The last few days, it has been cold in New York City, and the news has been hysterical, with bailouts and (possible) bankruptcies and more news on Obama's possible cabinet. (Tom Daschle for Health... it used to be called Health and Human Resources, but i think the name has been changed.) The buzz is about Hillary Clinton: will she accept Secretary of State? This has become a whole soap opera in itself, with everyone weighing in. The attempt by the executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler to get a bailout from the government was some sort of comedy: the men are such rich idiots that they didn't realize that their $20 plus million salaries look mighty bad when they're asking for $25 billion. And they flew to Washington in their own private jets. Which didn't sit well with the congressmen. In fact, it was a publicity fiasco. And Paulsson is an idiot: he went to Congress to explain why the Treasury should bail out companies and Wall Street, but not homeowners and small businesses. The situation seems clear: the government can take over the factories and the companies and kick the executives out. And that's it. The government can then decide to use the factories to manufacture whatever is really necessary for the country. And not hideously designed gas-guzzling cars. But then you hear all these idiots saying that the bailout is necessary. Well: the damned bailout of Wall Street was "necessary" and it doesn't seem to have stopped the bleeding of the economy. And will Wall Street (or GM or Ford) pay back the American people? I think not.
So much for that.
Well, tonight is Janet Gaynor night on TCM. Just watched "Small Town Girl" (1936, MGM, directed by William Wellman) and now watching "Sunrise".
Yesterday, watched "First Comes Courage", the last feature film directed by Dorothy Arzner. It was actually not bad, it's one of the more credible World War II Resistance melodramas. And Merle Oberon is also not bad. She's looser and less stiff and artificial than in most of her 1940s movies. The thing is: over the years, i'd heard Arzner being used as an example of a "terrible" director, yet her pre-Code movies are fast and quite well-done (movies like "Anybody's Woman" and "Sarah and Son", both starring Ruth Chatterton, or "Merrily We Go to Hell" starring Sylvia Sidney, or "Working Girls" which actually didn't have any big-name stars, but was one of her best movies); during the retrospective that Jytte Jensen put on at MoMA, for me one of the revelations was "Craig's Wife" because it was trim and streamlined but very elegantly crafted. (Because of "Harriet Craig", "Craig's Wife" had been long unavailable; it deserves to be more widely known, not just because it's one of Arzner's better movies, but it has a very fine dramatic performance by Rosalind Russell, the first one where you can tell she's going to be a star.)
On Monday, TCM had its Charles Laughton night (he's the Star of the Month) and i watched two movies (both of which i'd seen before): "The Old Dark House" (directed by James Whale) and "The Canterville Ghost" (directed by Jules Dassin). In terms of "The Canterville Ghost", Dassin had been directing programmers like the low-budget propaganda melodrama "Nazi Agent" (1942) and this was his first "A" budget movie. It's entertaining enough, Charles Laughton gets to show his comic talent, and Margaret O'Brien was still fresh (her next movie would be "Meet Me in St. Louis", also 1944).
But the interesting thing was to see Whale's "The Old Dark House", because there are so many things that are so odd and fey; in addition, there was almost a self-conscious decorative quality to a lot of the scenes, where the set-ups and the lighting were obviously patterned.
I guess what i'm trying to say is that, if you didn't know Whale was gay, would you suspect it from the comic and expressionistic overtones of "The Old Dark House"?
And this is hard to say, because the apparatus of the Hollywood machine was so strong.
Some obits: Grace Hartigan died over the weekend, Clive Barnes's death was just announced.
Anyway, it's been hard to get out, it's so cold (and it's only the middle of November), but tomorrow there's the screening of "Milk". And on Friday, "Wendy and Lucy" as well as Ferzak Ozpetek's "A Perfect Day".
The other important political news has been the sudden appearance of a new gay activism. Especially the passing of Proposition 8 in California (though similar measures were passed in other states, such as Florida and Arizona). This ban on gay marriage seems so retrograde. It's like this is the 21st Century, and we're still mired in prejudice. Yes, Obama was elected, but it's sparked a lot of hate crimes (especially in the South), and now, if black people are now "acceptable" (we've got a black president), well, there must be somebody that can be discriminated against, and gay people are just the perfect targets.
Only we're not the perfect targets anymore. (What i find so funny is that so many people now are saying that we shouldn't be angry, and we should try to see the other points of view... you know, it's like whites' anger and fear over Black Power... and it still happens. Just watch the hideous "View": Elizabeth Hasselback is always saying that black people are "racist" for expressing anger over white privilege, as if black people have no right to their righteous emotion for the centuries of oppression. Please!)
Anyway, over the weekend, i watched a short film made by Jenni Olson, "575 Castro Street" (which was the address of the store owned by Harvey Milk in San Francisco). It was quite a lovely short... consisting of shots of the (reconstructed) store interior (used as the set for the Gus Van Sant movie "Milk") accompanied by a taped message by Harvey Milk, which was made "in case of" his death. (Milk felt that he would be assassinated, because his stature as an openly gay man elected to public office was going to be under attack.)
Jenni's film brought to mind the attempts (since the 1960s) to find a way to meld "radical" content to formalism. On its own, it's a very evocative short: the "empty" interiors take on a ghostly quality as Milk's words (which foretell his assassination) pervade the space. Milk's own space is devoid of his presence, which is reinforced by his own words which explain the possibility of his absence.
I was reminded of how many people (Straub-Huillet, Marguerite Duras, Yvonne Rainer, Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey, William E. Jones) have attempted to create disjunctive relationships between sound and image. "575 Castro Street" is a evocative addition to this aesthetic legacy.
Well, now watching the last of the Janet Gaynor films, "Three Loves Has Nancy". Well, it's the kind of too-cute movie that looks like someone is trying to kill off her career: she just so damned winsome in this. (She's lucky that her last starring movies were the two Selznick produced ones, "A Star Is Born" and "Young In Heart" from 1937; of course, she'd return decades later playing Pat Boone's mother in "Bernadine".)