Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Steve Folta draws a bead on Kevin Dunn:

The Fans play a moderately prominent role in Party Out Of Bounds by Rodger Lyle Brown. It seems they were from Atlanta, not Athens. The book is a little less clear on their style of music. On the one hand, they're described as "the best of the progressive bands in Atlanta since Bruce Hampton's Hampton Grease Band broke up" and "maximally avant-garde"; on the other, they're compared to Roxy Music and Sparks.

(fjb: I'm shamefully ignorant of the book Steve mentions, an account of the GA college-rock scene from the B-52s to R.E.M. I see it's just been reissued.)


It might have been prudent to skip today's LACMA senior matinee screening of Experiment Perilous (Jacques Tourneur, 1944), but (a) it's the first time in four months I've been even nominally free on a Tuesday afternoon, and (b) the title phrase crops up in JA's Where Shall I Wander? ("A Darning Egg," p. 57, for those playing at home). Of course, Ashbery could have gotten it from Hippocrates' aphorism, quoted in the movie -- but since portions of his last few books sound like they might have been written with Turner Classic Movies on in the background, who knows? In the new book, he even writes "It's bed and the movies for me," though I can't find that poem now -- these days, in any case, the "couple in the next room" are likely as not William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Oh, the movie? I'd have said Gaslight knockoff (period setting, European husband plotting to drive his lower-born wife mad), but they were released the same year. Also lands somewhere along the Laura-Vertigo vector, what with the "fascinating [bad] portrait" of the fascinating woman, a motif Thomas Elsaesser describes in more detail. It's no Out of the Past (the contrivances show, the 'wit' is stale, the happy ending plays robotically, with the principals waving to one another in a field of daisies), though, three years earlier, there's a similarly elaborate nest of narrative devices, from an early voiceover that soon disappears to a flashback so long you forget it's not the frame. Hedy Lammar better than in most of her U.S. films, George Brent and Paul Lukas both pretty boring. Lukas, I'm beginning to think, has little going for him besides his voice -- I also saw him recently in Dinner At The Ritz, a 1938 U.K. cheapie with David Niven my parents had on a 99-cent store DVD, playing much the same role with much the same stiffness. (He always turns out to have killed someone -- maybe his most interesting variation is in 1946's Deadline at Dawn, the only feature directed by theatrical legend Harold Clurman.)


No way of doing full justice to Los Angeles Plays Itself. Some raw jottings:

--Terrific on the utopian aspirations of our modernist architecture, which, in the movies, are usually employed as gangsters' lairs, and gleefully destroyed. I think a drug pad in House in the Night Holds Terror (I may not have that right) also shows up in Play It As It Lays (a movie Anderson doesn't mention by name, though the classism of Didion's "nobody walks in L.A." gets a beat down. [Which reminds me that I swear I saw that Terry Bozzio is appearing at the Baked Potato up in the Cahuenga Pass. Where's Dale?]
--Glad he covered Dragnet; he's of course correct about the strange fact that Joe Friday, one condescending fucker, was the Parker L.A.P.D.'s own bought-and-paid-for vision of the ideal cop. And even more correct in noting that Webb's directorial discipline, in its crazy way, approaches Bresson/Ozu levels. (Wouldn't have minded a nod to Perry Mason, though TV was mostly not on the agenda.)
--He disdains the device of showing Angeleno's residing cheek-by-jowl with power-plants more often than is the case (funny clip from the obscure City of Industry), but lets it pass in Model Shop, where one of the first shots is of an oil derrick stuck incongruously in a Westside residential area -- though here, it's also a pun on an early tracking shot in Lola.
--"Silly geography makes for silly movies." Losey's remake of M something of an omission in this department -- in Anderson's terms, would Losey be one of Anderson's "high tourists," interested in "what makes Los Angeles unlike the cities they know.
--I clearly need to see: Altman's The Long Goodbye, with its countercultural hangout "The Infinite Pad"; the 1973 zombie flick Messiah of Evil (which then shows up on a marquee in Annie Hall, which Anderson of course loathes, though he's sharper on Steve Martin's 'affectionate' L.A. Story; Xanadu, simply because the roller-disco scenes look off-the-hook, sadly game Gene Kelly and all.
--Didn't realize Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon was shot around a Spanish Revival near the Sunset Strip -- very like the house in Double Indemnity, when one sees them juxtaposed.
--I can dig his anti-conspiracy bent: "The public history is the real history." Ideology isn't as simple to strip away as "uncovering" a ring of corrupt cops, or a water deal. Likes what L.A. Confidential got right, hates its cynicism -- wonder what Curtis Hansen, sitting not five rows back, thought. [Which reminds me -- Crispin Glover was at a few of the noir screenings.]
--Huge laugh when the narration points out that we're the only city where the police cars put the slogan to protect and serve in quotation marks.
--He reserves his highest praise for what he calls a Los Angeles "neo-realism" wholly disconnected from industry fantasies (utopian and dystopian): The Exiles in the '50s, Arizona Indians aimless and jobless in downtown, and three '70s African-American features (Killer of Sheep, Bush Mama, Bless Their Little Hearts -- only the first familiar to me). Fine, as a remedy for absence -- but for good or ill, the Marxism here gets a little vulgar (I mean Anderson's evaluation, not the films themselves). Or, anyway, "the politics of representation" is in full effect.

Caveats aside, a monumental piece of work, and a brain-buster. God knows how it will ever get on video with the number of clearances involved. A little hacked I couldn't go Sunday, when Anderson was present for a members' meet-and-greet. (I finally joined -- I've probably made back the membership in ticket discounts already.)


Which leaves me only to show-not-tell you where I was Friday and Monday. Puppets, laptops, 'sall interfaces to me.

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