Tag Archives: femme fatale

Link Dump: #90

This week’s kitty is from The Sessions, a movie that doesn’t take many creative chances but is unusual by virtue of being about disability and sex. And now, a whole bunch of links:

And here are our recent search terms, which read like a window into some sad Google user’s erotic nightmares: “fat firl uteras pics,” “www.real-virgil-pussy-ukraine.com,” “she bends on her four ready for deflowring her stories.”

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Long Day’s Journey into Nightmare

By Andreas

In the mood for something seedy, paranoid, devilish, but still light-hearted? Look no farther than this week’s pick for “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” over at The Film Experience: Fritz Lang’s fantastic film noir The Woman in the Window (1944). It stars the always-great Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar, Double Indemnity, etc.) as a middle-aged psychology professor who gets involved with the foxy Joan Bennett, the titular woman in the window. One thing leads to another, and next thing you know, he’s following a murder investigation that could end up sending him to the chair.

Both Ashley and I picked favorite shots for this movie, and both involved the sequence where Robinson and Bennett systematically hide the body of the hot-blooded Claude Mazard. It’s a crucial scene, as they deposit all the clues that the police will interpret throughout the film, and Lang shoots it with all the expressionistic lighting he can muster to heighten the mood. For example, Ashley’s “best shot” was this glimpse of Bennett wrapped in shadow:

She’s escaping under cover of night, and trying to avoid any cops’ (or audience members’) prying eyes. But the streak of light on her arm gives her away. Even though The Woman in the Window backs out of its fatalistic attitude with a pretty cheap twist at the end, these scenes are suffused with raw fear. That’s what you get when you murder a man in Fritz Lang’s part of the universe. (If you want a Lang noir that never backs down, though, 1945’s Scarlet Street is basically the same movie, only far more pessimistic and full of erotic obsession.)

Soon thereafter, Edward G. Robinson is driving off into the wilderness to get rid of the body. That’s when we get my favorite shot of the film:

I love how we get two parallel worlds here, with the glimpse outside the car on top, and Mazard’s dead face on the bottom. Robinson’s giving a quick look around, just in case, while Mazard lies in swath of light as if silently screaming, “Look at me! I’m a dead body!” The image’s composition confirms all of Robinson’s worst fears, both by calling attention to the corpse and implicitly assigning blame for his death to that face in the window. (Worse yet, Mazard’s dead eyes are tilted upward.)

Edward G. Robinson being presented in profile also subtly heightens our panic, since he’s gazing off-screen at something we can’t see… but can easily imagine. But what else would you expect from Fritz Lang, who conjured up some of the cinema’s worst nightmares? We should just be grateful that The Woman in the Window is an experience we can wake up from.

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Trauma Theater: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

By Ashley

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of my favorite childhood movies. Whether or not this movie should actually be meant for children is a matter of debate. Setting aside the sexy femme fatale Jessica Rabbit, the blackmail, the political corruption,  the noir-inspired scenery, and the murders, let’s talk about Judge Doom, shall we?

We all know that Judge Doom is one of the scariest motherfuckers of all time. His disregard for Toon life is terrifying to any cartoon-loving child and when it’s revealed that he himself is a Toon—the scariest, most self-loathing, most demented Toon ever!—and he morphs into a grotesque mad man shit just gets completely outta control. But let’s backtrack a little. Let’s talk about what, in my opinion, is one of the most terrifying moments in a non-horror movie ever committed to film. I’ve touched on this in the past but I’m going to delve a little deeper into it. Hit the jump to see the horrifying scene…

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Sex and Satin

One night she started to shimmy shake
That brought on the Frisco quake
So you can put the blame on Mame, boys
Put the blame on Mame

In my most recent “Mix Tape” piece over at The Film Experience, I pay tribute to one of the sexiest, greatest song, dance, and striptease numbers in all of film. Specifically, it’s the “Put the Blame on Mame” scene from Gilda, wherein Rita Hayworth burns up the stage in a Rio de Janeiro nightclub with her raw sexual power. As she struts her way into our collective hearts (and nether regions), she also does for black satin gloves what Liza Minnelli did for bowler hats in Cabaret: she turns them into persuasively sexy accessories to her dance, props brimming with erotic energy.

There’s a lot to love in Gilda, including its fiery love/hate relationship, its weird set design, and its overt homoeroticism. But “Put the Blame on Mame” is by far the best part, a few endlessly rewatchable minutes of seduction, style, and psychosexual gamesmanship. Head on over and read more of what I had to say!

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Memories are Made of This

In the past, I’ve discussed Christopher Nolan’s neo-noir-in-reverse Memento for its narrative and setting, as well as its place in Nolan’s filmography. However, I’ve never really addressed it visually, and that’s about to change—because Memento is this week’s entry in The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series! Memento is a very attractive film, courtesy of Oscar-winning cinematographer (and Nolan’s partner-in-crime) Wally Pfister; it’s set in a generically urban, sun-drenched part of California, pierced with greenery, but you still get a sense of something sinister lurking down the frontage roads and inside the grungy hotels.

The film’s greatest visual coup is how it alternates between its bright-but-menacing color palette and a crisply nightmarish black and white, intuitively associating each one with different time frames. Yet I still found it hard to pick out a single best image. It’s universally pretty, but few shots really stood out to me. That said, I really love how Nolan and Pfister shoot actors. Stars Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss are sexy people, and the film exploits that fact for all it’s worth during their brief but torrid affair. (This is an edge Memento has over Nolan’s bigger, more ambitious projects: for all their virtues, you could never claim that The Dark Knight or Inception are especially sexy. Except when Heath Ledger’s in his nurse costume.)

Thus, this is my best shot for Memento:

It’s a rare moment of tenderness and vulnerability. Even though Leonard and Natalie are modeled on the film noir archetypes of the tough private eye and the heartless femme fatale, here they’re just two lost, lonely people. They’re in the midst of exchanging morning-after banter as the film reaches its end/beginning, with Natalie caressing one of his tattoos and saying, “It’s pretty weird,” to which Leonard responds, “It’s useful.” Nothing too special about the dialogue, but it’s the gesture that matters here. She brings her hand down across his chest, then touches it once again, hesitantly.

Then they physically separate, changing their clothes and getting ready for the big day ahead. Leonard may soon forget this moment, along with Natalie’s identity and her fractious relationship to him, but for the audience it lingers. It’s erotic, but not gratuitous. It’s sweet, but definitely not sentimental. It’s fleeting, just like all of Leonard’s experiences. It’s also beautifully lit against a backdrop of rumpled sheets, with the late-morning sunlight playing on Moss’s hand and Pearce’s torso. It’s absolutely my best shot.

I have a few others I’m fond of, especially ones that capture Carrie-Anne Moss’s casual bitchiness. Or better yet, since everyone loves a symmetrically shot death scene:

[Interestingly enough, my second-favorite shot is also the favorite of JA at My New Plaid Pants. It is an awesome shot!]

Nolan and Pfister accomplish something special with the visual interplay between Leonard’s hellish current life and his last few memories, set before and during the murder. It reminds me of the wistful editing patterns in Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, which is ironic, since Jonathan Rosenbaum once dissed Memento as “gimmicky and unpoetic” compared to Resnais and his experimental successors. Memento certainly has its flaws, but it’s more than just a pastiche-filled puzzle. It has traces of feeling, as well as dark wit, tucked inside its thorny narrative. And it’s an excellent showcase for the serpentine Moss and the sensuous Pearce.

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Force of Evil and the Love of Film (Noir)

Around this time last year, I participated in the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, which was devoted to one of my favorite causes—film preservation. It’s happening this year, but with a dark and wonderful twist: it’s centered on film noir, which is my bread and butter, my métier, my love. In other words: let’s raise some big money, folks. Let’s pretend we’re like Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle, and Cy Endfield’s forgotten noir The Sound of Fury (1950) is the Kentucky farm we’re trying to buy back. Or if that’s too confusing, maybe we could be Elisha Cook, Jr. in The Killing.

Or let me just put it straight: we need to raise money to preserve a great film. A great film about mob justice that stars Jeff Bridges’ father, Lloyd. See Ferdy on Films and Self-Styled Siren, the blogathon’s co-hosts, for more information. In the meantime, you can do two things: 1) click on that Maltese falcon at the left to donate any amount of money (please, please donate!) and 2) let me tell you all about another great, underrated film noir, Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil (1948).

Like The Sound of Fury, Force of Evil was made by a filmmaker on the cusp of being blacklisted, and Polonsky wouldn’t receive another film credit for twenty years. It’s a tragedy that such a promising career should be cut so short, yet it’s not surprising; Force of Evil is not just well-made, but also bleak, brave, and dangerous. It proves that Polonsky, as an artist, was unafraid to indict the greed and corruption he saw around him, and do it in the most caustic, unwholesome way imaginable. He was totally willing to “speak truth to power,” and in the process create one of the the blackest noirs. In Force of Evil, the saving graces of love, humor, and family are gone. All that’s left is the bad, and the worse.

At the center of all this is Joe Morse, the lawyer for a big-time numbers racketeer, played by the always-dynamite John Garfield. Like Polonsky, Garfield was just a few years away from the blacklist, not to mention his own death, and his performance bleeds desperation. His introductory voiceover is deceptively optimistic—”Tomorrow I make my first million dollars,” he claims—but that optimism, and any chance for the fulfillment of Joe’s American dream, is premised entirely on a series of cold-hearted deals he’s made with his boss, Tucker (Roy Roberts). Ironically, it’s Joe’s brief glimmers of humanity and altruism that destroy him and bring down his whole wicked world.

Joe, you see, is conflicted. His brother Leo (Thomas Gomez), a fatherly salt-of-the-earth type with heart trouble, runs a small numbers “bank” that Tucker plans to absorb into his combination on July 4, unless Joe intercedes. But when Joe stands up for him, Leo wants no part in it. So Joe has to force him in, straining their already troubled relationship, and accidentally driving his brother straight into an undignified grave. Gomez gives the performance of a lifetime as the sweaty, palpitating Leo, a man who only wants the best for his employees, and who sees his brother as a dirty gangster. Force of Evil is filled with hungry-eyed men who make the realtors of Glengarry Glen Ross look downright serene, and Leo is the hungriest, most panic-stricken of them all.

When Joe takes a romantic interest in Doris, Leo’s innocent surrogate daughter, Leo is understandably pissed. And he may be in the right. Force of Evil forces the viewer to ask the question: would you rather be Joe, the ambitious black sheep, who has sacrificed his scruples and his self-possession for that “first million dollars”? Or Leo, who’s bound to end up dead amidst the trash and seagulls, who may in fact be a small-time crook, but at least retains the vestiges of a tarnished soul? The film provides no easy way out, and no absolution through a cutesy Hollywood love story.

Even the “good” characters, like the mousy accountant/informant Bauer (Howland Chamberlain), have compromised themselves in the worst possible ways. Before he ends up as a bloodied corpse on the front page of a newspaper, Bauer is castigated by Leo as a “dumb, rotten dog” who should’ve left everything alone. In Force of Evil, everyone is complicit in Tucker’s overarching corruption, and redemption is always just out of reach. Tucker’s wife, played by femme fatale extraordinaire Marie Windsor, wears that corruption like a perfume, and manages to sound seductive even as she plants seeds of paranoia and betrayal in Joe’s brain.

And, as you might expect, Force of Evil ends in a big, loud mess as the crooks double-cross one another, leaving Joe with nothing but rubble and guilt. As this synopsis might suggest, the film is relentlessly downbeat; it’s all but nihilistic in its chilling vision of American life. For Polonsky, the real crimes aren’t just muggings and murders, but all the backroom arrangements made by amoral bureaucrats with more concern for statistics and legal loopholes than all the lives they’re ruining. Between its unflinching darkness and beautiful distillation of noir style, Force of Evil is a confirmed masterpiece, which I see as a likely influence on On the Waterfront (directed by Polonsky’s nemesis, Elia Kazan) and The Godfather, especially considering Force of Evil‘s bloody diner scene.

As such, it’s one more important piece of the film noir heritage that Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme, Greg Ferrara, and all the rest of the intrepid blogathoners are fighting to save. So please, help the Film Noir Foundation makes its first million dollars. Give generously to save the movies that you and I love. For the love of film (noir), click the button below and donate!

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Selling Out on the Street of Shame

Over at Shadowplay, David Cairns’ The Late Show – a blogathon devoted to directors’ late and last movies – rages on. Since I contributed to it on Sunday with a post about Eric Rohmer’s The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), I’d like to travel back half a century and halfway around to the world, to postwar Japan. While the legislature debates banning their trade, a group of prostitutes working side by side must fight both poverty and the stigma attached to their profession in Kenji Mizoguchi’s final film, Street of Shame (1956) or Akasen chitai – more accurately translated, according to the Eclipse DVD case, as the nonjudgmental “Red Light District.”

Released just months before Mizoguchi’s tragically early death from leukemia, Street of Shame is a fitting capstone to a career spent chronicling the abuses suffered and sacrifices made by Japanese women. Although it might not reach the aesthetic heights of such incomparable masterpieces as Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), it still contains all the marks of Mizoguchi at his prime: deep focus photography (by Kazuo Miyagawa) used for visually dense storytelling; the evocation of extreme pathos coupled with a flickering hope for future happiness; and richly drawn female characters, both good and evil.

In less than 90 minutes, Mizoguchi juxtaposes the stories of five women working at Dreamland, a brothel in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara pleasure district. Each has her own attitudes toward her job, and motivations for taking it, but they all have one thing in common: an uphill battle. They’re oppressed enough as women, but as sex workers, they’re directly told, “You’re merchandise.” Socially marginalized beyond the point of visibility, and with the government threatening to cut off their only source of income, they have to take desperate measures just to survive. Poor Yorie (Hiroko Machida) gets married, thinking of it as an escape, but returns when her husband turns out to be as dictatorial as any pimp.

Yume (Ayako Wakao), meanwhile, tries to keep her son from seeing her at work; his shame later leads to a confrontation where he renounces her as a mother. Mizoguchi doesn’t sugar-coat anything, nor does he exaggerate the extent of his characters’ miseries. He just honestly shows every one of the pressures converging on these women as they’re simultaneously exploited by their managers and customers, and rejected by their families in their hours of need. But, in the midst of all of this grim realism, he finds a possible silver lining – the tight-knit community formed by the women, for better or worse.

When their ties with the outside world are cut and the future promises nothing but self-commodification and inescapable debt, at the very least the women still have each other. Like the cast of Pedro Almodóvar’s comparable Volver (2004), the women don’t always support or even like each other, but the basis of their relationships are shared experiences; they each have the same understanding of what it’s like to be coerced into selling yourself. This works both ways, though, as the sly, enterprising Yasumi (Aiko Mimasu) lends out money to her impoverished sisters and makes a killing in interest, earning herself the nickname “Lady Shylock.”

Yasumi’s story is the most telling of the five, since at the end of the film, she’s the only one who successfully leaves the black hole that is the brothel. Her escape, however, comes only through her readiness to play the femme fatale, extorting and betraying those around her when necessary. She knows better than anyone the value of a yen, and she’s bitterly justified in her callous actions. She’s no more “evil” than Ugetsu‘s Lady Wakasa, willing to sacrifice those around her for the sake of self-preservation. Yasumi’s story arc reveals the cruel flip side to Mizoguchi’s vision of female camaraderie.

And speaking of Lady Wakasa, Machiko Kyo reappears here as the brassy young Michiko, who takes on the Americanized name “Mickey” (like the mouse). She’s introduced wearing a flashy, low-cut dress, dancing around in a giant shell à la The Birth of Venus. If Street of Shame‘s women were the seven samurai, Mickey would be Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune): the spunky, frivolous newcomer who doesn’t yet understand the group’s complex dynamics. She initially showcases her sexual allure and seduces away the other women’s customers, but over the course of the film, the routine grinds her down and her vulnerabilities start to show. By the final minutes of the film, she’s an old hand who readily shows the ropes to a shy teenage neophyte.

Thus, Street of Shame (and Mizoguchi’s career) concludes with a disturbing reminder that all this sacrifice and oppression is cyclical. Not only that, but unsolvable, unless economic opportunities and the treatment of women improve. It’s a far cry from the grand, all-for-love melodrama that ended his pre-war masterpiece Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939). The new prostitute hesitantly tries to attract potential customers wandering through Yoshiwara, calling out quietly as she retreats behind a wall. With that lingering image, Mizoguchi’s thirty-plus years of filmmaking fade into open-ended darkness.

What do you think of Mizoguchi, or his representations of women’s suffering? Any and all comments welcome.

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