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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Farewell, Frankenstein

This is why I’m terrified to apply to go back to school: because I sit around for 11 hours coming up with muck like this FOR FUN! I’m pretty sure that I’m not making the world a better place…

Intro – Early bio of PBS and MWS, their relationship up until then

Thesis – structure exists purely to send msg to audience = husband, and is largely ineffective, from all biographical notes. She couldn’t have done it otherwise…MS used the structure to draw attention to comparable Coleridge, and deduce details from there, that her husband should have noticed.

  1. Positive views of relationship/love/PBS as person (not poet/politician) –
    1. Relationship of Walton/Frankenstein vs MWS/PBS
    2. Relationship bw fiction-world/real-world vs Understanding/Fancy
    3. marriage
  2. Positive view of romanticism à romantic/poetic ideals, to real life/Coleridge
  3. Negatives, the narrative as criticism of PBS/Byron

Conclusion – effect on captain’s own life/PBS as regretful/apologetic/warning/MWS as apprehensive about PBS & Byron & children own ends, i.e., looking into future.

Poetry curse of poetry / F’s creation of monster / Mariner curse

HOW DO WE KNOW THE CHARACTERS HAVE ANALOGS

HOW DO WE READ BW THE NARRATIVE LINES?
analogous silent seas
ghost ship analogous (prostitute = love w/o love) to Frankenstein AND monster on sleds

impetus, ability to choose—kill the bird w/no reason, mont blanc of shelley, frankenstein doesn’t choose what to do in 1831—in 1818 he has the choice, MS criticizes him FOR CHOOSING, but in 1831 she doesn’t want to believe that he had a choice. SHe’s justifying his not paying attention to her when he was alive.

“unthinking” (radley, p58) / Impetus-ability to choose

Balance bw understanding and fancy

Interruptions of a world not imaginative (Radley 58) [while you’re writing poetry, there’s real shit going on] in ‘Mariner’ being what’s unimportang, what’s not ‘really real’—the world of understanding—whereas it’s the world of understanding that (Radley 131) needs to exist w/sublime.

Albatross (radley 61) “emblematic in a very complex way of man’s inhumanity to man, and of man’s rejection of love” (62, release from the silent sea, external isolation, external penance)

Misumi: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

I’ve been in a rut lately. We both have. I suspect it has something to do with that quarter-life crisis everyone’s going through. There’s so much potential for action that always seems to manifest itself in decisive inaction. Shopping for dishes, putting books in thematic order, wondering how two people can create such an enormous pile of laundry, beginning and ending each day with a bowl of cereal. We have no idea where to turn, how to take another step.

I practiced music for seven hours yesterday. Mostly bass, but some piano and guitar, cramming Led Zeppelin as fast as I can. And about six hours into it my fingers suddenly came alive in a way that they haven’t done in perhaps a decade now, with a speed I remember having as a teen, but lost when I stopped performing. My fingertips aren’t blistered either. But we have a show tomorrow night and I’m terrified to put in any more time practicing today, an hour and a half, really pushing myself with strength and speed exercises, so scared that I’ll wake up to stiff fingers. Monday afternoon and evening I spent 11 hours working on a paper with my cousin, a paper on the structure of Frankenstein. It doesn’t take long before I’m pacing around expounding on “Mont Blanc” versus “Ancient Mariner” and Coleridge’s “high imagination” as Mary Shelley’s enemy, on some balance between this and that and trying to find busywork for my cousin before he throws me out at 1am, promising to paraphrase the paper I wrote for him and to return all my library books. I would love to be a student or a professor or something in academics, because I know I can sit there writing papers and feeling like it’s a game of rummy cue.

And then I’m stuck wondering if I should do the dishes, finish this beer, read for fifteen more minutes, practice, or what? I finished up all my medications for this sinus infection today, but I screwed up the schedule of steroids, prednisone, and I think I’m paying for it, I can’t tell, my instinctive solution to anything and everything is to drink a Red Bull and see what happens. I’m seeing what happens.

Before I began watching samurai-sorts of films, I assumed, as I expect most people do, that samurai films are like any other action or martial-arts sort of movie. They’re not. And here’s why: because there’s no action. Newer films like Kill Bill are at times true to this by dispatching speedily the fights with the greatest buildup. So Zatoichi carries this martial minimalism to a degree that could probably only be surpassed by sleeping characters dying peacefully. It’s the tale of a blind swordsman. He’s not a samurai, so there’s none of that pesky baggage of masters, ex-masters, shame, etc. to get beyond. He’s just an oafish blind guy who stumbles around like Mr. Magoo, gets himself into silly situations, and then kills everyone. Oh, and he also a real heartbreaker. The point is, the swords are beside the point. The main character has no objectives, conflicts are resolved via invisible violence, and you’re stuck with 90 minutes of morally ambiguous character-development.