I was recently recollecting the bad old days when I thought I was some kind of Internet Film Criticism policeman, and I got into it with not Some Dude™ but a guy I've come to have a reasonable relationship with, and one of the points he tried to make was that I had some nerve giving another writer TMI grief when I myself posted vacation pictures on my blog. Well. It was/is MY blog, and they were, you know, vacation pictures. And now, as I begin outlining a hopefully brief piece concerning the critical reputation of Woody Allen, I relax by sharing with you a last few treasures from my late mom's seemingly bottomless photo stash.
I sometimes tell close friends that as a baby, I was so fat that my parents could pretty much leave me alone anywhere and be assured that, unless I was kidnapped, I'd be at the spot at which they left me when they returned, because I literally could not move. (And as for kidnapping, no one save a cannibal wants to snatch a fat baby.) Anyway, I didn't have any actual recollection of this state, but now I have photographic proof.
My sister and I had an often fractious relationship in our childhood and teens, so this mid-60s snapshot inspired lots of oohs and aaahs from older relatives, "Look how nice they can be together," that sort of thing. I'd like to say that whatever cinematic allusion attaches to my costume—Rules of the Game, for sure!— was entirely deliberate, but of course it was not.
I include this shot not to mark the beginning of my younger brother's brief but powerful Jodie Foster phase, but to again provide a form of photographic proof: Yes, those long shirt collars in Goodfellas were a thing.
Eighth Grade Yearbook photo, 1972. Glenn Kenny, The Awkward Years, Part II, a saga which I believe is still ongoing.
Two things about this photo: One, how is it that nobody in New Jersey with a cheap camera between the years 1962 and 1985 knew how to properly compose a shot? Even the most headroom-batty among us would have to cop to the overabundance of negative, no make that useless, space in this photo, which I have declined to crop out of respect for verisimilitude. Actually, the culprit might be yours truly: that Ken Follett book is from 1982, the asphalt beneath the beach chair is a driveway; this places the shot at Katz Avenue in West Paterson, where my mom and I (and sometimes my brother) lived for a few years until I finally up and moved to the Big City full-time in '86.
Two, I don't want to slog Ken Follett, but it's doubtful that whatever my mom was thinking when I, or whoever took the shot, took the shot, was spurred by that thriller. I don't know if it's me or if today's atmosphere of cultural discourse is so inflamed or what but I feel weirdly compelled to defend my mom's reading habits here. Hell, I kind of liked Forsyth's Day of the Jackal myself. Yep, my mom liked potboiler thrillers but she also loved Rex Stout, who really is the V.S.O.P. of what he did, and it's due to her influence that I got into him—and to Conan Doyle as well. When she saw me reading a biography of Oscar Levant, she asked to borrow it when I was done, and she enjoyed that. And my mom adored Simenon—when she died, she was halfway through a new translation of The Late Monsieur Gallet that I brought her at the hospital. She liked the Silvina Ocampa poem I read her in the days before her operation, too...but she liked the Eliot cat poems I read to her from Kingsley Amis' collection of light verse a little better. Thank you T.S. Eliot and Kingsley Amis. Love you mom. Miss you every day.
The young Costello doppelgänger is, yes, your humble correspondent, somewhere between years 1960 and 1962 I reckon. I suppose I am so cheerful because the photographer is dangling a raw steak out of frame or something.
Here's the Christmas 1970 Polaroid I alluded to in the post about my mom, below. From left to right, brother Michael, classic rocker me, sister Kathleen, and a pleased Santa Mom in the background. Santa Dad took the shot. I've completely blocked out all memory of the drum kit and I don't even know to whom it was gifted. Seriously, what were my parents thinking?
For aficionados of early 1970s corporate brochure portraiture: Here's my mom with her colleague Yvonne Rivera, posed for a shot in the "Who We Are" section of the glossy handout for Yegen Associates, the small finance firm (I think) where my mom took the job that turned my sibs and I into quasi-latchkey kids, with dicey but not entirely catastrophic results.
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.