Every Other Day
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.