Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Three, plus ...

Morocco. Pictorial beauty: fractured and refracted light upon an ornament-filled composition. A powerful, ridiculous (in a rationalist sense) ending whose power comes from the fact that Sternberg empties out all semblance of verisimilitude in the final windswept moments. (Can we pin it down to a single character's fantasy? Which one's?)

"There's a foreign legion of women, too..." Where do the characters come from? We only know they've come to Morocco, even Menjou's upstanding citizen--they all have secrets which will never been known. Morocco, the film-place, is comprised of the shadows & etchings of buried pasts.

The Marrying Kind. It starts off on autopilot but soon starts making leaps into tragedy and unbearable (intentional) awkwardness. Domestic comedy-dramas of the postwar era really were sharp & incisive in the right hands (cf. McCarey's Good Sam; Sirk's No Room for the Groom), just blatantly so, it's amazing that any of these ever needed to be "unpacked" by critics & others later--maybe they were just presumed to be needed to be unpacked. This one gets its hands dirty with a lot of different tones.


"Of note: El Dorado, the best D.W. Griffith film of 1967. Of course it's a very Hawks, but it's strange to think that it's contemporaneous with Week-End and Point Blank, among others." -- from Patrick Ciccone

El Dorado. A film for old friends. Hawks is a good filmmaker for establishing some of the things a person is or is not interested in when it comes to cinema. Of course there's a lot of adolescent generic "stuff" up on the screen in this and his other drama, adventure, Western films. This ethos, it's the 'Hawks fiction,' in part propelled by his own fairly adventurous can-do life, but in every film the unthinking, unflagging "professionalism" is always met, even undercut with criticism of that very same thing. Only Angels Have Wings--that's not about "Who's Joe?", mind you, it's about the lunacy of letting "Who's Joe" pragmatism build up out of all proportion. Hawks the thematic moralist is always a bit more complex than he's given credit for on this count. One could, rightly, say that this--more than tough-men-and-women professionalism--is in fact the object of Hawks' ethos. It's not about professionalism as an end but rather the getting of wisdom about professionalism's places and uses. (Hawks' films, his dramas & adventures that is, may still be "adolescent" in a sense, but adolescent because they are about maturation, not adolescent because they are willfully infantile.) On first blush El Dorado strikes me as the Hawks film most outrightly concerned with theme, with problems of ethical behavior ... anyone agree/disagree?

Raymond Durgnat, from the 1970s: "But there are four or five Hawks movies that stand re-seeing. Otherwise, if I weren’t on duty as a culturologist, I’d walk out of most Hawks movies fairly early on, feeling that I’d missed nothing, that here was a safe little machine functioning without major surprises or many new insights. But The Big Sleep [1946] has a certain quality, Scarface [1932], Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [1953], The Big Sky [1952]. Not Rio Bravo [1959], that’s kitsch." Burned! Wonder what he thought of El Dorado then?

Roger Ebert, meat-and-potatoes auteurist?: "A footnote: Pauline Kael, the New Republic's film critic, claims El Dorado has the second worst lighting she's seen in a movie. That's not bad lighting, that's good old Howard Hawks with all of his shadows and kerosene lamps and murky atmosphere and dark alleys (remember The Big Sleep?). Miss Kael needs her glasses scrubbed."

Edward Yang, RIP. I still haven't seen Yi Yi (I know, how could I not?) but I've seen A Brighter Summer Day, and even more important to me personally, The Terrorizer. He was a crucial talent.


Anonymous said...

I´d say that post-Rio Bravo Hawks is always very self-conscious about its motives and given that El Dorado and Rio Lobo are the two late Hawks whose material concerns more directly with moal/ethic questions, so you are in the right track.

I'd argue that the best Griffith film of 1967 is Le Revelateur.

Dan Sallitt said...

It's worth noting that that final scene in Morocco, which many (starting with the director, as demonstrated by the framing and cutting) consider extreme in the extent to which emotion trumps practicality, is also the scene most firmly anchored in physical reality. The sound and image of the wind rippling the Legion flag at the beginning of the scene tears through the fiction like a knife. Not the usual way that Hollywood signalled artifice.

If the scene is anyone's fantasy, it's Sternberg's; so maybe we can attribute the fantasy to the director's surrogate, la Bessiere (Menjou). Only he would imagine Amy's shoes sticking in the sand, conjure up the aural image of her perishing in endless sand and wind...

I'd say, though, the scene is no more fantasy than any other work of fiction is.

Those pesky Hawksian moral imperatives do loom pretty large in El Dorado, and generally loom larger in the post-Rio Bravo works, after Hawks decided that he no longer needed to pretend that his movies were more than on-set gatherings. Late works like this (not only by Hawks) pose an up-front question: do we evaluate them by the subject matter, which is increasingly dominated by artifacts of the director's life; or by the manner of filming? I find the catalog of Interesting Things in Hawks' universe more appealing than I do, say, Ford's psychological inventory in Donovan's Reef; but both Ford and Hawks are more than the sum of the people they like to hang out with and the situations they enjoy recapitulating. Durgnat never picked up on Hawks' play with levels of fiction, never saw Hawks' career-long inquiry into the nature of storytelling and genre; so he was left with the quirks of a guy he didn't particularly care for.

ZC said...

Dan, you know Morocco much better than I do but my reaction was not that the final scene in anchored in physical reality! I would say, instead, 'sensuous immersion,' which the constancy of the soundtrack and the somewhat startling (if retrospectivley "foreseeable") decision on Amy Jolly's part come as a shift to the preceding character of the film. Not a reversal, inversion, or antithesis, mind you--but the moment, like the climax of The Searchers or, pictorially, the haunting final shot of Herzog's Nosferatu remake, when something huge bubbles up in the film. It's like the sparse dunes (so different from the thousand-shadowed interiors and alleyways of most of the film) and the intense soundtrack of Nature signify a major gear turning ...

That's a perfectly good assessment of late Hawks/Ford, and of Durgnat's "missing the boat" on the former!

Dan Sallitt said...

I also get that feeling of a "bubbling up" at the end of the film, and I'm probably overstating the documentary qualities of that passage! But I think that part of the bubble is the stark sound of that flag flapping (one of the most powerful moments in the cinema to me), and the sudden opening up of space with that portal onto the desert. The wind sound varies a lot during that scene: at the end, it takes on a more abstract quality, with Sternberg just twirling the volume knob.

Daniel Kasman said...

Dishonored is another Sternberg that ends with a remarkable audio cue, the echoing sound of rifleshots signifying a key death in the film.