Virginia Leith in Violent Saturday, Richard Fleischer, 1955.
I got so terribly excited by the new Eureka! blu-ray disc of this ineffable thriller that I just had to post a screen cap of it, and I've always loved this particular shot from the POV of peeper Tommy Noonan. I got so excited that I forgot that I wrote at length about Noonan and this film a couple of years back. Which musings may provide some consonance for the above image.
For a long time the only home video versions of this movie have been non-optimized for 16:9 displays, meaning they put a 2.55 image in a 4:3 box, which is obviously less than optimum. The Eureka! disc is the first second true widescreen version [as a commenter below points out, Carlotta in France issued a prior such rendition, I apologize for the error] and hence cause for celebration. It's beautiful in pretty much every other respect too. If you don't have a region-free player you're out of luck at the moment, as the disc if Region-B locked, but I'm reasonably confident a domestic-player-friendly version will surface.
Robert Montgomery in They Were Expendable, John Ford, 1945.
Writing of the movie's lukewarm critical and box office reception in his indispensible new book Five Came Back, Mark Harris observes, "For Ford, an honorable defeat was, in a way, the apt coda to a journey through the war that had begun with a prescient commitment to service more than a year before Pearl Harbor and had ended with a drunken collapse on the coast of France. Although he would shortly resume a robust and prolific career behind the camera as a civilian, there was no avoiding the fact that the years in Field Photo had drained him of some of the vigor that had allowed him to make seven films in three years before the war. When he had left Hollywood in 1941, his children Barbara and Pat were still teenagers; four years later, he had come back to his family and their home on Odin Street with hair that was going white, a bad eye, and ten missing teeth, a grandfather of two who had earned the nickname that many of his colleagues would use for the rest of his career, the 'Old Man.'"
Bette Davis in Deception, 1946, directed by Irving Rapper, shot by Ernest Haller.
Claude Rains in same. The two subsequent shots are joined by a dissolve; the above screen capture of the Rains shot is taken from the middle of a slow dolly-out from a tighter framing.
I watched Deception on the recommendation of my friend Ali Arikan, who was surprised and mesmerized by it when he caught it on television recently. It is a juicy, stylish romantic melodrama but it didn't take me as aback as it did my friend, but as I watched it occured to me that the dutch-angled portentous mirror shots that derive from a certain cinematic Expressionist mode that goes all the way back to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and were perfected in this mode by Michael Curtiz in the likes of, say, Mildred Pierce, made a year before this film for the same studio, Warner Brothers, were either staples of the romantic melodrama genre or even part of a Warner "house style" back in the day. As we know, we really don't get this kind of thing in romantic melodramas anymore.
There are many reasons why. Watching the new Blu-ray of Roberto Rossellini's 1954 Journey In Italy the other day, it occured to me that this—the movie, that is—was one of them. Not that Journey is a visually drab film but it's certainly distinctly, deliberately unaffected (relative to the likes of Deception) in its POV. Today's dramas focusing on couples don't overtly owe much to either Rossellini or Cassavetes, which is too bad, but those filmmakers broke a certain visual stranglehold, or mold if you prefer, and Rossellini made a point of doing it in a film that featured two big movie stars (Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) as his leads. A lot of critics and cinephiles these days are insisting that "neorealism" wasn't a real thing, but whether or not it was, Rossellini did something. Who could have predicted that once the mold was broken, what would eventually take its place would be, in urban romantic melodrams, faux-industrial apartment porn, and in rural ones, faux-Maxfield Parrish or worse yet faux-Thomas Kinkaide?
Veronica Lake, the ultimate special effect, in I Married A Witch, René Clair, 1944.
The insouciant cheekiness of this comedy/fantasy's central conceit allowed the movie to get away with the sort of (near-literal) murder which normlly would have had the Production Code Authority issuing hundreds of kittens. Lake's disinterested and dizzyingly potent erotic presence sold the whole thing as no other presence could. Filmmaker Guy Maddin recounts the stars own sad story in a delightful essay accompanying the new and indispensible Criterion Collection release of the movie. Lake's charm is such that you immediately forget the sad story as soon as she shows up on screen.
Here's a downed tree on Carroll Street between Smith and Court. My Lovely Wife (follow her on Twitter!: @ClaireicalError) were among the very lucky ones in terms of Hurricane Sandy last night, coming through with power intact and only a measly interruption in various digital services. Our neighborhood is a mess but not nearly as much as others are. This was no joke and continues to be no joke.
It's tough after all the anxiety and post-storm confusion to know exactly HOW to help, beyond extending an immediate hand to neighbors who might be in need. I'd say to anyone out there who wants to lend aid from afar or not so afar, a visit to the website for the Food Bank For New York City is a good place to start. As is, as always, the Red Cross, both the nationwide site and the Greater New York site.
If you have more pertinent links, or stories to tell, or just wanna check in, the comments are open for that. Be well, all.
Elise Lhomeau and Denis Lavant, Holy Motors, Leos Carax, 2011
She sank upon her knees beside his pillow, took his thin hand in her own; begged him not to make an effort—not to tire himself.
His face was of necessity serious—it was incapable of the muscular play of a smile; but its owner apparently had not lost a perception of incongruities. "What does it matter that I am tired, when I have all eternity to rest?" he asked. "There is no harm in making an effort when it is the very last. Don't people always feel better just before the end? I have often heard of that; it's what I was waiting for. ever since you have been here; I thought it would come. I tried two or three times; I was afraid you would get tired of sitting there." He spoke slowly, with painful breaks and long pauses; his voice seemed to come from a distance. When he ceased, he lay with his face turned to Isable, and his large unwinking eyes open into her own. "It was very good of you to come," he went on. "I thought you would; but I wasn't sure."
"I was not sure either, till I came," said Isabel.
"You have been like an angel beside my bed. You know they talk about the angel of death. It's the most beautiful of all. You have been like that; as if you were waiting for me."
"I was not waiting for your death. I was waiting for—for this. This is not death, dear Ralph."
"Not for you—no. There is nothing makes us feel so much alive as to see others die. That's the sensation of life—the sense that we remain. I have had it—even I. But now I am of no use but to give it to others. With me it's all over." And then he paused. Isabel bowed her head further, till it rested on the two hands that were clasped upon his own. She could not see him now; but his far-away voice was close to her ear. "Isabel," he went on, suddenly, "I wish it were over for you." She answered nothing; she had burst into sobs; at last he gave her a long groan. "Ah, what is it you have done for me?"
"What is it you did for me?" she cried, her now extreme agitation half-smothered by her attitude. She had lost all her shame, all wish to hide things. Now he might know; she wished him to know, for it brought them supremely together, and he was beyond the reach of pain. "You did something once—you know it. Oh, Ralph, you have been everything! What have I done for you—what can I do to-day? I would die if you could live. But I don't wish you to live; I would die myself, not to lose you." Her voice was as broken as his own, and full of tears and anguish.
"You won't lose me—you will keep me. Keep me in your heart; I shall be nearer to you than I have ever been. Dear Isabel, life is better; for in life there is love. Death is good—but there is not love."
"I never thanked—I never spoke—I never was what I should be!" Isabel went on. She felt a passionate need to cry out and accuse herself, to let her sorrow possess her. All her troubles, for the moment, became single and melted together into this present pain. "What must you have thought of me? Yet how could I know? I never knew, and I only know today because there are people who are less stupid than I."
"Don't mind people," said Ralph. "I think I am glad to leave people."
She raised her head and her clasped hands; she seemed for a moment to pray to him.
"Is it true—is it true?" she asked.
"True that you have been stupid? Oh no," said Ralph, with a sensible intention of wit.
"That you made me rich—that all I have is yours?"
He turned away his head, and for some time said nothing. Then at last—
"Ah, don't speak of that—that was not happy." Slowly he moved his face toward her again, and they once more saw each other. "But for that—but for that—" And he paused. "I believe I ruined you," he added softly.
—Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (Chapter LIV), 1881, from the 1985 Library of America edition