Two for Minoru…

October 8, 2014

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…Yamasaki, that is.  Something about his buildings..?


Dickens/Correggio Mash-Up

September 27, 2014

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Rounding on the conclusion of Dickens’ Bleak House, and Mr. Bucket, that early literary instance of the deducing detective, puts the finger on the French maid Hortense as the killer of Mr. Tulkinghorn.  She had hoped to shift the blame to Lady Dedlock, whom she despises, but Mr. Bucket is not deceived.  After revealing all in a tense confabulation with Sir Leicester Dedlock, he handcuffs Hortense, and moves to get her out of the house, quiet like.

“Mr. Bucket gets her out, but he accomplishes that feat in a manner so peculiar to himself, enfolding and pervading her like a cloud, and hovering away with her as if he were a homely Jupiter and she the object of his affections.”

Right to left, above:  Correggio’s version; Visconti’s take on it in L’Innocente, and a humorous drawing of the dome of the Cathedral of Parma, painted by Correggio, that I found at a the webpage of an art dealer, accompanied by this text noting Dickens’ opinion of the work:

Indeed, many descriptions of the dome note the wry comments provoked by the imagery of the Assumption over the years, with one of Correggio’s contemporaries comparing it to a “hash of frogs’ legs” and Charles Dickens asserting that the jumble of figures was something “no operative surgeon gone mad could imagine in his wildest delirium.” In this spirit, the artist is apparently demonstrating his sense of humor by introducing into this study a real schoolboy bursting into the dome through one of the round windows, looking up and marveling at the writhing sea of bare legs that Correggio included in the fresco.


L’Innocente

September 21, 2014

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The other day, I watched L’Innocente, Visconti’s film of 1971 based on a story by D’Annunzio.  It was his last film, and certainly not up to the level of Senso.  A narcissistic, decadent, fin de siecle rich guy, Giancarlo Giannini, likes to have affairs, despite being married to a woman who is nearly goddess-like in her voluptuousness, i.e., Laura Antonelli.  (She, by the way, turns in a fine performance here:  not what I expected from the Queen of Italian soft-core sex farces of the 1970s.)

When his wife, oppressed by her desperate situation, takes a lover, he suddenly rediscovers her attractions.  Her lover dies on an African expedition, but she is pregnant with his child.  Her husband, now infatuated with her, demands that she have an abortion, and she refuses, ostensibly on religious grounds (He’s an atheist and freethinker.) but really because she wants the child of her dead lover, whom she mourns secretly.

Possessed by old fashioned jealousy and self-absorption – “I’m a man sick with melancholy, and I enjoy my sickness,” he says – the husband murders the baby.  He thinks that his wife has been seduced into loving him again by his vigorous and slightly kinky erotic ministrations to her, and that she will accept the death of the baby, and move on, with him.  He is wrong – she sees through him and realizes that he killed the baby, and she reveals her measureless hatred of him, confessing that she only pretended to love him again to protect her baby whom she loves as she did his father.

He confesses all to his former mistress, an icy countess (Jennifer O’Neal) and says he is ready to take up with her again. She, despite her relative lack of conventional morals, and her rather cavalier way of dealing with his infanticide, says she’s no longer interested.  She calls him a monster, in a nice way, of course.

Having nothing to live for now – only mere existence stands before him – our existential ‘hero’ shoots himself in the heart while the countess looks on. He wanted her to see how he stands by his principles.  Ho hum…

The costumes are fantastic, and the stifling perfume of the period’s opulence, for this particular class of beings, is, of course – after all, this is Visconti – overpowering in its presentation.  But the story is rather mechanical, and for me, D’Annunzio’s stories are simply a bit ridiculous.

Since I spend so much time looking at old art, I sometimes see things in films…

  

I guess Visconti knew Italian painting as well as I do.  The painting of Jupiter taking on the form of a cloud in order to possess Io (at top, by Correggio) must have been in his mind when he filmed the scene of Giannini carefully and deliberately arousing his wife while making clear his complete (so he thought) dominance of her (below).

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The Prisoner (of Zen[da/do])

September 3, 2014

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The final episode of The Prisoner, puzzling and infuriating to so many, but in my view, one of the historical high-points of television, is supposed to be when No.6 finally gets an answer to his ceaseless query, “Who is No. 1?”  We have written earlier about No. 6 as The Prisoner of Love, but perhaps he is really a prisoner of Zen, rather than Zenda. (That was a successful novel from the 1890s that was adapted many times for the cinema.)

In the literary Zenda-Prisoner configuration, the heir to the throne of a fictitious nation is drugged and held captive by an evil minister to prevent his coronation.  An Englishman, with a fortuitous resemblance to the heir is used as a double/decoy, to get around the political impasse.  So, is the king-to-be No. 1, or perhaps the evil minister?  Is No. 6 just a decoy…for whom?

When No. 6 rampages through the rocket in the underground chamber where his ‘graduation’ circus is being staged, he is chasing No.1.  He finds him, confronts his masked face – a repeated motif in the show – and rips off the masks, one after another. Finally, he finds, himself, while the sound track says, “I, I, I, I…i…i…   I love you, love you, very much!”  and music plays to a images of the Rover balloon bubbling and boiling, while the rocket starts to launch.

No. 6 is simply a prisoner of himself, his ego, his attachment to the “I”.  Trapped in his worldly illusion, as any Zen master could have told him.  He’ll never get out of that zendo, also known as The Village.

What a lot of fun!

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Voluntary Servitude

August 24, 2014

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I have been Montaigne’s Essays off and on four the last forty years or so, but I had never read a biography of the man, until I picked up Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live:  Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  It’s quite readable, and I like her thematic treatment of his life, rather than a detailed run-through of what happened where and when.  After all, Montaigne’s life was his reading and writing, or at least that was the part of his life he valued most.

Bakewell is very informative and lively on the topic of how the Hellenistic Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics provided the intellectual context for Montaigne, and his friends in the educated upper stratum of Renaissance French society.  How to live is a question that never goes out of style, and their answers still have power, especially when filtered through Montaigne’s good humor.

Quite a lot of time is spent on Montaigne’s friendship with Étienne de La Boétie, his youthful best friend who died of the plague in his thirties.  He is known mostly for being the companion of Montaigne, but also, it turns out, as a great granddaddy of anarchism and libertarian thought.  He is the author of the seminal, and heretical, for the time, short piece, On Voluntary Servitude.

His thesis is quite simple:  nobody governs but with the consent of the governed.  The consent may be granted because of love, respect, or apathy, but granted it is.  How else was England able to rule the Indian sub-continent with only a few thousand troops?  Examples multiply endlessly.  The corollary is equally simple:  to defeat and dethrone a tyrant, all that is required is to refuse to provide consent.  According to La Boétie, no blood need be shed.  If people simply refuse to give what is demanded, the tyrant will fall.

Reading his essay, I am struck by the Gandhian logic of it all, but Gandhi was more realistic.  He knew that much blood might indeed be shed.  La Boétie also seems to radically underestimate fear as a motive for giving consent.  He talks as though the only reasons give consent are stupidity, lack of imagination, or corrupt ethics, i.e. benefiting from the tyranny.  Classical heroes scorned mere fear, I guess..


Pretty Poison

August 19, 2014

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I only heard about Pretty Poison (1968) from the NYTimes obituary for the director, Noel Black.  He spoke of it after it flopped and was pulled from the theatres, saying:

“Essentially, we saw it as a story with many comedic elements in a serious framework — a kind of black comedy or existential humor of which ‘Dr. Strangelove’ is a prototype,” he said. “We hoped people would take it on more than one level.”

Let’s just stay at one level, not sure if it’s high or low:  it has one of the strangest femme fatales I have ever seen in film.

Anthony Perkins plays a disturbed parolee named Dennis Pitt, a man who deals with his discomfort with the world by spinning outrageous fantasies, this time about his being a tip-top secret agent.  He spots Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) practicing with her high school marching band, goes to work on her.  She seems to be a sweet, impressionable young girl, and the whole thing seems unbelievably corny and silly for a while, as he flirts with, and then woos her with his dark persona of an international man of mystery.

He has a destructive bent, and he enlists her in his plot to sabotage a local factory.  Sue Ann knows her way around a wrench, big or small, pulls this one out of her blouse, and gets to work.

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They are discovered by a night watchman, and Sue Ann calmly bonks him on the head with her wrench.  He’s not dead, so she pushes him the water and then climbs onto him to drown him.  Ride ‘em, cowgirl!

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She explains, it’s easier this way, isn’t it?

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From here on in, we’re in Gun Crazy, Bonnie & Clyde, and yes, Dr. Strangelove territory.  Those crazy kids, but which one is really crazy?  Maybe Anthony Perkins isn’t so typecast here as we thought?

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The blue Sunbeam roadster is a nice touch.  Sue Ann’s toy.

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Nothing for it but to shoot her mother, get married, and make off to Mexico, her idea.  He isn’t quite up to killing Mom, so she does it while he’s sick in the toilet.  Some heavy handed imagery here…

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“Oh Dennis, I feel like we’re already married.  What do people do when they’ve just been married, Dennis?”

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“Oh, uh…I don’t think I can right now…”  No problem, she says.  They’ll just get rid of the body and then skedaddle.

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“Dennis, I’m so hung up on you.  I’ll always love you.”

Yes, I’m quite impressed with your capacity for loving.”

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Not Noir, but Pretty Dark

August 8, 2014

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Netflix classified The Lineup (1958) as a film noir, which it most certainly is not, but it’s pretty dark nonetheless, and a crackerjack crime film that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Great location shots in San Francisco, an excellent high-speed chase long before McQueen did Bullit, a full rogues gallery of outlaw characters, and some great dialog:  just  hold on through the pretty dull first thirty minutes of  police procedural until Eli Wallach, as hit-man Dancer, makes his entrance, and enjoy the ride.

It’s called The Lineup, because it’s based on a TV show that ran in the early fifties under that name.  The episode with an actual lineup is quite a small part of the story.  The film is an expanded treatment of one story from the series, and it’s directed by Don Siegel.  One of the posters for the film says, “Too hot for TV!

Before the credits role, we are in the action as a porter rips off a passenger’s bag, and throws it into a cab which then races away.  As they say, a chase ensues, and the cabbie, after running down a cop who dies later, is hit by a lucky shot.  The luggage contains a statuette stuffed with high-grade heroin, part of a shipment run by a secretive outfit headed by The Man.  The Man thinks things out thoroughly, and he foists junk on unwitting overseas tourists who work as his mules without their knowledge.  Once they reach the States, the gang gathers up their souvenirs in whatever way they must.

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Here, the police do their work methodically, checking in with the head of customs, whom the Lt. initially blames for the cop’s death.  After all, why didn’t they catch that heroin in the statue?  The customs man shows a map and calmly explains that there is just too much territory, too many ships for him to handle.  Pretty routine stuff, but I like the guy on the left, although I could not find his  name.

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Our first glimpse of the bad guys, Robert Keith as Julian, and Eli Wallach as Dancer.  Julian is Dancer’s handler, coaching him on ‘delivery’ verbal and ballistic.  He wants Dancer to improve his grammar so as to be able to move more easily among his victims.  Their first dialog is a discussion of the subjunctive.  Dancer is incredulous that anyone would say, “If I were…,” rather than “If I was…”  He’s not alone, but Julian is firm with him.  After the fiasco with the cabbie, The Man brought them in to clean up things.

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Julian knows that Dancer is a cold-blooded psychopath, filled with hate.  he says as much to another gang member.  Dancer later reveals that like everyone else, he had an old man once, except that he never knew him.  Is Julian his father-figure, or is there a homo-erotic attachment here..?
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Sandy is “their boy,” designated driver, except that he has a liking for drink.  Julian slaps his bottle to the ground, and calls him “Dipso” from then on.  But Sandy has a souped-up auto, and he can drive it, fast!

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The three get to know one another on their way to get initial instructions on who the marks are they have to see to retrieve the smack.  The information session is placed down by the docks.
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I love the way Siegel took advantage of the location to add this bit of action:  as the car drives up, the boat is pulling out to sea.
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One of many nice SF shots, as Dancer gets his info – he never writes anything down – from the contact.
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The one to see is a seaman on the boat who was given a hollowed out antique horse.  They are told to find him in the steamroom in the Seaman’s Club.  Two guys in a locker room…wearing hats.   Dancer is convinced that this whole job is going to be a sticky one because the first shipment went awry, while Julian insists, no, it’s going to be an easy one.  All done by 4:30pm.
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Dancer undresses to go meet the man, and Julian offers to fold his clothes.  He tells him “Go easy…,” but the contact figured out that he was being used as a mule, so he asks for a few grand to make it worth his trouble.  Did they think he would believe that line about just carrying some art to a friend in the city for a favor?  Big mistake for them, and for him too.
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Meanwhile, the police trudge on…
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…while Dancer explains the facts of life to the upstart seaman.  He does it silently, shall we say.  Their driver asks if he really had to kill the guy, and Julian responds, “When you live outside the law, you have to eliminate dishonesty.”  Bob Dylan may have taken note.
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Next up, a set of fancy cutlery with powder stowed in the ivory handles needs to be repossessed from a rich pillar of society.  The butler is not comfortable with the story of an accidental mix up of shipments.  Dancer tries to talk his way out using his newly acquired gift for upper-class gab, but is not successful…
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Get your hands off that silverware!
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The butler runs to call the man of the house, but Dancer nails him.  It looks as if he’s shooting wild until you realize that you only see the butler in a mirror on the wall.
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Time to get out of there, and another SF location shot…
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The final mark is a woman who was on the boat with her daughter:  the stuff is stashed in the kid’s doll.  They catch up with them at the aquarium.  That Julian, he must love kids!
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Dancer does a fine job at trying, but not too hard, to pick up the woman.  She has a sad story about hoping that her divorced husband would have the decency to meet them at the dock to see his little girl, but no dice.  He’s lonely too…  He’s pretty convincing.  Good enough to get her to an accept an offer of a drive with his friends to her hotel so she doesn’t have to bother with all those packages.
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Once in the room, when mom leaves for a moment, they go for the doll, not the kind you carry around all the time.  The stuff isn’t there, and under threat of death for her mom, the kid reveals that she found the powder and used it to freshen up the doll’s face!  “That’s the most expensive face powder you could have used, kid.”
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Well, all the veils have fallen.  “Get out, now!”
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Julian does not like being told what to do by a woman, no sirree bob!
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But he’s not about to let the enraged Dancer finish the conversation by shooting the two females, although that’s what Dancer is set to do. Interesting logic here, and strangely compelling:  The Man is going to be mightily upset at getting a short shipment, and will likely conclude that Dancer and Julian did a little business of their own on the side.  That will not be good for the duo, who will be dead in short order, so Julian concludes that they must force the ladies to go with them, to meet The Man, so that he will see that their explanation, which would be hard to believe, don’t ya’ think, is for real.  It’s their only chance.
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So they all drive to the coast, to Sutro’s Maritime Museum, all that’s left of the legendary Sutro’s Baths, an early 20th century amusement center, and another great SF location.  Julian waits in the car with the ladies while Dancer goes in to meet The Man.  He is repelled by their weakness, and explains “that is why there are so few women in the crime world.  You just don’t understand the criminal’s need for violence.”  He’s very thoughtful…
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Meanwhile, The Man doesn’t find his package, but sees Dancer watching him.
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Dancer sees that he sees him, and goes over to make the drop, a bit short, it’s true, and to explain the situation.
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The Man doesn’t care for explanations.  “You’re dead,” he says.  “Nobody sees me.  You’re on borrowed time now.”
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His last words – Julian likes to record the last words of their victims in a little book he carries – are “Get out!”  Then he slaps Dancer hard.
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Dancer won’t take that crap.  He pushes him off the ledge onto the rink below.  It’s a great scene.
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Sandy is a driving kind of man, and his skills are now in demand since the cops have finally caught up with the three crooks.
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The pursuit scenes through the streets of SF are surprisingly effective given that they were all done in a studio in front of a projection screen.
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Sandy can drive, but he doesn’t always go the right way.  They end up at an elevated dead end on a freeway under construction.  Love that!
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Dancer is not impressed.  “Get us out of here if you want to live!”
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Sandy does a quick turn, and complies…
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…but he gets caught in an off-ramp going nowhere, and can go no further.  Dancer conks him over the head; Julian tries to surrender, but Dancer will have none of that!
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Put those last words in your little book!
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The cops get Dancer, Mom and daughter are okay, and it’s all in a day’s work for these two unexciting guys.5


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