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Archive for March 2nd, 2011

 Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

      The films of Wong Kar Wai have long been feted for their dazzling sensuous qualities. Seeing a picture like Chungking Express (1994), we could, in accordance with the renowned film critic, Roger Ebert, be persuaded that we have been primarily treated to the “materials” of a “story,” materials of such magnetic force as to render the story virtually irrelevant. This could leave us in thrall to his aphorism concerning that movie, namely, “You enjoy it because of what you know about film [flashy techniques on the order of the sophomoric, self-consciously hostile exertions of Jean-Luc Godard], not because of what it knows about life.”

    That positivistic curtailment of story (drama) for the sake of enshrining materiality as implicated in a tradition of flippant coldness puts into effect an exile of any rich nuance the writer/filmmaker may have put onstream, in the form of drama. As such it puts into play an instalment of only-too-familiar intellectual arrogance. What would Wong Kar Wai know about life? His materialist enticements must, Ebert insists, boil down to “largely a cerebral experience,” an exercise in classical rational ethics. For years now, he has been portraying himself as a trenchant foe of dumbing down by the film industry; but, when confronted by depths beyond his comfort zone of enervated humanism, he turns a blind eye to the possibility of a species of dramatic temerity (arising from kinetics light years away from Godard’s) he’d regard by definition as corrupt. (His review of The King’s Speech (2010)—a film with not obvious but haunting affinities with Chungking Express—opines that Logue’s irreverence as to the Monarchy is a reflex commonly seen amongst Australians; that this is a handsome if unsurprising rendition of a step forward for classical civilization as effected by way of a “psychological struggle” between Logue and Bertie; and that Elizabeth sees to it that these “two opposites who remain friends” will not do anything rash. Pressing on with a bankrupt methodology which presupposes the filmmaker’s preparation and activation of the script can be just as well met by banalities, the commentary regarding that drama of freeing social connectedness by way of sensually enhanced sensibility [a process encompassing the audience of the film as well as the film’s populace] confers its sacred four stars as if going through the motions of a knighthood investiture.) (more…)

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Director: Henry Hathaway

Producer: Fred Kohlmar

Screenwriter: Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer

Cinematography: Norbert Brodine

Music: David Buttolph

Studio: 20th Century Fox  1947

Main Acting: Victor Mature and Richard Widmark

Let’s get something out of the way right from the start…yes, this is the film where a mean evil guy callously pushes an old lady down a flight of stairs to her death. In the morally corrupt world of noir villains, Tommy Udo (played by Richard Widmark) grabs the brass ring of unhinged creepiness. He giggles like The Joker’s equally maniacal cousin and steals the show from the protagonist, Nick Bianco (Victor Mature). Tommy Udo would likely end up befriending Pesci’s Tommy Devito in celluloid hell where they would merrily scare and intimidate everyone unfortunate enough to get in their path. This role was Widmark’s acting debut, which earned him an Oscar nomination, but probably also helped typecast him as the heavy that he would mostly play throughout the rest of his career.

Henry Hathaway, who directed a total of five film noirs, always disappointing me with his genre exercises. While he has a healthy following among noir fans, most his films fall short in my book. Call Northside 777, Niagara, and The House On 92nd Street all seem weaker than their respective reputations suggest. The Dark Corner is the best among these, but still far from a masterpiece of any kind. Kiss Of Death, however, comes the closest to greatness. Here, Hathaway gets away from that annoying voice-of-God narration and overly propagandistic material he exhibited in some of the former features. He lets the film breathe and develop into a above average picture. Granted, Widmark’s deliciously demented character has a lot to do with this, but that’s not to downplay Victor Mature’s strong and utterly believable portrayal. Mature, never one of my favorite actors, has one of his better roles here (along with My Darling Clementine). (more…)

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