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July 25, 2008


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Michael Lieberman

The proof is in the pudding, indeed. Nice.

Chuck Stephens

I'm so delighted you saw the need to use my words to bolster whatever your (non-existent? always incomprehensible?) point might be. I am curious about what that "[sic]" you've interpolated refers to -- do tell. And if you need any more help learning about cinema, or attempting to claw through your confusions, feel free to ask -- or to mis-qoute without permission, as is your wont.

Chuck Stephens

p.s. the discussion from which my qoute above was lifted had to do strictly with subtext in film, and absolutely nothing to do with the primacy of the "flaming" image.

Glenn Kenny

"Sic"—Refers to your citing "Imitation of Life" in all caps.

I could say there is no point...and that I was just trying to see how easy it would be to bait a troll. But I do love how you insist on backtracking. First you comment: "I will simply point you to the entire career of Douglas Sirk, whose films were long accused of being 'just soppy melodramas', yet have, with critical assistance, long since been shown to be anything but." Then you imply that they have been shown to be "anything but" via revelations about the personal lives of Lana Turner and Rock Hudson...and then when you get called on this ridiculousness, you elevate your hissy fit and insist you were just talking about subtext. (And we can't dig it.)

You see, kids, Rock Hudson was gay in real life, and hence he couldn't have ever been really attracted to Jane Wyman, and that's why Sirk's such a great ironist!

And I didn't misquote you, with or without permission. I copied and pasted a portion of your original comment with no alteration, save for the interpolated "sic".

Chuck Stephens

Welcome to Glenn Kenny's Troll Bait, "bought and paid for" ... by Glenn Kenny" (since no one else would.)

Have a flaming day, ace!

Chuck Stephens

And just to be clear (though anyone but Glenn should be able to follow along handily enough): I never "implied" that Sirk's films "have been shown to be "anything but" ['just soppy melodramas'] via revelations about the personal lives of Lana Turner and Rock Hudson" -- indeed, I never implied anything of the kind. You made the idiotic assertion that "...with Sirk, the proof is in the pudding. Everything's up there on the screen" -- a supposition so easily shot down that Helen Keller could rival Annie Oakley in effectivity. I merely pointed out two simple if tabloid instances of things that aren't "up there on the screen" in Sirk's films, and then admitted that my examples were but the tip of the iceberg in this regard. Sirk's greatness is scarcely something I would consider turning to you to confirm; nor do you seem to have a clue regarding Jack Smith. (And with regards your selective and would-be self-serving Smith quotation, it's particularly amusing to remember that it is a "film critic" -- Jim Hoberman -- who has been largely responsible for keeping Smith's own extraordinary legacy alive!)


Sorry to steer this into a different direction, but I've got a question for you, if you don't mind... In the Greencine thread, you say "with Sirk, the proof is in the pudding. Everything's up there on the screen. With Kobayashi, well, apparently you need all the knowledge of Chuck Stephens to make the case. 'Socialist realism.' Yeesh." So, it's possible for anyone to watch a Sirk film and appreciate it for what it is because it's "all up there on the screen" and that's a good thing (I agree).

Thing is, I find it kind of weird to hear you say this, because I know you're a fan of Godard, with whom, especially in his late period, it's not "all up there on the screen". Personally, that's one the problems I've always had with a lot of Godard. I feel that if you're not getting all the tricky references and clever allusions, you're lost. It's similar to Joyce for me, where I pretty much feel like if you're not fluent in five languages and know the history of English literature and Greek myth inside and out, don't bother picking up Ulysses (and don't even look at Finnegan's Wake). Whereas with someone like Proust, if you have any experience with life and have time to spare, you'll get it.

It's not just Godard, either, I find that critics love it when a director "references" another film and automatically give him/her points for it, whereas I just think it's often lazy and fan-boyish on the director's part (how many variations do we need on Eisenstein's damn baby carriage?)

I'm not bringing this up as a "gotcha" or anything, it's just something I've always wondered about and since you're talking about the primacy of the image and all, I thought I'd bring it up.

Glenn Kenny

I don't consider your question a "gotcha". Different artists, and different bodies of work, make different demands on the viewer and/or critic.

Godard is absolutely a more overtly allusive artist than Sirk. That's not to say Sirk doesn't make allusions, but when I refer to it "all" being up on the screen with Sirk, I mean that the irony, the distancing, the societal critique are all...up on the screen. They're in the visuals—Wyman's television tube reflection in "All That Heaven Allows." They're in the dialogue—Lora's surprised and sincere "I didn't know you had any friends, Annie" in "Imitation of Life." They're in the structuring—the way Annie is not given any kind of life outside of Lora's household and her pursuit of her daughter...until her incredible funeral, also in "Imitation of Life."

With Godard, well, he's often so densely allusive that some can argue that he himself is not always aware of what he's alluding to—check the comment thread on my post about Godard and Brasillach. Certainly the more you can pick up in a Godard film, the better. But I still think that a person who doesn't recognize the repetition of the question about being stung by a dead bee that's threaded through 1990's "Nouvelle Vague," say, can jack into not just the visual and sonic wonders of that film but its profound sense of tragedy.

I have to say, finally, that I completely disagree (obviously) with Stephens about what constitutes subtext. From my perspective, subtext is embedded in the work. To say that knowledge of Rock Hudson's sexuality is important to understanding the subtext of a Sirk film is to imply that Sirk was actively trying to subvert the heterosexual idea of Hudson in any given film he did with Hudson. WHICH. SIRK. DID. NOT. DO. Here's Sirk himself: "But you know, strange thing, Rock, although homosexual, exerted a powerful influence on women. I don't only mean on the screen, where you can create an illusion, where he became a big star..."


When I first watched "All That Heaven Allows" (before I knew it's reputation) I felt bad that I was loving it so damn much, because it was just another melodrama right? Even without picking up the irony, it's a great movie. The irony just adds another delicious layer.

Chuck Stephens

Glenn, you have no idea what I think "constitutes subtext" in any general or specific way -- you never bothered to ask, so busy blowing hard have you been.

It's not that subtext is "embedded in the work" "from your perspective" -- it is embedded in the work BY ANY DICTIONARY'S DEFINITION. See, for your edification and future ego-deflation, Webster's own: "subtext: the implicit or metaphorical meaning (as of a literary text)".

That "the" is misleading, since subtext, like the subconscious, is a rather uncontrollable and multifaceted thing. Directors do not control every subtextual element of their works, just as humans are unable to controllable the variables and vicissitudes of the contents of their subconscious.

Your desperate scrambling to put words and notions in my mouth is certainly amusing, if in the end ineffectual. It's what comes out of *your* mouth that's so intriguing -- as in the particularly curious fact that, while you are so obsessed with what's "up there on the screen", you nevertheless seek refuge in a Sirk quote which doesn't have anything do with "subtext", but in which he nevertheless makes EXPLICIT reference to things beyond the screen which he felt compelling -- and in particular, the conflicts and considerations of Hudson's on- and off-screen sexuality! I haven't seen such a slapstick act of inadvertent self-revelation since the days that Nabokov used to rail (in patently and exquisitely Freudian tones) against Freud, against psychoanalysis, and against interpretation.

Here's the deal, squirrel: subtext(s) exist, regardless of the director's intentions, or a critic's ability or inability to perceive it/them. You may not be able or willing to engage with the variety of materials which subtext(s) may conceal or reveal, yet they persist. Hudson's sexuality is but one of many, many subtextual artifacts lurking with Sirk's films and the discourse which surrounds them. Hudson's sexuality, hidden or revealed, does not have anything to do with Sirk's greatness, or his exquisitie sense of irony -- nor did I imply that Hudson's sexuality is ironically employed by Sirk in the thuddingly dull, one-to-one manner that seems to be all you can come up with, as if Sirk were saying "See fellas, Rock's gay, but I'm making him play straight -- ain't I a great Irony-ist?"

Still, Hudson's sexuality is, along with many, many others things, a facet of the realm of Sirkian subtext-iana. And in your qoute, we find even SIrk himself in concurrence.

Chuck Stephens

and before you work up a lather over my typo, "Slrk", rest assured that I find it amusing too.

Glenn Kenny

Aw, hell, Chuck, I won't get into a lather over your typo—I'm sufficiently chuffed that I was able to get you to address some putative points rather than merely make fun of my employment status (about which, I am compelled to point out, you know precisely one fact). I don't imagine we're ever going to find much common ground, so I'm not sure if I ought to bother to point out that in certain respects this post was meant humorously—I don't normally go about using terms like "pro and contra," and I thought the juxtaposition of two over-the-top pronouncements could have been, you know, a little funny. Of course I don't endorse Smith's anti-critic observation, but I understand it. Also, for me, the nub of the Sirk quote I cited was the phrase "where you can create an illusion," which I would have italicized, but I couldn't get the HTML code to work in comments. It's the little things that screw you up, I find.

So, anyhoo, Chuckles, what do you make of the contrast between Cage's and Smith's philosophies as limned in Branden Joseph's "Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage"?

Chuck Stephens

In that Tony Conrad, as a musician, is a laughable hack with exactly one idea (keep sawing away and eventually you'll hit, like the proverbial broken clock, enough harmonic overtones that someone will think you're onto something), I confess to not having read the text in question. (I don't think so much of Conrad's *The Flicker* either, that being the only one of his films that I've seen; Paul Sharits did it better, and with pictures!) That ought to give you enough new material to toss darts in my direction for another couple of days.

Glenn Kenny

...whereupon Richard Nixon walked into the room.

Sorry, sir, I'm done. You're way too fast for me.

Chuck Stephens

"...whereupon Richard Nixon walked into the room."

Is that a reference to "Where the Buffalo Roam"?

Glenn Kenny

No, sir, it's a reference to the persecution complex you just developed. Like I said, too fast for me.

Chuck Stephens

Sorry, I thought you had some interest in cinema -- though your persistent and unrelenting interest in me and what I think is...curious. Whatever might the subtext of all that be?


Man, those are two spectacular screen grabs. Just bloody breathtaking.

What we need here is a Sirk blogathon. Or maybe a Montez/Sirk/Fassbinder blogathon.

Now I am going to tiptoe away ...

Glenn Kenny

Thanks, C. I DO aim to please-most of the time...

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