Thursday, October 20, 2016
I see you shiver for the National Film Registry, with antici
This is another film that's hard to talk about. I've never seen it in theaters. Little problem with being mostly homebound by disability, in large part because of incredibly severe airborne allergies. Large crowds are not my happy place. And the only real reason to watch this film at home is to prepare to watch it in the theater. And as an added bonus, I'm an asexual, so I'm really, really not this movie's intended audience. I like the soundtrack, but I mostly just find the whole thing confusing. Though I do think it's interesting that all of the films mentioned in the first verse of “Science Fiction Double Feature” are films preserved in the National Film Registry. If Richard O'Brien hadn't made the smart marketing decision to only allow this movie to be played at midnight, then it's likely it would have been as forgotten as some of the other movies in the opening song, instead of being the longest running theatrical release in history. It's been shown weekly somewhere in the world since 1976. That's a lot of garters and fishnets.
From a purely technical standpoint, this is a bad movie. It's also a movie that knows that it's bad, so it's full of nods and winks and mugging for the camera. After all, the original idea is a B-movie as a wink wink nudge nudge say no more say no more sex comedy. We may have an idea of prudishness in former generations, but when musicals of the 60's and 70's were billed as sex comedies, that's exactly what they were. Just listen to the song “Sodomy” from Hair! if you've got any doubts. Subtlety wasn't really en vogue for awhile there. So like Saturday Night Fever, you've got a little piece of 70's sex culture sliced off and preserved in celluloid, but because this film has a much bigger sense of humor, it ages a lot better. Both films have sex scenes that are arguably rape scenes, but the drunken girl pressured into having sex with two guys in the back of a car only to be shamed by the guy she was in love with just seems sleazy and tragic. Frank-N-Furter having sex with a day-old child in a man's body and seducing two virgins is all played for laughs. And after watching it for 40 years, we're willing to accept it, instead of having any sort of qualms about it. But then again, this is still a movie that knows it's not just crossing the line, but stampeding over it in stripper heels. At the very least, it provides a more complete picture of how sexual attitudes have changed in the last 40 years. It will be interesting to see how they celebrate the anniversary, aside from the TV movie with Tim Curry as the Criminologist.
Overall, I'm not sorry I saw it, but I'd say I'm definitely missing something. Maybe it's audience participation, maybe it's the fundamental understanding of how sexual people function. I do like the soundtrack, but the rest of the movie is just kind of eh.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
So I've been watching a lot of movies, but haven't had time to write anything about them. Who ever thought when I started this thing that I would actually have busy periods? Definitely not me. But since I do love noir-ish thrillers, White Heat was one of the ones I was looking forward to. And it didn't disappoint, although I admit I was confused about the title until the end. The foreshadowing in the chase through the chemical plant was definitely my "Ah-ha!" moment. This film is kind of the Trope Codifier for "Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas", and it's a major strength of this film that Mama is just as bad as Sonny. A lot of movies now seem afraid to go down the route of having criminal women actually seeming to enjoy crime, which is so odd in a Hayes Code era film. Well... none of the ladies prosper, but Verna is allowed to be taken in adultery and commit murder and get off with an arrest, and Ma Jarrett is allowed to order cold-blooded murder and have a deeply uncomfortable relationship with her murderous gangster son, and while she gets whacked for it, this skirts awfully close to the Pre-Code "bad woman". There was an article the other day on Buzzfeed suggesting that the recent spate of murderous women in movies are a reaction to postfeminism and women reacting in anger to patriarchy: effectively suggesting that when women go bad, it's men at fault. That's probably one of the reason I really love these noirs and gangster films. If the woman has any agency (and lots of women were working in scripts and story pitching in those days, so many of them did), then she is not a sort of passive thing that only kills and steals because men made her do it. She does it because she enjoys it. I'll touch on this more in The Maltese Falcon, since Brigid O'Shaughnessy really embodies this actively bad woman, but Ma Jarrett and Verna certainly don't start committing crimes because of men. Cody Jarrett himself is pretty fun to watch. They're trying to go for a character study of a deranged mind, and considering that psychology was still in a fairly primitive state, they don't do that bad a job. He's more a paranoiac with violent outbursts and a massive inferiority complex than the "psychopath" that he gets labelled in the film. Also, there's refreshingly few suggestions that he's purely a criminal because he's the product of "insanity" - just that it makes his motivations harder to understand. Again, not perfect from a mental health perspective, but not bad for 1949, especially since we're still getting it terribly wrong in movies.
Really one of the central questions of the movie is the question as to whether Cody Jarrett is a criminal because he wants to be a criminal, or did Ma Jarrett push him towards it? While he's very protective of his mother, and her showdown with Big Ed is not portrayed as something she did often, she does operate as the brains of the operation enough to make that a pretty big question. Cody's motivations to Vic are consistently that he wants to make his Ma proud, even if she's dead and gone. And again, I really like that as a change of pace. Right now it's always a nasty man pushing a woman to commit crimes, and a lot of the less good film noirs have a sexy woman pushing a man to crime, so an old woman pushing her son to commit crimes is actually pretty fun.
Overall, I'd say watch this one if you like thrillers or film noirs. Not just because James Cagney is always worth watching, but because this movie is fascinating. It certainly deserves its place as one of the best gangster movies of all time.