Terrence Rafferty previews Film Forum’s N.Y.C. Noir series, which kicks off with Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success:

…the way [J.J.] Hunsecker drags the movie’s protagonist, an overeager press agent named Sidney Falco…, down into the ethical sewer with him is as brutal as what Richard Widmark does to the old lady in Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947)….

It’s the nakedness of the newspaperman’s exercise of power, and the inability of the other, less monomaniacal characters to fight it, that make the picture unmistakably noir, even without gunplay. A sense of powerlessness — often disguised by tough-guy bravado — is a common trait in the heroes and heroines of film noir, and this is a feeling that New Yorkers know a thing or two about. We know too that the threat of physical violence is far from the only means the masters of our fates employ when they want us to know there’s no way out. In this dirty town, where people come to Make It, our desire to succeed and our terror of failure are usually all the ammunition the powerful require to keep us right where they want us.

Upcoming: 2

Turner Classic Movies has two really interesting themes for June: films featuring or directed by the sultry Ida Lupino, and Screened Out: Gay Images in Film. Some of the titles, like The Killing of Sister George and The Boys in the Band, I recognize as causing a stir at of the 1970s. They are largely forgotten now, but I remember them as being judged too mature for my adolescent sensibilities at the time.

Worth the wait

Oh, my: Tony Long watches Star Wars for the first time:

I watched it with a friend, a veteran of many viewings. She knew I wanted to approach this with fresh eyes and an open mind, so she was careful to keep her opinions to herself. Still, I knew where she stood. The fact that she owned the DVD told me what she thought of the movie. Every now and then as we watched, when I’d turn to her with a bemused expression, she’d simply smile and say nothing.

A pity that Princess Leia didn’t show my friend’s restraint. Geez Louise, what a harpy.

Ready when you are, Miss Lamont

Via kottke.org, David S. Cohen notes that the technological transition from film to digital video is having an unexpected effect on acting styles, one that may prove as revolutionary as the introduction of sound in the late 1920s.

For actors, that additional experimentation means an entirely new way of working, says thesp Marley Shelton.

Shelton appears in both parts of Grindhouse: Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror was shot digitally, while Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof was shot on film.

With film, says Shelton, “there’s a beginning, middle and an end between ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ As an actor, one is trained to listen for cues such as ‘roll sound’ and slate, and you use that moment to prepare and go on a journey as your character for a few minutes or seconds. You use that time to suspend disbelief for yourself. In that 10 seconds, you’re sort of going into a zone.”

But, Shelton says, when shooting digital, the freedom to keep rolling means “you’re sort of sifting for diamonds. It’s great in that you can probe deeper in certain moments, but it’s less conducive to riding the impulses your character is having chronologically.”


Via The Morning News, an upload of Todd Haynes’s notorious Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. The video is a little artifacty and it’s of the expected dubious provenance. But the 43-minute film, which tells the story of 1970s soft rock chanteuse Karen Carpenter’s demise due to anorexia-related issues, and which uses Barbie dolls for actors, is not bad—and at times, rather good. And dang, the woman could sing.

Paging Mr. Bernard Herrmann

Via Arts & Letters Daily, new book by Jack Sullivan catalogs all the music in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

The 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much uses Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds cantata, which was commissioned for the 1934 version of the film. In the remake an assassination is to take place at a climactic cymbal crash. The bad guys, here as elsewhere in Hitchcock’s works, are surprisingly musically literate. They play recordings for the assassin.

AI = audience interface

Ten more things computers (and their users) do in the movies that they don’t in real life.

9. You’ve Got Mail is Always Good News

In the movies, checking your mail is a matter of picking out the one or two messages that are important to the plot. No information pollution or swamp of spam. No ever-changing client requests in the face of impending deadlines. And you never overlook information because a message’s subject line violated the email usability guidelines.

Blip blip blip-blip-blip blip

Via Boing Boing, a rant that needed to be ranted: What code DOESN’T do in real life (that it does in the movies). Coders, too.

5. Code does not make blip noises as it appears on the screen

This goes for ANY text, not just code. When text appears on my monitor it doesn’t make blip sounds – this isn’t 1902 (or whenever monitors used to do that). This is one of the most common offenses in Hollywood films, almost every movie that has a scene where a character is composing an email or surfing the net has the text make blippity-blip sounds as it appears. Do they have any idea how fucking irritating that would be in real life? This article alone would be like thirty thousand blippity-blips.

Shadow this

Steven Soderbergh recovers 1940s-era moviemaking techniques to film his postwar noir The Good German.

By reproducing the conditions of an actual studio shoot from the late 1940s, he hoped to enter the mind of a filmmaker like [Michael] Curtiz, to explore the strengths and limitations of a classical style that has now largely been lost.

* * *

If there is a single word that sums up the difference between filmmaking at the middle of the 20th century and the filmmaking of today, it is “coverage.” Derived from television, it refers to the increasingly common practice of using multiple cameras for a scene (just as television would cover a football game) and having the actors run through a complete sequence in a few different registers. The lighting tends to be bright and diffused, without shadows, which makes it easier for the different cameras to capture matching images.

* * *

“That kind of staging is a lost art,” Mr. Soderbergh said, “which is too bad. The reason they no longer work that way is because it means making choices, real choices, and sticking to them. It means shooting things in a way that basically only cut together in one order. That’s not what people do now. They want all the options they can get in the editing room.”

What does the O stand for?

Via wood s lot, Todd McEwen deconstructs Cary Grant’s suit in North by Northwest:

This is what’s ingenious about this picture, at least as far as the SUIT goes—Cary’s able to travel all over the country in just this one beautiful suit…. It’s so well cut you can’t tell if he’s even carrying a wallet (turns out he is). Here’s what he’s got in that suit! He goes all the way from New York to Chicago to the face of Mount Rushmore with: a monogrammed book of matches, his wallet and some nickels, a pencil stub, a hanky, a newspaper clipping and his sunglasses—but these are shortly to be demolished when Eva Marie Saint folds him into the upper berth in her compartment. (Really this is a good thing, because Cary Grant in dark glasses looks appallingly GUILTY.)