So The Postman Always Rings Twice sizzles and fizzles.

As I have a tendency to do, I went overboard with my shame. This time I overindulged in The Postman Always Rings Twice penance. I watched the film and the 1981 remake (which we’ll not worry about for purposes of this conversation), but that wasn’t enough. So I tracked down a copy of James M. Cain’s anthology of noir novels and novellas at the library and read that. And that wasn’t enough. I learned that the 1943 Luchino Visconti film Ossessione was one of two earlier adaptations of the novella. So I found a copy of the Visconti and now I’m working on locating the 1939 French film Le Dernier Tournant with English subs. I’ve put my best Francophiles on the case.

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Why satisfy the Shame but continue on down this path of obsession? …or Ossessione?

Truth time. I watched the film and thought, “That’s it? That’s the movie I’ve been hearing so much about for so many years?” This is not disappointment; this is the danger of Cinema Shame — the damning expectation that comes along with the term “classic.”

I’m going to lay this out for you, reader. I found this uncontested (at least to my knowledge) classic to be a minor chore. I enjoyed the film, but never felt the film grip my lapels and hoist me up by my own petard. Film noirs should sizzle – a slow burn, a candlewick burning, dwindling until it folds onto itself upon the end credits. The layers of wrongdoing and malice eventually extinguished with one final gasp for air.

“Then I saw her. She had been out back, in the kitchen, but she came in to gather up my dishes. Except for the shape, she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.”

Shorts

Lana Turner’s first appearance in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Cain describes the Cora character as sulky and without any “raving beauty.” 

James M. Cain describes the first meeting between Frank and Cora in a way that portends the ugliness to come. Frank sees Cora and the sight drives him to combine sex and violence into an unsettling mélange. She’s no “raving beauty” he says, but notes her shape and especially her lips. The raw, animalistic aggression contained within the study of her her lips provides a platform for their relationship and the ugliness that it ultimately inspires.

If there was any doubt about Cora’s reciprocity, look no further than their first sexual encounter.

“I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers… ‘Bite me! Bite me!’

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”

When I first read this passage from the novel, I understood precisely why I’d felt underwhelmed by the 1946 classic. Not one part of me truly believed Lana Turner embodied “Cora” to John Garfield’s pitch-perfect “Frank.”

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) purposefully references Cain’s popular source material, but ultimately undermines the thrilling ugliness of the novel.

Garfield’s very visage – scarred, mottled like that of a boxer – conveys Frank’s demons. As Cora later tells him, “you’re smart but you’re no good.” Even though I’d not read Cain’s prose before seeing the film, Garfield felt authentic. I, of course, brought in extratextual information. Garfield’s performances in films such as He Ran All the Way, Body and Soul, and Force of Evil all contributed to my expectations and acceptance.

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The flip side is of course Lana Turner’s enduring image. The pristine, Hollywood-groomed beauty of Lana Turner could not conjure the woman who married the slovenly Greek twice her age, the woman who displayed masochistic sexuality, the woman who helped author the plot to murder her husband. Lana Turner was not Cain’s Cora. After reading James M. Cain’s prose, the more convinced I became.

In order to go along with The Postman Always Rings Twice, one must believe in the uncontrollable animal magnetism between Frank and Cora. Though Cora certainly commits misdeeds in the film, she lacks the character’s purposeful impetus from the novella. In Tay Garnett’s film, she’s almost a passenger, propelled by Frank’s delusional self-prowess. She wields her sexual potency with no certain end. A more in-depth conversation about the film could explore how Lana Turner’s sexuality in The Postman Always Rings Twice merely entertains the audience’s gaze rather than also function in service of narrative propulsion.

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“No one can know what that means to a woman. To have to be around somebody that’s greasy and makes you sick to the stomach when he touches you. I’m not really such a hell cat, Frank. I just can’t stand it any more.”

Cain’s Cora lacks measurable self-confidence; Frank feeds her ego with his sexual aggression. She’s painted as an average beauty, one consumed by the attention bestowed upon her by Frank. Lana Turner presents the self-assurance of someone who’d never be wanting for male companionship or attention. That she’d ever become the wife of an owner of a greasy diner or that she’d turn her life upside down for a wandering miscreant ring false. I can’t fault the casting of Lana Turner here, because her presence in this film belongs in the realm of pure spectacle, but I can also challenge the casting choice as a detriment to the merit of the film.

By definition the femme fatale is “a mysterious and seductive woman who whose charms ensnare her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.” The archetype figures prominently in the folklore and mythology of many ancient cultures including the Sirens of Greek mythology, most notably in Homer’s Odyssey.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Sirens and Ulysses by William Etty, 1837.

I concede that Cora’s overt malice would likely have been marginalized by the production code. Double standards existed for female on-screen decorum. And this film had already pushed the boundaries of acceptable mainstream cinema. Cora’s character has been recalibrated as a partial victim.

I would argue that the on-screen portrayal shows that she did not pro-actively lead Frank astray, but rather that Frank nudged her astray and their obsession and plotting gathered momentum like a snowball. With that in mind I do not believe that she is acting as a true femme fatale. I think it is important to differentiate Cora’s actions from that of a character such as Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyillis in Double Indemnity. Phyillis manipulates Walter Neff from the moment he first walks in the door. If Lana Turner’s Cora manages Frank in this way, we don’t see that conveyed adequately on screen.

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Consider the conscious ways that Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) manipulates Walter Neff in Double Indemnity versus how Cora does not purposefully control Frank.

Turner’s performance is not wanting, however. And I must agree with the critics that cite her role in Postman as a dramatic landmark in her career. She charges her scenes with a shocking amount of eroticism for 1946 – especially considering the Production Code’s decade long fight to prevent this story from being seen by American audiences. I just do not see this character using her sexuality as man bait. Cain’s text clearly shows Cora manipulating Frank.

Critics don’t seem to agree with my judgment of her character. Writing in 2000, Stephen MacMillan Moser in the Austin Chronicle writes “from the first glimpse of her standing in the doorway in her white pumps, as the camera travels up her tanned legs, she becomes a character so enticingly beautiful and insidiously evil that the audience is riveted.” Even if you place Visconti’s Ossessione next to Tay Garnett’s Postman one can immediately notice differences in the way the two filmmakers went about establishing malice and intent in Cora.

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Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) starring Giovanna Bragana and Gino Costa. 

Ossessione portrays Cora as having clear and purposeful intent in a way Turner’s Cora does not. It may seem like splitting hairs to challenge a grade-A certified classic film noir over a subtle characterization, but after lining up all these various adaptations of Cain’s novel, Cora’s clear intent to kill her husband and manipulate Frank make this a far more interesting dynamic than a girl just getting swept up in a seedy romance.

Visconti’s Osessione and Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice perfect the minor keys that this Hollywood classic could not perfect or did not even attempt due to the watchful eye of the production code, abandoning the full depiction of femme fatalism by casting as unbesmirchable as Lana Turner.

I’m using my Shakespearean license to declare “unbesmirchable” a real word. I think that if you also line up all your Postman Always Rings Twices you will also come to see a similar value in the grit and grime of the Visconti. It might not be the certifiable grade-A certified piece of film noir, but it rings true. And maybe the answer is as simple as citing Visconti as a genius of understand emotional turmoil and Tay Garnett as a talented, but unspecialized cog in the studio machine. You be the judge.

Episode 2: Fatal Attraction / Krissy Myers

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Krissy Myers (@krissy_myers) and Jay (@007hertzrumble) discuss their shared Shame – Fatal Attraction – and contemplate the ways in which the film wrongs women, trades on peak Michael Douglas fame, and undermines its greatest asset (crazy Glenn Close) for the sake of ticket sales. Will McKinley drops in courtesy of the Old Movie Weirdo hotline to offer his hot take on Fatal Attraction and recommend a thematically-related classic film that’s more deserving of your time. In the scorned women revenge genre, Fatal Attraction may have moved the bar, but it also broke the mold.

CREDITS:

Talking Heads:

James David Patrick (@007hertzrumble) – Writer of fiction and non-, former entertainment journalist, host.

Krissy Myers (@krissy_myers) – Toronto-based pinball wizard, photographer and lifelong student of cinema.

Will McKinley (@willmckinley) – writer for Sony’s getTV network and a self-proclaimed Old Movie Weirdo. willmckinley.com

Direct download (right click, save): http://traffic.libsyn.com/cinemashame/CinemaShame_2_FatalAttraction.mp3

Music Contained in this Podcast:

Diana Ross & the Supremes – I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

Maria Callas – Madame Butterfly: Act 2 “Un bel di vedremo” 

Talking Heads – Psycho Killer

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Originally recorded on March 2 and March 16th 2017.

Copyrights are owned by the artists and their labels. Negative dollars are made from this podcast.

Episode 1: Police Academy / Will McKinley

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Cinema Shame – Episode 1: Police Academy / Will McKinley

Will McKinley (@willmckinley) stops by the Shamequarters after first-time watching Police Academy to discuss the erosion of slapstick comedy and consider the factors that led to Police Academy becoming an American phenomenon in 1984 and beyond.

Direct download (right click, save as): CinemaShame_1.mp3

CREDITS:

Talking Heads:

James David Patrick (@007hertzrumble) – host

Will McKinley (@willmckinley) – writer for Sony’s getTV network and a self-proclaimed Old Movie Weirdo. willmckinley.com

Music Contained in this Podcast:

Police Academy March – Robert Folk

El Bimbo – Jean-Marc Dompierre

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Originally recorded on March 1, 2017.

Copyrights are owned by the artists and their labels. Zero dollars are made from this podcast.

Watching Bulworth in 2017 is Different Than Watching it in 1998…Probably

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Bulworth came out in 1998 when I was finishing up seventh grade and had this huge crush on a girl in my English class that I really wanted to ask out, but never did. What does that have to do with Bulworth? Not much of anything other than, it’s probably the reason I didn’t see it. I was more interested in this girl than politics at the time. And that was the way it went for a while, because I assumed that Bulworth was a political film and not a dark comedy.

I chose this as my first shame because it has often been referenced over the last year in relation to now-President Trump and the 2016 Election. It’s a valid comparison, a candidate that speaks his mind, says what he actually thinks, and in the end, wins people over. The film in retrospect, leaves me with an alarming take on President Trump making it perhaps a more noteworthy film from this point on.

In the film, Warren Beatty does a fantastic job of playing Senator Jay Bulworth who has reached the end of his limits. His campaign is seemingly dead in the water, he’s compromised his views and himself to stay in politics as long as he has. His marriage has been a fraud for years. He’s in a deep depression. When we join him, he has decided to commit suicide by hiring someone to assassinate him. The only problem is that he doesn’t know where or when it’ll happen, but that it will be sometime that weekend.

When he gets off a plan in California, he’s drunk (presumably in preparation to accept his fate), but now his natural survival instinct has kicked in and he’s running scared. He goes to a campaign stop at a church in an African-American community and begins to freely speak his mind. When it’s over, he realizes how good it felt to stop being a politician and continues a weekend of speaking his mind while continuing to avoid the assassin.

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The film goes from there and there’s no reason to go through it, but I recap all that to make this point: If Senator Jay Bulworth starts to speak his mind and not play into politics, because he has nothing to lose knowing he’ll be dead soon, then did Trump not play the political game in 2016 because he had nothing to lose? A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing.

Bulworth wasn’t revolutionary in filmmaking – it feels like a movie made in 1998. It was well-made. There was an almost farcical element to the assassination avoidance storyline and plenty of Warren Beatty rapping. Halle Berry gives a nice performance here as well as many of the great actors scattered throughout do. Bulworth didn’t shatter politics in any radical ways – while it has been reportedly reference by President Obama, I would argue The West Wing had a bigger impact on future politicos in America. Bulworth does explore issues of race, but it didn’t do much for that either. It’s a good movie, but there’s nothing that propels it into a great movie. Not yet at least.

In his book, But What If We’re Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman presents the idea that what is considered noteworthy or culturally important in the future is based on what the future values more so than what was happening at the time of publication. The 2016 Election will probably be the election where politics changed. President Trump gained a lot of supporters by not playing the political game and sounded different than everyone else out there. It’s hard to know for sure, but I imagine this will have an impact on how future candidates run for office. If that’s the case, then I can also imagine a future where Bulworth is of greater note than it is now by the general populace.

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So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 1

I’ve had this Zatoichi Criterion box set on my shelf. It’s a very pretty box set, filled with lots of movies, 25 to be exact. After procuring the set for Christmas some years ago, I watched the first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi. What a superb film!

And then there was silence.

I don’t have an explanation. I just have SHAME.

Last year for my Cinema Shame, list I vowed to complete the set. The 24 other Zatoichi films. This in addition to my regular allotment of SHAME. It might come as no surprise that I failed in this endeavor. But this is a new year, with new lists and new motivation. I’ve made certain promises to myself. That I will watch more, read more, write more. I promised to be better to myself and ignore the noise that has distracted me from doing the things I love. Noise is the urge to pick up my phone for no good reason and scroll through social media bullshit. Noise is a DVR filled with episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I haven’t actively wanted to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory in years.

For January, I began my journey (and my 2017 Shame) through this Zatoichi set once more. To make this exercise more manageable, I’ll break the massive word-spewing down into a few different posts. I’ll watch four Zatoichi movies per month and leave my thoughts here for you to consider.

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Gawkers consider the lowly masseur/legendary swordsman in The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

The first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi, showcases a potent character study about the friendship between two warriors (with elevated moral codes) on opposite sides of a clan dispute. Light on swordplay, long on philosophy — but effective at establishing the cavernous division between the moral right and the moral wrong with a conservation of action and language. Our blind, pacifist swordsman vs. a world of human ugliness.

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Groundhog Day

6:46 am.

I woke up and wished that I was dead 

With an aching in my head

I lay motionless in bed

I thought of you and where you’d gone

And the world spins madly on

Actually, I’ve already been awake for–I don’t know, an hour? And it’s been a vaguely crappy hour. Not as bad as these lyrics by The Weepies, but they’re salient here, and I was just about to take an all natural sleeping capsule and make myself get a few more hours before another day of what would inevitably be I_just_wish_it_would_stop #everysecondofthisisshittastic every waking moment I’m alive. (Moving on to Citizen Cope here, as you may have recognized.)

I was thinking about going back to sleep but it became a toss-up, a 50/50 chance, a lock-step confusion with myself. I grabbed the phone of my nightstand and checked the time. 6:46 am, *Groundhog Day*. I’ve never seen Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is on my list. I guess, let’s get up, put on something other than these fuzzy snowman pajamas, and figure out how to locate a copy of this DVD. Or watch it in teeny tiny clips on YouTube. Let’s fucking do Groundhog Day, you guys.

7:41 am.

My laptop battery is on 21% and also the port where you plug in the recharging cord is dented; it requires complicated manual finagling to make tiny magnetic bumps meet prongs, or whatever’s in there. The battery icon on the screen looks like it’s recharging, but the light on the wire doodad isn’t lit. I put that aside to see if it was recharging, and went to brush my teeth. Right now, the rechargeable toothbrush is the only thing working at 100%, and that’s because it’s new–like, bought yesterday, new. My iPhone has been cracked and banged around–Instagram is all bokeh, and Safari pages are taking like 30 seconds to load. In other words, my recent tech run-in’s are making this season as time-wastingly, shit-tastically, frustratingly psychologically debilitating as when I was still using PC’s, and before the iPhone was invented. Life can go eff itself right now, and please don’t snort at me through your red rum, children. It’s the perfect annoying set-up to force me to reprise 2006-2008. Now, I haven’t seen Groundhog Day, but I know it’s about deja vu’ing through the crap-fertilized tulips, and that’s just about where I am at right now. Laptop now on 18%. And let’s see if I can get a WordPress app to be able to update from the iPhone of Dr. StrangeJill. …And locate an actual DVD of Groundhog Day.

I’ve already missed the actual Groundhog Day Celebration at the Staten Island Zoo–I just checked on the iPhone while I was brushing my teeth. I would have gone. I want to integrate the local events and jaunts into journalism into my essay process. I want to be Joan Didion, goddamnit. But anyhow, Staten Island Chuck (who’s actually a female) made her appearance at 7:30 am, without Mayor de Blasio showing up to drop her. (The previous groundhog who held the honorary name “Staten Island Chuck” was dropped by the Mayor in 2014 and died soon after.  A groundhog previous to her actually bit Mayor Bloomberg.) Things get very literally Groundhog Day here in Staten Island. Groundhogs attack mayors, get dropped, die. Staten Island is a great place to write about movies without ever getting to write about the movie.

 

8:02 pm.

“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”

 

8:08 pm.

“What would *you* do, if you wee stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”

 

Selma (2014) – An Important Film with a Hopeful Message

When Selma first premiered I caught NPR interviews with director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo and could hear the palpable passion that they had put into this work. I knew I wanted to watch it. Of course, regrettably, I didn’t make the time for it then. But I knew it would make a great addition to my Shame list.

Last February I finally did make the time to watch it, I even began writing my blog post but for some reason I couldn’t push through. It kinda just felt like my write up wasn’t doing the film justice. As it turns out, that may have been a good thing. Not only is the film even more relevant now, watching it again filled me with a sense of hope that I haven’t really felt since our Presidential election. Yeah, sorry folks, it’s going to get political.

Selma recalls a particularly awful time in America’s history. Last year when I first watched it, for me, it represented how far we had come as a nation. Now given the current political and cultural landscape, it represents how little America has learned in fifty-two years.

My thoughts on the film (and other things) continue after the jump, just as a disclaimer these are my own personal views and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of other contributors to this blog.

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