Tag Archives: the third man

Five Reasons to Donate, for the Love of Film (Noir)

Over at Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films, the For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon rages on, raising money for the Film Noir Foundation and the preservation of our dark cinematic heritage. However, despite all the gorgeous, noir-loving prose being churned out by the blogathon’s dozens of contributors, they’re still behind on donations. And not enough donations means they can’t save Cy Endfield’s The Sound of Fury. But all is not lost. You can help. Do you love film noir? Do you have any excess income whatsoever? Then donate. Please. I’m a poor, beleaguered college student and I still managed to scrounge up $5.

But I won’t waste your time just begging. I’ll prove to you why you should donate your hard-earned $$$ to this most worthy of charitable causes. So, properly illustrated with high-contrast images pulled from some of the best noirs that Netflix Instant has to offer, here they are: The Top Five Reasons You Should Donate to the Film Noir Foundation.

5) For the way Rita Hayworth’s curls bounce when she raises her head

And, by extension, for all the fiery, erotic moments tucked inside great film noirs. (By the way, did anyone ever resolve that pluralization problem?) This may just be a tiny, half-second-long gesture on Hayworth’s part, but it’s still one of those indelible introductions, as she vertically enters the frame (and our hearts) with an unmistakable mix of coyness and confidence. Regardless of the movie’s garbled sexual politics, we can all concur that Gilda is more than decent.

4) For narrow stairways and back alleys around the world

When the soon-to-be-blacklisted Endfield was making The Sound of Fury in America, Jules Dassin had already emigrated to England and made the grimy, beautiful Night and the City, starring Richard Widmark as cheap hustler Harry Fabian. Although it has some great demonstrations of betrayal and desperation, the film’s most memorable images are of Fabian racing across London like a trapped rat. We know he’s going to end up dead; it’s just a matter of when. Film noir has a way of taking the claustrophobia we feel on a day-to-day basis and distilling it into deliciously anxious cinema. Doesn’t that deserve your support?

3) For the eight million stories in the naked city

Noir may tend toward the pessimistic and the criminal, but it’s still a decidedly populist genre. By poking into the seedy underbelly of postwar society, noir filmmakers told stories about the have-nots who still desire, about how good people turn bad, and about what life is really like in dives and cramped apartments—albeit often through a distorted lens. It’s no coincidence that one of the first Italian neo-realist masterpieces was also a European variation on film noir, Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione. To varying degrees, film noir was about dismantling glossy Hollywood fictions and telling it straight.

(Also, I think the inclusion of two Jules Dassin movies on this list proves that Dassin is the man when it comes to noir. If Night and the City and The Naked City pique your interest, you should look into Brute Force and Thieves’ Highway as well!)

2) For future generations, so they can remember a long-gone era when men wore hats

The thugs, hoodlums, and crooked cops who populate John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle may be stuck in a cycle of violence and crime, but at least they have snazzy wardrobes! This is one of film noir’s big appeals: no matter miserable the characters are, they still make fantastic fashion choices. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity might be riding that trolley to the end of the line (and have to wear that ugly wig), but that can’t stop her from donning angora sweaters and revealing nightgowns. Who doesn’t envy all those trench coats and fedoras? They might not be very comfy, but they look awesome.

1) For the expression on Orson Welles’s face after he realizes he’s been spotted

OK, I might be biased because The Third Man is easily amongst my three-or-so favorite films of all time. But just look at that face! Welles is so intensely charming, and that caught-with-his-hands-in-the-cookie-jar expression is the icing on the cake. (Whoops, just mixed some dessert-related metaphors there.) Add in Anton Karas strumming on the zither and a perplexed Joseph Cotten, and you’ve got a scene that single-handedly justifies donating money to the Film Noir Foundation.

So do it! Click on the Maltese falcon below and give your spare ducats to a needy cause! For the sex appeal, the rain-soaked streets, the untold stories, the 1940s apparel, and Orson Welles’s roguish grin… for the love of film noir, donate.


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Horror is everywhere (1)

Since so much of the critical discourse around horror tends to describe it as a “ghetto genre,” stuck in the gutter of low budgets and low culture, it’s easy to imagine it as walled off from the rest of film. But, well, that’s just not the case – and the sooner we realize it, the happier we’ll be. Because the fact is, as I say in the title of this post: horror is everywhere. It’s not just in ’50s B-movies and ’70s slashers and monster rampages and gore. It’s all over the place in mainstream Hollywood cinema. It’s in austere art films. Only a thin, imaginary line separates the worlds of Herk Harvey, Lars von Trier, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Ingmar Bergman.

In order to demonstrate this point, I’ve gone through the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? aggregated list of the 1,000 highest-ranked films of all time, and picked out ones that show the influence of the horror genre. Because horror isn’t just a hidden, perverse bastard genre. It’s an impulse whose tentacles reach into all eras and regions. Horror touches all artists whether they like it or not. So here are some critically acclaimed films that deserve to be located within the tradition of horror.

Citizen Kane (1941) – TSPDT ranking: #1

Who do you think dwells in that far-off, menacing mansion? Maybe Dr. Frankenstein? Mr. Sardonicus? No, that’s Xanadu, the final home of the title character in Citizen Kane. In the film’s opening sequence, Welles invokes haunted house iconography, moving us closer and closer to Xanadu through a series of eerie dissolves; Bernard Herrmann’s creepy score accentuates the feeling. Welles was no stranger to scaring people (remember, he’d punk’d the nation with The War of the Worlds just 3 years earlier), and he knew how to make Kane seem distant and foreboding: introduce him with a dash of Gothic horror. Kane’s rigid, Karloffian outburst after Susan leaves him later in the film just drives the point home.

Vertigo (1958) – TSPDT ranking: #2

Like Welles, Alfred Hitchcock was no stranger to horror. He flirted with the genre throughout his career, producing movies that were terrifying and mysterious, but still better categorized as “suspense” or “thrillers.” Still, he made one of the earliest serial killer movies (The Lodger), and helped establish the slasher and killer animal subgenres with Psycho and The Birds. In Vertigo, often considered his masterpiece, he even dabbled with the supernatural through a red herring reincarnation story. Sure, Madeleine/Judy turns out to be a total fake, but the film still contains moments of potent psychological horror – like the wonderful dream sequence pictured above, which is easily one of my favorite cinematic nightmares.

The Rules of the Game (1939) – TSPDT ranking: #3

I’m not trying to suggest that Renoir’s playful, lusty tragicomedy is secretly a horror movie. But I just really love Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, and I love Renoir’s very theatrical take on it. This macabre little dance routine is performed by members of the nobility for the benefit of their friends, and also for us, the audience. In a movie where trivialities and misguided passions lead to serious consequences, it only makes sense that skeletons and ghosts should be reduced to characters in a brief entertainment.

The Third Man (1949) – TSPDT ranking: #30

Postwar Vienna is a scary place. At least, that’s the lesson learned by hack writer Holly Martins after he pays the city a visit. In addition to dealing with international politics, canted angles, and the maybe dead, maybe evil Harry Lime, Martins and his not-quite-girlfriend Anna have to evade this creepy little Austrian kid who’s accusing them of murder. Throughout the film (which is one of my favorites ever), director Carol Reed pours on the expressionism, to the point that you’re not sure whether Holly and Anna are coming or going. The war-damaged state of the city’s streets and buildings doesn’t help. Combine this disorientation with a demon child right out an Austrian version of The Omen, and you’ve reached the point where noir meets horror.

The Conversation (1974) – TSPDT ranking: #166

Most of Francis Ford Coppola’s least-recognized masterpiece sits in “lonely paranoid thriller” territory, very much in line with the ’70s work of others like Scorsese, Pakula, and Polanski. But toward the end, as Gene Hackman’s surveillance expert Harry Caul realizes the complexity of the conspiratorial web he’s trapped in, the movie has some hallucinatory moments of real horror. Caul glances around an empty hotel room where he suspects a murder has been committed, then innocuously flushes the toilet… and out pours blood in a Shining-style deluge. We’ve also got Robert Duvall’s bloody handprint smeared on a window.

Initially, The Conversation‘s iciness and formal refinement may seem light-years away from the off-the-cuff gruesomeness of something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But really, to paraphrase Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat, they’re “sisters under the mink.” Or, to put it in more prosaic terms, they’re “surprisingly similar after you disregard artificial notions of high and low culture.” Whether you love or hate horror movies, it’s time to set aside these false distinctions, break through the self-imposed barriers, and realize that all of cinema is interconnected. And to hammer that point home, I’ll have more “Horror is everywhere” for you each week throughout October.

Pleasant nightmares, all!

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Great new movies: Ozark poverty and Italian opulence

Two Saturdays ago, I went with Rebekah of Happy Postmodernists to our local arthouse theater. We saw two movies, both fantastic, and you should go see both of them as soon as you can. The first was Winter’s Bone, the second film from director Debra Granik. It’s a disturbingly realist mystery set amidst the backwoods of Missouri, where 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) must find her meth-dealing father or risk losing the house where she cares for her two younger siblings and catatonic mom. This material could have made for a sappy melodrama, or maybe a pedestrian thriller set in Deliverance country. Instead, it’s a starkly observational masterpiece, ably meshing the perilous investigation and moral uncertainties of a film noir like The Third Man with the everyday drama of raising children and surviving without a reliable income.

The style of Winter’s Bone is just extraordinary: it’s moody without being overwrought and suspenseful without being manipulative. Through Granik’s lens, rural Missouri is a dreary, desolate place, but always totally believable. And while many of the characters may be addicts or pathetic rednecks, they’re always discernibly human; especially memorable are Ree’s loose-cannon uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and Merab (Dale Dickey), the grimy matriarch who obstructs her search. Although they may live in barely habitable shacks, snort coke, and speak with molasses-thick drawls, the country dwellers of Winter’s Bone retain a past and a sense of belonging. In one particularly poignant scene, Ree and her siblings page through an old photo album and see Teardrop and their father as children. It’s details like this that root the film deep within the Dolly family, whose blood is shared by many of Ree’s potential enemies.

At heart, Winter’s Bone is a movie about a place, a people, and most of all a girl burdened by her diseased lineage and bravely facing a painful future. With its teenage detective, Winter’s Bone will probably earn comparisons to Rian Johnson’s high school neo-noir Brick. But as Rebekah and I concluded, Brick‘s delicious novelty and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s deadpan performance are totally blown away by the laconic but unrelenting power that Jennifer Lawrence brings to Ree. Winter’s Bone is as sharp and harrowing as its title, and in its best moments, its story acquires a semi-mythical quality, as if Ree and Teardrop were characters from forgotten folklore buried deep in America’s heartland. I hope to write more about Winter’s Bone later (and see it again!), but in the meantime, take my advice: it was very, very worth the $9.

The second half of our double feature was, in terms of style and content, on the opposite end of the spectrum from Winter’s Bone. While Ree & co. were so destitute that the idea of a sex life was out of the question, the Recchis in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love take sensuality and eroticism as givens. The film is a luscious, sweeping melodrama about a dynasty of Milanese industrialists led by the sturdy Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and his wife Emma (Tilda Swinton, who also co-produced), a Russian émigré. But as corporate dynamics start to shift – Tancredi’s father retires and the son Edoardo steps up to help manage the company – so do the family’s emotional balances, and soon Emma flings herself into an explosive liaison with Edoardo’s best friend, a skilled chef named Antonio.

However, any given plot development in I Am Love is less important than the fleeting emotions and sensory experiences that set it in motion. No pleasure is too small for I Am Love to express cinematically, and taste and touch are given just as much emphasis as sight. Emma’s first real awakening comes when she bites into Antonio’s exquisitely prepared prawn, and the world literally darkens around her as she feels it against her tongue. Later, her orgasm receives just as much attention, as it’s accompanied by shots of the surrounding countryside, a swell of John Adams’ minimalist score, and a cut to the London skyline. The ecstasies of food and sex are manifested through the most lavish visual and musical analogues possible, and it’s to the movie’s credit. Fuck the misguided 3D that’s plagued theaters (and ticket prices) this summer; I Am Love‘s resiliently traditional photography really does pop off the screen.

The broad, magnificent brush strokes that fill I Am Love‘s canvas leave little room for interpersonal intricacies, which is a shame; Rebekah and I were both disappointed that the movie didn’t delve further into the relationship between Emma and Edoardo (and the significance of the ukha, an emotionally fraught, translucent Russian soup). But the film, unsurprisingly, does an enormous amount with body language, conveying enough for a whole conversation with a single motion of Tilda Swinton’s hand. Turning individual sensations into panoramic landscapes, I Am Love is a triumph of expansive artistry that’s even more enthralling on the big screen.

So if you’re in the mood for a great movie experience, don’t settle for whatever bullshit’s just been released (and besides, I Am Love has more to say about eating, praying, and loving than a million Julia Roberts movies). Instead, run to your nearest theater that’s willing to show subtitled films, and watch either Winter’s Bone or I Am Love! One’s a chilling, brutal document of poor midwestern life; the other’s overflowing with fine Italian food and Tilda Swinton’s nipples. Both unquestionably have my seal of approval, and are movies by and about fascinating, well-written women. Take your pick.

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Billy Loves Stu and the Meme of Horror!

We here at Pussy Goes Grrr love community-building. We also love telling our reading audience about our selves and our opinions. And Pax Romano over at the delightfully queer horror blog Billy Loves Stu has provided an outlet for doing just that: it’s The First Ever Billy Loves Stu Meme for Horror Bloggers. (Even though we’re not a horror blog per se, this whole place is infused with the spirit of horror. So STFU.) So, without further ado, here’s our response (us being Ashley & Andreas) to this getting-to-know-you FAQ/survey/meme…

1: In Ten Words or Less, Describe Your Blog:

Angry feminism meets culture-analyzing acumen and horror movie love.

2: During What Cinematic Era Where you Born?
A: The Classic Horror Era (late 30’s to 40’s)
B: The Atomic Monster/Nuclear Angst Era (the late 40’s through 50’s)
C: The Psycho Era ( Early 60’s)
D: The Rosemary’s Baby Era (Mid to Late 60’s)
E: The Exorcism Era (Early to mid 70’s)
F: The Halloween Era (Late 70’s to Early 80’s)
G: The Slasher Era (Mid to late 80’s) (Ashley)
H: The Self Referential/Post Modern Era (1990 to 1999) (Andreas)

[We both have some issues with these chronological breakdowns, however, primarily in the later years: e.g., wouldn’t the “Halloween Era” just be the part of the “Slasher Era”?]

3: The Carrie Compatibility Question:
(gay men and straight women – make your choice from section A)
A: Billy Nolan or Tommy Ross, who would you take to the prom?
(straight guys and lesbians – make your choice from section B)
B: Sue Snell or Chris Hargensen, who would you take to the prom?

Same answer for both us: Sissy Spacek and only Sissy Spacek.

4: You have been given an ungodly amount of money, and total control of a major motion picture studio – what would your dream Horror project be?

Andreas: If  that “ungodly amount of money” can be used to fund the resurrection of the dead, I say we zombify the corpse of F.W. Murnau, give him whatever money’s left over, and watch him go. That’s my dream horror project.

Ashley: Due to massive amounts of genetic tampering in local chickens, one chicken mutates into the dreaded CHICKENCLIT! It’s a clit! It’s a chicken! It’s 50 STORIES TALL! This movie would be a beautiful abomination and would tank miserably before going on to become a cult classic 20 years later.

5: What horror film “franchise” that others have embraced, left you cold?

Andreas: I’m not really a “franchise” sort of guy – I’m pretty insistent on quality over quantity, and rarely find myself watching sequels beyond “II.” By way of example, I didn’t much care for Friday the 13th Part I, and am in no hurry to see anything past that.

Ashley: All of Scream and all of Friday the 13th. FUCK THOSE MOVIES.

6:  Is Michael Bay the Antichrist?

Michael Bay sucks. Damien is the Antichrist.

7: Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Frankenstein Monster – which one of these classic villains scares you, and why?

Andreas: They’re all scary, each in their own special way. But whereas the Monster is more pitiful and Dracula’s more aristocratic, the Wolf Man can tear your fucking throat out and wake up the next morning, as if from a drunken binge, with no memory of the event. Poor, poor Larry Talbot.

Ashley: Lord Summerisle, fersure. He may not be classic, but he’s retro! Also, Billy. He will fuck your Christmas all up.


8: Tell me about a scene from a NON HORROR Film that scares the crap out of you:

Ashley: The rape scenes in Rashomon (1950) and The Virgin Spring (1960). The brutality experienced by the female characters in both films is very scary. On a lighter note, Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is one scary motherfucker, and not just when he turns into the murderous, demon-eyed toon.

9: Baby Jane Hudson invites you over to her house for lunch.  What do you bring?

As long as she’s got enough dead rats and pet birds for both of us, there’s no reason to turn this into a potluck.

10: So, between you and me, do you have any ulterior motives for blogging?  Come, on you can tell me, it will be our little secret, I won’t tell a soul.

Andreas: I’ve never told anyone this before, but… I have an earnest desire to share my thoughts about film with the world, and to read the opinions of others. Now shhhh! We can’t let this get out.

11: What would you have brought to Rosemary Woodhouse’s baby shower?

Do they sell infant contact lenses?

12: Godzilla vs The Cloverfield Monster, who wins?

Neither of us have seen Cloverfield, but I’m just going to take a guess and say that Godzilla wins. Because you know what? Godzilla wins pretty much everything, from Godzilla vs. Megalon to the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla. Plus, he’s got half a century of experience.

13: If you found out that Rob Zombie was reading your blog, what would you post in hopes that he read it?

Ashley: Rob Zombie, if he just happened to be a long-time reader, would already be pissed off about me calling him an asshole for remaking films that don’t need to be remade here.

14: What is your favorite NON HORROR FILM, and why?

Andreas: Favorite, schmavorite; I can never narrow my preferences down to absolutes. But, uh, I’m very fond of The Third Man, Johnny Guitar, and anything by Fassbinder.

Ashley: A lot of my all-time favorite films ARE horror films e.g. Repulsion and Let the Right One In. These movies hold their own next to any other movie of any other genre. But if I had to choose some favorite non-horror, I love Miyazaki’s films (and even some of them have slight touches of creepiness) and lots of other animated films (like the aforementioned Roger Rabbit). Double Indemnity is one of my favorite films and so is Gaslight (which also has touches of horror) and I love, love, love Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

15: If blogging technology did not exist, what would you be doing

Andreas: Pursuing my college education without distraction. Jesus, how boring would that be?

Ashley: Since I don’t spend ALL of my time blogging, I’d probably just spend (even more) time perusing the interwebz.

I hope you enjoyed this intimate look into our creepy little minds. Thanks to Billy Loves Stu for the meme; go check it out!

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Machine men with machine minds

It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything – between the Independence Day weekend and Ashley’s pinched sciatic nerve, it’s been difficult to find time for writing. So I figured I might take a few minutes to go over whatever it is I’ve been thinking about lately. We’ve watched a fair amount of (very good) movies; it’s nice to be able to go back and rewatch beloved classics. Since I’m so preoccupied with watching films I haven’t yet seen (and checking off lists, always lists), this is an opportunity I don’t often get.

And, well, I think all in all repeated viewing is important to understanding and loving film – after all, it’s a very visually and aurally dense art form. So it’s good to be able to watch movies from all time periods, regions, styles, genres, and directors, but at the same time, occasionally it’s good to do some deeper viewing, possibly paying attention to aspects of the work you haven’t noticed before. Beside that, it’s just fun: the two of us are sharing movies we love with each other. What’s more romantic than that?

Among the movies we’ve watched have been, as I mentioned the other day, The Third Man and White Heat. This is going to be short, so I don’t really have time to jump into a full-blown exploration of the two films’ many nuances and significances, but I might as well just touch briefly on the thoughts I had while rewatching.

The symbolic recursion of man within man within man

With The Third Man, every other line in the first half of the film seems to be a clue, a subtle hint to the mysteries Holly spends the rest of the film furiously unraveling. The way the film so carefully traces the effects that Harry Lime had on those around him reminds me of some of Orson Welles’ other contributions to film: say, for example, Citizen Kane, which asks if one word can really sum up a man’s life, or Touch of Evil, which concludes with Marlene Dietrich asking, “What does it matter what you say about people?”

Of course here we’ve instead got the direction of Carol Reed, filling in the darkness and disorientation, as in his earlier films, Odd Man Out and The Fallen Idol, where the confused protagonists (a dying IRA operative and an ambassador’s young son, respectively) wander through situations just as undecipherable as Holly Martins’ stay in Vienna. Between the nonstop canted angles and the blissfully idiosyncratic, often incongruous zither music, it’s a decidedly off-balance film – the truth is always behind another shadow, another corner, or as Calloway says, “We should’ve dug deeper than a grave.” And the film always keeps a very British sense of dark humor about the whole affair.

Martins: A parrot bit me.

Calloway: Oh, stop behaving like a fool, Martins…

I think The Third Man forms a great contrast with the other film on my mind, released the same year, Raoul Walsh’s White Heat. Both contain blithely smiling villains. But while The Third Man coyly clings to secret after secret, layer after layer, White Heat is blunt as hell. (I wonder if I could draw a parallel between Walsh and Samuel Fuller, in that both seem to trade in subtlety for raw brutality.) In the first 5 minutes, we’re introduced to our weirdly sympathetic, totally psychotic central character, Cody Jarrett, a mercilessly hands-on gangleader played by veteran actor James Cagney.

Cagney was returning to the gangster movie a decade after having helped define it with roles in Warner Bros. films like Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties, Michael Curtiz’s Angels with Dirty Faces (both opposite Bogart), and of course the grapefruit-smashing iconography of William Wellman’s The Public Enemy. His performance as Cody Jarrett, though, drops the relatively well-intentioned rags-to-riches element of these Depression-era films for a delusional but brazen figure fixated on the support of his mother and her dreams of him going to the “top of the world.” Jarrett doesn’t just want to be well-off and have his best girl by his side; instead, he’s consumed with id and despises his best girl (played with sluttiness and self-interest by Virginia Mayo).

The film is filled with one weird turn after another, from the scorching of gang member Zookie with steam from a train engine (the first of many symbolic images of “White Heat”) to Jarrett’s transferred devotion to partner-in-crime-but-actually-police-informant Vic Pardo, played by frequent noir straight man Edmond O’Brien. It almost reminds me of the way black holes curve space-time: Cagney’s white-hot performance seems to skew the whole film in bleak, slightly disturbing directions. So here we have an interesting way that two films are similarly effective: The Third Man‘s driving force is powerful through his absence, while White Heat‘s makes his mark through an overwhelming presence.

Finally, since you can never embed too many videos in one blog, here’s a climactic excerpt from another movie Ashley and I watched recently, Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. It’s a great artist’s first sound film, and a passionate paean to human freedom.

I’m not sure when there’ll be more writing forthcoming from either of us, but we’ve both got plenty of ideas stewing in our heads (both collaboratively and individually), so more eventually.

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