August 18-24, 2005
Le Révélateur (Sun., Aug. 21, 9 p.m., $5 suggested donation, backyards of 2033-37 Frankford Ave.) PIMA Group's 7:45 p.m. dance performance is followed by an outdoor video screening of Philippe Garrel's black-and-white 1968 silent, an avant-garde nightmare as unsettling as it is unforgettable. Shot on sensitive film stock that renders its blacks and whites uncommonly pure, Le Révélateur's images have a visual clarity matched by their conceptual simplicity. Each of the movie's long takes there are no conventional cuts features the same three actors: bohemian couple Laurent Terzieff and Bernadette Lafont plus 4-year-old Stanislas Robiolles, who at times seems to be their child, at others something more impenetrable and vaguely threatening. At its most unnerving, the movie suggests Night of the Living Dead recast as an abstract psychodrama: Garrel shoots his actors running along a strand of barbed-wire fence in tattered fur coats that are at once parodic and primal, finally tumbling into a quarry and pounding at the door of an isolated shack. That Garrel never suggests what malevolent force might be pursuing them only makes the movie stronger.
Le Révélateur, which puns on the French term for the chemical used to develop film, is an early but characteristic work by the enigmatic Garrel, a favorite of the Cinémathéque Français who has been gaining some aggressive champions of late (although so far his films are available only as import cassettes from the Re:Voir label). Ideally, his films, many of which are meant to be shown without sound, deserve an audience full of breathless acolytes, but Le Révélateur's visions are powerful enough to turn a Fishtown backyard into a place of worship.
Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2 ($49.92 DVD) Most people think of film noir as a genre, but Warner Bros.' second five-disc collection focuses on noir as a style that could be applied to almost any drama, albeit with variable effectiveness. Dillinger, one of two starring the animal-magnetic Lawrence Tierney (best known as Reservoir Dogs' head honcho), could as easily have been filmed in 1932 as 1945: Only director Max Nosseck's moody slashes of light and Tierney's inherent sexual menace give the movie a hint of post-gangster complexity. Tierney's blood runs even colder in Born to Kill, where Claire Trevor is the high-society divorcee unstoppably drawn to his murderous ways. Like Nosseck, Robert Wise deploys noir style with craft but no conviction. Trevor's stilted performance never gets a temperature going, and the movie turns circumspect when it ought to lunge for the jugular.
Restraint was never Fritz Lang's problem. Indeed, his version of Clifford Odets' Clash by Night is overwrought verging on camp. In his otherwise inane audio commentary, Peter Bogdanovich surmises that Lang's unfamiliarity with the English language may be to blame for the actors' failure to downplay Odets' characteristically humid dialogue: "You're just like me," quips projectionist Robert Ryan to small-town recidivist Barbara Stanwyck. "You're born and you'd like to get unborn." In Clash's wild kingdom, strong women can only be sated by the threat of male violence: After she marries sturdy lug Paul Douglas, Stanwyck is unerringly drawn towards Ryan's volatile woman-hater, while fish-canner Marilyn Monroe shows her affection to fiance Keith Andes by socking him in the arm, a gesture he threatens to return in spades. Lang tilled the same turf two years later in Human Desire, a similarly heavy-handed expose of man's bestial nature. Perhaps Lang should have stuck with the style of Clash's extraordinary, near-wordless opening, which begins with shots of seagulls and seals and slowly mixes in the actors in their natural habitats.
Passion gets the better of Robert Ryan in Crossfire as well, where he's a recently de-mobbed Army vet whose battle-honed blood lust mixes fatally with anti-Semitism. In Richard Brooks' novel, the culprit was homophobia, but production code strictures forced the switch, although not so you'd notice: When Sam Levene's dapper gentleman spirits Robert Young out of a bar and up to his place, you doubt it's to discuss the finer points of Yiddish theater. Any moral murk the tangle of shadows might evoke is dispelled by a sledgehammer plea for tolerance with the Capitol dome and the Declaration of Independence in full view; ironic that director Edward Dmytryk would be behind the patriotism-tolerance double-decker, since within a year he would be jailed as one of the Hollywood Ten, and not long thereafter prostrate himself in front of the American Legion in exchange for his career. As with their A Face in the Crowd disc, Warner does a commendably forthright job of dealing with the blacklist, although commentators Alain Silver and James Ursini jump too easily to Dmytryk's defense.
The collection closes out with The Narrow Margin, Richard Fleischer's taut, threadbare thriller, which is mainly notable for its stylistic flourishes particularly its inventive use of reflections and focus-pulls. Margin, which William Friedkin gushes knowingly over on the commentary track, is more of a moody thriller than a real noir: Charles McGraw's gruff detective is a fist with legs, not a conflicted loner, and although the good guys and bad guys don't turn out as you expect, the reversals are more gimmicky than subversive.
Laura ($14.98 DVD) Speaking of noir style, it was never deployed better or more knowledgeably than by Otto Preminger and his cinematographers Joseph LaShelle and Lucien Ballard in this necrophiliac 1944 love story. Headstrong Dana Andrews is the detective charged with investigating the death of Gene Tierney's eponymous lust object; that she is putatively deceased doesn't stop Andrews from being the third man to fall in love with her, after Clifton Webb's columnist and Vincent Price's oleaginous bumpkin. At times, especially once Tierney's flashbacks start to consume the movie, characters in the same scene are often lit as if they're in different movies, a sublime device that underlines the story's perverse wish-fulfillment. Its ending rewritten when studio head Daryl Zanuck's pal Walter Winchell stumbled over the initial denouement, Laura's plot is often absurd, but the movies Preminger had greater control over later in his career were never so subtle or dreamlike. Much as he hated it, he needed to be reined in.