Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [2010)

Edgar Wright knows how to make a film.

Emotion.

Like Samuel Fuller said in Pierrot le fou:

“Film is like a battleground. There’s love, hate, action, violence, death… in one word: emotion.”

And that from a guy who was ACTUALLY a soldier.

Fuller.

The Big Red One.

U.S. 1st Infantry Division.

Fuller.

A soldier.

And then a director.

A formative influence on Jean-Luc Godard.

But I digress.

Scott Pilgrim… is a masterpiece.

I didn’t think it would be.

It seemed too cutesy.

The signage.

Too hipster.

Faux cool.

Cookie cutter.

But it passes the test.

The moment is much like Simon Pegg’s “Oh, fuck off you big lamp” in Wright’s The World’s End.

Derrida and all golden-ratio-seeking creators would likely pinpoint a line from the redhead drummer:  “We are Sex Bob-Omb and we are here to watch Scott Pilgrim kick out teeth in!!!  One two three four!!!!”

You’ve lost a lot.

Now you win.

 

-PD

 

Sixteen Candles [1984)

If you don’t believe John Hughes was a genius, see this film.

Seriously.

Because I didn’t believe.

Though Hughes made one of my favorite 1980s comedies (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), I didn’t really get it.

It being the John Hughes phenomenon.

While the cool kids had it figured out long ago, I was too contrarian to listen.

Now I get it.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is truly a special film, but Sixteen Candles is transcendent art.

Don’t laugh.

What would André Bazin make of this film?  Or Gilles Deleuze?  Or Christian Metz?

Who cares???

Well, I care…

But what’s important is what YOU make of it.

And in this case, what I make of it.

But let’s get one thing straight:  Molly Ringwald invented the archetype which Thora Birch and Kat Dennings would later appropriate in doubtless homage.

Which is to say, Molly Ringwald is otherworldly as an actress in this film.

It’s no wonder Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his wonderful, underrated, masterful version of King Lear (1987).

Quentin Tarantino famously claimed (à la Bob Dylan’s conflated biography circa-1962) that he was in King Lear, but Molly Ringwald was ACTUALLY in it.

But enough about QT and nix on the digressions.

So no, I am no Henri Langlois to claim that Sixteen Candles should be in MoMA’s permanent collection, but there is good reason to compare this film favorably to Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings of 1939.

But none of this shit really matters.

What matters is the part in Gedde Watanabe’s hair at the dinner table.

And even more so (big time)–> is the indescribable Anthony Michael Hall.

AT&T gets it.  Which means the seemingly wonderful Milana Vayntrub ostensibly gets it.

But I’m not sure the understanding flows both ways.

Because America has changed.

We are much closer to the year 1984 (as opposed to Orwell’s 1984) here in late-2016 than to any other period of American experience.

Yeah, Michael Schoeffling could only come from the Reagan era.

But he’s a great guy.  And a fine actor.

And Sixteen Candles teaches us a lot of stuff.

John Hughes, as a film philosopher, is precocious in his grasp of American society in the 1980s.

The outcast wins.

But the conservative wins too.

Really, everybody wins.

That’s what value-creation will do.

But let’s back to A.M. Hall.  This bloke…

What a performance!

And the real chemistry in this film is between Ringwald and Hall.

In the auto body shop.

And so what do we get?

Romance.  Misery.  And tons of fucking jokes.

We must congratulate John Hughes as much for his writing as his direction.

The previous year he had written National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase.

Years later he’d write a stellar reboot for the series in Christmas Vacation (also starring Chase).

You want more movies Hughes wrote but didn’t direct?  How about Home Alone? [check] Or Pretty in Pink (starring Ringwald)?  [check]

But let’s get another thing straight:  this was John Hughes’ fucking DIRECTORIAL DEBUT!!!

But none of this shit matters.

What matters is Molly Ringwald crying in the hallway.

What matters is Molly practicing her potential lines before reentering the dance.

Molly talking on the phone with the Squeeze poster on the wall.

Molly freaking out and taking flight over fight.

And immediate regret.

What films do this?

Perhaps in 1955 we would have looked at Rebel Without a Cause in a similar way.

And rightly so.

Sixteen Candles is its progeny of uncertain admixture.

Looking through the yearbook.

And seeing the one.

The one who burns in your heart.

In America, this is realism (couched in slapstick and screwball).

Molly Ringwald is the loser who wins.

And Anthony Michael Hall is the hopeless dweeb who also wins…by sheer force of will.

There are genuine moments of panic in this film (as soft as they might be) regarding missed communication.  Telephone calls.  House calls.

And it adds just the right touch of anxiety to keep this film catalyzed and moving along.

But what makes all this believable?  The supporting cast.

John and Joan Cusack (especially Joan, whose life make’s Ringwald’s look like a bed of roses).  And John’s future MIT roommate (it would seem) Darren Harris.

But there’s one of the crew which deserves a little extra credit…and that is music supervisor Jimmy Iovine.

The tunes are right.  The attention to detail is solid.

Sound and image merge (as Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller had impressed upon Godard that they should) into sonimage (a word Godard would use for his production company Sonimage).

Even the cassette spitting unspooling tape onto the pizza turntable is perfect.

The cassette?  Fear of Music by Talking Heads.

Yes, Brian Eno.

And yes, “Young Americans” as they leave the driveway on the way to the wedding before the famous “au-to-mo-bile” scene.

David Bowie.

Even The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra doing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor…briefly. [which lets our minds drift to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator]

Everything is right sonically.

The band instruments on the school bus.

The Dragnet quotes.

The gongs for Long Duk Dong.

“Lenny” by SRV in the car.  Half a car.

It’s so very sweet.  And sotto voce.  And real.

It’s a mix.  It doesn’t intrude.  You gotta unlock the passenger door to your heart to let this film in.

And a little Billy Idol as Anthony Michael Hall negotiates a Rolls Royce and a prom queen.

So rest in peace, John Hughes.  And thank you for this film.

Et je vous salue, Molly!  Merci for the film.

And thank you Anthony Michael Hall for capturing my youth and bottling it up.

Thank you Molly for capturing the one I loved and bottling up all the quirky, quixotic things which I cannot see anymore.

It is the immortality principle of film.

John, Molly, and Anthony…three geniuses of film.

I am profoundly grateful.

-PD

Jamaica Inn [1939)

This film is even more disgusting than Psycho.  Disgust.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Moral ambiguity.

This is what made Hitchcock great.  Like Dostoyevsky, Hitchcock brought to life those personages who were between good and evil.

In the words of Henry Miller, “They were alive and they spoke to me.”

Authors.  Real authors.  Blood and guts authors.  Authors who left everything on the page.  Every shred of emotion.

Samuel Fuller would have been proud of such authors.

We must remember Fuller’s cameo from Pierrot le Fou.  His words are instructive:

“Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word . . . emotion.”

And though Hitchcock was perhaps the greatest film auteur to ever live, we must not neglect the source material.

Though auteur theory would argue otherwise, it was indeed Daphne du Maurier who concocted this perfect story.

And, as another affront to the politique des auteurs, we must acknowledge that this film would be far less powerful were it not for the all-world talents of actors Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.

For those wishing a parallel to Ian Fleming’s Dr. No (set in Jamaica), this film has absolutely nothing to do with Jamaica.

Jamaica Inn is merely the name of the roadside lodging in this period piece set in 1819 Cornwall.

But like a good James Bond film, a believable villain makes all the difference in sustaining the dramatic tension.

Laughton is just that villain.

Though Jamaica Inn is not as powerful and iconic as Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is (in my opinion) a strong competitor against his film Rebecca.  And why focus on these three films exclusively?  Because they were all from du Maurier stories.

What is more, I would argue that Jamaica Inn is every bit as good as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).  Why that comparison?  Because it featured the same duo (in the same year):  Laughton and O’Hara.

As for O’Hara, this was for all practical purposes her true film debut (in a starring role while assuming the screen name with which she would become famous).  For all of my effusive praising of Saoirse Ronan, it should be noted that Maureen O’Hara was a sort of Irish prototype for the panache Ronan would bring to the screen these many years later.

But nothing tops Laughton here.  Hitchcock was still honing his skills towards a mature style.  Laughton creates a character both laughable and hideous.  It is not the visceral aversion of the Hunchback, but rather an elite, condescending, corrupt local squire (and justice of the peace).  Laughton is the law.  He relishes his position as he savors his victuals.

Life and simulation.  In real life, Laughton fought for O’Hara…insisting she be given the lead role (and her first, as noted earlier).

It should be noted that past critics have eviscerated this film.  Let it be noted that their pretensions are largely unfounded.

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

[THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD

Masculin feminin: 15 faits precis [1966)

I don’t write about the film, I write about me.  I don’t write about the film, I write about the world.  No.  I write about the film the best I can.  I am on a mission to start every sentence with I…from now to the end of eternity.  Not quite.

I don’t know what pops up in your reader.  You know about the reader?  Tell me about the reader, Charles…  Yes?  And???  Right.  The reader writes.  Correct!

We are some macro-blogging mofos.  Four times I wrote it and four times it autocorrected to micro.  And so the stupid hyphen.  Just like the titles.  Diacritical marks are the first to go in totalitarian societies.  Then the dollar words.  Soon, all words which might express inefficient, ineffective concepts such as tenderness.

Now we are rolling.  Give the anarchist a cigarette!

D’accord…

Allors…

Jean-Pierre Léaud was the Jason Schwartzman of the 60s…or vice versa.  And while we might think primarily of Truffaut, here we see Léaud in a truly penetrating role.

Chantal Goya.  She plays the ice-cold bitch pretty well…completely meretricious, vacuous, etc.

And then we run into red hypertext “links” for Catherine-Isabelle Duport and Michel Debord.

Yeah, we all know:  the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.  Could have been.  Tarzan vs. IBM.  Could have been.  The ape and the onion.  Mercury Rev.

Well, yes:  it could have been.  Today.  Particularly dreary.  All week.  Usually I embrace it.  Pretend like I’m Liam Gallagher in Manchester.  But not today.  Not this week.  Only shadows in the night gets it right.

It’s a bummer.  I’m too old to be young.  Too perverted to be romantic.  Too romantic to live.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

And yes:  I catch the aspect ratio.  I yell Trotskyite.  Not really, but parallel.  I detest the cowardice…when I myself am a basket-case.  It’s ok.  We are human.

We remember Marx and Coca-Cola, but we forget James Bond and Vietnam.  We forget the military-industrial complex.

Let me tell you how it happened.  I lay down as always with my sea-foam-green (eau-de-nil) headphones ready to continue my reflection on the great oeuvre.  And my computer doesn’t cooperate.  It’s as if I have conjured the spirit of JLG.  The sound outraces the picture.  Chaplin-fast to Notre Musique-slow.  The waves come crashing in.  Ingmar is hijacked and ridiculized.

Translation:  my computer won’t play the disc.  After 15 minutes of relatively good play, it jerks and stops and pauses and reloads in an endless loop.  It’s like as a kid with that De La Soul CD…I’d physically pick up the player an inch and let it drop down.  Somehow it would catch.  It was just that disc.  No, not this time.

I have cared for this film like a child.  It is one of many baby Jesuses in my Jodorowsky stable.  Manger.

And so I traveled far to rewatch this.  Fifteen paces maybe.  15.  So what?

Et allors?

Pauvre Wikipedia.  Lion-wannabe.  Quick!  Call Tim Rice and Elton John.  Pathetic.

Yes, she keeps abreast of the pop charts.  Cashbox.  And he likes her type of breasts.  Why not say it?

And isn’t there anything else you like about me?  Well, Miss 19, there’s not much more to like.  A Big Mac and a pair of Nikes and you’re happy.

Yes, Seymour Glass.  I’m sure he just backed up too far on the balcony…trying to get all two of them in the picture…in Florida…like Richard Manuel.

Duport eats a bananafish.  Marquis de Sade.  Such a perfect day.  Cassis and mineral water.  And Orangina for Marlène Jobert.  Perhaps.  Who cares.

You can tell a redhead even in black and white.  She should have been more famous.  Eva Green’s mom.

yé-yé all day long

Mozart

the orchestra is fantastic

clarinet concerto

middle movement

Paul.  Again with the Paul.  It started tentatively in Vivre sa vie.  And then Paul Javal.  Contempt.  In the name of the father.  And now again without Christian name like Le Chiffre.  James Bond and Vietnam.  Same complex.  Inferiority.  Military-industrial.

With that I am at 666 words.  Ed Sanders decides to consult Harry Smith on how to levitate the Pentagon.  Exercise the demons.  Nothing like a demon with love handles. Give ’em a good workout.

B-A-C-H.  Psychotic fugue on the Mashed Potato.  Dee Dee Sharp.

What other kind of fugue is there?!?  Jonny Greenwood would surely tell you it’s reversible.  Amnesiac.

ménage à quatre

bullshit

intellectual parlor games

Wikipedia

I know.  I know.  Hawaiian.  Quick!  Vite!

caméra-couteau

probing, probing

like Tony Parker

pass the goddamn ball

I’m not sure you want to know.  I am a lip-reader.  Baudelaire.  Au lecteur.  Samuel Fuller.  Les Fleurs du mal.  No one under 18 admitted.  Strictly no admittance.  778 words and I haven’t gotten to the film.

-PD

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist [2008)

The great director Samuel Fuller said in a cameo during Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou that, “Film is like a battleground.  Love.  Hate.  Action.  Violence.  Death.  In one word…emotion.”  Writing about film is often an intellectual parlor game.  Drop the right reference.  Sound erudite.  But one must confront the emotion of film with the emotion of criticism…in a harmony of pathos.

This film makes me cry.  We’ve all heard a similar phrase, but perhaps never applied to this new classic from director Peter Sollett.  When this film came out, I needed this film.  It restored my faith in the romantic quest–to find a soul mate.

From the opening titles this film hits all the right notes.  Much has been made of Sofia Coppola’s prescient use of music in her films.  To not only employ the proto-shoegaze of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” (The Virgin Suicides), but also follow it up with some MBV (Lost In Translation) before Kevin Shields and company mercifully reformed a few years later is, in a word, genius.  However, Peter Sollett and crew (editor Myron Kerstein and music supervisor Linda Cohen) score a coup right off the bat which sets the stage for a brilliant cinematic experience…intertwined with the trappings and longings which a life in music (whether as performer or enthusiast) weaves into our thoughts and very being.

Simply put, “Speed of Sound” by former Big Star member Chris Bell is my favorite song off of his posthumously released masterpiece I Am The Cosmos.  To know that someone else felt the same way about this particular composition is really what Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is all about.

Chris Bell was a homosexual heroin addict in the deep South (Memphis) who got kicked out of his own band, ended up working at his dad’s hamburger restaurant, and (like Marc Bolan) died when his car collided with a tree.  That such a sensitive soul was subjected to such unbefitting circumstances and then layed down the tracks at Château d’Hérouville for the sublime strains which open this picture is truly touching.  Sure, “In The Street” by Big Star (from his time in the band as co-writer) was used as the theme for That ’70s Show, but the song placement for “Speed of Sound” long after his death is a tribute to both his genius and the artistry of Peter Sollett and his team.

But here I have up and gone on a tangent…and deviated from my goal of emotion for emotion.

Reset.  A few days ago.  My birthday.  I walk into Barnes & Noble with a fistful of dollars.  I look at almost every DVD in the joint.  Criterion, action, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller, drama, comedy…even family!  And I come out of the place with one film:  the one under review.

The reason is simple.  Kat Dennings is an acting goddess among (mostly) prattling girls.  With this film she took up the reins which Thora Birch strangely released after Ghost World.  Peter Sollett has made a timeless film of equal to the cinematically stunning aforementioned Terry Zwigoff gem.

But back to Dennings.  There are moments in this film (very few) where her acting might be termed hesitant, but in retrospect I believe this to be part of the Norah character which she was conveying with the utmost thespian delicacy.  For the vast majority of her screen time, she shines like the new star which she is.  I imagine that I’m not the only one who came away from this film wishing that her character was real and that I might meet a Norah around the next corner (just as Thora Birch had made me believe that Enid Coleslaw was really out there somewhere).

A word about Michael Cera.  I didn’t think much of his acting on first view, but I realize now that his droll comic timing might just presage his emergence as the Woody Allen of this generation.  He is, without a doubt, talented beyond many of his peers.

Kudos to writers Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (as well as to screenwriter Lorene Scafaria) for working the Where’s Fluffy? idea into this tapestry (almost like a nod to The Residents…mysterious anonymity in rock music).  Likewise, the supporting cast here is essential and outstanding (particularly Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron).  Also indispensable is Jonathan B. Wright in the small role as Lethario.

Two final bits about this music-infused juggernaut…  The Electric Lady Studios portion (particularly the potentially unwieldy orgasm segment) is director Sollett at his finest.  As the VU meters monitor a keyed mic in the main room we are brought the irresistible symbology which the auteur has been tracing throughout this hipster Easter egg chase in a yellow Yugo…perhaps zipping past the parking garage where Warhol’s Factory used to stand…speeding with exhilaration over the Velvets’ old stomping grounds…the deli where Max’s Kansas City once stood (but now with a mile-long sneeze guard around its salad bar)…maybe past the empty hole where the Mercer Arts Center once stood before it collapsed.  Director Sollett takes us “into the red” at just the right moment…just as Lou Reed knew when to step on the stompbox after delivering the line “and then my mind split open” in the song “I Heard Her Call My Name” from the classic angst-fueled White Light/White Heat album (1968).

Last bit…Mark Mothersbaugh delivers just the right dose of simpatico for this journey to the end of the night.  Thank you friends.  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.

-PD

Dr. No [1962)

Strangways, here we come.  We shan’t be arriving at Ian Fleming International Airport.  It doesn’t exist yet.  Nay, not till 2010 would the quite-real airport process its first international passenger (the singer Jimmy Buffett, as it turns out) under its newly christened name.  When James Bond arrived in the history of cinema, he disembarked at Palisadoes Airport (now Norman Manley International).

The year was 1958.  The place Jamaica.  Dr. No operates his guano mine on an island nearby to Kingston.  In the film it would become a bauxite mine.  Indeed, by the time Fleming wrote Dr. No (his sixth James Bond novel) he had been enjoying a yearly retreat to his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica to write for some years.  He first purchased the land for the estate in 1946 and, after having a house built from his own personal sketch, began spinning Bond tales in 1952.

A centipede becomes a tarantula.  Mafia-severed hands become radioactive-experiment-casualty hands.  These are the changes of creative license.  One might call it “the Hollywood version,” except that this and almost all the other Bond films made to date have been produced by Eon Productions based in Piccadilly, London (and operating from Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire).  No, Hollywood can’t be blamed directly.  This is simply a case of too many brilliant details to pack into one film (and some details which were either not cinematic enough or rather too complex to neatly tie up over the course of 109 minutes).

In the book Dr. No himself quotes Clausewitz.  Quite an erudite flourish for an author who was, in his time, attacked for being an unethical hack writer on the order of John Buchan or Raymond Chandler.  Film historians will no doubt realize the compliment contained in that shortsighted slight.  For it was John Buchan to whom Alfred Hitchcock looked when he needed a story in 1935 (The 39 Steps).  And it was Raymond Chandler’s ’39 novel (his first) The Big Sleep to which Howard Hawks gravitated (eventually making the 1946 masterpiece film adaptation with Bogart and Bacall).

No, Fleming was no hack writer.  Of all the contributions which the Cahiers du cinéma crowd made to film philosophy, one must not overlook their bold esteem for authors like David Goodis.  Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste was based on Goodis’ novel Down There.  Even Godard acknowledged the writer by naming a character in Made In U.S.A. after the author. 

No, there was something special about Fleming.  Paul Johnson of the New Statesman eviscerated Fleming and surmised that the author had, “no literary skill.”  Yes, Ezra Pound had it right when speaking of Tropic of Cancer.  There are “unprintable” books which are “readable,” but far too few.  Thank God for Henry Miller and Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

It’s funny now to imagine that Dr. No (the novel) could have truly ruffled feathers as being immoral, but the year was (after all) 1958.  The aforementioned Paul Johnson keyed in on sadism, “sex-longings” (oh my) and snobbery.  Not exactly the stuff of offence nowadays.

But I’ve hardly spoken of the film…

Yes, four years later Dr. No came to the big screen.  Some details had changed.  Honey Rider appeared as Ursula Andress in a white bikini.  And the world got its first glimpse at the New World Order in its most grotesque form:  SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion).  Yes, 1962.  Bay of Pigs had been 17 April 1961.  By November 22, 1963, J.F.K. had been mysteriously assassinated.  But what did Fleming know?  He was just a hack writer, right?

Fleming was, in fact, not just a hack writer (if at all a hack writer).  He was British Naval Intelligence and specifically involved in planning and oversight for two intel units (during WWII).  Sure, he did in fact write Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (yes, that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), but he had been recruited to be the personal assistant of Britain’s Director of Naval Intelligence in 1939.  The guy wasn’t just pulling stuff out of his ass (pardon my frankness).

Yes, indeed…it would take a man named Broccoli (“Cubby” Broccoli) to bring (together with Harry Saltzman) the world what Hollywood apparently thought was simultaneously too British and too sexual.  How’s that on the oxymoron scale?  No, this wasn’t Georges Simonon (nor even Agatha Christie’s Poirot).  This was Ian Fleming:  Brit.  And an agent with a name so uninteresting that from any other voice than that of Sean Connery it would have fallen flat and flaccid.  But it didn’t.  Excuse the fragments.  Bond was white-hot shrapnel.

All of this brings me to a crucial point:  the reconsideration of Terence Young as an auteur.  The Cahiers crowd managed to canonize Hitchcock (rightly so) and Hawks (likewise).  A close study of Godard reveals more filmmakers who became sublime upon passing through the French imagination…names like Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, etc.  What, I would like to know, makes Terence Young any less of an auteur than, say, Fuller?  Fuller no doubt had moments of brilliance…from Shock Corridor to The Big Red One–engaging film noir (some even in color) like House of Bamboo and The Crimson Kimono…  I can get behind The Steel Helmet…even Hell And High Water.  But what about all of those schlocky noir films like Underworld U.S.A. (not to mention the dire Westerns like The Baron of Arizona)?  Even The Naked Kiss is a little dodgy as regards auteurist pretensions.  Perhaps this is why by the time Godard made Histoire(s) du cinéma in the 1990s (1988-1998) he had seemingly dispensed with his admiration for Fuller.  Indeed, there is not a single Fuller film referenced in that gargantuan 4 1/2 hour epic.

So…Terence Young.  Aside from the three early Bond flicks he did, his filmography doesn’t exactly read like a John Huston’s.  It is even alleged that Young was the editor for a six hour Iraqi telenovela about the life of Saddam Hussein in 1980.  Hard times indeed.  How bleak was the Young house in and around 1980?  Fleming, for his part, had been commissioned in 1960 by the Kuwait Oil Company to write a history of Kuwait and its oil industry.  The government Sheiks eventually found it unpalatable and it was never published.  Perhaps Fleming is the auteur after all in the case of Dr. No (the film).  One thing is certain:  this is a highly-entertaining and visually engaging film which has kept moviegoers entranced now for half a century.  It would be the first of many such triumphs owing a debt to “the British disease”–that now transcendent fascination with espionage which has conquered lands and minds far and wide for the Queen by way of the James Bond franchise.

 

-PD