LAALLH Warming Up at the Movies: Pre-Code Women, Noir contrasts, and Telephone Books

March 06, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

 

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MOVIEDIVA: Damsel Defiled - or Deified?

Dames of the Pre-Code Era

 

All hail Laura Boyes’ programming! We are so lucky to have her.

 

Shanghai Express (1932) Her formal but accessible, well-researched introductions leave me enraptured with clear and brilliant visions of the worlds that make films possible.

Her current series, focusing on films featuring edgy dames before the introduction of the Hays/Production Code (censorship of liberal social attitudes most especially) has featured some of the more marvelous ladies to grace the silver screen in roles to live and die for.

More info on MovieDiva’s awesome Pre-Code Women series can be found here: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/films/festivals/movie-diva

An inescapably familiar thread ran through all of three of the recent MovieDiva screenings I had the privilege of attending.

And I mean privilege.

Girls About Town was never released on home video. The scratching of the 35mm print screened at the Museum of Art had me salivating, but I only barely made it into the theater! Despite arriving half an hour early, not only was the film sold out, but I was about the 15th person on the waiting list.

Damn!

But by God I made it. Without it, I wouldn’t have my trifecta. Girls About Town, along with Baby Face and Shanghai Express left me feeling hopeful, devastated, and a bit wiser.

I clenched my interiority, worried it was spilling all over existence.

Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent in Baby Face (1933)  

 

All of the films feature a strong female protagonist dripping with agency, sex appeal, and charm. Beneath their coiffed and carefully arranged exteriors, a raw woman - one with the power to decide her future for herself, which she takes by gaming the system meant to destroy her.

In each case, an even deeper power, one that makes her quite human. She would allow herself to love a man that might destroy her every freedom. But not lightly. No, sir. Light Artists Are the Least Light Hearted. And, well, times have changed since then, but that is something worth remembering when viewing these films to appreciate their radicality.

So she has her guard up, and he his. For beneath the exterior of our masculine love interests, each carries with him a similar state of affairs. Inaccessible, in order to protect his own tenderness, his own vulnerability, and demonstrate his masculine indifference. But he can’t help but find himself overwhelmed by the magnanimity of our leading ladies. He knows she is his weakness, and maintains his old guard. But he loves her. He knows her.

Or, she has obscured his senses so blindingly with all the glitter that he cannot rely on his perceptions anymore. He loves himself. He knows only himself.

In the end, our paragons of feminine power cause their masculine counterparts to rise to the occasion, each of them finding their own facades crumbling, hopes abounding that this rare Other can bring them to some balance, between their image and their truth. It’s the least any such beautiful thing as a unique human being can ever hope for. Can we - either man or woman, but in either case those lovers of freedom and bold enough to be their own unique selves - be understood? Loved, truly, for who we really are and not as some mold one mangles oneself to fit to please the other?

Glorious, glorious, gunning for more. Plenty of this great series left to enjoy. Get to it, folks, everyone else is already on the Express!

And if you’re not careful, there won’t be any room left for you to claim!

Baby Face (dir. Green, 1933) MUST HAVE

Girls About Town (dir. Cukor, 1931) WORTH IT

Shanghai Express (dir. von Sternberg, 1932) MUST HAVE

 

See MovieDiva's extensive notes on each of the films at this link: What's New

 

Neo and Nous: The Soul of Noir

Whether Neo or not, Film Noir lives long and strong around the Triangle in screenings throughout the region.

Courtesy of the SCREEN/SOCIETY of Duke University:

Detour (1945)

 

John Cassavetes neo-Noir double-header in late January with Cassavetes’ directed The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976/78) and acting in Elaine May's 1976 masterpiece Mikey and Nicky. Also featured, Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (1945 - an interesting year for detours, indeed.)

 

Cassavetes’ approved 1978 cut screened in 35mm at the Rubenstein Center. Lovely performance by Ben Gazzara, who finds himself at the will of powerful men until he utilizes the brutality of his youth to settle the score. The revenge was utterly satisfying. Gazzara’s final monologue is surprisingly not on the internet anywhere I can find, despite its brilliance.

The film ended on my very favorite sort of note:

 

 

 

The next Neo-noir screening from that week still makes my brain weep electromagnetic soul substance tears, oozing out of the cleft between my hemispheres.

 

 

 

 

A truly unique work of art that showed me something I have never seen in cinema, something especially familiar to me (besides fitting the branding of l’Amblyoptic); it was the first time I have ever seen a filmmaker simulate amblyopia, the condition of having a lazy eye.


Starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, Elaine May’s 1976 neo-noir masterpiece Mikey and Nicky would be the first film Criterion Collection chose to release on its new streaming service.

While Falk himself had a glass eye, and although the condition was never spoken about within the context of the film, point-of-view shots show Falk’s character’s lazy eye drift independently of the dominant eye, betraying his subconscious motives and fears. I wanted to jump out of my skin. It’s also the story of a 30 year long friendship - men who have relied extensively on one another - embittered, reaching its end by means of betrayal. I loved it. I loved it so, so much.

While I would truly love to give you the entire opening sequence to demonstrate the killer acting in this film - immediately gripped by Cassavetes’ screaming “MIKEY!” - this clip should suffice:

 

Other noir screenings during the months of January and February included this marvelous Double Feature at The Carolina Theatre of Durham:

The Maltese Falcon (1941) Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (1944)

God DAMNIT BARBARA LOOK AT YOUR LITTLE SHOES

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (dir. Cassavetes, 1976) WORTH IT

Mikey and Nicky (dir. May, 1976) MUST HAVE

Detour (dir. Ulmer, 1945) WORTH IT

The Maltese Falcon (dir. Huston, 1941) WORTH IT

Double Indemnity (dir. Wilder, 1944) MUST HAVE
 

INTERFERENCE PATTERNS

This February and just in time for Valentine's Day, Cinema Overdrive screened one of my absolute favorite underground cult films.

The Telephone Book (dir. Lyon, 1971) MUST HAVE

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In fact, I love this film so much, I made a commercial especially for the screening. Unsolicited. Unpaid. For sheer laughs and enjoyment and expression’s sake. I had a blast, traversing the Triangle for an old telephone, finding fun royalty-free sounds like this wonderful screeching state fair prize winning pig. I mean, you can almost see how massive this thing must have been to make that noise. I erupt in peals of laughter every time I get to that part.

I also have been notified that this commercial doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you haven’t seen the film. But if you have, or have some alternative reference, perhaps you’d enjoy it anyway.

It wasn’t until I made way to the antique mall in Siler City, NC before I found a phone.

 

Throw in some Spooky Action at a Distance, and this is what your Filmme Fatale finds when she arrives where she’s meant to be all along:

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This was almost the first booth I saw when I entered, but I assumed I was only noticing because of the great legs and the hearkening to my SALEM - WINSTON roots. I did not see the telephone.

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I walked the entire mall, scanning each booth, looking for a telephone before arriving back where I started.

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At BOOTH 1, not only do I spot the phone, but the bust of Zeus (just for fun and, because, God), an apple peeler that looks suspiciously like a JACK, The Animator's Survival Kit, a Keith Haring book, and a beautiful beat up copy of Catcher in the Rye. See also, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, a slew of animated films recently covered, SHIRKERS, and all things North Carolina School of the Arts.

Oh. And my sweet, sweet telephone. She cleaned up real nice.

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You can keep up with all the off-beat screenings available in the Triangle region at this public calendar located here:

ART | HOUSE
 

 

See you at the movies!

 


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