Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Room with the Monster Inside

The Shining (1980)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

King of the Hill "Death Picks Cotton" (2007)
dir. Tony Kluck

The Shave

"Setting down his basin, the Negro searched among the razors, as for the sharpest, and having found it, gave it an additional edge by expertly stropping it on the firm, smooth, oily skin of his open palm; he then made a gesture as if to begin, but midway stood suspended for an instant, one hand elevating the razor, the other professionally dabbling among the bubbling suds on the Spaniard’s lank neck. Not unaffected by the close sight of the gleaming steel, Don Benito nervously shuddered, his usual ghastliness was heightened by the lather, which lather, again, was intensified in its hue by the sootiness of the Negro’s body. Altogether the scene was somewhat peculiar, at least to Captain Delano, nor, as he saw the two thus postured, could he resist the vagary, that in the black he saw a headsman, and in the white, a man at the block. But this was one of those antic conceits, appearing and vanishing in a breath, from which, perhaps, the best regulated mind is not free."
Benito Cereno (1855)
Herman Melville

"I spent my whole life here, right here in Candieland, surrounded by black faces. Now seein' 'em every day, day in and day out, I only had one question: why don't they kill us? Now right out there on that porch, three times a week for fifty years, old Ben here would shave my daddy with a straight razor. Now, if I was old Ben, I woulda cut my daddy's goddamn throat, an' it wouldn't-a taken me no fifty years of doin' neither. But he never did. Why not?"
Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino

from trixrabbi

The Killer

The Desert Archipelago (1969)
dir. Katsu Kanai

Malko 11: Hostage in Tokyo (1976)
Gerard de Villiers

The Patrol

Alfred Hitchcock Presents "Together" (1958)
dir. Robert Altman

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
dir. Christopher Nolan

The Monster at the Mirror

28 Days Later (2002)
dir. Danny Boyle

War of the Worlds (2005)
dir. Steven Spielberg

The Cornered Samurai

Throne of Blood (1957)
dir. Akira Kurosawa

Harakiri (1962)
dir. Masaki Kobayashi

from trixrabbi, who's amassing himself quite a collection.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I did an interview:

The fine folk at Smug Film asked me some good questions about the past and future of movies. I answered with my usual complex French eroticism. Go check it out!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Some Words About Psycho

We begin Psycho peeping at Marion Crane, just Bates peeped at her before killing her. 

We pull in from outside Marion's hotel window to leer at her and Sam's tawdry little love scene. It's voyeuristic and cheap of us, especially considering how deeply sexual the scene is - and jeez, for all the violence, Hitchcock slipped a LOT of sex past the censors.

But it's also unsatisfying, frustrating. We come in right after they're finished, only able to catch some teasing glimpses of them dressing and some coy references to what transpired. We're stimulated but left unfulfilled, just like Norman, who transmutes his frustration into violence. There's a lot of sexual unfulfillment and incomplete sexual experiences in the film. Hitchcock literally spells this out for us in Marion Crane's license plate, one letter away from "anal," and Norman's record, one letter away from "erotica."

Poor Norman can't get no satisfaction, and his inadequacies define him. Look at him next to Sam Loomis, true to his name looming over him, a taller and more handsome mirror, just as lookalike Lili Crane is a more innocent mirror of her sister Marion.

Loomis isn't the only one who looms in this film - just look at Arbogast, who has less screentime than you probably remember. You get an instant sense of his aggressive personality, though, in his first shot in the film when he moves uncomfortably close to the camera, staring us down. Maybe he knows we were peeping at the beginning.

That cop gets too close to us, too.

And he's particularly upsetting because his blacked out eyes anticipate the empty eye sockets of the late Mrs. Bates:

And of the half-blacked out eyes of Norman, seen as the psychiatrist assures us he was only ever "half-there." Look at his eyes compared to the very alive Lili Crane.

And for a moment there, just like Norman/Mother's face famously dissolves into a skull at the end, poor dead Marion's eye dissolves into the black abyss of the shower drain, as empty and skull-like as the Bates family and that looming cop.

Everybody looms in Psycho, like that great owl in Norman's office, hovering over him like his mother in her high window on the hill. In between Norman and that owl are images of naked women at their moment of dying. Premonitions, perhaps, or maybe a demand.

That's a demand Norman acquiesces to, killing Marion in a scene shot partially, memorably, from a bird's eye point of view.

 The murder of Arbogast is also from a bird's eye perspective.

As is the shot of Norman moving his mother to the fruit cellar. In all instances, Mother is active.

There's a moment there at the end when Sam, the stronger mirror of Norman, and Lili, the more innocent mirror of Marion, find proof of Norman's crime - a scrap of paper that didn't flush down the toilet like Marion's car flushed down the swamp and her blood flushed down the drain, and like Mother was flushed down to the basement. 

This is the only other shot from a bird's eye point of view, and there's a moment there, every time, where you expect Norman to burst in. It's as subtle and perfectly structured as anything I've ever seen, a careful and tense return to a shot that reminds us of death without us even realizing it. 

All these birds, all these Crane women and stuffed owls and women who "eat like birds" and pictures of chickadees at murder scenes:

also build up to remind us of death, without us even realizing it, so we don't even consciously understand why we're so alarmed by this strange bird-like pose Norman makes:

or this little moment right after Marion unwisely advises Norman to leave Mother, the first instant that on some level he knows he is going to kill her, when Norman briefly cradles the nearest bird:

Hitchcock of course devoted his next film to the topic of birds that bring death. The Birds also trades in the black eyes of the dead:

and attacks on blondes in confined spaces:

It's a film which even replays the key scene of Psycho in its original form.

At the beginning of Psycho, while we're peeping in on that desperate little romance, Sam tells Marion his great ambition is for the two of them to find a private island. Marion repeats this later on, realizing it's her great ambition too. Shortly thereafter, she decides to return to Sam.

And, again, there's another Hitchcock film where a beautiful blonde with money to burn and a penchant for trouble takes a lonely drive

to a secluded island where romance awaits.

That island is Bodega Bay, and just as Marion found a troublesome mother, her twin Melanie finds a troublesome mother nature.

It too has a bird's eye view.

screencaps from the amazing 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Kraft Suspense Theatre

Here's another little gem for y'all from the stacks at YouTube.

Kraft Suspense Theatre "One Step Down" (1963)

'60s TV loved to try its hand at Hitchcockian thrillers, and this here is one of most interesting I've come across. The look is terrific, pure '60s Hitch - I can't believe it predates Marnie! It's an inversion on his classic wrong man accused of a crime story, as it's about the right woman trying to not get caught.

Stunning credits on this one: Gena Rowlands and Ida Lupino lead. Lupino is for me the symbol of strong female leads of the 1950s and Gena Rowlands the symbol of strong female leads of the 1970s, so it's great to have them united here for this brief moment in the '60s. Rowlands is stunning, I don't think I've ever seen her this young. Leslie Nielson shows up, too, back when he was still playing in dramas. 

He's alright, but the real highlight on the male end is Jack Weston, a character actor y'all probably best remember as that pain in the ass neighbor from "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street."

He's got a lot to chew on here, in a really sleazy role crackling with sexual anger.

The story is satisfying, a little slow in the middle and a little heavy-handed at the end, but at times, actually very tense. It's aided by a Bernard Herrman-lite scored composed by young "Johnny" Williams. Wonder if anything became of him...

The White Room

The Debussy Film (1965)
dir. Ken Russell

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
dir. Stanley Kubrick

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Flight

Below the sea of clouds lies eternity.
Wind, Sand and Stars (1939)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

They conned across seas of eternity, never catching sight of the ground except at the beginning and end.
The Hunters (1957)
James Salter

The Unreliable Narrator

Hellgate (1989)
dir. William A. Levey

Bronson (2008)
dir. Nicholas Winding Refn

The Second World War

Patton (1970)
dir. Franklin J. Schaffner

Men Behind the Sun (1988)
dir. Mou Tun Fei

The Traffic Stop

Notorious (1946)
dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Sin City (2005)
dir. Robert Rodriguez, this scene guest directed by Quentin Tarantino

from Dack Janson