The Toll of the Sea, 1922. Lovely, lyrical and jewel-like, this silent film is the second ever to be made in Technicolor. Innovative wonder aside, it discloses something else: unrealized possibilities for expressing narrative using motion pictures. The editing is modern—in other words, the pattern of the way narrative frames are linked is already set in formula. Yet, incapable of using sound, and restricted by cameras that had to remain motionless while shooting, the film really consists of exquisitely animated portraits; and once this is recognized, a whole new possibility of making movies is opened: they would owe more to painting than theatre. But that direction wasn’t taken. Warhol’s late 1960s “screen tests” are a step in that direction—but by his time, such an approach was “experimental.” In 1922, it was how movies were made.
I am pleased to announce the publication of my novel Singapore Black, by Monsoon Books. Available now in print and ebook. For sales information, please follow this link:
Body Double, Brian De Palma. 1984. Film as a medium has barely evolved from its roots in penny-arcade peep-shows so films about peeping create a powerful resonance. Rear Window (1954) and The Conversation (1974) are classics in the genre, but BD takes it to the source by placing the narrative in the milieu of B-movies and hard-core porn. Frankie went to Hollywood and a star was born in all-nude Melanie Griffith, but it is De Palma, who wrote, directed, and produced, that created the peep-o-rama that we can’t quite forget. Weird editing, odd cinematography, fantastic set-pieces (the “panty stealing” chase sequence through a mirror-laden, high-class shopping mall is a masterpiece) all compensate for a one-dimensional plot. Craig Wasson’s turn as the main character (claustrophobic vampire, murder witness, porn star, hero) is especially notable.
Dark Passage, Delmer Daves. 1947. My favorite of the Bogie/Bacall films. The first 40 minutes is POV from Bogie’s character—an incredible feat if you consider the size of the cameras at the time. And it isn’t just a trick: the effect adds depth to the story. At its heart the film presents an existential crisis that plays directly into the noir ambiance—through POV, we become the main character. Switching that character’s identity mid-way through the film throws the authenticity of identity into question; along with the attendant intangibles like purpose, intention, and culpability. Thank goodness a goddess like Bacall is there to kiss our ouchie and make it all better; otherwise we’d be in a Camus novel, and that’s no fun at all.