And now for something completely different, although not that different when you really think about it.
Angels with Dirty Faces sees studio-man extraordinaire Michael Curtiz changing course away from the lush theatrical silliness of two of the finest pre-war matinee fluff pieces ever made, and moving toward the darker regions that would occupy the American fascination upon its descent into World War II and the harsher regions of human activity. The US spent a good deal of the 1930s hiding itself from the horrors of both the world and of itself, and Curtiz was a whiz at the sort of aww-shucks adventurous quality used to whisk America off to a dream world where problems didn’t so much trouble as exist to provide delectable, delightful solutions. 1939’s Angels with Dirty Faces does not, at first glance, appear to be the work of the same filmmaker. Tonally, it is the polar opposite of Curtiz’s two great prior works, descending into the muck of seedy, lonesome, grotesques and brutish grime that would become the “film noir” a few years later. Yet, a closer look yields a slightly different take, finding Curtiz using the same style he perfected in his previous films to wildly different ends. Continue reading
Jurassic Park saw classic ’80s blockbuster entertainment give way to the even sheenier, crisper branch of corporate ’90s filmmaking (very similar to ’80s blockbuster filmmaking, but much more interested in pushing the intersection of destruction and technology to its limits). For this reason, we find ourselves at a particularly strange place as we float on by 1993 and into the dark depths of the mid-90s. Cinema was only growing more indulgent, but the strain of American indies that had given light to the darkness of 80’s dramatic cinema was now entering its brightest stage of popularity and ubiquity. With corporate genre tentpoles and the distinctly dirtier world of ’90s indie filmmaking rattling around in a sort of cesspool, the two streams couldn’t but be crossed sooner or later.
It is with this that we arrive at 1994’s The Crow, an unlikely candidate for a ’90s blockbuster, but an important cult film nonetheless and a work which reveals the presence of a particular strain of ’90s filmmaking for all to see: the intersection of indie style/indie awareness of film history with the monetary aspirations of a blockbuster and the general desire to be things like “entertaining and actiony” to teenage males. If anyone needs more evidence as to this film’s peculiar placement in film history: it was released by Miramax films, the independent cinema distribution studio operated by the Weinsteins, right at the cusp of their becoming the film distribution company du jour throughout the back half of the ’90s. Indie cinema was being re-purposed into something corporate, and danger was assimilating into safety. Continue reading
Kiss Me Deadly, released in 1955, is one of the last great classic period film noirs, but it wasn’t often acknowledged as such originally. It was fought by politicians and “moral” figures at the time of its release, seen as the kind of film dangerous teenage types went to see in hopes of engendering social subversion. And this concern, about the danger it posed to accepted, conservative social mores, was valid: not only is this a lurid and exploitative film, but it has the gall to elevate these qualities to high art and use them to reflect on the luridness and exploitation perhaps intrinsic to human nature. Continue reading
Edited and Updated Mid-2016
It’s perhaps fitting that The Killing, a film so predicated on control and careful positioning was brought to life by a director who lived and breathed control and precision. It is usually considered director Stanley Kubrick’s first “mature” film, something which has two meanings here. Firstly, it’s the film where we see aspects of the filmmaker’s form and style come to fruition, including perhaps his most ubiquitous care: his love of calculated, icy cold filmmaking, perniciously-formed and rigorous like clockwork mechanics, where humans don’t much matter at all except in their capacity to move event and process forward. The Killing is the kind of filmmaking which would define his later efforts and mark him as one of the great visual masters of contempt-ravaged cinema, and it is a particularly suited film, and film genre, the noir, for Kubrick to have cut his metallic teeth on. Continue reading
This being the first in a month-long film noir review series.
A basic description of Otto Preminger’s Laura gives the impression of a typical film noir: a woman is murdered and a detective tries to figure out who did it. Technically that’s an apt description, but it misses the forest for the trees. When one thinks of film noir, one imagines dark, hard-edged characters, masculine cynics who deal in obsession, and a film with a suitably single-minded focus, a film suffocating on pure mortal fear and sin. This is not Laura. Where we expect focus, we find malaise. Where we expect single-mindedness, we have a lackadaisical atmosphere. Where we expect desperation, we get pomp and circumstance. And where we expect something ruthlessly efficient, we find something that quietly sneaks up on you, is generally amused with itself, and befuddles at every turn. Continue reading
Edited June 2016
What exactly does it mean to bear the weight of “America’s most beloved film”, as Casablanca does? This raises flags on all fronts, naturally. Many movies remain loved even as their luster fades, and others were never really very good to begin with, merely totems of false-positive memories. With any film of this monumentally mythic level of attention and historical repute, there are many questions, but the most important is actually rather simple: but is it any good?
Who doesn’t know the narrative? Set in the mystical imagination-space of World War II, after Germany has occupied France, a Czech freedom fighter Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) venture to Rick’s Café in the Moroccan City of Casablanca in hopes of lying low from the Nazis, headed by Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), chasing them. This plays like its own potential narrative, but things rise to loftier heights when Ilsa discovers Rick is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a past love, her only love, and the two begin to rekindle their past affair. Continue reading