Katy found us a new Christmas movie. Aloysius McKeever (Victor Moore, star of Make Way for Tomorrow) is a squatter who lives in mega-rich Michael O’Connor’s summer house during the winter (and his winter house in the summer). He starts inviting other unfortunates to stay with him during a post-war housing shortage, leading to a More The Merrier situation where roommates Jim (Iowan Don DeFore, who somehow played a German later in a Douglas Sirk movie) and Trudy (Gale Storm of some Joseph Kane westerns) fall in love. Jim is blandly unmemorable, so fortunately there’s more going on – Trudy is the homeowner’s daughter pretending to be down on her luck, and she invites both divorced parents (Lubitsch actor Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding of Double Harness) to play along – I forget why they go along with it, but Ruggles eventually reveals himself to Jim, donating land to his housing-crisis alleviation project, after all the family togetherness somewhat unscrooges him. They never clue in McKeever, who heads merrily to another mansion in the new year.
Pretty straightforward biopic of Wonder Woman and lie detector inventor Marston, his wife and their live-in lover… a solidly-made film with good performances. Usually “solidly-made with good performances” isn’t much of a recommendation for me, but it’s also thrilling that something this deviant played in the months between Wonder Woman and Fifty Shades Freed at the Grand, where I’m always subjected to trailers for Dennis Quaid Christian dramas. Seems a bit slow/long at times, but it’s covering ideas as well as incidents, and allowing each one the breathing space to feel natural so the characters don’t come across as sexy weirdos. Luke Evans (the documentarian in High-Rise) and Rebecca Hall (Christine) are the Marstons and Bella Heathcote (an evil model in The Neon Demon) is his teaching assistant who gets invited into their marriage long-term, though they have to keep it quiet since this is the 1940’s. From the writer/director of D.E.B.S., which I’ve been mildly wanting to watch for over a decade now.
A rah-rah-war movie in which an apparent simpleton with amazing gun skills (Gary Cooper) falls for a pretty girl (Joan Leslie), wins a turkey shooting contest, gets screwed out of some land he wants to buy, gets hit by lightning, and is convinced by his pastor (Walter Brennan) to chill out on the drinking. Then the army comes calling, and tricks poor Gary into believing that the bible justifies killing for your country, so Gary goes off to war and captures a whole flock of enemy troops.
Not that we didn’t enjoy watching Cooper mow down Germans. It’s a well-paced movie full of fun characters, which makes up for Cooper, who is very bad at playing drunk and speaking with hick accents.
Playing Coop’s serious little brother, Dickie Moore’s child-actor career was winding down while Joan Leslie’s was just taking off. York’s barely-seen sister June Lockhart went on to be an anti-war activist, then appear in C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. All three were the same age, less than half of Cooper’s.
My second ghost story this month after Journey to the Shore, which also featured corporeal-looking ghosts with appearances signaled by lighting changes. Widowed Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney at her cutest, also of ghost film Heaven Can Wait) gets a good deal on a haunted house. She soon runs into financial trouble, but rather than get rid of the housekeeper (Edna Best, the Doris Day of the original Man Who Knew Too Much), she teams up with house-ghost Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison, the My Fair Lady/Unfaithfully Yours lead shouter at his shoutiest) to ghostwrite his uncensored memoirs.
The living Mrs. Muir and dead Mr. Gregg learn to tolerate each other and gradually develop deeper feelings, but Gregg disappears after she starts dating a children’s author she meets at her publisher’s, creepy George Sanders (Ingrid’s husband in Voyage to Italy). When that doesn’t work out because he turns out to be married, she stays home staring at the sea for decades until death, when she’s reunited with her beloved captain (he could’ve come back sooner and kept her company, but it’s still a nice ending).
One of Joe Mank’s earliest movies, two years before A Letter to Three Wives. The story was expanded into a late-1960’s TV series with Laura Dern’s mom from Blue Velvet as the lead, and an Irishman from Caprice as the ghost.
The back half of our New Year’s Eve classic movie double-feature. It doesn’t have the naughty thrills of Baby Face, but it’s a good western in beautifully-restored technicolor.
Our lead cowboy Logan (Dana Andrews, star of Night of the Demon, had postwar rage issues in The Best Years of Our Lives) is aggressively growing his pack mule business, gets chastely paired up with British Caroline (Patricia Roc). His banker buddy George (Brian Donlevy, Dr. Quatermass and the great McGinty) has a fine mustache but also has gambling problems, is stealing from the bags of gold dust in his vault to pay his debts, and after he eventually gets killed, Logan is free to steal his girl Lucy (Susan Hayward, Veronica Lake’s love rival in I Married a Witch), who is more Logan’s adventurous type.
Bragg (foreground) and Logan:
George and Lucy:
In between, a bunch of serious stuff happens. A young couple marries, gets a cabin built by the townspeople, then gets slaughtered by indians who attack after large-faced baddie Bragg (Nebraskan Ward Bond of Johnny Guitar and Rio Bravo) probably rapes/kills an indian woman. Logan’s friend Hoagy Carmichael (famous singer/songwriter, also of To Have and Have Not) and decent-enough local dude Lloyd Bridges testify against George, who is freed from jail by Logan only to be gunned down off camera. Logan’s business burns to the ground, and even Andy “Friar Tuck” Devine is killed. Of course there’s a chase/fight at the end, and Bragg is left for the indians. Them were hard times, but that’s a fine supporting cast. Rose Hobart was in there somewhere too, but I’m not sure where.
Lloyd and Hoagy:
Devine and Caroline:
Under the familiar trappings of cabin raisings, poker games, saloon brawls and frontier combat is a remarkably dense drama where the tensions between individual enterprise and communal good are often strained and the line between hero and villain is not a matter of black and white, but shades of gray.
Trumpeter Bill (cowboy actor/boxer George Montgomery) is in Glenn Miller’s band, a womanizer who falls for high schooler Connie (Ann Rutherford, one of Scarlett’s sisters in Gone With The Wind). They get married overnight and she joins the other orchestra wives on tour. It’s unbelievable that in the 1940’s it was economical for bands of this size to afford playing park venues and touring with their families, but maybe it’s all magic Hollywood economics. Anyway, Connie’s presence ignites some of the simmering resentment among the other wives and players and the band disintegrates, then she schemes with Glenn to reunite them just in time for a randomly placed, but very welcome, Nicholas Brothers singing and dancing finale.
Episodic musical with odd framing story, Bill receiving mail and having to convince an assembled crowd of kids that he used to be a big time musician and dancer who rolled with Cab Calloway and Lena Horne and Fats Waller. In flashbacks, Bill starts in the army band then bounces to different locations, accumulating famous friends starting with Lena (wearing a series of magnificent hats). We kept hoping the movie wasn’t setting them up as a romantic couple since Bill is forty years older, but it didn’t really have romance (or story, or dialogue, or acting) on its mind – just a string of increasingly great musical numbers from an all-black cast culminating in the most outrageous Nicholas Brothers routine.
Stone was oscar-nominated a decade later for a Doris Day comedy thriller. Most of his movies star the whitiest white people and are now obscure. Neither Bill “Bojangles” Robinson nor Fats would live past the 1940’s, but Lena and Cab and the Nicholas Brothers lived another 50+ years, hopefully long enough to win every award and accolade.
Lena smiles so hard I’m surprised she didn’t hurt herself:
These two MUST have hurt themselves:
After seeing two Deren movies in HD on the Masterworks of Avant-Garde blu-ray, I thought it was time to rewatch the others on the ol’ DVD.
At Land (1944)
Just as cool as Meshes, in a way, but with less sci-fi/thriller genre imagery. Maya washes up on shore, creeps around, climbs into a meeting room, then seeks a missing chess piece, finally stealing a replacement from a couple by the beach. Continuous action across different locations, so Maya will creep forward across the board room and through tree branches, cutting between. It’s already a cool effect, but then the ending recontextualizes everything, as the chess thief Maya runs past each of the other Mayas performing different actions – more of the Meshes-style doubling. Silent, so I played “The Ship” by Brian Eno, a good musical match once I made myself stop focusing on the lyrics.
One aspect in which the film is completely successful, it seems to me, is that the techniques, though complicated, are executed with such quiet subtlety that one is unaware of the strangeness of the film while one looks at it. It is only afterwards, as after a dream, that one realizes how strange were the events and is surprised by the seeming normalcy of them while they are occurring.
It presents a relativistic universe … in which the problen of the individual, as the sole continuous element, is to relate herself to a fluid, apparently incoherent, universe. It is in a sense a mythological voyage of the twentieth century.
Much harder than Meshes to get across the greatness of this one through stills, since it’s all about editing and motion:
A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945)
Dancer(s?) in the woods, moving indoors then to an art gallery and back through discontinuous editing, cool and silent and very short. Oh yeah, it was the same dancer appearing four times during a single camera pan in the opening shot, impressive.
[The dancer] moved in a world of imagination in which, as in our day or night-dreams, a person is first in one place and then another without traveling between.
Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)
Rita wanders through different activities, flees each one: Maya knitting, a party featuring Anais Nin, and dancing with some shirtless guy. As she runs from the last one, Rita becomes Maya, wading into the ocean.
Deren was trying “to create a dance film, not only out of filmic time and space relations, but also out of nondance elements … save for a final sequence the actual movements are not dance movements.”
Deren on her films up to now:
Meshes is, one might say, almost expressionist; it externalizes an inner world to the point where it is confounded with the external one. At Land has little to do with the inner world of the protagonist, it externalizes the hidden dynamics of the external world, and here the drama results from the activity of the external world. It is as if I had moved from a concern with the life of a fish to a concern with the sea which accounts for the character of the fish and its life. And Ritual pulls back even further, to a point of view from which the external world itself is but an element in the entire structure and scheme of metamorphosis: the sea itself changes because of the larger changes of the earth. Ritual is about the nature and process of change. And just as Choreography was an effort to isolate and celebrate the principle of the power of movement, which was contained in At Land, so I made, after Ritual, the film Meditation on Violence, which tried to abstract the principle of ongoing metamorphosis and change which was in Ritual.
Anais Nin is unimpressed by the dancers:
The Very Eye of Night (1958)
Dancers superimposed twirling against a cheap black starscape. Woodwind music by Teiji Ito (later Maya’s husband) with some tinkling, chattering sections that got my birds riled up. “Her concern was with plastic development, conflict of scale, and dimensional illusion rather than with total structure,” per P. Adams Sitney.
Watching shorts from the Flicker Alley blu-ray, part two.
Tarantella (1940 Bute & Nemeth)
Abstract designs move in time to music, a la An Optical Poem and some of the Len Lye films. Bold and colorful.
Lewis Jacobs in Film Quarterly:
At first glance, the Bute-Nemeth pictures seemed like an echo of the former German pioneer, Oscar Fischinger, one of the first to experiment with the problems of abstract motion and sound. Actually, they were variations on Fischinger’s method, but less rigid in their patterns and choice of objects, tactile in their forms; more sensuous in their use of light and color rhythms, more concerned with the problems of depth, more concerned with music complimenting rather than corresponding to the visuals … Fischinger worked with two-dimensional animated drawings; Bute and Nemeth used any three-dimensional substance at hand: ping-pong balls, paper cutouts, sculptured models, cellophane, rhinestones, buttons, all the odds and ends picked up at the five and ten cent store. Fischinger used flat lighting on flat surfaces; Bute and Nemeth employed ingenious lighting and camera effects by shooting through long-focus lenses, prisms, distorting mirrors, ice cubes, etc.
Pursuit of Happiness (1940 Rudy Burckhardt)
These NYC mini-docs keep getting better. This one is mostly focused on people and advertisements. Towards the end, Rudy goes nuts in the editing, rotating and slowing and superimposing and splitting images. “Intentionally silent,” which I cannot abide, so I played some Cyro Baptista.
1941 (1941 Francis Lee)
Flowing paint and broken glass, an abstract visual response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor made just before the filmmaker went to war.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943 Maya Deren)
This is the best. Cocteau-like death-dream narrative from every perspective, with doubling, mirror-faces, slo-mo – all the effects used to great poetic purpose. Wrote (a bit) more here.
This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.
Meditation on Violence (1948 Maya Deren)
A man practicing wutang and shaolin moves to flute music. Drums are added, and completely take over the soundtrack as the man warps to an outdoor setting with a sword and costume. A few token slo-mo and freeze shots then he’s back indoors. Apparently it’s much more complex than it looks and Deren had theories and charts to explain what she was doing, but Sitney calls it “a film overloaded by its philosophical burden.”
In the Street (1948 James Agee, et al)
Documentary of kids of all ages hanging out and playing in the street. Builds to a climax with a war of boys fighting with stockings filled with gravel, then chills out again, then a montage of close-ups. Costumes are involved, and rambly piano music accompanies.
Four in the Afternoon (1951 James Broughton)
Four vignettes set to Broughton poems. 1. Jump-roping woman imagines possible suitors. 2. Gardening man imagines finding a date. 3. Prancing woman in garden is pursued by even prancier man. 4. Sad man in rocking chair dreams of ballerinas past. This one has some nice reverse-action.
For each of the four film poems there is a distinctive cinematic trope; with Game Little Gladys it is stop-motion manifestation and disappearance of possible lovers; in the case of The Gardener’s Son it is a composition-in-depth with the boy in the foreground and the woman he desires in the background … The final section, The Aging Balletomane, may be the finest … Reverse motion is the trope of this episode.