“Comedy is the summit of logic.”
This post is part of the See You In The Fall Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog.
Physical comedy in film is a funny thing. Yes, I did just write that sentence. Please keep reading. What I am trying to say is that physical comedy works like no other form of comedy. It is easily accessible, giving it the ability to cross language barriers and age differences. This is because physical comedy is visual. No one is telling a joke, and there are no one liners. There are, in a sense, no explicit cultural standards that have be understood in order to appreciate it. This is why it works so well in film, a visual medium. At the same time it can contain depth. It can tell us more than what it showing us on the surface of the gag. Whether that is philosophical or ideological, it can be grounded in some deeper meaning.
Physical comedy characterized by the visual gag. The gag is the comic effect or joke being conveyed. In some cases the gag can span the whole film. While seemly simply in its design, the physical comedy gag is intricate in its set up. It is this intricacy and regard for detail that made me think of Jacques Tati as a subject for a post on physical comedy.
The films of Jacques Tati are not overtly slapstick. His comedy is more subvert, but still within the vein of physical comedy. I chose PlayTime (1967), because it is his tour de force, the work that took him years to complete, was a financial failure, and is considered a masterpiece today. PlayTime is one of four films featuring the character of Monsieur Hulot, played by Tati himself. Much has been sad about this film, its use of space, sound, set design, mise-en-scene, color, and movement. What I would like to focus on are just two scenes in the film that really show Tati’s ability to use subtle physical comedy. Particularly the use of sound and space. PlayTime is a critique of modernity, its built environments, and how people are effects by those environments. Therefore it uses those built environments to visually tell the audience something. It is interesting to note that Tati always shot his films without sound. Inserting the soundtrack in afterwards in post production. PlayTime is very effective visually. But it is the addition of sound heightens this effect dramatically. PlayTime takes sound design to a whole other level, integrating it into every visual aspect of the film.
Monsieur Hulot meet Monsieur Giffard, in a minute. After we are introduced to a group of American tourists, a very important old man, and a faux Monsieur Hulot, we finally meet the real M. Hulot stepping awkwardly off a bus. We already get the sense that he is out of place. This awkwardness relating to the trappings of the modern world is nothing new to M. Hulot. As this is demonstrated in the previous Hulot film, Mon Oncle (1958). He makes his way to an office building where he shows the porter a slip of paper. After some finagling with a large switchboard, the porter arranges for M. Giffard to meet M. Hulot. Using forced perspective, we see M. Giffard approaching. Hulot does not. The clip clap of Giffard's shoes on the floor tell us he is near, Hulot stands and is told to sit back down by the porter, who in turn sneaks another drag from his cigar. There is a complete disassociation between what we are hearing and what we are seeing. Hulot doesn't know what the audience knows in regard to Giffard's distance from him because the sound of his shoes are telling him that M. Geffard is close. It takes a long time for Giffard to reach Hulot. This reminds me of a scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail (1975) where Lancelot is storming the castle after his horse is shot by an arrow. The guards see him come up over the rise repeatedly. The shot is played over ad nauseum until, bam! He's at the gate. I get the sense that Tati is attempting to give the audience the same type of feeling. How could Geffard possibly be that far away? And perhaps something deeper is being said here, that modern buildings misuse space.
M. Giffard is a busy man, as the film progresses we see how busy. So he has M. Hulot wait in a sparse, glass waiting area. It is here that Hulot encounters a reoccurring set piece, the black chair. The chairs in the waiting area have the ability to bounce back after being sat in, or pushed down. Something Hulot finds very curious, and later learns is a selling point for the chair. As he moves around the waiting area initially, the sound we hear is the outside noises of the street. Almost as if Hulot is a museum exhibit. An exhibit that no one looks at. As we move inside with Hulot the sound of the interior is static, humming. Tati desired it to sound as if it was a vault. The chairs make a funny, fart like, noise when they retake their form. Hulot finally finds a spot to sit. M. Lacs is escorted into the room and sits on the opposite side of the door from Hulot. M. Lacs is robotic in his movements, each of which have a sound effect. These sounds in turn make his almost ritualistic movements comical, giving them rhythm. We, along with Hulot, can only stare at M. Lacs.
M. Lacs brings a one man band of sounds into this sterile soundless environment. His movements are exaggerated by the soundtrack placed on them. He is a product of the modern work space. Making sure his pants are clean, his nose is properly moisturized, and his papers are in order. Like that of M. Geffard, M. Lacs actions are exaggerated for comedic effect. The introduction of this character to the waiting area only further indicates Hulot's unfamiliarity with modernity. This misplaced feeling is apparent in the next scene I would like to discuss. The farting chair and M. Geffard reoccur in it as well, tying the two scenes together both plot and thematic elements.
Once Hulot finally leaves the building, unable to find M. Geffard, he gets back on a bus. Getting off there is someone yelling his name. It is an old friend from the war, who invites Hulot into his apartment for a drink. However the camera doesn't go with Hulot, but stays outside of the apartment. Sounds heard are that of the street outside. Much like that of the earlier scene when Hulot first enters the waiting room. The wide angle shots during this scene give us a view of the entire apartment, which has a floor to ceiling window much like that of a store front. As the camera pans both adjacent apartments come into view. They are mirror images of each other, sharing a common walls, which houses a television. This camera movement gives the viewer the ability to see what is going on in both apartments simultaneously. Tati uses this effect to bring some visual comedy into play.
What Hulot doesn't know is that Geffard is actually in the apartment adjacent to the one he is in. He is shown all the amenities of the apartment, the lamp with the cigarette holder hidden inside, those farting chairs, and the television. The comedy comes from the way in which Tati lets the viewer create the story. As Hulot is inside, the camera never goes inside, so we never hear a word they are saying. We are forced to make up in our minds what is happening. Meanwhile, Tati letting us in on joke as if the camera is showing something funny to the audience it noticed while being forced to wait outside for Hulot.
One of the best uses of the camera to do this is after Hulot has left, and Geffard has been forced to take the family dog for a walk, each apartment is left with only one person in it. Hulot's firend, who is watching television while changing. And Geffard's wife, who is also watching television. As the camera pans to the middle of the two apartments the dividing wall between the them visually becomes less apparent. Thereby making it seem as though the woman is watching the man strip. Brilliantly funny use of a simple camera move.
Tati is also continuing the theme of transparency that began in the office building. That the modern world offers no privacy. And therefore we in turn lose a bit of self with this loss. Of course he does this through a visual satire of the modern world.
While PlayTime is does not have a slapstick of a Stooges skit, it does have elements of a great physical comedy. Timing, well thought out visual gags, and depth. Because sometimes a pie in the face is more than just a pie in the face. Or as Napoleon put it "Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu'un long discours" (A good sketch is better than a long speech).
If you have not seen this film, I encourage you to check it out. It contains so much more than the two scenes I talked about in this post. Also, take a look at other films by Tati. You won't be disappointed. Want to know more about the genius of PlayTime? Check out this video essay by David Cairns done for Criterion
“With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass
She is fast and thorough
And sharp as a tack...”
-Cake, Short Skirt, Long Jacket
This post is for the Lauren Bacall Blogathon, hosted by In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood click here to see all of the other posts celebrating the life and work of this stunning actress.
“You know how to whistle. You just put your lips together and blow.” A famous line from a film. How famous and what film, I didn’t know when I first heard it. The film I was watching when I heard that line was Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989). At the time I thought it was a pretty good line. Good dialogue is good dialogue. But how, by whom and when it is said can change it. Which begs the question, how much of the value of dialogue lies in the delivery of it? A question that came to mind when watching To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). Could anyone else have said that dialogue as good as Lauren Bacall? Maybe, but I am glad we didn’t have to find out.
I didn’t know who Lauren Bacall was when I was 11 years old watching the adventures of shrunken kids, but I knew her counterpart Bogie. He was the guy from The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942), two of my favorite movies at the time. The guy who made the 11 year old me think “man, smoking is so cool”, and wonder if my grandparents had time to do anything besides drink scotch and roll cigarettes. Oh, and fight Nazis.
I eventually learned that Bogie had a better half, Bacall. They’re names roll off your tongue, as if they were meant to be said together. This kismet is felt by not only Bogie and Bacall but by everyone else who sees them together on the screen. But given that this is a post about Bacall, I should probably focus more on her. I chose To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946) because they have two important people who played a role the work of Lauren Bacall, Howard Hawks and Humphrey Bogart.
Howard Hawks directed both To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, seemingly one right on top of the other. However, the studio held back on the release of The Big Sleep, and some changes were made to the original film. Changes that were good for Lauren Bacall, but perhaps bad for the confusing plot line of the film. What stands out for me in both films is the use of dialogue. That Hawks knew how to use dialogue is apparent in both films. The quintessential example of Hawks' mastery of this is His Girl Friday (1940). It is one of the greatest dialogue-driven films ever made. The dialogue existed on the page, but it was Hawks who insisted on overlapping it. This gave a realism to the way the characters spoke. This realism is something that can be seen in To Have and Have Not. This is in part from the delivery of dialogue by the two main characters, but also by chemistry between them that is visible on the screen.
Bogart was already famous when he started working on To Have and Have Not. He took newbie Bacall under his wing, eventually he was taken under her spell. In the film it all starts with a light.
“Anybody got a match?”
A line delivered in Bacall’s rasp, but more is said in the silence before and after the match strike than any one line. Harry the character, Bogie the actor, as well as the audience are hooked. Later over another cigarette, this time lite by Harry, the two share a moment. Before being interrupted. Events from this interruption lead to the need for a drink. The drink that never happens brings the characters together further. The drink itself, a bottle, is passed from one room to the other lending itself to Slim’s backstory and ultimately Harry’s agreement to help the free French. The sexual tension is building, bottled up just like the liquor. Until Slim plops herself down in Harry’s lap.
“Sometimes I know exactly what you’re going to say. The other times, you’re just a stinker.”
(She kisses him)
“What’d you do that for?”
“Wondering if I’d like it.”
“What’s the decision?”
“I don’t know yet.” (They kiss a second time) ”It’s even better when you help.”
Bacall lets the lines come out of her mouth with a trail at the end, almost as if to let them linger in the air for a moment. After kissing him, she gets up and makes her way towards the door. Slim seems to always be leaving Harry right when things are about the get good, and it’s as if she does this intentionally. He won’t take her money, but he will take her lips. Something far more valuable. Then comes the most famous set of dialogue in the film:
“You know you don’t have to act with me Steve. You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Oh, except maybe just whistle.”
“You do know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
Bacall again let’s the last words linger in the air as she shuts the door on Bogie, who in turn gives a slow whistle.
It is obvious that Bacall has been given the best lines in the film. That scene sets up the relationship dynamic between Steve and Slim for the rest of the film and in a way determines how we view Bogie and Bacall's relationship, both on screen and in real life. Something that can't be matched in any other film they did together after that.
In an attempt to capture “lightning in a bottle”, as they say, again on the screen Bogie and Bacall were paired up in The Big Sleep (1946). The title sequence tells everyone exactly what the studio was selling, not a Raymond Chandler novel, but a Hollywood romance. What I love about the title sequence and the end credits is the use of the cigarettes pairing together. It is almost as if they want us to remember To Have and Have Not by placing a visual cue reminding us of it, and the actors first scene on screen together. Or maybe I am just reading too much into a cigarette. But unfortunately the film doesn't work as well as the first one.
Firstly, Bacall is not given the best dialogue in this film, Bogie is. Second, the relationship dynamic in the film is not the same as To Have and Have Not. Although it was shot almost immediately after To Have and Have Not in 1944, release of the film was held off until 1946. This gave time for Hawks to re-shoot some scenes with Bacall and Bogie that were not as good as they could be. While this helped ultimately with Bacall's appearance on screen, some of the plot of the film was lost.
Though she doesn't have the lines she had in To Have and Have Not, Bacall is still able to hold her own in scenes with him. There is still some air of chemistry between the two present on the screen.
"How'd you happen to pick out this place?"
"Maybe I wanted to hold your hand"
"Oh, that can be arranged."
Again the tension is high. Both characters don't seem to like each other but can't help the fact that maybe they are falling for each other.
Driving back from Eddie Mars' casino.
"Remember I told you I was beginning to like another one of the Sternwoods?"
"I wish you'd show it."
"That should be awful easy." (He kisses her)
"I liked that. I'd like more. (They kiss a second time) That's even better."
"All right, now that's settled. What's Eddie Mars got on you?"
"So that's the way..."
This dialogue mimics the kissing scene in To Have and Have Not down to Bacall's assessment of the second kiss. Much like that of the first scene, her words linger in an exhalation of approval. Unlike the previous film, it is Marlowe who puts an end to the fun and games.
In both To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep Lauren Bacall gives us enduring lines of dialogue delivered to us in a way no other actress could have done.
“Picasso had his pink period and his blue period. I’m in my blonde period.”
-- Hugh Hefner
I had two things when I was kid, blonde hair, and an affinity for all things British. The blonde hair came from my mother. The love of the Britons from my father, who had lived there for a few months on a mission trip. I wrote poems about England, informed my fiends of their driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and played the British version of Monopoly. So much so that I didn’t know the names of the properties on the original Monopoly board. It was all Fleet Street and Mayfair in my eyes. But it wasn’t until I went to grad school in GB that I discovered one of my British loves, Hammer.
Although my love of all things Python may be greater, Hammer holds a special place in my heart. Gothic horror in general being one of my favorite genres, the films of Hammer Studios speak to me.
Having watched and rewatched, for the most part, all of Hammer’s films I began to notice similarities. No, not that they have the same actors, or set pieces. Other similarities, one of which I would like to talk about here.
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight, Dracula is a lover, not a fighter. He loves women, but mostly he loves the chase. He reminds us to not hate the player, hate the game. Also, Dracula loves blondes. Sure he will definitely chomp on a brunnette and has been known to neck with a redhead or two, but blondes are his main course.
In five Dracula films produced by Hammer from 1966 to 1972; Dracula Prince of Darkness(1966), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula(1970), Scars of Dracula (1970) and Dracula A.D.1972 (1972) we see Dracula’s love for fair haired beauties come in many forms. Although this list does not cover the entire Hammer Dracula series, nor does it delve into the vampire offshoots such as the Carmilla trilogy or Vampire Circus (1972). These five films cover the height of Dracula canon produced by Hammer after it’s attempt to break away from the normal Dracula plot lines in Brides of Dracula (1960) and before its complete demise with Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Although Horror of Dracula does feature a a blonde Mina, and would perhaps fit the criteria I am describing below I have omitted it from this list given it's chronological distance to the other films and its stricter adherence to the Stoker novel.
Blonde hair is sometimes associated with innocence. Many people have blonde hair as children, eventually developing darker shades as they grow older. This can also be a reflection of purity. White is pure, therefore, blonde is pure. Or some would have us to believe. Alfred Hitchcock once stated “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” He is speaking to a blonde’s visual purity. Something psychological that the audience subconsciously picks up on and the director knows. Innocence is what every good victim in a horror film has. It’s what needs to be corrupted. And who better to corrupt it than the “Prince” of darkness, Dracula. This innocence is what separates the blonde in these films from the other women.
Blondes are also associated with having low intelligence. A “blonde” moment, a ditsy blonde, and bimbo carry connotations of stupidity with lighter hair. The first "dumb blonde" is thought to be an blonde French prostitute named Rosalie Duthé who had a reputation of being beautiful but dumb inspired a play about her called Les Curiosites de la Foire (Paris 1775). Again, who makes the best victim, stupid people. So it would be logical that Dracula would want someone docile who he could control as his main squeeze. Granted he seems to have no trouble controlling anyone with his mesmerizing stare.
Oddly enough, it has been noted that gentlemen do in fact prefer blondes as title of the book, play and films suggest. Scientific studies have delved into this theory. Placing evolutionary biology for one of the possible causes of this phenomenon. Or simply is it, as Clairol put it, blondes just have more fun? A subject Darwin actually was known to have studied at some point during the the 1860’s. As we shall see, perhaps deep down Dracula is just a normal guy like the rest of us. Just undead.
In 1966 Hammer was attempting to bring back a formula that had previously worked for them so well. The duo of Cushing and Lee. Cushing’s intelligent, but flawed Van Helsing paired well to Lee’s silent but sensual Dracula. Skipping the previous film, Brides of Dracula, as a one off this new film picks up where Horror of Dracula left off. Once again Drac is terrorizing a group of individuals who just wanted to stay in a warm castle for free over night, maybe a few nights, or a week, while they were in Eastern Europe on holiday. As with the many other Dracula movies that follow this, a trusty servant aids in Dracula’s rebirth. Prince of Darkness also follows the idea set forth in Horror of Dracula, with one woman initially being bitten giving Drac access to the second woman in the group who also falls under Dracula's spell. As with most of the films this has something to do with revenge. Dracula may be a lover, but he can hold a grudge. Unlike forthcoming films, which often portray a more sinful woman juxtapositional to the pure woman, Prince of Darkness has two lead women who are both pure in nature. One who is almost prudish, Helen, who is corrupted by Dracula to become something of a vixen. And the other who is good hearted, has her husband make a lot of decisions for her, and blonde; becomes the object of Drac's desire. Diana posses qualities all of the main women in these films have in common. Flaxen hair, beauty, and perhaps a nativity of the outside world.
He did it again, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) brings the lover of the dark back from the dead Encino Man (1992) style. And he is pissed that someone put a cross on the front door of his castle. This leads him to the home of the perpetrator, the Monsignor. To get his revenge Drac will have the help of a priest, and a red haired bar maid. Eventually though he disposes of his first girl for the Monsignor's niece Maria. Maria is a good girl. Raised by her uncle and her mother after her father died, she is much different from Zena the bar maid. And Paul her boyfriend knows it. Given a choice he chooses Maria, even when in a drunken super after his "meet the parents" dinner didn't go so well. While Dracula is really just out for revenge, he can easily appreciate the beauty and purity of Maria. A purity he attempts to corrupt. But alas, he is thwarted again. At least this time he didn't fall in some thin ice.
In Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) the prince of darkness is brought back to life in doing just that, tasting his blood. Well, only one person had the guts to do it, the other three chickened out and therefore had to die. It's just how it works. How best to get this revenge? By praying on the relatives of those men. Alice is a young woman in love. She doesn't quite yet understand the way the world works. You can't marry someone below your station. Unfortunately for her father, it is the man she loves, Paul, who will be her savior. Alice is convinced to take a shovel to her father's head by Dracula. He uses Alice to lure Lucy, her father, and the others to the abandoned chapel where they are killed. Unfortunately for Dracula he discards Alice just before his is about to win, claiming he has no more use for her. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn Drac. You should have just kept her hanging a little longer playa.
Alice is not the brightest bulb in the lamp. Her father's tight grip on her has left her without a knowledge of how the world outside works. She has a childlike innocence to her, even when killing. She is corrupted by Dracula, into killing her father, dooming her best friend, and almost killing the man she loves.
In the same year as Taste, Hammer produced Scars of Dracula (1970). This may be the best reanimation of Drac in the series of films I am writing about. If only blood would stop mixing with the ashes of Dracula the world would be a better place. And if only villagers could kill Dracula, well, then this movie wouldn't exist so. Sarah is having a birthday, but the one person she wants to be at the party isn't there. Paul is to busy being picked up by a driver's coach. Are you catching on that all these guys are named Paul? Anyway, after Paul has gone missing Sarah and his brother Simon decide to try and find him. This is of course after an entire village population is decimated by bats, but never mind that.
Sarah and Simon meet Dracula, who is unfortunately having trouble finding good help. Klove is in love with Sarah. She is so beautiful that her picture alone makes men fall for her. He is punished this, and Dracula must now have her for his own. Unfortunately for him, he forgot the cardinal rule of playing out in a thunderstorm. Never raise your metal spike in the air. Always, always, play with the spike on the ground. Sarah is like that of Alice and Maria. She posses a nativity of the world around her. She also has a purity that the other women posses. Unlike Tania who jumps right into bed with Paul. Granted she tries to kill him after.
The final film in our look at Dracula's blonde obsession is Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). Set in the 19th century at the beginning of the film, it jumps forward to the year 1972. Hence the title. Much like that of Taste the Blood of Dracula, the arrival of Dracula is due to a ritual gone bad. This time its with a group of swinging kids. One of which is the great, great granddaughter of the famous Van Helsing. She is just a buxom blonde looking to have a good time. She is lured into the hands of Drac by her boyfriend, who has been turned. All her girlfriends are pretty much dead. If not for her anthropologist grandfather, who knows all about vampire lore, she would have been Drac's bride for sure. Like the other women in these films, in the end she is saved by a man. In this case it is her grandpa, who has set up a jungle style booby trap for Dracula outside of the church.
Blondes are synonymous with being dumb, naive, oblivious to the world around them, and lots of fun. We see in these films blondes represented as naive, simple, and pure. Perhaps Dracula was looking for a good time, and not knowing the area, he went for what he assumed was the closest available source of fun. Kill the barmaid, the prude, or the slutty eager girl. They don't know how to have a good time. Keep the good girl, she’s blonde. Or perhaps Dracula was pinning throughout all of these films for his first blonde love, Mina. Trying to replace her with new women and getting his heart broke every time.
“I'm nobody's friend. The man with no place.” -Lucky Gagin
This post is for the 1947 Blogathon hosted by Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. Check out both of their pages for a recap of this blogathon and all the posts regarding this amazing year in film!
Carousels are interesting. While I am not a fan of roller coasters, I get them. Carousels I do not. Granted I am no longer a child, the main customer of the carousel. What is interesting to me about the carousel is that you can be simultaneously moving yet stationary. Moving around a fixed point, you eventually come back to the point where you began. Unless of course you’re riding with Mary Poppins. Riding a carousel can also give the illusion that you are stationary and that those outside of the carousel are moving. It is only when ou reach your starting point that you regain your bearings.
Many things in life, such as karma, are said to have a spherical effect. “What goes around, comes around” is a phrase we say to others when trying bestow the karmic effects of their poor decisions. This usually relates to revenge. That those who have wronged us in some way will inevitably get theirs. Be it through our doing, fate, or the universe’s. And that balance will somehow be restored. For the most part, we want this to be from our own doing. The best revenge in living well, as I have often been told. And in Ride the Pink Horse (1947), Lucky Gagin is trying to do just that.
In 1947, two years after World War II, Robert Montgomery directed and starred in two films; Lady in the Lake and Ride the Pink Horse. Having stepped behind the camera for the first time with Lady in the Lake, giving the audience a film almost entirely shot in first person POV. He now turned the camera back around and on himself in Ride the Pink Horse. Released in October of 1947, Ride the Pink Horse is somewhat lesser known than Lady. But it stands out as one of the best noir films of that year. A year that gave us, Out of the Past, Lady from Shanghai, and Nightmare Alley. With it long takes, inventive camera angles, unusual staging, atypical settings and dramatic acting Ride the Pink Horse has a unique look within the noir canon.
The film begins as the camera following a bus in what could be a commercial for Greyhound, talk about product placement. The bus pulls in the the station at San Pablo. Among those departing the bus is Lucky Gagin. He makes his way into the station, past natives selling trinkets, to a seat in the terminal. He pulls out a gun and a check. Two forms of paying someone back. He takes the check and tosses it into a locker. Then gets some gum, chews it, and uses it to stick the locker key to the back of a large map situated in the terminal. His movements are slow. The camera mimics his movements, with its slow tracking of him from the bus to his exit with no cuts.
The La Fonda Hotel is difficult to find, at least for Lucky it is. Whether it is bad directions, fate or happen change, Lucky stumbles across Pancho’s carousel and three senoritas. One of these young ladies can’t stop staring at him. Pila knows the way to the La Fonda. It’s on the other side of town, a much different looking area than where they are. Before parting ways she gives him a small idol of the Mayan goddess for his protection. Apparently she knows something bad is going to happen to him. The hotel has no vacancies due to the fiesta that starting. But that’s ok, it still serves Lucky’s purpose. At room 315 the man he is looking for isn’t in. He meets Jonathan
“You his barber?
“I’m Mr. Hugo’s private secretary”
“To bad, I was going to ask you for a shave.”
After punching Jonathan in the stomach he meet miss Marjorie . She explains she's about to have dinner with Mr. Hugo. She’s a little eager to help Lucky. Lucky needs a place to crash for the night until Hugo returns. The bellboy informs him of a local place that might be able to put him up. He heads there and outside runs into Pila once again. She’s waiting for her girlfriends who are inside meeting muchachos. Something of which she has no interest. Lucky goes in, the music stops. He is not a regular apparently. Inquiring for a place to sleep leads to tequila and currency that can’t be changed. Tequila leads to making some new friends, it almost always does. Immediately befriended by Pancho. Lucky finds himself back where he started, at the carousel. Pila has been waiting and follows him intently. Even though Pancho insists she is too skinny and that there will be much nicer girls tomorrow at the fiesta. Pila gets her first ride on the carousel per Lucky’s choice, “the pink one”. They even get a nice visit from Retz, Lucky’s other fan. The next morning Pila gets a lesson in what it takes to look like a human. Lucky gets a lesson in the fortune of finding a new bucket. And Pancho doesn’t have a hangover.
Lucky finally gets to meet Mr. Hugo in his room to discuss a proposition he has for him. A proposition Hugo has heard before, from Lucky’s late friend Shorty. Hugo doesn’t seem to mind that Lucky wants to raise the price from $15,000 to 30,000 for the check he wants. Because they are one in the same, the same type of person. They agree to meet at the Tip Top Cafe at 7. During lunch in the hotel, Pila and Lucky are interrupted before they can even eat their fruit salad. Marjorie has a proposition for Lucky. They use this situation to set themselves up for life, milking money out of Hugo. Lucky doesn’t like this dead fish of a plan.
At the Tip Top things are not as the cafe name implies. The money hasn’t arrived. So Lucky is forced to wait, dance a little, light a cigarette, and get stabbed. To the demise of the men who attacked him. Pila finds Lucky and returns him to Pancho. They patch him up slightly bu only to have to move again. Pancho is questioned by a couple of men, in what may be my favorite scene in the film. The camera fixed on the children as they pass on the carousel. Giving the audience only glimpses of Pancho's attack. They are pursued through the cantina, finally making it to the bus to leave San Pablo. It turns out the fiesta has brought everyone out to party. Including the ticket salesman. Lucky is left on the bus. In a stupor, he gets up and retracts his footsteps back to the La Fonda. There Hugo and his men try to get the missing check from Lucky and eventually Pila. Retz steps in at the last moment before both of them are killed. Lucky regains coherency enough to give the check to Retz. It is all over except for the goodbyes.
San Pablo is busy. All the hotels are booked with tourists visiting. The La Fonda gift shop is bustling. Everyone is there to enjoy the native fiesta. The burning of Zozorbra, who brings bad luck, is a symbol all those at the fiesta can get behind. All members of the town are in attendance with even outsiders coming in to the town. In anthropology this type of event is leveling mechanism. A leveling mechanism is a cultural event which is intended to lessen economic differences between groups within the society. Whereas, all members come together and share in distribution and exchange. The backdrop for the story is also this fiesta. And like that in a cultural sense, it also brings the characters together. Those that would not normally speak to each other or interact with each other do. Pila has come to San Pablo for the fiesta. The increased number of people in town lead Lucky to meet Pancho.
Gagin is also attempting to even out some economics between himself and Hugo. He is the poster boy for existential noir characters. He has no place, no friends. He is alienated by the world around him. Returning home from the war, he is unable to find a place in the post war America. He returns from abroad to an America he doesn’t recognize. The people don’t speak the same language as him even though this is his country. The film brings the audience into that alienation. Spanish spoken in the film has no subtitles. We are left to wonder, like Lucky, what the characters are saying. This puts us in Lucky’s place. Unless of course you speak Spanish. Lucky doesn’t care for anything or anyone, except his singular purpose, revenge. That and money.
Whereas Lucky is concerned only with money, Pancho does not concern himself whatsoever with it. In a way Pancho has more freedom than Lucky. He does not alienate himself from others, but welcomes them into his home. Only needing a place to sleep and a good friend to keep him happy. Lucky offers Pancho $5,000 of his cut after he takes a beating for him. Money is the only way he can bring restitution. Pancho doesn’t see it this way. He embraces their friendship from the beginning and all the bad things that may come of it. He is wiser than Lucky, knowing that money can’t fix your problems. “When you're young, everybody sticks knife in you.” he tells Lucky. Implying that when you’re young you make mistakes in seeking things that aren’t really important. And maybe on occasion you get stabbed in the back a few times.
These two characters are polar opposites of the same independent man. One who sees the world where he has no place and another who sees it as all his place.
The name of the film implies the importance of the carousel. It ties Pancho, Pila and Lucky to each other. Returning to it often. It is a place where childhood memories are made. Where children are free to imagine. It can also be a place of entrapment. Children are forced to watch in circular repetition as Pancho is beaten by Hugo’s men who are looking for Gagin. It remains stationary while the characters move around it.
The pink horse is more than just a random suggestion. It is a metaphor for a childhood Pila has missed out on. Lucky asks if she’s ever ridden on a carousel before. When she says she hasn’t he wakes up Pancho from his tequila slumber to give her one go around. It is in a sense Pila’s right of passage into modernity by way of a 19th century amusement ride. To participate in childhood for a brief moment. But all good things must come to an end. And once the rotation is complete she must return to the normalcy of the hear and now.
Lucky’s journey is cyclical like the carousel. Beginning almost a repetition of another man’s journey, Lucky is trying to do the same thing to the same man that his friend did. Picking up where Shorty left off in the cycle. Although Lucky has determined himself to be on his own, friendless and therefore in a sense a free man, he is not. Like that of the children who were caught on the carousel, Lucky is trapped. In loop which is doomed to return him to where it began, death. This cycling plays out visually toward the climax of the film. After being stabbed and put on the bus by Pila he exists the bus and retraces his steps in an almost robotic fashion. Repeating almost everything he we saw him do in the day. Essentially going through the motions. Like that of the carousel he is beholding to a fixed pattern. Though in the end he breaks the cycle. Only through intervention of others does he do this.
Ride the Pink Horse gives us a view of a changing American landscape outside of the city. It is about alienation, revenge, and the circular nature of life. So are we on a fixed pattern or are we free? I will leave that up to you to decide. But the only way to find out is to get on the carousel. But you can choose the color of your horse.
I watched the Criterion Blu-Ray of this film. Check it out here. Also, check out the book and others written by Hughes.
This post is for the "...And Scene!" Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid. Click here to read all the other memorable scenes covered in this blogathon.
I did yoga once. A friend of mine convinced me to take this introduction to yoga course through one of those extended learning programs. It was good, however, when it came to the meditation time at the end of the session I always fell asleep. Meditation didn’t suit me. Okay, meditation laying on my back in a dark room that is air conditioned after a long day at work didn’t suit me. But meditation doesn’t always have to involve lying on a yoga mat and breathing deeply. Meditation is really a focused state. To meditate is to engage in contemplation or reflection. To focus one’s thoughts on; reflect or ponder over.
So what does this have to do with one of my favorite scenes in film? I chose the heist scene from Jules Dassin’s criminal masterpiece Rififi (1955). In watching this scene multiple times I began to notice some things. Both in the nature of the characters and the direction, as well as what the scene can mean for the audience, i.e. me.
The scene takes place approximately a ⅓ of the way through the film. Therefore we have already been introduced to the characters who make up the group. Tony, Jo, Mario, and the new comer Cesar.
Additionally, this has already given the audience time to learn about some of the planning that went into the job. As the case with any heist film, planning is essential. This gives the audience a bit of insight as to what is going to happen during the actual heist. Like most heist films, each character has a job to do. Usually a safe guy, bag man, fence, and brains of the operation, etc. Also, there is always one of those crew members that messes up the job for everyone. Rififi is no different. In this scene we get to see all the members performing at their peak. Each person has a job and they do it or the heist doesn’t happen.
After stealing a car, Tony picks up the other three men and they make there way to an alley near the jewelry store Mappin and Webb. Carrying two suitcases and an umbrella, they make their way to an adjacent entrance near the store. The soundtrack plays as they gag and blindfold the concierge and his wife. They make their way up the elevator, not saying a word. There is this beautiful shot of the elevator rising in the darkness. The light from the box making shadows dance along the walls. They enter a room on the second floor. Once the door shuts, the score also cuts out. The only sound the audience hears is that of breathing and movement. The camera follows the light of the flashlight as it scans the dark room, letting the audience get a layout of the room. They bring the two into a room and tie them to chairs. Blocking out the windows with blankets, they can now turn on the lights and begin to make their way through the floor. Everything is on a schedule, timed, and planned out. Each move is as if it was planned. Tony moves the rug as the other three pick up the piano. Jo pulls out the handle to the crowbar, and Mario inserts the proper piece. While Jo and Mario break away the floorboards, Tony and Cesar break out the tools. Tools which have all been packaged in the suitcase related to the respective uses. The rope pre-knotted lies in wait. A hammer comes out along with a sock to cover it. Jo begins to chisel at the floor, the camera pulls in tight on this action. After cutting the re-bar in the floor, Jo breaches the ceiling of Mappin & Webb. There is excitement.
Cesar uses that umbrella from earlier in a rather clever way. Doesn’t he know it’s bad luck to open an umbrella inside? Foreshadowing, maybe. As they break open more of the floor, shots cut from above the men to below them. With some editing we fast forward a little. They’ve created a man size hole. Now that rope can be put to use. Tony is the first to go down, disabling the alarm system. This gives the others clearance to come down.
Lowering the safe onto a block of wood allows Cesar to work his cutting contraption. Drilling and cutting slowly away at the back of the safe they finally break through. Outside, the police have spotted the car Tony stole earlier. As they inspect the car, Tony waits. Eventually knocking one of the police out and making off with the car. They get away and Tony ditches the car. The musical score picks up as Tony arrives at Mario’s apartment. It is much faster paced than previously as the men are poised with anticipation. It is not until Tony dumps open the bag that anyone talks. They are all taken aback by the score.
Focus is the key to this scene. Each character must remain focused throughout the scene or the job won’t go as planned. Dassin stages the scene so that each shot reveals the preparation and focus that went into the job. It is almost as if he is trying to show us how to rob a jewelry store. Each set of tools is carefully shown as it’s pulled out of the suitcase. Including the alternate “soft” pairs of shoes for each one of the thieves. I like the ballet slippers the best. As there is no dialogue, the characters communicate non verbally. Everything has an order to it. This puts the viewer in with them, pounding away at the floor, grinding the safe back, or even waiting.. Sometimes when viewing this scene I find myself holding my breath. Not wanting to make a sound either. Even shushing anyone else who dares to speak.
What is created in this scene is a meditation on the art of cinema. A reflection on showing rather than telling. At 30+ minutes in length, Dassin doesn’t really leave much to the imagination of the audience. He is telling us everything we need to know about the heist through visual descriptiveness. From the way in which he shoots each action, to the items he chooses to place in the frame. The lack of a musical score in the scene adds an elongated element to it,almost as if we are watching it in real time. Everything about this scene puts the audience right there with the men involved. Focused on the story. Which is exactly what film should do.
This is the scene I tell people to shut up when watching. To silence their phones, and stop crunching chips. If you haven't seen this scene or the others that go with it to make up Rififi, I would highly recommend it.
I watched this scene on Criterion's Blu-Ray of Rfifi. As always, they do an amazing job putting this together. Check it out here.
“Do you play?”
This post is part of the SEX! (Now that I have your attention) Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog. Click here to read all the other salacious, sultry, and sexy posts of other participants.
What is sexy? A very personal and subjective question. While historical context plays a huge role in what we determine to be sexy, whether it’s gap teeth or doe eyes, etc. Somethings, I think, will always be sexy. Like that of sexual tension. There is something to be said about the buildup that comes with pursuit that is downright sexy. And The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) gives us a prime example of it.
While subvert sexuality in film under the Hay’s Code was on its way out by the time The Thomas Crown Affair hit theaters in June of 1968, we had not reached the complete break away of the 1970’s yet. This plays well into the nature of the film itself. The characters are playing a game. A game that is played not out in the open, but through subtlety.
Everyone who has ever seen The Thomas Crown Affair can recall the chess scene. But I would like to make a case for the film’s sexiness as a whole. This is not to say that the chess scene is not one of the sexiest ever filmed outside of that match between Antonious Block and the Devil, just kidding. It is to say that the film as a whole is a crescendo of subvert sexuality and tension climaxing (pun intended) with that infamous chess match. The film constructs a characterization of the two main characters as almost archetypes of men and women in the modern world. The immature male unwilling to let his guard down for fear his masculinity may be put to the test; and the career centered woman, at war with older societal sensibilities and her need for emotional fulfillment.
Bored millionaire Thomas Crown devises a bank heist. Using an alias and some very bright lights, Tommy contracts multiple men to pull off the heist. Each man not knowing the next, only knowing their particular part in the job. The heist is a success, netting Crown a cool 2 million dollars. He then deposits the money in a series of trips to Switzerland. The police are baffled.
Then comes insurance investigator Vicki Anderson. She for some reason immediately identifies Crown as the mastermind behind the heist. So she begins to follow this lead. Apparently Mr. Crown has made several trips to Switzerland recently. Not an odd thing, I make about five a year. This is suspect in Miss Anderson’s book. And let the game of cat and mouse begin. Not only is the overlying pursuit of Crown as the main suspect, there is also the underlying instant attraction between the two. Which eventually leads to a relationship, complicating matters for both parties. Tommy finally is forced to see how much Vicki actually loves him by telling her his plans for another heist. When his Rolls-Royce arrives at the cemetery for the pick up he is not in it. Tommy has given her an ultimatum, which she tears up. We see him flying away on a jet. Ah the love that could never be.
Modernity is stylistically evident throughout this film. There is nothing more mod than split screen storytelling. A stylistic element that attempts to break away from the narrative, giving the viewer an opportunity to see multiple actions as if they are happening simultaneously. Given the film a faster paced feel. Or in the case of this film, make the viewer believe there is more going on than actually is. Modern style is evident in the two main characters as well. Both dress very stylishly. They keep up with style. They are both jet setters every sense of the word.
Thomas Crown is a millionaire investment banker. He also plays polo, flies gliders, rides in dune buggies, and occasionally plans bank heists. He has grown bored with the everyday life of investment banking, polo matches, and gliding. He longs for excitement. And he gets it when meets Vicki Anderson. He is immature in the sense that all modern men are. Seeking vanity over substance. Attempting to fill a void with objects and experiences rather than depth. This immaturity is linked to his sense of trust. He never lets anyone too close. While this works out well when planning and executing bank robbery, it does not bode well for relationships.
Steve McQueen appears to be mildly out of place in a three piece suit. Not what we as the audience are used to seeing him in as well. In the same sense, Thomas Crown is out of place in the world he occupies. Although he is obviously very good at investment banking, he is searching for something more. Something outside the constraints of the banking world, outside of that three piece suit. This feeling is almost unconsciously sensed through Steve McQueen’s actions.
Vicki Anderson is the modern woman. Career driven, not held down by older societal norms of women. This is the swinging 60’s, remember. Her attire suggests she knows the value of materials. Vicki is being pulled in two directions. On the one hand she is a sophisticated, stylish, manipulative career woman. On the other, she is possibly falling in love, subject to emotional and perhaps biological needs that come with it. She is falling for a suspect that could make her a lot of money. It is this internal fight that drives her character development. Will she act on love or money? The opposed of Tommy, who is struggling with issues of trust and in a sense maturity. In the end it seems she goes for the money route, opting to remain a single career woman. While leaving Tommy Crown to travel the world alone.
Sexual tension mounting on both sides culminates in the chess match. A metaphor for the cat and mouse game the two characters have been playing since the beginning of the film. Tommy boy has had most of the control up until this point, leading Vicki along. It is not until the he invites her to play a game of chess that his guard is finally let down. Vicki’s coy looks, lip pulls, and chess piece fondling do him in.
Through quick cuts we see her sexual innuendos played out. First subversively through eye fluttering and arm rubbing. Becoming more overt, lip tugging and piece stroking. Cuts back to Crown show him at first mindful of the game. Vicki’s play is at first innocent, mimicking Crown’s, pawn and then knight. Becoming more aggressive as her distractions become more visible. He then begins to mimic her hand movements as he becomes further distracted. She touches his leg with hers, he flinches. He puts his hand on the side to rest, she touches it. He has lost the match before it even began. Even the lighting of each character is designed to lead the audience on the route of seduction. Dunaway is lite softly, giving her features a glow. While McQueen is also lite from one side, his lighting is much harsher and realistic. Then growing ever distracted by his competitor, he is easily forces into check. Something he is not used to he stands up “let’s play something else”, pulling her to him.
They come together in a kiss. Cutting from multiple angles the camera still lingers on the two, getting tighter and more frequently with cuts. Until the camera spins out of control around the two characters, melting into a colorful blur of light.
They end up spending a lot of time together. Riding in the dune buggy, going to his beach house deck thing, and having a nice time. But eventually they both must come to terms with their own inner complications and the roles they've established with each other from the very beginning.
Unfortunately for these two, it was not meant to be. We are left with the sense that the modern romance is a matter of choice. That we can’t have both love and money. Trust and freedom. These entities do not co-mingle in the modern romance. Although, we the audience know that this is possible.
Getting back to the topic at hand, what is sexy. Whether you're in a new relationship, just met someone, or married for 40 years. Even in the modern age pursuit is still sexy. So pursue, flirt, be subvert, play chess, and make that other person want to pursue you back. Because like The Thomas Crown Affair shows us, there is nothing sexier than a game of cat and mouse. And maybe a dune buggy ride.
And just in case you haven't seen the chess match here it is for your viewing pleasure.
This post is part of the Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Click here to check out all the bodacious babes, beach parties and gnarly creatures others have been writing about for this blogathon.
...therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” -John Donne
Summer always makes me think of the end of summer. I know that sounds stupid, and rightly so, but hear me out. I love the fall. It’s my favorite time of year. Leaves, pumpkin lattes, and Halloween. I know, this is a post about the summer. I am getting to that. During September and sometimes if you’re lucky October, the cold weather holds off for a bit, giving us an Indian Summer. It’s almost as if summer is holding on tight and isn’t going to let go. Unfortunately as pale white gentleman the summer and I have never truly had a great relationship. However Indian summer and I, we are best friends. And it’s during this unseasonably warm time of the year that the film in which I would like to discuss takes place.
The Raft is the second segment in Creepshow 2 (1987), the follow up installment of the horror anthology series Creepshow (1982) by director George A. Romero and author Stephen King. Originally this story appears in the anthology of short stories by entitled Skeleton Crew by Stephen King (note: when looking for this at the bookstore or library do not ask for Skeleton Key, the person helping you will never find it). The Creepshow 1 and 2 modeled after the great pre-code EC comics such as Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Weird Science. This was not the first time the comics of EC have influenced cinema. Amicus Studios produced a two films in the anthology format which were based on stories from EC, Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973). The classic John Hughes film Weird Science (1985) is also based on an EC tale.
The Raft begins on a highway in an unknown location. A Camaro winds its way down the road. Inside are Deke, Randy, Laverne, and Rachel. They are heading toward Cascade Lake, where there is a raft they can swim out to, smoke, bang, and say goodbye to summer. Although it is almost Halloween, Randy or Poncho as he’s called, is certain the raft will still be out on the lake. This is because the owners don’t take it in until “the lake is frozen”. Why Randy is privy to this knowledge is unknown. Deke is wary as this is a long trip out to Cascade Lake. Once they arrive Deke is gladly surprised that the raft is still there and immediately disrobes to head out toward it. Poncho follows suit with the girls lagging behind. The water is cold “45 or 50 degrees” in Randy’s estimate, which could stop your heart. He is pre-med so he should know these things. The girls follow with the previously shy Rachel leading.
As they swim toward the raft Randy notices a duck struggling to fly out of dark mass. The mass is moving towards them. Randy urges the girls to swim faster, even pulling Rachel up onto the raft with some force. Laverne makes it on to the raft as the mass drifts past them. “Looks like it was going for the girls” Randy looks concerned, “No one knows we’re out here. No one at all.” The others are not phased by this. A discussion of whether or not it is an oil slick, who has seen an oil slick over a couple of joints ensues.
Rachel is mesmerized by the blob, sticking her fingers out to touch it. She is almost instantly consumed as the blob runs up her arm eating her flesh and pulling her into the water. “It hurts!” she cries as she is pulled under. Obviously it is now apparent to the group that this is not an oil slick.
Randy is freaking out, Deke has to hold him back, “she’s dead” he tells Randy. And then there were three. Deke decides that he’s going to make a swim for it, perhaps whatever that thing is might be full from eating Rachel. He’s fast swimmer. He has yellow speedos on. He can probably make it. Ah but alas he’s been talking too loud and the creature has overheard his plan. Grabbing Deke from between the cracks of the raft and pulling him down he is helpless to overcome the mass of flesh eating ooze. He drops his lighter and his joint. Party foul bro. With the best swimmer gone, Laverne and Randy are left to balance themselves on the boards of the raft in a Mexican standoff with the creature. Growing tired and cold they decide to huddle through the night for warmth. In the morning Randy wakes up. Laverne is still asleep, so he decides what might be best is to lay her down a little and pull her top up so he can get a fondle in before she and the creature wake up. Little does he know it’s the early creature that catches the humans. Before Laverne is fully awake it grabs her by the face through the crack of the raft. Eating her flesh and pulling her into the lake. Randy decides it's time to make a break for the shore. He dives in, pursued by the creature. He crawls onto the shore just in time. He proclaims “I beat you!”. This is when, like a wave, the creature consumes him. As the creature slips back into the water the camera pans to the right across the Camaro, still playing music, to a sign which reads “No Swimming”.
The Raft begins slowing, with its pace increasing once the characters arrive at the lake. The deaths come swift and fast. As if the creature has been waiting a long time to feed. The viewer is left as befuddled as the characters themselves. There is no back story. There are only hints given during the car ride up. It is not until the very end that we see, not the characters, that there were signs that they shouldn’t be doing what they were doing. Although,“No Swimming” is really just an invitation to swim.
From the very opening scene the hierarchy of characters is apparent. Deke is driving. He is a macho, football player type. The one who takes Randy’s words regarding the raft and puts them into action. Next to him is Laverne, presumably his girl rolling a joint for him. Between them is Randy, or Poncho as he is called by Deke. Randy sits positioned between the two, inching his way into the front seat festivities. Rachel sits quietly in the back, not partaking in the fun. Randy is already poised as the brains of the operation, as he remembered the raft being out on the lake three weeks ago on his geology field trip. This fact will be brought up by Deke later when he is trying to asses the nature of the creature that just consumed Rachel, “You read all the science books...” Visually we see that the group has been paired into couples. Separated by their apparent personality types. Although once they reach the raft, the true nature of some of the characters is revealed.
Although Rachel is quiet and reserved in the car, once at the lake she is the first to jump in the water. Perhaps prompted by Deke’s taunting of Randy. On the raft she strips off her outer layer of clothing, joining Laverne huddled around Deke. Not phased by the mass moving toward the raft. Rachel is the only obtainable woman in the group for Randy, unless his balls don’t turn to ice cubes that is. However it’s clear that she might not be that into him. I mean they went and saved some animals from an oil slick together. They love the environment, what’s not to like about Randy, Rachel? Come on. Unfortunately it is Rachel's nonchalant attitude toward the creature that gets her killed. And we never get to find out if Randy would have made it with her.
Unlike Rachel, Deke’s death possibly more strategic, if not simply unlucky. He is the only one of the group who would be able to swim past the creature. A fact he points out right before it grabs him. Given that he does not read the science books, as he puts it, physicality is the only attribute Deke has to offer the group. Once this is taken out of the picture it is no longer up to the group to out run the creature, but to outsmart it. A feat they do not succeed in doing. I mean maybe it was full, and ate Deke to take that option out of the equation.
Laverne is characteristically different than that of Rachel. She doesn’t go on trips to save animals from oil slicks. Though she does show school spirit. She is an object of men’s desires. She is out of Randy’s league. A fact he will attempt to move past later on, using the old “end of the world” scenario on her. Sort of. As he says when holding her above the raft “I’m not Deke!” He can’t use his strength to save her, something she is not used to. It becomes apparent she has almost nothing to offer the situation by nightfall. She complains, and refuses to watch the creature. Opting to convince Randy to watch it together instead. It is her objectivity that eventually leads to her demise.
Randy’s character posses the most hope from the group and yet ultimately aides in the death of his friend. He is the first to notice something is amiss. The one who states the muck in the water is not an oil slick. Yet this inevitably does him no good. He chooses his baser instincts over intellect, and in the process gets Laverne killed. Up until that point, there is hope for him. At least in the sense that he might make it. Laverne is too stupid, sorry Laverne it’s true, to make it out of this alive. Once the morning comes Randy has in a sense given up. He might as well take advantage of the situation. At least until Laverne wakes up. From a blob eating her face. Sexy. From there on out he is running on impulse. He doesn't use his intellect, gloating on shore about how he beat the creature by arriving to the beach. Failing to ask the question, is this creature an amphibian. Such promise Randy, you were pre-med.
Like Randy points out, it’s no coincidence that the creature shows up once they arrive. It catches a little pre-game duck snack along the way before the main course. It might be speculated that the creature posses the ability to mesmerize its victims. Both Rachel and Randy seem to be in a trance for a time. Maybe it told him to lay Laverne down and pull up her shirt. This also makes me wonder about the owners of the lake. The ones who leave the raft out until the lake freezes, and who post a “No Swimming” sign. Perhaps they have been mesmerized by the creature as well and use the raft as a baiting tool to feed it. Some sort of ritualistic worship. And if we panned the camera further we’d see a pile of cars partially buried ala From Dusk til Dawn (1999) style. Anyway, I am getting a little off topic. While I could wax intellectual about what the creature may possibly represent, either overt or subversively. I’ll leave that up to you for your own interpretation.
The characters in this film are trying to cling onto something, whether its warm weather, a wooden raft or life itself. Everything in this film is fleeting. Except of course for that Camaro’s battery. I mean the radio is on for like 24 hours.
The Raft reminds me of why I don’t like swimming in lakes. All that muck and branches at the bottom. Slimy through your toes. Who knows what’s in there. But it also reminds me of what is so special about summer, its brevity. So whether you're hitting the beach or your local lake this summer, swim safe. Make sure there's a lifeguard on duty, and turn your car off.
"To travel is to take a journey into yourself" -Danny Kaye
This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon.
I can’t find anything I’m looking for. Whether it is an object or a location. When I was younger, my parents would send me upstairs to fetch something, and I would come back saying that I couldn’t find it. They’d proceed to grab it immediately upon entering the room they’d sent me to. “If it was a snake it would have bitten you!” they’d say. Why do we have a tendency to miss the most obvious things? Can’t find your sunglasses? That’s because they’re on your head. Can’t find your car keys? They’re in your hand. Things right in front of us have a tendency to be overlooked. I mean, why would something we are searching for be so obvious to us?
So far we’ve talked about mundane searches - lost keys and meaningless objects. But that search we all undergo to find meaning in our lives plays out in much the same way. I myself tend to think that what I am doing, not currently, has very little impact on the world around me. Much less the entire human existence. Are you like me, wishing you could do something that would impact the world on a greater scale? Thinking that what you're doing has no influence on others? John L. Sullivan felt the same way.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941) begins with the dramatic ending of a movie. Sullivan and two studio heads are screening a film, which has just been held over for a fifth week at the music hall. But it bombed in Pittsburgh. Sully wants to direct a film that has social meaning, with a little sex. He has his eyes set on an adaptation of a book titled “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” The studio executives inadvertently give him the idea that he needs to suffer in order to understand the mood of the piece. So, Sully decides to leave his mansion with only a dime in his hand. Dressed as a bum, he is going to find trouble. He gets some clothing from wardrobe. He couldn’t look more like a movie hobo if he tried. Before he departs on his journey he gets some advice about the trip from Burrows, his butler.“The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.”
“But I'm doing it for the poor. Don't you understand?”
“I doubt if they would appreciate it, sir. They rather resent the invasion of their privacy. I believe quite properly, sir. Also, such excursions can be extremely dangerous, sir. I worked for a gentleman once, who likewise, with two friends, accoutred themselves, as you have, sir, and then went out for a lark. They have not been heard from since...You see, sir, rich people and theorists, who are usually rich people, think of poverty in the negative, as the lack of riches, as disease might be called the lack of health. But it isn't, sir. Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms. It is to be stayed away from, even for purposes of study. It is to be shunned.”
A tour bus has been assigned to follow him with a secretary, shower, cook, bar and a radio connected to the studio. As he walks along the side of the road, the yacht creeps slowly behind as if it waiting to attack some prey. After hitching a ride and giving chase, which happens to include all of the cliches Sullivan mentioned earlier during his discussion with the studio heads.. Sully convinces the crew to let him be and that he will meet with them in Las Vegas on the first. This part has one of my favorite lines in the film. The doctor inquires about Las Vegas and the bus driver simply states “
Thus begins the first part of Sully’s education. He has found his way to the home of a widow and her sister. There he is helping with some chores in exchange for room and board. After noticing Sully’s torso, miss Zeffie decides that maybe they go see a picture show. This brings up the problem of covering Sully’s torso. Wearing her deceased husband’s clothing, Sullivan attends what appears to be a very drab picture with the sisters. Kids are chomping away, blowing whistles. A man is hiccuping and chewing at the same time. Enjoyment does not appear to be had by any. Especially Sully, who is having the moves put on him by Zeffie. The camera lingers on the sandwich sign outside for the triple feature. Beyond These Tears, The Valley of the Shadow
The Buzzard of Berlin, also SWINGO. I imagine SWINGO to be a uproariously funny picture that really ends your night in a better place than the three other pictures. Surgess is trying to make a point about the nature of films that have meaning. They don’t serve a purpose to the common man or child.
After the picture show they settle in for the night. Miss Zeffie turns down Sully’s bed for him as it is “woman’s work.” As she is locking the door so that he can’t leave she says to her sister, “Oh, I do hope he’ll stay.” As if he had a choice in the matter. Sullivan tries to make his escape through the bathroom only to be greeted by Zeffie waiting for him eagerly. He finally decides to use the classic sheet rope tied to the bedpost to make his escape, but is caught up on a nail and falls in some water. A theme we will see more than once. He hitches a ride and unwittingly ends up back in Hollywood. This is where he meets the Girl, played by the lovely Veronica Lake. She buys him some ham and eggs. After a conversation about acting and Ernst Lubitsch Sully tells the Girl that he knows a guy who is out of town and he can borrow his car. He’s speaking of himself, of course.
During the car ride they talk about film. Particularly Sullivan’s filmography of which he is not impressed. The Girl is though. She recants a scene from Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. Unfortunately they get pulled over and arrested. Once the butler and the valet arrive to pick up the car they realize it was Sully who had it. The Girl insists that Sully buy her some ham and eggs. He takes her back to his place where she pushes him in the pool. She feels like she’s been played. During breakfast she insists that she come with him. And after another pool incident, what a gag, they head off to the train yard to catch a train. The butler is still warning Sully against this endeavor. They don’t make it too far, as Sullivan has caught a cold. They arrive in Las Vegas to find the lan yacht waiting for them. There Sully must stay in bed for a few days.
The third travel of Sullivan, or what I would deem his third, is set up in a montage sequence. We see Sully and the Girl in a bread line, at a shelter, listening to a revival, working as sign holders, and generally walking around bumming it. Finally they’ve had it and refuse to eat out of a garbage can. So, they head home. The adventure is over. Or as Mr. Jones puts it, “It's all finished. The greatest expedition of modern times. Almost the greatest sacrifice ever made by human man. He's the past-master of poverty. He knows everything.” Which is not actually the case.
Sully is going to had out $1000 in five dollar bills to hobos in gratitude for the lesson they’ve taught him. Funny thing about carrying a huge wad of money on the street and handing it out to people. People take notice. One hobo in particular. He follows Sully for a little while then makes a move to get ahead of him. Once hiding, he waits for Sully to come around the corner and jumps him taking his money and his shoes. Always with the shoes. Sully is left unconscious in a train car headed to who know’s where. Unfortunately for the hobo he is hit by a train, leaving only his shoes and a scatter of money.
Meanwhile at the office everyone waits for the arrival of Sullivan. They are checking the police stations, hospitals and lastly the morgue. Turns out there is a body of a hobo there that was found on the train tracks. There is an identification in the sole of the shoe for Sullivan. He is dead.
A train car pulls into the yard. The yard boy moves closer as a disoriented man leans out. Sully doesn’t know where he or who he is for that matter. The yard boy asked him why he rode into the yard. After being pushed to the ground Sully takes a rock to the yard boy’s head. Cut to a courtroom in a haze as Sully is being prosecuted for the crime of assault. His lawyer pleads guilty for him and he is sentenced to six years hard labor. Once at the labor came Sully is in his right mind and insists on a lawyer. He is beaten by the head of the camp, Mister. The next day or some days later we don’t know, the chain gang is working along a river. When Sully reads the newspaper noting his mysterious death he his put in the hot box. He is slowly learning that he has lost all his rights.
The big event for the chain gang is the picture show on Sunday at a local African American church. This is probably my favorite part of the film. Not only for the way that it is shot, but also for its content. This is where the big revelation happens. Sully and the crew watch a Disney feature with Mickey Mouse, which makes everyone laugh. It is here that Sully comes to terms with the role of the comedy in film.
After this Sully is determined to get out of his six year sentence. How he is he going to do this? Get his picture in the paper. Who gets their picture in the paper? Ballplayers, girls, murderers. Like the Blowtorch Killer. Yes, murderers. Sully begins to yell “I killed John L. Sullivan! I want to confess to the murder of John L. Sullivan!” This gets his picture in the paper. Leading to a fast paced series of calls by all the staff at the studio. They hop on a plane and get Sully released. Turns out his wife remarried while he was presumed dead.
As they are flying back home everyone is excited for the Sully to make Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. Only he announces that he doesn’t want to make Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. Everyone is stunned. He cited that there are many reasons why he doesn’t want to make it. He is too happy, he hasn’t suffered enough, and as he puts it, “There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.” He imagines, along with the audience, groups of people laughing. The film comes to an end.
I think that there are two main themes to Sullivan’s Travels. First, what you are looking for may be right in front of you. Second, film as escapism serves a purpose that is just as important as films with a message.
Sullivan feels as though what he is doing is not contributing to society. He wants to make a picture that does. So he sets out on a journey, many times in fact, during the course of the film. The purpose of this journey is to “get into trouble.” By doing so, Sully can learn about what it’s like to be poor. Something of which he has no knowledge. Along the way he discovers things about himself. During his first couple adventures Sully ends up back in L.A., as though fate is trying to force him home. He discusses this in a nasally monologue to The Girl; “It's a funny thing how everything keeps shoving me back to Hollywood or Beverly Hills, or this monstrosity we're riding in. Almost like, like gravity as if some force were saying, 'Get back where you belong. You don't belong out here in real life, you phony you.!'...Maybe there's a universal law that says, 'Stay put. As you are, so shall you remain.' Maybe that's why tramps are always in trouble. They don't vote. They don't pay taxes. They violate the law of nature...But nothing is gonna stop me. I'm gonna find out how it feels to be in trouble, without friends, without credit, without checkbook, without name. Alone.” Whether it is fate or some other force that is leading Sully, it is not without a purpose. It is the end of his first adventure that he meets The Girl. “There’s always a girl in the picture. Haven’t you ever been to the movies?” The Girl not only brings the sex appeal of Veronica Lake into the picture, but also acts as Sully’s real world guide. She won’t let him go alone on his adventure. She stays with him through his entire journey, even though she is very hungry. She becomes his love interest by the end of the film as well.
It is not until the last act of the film that Sully has the epiphany that what he’s been doing all along serves a purpose. It is also in the last act that he truly finds trouble. To this point he has always had the opportunity to return to the real world. Just as he stated earlier, he wanted to be alone. And it is not until he is truly alone that he can reach the knowledge he has been searching for the whole film. He must lose it all to gain anything.
This last act is where we see the power of film, specifically comedic film, as serving a purpose. Convicts and African Americans gather in a church to screen a Disney short. Both groups essentially void of rights by the society they live in. In the dark there is a shared sense of community. Together they can escape poverty, racism, and imprisonment. There is power in laughter. Escapism has always been a topic of conversation in film. Lovers of highbrow films, art house pieces, etc. have a tendency to look down upon “popcorn” films. Claiming they have no substance or purpose. Sullivan himself aspires to create something socially meaningful. Throughout the film characters point out the fact that films with a message aren’t as enjoyable. the beginning of the film the executives try and sway him from making Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. “I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions, stark realism, the problems that confront the average man.” Sully says with fervor.
“But with a little sex.” states Lebrand. Lebrand knows that message films tend to bore the audience. As we see later when Sully is dragged to that triple feature of drab pictures. The Girl also stresses this to him in the car ride “...There's nothing like a deep-dish movie to drive you out in the open.” Sullivan is so determined to make Oh Brother, Where Art Thou he is unable to see the signs in front of him. What Sully eventually sees is that what he has been doing all along, making people laugh, serves an enormous purpose.
When I was thinking about my favorite classic film for this blogathon I wanted to talk about a film that had a greater meaning to me than just entertainment, good direction or great acting. Sullivan’s Travels speaks to me on multiple levels about finding yourself. About the power of art, especially that of film to help us let go of everything and get lost in a story. I hope that if you haven’t seen this film that you check it out.
I watched this film on the Criterion Collection blu-ray. It contains some great extras, artwork and essays on the film. Check it out here.
The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
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