Art Corrupting: The Dark Corner & Blue Velvet

August 25, 2011

Watching a lot of film noirs brings with it the problem that many of them just aren’t that good, and  many that are classed as noir, at least by Netflix, aren’t really that at all.  But then you get lucky, and hit on a good one.  The Dark Corner (1946) is the latest for me, and despite its happy ending, it’s a real noir ride into the depths.

Galt (Bradford, not John) is a very hard boiled detective, with the killer instincts and the tough talk to prove it.  His loyal secretary (Lucille Ball, before comic fame) is resourceful, and falling in love with him.  Many scenes in the film play with or insinuate about how she protects, or doesn’t protect, her virtue:  An elderly ticket saleswoman drops her jaw as she listens to them discuss meeting up in his apartment; a milkman gives a sly look as she meets him at the door with Galt behind her, slipping the newspaper from under her arm.

Galt was set up for manslaughter in Frisco, and now wants a new start in NYC, but Cathcart (Clifton Web doing a reprise of his  effete rich man Laura-Lydecker role) sees him as the perfect fall guy for the murder he is planning.  The victim is Galt’s former partner, an unscrupulous blackmailer, who is having an affair with Cathcart’s young and beautiful wife.

The film has a lot of good lines, and Galt’s in particular strengthen the atmosphere of doom, dread, and implacable injustice that is suffocating him:   “I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.”

Cathcart is an art dealer, with a decadent and corrupting love of ‘beauty’.  The conversations in his art gallery are absurd, and the walls of his place are covered with paintings which actually hang in the greatest of the world’s museums.  The climax is nicely done as Galt plays a hunch and tries to see Cathcart in his establishment, but he has to pose as a buyer to do it.  Looking at a marble Donatello (That’s what they said it was, but I didn’t recognize it.) he declares:  “I’ll take it.  Wrap it up.  I want the pedestal too!”  Not too convincing.

After Cathcart’s wife shoots him, to prevent Cathcart from shooting Galt, and in revenge for the murder of her lover, we see two cops in the gallery, waiting for the chief to come out.  Who would buy this stuff, one wonders?  Aw c’mon,  it’s aaht!

nice double shot

another double

Cathcart wants to wrap up his plot by shooting Galt and framing him for the murder of his wife’s lover, but she’ll have none of it.  She plugs him three times and tosses the gun.

Blue Velvet has a different sort of sick obsession with art going on.  The film is a sort of mash-up of genres:  noir meets horror, and something else that seems to think it’s clever.  Dennis Hopper plays Frank, a very sick drug dealer who revs himself up for rape, murder, or plain old fornication, by breathing oxygen? nitrogen? through a mask.  This makes him connect with his inner-infant, an infant of the raging Freudian Id type, that is.

Frank holds the husband and son of Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) captive so he can work his will on her.  He is obsessed with the song Blue Velvet, and chews on a piece of similarly colored textile while he rapes or listens to Dorothy do her nightclub singing gig.

Hopper and Rossellini are fantastic, but the rest of the film is a throwaway, with the exception of Laura Dern, who is very strong as the good-hearted, spunky young lady falling in love with the main character, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan).  He’s a good boy in a small town, with a taste for mystery and, he discovers, kinky sex.  The insect motif, the ‘ironic’ portrayal of small town idyllic scenes, and the soundtrack all fall pretty flat for me.  But watch it for Frank and Dorothy, not to mention Dean Stockwell’s small role in a scene that showcases Lynch’s talent for making the utterly bizarre believable.


Footsteps on sidewalks

January 20, 2010

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In old films, especially film noir, pavements are always wet.  The sounds of men’s shoes as they walk makes a gravelly, scraping sound.  I grew up loving this sound.  I always wore rubber-soled sneakers, and I lived in southern California where the sun always shone.  As soon as I could, I moved to the wet and dark northeast and bought myself some shoes with leather soles.

In my search for images and sounds of footsteps, I found that Fritz Lang made a film renowned for its audio effects, and which also includes an unusual clip with foot and shoe themes.


Some girls like it like that…

September 11, 2009

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Ex-Assemblyman Duvall says resignation not an admission of affairs

Former Assemblyman Mike Duvall officially gave up his seat Thursday as a recording of him describing graphic details of sexual trysts with two women continued to send shock waves through the Capitol.  But the married champion of family values insisted late Wednesday that his resignation is “no way an admission that I had an affair or affairs.”

“My offense was engaging in inappropriate story-telling, and I regret my language and choice of words,” he said in a statement posted to his campaign Web site Wednesday night. “The resulting media coverage was proving to be an unneeded distraction to my colleagues, and I resigned in the hope that my decision would allow them to return to the business of the state.”

Duvall’s decision to step down came shortly after two Southern California news outlets broadcast a tape of the Orange County Republican bragging to fellow Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, about having sexual affairs with two women. The remarks were recorded by a microphone left on during a break in a July committee hearing.

Miller, who lets out an occasional laugh during the recorded conversation, said Thursday that he “wasn’t really paying attention” as Duvall boasted about his lover’s “eye-patch underwear” and his penchant for spanking her during sex.

So reads the news.  What more could I possibly add?

Duvall - family values guy

Duvall - Conservative Family Man


Nightmare on Main Street

October 23, 2007

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There I go again, alluding to cultural cliches in my post title, but I could not help myself. I get positively giddy when I see nightmares and surrealism going mainstream in the news. Of course, surrealism has been mainstream since the 30′s, and you could argue that it forms the aesthetic bedrock of much of the advertising industry. Well, anyway, the NYTimes Science section is featuring dreams and bad dreams – most dreams are bad, it seems – in today’s paper.

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And speaking of bad dreams, a mare is a horse, and a nightmare, well, Henry Fuseli showed us what it all means with his famous pictures, one of the best known shown here.

And this strange, bloody eye, right from the page of the NYTimes! So common in horror shows these days – I just saw it last night while I peeked at my son’s favorite TV sci-fi melodrama, Heroes. To the right, we see its ancestor in that opening sequence from “Un Chien Andalou,” (An Andalusian Dog) the landmark of cinema and surrealism by Dali and Bunuel – a woman gets her eye sliced open as a thin cloud passes before a full moon…and the dreams begin. Rotting donkeys on pianos, hands stuck in doors with ants, lots of ants, sex, death, music…the usual stuff.

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Not as well known to the public, because it doesn’t make for shocking juxtapositions in pop culture, is the surrealist preoccupation with l’amour fou, deranged love. This image from “L’Age D’Or” (The Golden Age) shows one of the more fetishistic aspects of this trend.

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And while we are on the subject of images in the media, here’s one from todays online NYTimes. A house going up in smoke, combining with oxygen, as Mr. Rosewater (God bless him) would have it, in southern California. To me, it has an apocalyptic cast, reminding me of the final scene from that noir pulp classic, “Kiss Me Deadly,” when the scoundrels open up The Box and are illuminated with deadly radiation. End of the World, anyone?
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