Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Our film noir group met recently, this time to watch: The Lady in the Lake. The film is a bold experiment in subjective point of view: the camera is used to stand in for the point of view of a charater, Phillip Marlowe. As a result, for the entire film you see what he sees, but you don't see him except a couple times when he passes a mirror, when you'll see director/actor Robert Montgomery. The experiment is apparently regarded among film critics and historians as a well-known failure, and the technique certainly calls attention to itself. But if, like me, you enjoyed the film Memento (panned by many as merely gimmicky), you may at least find this worth a viewing. At a time when filmmaking has become very, very routine, and most filmmakers have stopped being creative with syntax, I find a film like this to be refreshing. Besides, the film has much bigger problems: Montgomery lacks charisma, the scenes are studio-bound, and the script lacks the kind of resonant meaning to be found in the best noirs. So, on the contrary, the subjective lens is one of the film's strengths, keeping it interesting. When the main character smokes, we see puffs billow from the direction of the lens; when he gets in a fight, fists come flying into the lens. Very entertaining! When we compared notes after the film, we found that several of us noticed the limitations of movement imposed by the old cameras, making the idea of camera-as-eyes come off as artificial. In fact, at least a couple of us said we'd love to see someone try the idea now, with modern technology that would allow much freer movement (handheld, for instance).

One interesting side effect of the camera strategy is that the central character, Marlowe, played by Montgomery, is almost never on camera, and Audrey Totter, in the femme fatale role, becomes the star. Her face fills the screen many times, esp. when we/Marlowe lean in to kiss her, her puckered lips filling the lens. (How do the women in the audience feel about that? The women in our group basically said it was no different from the way they're used to women being sexualized on screen.) Totter has a beautiful face, and she contorts her eyebrows to express an impressive range of reactions to Marlowe's dialogue. When her hair comes down, it's a major event, more powerful than any gunshot in the film.

Spielberg's next film, to be released in a few months, sounds potentially brilliant: starring Tom Hanks, it tells the story of a man who is stranded in an airport in a Kafkaesque (watch for critics to use that word!) bureaucratic no-man's land when his citizenship is voided. But his subsequent project, just announced, sounds disappointing. The story of the '72 Munich Olympics--how much dimension can he really bring to it?

Lastly, in a rather brave move, the Chicago Tribune ran an article about Christians who don't want to be subjected to the intense violence of The Passion but who face intense peer pressure on the subject. If nothing else, it's an insight into how a film sells so many tickets.



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