Sunset Boulevard [1950)

This is the story of O.J. Simpson.

This is the story of Phil Spector.

Too much foreshadowing?

Scramble.  Scramble.

Scramble the meaning.

This is Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon come to life.

Fifteen years before anger published.

In France they have Angers.

And every George is a multiple.


But what passion!

Yes, dear friends…

Sunset Boulevard is one of the strangest films ever made.

If you want to know from whence Mulholland Drive came, start here.


Mulholland Dr.

If you’re really daft (and I am), you’ll think you’re watching that guy who played The Professor on Gilligan’s Island in one of the best films you’ve ever seen.

But there’s a big fucking difference between Russell Johnson and William Holden.

Or is there?

Just let the wind blow through the bellows of the pipe organ for a moment.

And imagine yourself in a dream so dark it could be a nightmare.

But it’s merely spooky.

The great art.

Has mystery.

What was director Billy Wilder groping for?

Never mind, for a second, the bursting cast.

Every extra a novel in themselves.

Just the story of Sunset Boulevard is enough to make a thinking person stagger into the intersection on the Rue Campagne-Première.

But there are so many intersections…

Mon ami.

It starts bad.

Like a second-rate Raymond Chandler ripoff.

But it compels you to stay with it.

A little underwater photography.


The adjective.

So much hinges on Paramount Pictures.

The gate.

The arch.

And how criticism can thwart a career.

The straw that broke the needle in the camel’s eye.

It’s like something out of Breathless or Dr. No.

The precipitous turn.

Kicking up dust.

Before the boulevard was broken dreams and crack vials.


Just ordinary fascism.

Triumph over violins.

And we trace the line.

A shoulder.

A chin.

A palazzo.  A collection of post-Impressionists.

Because we want to know.

For nothing could be more mysterious.

Lost a husband to the Spanish flu.

Lost two more, too.

But one lives as a ghost.

And his monocle groove is strangely vacant.

Erich von Stroheim.


Whether in a Jean Renoir picture or here.

Whether behind the camera or acting in his own film.

In two places at once.

Like Schrodinger’s cat.

But nobody remembers Schrodinger’s chimpanzee.

And a little coffin.

And the steps Stroheim has to take to stand in a hole.

This is the story of Michael Jackson.

This is the story of Emmett Miller.

Not gone, but forgotten.

And it is the true way entertainment worked.

When mass media was born.

At a million miles an hour.


Or 1898.

Churning out pictures.

From the dream factory.

And wax cylinders.

And who cares about these young girls…we can always find more.

But Buster Keaton sits in for Miller.

Because there is nothing more sad than a sad clown.

The waxworks…

The rogues gallery.

It could have been Elektra.

But it had to be Richard Strauss.

1909.  1911.

Great silence on one coast.

And great noise on the other.

Direct from Europe.

This is the story of Thora Birch.

The greatest star who ever was.

And I am just a humble servant.


There will be Max.

Always a sadness over beauty.

When beauty is counted in but one way.

One dimension.

3-D clustered, but without 4 time.

But you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

And actors are all full of nothing.

Must empty out.

Each time.

To fully fill.

May the best shell win!

So that she stalks the shit outta him.

Like some Transylvanian octopus.

And Igor schleps his stuff in the middle of the night.

Like some dream from Dreyer’s Vampyr.

What the fuck?!?

Poor William Holden is living in the decline of the West.

The sagging tennis court.

The bowling alley in the basement we never see.

Because it would be like the Biltmore on hard times.

Truly grotesque.

Decay.  And decadence.

Taken separately.  Different connotations.

A piece of rotting fruit in the trash.

And champagne supernovas of drunken, naked excess.

But they are one and the same.

When rooted word-wise to rot.

Gloria Swanson is the hysterical car-wreck-of-an-actress here.

You can’t look away.

Bride of Frankenstein.  Hell, Frankenstein himself.  Sex changed.  Sexless.

More hideous internally than externally.

And more nuts than the peanut gallery of an old picture house.

But no locks.

Perhaps a lock of hair…

But no gas.

No blades.


It’s quite a spooky thing to be trapped in such luxury.

Such trappings.

Camelhair.  Vicuña.

What the hell!

She’s paying, right???


For godsake, man…Valentino danced the tango here!

But now the tarantula hums.

Manipulative receives new meaning.

An actress.  A star!  And that Roaring Twenties, gilded, cocksure, brassy optimism.

Unfazed by decades of disuse.

“She’s doin’ the ballet on/both of her wrists”


If Echo & the Bunnymen were around in 1950…

William Holden has been sucked in.

To a vortex.

And it ain’t no fun.

No funny business.  No funnymen.

Plenty of echoes.

Of his past life.

Mingled with her omnipresent portraiture fecundating the stale mansion.

“He could die happily ever after”

Bob Dylan knew about the pillars.

And the pillory of fame.

And so C. B. DeMille was a natural choice.

To depict the heartbreak.

Of a washed up life.

Hate to break it to you, kid…

But the diva is in denial.

Yes, the bitch is back.

Take Elton and a whole gaggle of crocodiles…and the Isotta Fraschini with the leopard seats.

Several leopards died for your ass(es).

How’s the weather up there?

And so she rides a white swan because she’s born to boogie.

With the swagger of Bolan.

Norma Desmond.

Monomaniacal about beheading the past.

On a platter.

American montage shows the unwieldy devices–to make young again.

Strobo-oscillo-sonic skin tauteners.

Franju had a less frightening story sans yeux.

Face without eyes.

Ah! […]

But the eyes have it all!!!

The fire of once-great dominance.

Champagne.  Caviar.

The eeriness of Sunset Boulevard is that Gloria Swanson WAS once a great star (sort of).

And even more so, Erich von Stroheim WAS (REALLY FUCKING WAS) a great director!

And so Billy Wilder managed to tell their stories.

Only the names were changed to protect the guilty.

Devotion till the end.

Love for cinema.

Love for a woman.

A woman is a drum.

Where’s Duke Ellington when you need him???



Film noir.

Horizontal shafts of light.

But shadows all the more prominent.

This is our Rembrandt.

Our chiaroscuro.

How insensitive…

Norma with bitter, vindictive precision.

And then the curtain is pulled back on the waterworks.

And the fucking Pompidou explodes in hideous reds of dysfunction.


Come and see where I live.

In a lonely place…

Maybe it’s better you don’t know me.

But he really wants to say, “Will you marry me?”

On this night.

What sadness.

We think such overwrought misery only exists in the movies.

But the intersections of real life sometimes make such tragedy possibly.

And we shouldn’t wish such on our worst enemies.

She can’t stand the shock.

But cinema is the ultimate beauty.

So fragile at the end…

We give thanks to see such a picture.

To see Stroheim one more time.

“Alright, boys…  Let’s rev up those cameras!”

To see the silent era stagger down the stairs one more time.

Like a wrought-iron flower.

With a green patina.

Nickelodeons penny on the dollar.

Kicked to the curb.

Save for Langlois.

She just needed one more shot at youth.

It was too much, too soon.

One last shot in the arm of that excitement!

That camaraderie of Hollywood.

Before it became a drag.

Her youth.

Memory is scary as hell.


Twin Peaks “Rest in Pain” [1990)

Science thinks it knows what religion doesn’t.

Religion thinks it knows what science doesn’t.

Science thinks.

Religion feels.

Romance is a sort of religion.


But beautiful.

These are the issues in this rather unremarkable episode of Twin Peaks.

The romance of film criticism seeks to give no spoilers.

Break the code, solve the case.

Handwriting analysis…seems as old and mystical as phrenology.

Because today it is stylometry.

Were it not for Snowden, we’d still be in the dark.


Hoping David Sanborn makes an album called Kryptos.

Or not.




There’s easier ways to get jobs.

To make verb tenses agree.

And to verb agreements tense.

Word pie lay.

The fragments are essential.

Each piece.

Piece by piece.

With ice cream on the side.

Huckleberry H.

Scalia was whisked off.

Like a broom.

He had been a jack of one-eyed secret society.  Guest.  SS.

Pound’s poetry didn’t go this deep.

But deeper.

To Colombian hell.

It’s trying to think.

Puttin’ on the Ritz.

I thought it was her.

A cipher.

Shame on me.

Eric Da Re.  Doremi Fasol Latido.

Rest in pain.


The biggest asshole in television history.

Vs. a perception sharpest blade mind ever.

Even for an actor.

Kyle MacLachlan.

Sherlock Holmes.

A perverse sense of knowing.

Raymond Chandler.

Several stops and starts to get here.

Like the end of Vivre sa vie.

And like the beginning.

Michel Legrand subject to the most genius whims ever.

Lynch is our Godard.

Where the Germans have Schoenberg, we have Ives.

Not the best metaphor.

But perfect.

Length trying your patience.

I know.

Like the end of Vivre sa vie.

Where we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

That is the bathos of mechanical mayhem.  Haywire sob hiccups.

G’uh g’uh g’uh.

Over and over and over and over and over again.

The Vladimir Poutine syndicate have goldBRICked with the Meow Zedong overseas intelligence amoeba to form a truly Quebecois brand of! Godspeed.

Kinda like that hockey scene from Strange Brew.

Messiaen at the organ.


Sont.  Hellfire.  Bohemian.

No Moloch or Moulouk can do it justice.

Moulouk vs. Bébert.

Oui.  C’est Ça.

There’s always two sets of books.



Across the Pacific [1942)

Spies, spies; every where, Nor any secret to glean.  Je t’aime… moi non plus

“Picasso is Spanish, me too. Picasso is a genius, me too. Picasso is a communist, me neither.”  Ah, Dalí.  Only a man who enjoyed roasted grapefruits as an appetizer would have the twisted wit to turn Western logic upon its head.

Coleridge.  Gainsbourg.  Bogart.  Indeed, the albatross was heavy round the necks of all at this time…not least for John Huston.  We begin with détournement and continue with dérive.

Dear Mr. Huston didn’t even get the chance to complete this film before having his work taken over by Vincent Sherman.  This was truly an age of war.  Hot war.

The original film premise was to depict a Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor…until the Japanese actually did just that.  Oops!  And so it was rewritten to focus on the Panama Canal Zone.  A sabotage incident (which would have likewise sparked off American mass involvement) is the linchpin of our drama.

Sydney Greenstreet once again plays a slippery character (and what is more, referred to again as “the fat man”).  It wouldn’t be too long before Greenstreet’s soubriquet was transposed onto the plutonium bomb which destroyed Nagasaki.  This was no coincidence.

After arriving in Panama Bogart continues his work for Army intelligence by meeting with A.V. Smith (Charles Halton).  On Smith’s desk, conspicuously in plain view, is a calendar and the date:  Dec. 6, 1941.  Time is of the essence.

Bogart’s character is named Rick.  His pal Lee Tung Foo is called Sam.  Sound familiar?

Yes, just two months after Across the Pacific, Casablanca would be released with Bogart as another Rick and Dooley Wilson as Sam the piano player.  Greenstreet had been “the Fat Man” the previous year in The Maltese Falcon (also directed by Huston).  That film had likewise starred Mary Astor who appears in Across the Pacific as Alberta Marlow.  Bogart would go on to play Philip Marlowe in Howard Hawks’ masterful version of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1946).  It all gets a bit confusing, doesn’t it?  Let’s just call it the fog of noir, shall we?

To keep accounts straight…we should remember that Casablanca was directed not by Huston, but by Michael Curtiz.

Reentering the atmosphere of film criticism proper…this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, but not the juggernaut that some Bogart outings came to be.  It is perhaps most of interest as the precipice which our star occupied just before Casablanca.  Though it is less known than The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep (among many other Bogie films), it is well-worth watching.



The Maltese Falcon [1941)

Bogart is our “three day stubble” hero–our five-o’clock shadow warrior.  “Tough without a gun,” said Raymond Chandler.  Indeed, Bogart as Sam Spade herein disarms a couple of gun-wielding punks through his ingenuity alone.  Quick movements.  Think fast.

In a tough profession one must roll with the punches.  Bogie’s partner is murdered?  Life must go on.  Extra space on the signage?  Put my full name:  Samuel Spade.

Yes, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) is indispensable.  John Huston turns in an astounding film for a first-time director.  But the whole enterprise is carried by Humphrey.

There is a reason why Huston was slighted by the French New Wave and Bogart was not.  Huston was not at all a bad director.  It was just that the discrepancy became clear when the brilliant Bogart was placed at the disposal of Howard Hawks or Nicholas Ray.  One needs only watch another juggernaut debut (Breathless by Godard) to see the esteem which Bogie accrued with the French film culture which would give intellectual validity to American films previously considered mere pulp entertainment.



North by Northwest [1959)

A film critic’s most daunting task is tackling that which has been pored over for decades.  What can be left to write about a film such as this?  This is no doubt one of the most famous movies ever made.  What has accounted for its “staying power?”

There is, of course, the well-tailored Cary Grant in his grey suit and tie (grey tie) thinking thin while suavely moving between Madison Ave. and points west.  There is the deliciously-evil James Mason whose one-liners ring with Shakespearean gravity in their chilly enunciation.  Even Martin Landau…with his iconic, effeminately-sinister visage makes a lasting mark upon the viewer’s brain.  And then there is Eva Marie Saint:  her glowing locks like Garbo in Technicolor.  These are great characters, but there is something more.

Situations.  What would Sartre and Debord make of this dissection?  This critical tangent?  The crop duster scene.  Surrealism.  Beckett, but back to Finnegans Wake.  Somehow screenwriter Ernest Lehman tapped into the non sequitur nature of Joyce’s masterpiece (akin to Hawks’ approach in The Big Sleep [by way of Raymond Chandler]).  It is one of the greatest situations in cinema.  There are few scenes more iconic than Cary Grant in full stride trying futilely to outrun an approaching plane.

The overarching situation involves the C.I.A.  Leo Carroll is fantastic in the short-but-powerful role of The Professor.  We sense a Donald Rumsfeld sort of character.  Polite.  Gentlemanly.  But certainly a man of the cloth in the dark arts.  It is perhaps fitting that we end up atop Mount Rushmore…that gargantuan creation of Gutzon Borglum (himself a mysterious if not shadowy personage).

But all of these methods merely attempt to approach what can be summed up only as essential cinematic viewing.  In Hitchcock here we find an apex of craftsmanship and imagination.  Not even the masterful performance of Grant can usurp the controlling role of our auteur.  It is a slippery slope.  Had the film failed to deliver; failed to age well, it would have been Hitchcock’s fault.  Somehow this greatest of all directors managed to make all the elements work together in a dramatic harmony of color.  Cinema is the closest we come to a truly synesthetic art.  When films start to differentiate themselves by their smells and the ways they literally touch us, we will have tasted the future.  For now, pinnacles such as North by Northwest have yet to be surpassed.