in De Palma's movie (right before being blown to pieces) is like a weird replay of Seymour Cassel consoling Lynn Carlin in Cassavetes's own film.

Speaking of De Palma, he's made the same observation as David Bordwell on several occasions, and he has complained that many of today's younger film actors can't act with their bodies at all because they're so used to being filmed in volleys of shot/reverse shot close ups, with an occasional steadicam trailing shot thrown in for good measure. I think though that Bordwell overlooks one reason for the displacement of the staged shot--the advent of the widescreen formats. 1.33 is not only ideal for closeups, it's also far more conducive to full-length shots and two-shots (the loss of which David Thomson was lamenting not too long ago). I'm curious myself to know from people how many contemporary U.S. films they can think of which contain a significant part of a conversation done in an unbroken two-shot. Better yet, how many can they think of in which the two-shot shows the actors at least as far down as the waist? I wonder if 1.66 isn't a great compromise--it has something of 1.33's suitability for closeups and staged shots, but it also has enough asymmetry towards the horizontal to provide the sort of compositional charge you get in 1.85 and 2.35 (and which I never feel in 1.33).

February 15, 2008 11:38 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

This is a slightly different coincidence that I think I've mentioned on my blog. Immediately after watching Smoke, a movie about a cigar store clerk who chases a shoplifter and has a photography habit, my friends and I went to a Dupont Circle bookstore where we witnessed the clerk attempting to photograph a suspected shoplifter with a Polaroid camera. The shoplifter knocked the camera to the floor where the button got stuck, causing the camera, which was sitting on the ground, to take picture after picture, rotating ever so slightly with each shot. For a while, I had the mistaken impression that the latter incident was something that happened in a movie until I remembered that a friend of mine had intervened (unsuccessfully) in easing the tensions of the situation.

February 16, 2008 11:25 AM  
Blogger andrew tracy said...

In an article on William Wellman in Cinema Scope a couple issues back, I noted that a scene in The Ox-Bow Incident where Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan contemplate a barroom painting was repeated with minor variations by Richard Widmark and Gregory Peck in Yellow Sky six years later - neither scene having any bearing at all on the rest of the respective films, just a strange little bit of business that Wellman devoted an inordinate amount of attention to.

February 16, 2008 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

This one may be intentional, but both JL Godard's Breathless and J Hughes' Ferris Bueller cite the same passage from William Faulkner's The Wild Palms. I've always found that incredibly funny.

February 16, 2008 2:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, dm494, Chuck and Andrew!

Here's one I thought of. Both Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970) and Truffaut's Confidentially Yours (a.k.a. Vivement Dimanche, 1983) contain scenes with Jean-Louis Trintignant in a basement room with a glass window above head-level through which we can see the legs and shoes of people as they pass by on the street!

In the Bertolucci, the scene is a dance party attended by blind people, and in the Truffaut, Trintignant is hidden away in a basement by his secretary (Fanny Ardant). In both scenes, the window and the legs/shoes of passersby are prominently featured in the frame. In the latter film, it is used as a surrogate expression of Truffaut's own fixation with women's legs (as in The Man Who Loved Women).

But here's the weird part: the footage of the dance party scene in the Bertolucci did not make the 'final cut' when the fllm was originally released and was only put into the film for the first time in the complete version released a couple of years ago and now available on dvd...

February 16, 2008 3:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

dm494 -- Those are thoughtful points you make about widescreen. I need to go back and check The Way Hollywood Tells It and Figures Traced in Light and see how they address the issue of widescreen and its influence on staging...

Andrew -- I remember a weird scene from Hitchcock's Suspicion where two detectives pay a visit to Joan Fontaine/Cary Grant's house and linger for an inordinately long time on a painting on the wall for little narrative reason (or if there was a reason, I've now forgotten it, although I sure remember that strange painting).

Chuck -- I didn't know about the Godard-Hughes overlap. I know there is yet another film that references Wild Palms but I can't seem to remember which one...

February 16, 2008 3:21 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

Ferris Bueller's Day Off has multiple scenes reminiscent of Godard's Bande à part too, so I suspect the overlap may be deliberate there, but it's no less amusing for that. I remember see the Godard again not long after an open-air summer screening of Hughes's film and thinking, wait just a minute...!

More recently, I was struck by the scenes that confronted the titular characters in Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007) and The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006) with animals - horses in the first film and a stag in the secone. The scenes play out nearly identically, and each is an almost surreal encounter within the specific film, a respite from a reality that threatens to overwhelm. The films move in radically different directions afterwards.

I pottered about a bit online and apparently there's a Wild Palms reference in the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), too. Perhaps that's the one you're thinking of?

February 16, 2008 4:07 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Oh dear. A Taoist could have too much fun with all this synchronicity. At this year's Noir City I started slipstreaming in theme and time as well noticing that Diego Rivera's painting of the flower carrier keeps popping up as a set piece in various noirs.

One might start foregoing plot altogether just to court a coincidence or two. Or, in other words, where's a quantum physicist when you really need one?

February 16, 2008 7:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Gareth -- I've been doing some John Hughes revisits lately (Pretty in Pink has been my favorite so far), so I'll be watching Ferris Bueller soon. And this is embarrassing but I haven't seen O Brother yet.

I remembered: I was thinking of the structure of Agnes Varda's La Pointe Courte, which combines two parallel narrative lines and stylistic approaches in knowing emulation of "Wild Palms."

February 16, 2008 8:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Maya, festivals are sites of synchronicity, no question! At TIFF '04, I saw 18 straight films with a dog in them (yes, a dog makes an appearance in Cafe Lumiere! And lots of them at Beatrice Dalle's beck and call in L'Intrus), my streak finally broken by Chantal Akerman's wonderful Tomorrow We Move, which disappointed me only on account of canine absence and no other...

February 16, 2008 8:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Film Comment Selects 2008: A large entry at The House Next Door by Keith Uhlich, Dan Callahan, Jeremiah Kipp and Steven Boone.
-- Pacze Moj at Critical Culture has a new post called "Adopt an Orphaned Film" in which he announces a new site called "Films Without Families.":
"Its goal is to use existing digital and internet technologies to preserve and share films that have so far been overlooked, inaccessible, or both. [...] You can adopt an orphan film by downloading, sharing, watching, and writing about it."
-- In response to the previous post here on "short. sharp solos", The Listening Ear has a list of 10 short rock solos "that feel like epics."

February 16, 2008 8:47 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

Speaking of coincidences: I saw Jose Luis Guerin's En Construccion (Work in Progress) last week - it's fascinating how much it has in common with Pedro Costa's Vanda's Room - which was being shot (both of them over several years) at more or less exactly the same time. Both set in slums that are being destroyed; both shot with the inhabitants of the slums (and the construction workers, in Guerin's film), who do something that's a mix of being themselves and playing themselves; both anchored on a tough, funny, husky voiced dark haired drug using woman - they don't just anchor the films they anchored the productions, judging from what Guerin (and Costa, when he was in town) have said, giving the crew a place to stay, introducing them to people, etc... it's striking - if one had come before the other, it would be reasonable enough to think they were inspired by the other, but they are almost perfect contemporaries...

February 16, 2008 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Filipe said...

Costa and Guerin know each other, so I wouldn't be surprised if both were aware of the overlaps between their projects during their lenght shooting (despite many key diferances staring with one being shot on DV and the other on 35mm).

February 16, 2008 11:27 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

There is the Jennifer Connelly shot of her at the edge of a pier that has been repeated by two, possibly three filmmakers. Dark City, Waking the Dead, Requiem for a Dream.

Not quite the same thing, but I always wondered if Liberty Valance and Cherry Valance were related.

By the way, I recall reading that Hitchcock had originally intended for Stewart to star in North by Northwest.

February 16, 2008 11:56 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

That's really fascinating. I wonder if it was some kind of in-joke on Ernest Lehman's part. Ruth Roman starred in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" in 1951, three years before "The Far Country" ...

And speaking of props from "Laura" showing up elsewhere, Filmbrain fooled me with one of his screen capture quizzes just a few months ago. You can see them both here:

February 17, 2008 2:47 AM  
Anonymous dm494 said...

The Diego Rivera bit is funny. Godard has made at least two films in which you can see a reproduction of Rubens's painting "The Straw Hat", which is a portrait of Susanne Fourment, the sister of his second wife Helene. (I think the films are "For Ever Mozart" and "Notre Musique".)

Jim may have pinpointed one reason for these overlaps. Who are the screenwriters on these pictures? Someone check for Jules Furthman's name.

Girish, I didn't know the party for the blind scene wasn't in the theatrical release of "The Conformist". But here's one to add to your list: "What Lies Beneath" has a scene with Michelle Pfeiffer and Joe Morton in Morton's basement office--if memory serves, there's a window over their heads through which you can see the legs of pedestrians passing by.

And on Bordwell again: he should really address Cukor, who is central to any discussion of the issue of staged shots. I wonder also how he would relate such shots, which create visual complexity through blocking of actors within the frame, to shots which position motionless actors in different planes which are defined through the use of a split diopter lens or rack focus.

February 17, 2008 8:40 AM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

It's funny: I think this thing that I threw up on ViH last night may have been written as a subconscious response to your last three posts. Also, I've just been thinking about Hitchcock, and these films, a lot, so there's just a bunch of trajectories all pointing towards this.

I think there's probably an artistic decision (conscious or subconscious) behind a lot of these uncanny overlaps. I watched _L'intrus_ again last night. Denis' relationships with each of her actors in her little troupe is something I'm continually fascinated with. To watch Gregoire Colin grow up into this father in _L'intrus_ (most markedly from the baby boy of _Nénette et Boni_) is a real treat. Also, it's cool to see the Forrestier character evolve, from Godard to _Beau Travail_ to _L'intrus_, and track his narrative that way as much as within each film. Then, of course, there's Beatrice Dalle. She's almost a spectre in _L'intrus_; but no more than Katerina Golubeva, who is almost always some kind of spirit more than a character. I think you could do this kind of study with any auteur, really, but I guess it seems more pronounced in the work of people like Denis and Hitchcock whose films rely on a kind of familiarity (intentionality) with the actors.

Does any of this speak to what you're interested in, Girish? I just stopped typing and realized I didn't know what I just typed. A reminder that on grey days like today I need to drink coffee before the day's writing begins. (And again before that _Out 1: Spectre_ -- another movie "about" its actors as much as it's "about" its plot -- screening at PFA later. Talk about synchronicity, right?)

February 17, 2008 12:15 PM  
Blogger Christian Keathley said...

Peter's question about the relationship between Liberty Valance and Cherry Valance is fabulous -- reminiscent of David Thomson's book Suspects, which imagines connections between scors of movie characters. Yes, Hitchcock originally considered Stewart for N by NW, but knew he wasn't right and held out for Cary Grant. Jim Emerson's Ruth Roman connection is a good point, but I can't honestly believe Lehman or Hitchcock would have engaged in such an elaborate, but very opaque reference. I like it better as a pure example of Freud's definition of the uncanny" a repetition where one should not occur.

February 17, 2008 1:10 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Christian: The "Far Country"/"NxNW" echoes may well be coincidental, or unconscious on someone's part. I threw out the Ruth Roman connection having no idea if it meant anything. But there it is. I love the way we humans are compelled to find patters, whether we can attribute causality to them or not.

Everybody: I often wonder (especially when reviewing contemporary genre films) how much is stolen, unconsciously repeated, or fondly included as an hommage. For example, I just reviewed the teen comedy "Charlie Bartlett," which includes a pastiche of types and scenes from the teen coming-of-age comedies of the 1970s-1990s. There's a scene where the teen hero starts running an illegal prescription drug market and counseling service out of the boys restroom, and it took me a while to realize where I'd seen it before. At first I thought it was Damone in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." But no -- it's from "Rock 'n' Roll High School," with Clint Howard using a stall for his "office" and a line of clients stretching down the hall. I hope that one, at least, was a deliberate reference on the filmmakers' part...

February 17, 2008 6:35 PM  
Blogger dave said...

I'm very interested in concerns of intentionality with 'homage/theft.' When I reviewed Kill Bill, Vol. 1 for a (now defunct) website in the year of it's release, I posited that every frame of that film has the feel of being a reference to a long-forgotten moment of mastery in films long since unseen. Whether these are unconscious references or intentional ones - or more likely a mixture thereof - is impossible to tell without a guided tour through the film by QT himself.

I'm also reminded of the minor controversy over Bob Dylan's use of lyrics sourced in the poetry of Henry Timrod. In each case, the (contemporary) artists in question have developed encyclopedic cultural memories of obscurities that they recombine in new ways to make their art -- through conscious appropriation or subconscious 'borrowing.'

I'm (almost) convinced that in both cases, a high percentage of their work is created through this process of borrowing and recombination. It might take hundreds of years of scholarship by many working academics to source it all, but it's a theoretical possibility.

At a certain point, the ability to distinguish between memory of things that happened, memory of things you thought, and memory of things you saw or read becomes near-impossible as the memories become more distant and cultural consumption continues to oversaturate. Chuck mentioned this fusion of memories in his post above, but I can't help but think for some people the ontological line between these things just isn't as clear.

February 17, 2008 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." Hamlet (Act II).
Both of these films are quoting Hamlet.

February 17, 2008 8:36 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

My guess is that when there are a couple years between the films, and if the films are films people should have seen - the "quotes" are, probably, quotes. The similarities between The Far Country and North By Northwest could very well be deliberate nods to the earlier film - maybe from when Jimmy Stewart was expected to play the lead in NxNW... maybe.

What gets stranger is when films quote more obscure films. Wes Anderson quotes an old Ozu film - Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth? in Rushmore - the gag about a studious looking kid being the worst student in the school... given that Anderson is an obvious Ozu fan, it's not far-fetched that he has seen those old films... More unusual is the fact that the famous gag in Crocodile Dundee - "you call that a knife? that's no knife - now that's a knife!" - occurs in most of its particulars in Ozu's Good Morning - though it's funnier, since the joke is delivered by an old woman, who, faced with an intimidating salesman with a penknife produces a big butcher knife.... If Ozu is being quoted by a Crocodile Dundee movie - that's impressive....

Come to think of it - Pedro Costa repeats another gag from Good Morning - Ventura tells a story of being so drunk he woke up in the wrong house - which happens to one of the men in Good Morning. Though Costa's another Ozu fan, so that is probably a deliberate quote...

February 17, 2008 9:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all!
And esp. Chris for stimulating this discussion...

Ry, I enjoyed your post last night and was going to link to it today so I'm glad you did. Your examples remind me that Gregoire Colin and Alice Houri also played brother and sister before Nenette et Boni, in U.S. Go Home (co-written by Denis with Anne Wiazemsky, of Godard and Bresson fame).

You brought up familarity with actors. This is something that's extremely pronounced in Bollywood cinema. There's a great, rich tradition of cinema poster-making and -displaying in India (in both urban and rural areas). But here's the interesting thing: they almost never contain the names of any performers! Because the audience is already intimately familiar with them by sight. (The book Cinema India by Rachel Dwyer and Divia Patel collects lots of examples and stills documenting "the visual culture of Hindi film.")

Sam, you sure know your Ozu! After you mentioned the Guerin retrospective, I discovered that the Harvard Film Archive has its schedules and programs archived for the last 10 years, which makes for great browsing.

All -- I just looked up Ken Mogg's excellent The Alfred Hitchcock Story (1999), and found this: "The two [Hitchcock and Lehman] began work, calling their project In a North-Westerly Direction, a title later changed at the suggestion of MGM itself to North by Northwest. (Any allusion to Hamlet's madness, notes John Russell Taylor, was entirely accidental.)"

February 17, 2008 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Girish, Ken Mogg has himself commented on this discussion thread on another (Hitchcockian) discussion group. Here's his analysis:

"Very interesting. I think the answer lies in the fact that the plot
of NxNW (1959) was originally going to move to Alaska at one point -
which is where THE FAR COUNTRY (1955) is set. Sounds to me very
likely that Hitch and Lehmann looked at Mann's film during their
'research', given that, early on, James Stewart was pressing Hitch to
let him star in NxNW (though Hitch quickly sensed that Cary Grant
would be more suitable).

We know that Hitch loved to re-imagine other directors' scenes into
situations he could use in his own films. So the steamboat stateroom
scene in TFC may well have sparked the moment in NxNW when Thornhill
must hide in the luggage compartment (not the bed, as the
correspondent mistakenly says) of Eve on board the train.

What especially intrigues me is that the reference to the ladies'
razor in TFC was then picked up by Hitch and Lehman and 'bisociated'
with the moment in Graham Greene's novel 'The Confidential Agent'
(1939) in which the hero escapes detection when a policeman comes
knocking at his door by smothering his face in shaving lather and
starting to shave - with a ladies' razor! This is a perfect example
of what I've often claimed about Hitch's creative imagination and
creative method, and relates to his conception of 'pure cinema' -
which is closely related to 'pure imagination' (and ultimately, of
course, the flow of 'pure Will').

And now we know the likely original inspiration for the very title of
NxNW - NOT 'Hamlet' (a theory which Hitch and Lehman reportedly
laughed at) and not even 'Northwest Airlines' (that got bisociated by
its story associations to the title NxNW, which itself, we can now
fully understand, mutated from the working-title 'In a Northwesterly

Btw, I half suspect that Hitch thought of moving the plot of his film
as far as Alaska because that was virtually another John Buchan locale
- Buchan's final novel, the rather melancholy 'Sick Heart River'
(1940), was set in remotest north-west Canada."

February 17, 2008 9:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Adrian, thank you so much for that!
This is most interesting...

February 17, 2008 10:07 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And here is Ken Mogg's packed Hitchcock webpage, 'The MacGuffin'.

February 17, 2008 10:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Chris sent me this pair of images with the statue in Laura and Whirlpool.

February 18, 2008 9:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1922-2008.
-- Kent Jones pops up in the comments section discussion at Dave Kehr's.
-- Dennis Lim on Jacques Rivette in the NYT:

"Faithful as his new movie is to its source, Mr. Rivette declines to call it an adaptation. “I don’t like that word,” he said. “Adaptation implies the possibility that a film will be the equivalent or an illustration of a book.”

As an alternate term, he proposed “compression.” “I felt a little like César,” he said, referring to the French artist known for his scrap-iron sculptures. “In relation to a book that is so delicate, I’m coming along with my compactor and crushing it up.” The genesis of “The Duchess of Langeais” illustrates Mr. Rivette’s belief that the story, far from the raison d’être, is often simply the pretext for the film. The initial impulse this time was to make a movie with Ms. Balibar, the star of his 2001 ensemble comedy, “Va Savoir,” and Mr. Depardieu, who had appeared in a film he admired, Leos Carax’s “Pola X.” “The curiosity to find out what happens when two actors come together,” he said, is often a motivating factor. [...]

With a finished script in place before shooting, the film was more premeditated than most of Mr. Rivette’s movies. But not everything was planned. “We had a precise text, but there was no choreography, no stage direction,” he said. Decisions about how a scene would be played and composed were made on the spot and — in keeping with Mr. Rivette’s longstanding philosophy — often entrusted to the actors. Since “L’Amour Fou” (1969), his seismic portrait of an imploding relationship, he has, to varying degrees, ceded control to his performers, who assume a genuinely collaborative role.

Ms. Balibar said that on Mr. Rivette’s shoots it often falls on one of the actors to be “the envoy of the director.” On “Va Savoir” it was Sergio Castellitto, who played the director of a theater troupe. On “The Duchess of Langeais,” she said, “I had that function because my character, at least at the start, is very much a director of her own story.”

The beauty of Mr. Rivette’s philosophy, she added, is that it does not even require the actors to be in tune with it. “Guillaume was ill at ease with how we worked,” she said, “but it didn’t matter at all because I think Jacques’s idea of cinema is similar to installation in a way. There are some people in a room, and we’ll see what happens. You let the unconscious of the actors do the work.”"

February 18, 2008 12:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Dave Kehr on Richard Fleischer in the NYT.
-- Acquarello posts reviews from Film Comment Selects.
-- via Craig Keller, I just discovered a filmblog called Shadowplay, run by David Cairns. From a sample post:

"Once more I turn the dog-eared pages of Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast. In the early ’70s, an elderly Fritz goes out to dinner with his young friend (or “friend”?) Howard Vernon:

‘The headwaiter scurried over, whispering to Howard Vernon, “Mr. Lang…Mr. Lang…isn’t he connected with the cartoons?” Vernon whispered back, “No, that is Walter Lantz. This is Fritz Lang, the director.” “Because,” said the headwaiter, “I really wanted to tell him how much I love the Woody Woodpeckers.” “Oh,” said Vernon, “don’t tell him that.”‘

"But damnit, Lang WAS involved with the cartoons!"

February 19, 2008 7:46 AM  
Blogger girish said...

From Dave's piece on Richard Fleischer in the NYT that I linked to above:

"Unlike the current strain of serial killer films, from “The Silence of the Lambs” to “Saw IV,” Fleischer’s don’t invite the spectator to identify surreptitiously with the power and impunity of the murderer, but neither are they simple expressions of moral outrage. They focus, with sober detachment, on the details of crime and the working of the criminal mind, expressing no more shock than would a documentary on the functioning of the Ford assembly line. [...]

Violent death may seem a strange preoccupation for the son of Max Fleischer, the pioneering animator who produced “Betty Boop” and the best of the “Popeye” cartoons (directed by Dave Fleischer, Max’s brother and Richard’s uncle). But animation has always had its morbid, nightmarish component, and seldom more than with the Fleischers. (There are few films more disturbing than the Fleischers’ “Snow-White” of 1933, with its chorus of “St. James Infirmary Blues.”)

Whereas his father and uncle worked in fantasy, Richard Fleischer became one of the earliest un-self-conscious realists of American film. With extensive location work (perhaps mandated by minuscule budgets), Fleischer’s RKO B-movies — “Bodyguard” (1948), “The Clay Pigeon” (1949), “Trapped” (1949, made on loan to Eagle-Lion), “Armored Car Robbery” (1950) and “The Narrow Margin” (1952) — function as documentaries on a lost Los Angeles, given tension and style by Fleischer’s constant reframing of the action and elaborate camera movements. [...]

For the French critic Jacques Lourcelles, one of Fleischer’s most articulate admirers, the recurring theme of his work is society slipping into decadence. That theme is as apparent in “Violent Saturday” as in Fleischer’s matinee classic “The Vikings” (1958), the Gilded Age melodrama “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” (1955) or even in his 1973 science fiction film “Soylent Green,” with its grim vision of an end-times America. But Fleischer’s most provocative film on this theme is the still potent “Mandingo” from 1975 (Feb. 23, Walter Reade Theater), an anti-“Gone with the Wind” that treats the pre-Civil War South as a swamp of degradation for white masters and black slaves alike."

February 19, 2008 11:03 AM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

Girish, all:

Mandingo is still potent, all right, and remains one of the '70s most underrated movies. I saw it recently with an audience at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, a portion of which was prepared to giggle and laugh and turn it into another so-bad-its-good cult film. But the things they were laughing at in the beginning weren't faux pas and bad dialogue on the part of the filmmaker, but instead fairly straight and accurately rendered arcana and bits of period language that might sound funny to anyone expecting James Mason to have that same velvety British accent even as a Southern plantation master. Soon the laughs stopped, though, and it was my impression that the audience saw a much different film that they had been preconditioned to see by (BOMB) ratings in Leonard Maltin's book and other stories of this notorious movie's exploitative qualities. Mandingo was sold as exploitation, true, but it's a serious piece of work. I think it's the best movie I've ever seen on the subject of slavery and decadence in the Old South. I hope to write about it soon.

February 19, 2008 2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some good stuff here:

February 19, 2008 6:45 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Regarding the notorious but hard to see Monogram pictures: I just saw two Phil Karlson directed Monogram films, both using THE SHADOW character from radio: BEHIND THE MASK (1946) and THE MISSING LADY (1946). Bill Krohn found vhs tapes of them in a thrift store. The tapes had nothing but a xeroxed picture of "the Shadow" on the box and the title of each film (testament to Bill's cunning as a scavanger: he immediately knew they were Karlson films without looking them up!). Both films used the same sets (redecorated), the same actors, the same SHADOW character. Indeed there are many uncanny intersections and trespasses between them, no less interesting just because they are explicable by Monogram's low-budget practice. BEHIND THE MASK opens with an unforgettable long take (about 3 minutes) on a street corner. We only get to see this street corner from this one long static take in this film. Then in the other film, THE MISSING LADY, some characters are walking down a street. They stop to chat. Instantly I was overwhelmed by the realization that the space where they stop to chat is on the same street corner with the same signs as the first film. More interestingly, the shot of the second film is exactly where the absent reverseshot of the first film would've been had Karlson not done a long take! It's very instructive to see what is done with each limited space in relation to the story the actors etc.; one could learn filmmaking from them more thoroughly than by looking at a the giant films of Kubrick or Tarr. E.g., in BEHIND THE MASK the limited amount of sets that are used are used in their entirety, that is, you see a lot of each room, you get to know the furniture and arrangement very well, and its clear where all the characters are in each shot (so-and-so's room). Perhaps this is because its a 30's style comedy working on quick dialogue exchanges between two couples living and pursuing eachother in the same building; mystery is not needed but familiarity. Conversely, in MISSING LADY you mostly see just the corners of rooms, just one couch, one lamp; each room mystified, half in shadows. You're not unfamiliar, but familiar with that one couch, and it's heavy in the fiction. This one is darker, slower; there's a deadpan torture scene to rival LE PETIT SOLDAT's -- a guy tied to chair has his hat repeatedly slapped off and smashed back on his head (about ten times in another wide-shot long take!) by a thug.

The interplay between things in these two films won't teach one everything about cinema, and these films often lean on very broad stuff (unlike a Walsh or Wellman) but the fact that Karlson alone directed 7 pictures for Monogram in 1946 suggeests dazzling potential, a subject for further investigation.
To make films in this mode (same actors, same spaces from seen from different perspectives across films, a kind of "neighborhood" of applicatins) is indeed full of potential! It's basically what Pedro Costa is doing now and what Manny Farber has always done in his paintings.

February 20, 2008 5:15 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

FWIW, I wrote a bit on Mandingo (and Fleischer) here. It really is an interesting film. And I've probably mentioned this before, but David Ehrenstein has called it the most honest film about race in America ever made (or something to that effect).

(Fascinating comment, Andy--I need to get back to some Karlsons, I've got a couple more unwatched in my collection.)

February 20, 2008 8:44 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

This isn't particularly what you're looking for, I don't think, but Leave Her to Heaven and Laura are two films that both have Vincent Price, Giene Tierney, and Dana Andrews in principle roles. I've been looking for other films with these three actors.

February 20, 2008 10:34 AM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks for the Fleischer/Mandingo link, Zach. I would tend to agree with Ehrenstein's comment, with the caveat that I haven't, of course, seen every movie on race ever made! :) But I do appreciate reading intelligent writing on that movie, which is (no surprise) a pretty rare commodity.

February 20, 2008 2:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all!

Andy, those are wonderfully thought-provoking ideas. I've made some notes, and would like to see if I can think about them for a future post...

Dennis, I hope Mandingo becomes available at some point. And I look forward to reading your post about it.

Zach, I'd forgotten that Fleischer issue of the Film Journal, and really enjoyed reading your piece again.

Ted, I'm reminded of the cinephilic game in which you name two or more actors and think of as many films as you can with them all in it. I think they played it in Apartment Zero...

Anonymous, that's a terrific link (clickable here). It reminds me of the "Iconphilia" column that Adrian did at Filmkrant not long ago.

February 20, 2008 3:41 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

So how do we know if it's a coincidence or an obvious homage? I mean, Emil Jannings in giant bat wings approacing a volcano was imitated by Disney in the Bald Mountain segment of Faust, and much later by Spielberg for the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark; the scenes of Faust riding through the air was used by Boorman for the 'riding in the air' sequences of Exorcist 2: The Heretic. The climax of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood is extensively quoted in the climax of De Palma's Scarface. I don't know if any of these qualify.

February 20, 2008 5:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for those examples, Noel! I don't think I knew any of them...

February 22, 2008 1:00 AM  
Blogger David C said...

Thanks for plugging my blog!

Here's an uncanny overlap I haven't seen remarked on elsewhere (maybe I just don't read the right stuff), involving David Lean's Great Expectations and The X Files:

February 23, 2008 11:52 AM  
Blogger girish said...

David, I've been enjoying your blog!

February 23, 2008 3:44 PM  
Blogger David C said...

Thanks! Just discovered yours and have been catching up on it. Great stuff. Have added it to my blogroll also.

February 24, 2008 5:15 PM  
Anonymous girish said...

Thanks, David, I've done the same!

February 25, 2008 3:52 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Correction: meant to say Disney's Fantasia, the Night on Bald Mountain sequence lifts imagery from Murnau's Faust. I believe this and my other examples are conscious homages--or outright theft, if you like.

February 26, 2008 3:15 AM  
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