Samuel Fuller: The Naked Kiss (1964)

naked kissIt’s been a while since I really talked out of my ass. Let’s do this!

So–briefly, I dedicated my life to filmmaking. I made one film, which was enough to teach me I never wanted to make another one ever again—because filmmaking involves working with other people, and other people suck—specifically, other people who write uninspired, faux-gritty, noir-inspired scripts that can only be read as vehicles for overacting. Me? I worshipped Godard and Truffaut’s early work—particularly Breathless with its self-referential film noir qualities…so you can guess how our relationship played out. (I cut him out of production by keeping him out of the loop).

Anyway, I had this 40-minute masterpiece, back when I was confident enough to sneak into dirty hotel rooms and scream at my actors (complete strangers) “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT THE NUDITY?” “OF COURSE YOU NEED TO PISS ON CAMERA INTO THE BATHTUB—AND YOU’RE DRINKING BEERS UNTIL YOU CAN SQUEEZE SOMETHING OUT!” I miss being confident and always right. Anyway, my masterpiece got edited down by the now-back-in-the-loop producer to, like, 10 minutes of crap since I wouldn’t use his neo-noir script, and the resulting crap won 4th place in a competition for grad students (I was all of 18 years old)—which, when I was informed of this on the last day of class, resulted in me cussing out the class for being such idiots, and quitting the film department.

One of the things we used to study was self-reflective films—and it all came rushing back to me when I watched Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss. The self-reflective scene? When the over-acting cop undergoes an unexpected change of heart and acting ability, and tells the prostitute that the film can never end unless she stops over-acting also…in not so many words. She tones it down, the little girl confesses, and the movie ends.

Is it noir? I guess so. Fuller was associated with Fritz Lang at least as far back as the 1940s, removing us to the theatrical roots of German expressionism, so to some extent making the works of Fuller quintessentially pure noir.

Here’s the bottom line—I think Fuller’s Naked Kiss is pure schlock. Considering it from a collegiate standpoint, we’d probably focus in on undercurrent of childhood/motherhood/where babies come from:

  • ex-prostitute
  • begins film bald like a newborn baby
  • ends up sharing a room with a man—who happens to just be a sewing mannequin
  • becomes assistant in hospital for disabled children
  • weeps when she looks at a baby
  • pays her friend to skip town and secretly have her baby rather than abort it
  • reveals that she’s unable to have children
  • falls in love with guy over their shared ability to quote Lord Byron—(whose reputation for naughty love was pretty great, although Shelley might be more fitting since he killed more of his own children)
  • accidentally gets engaged to a child molester
  • navigates out of jail with the help of a pregnant woman and a molested child

The moral ambiguity results from the grandson of the town’s founder, the most popular guy in town, being a child molester; and the town’s other leading citizen, its favorite police officer, basically screwing every young woman that shows up in town before getting them jobs at his favorite brothel. And yet, he still approaches justice with a fair hand, which is what saves the heroine’s life. As she leaves the jail, she is surrounded by hundreds of the town’s mothers—supposedly to celebrate her saving the town’s children. They look like a lynch mob. We’d ultimately conclude that there’s some loss of innocence in America.

Where did noir come from? A combination of the crime literature popularized during the Depression—potentially before, as Richard Wright discusses his obsession with it in his boyhood (Black Boy)—as well as the visual techniques of German / Weimar Republic theater and cinema. It’s best known, though, as a 1940s and 50s American phenomenon, whether B-films or Humphrey Bogarts.

For this reason, I think the origins are perhaps most likely the response of German artists to the experience of WWI. French impressionist cinema bears many of the same hallmarks—subjectivity, hard lighting, disjointed narratives, a psychological focus. And whether it’s a nationalist backlash to Hollywood or picking up where the avant-garde left off, the result is a collective European reset on a post-Renaissance, post-Enlightenment world, a world in which the horrors of the other, of technologically backwards villages in one’s own nation, of vampires and phantom carriages, of one’s unresolved childhood sexual urges are no longer what strikes fear in the hearts of the masses, the bourgeoisie, or even the intelligentsia. Now that everyone’s been to the same trenches, learned to fight under common banners, the same nightmares strike all survivors—yet, a common film language is inadequate to speak to this new, common reality.

The result, rather, is a common film language that rejoices in an off-kilter visual and narrative representation of what previously made sense. Why did it make sense previously? Because world history was a progression from ignorance to knowledge, from chaos to order—for instance, turning India into a modern nation, Africa divided up into modern nations, the Middle East into modern nations—chaos to order, a notion that may have died in art, but certainly not in politics.

The old language was of love, folk tales, comedy—the new language is one of complexity, and mostly, one of darkness. Every viewer sees a different image on the screen in the distorted lenses, in the shadows, in the disorienting camera angles, and further, every viewer understands a different story, and at different rates. For once, it was possible to leave the theatre without a clue as to what’s transpired on-screen!

This was the generation that was forced out of an increasingly elegant universe into one in which morality held no bearing, where every man had spent time with prostitutes, murdered other innocent men, seen his closest friends tortured to death by that same science meant to help us live in health and happiness forever.

So, the generation who followed—they weren’t the first. What they inherited was a ready-made film language, as well as a world that everyone could agree was no longer particularly enlightened.

And that’s where I see American film noir: situationally post-modern, but not yet developed beyond a modernist language that doesn’t translate.

Schlock!

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Lorca: “Deep Song” (1922)

In a lecture in 1922, Lorca discusses the Oriental and European origins of “deep song” and how it has affected contemporary music. He then goes on to discuss its poetry. I originally picked this book up because of his role in surrealism, as he is the “Andalusian Dog” referenced by the film’s title, he was hated by Dali  and Bunuel, as they thought he was a hack. Honestly, I don’t enjoy his poetry. But I do enjoy his lectures and his inspirations. He’s another example of that last generation of poets and artists who actually had educations to speak of, before the horrors of WWII led to the horrors of widespread undergrad degrees.

I remember where I was sitting when I began reading this. At the bar at Amherst Coffee, by the window. Perhaps not. Perhaps that’s only where I met Marta. I was reading, though, that’s true. I’d been to the Moan and Dove the night before, speaking to the bartender, and when I wound up sitting next to him at  Amherst Coffee the next night, I asked Marisa for whatever he was having. A glass of scotch. We continued talking, I continued pretending to sip mine. And as soon as he left I gasped that I couldn’t drink anymore of this horrid stuff. She said “of course not! you need ice in there!” And from across the bar, Marta leaned over and asked if I wanted to taste her drink. I’d never met her before, but that embodies my entire experience with her, I suppose. That’s how she lives her life. And fortunately, I’d been reading Lorca and had fallen in love with the anonymous verses he includes in his lecture. I was interested in Spanish now, and here, before me, a girl, a poet from Asturias. It was winter and where I lived we had no heat, so she brought me back to her room at the top floor of one of Amherst’s mansions, dimly lit with string lights, where she had a space heater she’d borrowed from someone, and she put it in a paper bag, and with that I went home and would secretly plug it in at night and hide it under my bed (my bed was actually a table) during the day because my landlords didn’t allow space heaters. Anyway, as this poetry taught me how to mourn, so Marta taught me how to rejoice, how to live, and I can only conclude that my emotions were all born in Spain.

The poetry, even in translation, crushed me. I’d never read anything that affected me so deeply upon a first reading.

The moon has a halo;
my love has died.

Its focus is continually on unrequited love, and lost love, and death. But, I encourage you to read on through the rest of these fragments given by Lorca. And then consider the difference between the Andalusian deep song’s treatment of the subjects, and its treatment by Byron in his first volume of poetry and its stylized flowery mush, or Petrarch, both before and after Laura’s death, which, even as sonnets, seem painfully bent on avoiding any truth.

The difference is of personality, perhaps. The deep song verses are universal, they speak of the heart’s greatest longing, that which Byron and Petrach sought to expose or imply, but which for them, as for most, translation is feeble at best, or perhaps impossible at best, as it should never be attempted after years of translating Latin verse. The beauty and greatness is that it exposes the truth of life so elegantly because it does so concisely.

Cry, keep crying, eyes,
cry if you have cause.
It shouldn’t shame a man
to cry over a woman.

And how does Byron treat such pain over a woman? Like so:

When I dream that you love me, you’ll surely forgive;
Extend not your anger to sleep;
For in visions alone your affection can live,–
I rise, and it leaves me to weep.

Okay, well, I can read it, but I don’t feel it. And here’s another, from Petrarch, (who I really hope is burning in hell right now.)

Shouldn’t a fire reasonably be quenched
by all the water that my eyes pour forth?

Love–and I clearly should have sensed this sooner–
wants me distempered by a paradox, 
and uses snares of such variety
that when I most believe my heart is free
he most entraps it with that lovely face.

How am I supposed to give a fuck, Petrarch?! Onward, as I can only rail on for so long about him. Tu Fu. Let’s consider what the orient can teach us, and see how it makes us feel:

Wavers. No word from those I love. Old.
Sick. Nothing but a lone boat. And
North of frontier passes–Tibetan horses. . . .
I lean on the railing, and tears come.

So, not the sorrow of heartbreak by a woman, but sorrow expressed concisely, in a way that we can understand even if we are not old, sick men. In the deep song examples, one of how it feels to be alone:

Only to the Earth
do I tell my troubles,
for nowhere in the world
do I find anyone to trust.

Finally, before moving on to the real treats, let’s look at a snippet by Tagore, from a land that Lorca says sent away the Gypsies in the first place, and which I’ve read was populated first by Persians, which will lead us back to verses from the Middle East in a moment:

There seem to be people all around me,
I can’t speak my heart in case they hear me.

Weeping is wasted here, it is stopped by walls,
My weeping always comes back to me.

Oh. Simply. We’ve been there. This is something felt. And now compare this to the anonymous deep song:

You will knock at my door.
Will will never get up to answer,
and you must hear me cry.

Both touch me, both treat the experience of anguish in such a way that we’ve lived, in a way that, in a sense, we live every day to some extent.

It doesn’t matter to me
if a bird in the poplar grove
skips from tree to tree.

Ah, I have lost the road
on this sad mountain.
Ah, I have lost the road.
Let me bring the sheep
for God’s sake into your cabin.

In the dense fog
I have lost the road.
Let me spent the night
in the cabin with you.
I lost the road
in the mountain mist.
Ah, I have lost the road!

Out in the sea
was a stone.
My girl sat down
to tell it her pains.

Every morning I go
to ask the rosemary
if love’s ills can be cured,
for I am dying.

I climbed up the wall.
The wind answered me:
“Why so many little sighs
if it is already too late?”

The wind cried
to see how big the wounds were
in my heart.

I fell in love with the air,
the air of a woman,
and since a woman is air,
in the air I stayed.

I’m jealous of the breeze
that blows on your face.
If the breeze were a man,
I would kill him.

I’m not afraid of the galleys.
If I had to row, I’d do it.
I’m only afraid the wind
that blows out of your bay.

At night I go to the courtyard
and cry my heart out,
to see I love you so much
and you love me not at all.

When you see me cry,
don’t take away my handkerchief,
for I am in deep pain,
and crying I feel better.

If my heart
had windowpanes of glass,
you’d look inside and see it
crying drops of blood.

Siraj-al-Warak:

The turtledove that with her complaints
keeps me from sleep
has a breast that burns like mine,
with living fire.

Ibn Sa’id:

To console me my friends say
visit your mistress’s tomb.
Has she a tomb, I ask,
other than in my breast?

Hafiz:

Even if she did not love me,
I would trade
the whole globe of the earth
for one hair from her tress.

Hafiz:

My heart has been ensnared
in your black tresses since childhood.
Not until death
will a bond so wonderful be undone.

If I should happen to die,
I order you,
tie up my hands
with your black tresses.

Hafiz:

I weep endlessly: you are gone.
But what use is all my longing
if the wind will not carry my sighs
to your ears

I sigh into the wind,
Ay, poor me!
But nobody catches my sighs!

Hafiz:

Since you stopped listening
to the echo of my voice,
my heart has been plunged in pain.
It sends jets of burning blood
to my eyes.

Whenever I look at the place
where I used to court you,
my poor eyes begin
crying drops of blood.

It was a love
I must not remember,
for my poor heart is weeping
drops of blood.

Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

There’s a technique surely everyone’s now familiar with in suspense or horror films: humor. Often the first part of the film is lighthearted, which serves to…well, you know, make it so that everyone in the audience is really primed to be emotionally demolished.

Hitchcock’s actors in the Man Who Knew Too Much included Peter Lorre, who worked with Brecht, and Nova Pilbeam, who  married Pen Tennyson, great-grandson of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who took over the post of Poet Laureate from Wordsworth, who’d assumed it after Robert Southey, totally mocked by Lord Byron, and Tennyson’s descended from Edward III, of pseudo-Shakespeare fame, and Blake pseudo-fame. Hitchcock, who considered Bunuel the greatest director, Bunuel who worked with Dali, Hitchcock who was worshiped by Truffaut, Truffaut who called Night and Fog the greatest film ever made, which was made by Resnais, who thinks Nathalie is a sweetheart, and so do I, and tomorrow I really need to call her.

I mean, when you stop and think about it, that’s all so much more fascinating than the lies we’ve been told about the good intentions of George Washington.

Hitchcock remade this film in 1956, my comments here, and the film is fairly dense both structurally and in terms of character development. It’s a gorgeous example of the director knowing more about the characters than he lets on, and because there are no explanations, we’re left believing these people are real. Is it necessary? No. Does it make the film more forceful? Yes. But what other differences are there?

Well, to start with, I’ll remind you that this is a story about a child being kidnapped and how his parents go about saving him. The 1956 version has a weaker female lead whose strength is in her musical ability, weakness in her mental fortitude, and the film is just as much about the saving of a child as the saving of a marriage. The 1934 version has a couple with a delightfully sense of love and humor, a British version of Nick and Nora Charles, though The Thin Man‘s earliest European release date is from the same month as this film’s release! So much for Nick and Nora Charles being essentially American. The mother in this story also happens to be a sharpshooter who saves the day not by singing, but by sniping the baddie off the fucking roof. Yeah. Imagine Doris Day with a rifle.

It always gives me a little chill when Brits show anything that look like real emotions. Maybe that’s why I like Lily Allen.

In the 1934 version the child is played by the 15 year old Nova Pilbeam, who’s made to seem much younger, but who, in actuality, was a total hottie, and one of the only starlets of that era with whom I still have a chance to, you know, get with. Even if she is 90. I’ve seen some pretty vibrant nonagenarians. If you have her email address, please let her know.

Compare her with the boy in the 1956 version. Both kids are talkative and walking calamities, but Nova Pilbeam is adorable and the boy is insufferable. I hate him. The kidnappers can have him, because I hate him from the very first scene. It’s also worth noting that Nova Pilbeam’s acting stands out as superb, especially considering the differences compared to other actors of the period. The final scene, when she’s a little hysterical/shell-shocked, is stunning–it’s unlike any sound I’ve ever heard uttered on film up until that point. And her pajamas, prisoners stripes, are a sickening addition for the wardrobe. I must add, though, that anything I watch from this period is with one eye toward the trenches of the Western Front, another eye toward Dunkirk, and that awful understanding that as this film was being made, even one of its stars had already fled Nazi Germany.

We only think time goes quickly because we have the capacity to suffer so horribly during short periods.

But a hundred summers ago we had no idea that the British Empire was about to collapse. King Edward died in May 1910, which means that the film Mary Poppins begins before that date (“it’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910 / King Edward’s on the throne, it is the age of men”) — Kaiser Wilhelm, his nephew, was at his funeral, and the family name was still Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Wilhelm blamed the German disillusionment with the war, and subsequent collapse of the country, on the Jews, stating that they should be wiped out as a vermin.

“And if we spoke we’d never see her again. It’s her life against this fellow, Ropa’s. Why should we care if some foreign statesman we’ve never even heard of were assasinated?”
“Tell me, in June 1914, had you ever heard of a place called Sarajevo? Of course you hadn’t. I doubt if you’d even heard of the Archduke Ferdinand. But in month’s time, because a man you’d never heard of killed another man you’d never heard of in a place you’d never heard of, this country was at war.”

And there you have it. That’s how the world works. That’s logic that every single person in the audience would have understood. Our ancient history hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps it reminds you of today. A man we’ve never heard of is supposedly going to open a building whose purpose we don’t know, on a street none of us can name and certainly can’t find on a map. And the whole country is in an uproar because the Republicans see it as evidence that our president is a terrorist sympathizer. We’re all slaves, every single one of us. Stupid fucking slaves whose lives, to our leaders, are worth less than the ink on our birth certificates. But god, we know how to suffer. We know how to take a bee-sting and feel it for an eternity. So it’s easy to think you have all the time in the world, easy to think the Great War happened before the invention of consciousness. But it was just yesterday. I’ve met and touched a man who fought there. There’s so much more to life than the petty shit you find important.

And here’s some recommended reading on Hitchcock’s 1930s films as anti-German: http://www.filminfocus.com/article/hitchcock_at_war/print

and lyrics and footnotes to “The Writing of Tipperary” http://www.mysongbook.de/msb/songs/w/writingo.html