. Obligatory weather remark; offhand comment that seems to say more than it really does, but is just a clever way of making an obvious parallel between seasonal patterns and the nature of life. Pathetic reference to the amount of work that must be done today, boo-fargin’-hoo; studious avoidance of bad international news of any sort, oblique reference to something mildly controversial said yesterday with an apology to people who long ago stopped reading, followed by an assertion that the brevity of today’s entry is, alas, unavoidable.

Followed by a fey 900 word digression on the word “alas,” concluding with a ink to Star Trek music clip whose wry, gently mocking flavor makes you think of Dr. McCoy arching an eyebrow at the end of the show, right before the Enterprise flies off into the producer’s credits

Man, these Bleats just write themselves!

I’m still on the Noir Home Film Festival. Overall impression I get is how grungy and hard America seems in these films. To which a serious student of film or history might well say no duh. It is, after all, noir, and hence is disinclined to show us the sunny side of the street. But as I’ve noted before, movies shot in the 40s use the urban environment of the teens and 20s. The interior shots are different – the nightclubs are modern, the gangster-moll’s flats are swank. But down the stairs and out the door you find an exhausted and careworn place. It’s as if they’d dropped a neutron bomb in 1923, and filled it two decades later with tired, desperate men who’d either survived the war and come back lean and angry, or men who avoided the war and were consumed with self-doubt and self-loathing. But again, we’re talking noir, not musicals or Andy Hardy pep-fests.

Watched “Gun Crazy,” one of those small knock-offs done on the cheap that somehow adds up to a remarkable little movie. I saw it many years ago on late-night TV, and was knocked out by the bank-robbery sequence; after a few minutes, you realize that this is elapsing in real time, with no edits. And it keeps going. And going. They didn’t have to do that, but they did, and that’s the sort of directorial curiousity and inventiveness that lifts the movie up into top-ten lists. Story: from childhood a kid is obsessed with guns. Not because they give him the power of life and
death – he shot a bird once, and was filled with terrible remorse. No, he’s just good at shooting, and he likes being good at something. So he steals one. He’s caught. Off to juvie. Then the army. He comes home to Cashville (perhaps this small town in Virginia? It’s close to “Troublesome Creek,” which would fit nicely), meets a bad girl when the fair comes to town, and it’s proto Bonnie-and-Clyde from there.

John Dall gives a great performance as Jimmy Stewart’s dumber brother, and he makes the movie. You could have plugged any number of interchangeable hard-faced snarling doxies into the female role. You don’t root for her; you root for him, until the film makes you as disappointed with him as he is with himself. A few screen shots.

Our hero as a young boy. Recognize him?

This is a great shot. Trust me. The couple has just lost their bankroll in Vegas; they’re spending their last few dimes on burgers in a greasy diner. The point-of-view is the grill man; the shot starts with his hands working a spatula. The camera tilts up to show us the proto-Buscemi counterman, who gives us a look of disgust that throws a cement block through the fourth wall.

I’m a sucker for small-town commercial districts; this one has plenty of scenes. Got a time machine? I'd pay a hundred bucks to walk around that street, look in the windows, read the papers, smoke a Lucky.

The final shoot-out takes place in a foggy swamp . . . at the top of a mountain. Don’t ask. The world has dissolves around our hero. He started here:

He ends here.

And, in case there’s any doubt:

Would it be too much to ask for movies to put THE END on screen at, you know, the end? Now movies just peter out – cast, technical crew, catering, bond completion, animal wrangler, soundtrack available from Sony Columbia, any similarity living or dead, no animals harmed, lens by Panaflex, production company logo, c. MMIV, all scrolling up into the inky void.

I’d sit through all of that in exchange for a good THE END.

Also watched “Pickup on South Street,” a 1953 Sam Fuller movie given the full Criterion Collection treatment, and for good reason. It’s just terrific. I mention it only because the DVD has trailers for Fuller’s other movies, including the trashy stuff he did in the 60s. They’re depressing. I’ve read reviews of these movies, and devotees of this sort of stuff praise his gritty freewheeling style, etc., but these essays always strikes me as the sort of giddy onanistic nonsense you get from Tarantino wannabees. They look like newsreels from a culture in steep decline, and you can just imagine the theaters where they played: old tired movie houses stripped of their ornamentation, curtains reeking of smoke and mildew, sticky floors, blank-faced loners sitting in a seat of empty frayed seats waiting for a boob shot. Two still from the trailers. From “Shock Corridor,” a movie about a mental institution:

Nine out of ten psychiatrists say: “uh huh. Right.” From “The Naked Kiss” –

She’s punching out the camera here. The camera is you. It’s the font that depresses me. It’s not just a bad face, it’s a typical one for its time, which tells you something about graphic arts in the 60s. And it reminds me of the “Let’s Make a Deal” font as well. Less said the better.


Still don’t recognize the kid?

How about this?

Still don’t recognize the kid?

I thought so. Ladies and Gentlemen, Russ Tamblyn, Jet.

I’m done – gotta work. Today is a dreaded two-column day, but at least it’s made easier by the cooler weather. No desire to sit outside in the twilight now; October pushes us indoors, and it’s just as well. There are things to do. But still, summer’s gone; winter growls beyond.



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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks