I hope I haven't succumbed to nostalgia; there must be a better, more imaginative reason the past days’ movies have been, in order: Joseph L. Mankiewicsz’s All About Eve, Alexander Mackendricks's The Sweet Smell of Success, and William Wyler's The Collector. It’s very interesting to look back on these cozy “old” movies and think about the obvious contempt most of today’s audience has for them (if you don’t believe me, just go to your local arthouse on revival night and listen to the superior sniggering for as long as you can stand it; these cynical hipsters should be rounded up and put on an island with nothing but Gregg Araki movies. That’d teach ‘em). Thirty years from now, all of our own movies are going to be dated, even the best ones; the most insulting will, I hope, be entirely forgotten. Each generation has its own form of artifice, and only bores believe their own time to be automatically more superior and enlightened.
All three of the films had more meat on their bones than even the most “independent” films really do nowadays. Eve, with its story of a conniving, starstruck nobody’s invasion and exploitation of a backstage milieu already choking on its own world-weariness, is usually shoved into the “camp” category by those content with the most superficial appraisal, but I think that falsely assumes that parts of it are not meant to be funny. Pauline Kael said something to the effect that the most mature works are the ones that encompass life’s humor as well as its misery and ennui, and in this case I agree with her. Funny, sad, depressing, compelling; All About Eve is all of these things. As always, Bette Davis is remarkable. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but she was a much stronger screen presence than Hepburn, and much more modern. She was known for being embattled, but I don’t know that that was her fault; she was working in a system that forced you to fight for any step outside the lines. That must be why she and Joan Crawford so famously didn’t get along; it was a case of an independent, often openly defiant spirit clashing with an ingratiating, polarized, two-faced one. Both ended up in some horrendous movies, of course, but Davis always seemed more in the know about it, somehow, laughing all the way to the bank and fuck her “aura.” She was very punk rock in a lot of ways, that woman, and you can’t really say that of too many from that generation, famous or not...
Sweet Smell of Success is a similar sort of showbiz-gone-wrong story, but it’s earthier, nastier. Eve is velvet gloves and iron fists; Success is brass knuckles. The dialogue is snappy, verbose, tangy and nasty where Eve’s is sublimated and sarcastic, and the scenario is much, much dirtier, with its yellow-journalism columnists and naked, desperate ambition. For all that, though, it’s a much more optimistic film than something like Eve or Sunset Boulevard; it has a much less skeptical view of innocence, which may be a flaw, but aren’t there worse flaws a film could have than the oh-so-achingly-persecuted presences of fragile Susan Harrison and naively decent Marty Milner as the against-all-odds young lovers, pure yet surrounded by a cesspool of earthly worries?
The Collector is yet another Morrissey recommendation worth checking into; he used a still from it as the sleeve of The Smiths’ 1984 single, “What Difference Does it Make?” Directed by William Wyler (who, speaking of Bette Davis, also directed The Little Foxes and Jezebel with Davis, in addition to 1961’s fine The Children’s Hour, with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine as suspected lesbians ravaged by McCarthy-analogous ignorance and prejudice) and starring Terence Stamp as probably the cutest stalker ever put on film, it’s the story of a bashful-loser young man, an obsessive entomologist who, armed with money he won in the pools, proceeds to put a young woman he was always in love with but always felt inferior to in a “jar” of her own. It’s desultorily reminiscent of the Hannibal Lecter movies, with a very polite, charming, dangerous, and oddly sympathetic central character, which is too bad, considering that the studio gave the DVD a hideous cover that’s a blatant rip-off of the Silence of the Lambs artwork. Bah. Look past the atrocious artwork, and you have a very unique, very memorable movie experience.
I read about a book today; it’s from 1976, is by one Daniel Bell (of whom I know nothing), and is called The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. I must read this book, I’m convinced. The title alone sounds scintillating. You think I’m being facetious? Well, just you wait. This isn’t the last time The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism is/are mentioned here!
Lyric of the day:
“I invented disco in the 1418 war
Just to ease the mood a little
Just to raise morale
Pumpin’ out over Flanders
Pumpin’ out over no-man’s land
Pumpin’ out over Dresden
I invented disco on Armistice Day.”
-Sie featuring Mr. Luke Haines, “Slave 2 Disco”
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]