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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film: Dan in Real Life (2007)

One of the rules I try to keep is that if I wake up, I should get up. In the middle of the night it’s easy to convince oneself that if only it was possible to get out of bed at this moment ownership of the whole world is within grasp, every notion of genius in all history with every heartbeat, every car slipping past, every sleepless bird singing because the streetlights never go out—get out of bed and the world can be mine. But before making that move you begin to question it all. Sure, you can get up and do something great, but you’ll just get sleepy within a couple hours tops. You could drink coffee. Yeah, but that’s not healthy, four hours of sleep and some coffee, in fact, you really need to stop drinking coffee past five anyway, what were you thinking? But the ideas! They’ll be there in the morning. Write them down now. Well, nothing to write with, okay you’ll remember them. Yeah, but, you rationalize, maybe I feel sick. Maybe I feel hungry. I should eat. Maybe I have to piss. So you get up. There. The supreme impetus to greatness: the refusal to piss in one’s own bed.

So, I’m up! Checking vitals. Hungry. Eating snack. Head aches, teeth ache, therefore I’m stressed. See lava lamp and get tears in eyes, therefore I’m getting older. We find words to express degrees of being alive. I wake up thinking about my grandfather, I wake up thinking about how he’s got medications making him piss out whatever’s made his legs swell up. You don’t have a chance to run a few tests on the stability of your soul before giving it a good pat and sending it up to heaven. You’d think that one by one you could piss out your organs if they weren’t doing right, being that regardless everything finds its way out of your body whether you’re alive or not. So your legs swell up. Piss it out. We’re teaching robots and computers to fix themselves, but when your heart goes bad, you can’t just piss it out, you don’t wait until your last organ is passed before heading up to heaven. You take a look around, see where the neighborhood is heading, lock up and head out, you can always come back for the plumbing later if you find the need.

We watched Dan in Real Life last night.

A few days ago she made a comment on how something or other “that’s why I’m not really interested in history, I just don’t see how it applies.” I explain that I wasn’t interested until I began seeing how it applied—that at the end of the day I often don’t see the past as present. And not in a metaphorical sense. I listen to the news and they discuss the Ukraine, civil war, the loss of the Crimea to the Russians, I think “well, I don’t give a fuck, that’s not my family’s land.” By which I mean the land we never owned outside of Kiev that we left more than a century ago. And that’s when it strikes me: I will never, ever get another story out of my grandfather. All this time, and I still don’t know what makes him happy. Well, I try to console myself, I got a lot of stories out of him. I took all his slides. But what of it? My father’s known him for 60 or so years. I have a handful of great stories from this past week alone. Who asked me?

So then you resign yourself to all the things you aren’t, all the things you define yourself by and yet aren’t. Well, let’s face it. I’m not a poet. I’m not a songwriter. I’m not much of a musician. No, I’m just another schmo trying to make a buck so I can tack another room onto the condo. In WWI when most of the French didn’t speak French they handed you a language. That’s what they used to do. Give you a language. A team. An economics you tie yourself to with credit and can’t never get away from. I have allergies and poor digestion and keep thinking, yeah yeah, if I could just get this idea to get me all rich I could be happy because then I’d have a doctor and could buy all the starbucks I want! I got my insurance card in the mail today. Seems like just yesterday that I was advised to try to stay healthy for the next four years or so and then Obamacare will kick in and at least they can’t reject me anymore. Now that they can’t reject me, I’m bitter because they want me to pay for what I lied and begged for before. What is it that I want? To read. To attend synagogue and feel closer to God. To be French. To practice piano. I dreamed last night that I was walking up and down an aisle of books of classical music. I was determined to buy one.

It isn’t that our parents are getting older. It’s that they’ve always been older. It isn’t that I missed out being friends with them when I was young. It’s that we play certain roles. I couldn’t drink beers with my dad when he was in his 30s because I was busy being his child. I would joke with my grandfather, on my birthday tell him I’m catching up to his age. We feel time standing still, but we see it moving around us. It’s everyone else who’s getting older. What about them isn’t habit? What about them can we extract while it’s still real energy, what can we listen to that isn’t an echo of words they said decades ago? I see this look on her face, and she says “right!” in a way that indicates she’s annoyed with me—it happens when she remembers that I lived for 30 years before we met. It’s how I know that when you find love, you can’t expect from it to replace the people who have died. There are holes that must never be filled. You have just to expect it to pick up where the people who’ve died left off. Left you. With holes. You can’t expect your wife to be your grandparents too. She has to just take you and love you despite your grandparents-shaped holes. Most of those holes I guess you just cover up, put them on paper, and just keep building out your life, looking back when nobody’s watching.

Sex Books, Day 1: The Story of the Eye & The Story of O

And so we begin by speaking of love. The tamest, most secret longings our hearts felt in grade school. We stray at some point, a million stories left untold. But, we reach today, when our fresh stories are more interesting to us than our stale ones. And then what? You get involved in stories of love that are so painfully hilarious so as to lead one to the grocery store determined to find this or that to correct potential vitamin deficiencies and swearing not to resort to prayer and absolutely not to read one’s horoscope.

In short, I turn to the one genre my bookshelves hold the most of…determined to approach the books with the same aesthetic eye as I do everything else. When I read Shakespeare, I do so with one question: what turns me on? And that’s in that electrical aesthetic sense that makes Walter Pater still a glorious read despite the knowledge that he’s no longer a trustworthy source…he writes beautifully. But, as with anyone else, it is not simply beautiful sentences, elegant concepts, and poignant stories that turn me on…it’s also all the basest, most animal horrors of the boudoir that I approach with the same delicacy as when deciding which apples, in all their bruised, cloudy-skinned, fingernail-marked pageantry I’ll take home with me. Usually to forget and let rot in the fridge. What can I say?

So, assuming my potassium intake is sufficient, out comes the books! Let’s take a look at two of their intros and rate their efficacy:

The Story of the Eye and The Story of O.

The Story of the Eye

For the record, everything romantic that’s ever emerged from France was thanks to native-English speakers.

Eye begins with the author’s origin-tale, explaining quickly that things are about to get fucked up for reasons that can be explained away in psychoanalysis: from a young age, both he and his gal have felt a nervousness about all things sexual. What I didn’t understand the first time I read this book was that this nervousness is indistinguishable from other things that make one nervous, insofar as their manifestations go. Without that understanding, the book won’t make sense. Before a first date you feel much the same as before a job interview. This may include nausea. Nausea is also the feeling they get after decapitating a girl accidentally. The point being that while we can say “dates cause anxiety” and “job interviews cause anxiety,” the nausea and dry mouth and shakiness, we don’t tend to associate the two with each other beyond that. Much more so if we consider “dates cause anxiety” and “near car-accidents cause anxiety.” The two in this story do treat the anxieties as one and the same. So it sounds like fiction because…well, who does that?

There’s one key detail that it hinges on, though: the anxiety never dissipates. And that’s why I don’t think this story could have been written before The Great War, because it was there that we first learned on a mass scale what constant anxiety does to people. What if the anxiety remains, through the first date, through the second, through the hundredth, through a million orgasms? At that point anxiety is resolutely tied to love, to sex. And if even looking at a girl’s knees gives you anxiety, then how do you possibly handle the things in life that would give anyone else anxiety? How do you handle pain and fear and death?

And that’s the only way I can make sense of this book…I refuse to allow it to be a story of two creepy kids doing creepy things with each other. I had a friend whose sex life was extremely violent. I mean, by mutual consent. So, when the woman told him she wanted the relationship taken to the next level, i.e., he move in and be like a father to her son, my friend said “no way” and the woman clocked him right in the face. Out of anger. And my friend, (this is actually a friend of mine, not a story about me, I swear, I think the story is just as fucked up as you do), my friend was confused because he wasn’t sure if she just wanted a nice romp…or if she was actually angry.

And that’s why I don’t read in bed–because the last thing I want to do is associate reading with sleepiness. How does chapter one score? Like, 2 out of 10, like, trying to hang an electric blanket on a flagpole on a breezy day. But…that 2 of 10 is enough to bring me back to the next chapter.

The Story of O

The Story of O. Here’s where my logic entirely breaks down. If Eye could only come post-WWI, then O could only come post-WWII because I just don’t get it. It’s like, okay, so people’s faces melted to their chests in Hiroshima, I get it, but I don’t really, really get it. I mean, that’s crazy shit. The most remarkable thing in this chapter is the author’s endless descriptions of all things cloth, whether as clothing or upholstery. How it moves, feels, appears in the light, its drape, its emotional value. It’s that sort of thing that leads one to say “ah! this was written by a woman” and which leads me to say “ah! this was maybe written by Somerset Maugham.”

Secondly, I remark upon the narrator, who takes it upon him/herself to describe, midway through a somewhat sexual sequence taking place indoors that “the rain had stopped and the trees were swaying in the wind while the moon raced high among the clouds.” Fascinating. For a number of reasons. Firstly, the moon does not race anywhere ever. It’s about as well-regulated as anything possibly can be. It’s the clouds that were racing due to the wind that swayed the trees. Also, the moon was not anywhere “among” the clouds–it was in the same moony realm in which it’s always resided. This calls to mind the thin streak of cloud moving across the moon in that horrid Bunuel/Dali film, immediately followed by the razor slicing the eyeball in much the same fashion. And, so this relatively tranquil scene is followed immediately by the heroine tied up, whipped, gang-raped, confessing “I love you” while a man is gagging her with his dick, and being turned into a slave.

Let’s pause here to mention that one of my favorite films is Secretary. I understand the concept of wanting to do anything for love–that is, of absolutely needing to define oneself through another’s projected image of you. That’s the desire to be loved. Project who you think I am on me, I’ll play along if you’ll possess me, and hopefully by the time you realize the truth you’ll be in so deep that you’re stuck for life. Love!

And I’m not horrified in reading this. But I’m not turned on in any way whatsoever. I don’t care. I don’t feel titillation or excitement or a fetid desire to turn the page. I just don’t care. I’m achingly bored. This gets a 0 out of 10 in my opinion. That’s like turning the flagpole into aluminum cans.

So, if you had to guess, it’d be that I’m more turned on by stories that involve anxiety disorders than stories that involve BDSM. But not by much. And…overall this experiment is, so far, failing.

The Old Country

It’s addicting to press onward, despite knowing that the end of the trail is never very far away, and that it ends in violence, mass graves, and, a little further back, if you’re lucky, a lack of last names. The new book, I think it’s called The Bloodlands is controversial because some people say there’s no comparison between the Holocaust and the rest of the mass slaughters across Eastern Europe. The thing is, for me, there is. If it wasn’t Hitler who killed my family by taking them in to the trenches, stripping them naked, and shooting them, then it was Stalin, and if it wasn’t Stalin, then it was the Cossacks, and if not the Cossacks, then Nicholas II or Alexander III.

Yet before the Cossacks, life was beautiful, they said, they’d iceskate in the winter. And then the Cossacks came and began lopping off the heads of Jews in the streets. And the Jews who hid under the floorboards, the Cossacks would stabs the floors with their swords to kill them.

Their parents told them Odessa. The naturalization papers, the ship’s passenger lists, and the WWI draft cards say Rotmistrovka, or Thormistrovka, or some variation. Over 400 km from Odessa. Perhaps that was the lie they had to tell, because the village seems to be more or less gone now. There was a Jewish population, I know this, there’s a picture of a rabbi from the 1800s I’m researching. And now, what I want to know, is what this Congregation Rachmistrivka in Brooklyn is all about. My family wasn’t living in Brooklyn–one of them worked in Brooklyn, but they lived in Manhattan.

At lunch with cousin Julia, it’s funny to hear about my grandfather as a little boy, hugging and kissing her because he’s so excited, about my great-grandfather as a very handsome man who she was so proud to walk next to when he’d visit, about how New York was a very antisemitic place, how any good that Roosevelt ever did was thanks to his wife, that his economic policies were poor, how Truman’s wife was an antisemitic bitch, how the German Jews were a bunch of arrogant Nazis, Nazis and Germans first, in denial of being Jewish, hating all the other Jews in New York for being non-German and unassimilated. Until afterwards, when they found out what happened to those that had stayed behind in Germany, about how Hitler had to teach the German Jews that they were Jewish, to remind them that they weren’t Germans after all, and the ones who’d moved to America were the last to find out. About how everything that was good about New York is gone now, that it used to be a place with thoughtful and intellectual people, that there was no place in the world like it, that now it’s just another city, the attitudes are gone, the people are gone, they could live without it now. When you’re born in 1919, that’s what you remember. You remember being a gorgeous model, you remember being sent a letter from President Hoover because of your intellectual brilliance, you remember living in the Village with the other artists and writers, about the early marriages that ended poorly after everyone in the family warned you they would, about sneaking onto the subway as a little girl, about how you once saw a photo of your father, who died on the day you were born.

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