Duplicity (dir. Tony Gilroy, 2009) – Refreshing and helpful to see this one for the first time since the big screen. What stands out now is how it turns on its head the traditional caper movie, something that Gilroy was probably only too glad to do after penning the Bourne stuff. So what this amounts to is playing a trick on the cinema audience. Normally, as in the Oceans movies et al., we’re mostly informed as to the plan, but left in the dark about a key part of it so as to wow us at the end. That’s what we’re led to believe is happening in Duplicity, until the big upset twist at the end. The fact that it’s the corporate world that gets the best of the little guys (not to mention their corporate rival), is the movie’s reference point with reality. These days, even high-class thieves that look like Julia Roberts and Clive Owen can’t best the bigwigs in the high-rises.
A Hard Day’s Night (dir. Richard Lester, 1964) – We could by cynical about it and say it was intended to create a particular image for the Beatles, or we could be idealistic about it and say it embodied who they were, or we could be realistic and say that the truth, as always, is probably somewhere in the middle. Stylistically, its content is just so well-suited to its form. Despite the screaming girls in the background, John, Paul, George, and Ringo seem mostly ambivalent about them and prefer to goof off for the camera. It’s no accident that this came out just in time to incorporate a number of nouvelle vague techniques, since it was the same world that needed a major break in cinematic form as the one that needed a major change in popular music and accompanying persona.
The Palm Beach Story (dir. Preston Sturges, 1942) – Saw this one not too long ago, but just long enough ago that details are evading the memory. Recalling that everything is pretty wonderfully backwards about it; it turns the happily-ever-after story on its head, and explicitly so, from the beginning. While the rest of the country is recovering from the Depression, this couple is entering their own financial and romantic recession; or maybe Sturges thinks it’s finally kosher to joke around about financial woes. The target of his critique isn’t only the everyman, but the rich folks (“John D. Hackensacker” = John D. Rockefeller). As always dialogue and pacing are generally pretty quick; vintage Sturges. Some of the scenes, however, seem to lag on, although probably intentionally. The train car sequence is one of these, with a club of drunk men swooning over and serenading Claudette Colbert.
Frantic (dir. Roman Polanski, 1988) -Polanski is channeling Hitchcock here, as everyone can’t help but point out when they watch Frantic. It’s another case of urban spaces and the havoc they can wreak on the dweller, or, in this case, the tourist. The opening credits are overlaid on images of American Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) and his wife driving into Paris in a taxi (surely the inspiration for the opening shots of Lost in Translation and others). (The closing credits follow the couple back out of town toward the airport.) When a tire blowout halts their arrival in the city, we know immediately that Paris will throw plenty of curve balls at Walker, which he will be better at fixing than the Parisians (he seems more adept at changing the tire than the cab driver, but even then is prevented on account of a flat spare). The famous early shots in the hotel room split Walker and his wife within the same screen in both visual depth and aural fields; they often can’t hear each other or talk past each other. They’re on different pages, much in the same way that Walker won’t be able to communicate with the Parisians whose help he needs to locate his wife. So much suspense; so little that actually happens; so much depth of field; and so many of those dwarfing, claustrophobic de-profundis shots.
Point Blank (dir. John Boorman, 1967) – They call it a neo-noir, of the modernist sort (as opposed to simply “modern” or “postmodern”), since it utilizes noir themes and styles while critiquing its assumptions. That seems fair. Boorman injects formal surrealism into it, with a shockingly chaotic use of colors, liquids, cuts, and flashbacks. Walker can’t escape his past, figuratively, but we’re never quite sure if he’s escaped it literally. It may be all a dream, a vengeful fantasy. The centripetal urban space of traditional film noir is sacrificed for what L.A. really is: a sprawling, centrifugal, somehow-urban plain that scatters rather than gathers. One of the noir assumptions that Point Blank challenges and rejects is the practice of, simply, making assumptions. The one character whom Walker trusts and in whom he confides turns out to be the real enemy the whole time. This goes also for the spectator, who traditionally could trust whomever the protagonist trusts. We, like Walker, are punished for this misplaced faith. Also, instead of the war-torn gumshoe, the pretty-much upstanding private eye, we have here a war-torn criminal who’s been double-crossed. Let’s call a spade a spade; there’s something sinister lurking within the genre and there always has been, and Boorman has the guts to foreground it. Finally, can’t help but love the name “Walker,” especially when considering Dimendberg’s oft-cited work Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity, particularly the chapter on the “walking cure” as the temporary fix of urban malaise.