It’s a better film than Lady in the Lake that presents a far less convoluted plot and utilizes first-person camera quite a bit more effectively. Although there is no commentary on the DVD I saw last night, the behind-the-scenes featurette narrator described the “first-person camera” technique with that term, which really does convey enough information to make “ontogenic” comparatively obsolete.
Delmer Daves’ treatment of his storyline is significantly less pedantic and literal (fundamentalist) than Montgomery’s, and Dark Passage (according to the featurette narrator) benefited greatly from the use of a much smaller camera. Bogart’s role as Vincent Parry is made instantly more sympathetic by means of Parry’s spoken-to-nobody narrative, a trait that’s later explained in the film as a habit he picked up in prison. Whether talking to himself (and to the audience) or to an on-screen character (in the familiar voice of Humphrey Bogart — like radio-cinematography) this device crystalizes and differenitiates several of the viewer’s Bogart-expectations from the viewpoint of this story’s specific protagonist. We not only see the world through Parry’s eyes, we also hear his thoughts, and that’s a vitally important literary dimension stripped from the reductive Montgomery cinematic variation of (a very literary) The Lady in the Lake.
Now that I have a couple of mainstream Hollywood experiments in first-person camera to compare with one another, the first, most obvious stumbling block in both films is the choice of the white, male protagonist as the one-and-only empathic POV from which each story is shot. I have absolutely no problem gazing into the deliciously classy mystery known as Lauren Bacall, but I’d actually much prefer to see this story shown from the perspective of Irene Jansen, Bacall’s character.
Hanging out for the past several years at erotic photographic websites and forums, I’ve come to the conclusion that the women photographed are used primarily as projections screens for familiar male erotic/romantic fantasies. The moment in The Matrix when the hot, openly-inviting blonde in the hot red party dress arrests Neo’s attention electrifies the first-person presence with an empathic lightning bolt, but its a device that operates on the locker-room level of conversation, like smalltalk between guys. “Did you see the sash on that one?!” How it feels to be a beautiful woman in public space composed largely of eyeballs, urges, contempt and lurid imaginations locked upon your every gesture — seems like a universe of fascinating stories Hollywood hasn’t bothered to tell, empathically nor otherwise.
The most fascinating aspect of Sex in the City, for me, was the long-desired opportunity to sense mundane reality from the perspective of four attractive women, who converse with unprecedented candor. The show never quite managed to provide the intimate glimpse I wanted from the high-heeled moccasins of an unqualified sexual-attention-target, but Dark Passage didn’t even try. I wish it had. Ultimately, the primary strength of the film resides in superior casting. Bogart and Bacall do very fine work (that inevitably pales by comparison with To Have and Have Not), but the first half of the film belongs to Tom D’Andrea as the cab driver, who hands the film off to his exact-opposite; Agnes Moorhead’s toweringly bitchy performance as the incredible Madge, the unopened lock within which sits the riddle that drives the action and the heart of the film.
Casting 1946/7 San Francisco as the backdrop also works wonders for me, in that LA locations are less resonant (for me) in the noirs of the very same era, and the recognizable/articulated LA intersections don’t drip with the same desire to physically contextualize Ft. Point, Hyde Street, Powell & Market…, and the theoretical seven hills between the Ferry Building and Ocean Beach that Sam, the cabdriver, alludes to in the story he relates to Parry in the midst of the formation of an amazingly strong empathetic bond between two strangers, a theme that’s repeated throughout the film, and contrasted with relentless interrogations.
While Daves’ camera treatment of Parry is vastly more lyric and sympathetic than Montgomery’s take on Chandler’s material, it’s worthy of note that the corpse of Parry’s closest friend, George Fellsinger, is photographed in coverage from a point far beneath the floor (that’s magically turned to glass) in another yet alternative camera technique (extremely steep angles [that invariably tell their very own stories]) I’ve been longing for decades to see employed by innovative filmmakers and photographers.
The visually sympathetic treatment of the fugitive protagonist is counterpointed by the battery of grueling, relentless, spontaneous interrogations that intensify the identification of the audience with Parry, while the forces that move the women in the film seem permanently condemned to be utterly mysterious; Miss Jansen’s wealth and idealism are superficially explained, but Madge Rapf’s psychotic persistence (and fall) bleeds unexplained madness through every frame of a film that traces Parry’s dogged determination to reveal the truth about his wife’s murder, while leaving a trail of dead people that terminates in Peru in one of the Hollywood’s strangest (and yet most spiritually satisfying) “resolutions” to a murder mystery, ever. Dark Passage is one very peculiar film.
I liked it a lot, largely because, as the featurette narrator says, there are fascinating secondary characters everywhere you look in a film that makes a good deal more emotional sense than The Lady in the Lake, and also did very little business at the box office. Go figure.
Just as Focus is a film about (antiSemitic) intolerance that derives from the personnel manager’s story (that starts and ends early) in Gentleman’s Agreement, I like attempting (and failing) to reframe these classic films from the alternative perspectives of other characters locked forever in place in these narratives. Madge’s motivations are probably beyond my comprehension, but Irene Jansen’s feel like they belong to somebody I already know. The nearest thing to an example of the tree I’m barking up is evident in StopLoss, a film in which male comradeship is exquisitely characterized by a female director (Kimberly Pierce) with, unprecedented sensitivity and empathic eloquence. Also, go figure.
Although it’s a more conventional method of naming this otogenic/subjective camera thing, “empathy” is a term that’s deadlocked in controversy. Wikipedia reveals about a dozen slightly/widely varied interpretive definitions from cognitive slants to affective and the terminally-inarticulate. I’m drawn to the empathic camera shortcut by the generally more-communicative impression that it pertains to something vaguely familiar, when introduced into conversation, without the need to dive into the etymology of “ontogenic”. The problem with “subjective camera” (the term most frequently used) is that it’s even more vague and misleading than “empathic camera”.
Lick a postage stamp and stick it to your forehead, right between your brows. Rather than a simple postage stamp, it’s a NewAge, high-tech, HiDef, wireless movie camera that records visual imagery largely as you see, although not exactly. It doesn’t blink, it’s field of view, automatic aperture, sensitivity and frame rate make it functionally different from the way your eyes work…and it doesn’t move (as your eyes do when you roll them in their sockets and otherwise use them to express an emotional state to the rest of world), and it’s fitted with a microphone. It’s also visible as it sits there on your forehead like a third eye — which might incline other people to keep their distance.
I mean that calling that device a “subjective camera” starts off on the wrong foot in several superficial ways, but far more importantly, the term fails to communicate the fact that your subjective experience is not well communicated to another person who is using your “subjective camera” to monitor your experience. It’s a small, wireless objective camera that happens to be stuck to your forehead. If you shield your eyes from the sun, it records the movement of your hand and a change in ambient lighting, but your cramped calf, the toe you stubbed on the doorstop, while walking out of the movie theater into bright afternoon sunlight…can only be pieced together inferrentially by the observer with the aid of sound cues and an acute empathic understanding of your subjective experience. The observer’s empathic facility complements the shortcoming of your forehead camera, in order to make sense of your experience.
Mirror neurons deserve a great deal more attention and study than I’ve devoted to them since yesterday. It does appear, however, that a plethora of fun associations have been tied to the idea that motor neurons in the brains of monkeys are enervated by the actions of proximal others. Now, I’m still intrigued by the right/left brain hayride we entered upon 40 years ago, so far be it from me to go all hard-science-skeptical on the mirror neuron enthusiasm, but the most attractive fragment of information I’ve noticed thus far is that they’re located in the motor (rather than sensory) cortex of experimental subjects, which implies to me that the domain of ACTION is the understated key that lies beneath the fascinating extrapolations drawn by folks who believe (as I do) that empathy is hardwired deep into the human organism.
Before I get lost in an irrelevant monologue about going through the motions and the explosively fascinating universe of neat ideas that the mirror neuron conversation initiates…back to the camera-thing:
That forehead camera, no matter how sophisticated the integration of its parts, falls far short of reproducing and recording the entirety of your subjective experience; and therefore makes demands upon the experiential vocabulary of the person who is trying to see your world through your “eye”. Likewise, the army of NASA analysts struggle to interpret the vision of Mars provided by a Rover, and the camera’s view is not nearly so much subjective as empathic, because the integrative functionaries that read the monitor interpret findings and make decisions about the next move the Rover makes based on an empathic grasp of what’s around the corner (from several million miles away).
The audience in Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake were lured to the film on the falsely advertized premise that THEY would be Phillip Marlow for a couple of hours. What they weren’t told was that the fascinating inner dialogue between Chandler and Marlowe would be entirely inaudible to them; that Marlowe’s thought processing was confined to another medium (another channel of telemetry) that in 1947 could only be accessed by reading the book. I know how NASA scientists feel by virtue of their body language, and not from the neologistic doubletalk with which they communicate with one another.
The 1932 and 1941 movie versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde were serious uphill slogs for me, for several reasons that needn’t be hammered mercilessly here, beyond saying that they weren’t much fun. I’m hoping that Altered States will be a more enjoyable treatment of exacly the same idea, substituting primitive impulse and proto-human mentality for “EVIL”. I remember Altered States fondly, but that was also true of St. Elsewhere, Hill St. Blues, Highlander and Kojak… Some old and influential stuff that delighted me once upon a time has absolutely not held up beneath the weight of comparison with many more recent offerings to which it gave rise.
So the postage stamp camera (in my mind) remains “ontogenic” because the willingness of the audience/observer to empathize is practically non-negotiable. The facility of the ontogenic camera to tell an engaging story cannot depend upon the talent and life-experience of the viewer to fill in the blanks left vacant by the failure of the filmmaker to provide them. The challenge (for example) lies in filming Chris Lavery’s interacton with Marlowe in a way that leaves their interpersonal dialogue intact, but simultaneously layers in (like commentary tracks don’t yet quite manage to do) Marlowe’s internal evaluation of the tanned, brawny, skirt-chasing weasel whose snowballing indignation eventually surprises even Marlowe, when Lavery spits near his own feet, on his own rug and stands confrontationally before Marlow, “like watching the veneer peel off and leave a tough kid in an alley. Or like hearing an apparently refined woman start expressing herself in four-letter words.”
Chandler invested in Marlowe’s inner monologue a self-reflexive view of Marlowe’s vision of the outside world that simultaneously contrasted with and greatly sharpened the reader’s perception of the scene, gradually revealing the inner-speaker as an aspect of the reader’s experience, different from cursory expectations of Marlowe. That’s empathic storytelling. Getting that degree of communicative complexity from a camera won’t be easy, and the devices I’ve seen used in 1932, 1941, 1947 and here&there since then provide no reason for optimism anytime soon. Dark Passage should arrive tomorrow. Who knows?
I’m watching Body of Lies, a film which, in only 43 minutes has made a great number of interesting points. Those points have stimulated my imagination to see that the mysterious, chaotic phenomenon we’re lately calling “terrorism” was explained several hundred years ago in the I Ching, as The Killing Power of the Small, which is simply a situation in which wills contend, but real power is vested in force of arms, wealth and/or vastly greater numbers, but the smaller/weaker force exercises its lesser influence specifically at the most vulnerable links in the major power’s sphere of influence.
Thoreau, Gandhi and King advocated disobedience of the dictates of power by civil, peaceful and humane means, but the strength of will they also advocated was demonstrated tactically in protests to influence majority public opinion away from customary adherence to (objectionable) law and toward reform/re-envisionment of moral and legal precepts that are fundamental to the conduct of business-as-usual.
Terrorism is civil disobedience without the humane provision. Protests and demonstrations of minorty will actually do destabilize empires, unseat popular presidents, and move mountains. Civil disobedience without the humane provision led directly to the incarceration and assassination of the Black Panthers, to a wrong-headed, preemptive counter-attack on Iraq, and to the Obama presidency. The humanity clause is there for a reason; unimaginable consequences flow from its removal.
I’d like to thank Ridley Scott for yet another excellent lesson in the evils of xenophobia.
I’m saying that bin Laden is Gandhi on steroids and angel dust. The film says that our terrorist enemy is fighting the inevitable Wave of the Future (in many more ways than one, but specifically) by skipping the convenience and luxury of electronic communication to pass kill-orders and by exercizing medieval brutality to strike at the vulnerable kinks in the net that tie U.S. together.
Rather than obeying the wishes of our terrorist enemy; die or convert to whatever religion they say…read your Ching. It’s the distillation of culture, and We are small.
Okay, it’s actually The Taming Power of the Small, Hsiao Ch’u. I’ve aleady admitted to memory defects, and the quality of lethality injected by my semi-convenient misremembering not only makes for a more dramatic topic line, it also states the case I tried to make, that challenging authority with the explicit threat of violence opens a door to chaotic consequences (“police riot” much?) that defy prediction. It’s also very difficult to determine, when all the dust of expedited change has settled, whether or not that door is truly closed.
Having seen “Lady in the Lake” yesterday at the Capitol, this corner now can confirm what the advertisements have been saying all along. The picture is definitely different and affords one a fresh and interesting perspective on a murder mystery. YOU do get into the story and see things pretty much the way the protagonist, Phillip Marlowe, does, but YOU don’t have to suffer the bruises he does. Of course, YOU don’t get a chance to put your arms around Audrey Totter either. After all, the movie makers, for all their ingenuity, can go just so far in the quest for realism.
As the star and director, Robert Montgomery permits the camera to do most of his “acting,” the result being that his image is only observed when it can naturally be reflected through a mirror. And, since the story is a first person affair, the camera on occasion observes the detective seated at a desk relating his tortuous and exciting adventures in locating the missing Mrs. Chrystal Kingsby.
In making the camera an active participant, rather than an off-side reporter, Mr. Montgomery has, however, failed to exploit the full possibilities suggested by this unusual technique. For after a few minutes of seeing a hand reaching toward a door knob, or lighting a cigarette or lifting a glass, or a door moving toward you as though it might come right out of the screen the novelty begins to wear thin. Still, Mr. Montgomery has hit upon a manner for using the camera which most likely will lead to more arresting pictorial effects in the future.
Since Raymond Chandler provided the story and Steve Fisher wrote the screen play, one can rest assured that the plot isn’t lacking in complications, romantic and otherwise. Marlowe, naturally, has a weakness for a pretty client and runs into plenty of trouble with the police and assorted strangers the deeper his investigation goes. Clues sprout and evaporate, or end up as blind leads, until the spectator is nicely but firmly confused. This bewilderment doesn’t extend so much to the identity of the lady found in the lake as it does to how Marlowe will go about solving the mystery.
Mr. Montgomery has the least acting to do, but his scenes are played with ease and conviction. His Phillip Marlowe is somewhat more cynical and sneering—a characterization which is developed more by the tone of his voice than anything else—than the previous conceptions of the detective we got from Dick Powell in “Murder, My Sweet” and Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep.” You can take your choice of the three and still be happy. Audrey Totter, who is blonde and fetching, gets her first really important role in this picture and handles herself most credibly. Lloyd Nolan, Jayne Meadows and Leon Ames do very well by supporting roles, which permit them to develop sizable characterizations.
LADY IN THE LAKE, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; screen play by Steve Fisher; directed by Robert Montgomery; produced by George Haight for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Philip Marlowe . . . . . Robert Montgomery
Adrienne Fromsett . . . . . Audrey Totter
Lieutenant DeGarmot . . . . . Lloyd Nolan
Captain Kane . . . . . Tom Tully
Derace Kingsby . . . . . Leon Ames
Mildred Havelend . . . . . Jayne Meadows
Chris Lavery . . . . . Dick Simmons
Eugene Grayson . . . . . Morris Ankrum
Receptionist . . . . . Lila Leeds
Artist . . . . . William Roberts
Mrs. Grayson . . . . . Kathleen Lockhart
Chrystal Kingsby . . . . . Ellay Mort
In heated conversation wth the guys from Heroes, David Thorburn indicated that the entertainment industry failed for twenty years to tell stories effectively in that medium, and not until the middle/late 60s did they get it halfway right. I worship at Professor Thorburn’s temple, but the statue devoted to Kojak just puts me uptight.
Montgomery tried to project the subjective experience of reading a compelling novel (that was cobbled together from earlier short stories) onto The Big Screen in an age when movie cameras were as tiny and agile as Robbie the Robot. Montgomery also smooshed a lot of the bitter, irrascible, curmudgeonly Raymond Chandler into his largely-unpleasant, unheroic portrayal of Phillip Marlow. And prevented the (medium-BigDraw) star of the movie, himself, from appearing (more than momentarily) onscreen. In retrospect, the film describes a lot like a recipe for disaster.
It was a very bold, upstream, mainstream industrial experiment that failed for several reasons; none of them definitive. If (for the past 20, 40, 60 years) filmmakers had worked assiduously at sidestepping Montgomery’s errors in filming ontogenic/subjective camera studies, maybe the challenges facing transmedia storytellers would be significantly different. Maybe not.
Whether and how this movie or novel relates to the titular reference embedded in Arthurian legend remains to be seen, but I confess a certain affection for the notion that Marlowe’s powers of observation liken him to Merlin, his obsolete idealism puts me in mind of Arthur, and the contradiction of an intermittently sleazy boyscout kind of smells like Lancelot. There’s also an attractive allusion in The Lady In/Of the Lake to the continuing, unresolved determination whether the sword or the pen is the more mighty Promethean instrument. I tend to lean toward the camera, but each tool is essentially a technical implement wielded by creative imagination in various media, so they’re fundamentally one (and the same) means to the end of profoundly effective communication.
It’s worth another attempt.
What if, all these centuries, we’ve been praying in the wrong direction? That might explain the relative infrequency with which our prayers are answered. If God, The Father, were in the earth and Mother Nature were overhead maybe western culture wouldn’t have become so deeply invested in desecrating a female Earth.
This tern hangs out with a colony of Caspians I spent yesterday photographing. Eventually, I suppose, I’ll get around to properly identifying its variety. In the meanwhile, it’s a photograph that serves to punctuate or illustrate an obligatory post.
I’ve made up a word to identify the “gimmick” used in The Lady in the Lake. The term is intended to fork away from the mimetic convention that’s currently used to show/tell a cinematic story from several camera angles, so I’m simultaneously dubbing the mainstream, Hollywood camera/editing tradition cryptogenic mimesis, for the sake of differentiated contrast.
Commercial interruption, appointment televison, and this freeform-perspective-thing feel to me like absurd entertainment industry impositions which characterize a kind of zombified audience hypnotic somnambulism; stuff we deeply need to learn to live without enroute to a truly converged, participatory culture.
Cryptogenic mimesis provides the filmmaker with unlimited license to tell a story in any temporal/sequential order, from every possible point of view. Flags of Our Fathers is one recent example of sequential chaos telling story (extremely well) from a wildly nonlinear perspective. But every popular film and television episode I’ve ever seen (with the sole exception of The Lady in the Lake) does the other thing, which is:
- The camera’s point of view belongs to a person who doesn’t exist; an ostracized ghost from Dickens or one of Ellison’s titular characters.
- None of the actors in any scene recognize the existence of the entity through whose eyes I’m viewing the scene.
- My point of view flits between physical (and or temporal) locations in the flow of depicted action in which I cannot participate.
- The disembodied, multiple-observer, nonparticipating entity that represents my perspective in cinema/video product results in a kind of cryptic existence that’s codified into a convention that nearly nobody questions.
Perhaps the best way to state my objection to the nearly-ubiquitous cryptogenic mimetic convention is to say that watching Monday Night Football often sent me up the wall with replays of a given situation that never included the quarterback’s helmet camera, so the choices he made that resulted in a career-ending injury, an interception, or a gain in yardage were never presented from the point of view of the most (moment-to moment) important player on the field. No matter how often the replay would appear, and regardless of the number of camera angles presented, definitive evaluation of quarterback choice and performance was invariably interpreted from alternative perspectives…with commentary, backstory and expert revisionism courtesy of John, Al, Frank, Dan, Don, Boomer, even Howard…all of whom performed the functions of editor and historian. Eventually, I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted, and stopped watching…televison. Of course, I have to add, since John Madden just announced his intention to retire from televized football commentary, that I’ve always loved the insight into every play his far more experienced vision afforded me.
Most any love scene is photographed from several angles. As the actors begin to engage, the camera moves in for the exchange of tongues and saliva, but the presence of an observer, in the real world, generally leads directly to lovers backing away from one another, getting a private room, and replaying the scene without the pesky voyeurism. The presence of an interested observer either modifies the behavior of aroused participants or they’re playing/pandering to the observer, which can be profoundly meaningful. That’s the class and kind of mystifying unreality I’m trying far too hard to explain. I think there’s something fundamentally insane in the way our entertaining stories are made and the 90year history we’ve inherited that prevents the raising of an eyebrow, let alone a universal objection to the treatment of viewer as nonentity, cast as above-the-line lure; staff, crew, location as interchangable (von Sternberg/von Stroheim) objects.
My defective memory mumbles a reference in Plato to a character named Thrasymachus, who was granted a cloak of invisibility with which to ply the trade of pornographer, paparazzo, birdwatcher…ringbearing hobbit. Wikipedia and an active imagination (should) complement memory defects.
After just one chapter of Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, I see that Philip Marlowe’s profoundly perceptual and observative narration of events and complex situations is absolutely indispensible to the differentiation of character (especially Marlowe’s, and every character/locale he scrutinizes rhetorically), and that the absence of Marlowe’s inner monologue in the movie version transforms the film into just another two or three trick gimmick-pony, comparatively flat and disinteresting. It’s also a landmark experiment I absolutely have to own. Alain Silver’s commentary mentions independent and European NewWave experiments that lean in the same direction. If he responds to my email, I’ll pass along some names. Dark Passage and the Jekyll/Hyde thing are just for starters. It’s also time for me to take another, more careful look at TimeCode.
Ontogenic isn’t a word that I’ve been able to find used anywhere previously. It derives from the Greek root that relates to the individual entity, as opposed to the more generic term for phylum, race or species. It also allows me to embed the colloquial suggestion that we’re onto something interesting here, whereas ontic leans in the contra-indicated direction of an omniscient entity. Antic pertains to grotesque and obsolete forms of art. Entic, Intic, Untic…nah. OntoGENIC is intended to emphasize the healing and restorative powers of exercizing the facility of self-aware identity. It’s contrasted by the role of a silent partner whose wealth helps fund the entertainment enterprise, but whose observations and notes are definitively not consulted throughout the course of production. The audience is that silent, infantilized partner.
I think ontogenic adequately describes the healthy impulse toward an individual, corporal/corporeal and coherent point of view that effectively summarizes the range of perspectives in With the Angels (at StrikeTV.com) and The Lady in the Lake while contrasting this stuff (of which I’d like to find more) from everything else. The Fourth Wall penetration moments that show up in Hitchcock and Hope/Crosby Road pictures count for something, just not one whole hell of a lot.
Open and flexible thinking persists while learning whether somebody unnoticed has already thunk this thing all the way through.
Writing here daily isn’t an objective that interests me, but every other day feels like an ambition I might actually be able to pull off. Looking back at the first two installments in this blog, I realize I haven’t connected ALL of the necessary dots to present my peculiar points of view satisfactorily, even to me, let alone to another, more skeptical reader; you.
While nobody sane would accuse me of failure to beat dead horses with the clearly very limited and spotty comprehension I possess of the issues they signify, I’m also reluctant to go back re-edit what I’ve already written. Still there are gaps in continuity, spelling and sentence structure that demand some form of address, so I’ll try to press forward every other day in adherence to the plan while answering questions, incongruities and misleads already left dangling.
The first of these (that I remember) is a brief review of The Lady in the Lake, the Chandler-based film in which Robert Montgomery directed and in which he appears as Philip Marlowe:
It didn’t suck, but now that I have several pounds of unread Raymond Chandler’s writing parked on my desk, I can say with confidence that it’s the first-person narrative eloquence with which Marlowe describes everything that most clearly distinguishes the character’s perception as eminently engaging…and that’s exactly what’s missing from the innovative approach Montgomery took in creating a film that is 90% talking heads and exposition. Laying pipe is not very interesting. On the other hand, there are fascinating technical achievements everywhere in this film. The most striking of which are very long sequences in which non-star actors emote at the camera, evoking the impression that the viewer actually IS Philip Marlowe interacting with, relating to and talking at Audrey Totter (principally) who in the course of the film undergoes astonishing, nearly plausible, and entirely fascinating transformations from one kind of moderately-stereotyped 40s female character to another; gold-digging, indispensibly efficient, phoney career-girl to fiancee, asylum/confidante…and stuff like that.
The bottom line on my take of this lonely example of mainstream Hollywood Bmovie subjective camera experiment is that it didn’t quite work, and it sure didn’t suck, but that it fails by taking a too-literal approach to the subjective camera technique, while purging the most important magnets that draw attention to Raymond Chandler, Chandlerisms. That’s no knock on snappy banter, of which there’s nearly as much as is found in moderately engaging screwball comedies, but the glue that holds the convoluted story line together is nonstop exposition, which leads very swiftly to wholesale audience disengagement.
Doubt works the same nerve. Shanley says that the final act of the play is staged after the audience leaves the theater to discover that the person with whom the just saw the presentation seems to have seen an entirely different theatrical event. Four principle players very beautifully extract from their parts the crossroads at which the audience’ expectations depart from familiar stereotyped conclusions about who those characters are. They’re us. I got caught early in the film in the course of Father Flynn’s first sermon that hinges on the comforting ubiquity of doubt. It’s Shanley’s brilliant statement that the faith that draws the faithful together is shadowed by an equally universal and powerful phenomenon that is widely under-reported, and that that uncertainty is just as effective at uniting those of us who can but don’t afford one another the benefit of doubt. Gossip and intollerance are the handmaidens of faith, while empathy and capacity for liberal non-interference smell like weakness in contrast with the other thing.
It’s a fascinating film that strikes at the heart of the (evangelical, fundamentalist) certainty that sexual preference is optional. Sexual perversity is a one-way street. There is strength in uniformity of thought. We know the souls of other people. This movie beats the holy crap out of Joe Versus the Volcano and Moonstruck as fables to contemplate seriously. The nerve it works (in common with The Lady in the Lake) is audience credulity, by refuting traditional cinematic audience expectations and substituting the challenging theatrical imagination in its unaccustomed place.
I’d get off on a camera in the writers’ room and at table reads. Commentary MP3s by writers, actors, crew and directors who are in no way associated with the production they’re discussing is, in my mind, the next logical step in transmedia branding, because the expensive logos that come before titles (and after the legal gobbledygook) on DVDs are all about the distribution of proprietary intellectual property, a term which is at least four kinds of oxymoron bent on preserving the time-honored fiction that the house always wins (at the expense of culture). There are stars of cinematic commentary, even now, rising above the horizon. Alain Silver is the only one of them I’ve thusfar encountered, but the time of that new industrial complex is only a moment from dawning.
Now that I’ve begun my first blog, I guess I ought to reference a few of the knottier (not self-explanatory) references I dropped into the first entry.
The National Conference on Media Reform (NCMR);
convened last summer in St. Paul, Minnesota, was jam-packed with interesting speakers, events and sidebars. Among the most memorable of these, for me, was Tim (End2End) Wu’s description of the U.S. Constitution as a document that (fundamentally) outlines the limitations of federal governmental power to impact on the lives of citizens. The important thing the Constitution doesn’t do is furnish a utilized example for private enterprise in shaping/impacting the lives of employees.
Early in the very first episode of The Wire, the murdered victim of street violence, Snot, is described as a moderately retarded guy who always attempted to scoop up the common gambling pot and abscond with it into the darkness, which always resulted in Snot getting the snot beat out of him by the rest of the group. McNulty asks the informant why nobody prevented Snot from playing, if everyone knew that at some point he’d take a half-witted shot at stealing everone’s winnings. “Ain’t this America?” was a wonderful response. I think it means that the Constitution acts as a moral guide for far too few of us, and is not utilized in that way at by a great many others, whose vested self-interests, tyrannical rule and abusive, unconscionable, incumbent power it clearly discourages.
Beating Snot senseless(er) was considered okay, but killing the fool was regarded by the speaker as downright unAmerican. I’m going to follow this line of reasoning one more step and suggest that the influence on individual conscience of The Golden Rule runs exactly counter to the rule of gold; that the spirit embedded in the Constitution aligns (for [the collective agenda of] governance) with the prescription for hip individual living. Self-interest, conversely, is the rule of gold, and justifies a dog-eat-dog perception of human existence, as though the “jungle out there” is all that exists, contravening the dictates of conscience, The Golden Rule, and the example of conscientious government outlined in the United States Constitution.
Oops. I don’t seem to be debugging my first blog entry very effectively. WTF.
Later in the conversation I had with Grant McCracken, I tried to retract any earlier rants I may have visited on the Nikon Corporation’s lack of support for “legacy” products that are not currently coming off their production lines. Last week I learned that NikonUSA’s website references several phone numbers that lead directly to the kind of support that is not (yet) made available online. The 1982 vintage 600mm Nikkor f/4.0 ED-IF [AI-S] lens I bought last February, from a vendor and prevaricator on eBay, was described incorrectly as free of problems. For the past two months I’ve been chasing shadows up blind alleys in search of (“ancient” Nikon information, like) an exploded diagram or service manual or userguide to find part numbers to effect repairs (as though salvaged replacement parts were readily available) on a splendid supertelephoto lens that’s been so badly abused that my D300 digital camera wobbles in its interface, and the aperture ring did not control the diaphragm. None of this stuff is as hopeless as it appeared to be while I was busy ranting in frustration a few weeks ago.
This seems like a reasonable place to insert the .jpg of a Caspian Tern I shot last Sunday with a rented descendant of my manual-focus lens. The purpose of this weekend rental adventure was to establish a standard of perfomance to which the restoration of my legacy lens aspires. Just for the record the rental lens is hot off the production line. It’s valued in excess of $10,000, and never stopped terrorizing the crap out of me until I’d returned it to the exemplary rental company from which I rented it, BorrowLenses; they ship nationwide, with offices two freeway exits away from me.
The original cost of my legacy lens, including shipping and ongoing repairs is still under $3500, and the difference in image quality is not 6500 bucks. Autofocus, as a matter of fact, is a monumental pain in the butt. I have a lot to learn about shot discipline and manual-focus consistency, but that realization is a irresistible springboard to as-yet unexplored states of mind. And here’s where I add the continually evolving conclusion that getting swell photographs is only a fraction of the pleasure this 13pound hunk of hardware has already given me.
And finally, Milch and Clark, if I’ve understood them correctly, insist that the public face of law enforcement in this country is significantly different in practice than citizens are entitled to know. That would mean that the rising flap over Bush-era interrogation techniques of high-value detainees in the War on Terror are far less starkly contrasted than we now generally believe from the practices of law enforcement officials busting suspected pimps, junkies, murderers and thieves. If that’s so, then the Obama Administration’s reluctance to satisfactorily renounce, disclose and open to public scrutiny the excesses of the recent past begin to make some sense.
Full disclosure and accountability would not be limited to post911 CIA monstrosity, but would necessarily lead to scrutiny of the commonplace, traditional methods of domestic law enforcement; a gigantic, retroactive, profoundly destabilizing housecleaning.
It’s an intermittent conversation recently resumed with this:
where I wrote sparingly, and pithily, I think, after considerable thought;
“Perhaps the groan issues from the gut of those of us who are simply over-the-hill in a line-of-sight virtual universe.”
His email effectively encouraged me to blither on.
more wonderful control of language!
I countered with:
Twitter’s likely to remain an alien mystery to me, but the Politics and Popular Culture panel, accessible through the link I dropped,
just reminded me of the groundswell of citizen-journalist energy that crowded into NCMR last summer. And that means that a tweet is essentially the sound of a whistle-blower infinitely complicating the slippery slope between one’s public image(s) and private enterprises. I think that new, more effective definitions of terms like, “transparent”, “public”, “secret” and “national security” cannot possibly keep pace with developing hardware, let alone the purposes to which people will put it.
When everybody’s wired, when every audience member represents critical press, when there is no “off-the-record”, when everyone you meet is a potential iHole…whither confidentiality and trust?
Perhaps the next big real estate boom will depend upon LAN-damping, communities in which no electronic message can result in wider/global consequences.
I absolutely loathed The Final Cut until I caught the commentary; afterward, it became one of my favorite films, even though it’s only a primitive and preliminary dance around a raft of pivotal 21st Century dilemmas…an era in which no man is an island unless he pays a bunch.
I really like the line you drew between tweeting and pun-ishment. Effective communication, by means of the dreadful kludge of the English language, demands a degree of consensual seriousness and sincerity, which punning completely invalidates. The punisher objectifies the mode of communication at the violent expense of content, while devaluing the correspondent by failing to take the message and the messenger seriously. There’s probably no Miranda warning on a free electron. There should be, if anything you say or do can be used in the court of public discourse to sway opinion, it will be used to someone’s ruinous disadvantage, eventually.
The commentary for Murder, My Sweet contained a reference to Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake. The film which Montgomery directed, and in which he also stars, is described as a thriller/mystery in which the camera’s point of view is the lead actor’s point of view, so he only appears in the film when he walks in front of a reflective surface. Netflix will probably have it here in a couple of days. This POV thing I’ve been curious about may turn out to be a totally dreadful way to tell a story. I’m just looking to find out whether it works. I think it’s insane that there are so few examples of persistently coherent POV that nobody I’ve asked can name a film in which it happens — if they’re sure they know what the hell I’m blithering about. Happy Chicago!
Film at 11.
It aligned in time very nicely with my experience of the commentary track for Murder, My Sweet in which a filmmaker named Alain Silver
suggested strongly that Raymond Chandler loathed the unrealistic convention of the iconic, omniscient detective, which led very directly the evolution (if not the creation) of Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.
Mall Cop and Observe and Report aren’t on my list of things to do, but I just placed an order with Amazon for a mess of Chandler in a couple of volumes, wishlisted his selected letters and notes, ordered your Transformations, and pre-ordered the upcoming release of Lonely Are The Brave.
There’s a new and contemptuous Washington Post review of Observe and Report, here:
The most resonant aspect of your blog-post, for me, concerns the super-perceptive detective, whose powers of observation, deduction and inferential reasoning sell well, undeniably.
Buried in the subtext of NYPD Blue, conversely, the intrinsically superior, infallible faculties of eccentrics like Holmes, Monk, House, Poirot, Columbo…have very little to do with the reality of criminal detection.
In True Blue, David Milch and Bill Clark repudiate the common belief that hard, scientific evidence and brilliant forensic criminologists put bad guys away.
Circumstantial evidence and eyewitness reports ain’t shit.
The uber-detective is a comforting fiction that’s just as impracticable as a Miranda warning when a working investigator is busily manipulating a criminal suspect into the production of an unimpeachable confession.
Adding a lawyer to that mix guarantees absolute failure and hopeless recourse to the CSI-brand of pocket-protector and paper-chase police work; anathema to priests and detectives.
They paint an effective detective as an eagle scout or choirboy, whose moral imperatives are pitted against exactly the mean streets Chandler talked about (first). The disparity between the actual job and the official job description, sooner or later, destroys the person who accepts the burdens shouldered by Kelly and Simone, and most especially Sipowicz, all of them bound to protect the public from knowledge of how their job is actually done…and doubly bound to get the job done more-than-less legally/cosmetically.
Milch goes on to say that New York City cops (into the 80s) were famously underpaid and overtasked with the burden of preserving the PR illusion of constitutionally-correct law enforcement, when the job involved something entirely else.
Ridley Scott’s commentary substantiates this (Milch/Clark) perspective in describing the Michael Douglas role in Black Rain, by indicating that the life of a married policeman made divorce an inevitability, and that alimony/settlement always transformed the destitute cop into an aggressive participant in any form of lucrative corruption. Scott presents the same point of view from a slightly different angle in Someone To Watch Over Me.
Serpico, The French Connection, Bullit and all of early Eastwood lean far in the direction of very ordinary men (played by rising superstars) bending the rule of law in pursuit of a purer definition of justice than law can quite conceive: Circumstantial Justice, without the pomp.
So who. exactly, is it that dotes on a very long succession of successful movies and television shows about super-detectives and dolts? And why?
I’ve got no reasonable answer to the question posed in your post, but I’ve been thinking that nearly all productions are financed by people/organizations that exert considerable control over the final product. It seems reasonable to suggest that We the People (out here in the dark) are only fictively the primary audience for putative works of Hollywood cinematic and video art. The real-er and far more influential audience is “note”-delivering investment bankers, lawyers; board members and anti-creative old farts whose purse strings call the shots. The ultimate objective of investors doesn’t seem to be the creation of profoundly moving art, nor incisive and insightful visions of authentic reality. They want, instead, maximal return on their investments. So I’m going to guess that Kevin James and Seth Rogen portray moronic stand-ins for We-uns, The Paying Audience (dumbfucks), as visualized by (egomaniacal) Power. And that they see themselves as Holmes, Monk, Columbo…
On the other hand, anything defamatory I’ve said about the Nikon Corporation is probably incorrect. Yesterday I looked beyond their website, and actually called a phone number for Nikon’s Southern California plant. The quarter-century-old lens information I’ve been seeking (in vain) for over a month was faxed to me in an instant, my bayonet plate was ordered, and a photocopy of the 1982 userguide will arrive in the mail next week.
In the words of Emily Litella, I’m an idiot, and “never mind”.
Scott, You have supplied the answer so elegantly, you made the problem disappear. Wonderful. Still, the account is too pessimistic for the likes of me. It’s also a little implausible. I know some people in the investment community and they just don’t know enough about culture to pull something like this off. Best, Grant
I found that interpretation kind of flattering, but incomplete and partially off the point (if I had one [or only one]), so:
Me too. At no time did I intend to convey a sense of concerted conspiracy. I think the revered leaders of all financial industries have amply demonstrated their incompetence at — Everything.
They meddle, and thereby drive down the pre-existing value of everything they control.
Addison DeWitt (a true believer) explains to Eve Harrington all about The Theater in All About Eve. The boundary between reality and make-believe is often vague, complex and tenuous. It’s a line he attempts to migrate across with her later in the film. The very same line has been repeatedly violated by Adelle DeWitt with Viktor in Dollhouse.
There’s a brief moment in which Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Marilyn Monroe appear silent and alone in-frame together.It’s like a science class chart of the evolution of stars and careers in the wake of a golden era of make-believe.
I awoke at 4:30 this morning to watch Compulsion on AMC. The 103minute film was presented in 2.5hours, to make possible the frequent repetition of the very same commercial advertisements, time and again.
Ads for ExtenZe, The Future of Classic, and Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser, shilling for a credit-consolidator) interrupted the movie intermittently at first, but as the plot thickened, the interruptions came more frequently, or perhaps they just annoyed me more keenly. If this is The Future of Classic movie presentation on AMC, it’s a bona fide abomination. The debatable pre-existing value of the movie (at least as a touchstone) for numerous cultural allusions to Leopold and Loeb is in no way enhanced by frequent AMC interruptions to present the same very-lame commercials, again and again and again.
Tracy’s Darrow in Inherit the Wind was a great deal better than Welles’, but no matter who delivers the speech, how does one not love to parody Darrow’s summation:
“this terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some barbaric ancestor… Is any blame attached
because somebody took Milton Friedman’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it?…
it is hardly fair to hang ten thousand financial whiz-kids for the philosophy that was taught him at the university (of Chicago).”
They meddle. We meddle.
We make it slightly more interesting. They make it vastly more costly. —–Scott
(Post Script) Sent from a cell phone. Please forgive brevity and bad spelling.
The work is done. You just need a TypePad account. Actually I think WordPress might be better.
I’ve had WordPress since the start of the writers’ strike (to post at United Hollywood). There seems to be something I’m not understanding. Are you suggesting that I post this conversation at your blog under Dolts in Toyland?
No, I’m suggestion that you post your thoughts, as expressed in our conversations, as often and as widely as possible. They are too good to be wasted on the likes of me. which is not to say I am not grateful to have had a “first look.”
Aw shucks. I’m predisposed to see the stuff I say as unsupported looniness, but okay.
And that’s how this bloglike thing got started.
Nah. Most of the stuff I said was conversational, and intended to tip you off to stuff I’ve been finding that might pique your fancy…attempts at returning the favors you do us all by referencing so allfired many things several times each month, for a long, long while.
And editing that conversational junk into a blog-comment format? Seems a hell of a lot like work.
Thanks, though. —–Scott
Again too pessimesstic for my tastes but tell me please tell me you posted it. Best! —–GrantHis next blog post inspired me to another email message, largely because the film in question isn’t and won’t be on my agenda — I wrote: