Friday, August 10, 2007

American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now, Phillip Lopate, ed.

William Troy, "King Kong"
". . . unfortunately, it was thought necessary to mitigate some of the predominant horror by introducing a human. all-too-human theme. 'It was not the guns that got him,' says one of the characters at the end, after Kong has been brought to ground by a whole squadron of battle planes. 'It was Beauty killed the Beast.' By having Beauty, in the person of Miss Wray lure the great monster to his destruction, the scenario writers sought to unite two rather widely separated traditions of the popular cinema--that of the 'thriller' and that of the sentimental romance. The only difficulty was that they failed to realize that such a union was possible only by straining our powers of credulity and perhaps one or two fundamental laws of nature. For if the love that Kong felt for the heroine was sacred, it suggests a weakness that hardly fits with his other actions; and if it was, after all, merely profane, it proposes problems to the imagination that are not the less real for being crude."
"The Invisible Man"
"A body without a voice we have had on the silent screen, but not until this picture have we had a voice without a body."
These are two perfect film reviews. Troy was primarily a literary critic, and his emphasis is on plot - "scenario." But he has a terrific sense of how the uniqueness of the film experience arises from the paradoxes inherent in processing a representation of the inner world of fantasy presented in realistic visual and aural form. In criticizing Kong, he identifies the distinctive feature in the film's approach to love and sex, but he considers it as an error rather than as the enactment of a fantasy; it realizes its power, but he disapproves of it. And on aesthetic grounds, he's probably right.
What's great in him is that he recognizes so clearly the impact of the illusionistic qualities of film and how they push us towards the kind of thinking we do about plot and character. The recognition of the bad fit--and that's very, very bad joke--between two visions of sexuality is indeed the key to the movie, and works well with the later revisionist views that see Kong as about race. This essay alone makes me much more enthusiastic about including the original Kong in the Sex in Cinema class. (Previously I used only an excerpt. It's great to compare with the "Hot Voodoo" number from Blonde Venus--the one quoted in The Dreamers.

Robert Warshow, "A Feeling of Sad Dignity"
On Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight

Ralph Ellison, "The Shadow and the Act"

Martha Wolfenstein and Nathan Leites, "Got a Match?"
On the "masculine-feminine" girl in movies

Parker Tyler, "Double into Quadruple Indemnity" and "Warhol's New Sex Film"
Of course I think there should be a lot more Tyler in this anthology. This is the famous essay on the relationship between Walter and Keyes in Double Indemnity; and the essay on Warhol is one of the most lucid explanations of what he was up to (addressing the film Fuck).

Susan Sontag, "The Imagination of Disaster"

American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now, Phillip Lopate, ed.


annette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
annette said...

the idea of a book full of commentary about commentary is amusing to me.