Archive for August 17th, 2011

Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

    Two distinguished writers—novelist, Catherine Breillat, and playwright, Arthur Miller—have produced screenplays about figures having confined themselves too long to their home base, a geographic situation that implies much more than that. Breillat’s setting, Dunkirk, for her film Parfait Amour! (Perfect Love!) (1996) is redolent of deadly crisis. Miller’s setting, Reno, for a film, directed by John Huston, namely, The Misfits (1961), ushers us into the rude and subtle pratfalls of comedy. The inception and production of these works could not be more dissimilar. And yet, each deals with exactly the same issue.

    Breillat’s protagonist, “Frederique,” and Miller’s protagonist, “Roslyn,” face enemy fire and evince strikingly contrasting decisions about dealing with it. The former, a classically handsome eye surgeon and divorcee, approaching her fortieth birthday, opts for hand-to-hand combat with an adolescent in his early twenties. She radiates sophisticated bemusement at his transparently false claims to romantic and commercial competence, takes him to bed and we see her face in creamy light, filled with delight as he, in shadow, positioned above, gasps and grimaces. Soon after that, there is a similar configuration, at a dissimilar pitch. He is far more robust in serving to her some anal sex, which causes her face to darken and twist with pain. “Roslyn”—whose first moves in the second film are to complete divorce proceedings, and hence she is often referred to as “Mrs. Taber”—played by Marilyn Monroe (for whom Miller, who until just into filming was her husband, custom-built the scenario), is a taxi dancer from “back East” who takes a flyer on “Gay,” a guy about twice her age (but who happens to be Clark Gable). She is less bemused than thrilled by that comfy hustler’s shift to gravitas, along lines of, “You’re a real beautiful woman. It’s almost kinda an honor to be sittin’ next to you;” and, “Honey, when you smile, it’s like the sun comin’ up.” “This hearty humbug is pointedly supplemented by Roslyn’s landlady and divorce coach, who avers, “Cowboys are the last free men in the world.” She is indeed all sunny smiles at this phase of the venture, a steadfast ally, who, impressed by Gay’s folksy patter and convincing candor, and eventually bombed from repeated hits of Bourbon, accompanies him to the (for her—a honky-tonk holdout—never seen before) desert hinterland [of Reno], which he praises, “Everything’s there!” She closes out the big day—which began with her declaring, apropos of an empty (and about to be put out of its misery) marriage, “If I’m going to be alone, I want to be by myself”—by putting everything into a dance to the elements, culminating in hugging a big old tree. A second phase of his “last free men” number elicits an anguished visage upon her kid-like infrastructure. There she finds him proceeding toward capturing a herd of wild horses for the sake of delivering them to the pet food industry. “Beats wages!” he rattles out, like some kind of password to a puzzling bondage. (We first encounter him at another free man’s work station, giving a cordial send-off to a lady, vaguely connected with divorce manoeuvres, and quipping, “Susan… swell sport, that woman!”) (more…)

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