Essays

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Excerpt from “Style, Calculation, and Counterpoint in The Clock,” in Joe McElhaney, ed., Vincente Minnelli: The Art of Entertainment (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009):

“Nobody asked,” wrote Minnelli about this picture much later, “why a musical director was now being entrusted with a drama.” But the ability to bring music to drama was in fact everything. If music is the language of felt space, of bouleversement and disorientation, and drama is the language of struggle and chance, skill meeting its limit and its evacuation by circumstance, then what makes The Clock especially worth watching, and watching closely, is that in it Vincente Minnelli transcends his accomplishments in the pure musical by marrying an apotheosis of social organization to an epitome of the dream. (357)

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Excerpt from “Tinker Bell, the Fairy of Electricity,” in Allison B. Kavey and Lester D. Friedman, eds., Second Star to the Right: Peter Pan in the Popular Imagination (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009):

The fetish of Tinker Bell is also centered upon a miniature version of the human form, a kind of moving doll, and this form is the subject of principal focus in the Disney, Spielberg, and Hogan film versions. Associated with intensive illumination only to the degree that she is a bright flash as she moves, and that she exudes scintillations, this Tinker Bell is most clearly a tangible sex object for Peter’s imagination, reduced in size but not altered in shape. The Hogan Pan uses Tinker rather like a salt shaker at one point, when he tips her upside down and shakes fairy dust onto the Darling children. And when he deposits her dying body onto the forest floor, Tink is clearly for him a miniature substitute for a real full-sized being, a kind of sacred object. (43-44)

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Excerpt from “The Look of Love: Cinema and the Dramaturgy of Kinship,” in Murray Pomerance, ed., A Family Affair: Cinema Calls Home (London: Wallflower Press, 2008):

Involved in the performance of family bonds onscreen is a complex of arrangements and actions: with makeup, skin tones must be brought into alignment; heights must be adjusted through the use of shoe wedges, platforms and camera mounts; attitudes must be corrected with dialogue; postures must be choreographed and emotions broadcast. An examination of any filmic depiction of officially sanctioned family ritual, such as is to be found in the original version of The Philadelphia Story, will give a textbook about postures, body alignments, facial expressions, feelingful states, and so on. Also involved in the construction of the screen family is an “envelope of liberty”, a dramaturgic space bounded by event and rationale within which persons are thought free to make presumptions about, and upon, one another. If we look at the opening of William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders From Mars (1953), we see a father barging into his son’s bedroom when the boy is up watching stars in the middle of the night; then, the mother barges in to catch both of her boys sharing the telescope. With similar affectionate forwardness–the kidn of behaviour for which punishment would be available in mere social groups–Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) hires his mother (Jessie Royce Landis, only eight years Grant’s senior) to make a call on the house phone at the Plaza in North by Northwest (1959). (299)

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Excerpt from “Digesting Steven Spielberg,” in Film International 32, Vol. 6 No. 2 (2008):

How can filmmakers openly dramatize the otherwise private, personal, intrinsic, and invisible experience of tasting food? One possibility is that attention can be flipped over to the obverse experience, cooking . . . Here, actors use their hands in a trained fashion to manipulate materials toward the accomplishment of a recognizable end product of high value, the beautiful, nutritious or at least edible, meal.. . . Alternatively . . . the dining experience can be aggrandized: a banquet hall with hundreds or thousands of people ingesting food seen, as it must be if the proportions are to be conveyed authentically, in such a way that no particular act of ingestion is really visible . . . A third possibility involves dramatizing not eating but the foodstuffs being eaten, so that attention is deflected to materiel . . . A fourth possibility, slightly more abstract, focuses not on humans but on animals eating . . . the appetites they reveal being interpretable as analogies for human hungers and lusts . . . And a fifth option concentrates on the etiquette of the table, without giving much attention to the actual consumption of food at all. Here, the issues are all displacements: where are the utensils and how are they configured with one another, where are the people who must use them? Who brings the food, who serves it and how, what is said and not said while dining, etc.. . .

All of these possibilities–cooking, banqueting, scrounging, wolfing, and etiquette–serve filmmakers less as evasions of eating than as variations upon a theme, faithful substitutions, and can themselves be organized visually as sports, with highly valued awards and competition to secure them in the face of various technical difficulties. All are possibilities for screen staging of eating, and other possibilities exist as well. But specific, plot-centered directorial strategies also exist for avoiding the presentation of eating and the demonstration of its effects. Since I am claiming that, broadly speaking, this is what Spielberg does, we might ask how, through what range of strategies, he escapes from the table in his films. (29-30)

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Excerpt (on In the Heat of the Night from “1967: Movies and the Specter of Rebellion,” in Barry Keith Grant, ed., American Cinema of the 1960s: Themes and Variations (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008):

When Gates realizes that the men have driven up to question him about the murder, he is outraged by what he takes to be Tibbs’s impertinence and slaps him soundly on the face. Instantly, Tibbs slaps back. “This was,” Norman Jewison later asserted, “the first time in an American movie that a Black man had slapped a white man back, and that fact added to the shock of the scene.” As Endicott informs Tibbs that in times past he could have ha him shot on sight, Tibbs gives off a stare that could kill and stomps out, with the servant shaking his head sympathetically as though to apologize for this “boy” who doesn’t understand his real place in life. Tibb’s reaction here–his slow, silent gaze as he drinks in Endicott’s decadence, his measured politeness, his unthinking reflex reaction to the slap–seem to add up to sermon on equality: don’t be superior, be the same. But finally, even such an elegant moment is dissolved by the story: Endicott is innocent, and Tibbs has to admit to personal animosity. The plantation mentality Endicott has kept alive is utterly gone from Tibbs’s world.

Yet not from Gillespie’s. As they take a morning drive through the cotton fields to Endicott’s house (Ray Charles singing “In the Heat of the Night” on the sound track), we see the world that Tibbs’s birth and education have permitted him to eclipse: hands grasping cotton, African Americans laboring in the vast fields, Black children jumping up and down merrily on the cotton truck. Clearly, Tibbs is fully conscious of having grown beyond the ugly history this place represents. Yet, emphatically, Gillespie taunts him: “None a’ that fer you, uh, Virgil!” Tibbs’s slapping Endicott on the face was a way for th Hollywood Left to symbolically show allegiance to the concerns of Black America while at the same time holding back from depicting real confrontation: Poitier, in his natty gray suit and striped tie, is hardly getting into a real tangle with the plantatiion owner, nor is he addressing the laws and policies that make Endicott’s entrenched racism so stable. Tibbs, indeed, has no real confrontations in this film: threatened by virulent crackers, he is saved by Gillespie or his own quick wit. The film manages to screen the look of rebellion and confrontation without engaging its protagonist in the real thing. (182-3)

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Excerpt from “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place: Hitchcock’s New York,” in Murray Pomerance, ed., City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007):

If the dramaturgical function of the city backgrounds in other Hitchcock New York films is to ironically emphasize and characterize the action, the function in The Wrong Man is to work a remorseless punition upon the body of Manny Balestrero, to utter again and again that the exercise of authority, brutality, and systematization we are witnessing is being situated for real, carried out in the framework of the real, and imprinted for real in the dramatic unfolding. It is for this reason that George Barnes’s lighting–lighting is always an agency of scenic characterization–is unaccented, flat, topological rather than theatrical. We must believe in the everyday quality of the action we are seeing, in the commonsense interpretation of events that characterizes undramatized interaction. Fonda’s cheekbones, pronounced by the lighting of Arthur Miller for The Ox-Bow Incident, of Joe MacDonald for My Darling Clementine, or of Winton Hoch for Mister Roberts, are here lit in such a way that they recede into the plane of his face, reducing his status to that of the ordinary person. This “available” lighting–it is in fact an artful construction, with artificial light added to the available light of the scene, that reads invisibly, as though only available light were being used–meshes with the authenticity of real location settings to lend strategic logic to the action and believability to the actors, and also to stimulate in the viewer the conviction that she is observing all this in what seems like an actually unfolding, not filmically constructed, New York. (113)

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Excerpt from “A Modern Gesture: Perpetual Motion and Screen Suspense,” in Film International 29 Vol. 5 No. 5 (2007):

The revolving door goes beyond the arcade, making over both the inside and outside of experience into dreams. And dreams are inherently revolutionary and disorderly. In dreams, being neither out nor in, but both out and in at once, we can abolish thoughts of self and other, of here and there, of ownership and place. We can “see through” conventions and proprieties, indeed traverse them. The revolving door and the dream both have the quality of glassiness, of permeability to the gaze. “Glass is the enemy par excellence of secrecy. It is also the enemy of property” (Benjamin). We know the action of the revolving door, of course, and can easily invest ourselves psychically in characters who make use of this device onscreen, in such a way as to feel, as they do, the sense of leaving one place and entering another with virtual simultaneity.

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Excerpt from “Safe in Lotosland,” in James Morrison, ed., All That Heaven Allows: The Cinema of Todd Haynes (London: Wallflower Press, 2007):

Given that we have managed over the centuries only the flimsiest defences against the tsunami of time, given that even as I lay word after word in a single sentence I am ageing, given that I must needs be unaware of the state of my immune system even as it lives within me, given that I inhabit a world of profound mobility in which strangers are ever proximate and unknown, given that contempt and ressentiment are in all directions, given that although the culture is highly mobile–mobile to an unprecedented degree–nevertheless mobility is every day more difficult and more imperiled, given that even without intention my neighbours in the circulation of modernity can collide with me painfully, given that unpredictability characterises every situation in which I exist, given rampant toxicity, given ubiquitous incompetence, given the holes in the ozone, given the profuse dangers of technology, given that history is always only too late understood, given powerlessness, given that I have not read enough and cannot bring myself to read enough, given that I can look in only one direction at any one time, given that I do not speak enough languages, given my allergies, my diabetes, the titanium plate in my leg, my arthritis, my sniffles, my anxieties, my miscalculated certainties, my patchy memory, how can I hope to defend myself from this world? (79-80)

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Excerpt from “Pachyderm’s Progress,” in Timothy Shary and Alexandra Seibel, eds., Youth Culture in Global Cinema (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007):

Most revealing of the difference between Elephant and The Dreamers is their treatment of sex. Surely what has changed since 1968, beyond the face of our social order–Watergate, home computers, the Internet, crack cocaine, AIDS, the oil crisis–is the meaning of our sex. It is now perfunctory, even a form of exercise. Rather than languidly bathing in the rich presence of our friends, as the kids in Dreamers do, we take brisk showers, as in Elephant, and entertain glancing contacts, shards of touch and affect. Everyone who can write a sentence is educated about sex, to the point of tedium, and sexual identity is bandied about as a basis for politically correct interpersonal relations. In a film such as The Dreamers, indeed, it can be shown unexpurgated and in full flower; even–as we see from Theo, who fries eggs while his sister is penetrated by Matthew–be watched being watched. In the late 1960s, sex was still a mystery, and so in being physically close with our friends we were leaving ourselves and finding the world. For Matthew, then, the American teenager whose educational institution is 1968 Paris, the ménage with Theo and Isabelle is life changing, no matter how it turns out in the end. When he lies naked with the two of them through the night in a tent Isabelle has concocted in the living room, with candles burning and bottles of Burgundy half consumed all around, Matthew has learned what feelings are. (220)

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Excerpt from “Marion Crane Dies Twice,” in Richard J. Hand and Jay McRoy, eds., Monstrous Adaptations: Generic and Thematic Mutations in Horror Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007):

The hotel [in Phoenix] is thus another gender façade, as is the Bates Motel, a façade for the gender play that takes place in its rooms. Norman’s office is a façade for his parlour; his parlour is a façade for Marion’s room; her room is a façade for her bathroom, the bathroom a façade for the shower stall, the stall a façade for what lies beyond the drain. Gender is face; and sex is the end of gender.

But what has happened to all of this pudeur and pretence by 1998, at a time when “women’s liberation,’ “gender equality,” “male domination,” and “female modesty” are treated as slogans of a vanished, even antiquated, past by a Hollywood power structure squeamish to portray social conflict and eager to claim, on women’s behalf, political progress in order to ease its own sense of obligation? I want to suggest that Van Sant’s film extracts, exteriorises, and diffuses gender onto the surface of consciousness, making of it less a romantic secret to be penetrated through shadowy hints and cloaks of anxious ambiguity and more a uniform topography of social fact, presence, utility, and kinesis. If it was earlier a catafalque and chrysalis for desire, it is now a banality, like weather. The rainstorm through which Marion (Anne Heche) drives to the motel, once pathetic fallacy, is now nothing more than a realistic setting (the wiper blade is no longer lit to be slashing). There is realism, too, as Marion packs to take flight in underwear that is money green–the film is in full colour–bringing to the surface of awareness and attention a stash that was earlier a guilty secret. And the behaviours that constitute Van Sant’s gender stylings, as we shall see, call up the real more than the imagined, as though we have celebrated the death of imagination; they would have been unreadable in the context of the gender assumptions made by Hitchcock’s generation. (147)

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Excerpt from “Animal Actors,” in Barry Keith Grant, ed., Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2007):

Since the development of the star system, cinema has presented four types of screen actors, animal or human: screen icons, performers who are so universally recognizaed and loved that their identities entirely transcend the star system as well as individual films or genres of films and who come to stand for film itself; stars, relatively few in number and broadly known beyond any one film for the particular personalities they continually display in principal protagonists’ roles; character or bit players, often eccentric and bearing especially discernible physical characteristics, who play secondary roles of significant import for the plot; and extras, who are typically massed in crowds or in nondescript background parts without character names and typically without individual consequence for the plot.

There have been four principal animal icons since the birth of film–vastly circulated and deeply memorable screen creatures even when they were not authentic animals in real life: Leo the Lion (the roaring trademark of MGM since 1928); King Kong (the animated model star of the film of the same name, 1933); Mickey Mouse, first seen in Steamboat Willie (1928), who reaches his apotheosis when he congratulates Leopold Stokowski for his competence in conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in Fantasia (1940); Toto, the canny Norwich terrier in The Wizard of Oz, who, by pulling away the curtain from a frantic litlte man, reveals not only the artifice of the Emerald City but also the artifice of cinema. The mere invocation of the names of these screen animals induces a full range of imaginary connections to image, behavior, characer, and the viewer’s recollection. Leo the Lion stands out among studio logos, gazing as he does beyond the screen into spectatorial space.

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Excerpt from “Cinematography,” in Barry Keith Grant, ed., Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2007):

Two other factors complicate matters in cinematographic work, action speed (motion) and camera speed. First, object move in cinema, and the camera can itself move (in dollies, pans, tracks, and tilts). The more motion there is, the less light from any particular source will reach the film. This is especially true in pan shots, in flash pans or whip pans (when the visual field swoops laterally with great speed), or in zoom outs, when peripheral material must be realized optically for the viewer under conditions where very little time is given for seeing it. For moving camera shots, or shots including considerable movement onscreen, cinematographers will aim for a wider aperture and for a film stock that is especially sensitive, as well as for the opportunity to use as much light as possible. Whenever considerable lighting is required, shooting can become both unpleasant and demanding for actors, since the focal requirements in a moving shot require that individuals place themselves in the visual field with great precision, often repeatedly for take after take.

A second matter is the camera speed (not to be confused with the “film speed,” which is an index of the film’s sensitivity to light, as discussed above). The conventiional 24 frames-per-second (fps) speed at which film passes in front of the aperture is susceptible to adjustment by the cameraman. When the film is moved through the camera faster than 24 fps but the resulting footage is projected at a normal 24 fps, the result for the viewer is what is usually termed “slow motion.” By contrast, winding the camera down produces in projection a jerky mechanical feeling. In the case of contemporary projection of silent films, such as Mack Sennett’s (1884-1960) Keystone Cops chases, the “jerkiness” we often see does not result from the original filmmaker’s intentionally winding down the camera but has a different origin. Silent film was shot, typically, at 18 fps (although with hand-cranked cameras, this speed was not absolutely consistent). When sound was introduced in the late 1920s, it became necessary, in order to avoid problems in synchronization, to standardize film projection speed and 24 fps came to be the accepted rate. When we see film shot at 18 fps projected at 24 fps, it seems to be in fast motion and jerky.

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Excerpt from “Color,” in Barry Keith Grant, ed., Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2007):

The three-strip Technicolor camera, a monstrous, noisy, and bulky machine that required special dollies and cranes, as well as a “blimp” to cover and dampen it acoustically, was originally designed by J. Arthur Ball, George Mitchell, and Henry Prouch. The camera was fed with three threaded black-and-white reels of negative stock–with a very low speed rating, thus requiring immense quantities of studio light–and admitted light through a gold-coated prism that would split the incoming beam into two equal parts. One beam was sent directly to the back of the camera, where it was recorded through a green filter on a single piece of film. Because of the directness of the passage of this beam, and the fact that green filtering always produces the highest-quality contrast, this “green record” was the one used later on to control for the contrast of the entire picture. The remaining light went at 90 degrees toward two strips of film laid back to back, hitting them after passing through a magenta filter (that would allow blue and red light to go through). The “blue record” was made on top and the “red record” at the back. As time went by, the coating of the prism was changed to permit more and more specifically controlled light to reach each piece of film. The three black-and-white film records were subsequently converted to matrices, which were dyed and printed directly onto a piece of blank stock. Well over one thousand features were made in the three-strip Technicolor process from 1934 onward.

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Excerpt from “Credits,” in Barry Keith Grant, ed., Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2007):

A celebrated star with considerable box-office draw often negotiates for billing “above the title”–that is, an explicit reference to the position of the performer’s name in print or poster advertising; in main titles, it signifies that the name is to precede the film title on the screen. The process of billing competition has been described by Danae Clark (1995) as labor fragmentation: above-the-title billing emphasizes not what screen actors have in common with one another but how they can be seen as different, thus isolating them in the bargaining process. Stars, for example, have large credit billings or names above the title, while character actors and extras emphatically do not. Credit billings are negotiated by the casting director in the producer’s stead, and agents representing actors and technical personnel exercise considerable emotion and energy in securing advantageous ones–this because billing can be tired to future earning capacity. Occasionally, pressure may be mounted by technical personnel or actors themselves to lobby for a colleague’s screen credit: in 49th Parallel (Michael Powell, 1941), for example, the British actor Eric Portman (1903-1969) was to receive second billing, but his screen partners–Leslie Howard (1893-1943), Raymond Massey (1896-1983), Laurence Olivier (1907-1989), and Anton Walbrook (1896-1967)–insisted that he share main title billing with them.

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Excerpt from “Nothing Sacred: Modernity and Performance in Catch Me If You Can,” in Murray Pomerance, ed., Cinema and Modernity (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006):

Most significantly, however, Hanratty underestimates Frank’s thoroughgoing professionalism as a performer (exactly, I suspect, as most viewers of this film underestimated the professionalism of Leonardo DiCaprio “monkeying around” as Frank “monkeying around”), a professionalism that leads him to the greatest creative freedom and sensitivity in his use of materials, attitudes, approaches, and styles. At one point, for example, Frank ingratiates himself in the home of a celebrated prosecutor (Martin Sheen) by pretending to be a fledgling lawyer in search of a mentor. To keep up this act, he must contrive to pass the Louisiana bar exam. For the remainder of the film, a flabbergasted Hanratty obsessively peppers him on the telephone about it: “How did you cheat on the bar exam in Louisiana?” Hanratty’s self-serving commitment to the idea that the law is a respectable and durable social institution, impervious to corruption or manipulation and thus on a fundamental level “authentic,” blocks him from imagining any way Frank could have faked earning that diploma in so short a time. But the joke is on Hanratty, and on those of us who have been taking his precapitalist view of Frank seriously. In such a view, Frank’s identity as a mountebank, his tendency always, everywhere, and by any means to scoff at conventionality and legality, has a solidity and permanence, a supreme value, whereas Frank himself is committed only to situational naked interest, as we must wait until the end of the film to learn. There he confesses, “I didn’t cheat. I studied for two weeks and I passed.” Even diligent hard work may be part of a performance, and Frank, the consummat eactor for whom performance is piety, is not above doing whatever will make performance possible. For Hanratty, however, intensive study is sincerity, a denial of performance; so, ironically, he thinks Frank is beneath it. “Is that the truth, Frank?” he pushes. “Is that the truth?” To his credit, Frank changes the subject. (224-5)

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Excerpt from “The Laddy Vanishes,” in Ernest Mathijs and Murray Pomerance, eds., From Hobbits to Hollywood: Essays on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2006):

In his specific moments of magical invisibility the onscreen Frodo is unlike all other invisible boys of the screen in that he becomes a dreamer instead of a controlling but hidden presence. Yet if we look at his presence in the film as a whole we see him very much as controlling and hidden. What, after all, cold be more dominantly unobtrusive than the relatively insigificant bearer of a central cherished object, the unexamined container of an item of paramount narrative interest? His presence comes to indicate not itself but the presence of the Ring, because after he gains possession of it, Frodo comes to re-present the Ring as its servile bearer and he becomes what Jean-Paul Sartre calls “the proper end of the existence of the object.” Armies form around him, line up to antagonize him, not because of what he is in himself but because of what he possesses. His existence is displaced into that of the Object. And as to the precious Ring itself, while it is in fact material chattel, appertaining to Gollum (“My birthday-present!” he whispered to himself [Hobbit, 77]), and then to Bilbo Baggins, and finally to Frodo, and in that respect a distinctive and unitary object (the result, we may imagine, of craft production); it quickly becomes associated, for Frodo and for viewers, with a more generalized climate of magical liberation and horizonless possibility, of wealth and puissance, of willfulness and profound intoxication. The Ring, then, both decorates and enchants. Like the lanterns of Paris, it is an actuality that is taken for a symbol, an entity that is understood as a principle. And so, too–because he carries it so faithfully–is Frodo. He is a single “boy” displaced as, and blown into, all brave heroism everywhere. (367-8)

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Excerpt from “Stark Performance,” in J. David Slocum, ed., Rebel Without a Cause: Approaches to a Maverick Masterwork (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005):

Jim Stark’s call for the spilt food to be left on the floor so that it can be seen is emblematic of what has often been labeled James Dean’s honesty as a performer, his willingness to risk hiding nothing and let the eye of the viewer have complete access. “Don’t act,” he told Dennis Hopper, for example, “If you’re smoking a cigarette, smoke it. Don’t act like you’re smoking it.” That viewer’s eye will itself construct performance entirely differently than the actor does, of course, layering it in memory and thus entertaining it as mobile, a fragment subject to intertextuality and forgetting at once, as Lesley Stern points out; but for the actor, in Dean’s view, the performance is entirely existential and whole, the product without residue of a moment of live need. (46)

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Excerpt from “The Man-Boys of Steven Spielberg,” in Murray Pomerance and Frances Gateward, eds., Where the Boys Are: Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005):

It is the natural being, not the successfully socialized one, Mark Twain brings to our attention concluding Tom Sawyer, surely one of teh most celebrated and perceptive treatments of boyhood in modern Western literature. “So endeth this chronicle,” he writes; “It being strictly a history of a boy, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a man. When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop–that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can.” The really critical definition of the adult male rests in his capacity to get married–to exist in the state of being “married,” indeed, instead of “not married,” as Laura Mulvey put it in a 1989 reflection on Duel in the Sun (1946). When a male marries he grows up, and the boy he was disappears.

And, apparently, when a male grows up, he marries, or at least stabilizes–participates in a complex of adaptations, attitudes, projections, plans, biographical constructions, status alignments, pretenses, masks, ensnarements, modesties, surrenders, claims, hypotheses, groundings, honors, celebrations, poses, and artifacts: the wedding announcement, the wedding ring, the wedding photograph, the wedding cake, and the wedding bed. A fellow marries and announces his willingness to join what was in Twain’s time, and what remains in most American states and Canadian provinces today, a heterosexual conspiracy. One plans to make children, or at least admits to no longer belonging rather exclusively in the company of them oneself. One engages in consultations before accepting dinner invitations. One is guarded in staring adoringly at persons the unknowing world could label as suitable sexual partners. One shares bank loans and tax benefits, toothpaste and favorite films and flavors of ice cream. And one apparently does not play while being seriously at work, does not have, as Stephen Schiff claims for Steven Spielberg, an “insatiable passion for video games.” . . .

In such a scheme, merely to pretend to stabilize, even with art, is merely to play at manhood. (134-5)

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Excerpt from “Hitchcock and the Dramaturgy of Screen Violence,” in Steven Jay Schneider, ed., New Hollywood Violence (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004):

To take a second look at the drugging scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much is to see a striking and profound demonstration of ironic improbability. There is, first, something wildly improbably about a husband “attacking” his wife in the context of a film where strangers are plotting ssassinations, managing a kidnapping, and stabbing a man in the street. The specific improbability, indeed, is that a violent scene continues a wave of violence already depicted, when we expect a sedate respite. Then, too, we can see a high degree of contrast between the action and its setting, the drugging and the woman resting after a strenuous afternoon in her shadowy hotel room: because the action, as it occurs, can appear to be a medical administration, yet Jo McKenna has not complained of being sick. From her point of view–the point of view with which we are led to identify–something inexplicable is going on.

Further, the irony of performance is so sophisticated that even the status of the event as a violent one must finally remain open to question, that irony having nothing to do, in this case, with the act/actor ratio: there is nothing ironic at all in a general practitioner administering a sedative. The irony resides in the relationship between the act and its purpose, in this case, the recipient of the drug not being distraught but the doctor believing she very soon will be and therefore giving the medicine in advance. Our affiliation with, or distance from, his medical status lead us to accept, or reject, both his diagnosis and his treatment. What Jo does not know is not only that her son has been kidnapped–information enough, to be sure, to throw her out of her mind with anxiety–but also that she has played an instrumental role in the kidnapping by handing him over to the kidnappers. Jo will feel, Ben knows, guilt as well as desperation and it is therefore, arguably, not an act of violence at all for him to sedate her under such circumstances. Hitchcock, of course, has his own purposes: he uses realistic performance style and Jo McKenna is a trained singer–that is to say, a professional at using her voice to express emotion. Without the sedative, she will be over the top vocally–Doris Day will have to be over the top (contrived) or risk seeming artificially restrained (contrived)–and so a technique must be found to dampen her response. Any other mother in this circumstance would merely scream, but Jo’s vocality will throw the balance of vocalities that constitutes the voice track out of alignment–unless she suddenly stops behaving like a singer. Suffice it to say, the one tactic Hitchcock absolutely does not want to use here is to overthrow Jo’s professional identity, since the entire film is in some ways a play upon her ability both to mother and to have a career. Further, much depends on her ability specifically to sing. That she may remain the woman with the voice but not distract us by using it here, therefore, drugs are necessary. (52-3)

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Excerpt from “The Shadow of the World Trade Center Is Climbing My Memory of Civilization,” in Wheeler Winston Dixon, ed., Film and Televisioin After 9/11 (Carbondale IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004):

At film’s end we see [Kong’s] monstrous form–a colossal dead myth–surrounded by a sedate crowd of onlookers, Dwan shaken and weeping uncontrollably at his side, police vehicle with red and blue lights flashing in the night, and the silent silver towers in the background like a pair of ghosts.

While it has always been a worthwhile challenge to attempt to understand a filmic moment such as this in terms of its cultural setting, the WTC disaster brings a new imperative in this direction, encapsulating as it does–and as does King Kong–the image of massive destruction, the image of the weeping woman, the “attack” upon the monument to globalization by “alien” and “ethnic” force, and a huge emergency response by the feelingless forces of social order. It is the dead Kong who centers the final shot of the film, and the milling, thrilling, terrified crowd around him; while th buildings themselves hover in the background, already in 1976 shimmering but inactive forms of themselves, vitiated politicocultural advances, monumentalities emptied of purpose and life. They are not really so unlike the structures in that Flushing Meadow World’s Fair site we see in Men in Black, nor do they fail to remind us of postwar capitalism itself, its pretty face being devoured from within like the icon in Bergman’s The Touch (1971). Newly erected and shiny, they are already, with the dead Kong before them, the husks they would too soon become. (49)

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Excerpt from “Tom Ripley’s Talent,” in Murray Pomerance, ed., BAD: Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004):

There is a most charming moment in which Tom’s game is almost up, not to be confused with a number of moments quite without charm in which the same is true. At a bar he has met and picked up Marge to drive her back to meet “Dickie” at his apartment. (“Dickie” will surely not happen to be there when she arrives.) Mopedding past the doorway he sees the police. He drives on and lets her off, saying they do not know yet that Tom Ripley is in Rome and he does not wish to meet them. She should go to Dickie’s on foot. Swiftly he rides away, and, as “Dickie,” arrives at the apartment before her. The police are there. He leets them in to question “Dickie,” affirming that he does not want to see anybody, not even his fiancée Marge Sherwood. During the interrogation, however–a deliciously awkward scene–there comes a rap at the door and the carabiniere comes in from the atrium to say that Marge is in the corridor. If she enters, the gig is up. And for a moment, a blissful moment, it is clear the idea has crossed Tom Ripley’s mind to just retire from the stage. Have her come in, let the terrifying identification be made, have the barrage of questions begin: “But Signor Ripley, why would you pretend to be Signor Greenleaf?” He has been moving far too fast, eluding too many pursuers with too many leaden weights upon his soul. Stop, sighs the fox; they can have me. It will finally be over. So, “Let her in,” he says in a breath, with a beatific smile the police inspector doesn’t quite know how to read. And then, just as the carabiniere disappears from view, he has had a resurgence of command. “Wait –”

Tom is not, then, merely a slave to his own desire; the performance is extended now, and has been extended until now, not merely on his whim or because it pleasures him, but because it can be. The performance has its own logic and life, its own will to life, and continues to the degree that conditions and circumstances make continuance possible. It does not curtail itself, even when curtailment is both logical and easy and likely to produce the reward of profound rest. Committed to acting, Tom must engage himself in whatever actions–murder included–seem most coherent with the extension of his role, which is his being, through time. (323)

*

Excerpt from “‘Don’t understand, my own darling’: The Girl Grows Up in Shadow of a Doubt,” in Frances Gateward and Murray Pomerance, eds., Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002):

There is no girl in Hitchcock quite as dumbgounding as this girl, lumpen, sullen, retreated, and depressed, a punctum of vaguely stifled sensibilities and dampened prospects with no trail in the past or eroticized charge for the future, whose every vocalization is a sigh of loss and whose every gesture is a limp surrender. She exists in the moment, but only in the moment, couched behind a vision that looks through the exterior surfaces of things and unravels all mystery, yet to no effect. We have the unmistakable sense that Louise’s knowledge of the bond between the two Charlies is unfathomably deep and instantaneously true and that she has seen it so many times it holds no excitement for her. It seems to be through Louise’s quick knowledge, indeed, that we can verify young Charlie’s suspicions and know for ourselves that the uncle is a cad. Her presence suggests in a flash a domain of ineffable sadness, despair, and reality against which young Charlie’s every affectation of emotion and concern is suddenly hollow–as hollow as her uncle’s, to be sure. (43)

*

Excerpt from “The Errant Boy: Morty S. Tashman and the Powers of the Tongue,” in Murray Pomerance, ed., Enfant Terrible!: Jerry Lewis in American Film (New York: New York University Press, 2002):

That the studio environment–a model of capitalist society–is far from a utopia, The Errand Boy reminds us persistently, as we listen to Morty not fitting in as any proper employee should. The Jerry Lewis who constructed him arranged carefully for that bad fit and used his prodigious talents to cultivate it, with some real awareness of the damage hierarchical social arrangements could do in the prevailing economic conditions of the time. In the face of the kind of disenfranchisement shown so clearly in The Errand Boy, indeed, the idea of society as a sanctuary is only a dream. Jerry Lewis said as much himself, speaking to Cahiers du Cinéma in 1966: “One can talk about society, but in fact absolutely everyone is excluded.” (254)

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Excerpt from “‘The Future’s Not Ours to See’: Song, Singer, Labyringh in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in Pamela Robertson Wojcik and Arthur Knight, eds., Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001):

x

We have been placed, then, into an acoustic labyrinth. Indeed, what labyrinth is not acoustic, shapelessly echoing, temporally dislocating and alluring? The deep past time out of which the song emanates is related to a deep past space, so the song sung in this current space is produced here but exists somewhere else. And, too, the lyrics we now hear are situated, through a past tense, in a before. We are moving forward cinematically as we hear the words, one could say jogging ahead of them, so that each phrase comes up as a memory not only of the deep past in which it is configured but also of the immediate past moment in which, before moving to the present moment, we heard it. Everything in the scene, then, is not so much about memory as constituted of memory itself. (In the embassy reprise, singing the same lyrics, Jo allows her vocalization to blatantly overshadow the meaning so that the voice is more important than the message. And the camera is static. We have a distinct sense of being here.)

The song has the appearance of being simple, but if we pay it close attention we are immediately sunk in a confounding and evocative marsh of temporality. (61)

*

Excerpt from “The Man Who Wanted to Go Back,” in Jon Lewis, ed., The End of Cinema As We Know It (New York: New York University Press, 2001):

{SPOILER ALERT} By now–in the age of the genome project, the age of the GMO, a time when positivistic laboratory science has replaced plein air impressionism as our chief piety–we no longer find things, we make them. We have all become more acute observers of presentations, and have come to take at face value a world constructed of them: presentations of presentations, competitions for and manipulations of presentations–all commonplaces in an increasingly cynical, global, mercantile environment dominated by the routinization of performativity. Of all films to restore, it seems appropriate that Harris chose one about a cynical man murdering his wife for commercial gain then covering himself with an elaborate staging of beauty, fading youth, and entrapment by the past. Vertigo: The Restoration is stunningly appropriate to its time because it evokes so many other charaacteristics of the present age: its photographic reconstitution and rerecorded sound are exemplars of the passion for digitality and computerization that by the end of the twentieth century had swept the world (and the world of film). The diegetic focus on Elster’s hucksterism is a reflection of the global frenzy for commercializing beauty and experience. The concentration on Scottie’s crippling paralysis is a comment on the vertiginous panic of contemporary thought, self-conscious about narrativity itself and thus incapable of penetrating narrative. Scottie’s obsession about Judy Barton’s performance seems an evocation of the contemporary pressure for styhle and denigration of substance. The late 1990s were a time of general historical panic, too, and so the era embodied in Scottie’s strange project seems ironically a struggling to go back while moving inexorably forward. His stance in the final shot, arms outstretched, eyes glazed open to the wind at the top of the tower, is a dream emblem of impotent desire. (47-8)

*

Excerpt from “Finding Release: ‘Storm Clouds’ and The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in James Buhler, Caryl Flinn, and David Neumeyer, eds., Music and Cinema (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 2000):

*

{Spoiler alert} Jo’s scream is long and hideous. Though her head is made up as a model of civilized containment–cropped bangs, bunned hair, reticent little black beret, understated earrings, finely drawn eyebrows, immaculate collar, and Italian linen suit–her mouth is now animal, wild, untamable, vicious in its pure power. The scream is the last thing anybody would expect from this epitome of vocal focus and skill. It is purely terrifying in its effect, even though for Jo it is a release and relief. Thus, even a killer as cold-blooded as this dark Assassin will believably be jarred when he hears it. And there is the additional effect of social displacement produced when a scream of any kind is uttered in the middle of a concert. Thus, the concert serves not only Drayton (as camouflage) but also Jo McKenna (as civil ground). If the conceert hall is a perfect place for an assassination because nobody will hear the shot, it is also the perfect place to foil an assassination: nobody will be able to shoot who hears something when there should be silence.

(vv) As the choir sings “[Re-]lease” fortissimo, there is an extreme close-up of the cymbal crash followed immediately by a long shot of the Prime Minister standing and, aghast, clutching at his arm. Given that he would have heard no shot, his “innocence” is both a caricature of his fatuousness and situationally accurate.

Why, it is interesting to ask, must we hear the cymbal crash? Hitchcock’s emphatic close-up must dispel any notion thata this events holds status, for the filmmaker, predominantly in the cantata frame. The cantata is dissolved with the scream. But the cymbals crashing when the music is not there to support the sound (itself an elegant joke) indicate filmically–and for Hitchcock, I believe, film was the true music–the elemental conflict between the aspects of Jo’s life as singer and as mother. This is one of the central themes of The Man Who Knew Too Much. If Drayton has required the cantata for staging a murder and Jo has required a violation of the music in order to prevent one, Hitchcock has required a cantata–indeed, this cantata–to set up the explicit cymbal crash (read duality) that has been implicit throughout. (241)

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