Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Know That There Are Witches

"And what do witches drink?"
-- Robert Mitchum, Angel Face

In Angel Face (1952), Jean Simmons wants to drink deeply of everything Robert Mitchum. To be more exact: of Frank Jessup, Mitchum's character. And is Frank glad. Until Diane Tremayne, Miss Simmon's character, becomes an inconvenience; she and her crooning, insane, very true love.

It is perplexing, and somewhat motiveless, Diane's love. A luscious 19- (going on 20) year-old, lovely, slender, stylish, very smart and very rich and motherless -- yet she is her own island within Beverly Hills. There's no hint of any current or past sexual or romantic connection around her; an island she literally dives off of to chase down Mitchum's departing and empty ambulance. The heart wants what it wants. And so does the vagina. How else to explain Diane Tremayne's immediate swoon? For Frank Jessup is a singularly (for a 50s leading man) repulsive character, the most repulsive of Mitchum's career. (He is evil and the very opposite of repulsive in Night of the Hunter [1955] and Cape Fear [1962].) Jessup is a shaggy seedy slob (and seems much older than the Jeff Bailey/Markham of five years before). He jumps at Diane's chauffeur offer. At the chance to drive Diane's race-car at Pebble Beach. At the chance to grab some of her stepmother Barbara O'Neil's loot for his would-be foreign car repair shop. At Diane's first scent, he drops his buddy Bill, his girlfriend Mary, the hospital and his job. And drops Diane herself once he's cleared of murder charges, an acquittal mostly achieved through a fake marriage to Diane. He drops her to run off to Mexico, a place he's never been before. (But only after betting Diane for her car, with Frank putting up nothing.) Much of what he says rings hollow. This lazy guy a former race-car driver before the war? Now driving an ambulance, seven years after war's end, to save up for his shop and his marriage to Mary (she clearly a pit-stop)? (His idea of a warehouse-type garage servicing all foreign makes is pretty dumb for L.A. where every foreign car owner brings the car to shops specializing only in that make or model.) Frank is a user and a blank.

But never more on the prowl than after his phone call to Mary aborted by Diane's arrival. Frank wants to fuck Diane very much and cheat on Mary very much, once they can flee the greasy diner. (Her entrance is to "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan.") He goes out of his way to sound as much as a lying prick as possible to Mary, his manner of showing-off before Diane. Yet how they treat each other is the reverse of the good. She acts toward him as if he's a shining prince. He treats her like a skank, something dirty and dangerous and impure. "With a girl like you, how can a man be sure?" he asks her.

A girl like her?

So he refuses Diane's love because of the one thing he is sure about: that she gives it away. That her falling for him is cheap and common. Worse. That her love can be stolen from him at any time by a night beneath the moon, one that goes from dusk 'til dawn. For strange, unexplained reasons Diane insists on nights of separation: Jessup is in deep sexual panic over these nights. ("I'm very tired, Frank." "Yeah, that I can believe.") ~ while director Otto Preminger shows us her playing chess with her worshipful father Herbert Marshall.

"No and we don't love the same either. It wouldn't matter to me what you were or what you did."
-- Jean Simmons, Angel Face

The question hangs over the movie, it is perhaps the only question we care about: how new is this for the both of them, how unique are these feelings for Diane, for Jessup (not at all), for post-war Los Angeles? Whether Diane monkeyed with the stepmother's car, or had help from Frank, is gone over in the flat middle section of the movie, when the trial and throttle retractor springs and shift levers and goofy DA Jim Backus make it stop dead. We also never learn what went down in Barbara O'Neil's bedroom at the beginning of the story.

But oh that "murder" scene. . .

The suffocating assumptions around Diane of amorality, corruption, debauchery have driven her insane. In a work about complete erotic love, everyone is afraid. Herbert Marshall is a man with a daughter-complex married to a castrato, who fears murder from her step-daughter. Bill, Jessup's red-headed buddy (Ken Tobey), hasn't the guts (or the sex) to go after the girl he loves, Frank's Mary (Mona Freeman). Until Mary runs to him afraid of the inevitable sexual wounds Frank would inflict on her. ("I'm the one afraid of the competition.")  Mitchum hopes to runs to Mexico, fleeing Diane's burning. All are afraid.

Except Diane. All the way, for Frank, is the trueness of her heart and vagina. Her nature is clearly isolate. When we see her at piano, her face is still and remote. Strange and amorphous, Diane yearns though her troubles in a warm vagueness, her soul and otherwise throbbing for Frank, because he does not want her, not her. In a five-shot, four-minute sequence, she walks across her mansion barely seeing the house around her, drifting, quiescent, in a state of metamorphosis, darkening -- as if a light inside her has gone out. Preminger's and DP Harry Stradling's wonder-light fades, cold air breathes down. She has crossed to the other side.

Joining her sisters in the coven of extreme movie love: Josette Day in Beauty and the Beast (1946), Annie Starr, Mabel Longhetti, Anne from Day of Wrath, Gertrud, Lola Montes and Madame de, Rose Hobart, Madeleine/Judy, Rose Balestrero, Bunuel's Lya Lys, Mrs. Soffel, Dragnet Girl. (Perhaps Preminger's most remarkable achievement in Angel Face is his appearing to not take sides.)

As safe, sexually-insecure Mary tells Frank: both he and Bill went on that ambulance run to the Tremayne mansion. Yet only Frank drank from Diane's cup. Even though Frank had a girlfriend and Bill did not. And so the world, the movie says, is divided between those who would stir Jean Simmons, and those who would not. Then divided again -- between those with the guts to take her and those without. Those who taste victory and those who do not. And, the movie warns, do not enter a marriage or intimate relationship with those who do taste because though they may be tasting you now, how long before it's someone else? In Angel Face, sexual passion is love for a woman. For a man, a warning sign that she cannot be trusted.

There are other views.

Tag Gallagher is one of our great movie writers. His books on Rossellini and John Ford are among the best director bios (and readings of their works) we have. Lately, he's been creating video essays about specific movies.

In a 26-minute work called "A Moment's Inattention," Gallagher breaks down Angel Face.

His interpretation is rather straight. There's no mention of the trial, the parents, or the background friends. Dumbfounding is how Gallagher sees Frank Jessup, calling him "practically the same man" as Mitchum's Jeff Bailey/Markham from Tourneur's Out of the Past (1947). (The last third of the essay makes iconic connections between the two Mitchum movies, falsely in my opinion. Out of the Past is that rare masterpiece concerned almost not at all with romantic love or sexual ardor.) Jeff Bailey/Markham is one of the strongest moral agents in movie history. Frank Jessup is a pig.

The World and Its Double is the best and most comprehensive book we have on Otto Preminger. While not as astonishing as Fujiwara's masterpieces on Tourneur and Jerry Lewis (mainly because Preminger's art is less interesting than Fujiwara's), it is consistently jaw-dropping as the writer again and again improves on what he's seeing, or matches its greatness. The only disappointment with his Angel Face chapter (the best sections of the book are on Anatomy of a Murder, Advise & Consent, and Skidoo) is its brevity. Imagine a chapter controlled by a vision such as this, for all the scenes (30:00):
In an extraordinary sequence of Angel Face, Preminger gives us a model of how to see his characters. The sequence begins with a shot of Diane and her father, Charles Tremayne, playing chess in his study. The shot is partly framed by the open balcony door, a frame that freezes the moment in time and makes of it an idyllic and emblematic scene. The chess game is intercut with shots of Frank alone in the room outside his bedroom. He looks out the window, then goes to the phone and calls Mary's workplace. Failing to reach her, he discontentedly removes his tie (the camera tracking forward to a close shot), darting glances, as he does so, offscreen right (in the direction of the window). (His look offscreen repeats the look by which he first sees Diane and is drawn into her world for the first time.) The staging of the scene implies that Frank has been waiting for Diane to emerge from the house and that, disappointed, he instead calls Mary, still wishing, no longer with much hope, for Diane to appear. (That instead of Mary he reaches a third woman, one Janey, shows that women are interchangeable for him at this point.)
Or this (1:21:30):
The scene of Diane's attempted confession in Barrett's office is one of the greatest scenes in all Preminger's work, not only because of the hopeless truth made vivid by the contrast between Diane's stern, slow, dreamlike gravity and Barrett's indomitable cynicism, worldliness, and superficiality, but because, to form a triangle with the two principals, the scene introduces the key Preminger figure of the impassive witness, incarnated by the stenographer, Miss Preston. The mystery of this figure, who is reduced to the function of recording witness, permitted in no way to express any opinion or feeling about the drama that unfolds before her, will engage Preminger in several films, notable Advise & Consent, in the shots of functionaries during and after the Senate subcomittee hearing. The impassive witness has a similar function to that of the interested but silent observer, incarnated in another scene in Angel Face by Bill when he and Mary listen to Frank's attempt to renew his relationship with Mary. . .  Frank's words are directed to Mary alone, who alone responds to them, but they also fall, so to speak, on the blank and thoughtful face of Bill.
Or this (32:00):
. . . She goes to the piano, on whose lid sits a framed photograph of her father, at which she pauses to look. Then she sits at the piano and begins to play the film's theme as the camera (which has followed her across the room) tracks forward into a close-up. At first she looks downward; as she plays, she raises her eyes slightly, then looks up and stares at a point just below the level of the camera, so that light reflects from her pupils. . . This shot dissolves slowly into a close-up of the face of a clock, whose glass, too, reflects points of light (during the dissolve, the stars of Diane's pupils seem to become part of a larger constellation, with the stars of the clock face). The camera tracks back to reveal that the clock is sitting on a table outside Frank's bedroom; Diane, in a nightgown, enters hurriedly up the stairs and knocks at the bedroom door. Frank emerges, and Diane proceeds to tell him that her stepmother has just tried to kill her with gas.
Humbling, from the best film reader I know.

Angel Face.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Every day is. . .

"I've believed all my life that children have more to teach adults than the other way around. The person who has never dealt with children is a spiritual cripple. It is children who not only open our hearts but our minds as well. It is only through them, only in seeing the world through their eyes, that we know what beauty and innocence are. How quickly we destroy their vision of the world! How quickly we transform them into the image of us shortsighted, miserable, faithless adults!" -- Henry Miller

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Loved and Needed

His greatest speech, the morning after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Something Has Happened in the Pantry!"

What did happen in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel, midnight, June 5th, 1968?

Tim Tate has some answers.

"Something Has Happened in the Pantry!" -- II

So does Shaun O'Sullivan.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Breaking the Heart of the American Dream

Part Three of Bobby Kennedy for President, "You Only Get One Time Around"

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


"Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live."

-- Robert Francis Kennedy

Part Two of Bobby Kennedy for President, "I'd Like to Serve"

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Passion Flower

50 years after his execution -- decades of domestic and foreign calamities, dominated by aggressive war and horrific economic choices, leading to the collapse of the political system -- the nation would be unrecognizable to the man who fought every day for the weak against the strong. Robert Francis Kennedy did not have to face the heartbreak of the country he loved so much and worked so hard to humanize being turned into a snake-pit of psychopathic ambition, grimness, self-delusion, historical ignorance, and endless lies. For what is left on a popular or establishment level of the idea that society and government must be judged by the way the most vulnerable among us are taken care of?

Nothing. There is nothing left of that. Which is why the sense of doom and sorrow one takes from Bobby Kennedy for President will be long lasting. The worst of our history murdered the best and got away with it. Scott free. Not only did they get away with it, but they've created the sort of society diametrically opposed to everything RFK (and JFK) stood for: a country where the least human and most nakedly aggressive dominate everything. This was the newer world others sought. Born from the gore of the Ambassador Hotel kitchen pantry (and Dealey Plaza), they've achieved it.

Part One of Dawn Porter's Bobby Kennedy for President, "A New Generation"

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"There's a very good reason why Jack Kennedy was shot. . .

". . . and the Clintons haven't been."

A stunning and moving interview with the great Hunter S. Thompson. R.I.P.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

High Hopes

On his 101st birthday, John F. Kennedy speaks to us of privatization, secret societies, secret cabals, and in a very funny way. . .

Happy Birthday

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Decoration Day

George Cukor's The Marrying Kind -- one of the dearest American movies of the 1950s -- loves public space. The married couple, played by Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray, are almost never alone. They met in Central Park, adore their kids, have company over non-stop, and basically let friends and relatives run their lives: the husband and wife are just fine with that. In New York City 1952, others are not mere externals to be sniffed at. Beside its beautiful ending, its most memorable scene (set on Decoration Day) is one of the most peaceful -- and then terrifying -- in 50s cinema, Cukor signaling the upcoming horror by the panicked running of others.

And it breaks the marriage in two.

Friday, May 25, 2018


Both singers are dubbed and both are singularly limited as movie actors. (Yet who else could go from playing Tony in West Side Story (1961) to playing -- 30 years later -- Benjamin Horne[!] in Twin Peaks?) And yes Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer hated each other on set, since Wood wanted then-husband -- and future-murderer -- Richard Wagner as Tony.) Plus the movie is not light and funny, nor a showcase for star performers in their best routines. Still. . .

Where did all this go? What happened to it? This quiet and warmth. This full-bodied belief in transcendence, heartbreak, longing. This sense of doom coming not from covens of corporate vampires creating a world frozen in dread, cynicism, and corruption; rather, a tragic forboding arising from the nature of things, as if one is never in so much danger as when happy and/or alive -- that is when the devils seem to have their day, and hawks steal something living from the gambol on the field.

West Side Story can now be seen, almost 60 years on, as a bleeding-heart opera of the Kennedy Years, filled with a faith in endless possibility and joy, undercut by distant drums -- a movie with a vanished New York City of movement, color, good humor, fellowship, and a loathing of pretension and power at the center of its tender heart.

Let it bleed.

Monday, May 21, 2018

John Lewis Knew. . .

You really want to know what Bob Kennedy was?

He was fucking beautiful.
-- AP reporter Joe Mohbat

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Last Hero

JFK in '63. Malcolm in '65. MLK, Jr. in April of '68.

But it was the execution of Robert Francis Kennedy on June 5, 1968 which not only broke the country's heart, but ripped that heart out for good. Looking back, it was the moment that opened the door to the fetid, depraved, lying, psychopathic shitpile we've become.

He descended to acknowledge his victory -- victory in the California primary and with it the chance to kick Richard Nixon's ass in the fall -- to talk about the violence and the hope, and to let a world discover in his death what it never understood or appreciated about him during his life.

Now on Netflix (and coming soon to the blog).

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Heroic Life of Walter Reuther

48 years ago this week, the greatest labor leader in American history was blown up in his airplane (after many previous assassination attempts) on orders from Richard Nixon's National Security State. (It would be quite a spring for Nixon: defending William Calley at My Lai, launching his aggressive war against Cambodia, murdering students at Kent State, Reuther's assassination, murdering students at Jackson State, overthrowing the Argentine government. Poor misunderstood Quaker. . .)

The sadness of the interview is great. A major power player in United States 1958, Reuther's union would be exterminated at last under the stoogeship of the Great Black Hope in 2009.

Dr. Michael Parenti honors Reuther with a passionate tribute.

And the inspiring '58 interview with the chain-smoking (and already insane) Mike Wallace.