Monday, October 20, 2014

Harry Dean Stanton: at 88, still going strong down Route 66



Harry Dean Stanton: at 88, still going strong down Route 66

A screening of an acclaimed documentary about the actor offered a rare chance to see him in concert

from The Guardian UK
Harry Dean Stanton in Hollywood, October 2014.
Harry Dean Stanton in Hollywood, October 2014. Photograph: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
California is crippled by a three-year “mega-drought”. The rivers are withering, the landscape a scratchy brown, and woe betide those who break the hosepipe ban.

Perfect weather, then, for a gravelly performance from Harry Dean Stanton: a man with a face like dust bowl, dessicated further by 70 odd years of cigarettes.

Stanton has appeared in more than 200 movies including Paris, Texas, Wild At Heart and as cat loving Brett in Alien. I first saw him as the dad in Pretty in Pink. Laconic, beaten-down, accepting, I thought he was the coolest thing since Molly Ringwald’s prom frock.

His backstory was explored Sophie Huber’s brilliant documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (released in 2012, now available on Netflix).
This Swiss-born film-maker first meets her subject in his regular drinking haunt, Dan Tanas in Santa Monica, and uses music as her route in to this intensely private man. She follows him as he potters about his day-to-day routine, splicing the footage with pared down renditions of his favourite songs, such as Danny Boy and Blue Bayou, which are performed from the safety of his living room.
Late last month, the film was screened at the Grammy Museum in downtown LA, and both Stanton and Huber took part in a charming Q&A afterwards. Followed by some tunes: Stanton singing and on harmonica, accompanied by guitar and bass.
As he took to the stage, fragile as a larch, the audience moved to the edge of their seats. Stanton fumbled first for his reading glasses, then for one of his many harmonicas, all tuned to different keys. Would he make it through the first bar? He would; albeit from the comfort of an overstuffed armchair (as he said - he is 12 years off 100).
His exit was quicker: Stanton scarpered immediately after the three tracks were over; his guitarist, Jamie, revealed to the crowd that he’d called the night before to try and wriggle out of the performance.
Stanton was one of those rare beasts: exactly in the flesh as you’d suspect from the screen. Introspective, and mischievous; a loner, and old-fashioned with it. In an age of white noise and celebrity hysteria, this was a reminder of a previous time; refreshing courtesy in the drought. He’d never married, he said in the film - and only once proposed because it seemed the civil thing to do. He’s wiser now he’s older, he said. After all, “what’s wrong with silence?”

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bogie and Bacall: Dark Passage (1947) JAKE HINKSON from the criminal element
















Bogie and Bacall: Dark Passage (1947)
from the criminal element




In tribute to the late Lauren Bacall, we’re looking at the four classic films she made with husband and screen partner Humphrey Bogart between 1944 and 1948: To Have and Have NotThe Big SleepDark Passage, and Key Largo. Last week we looked at Hawks’ The Big Sleep. Today we’ll look at Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage.
Dark Passage doesn’t get any respect. It’s a fine film noir that has two things working against its reputation: 1) a hokey stylistic device, and 2) the fact that it is the least of the Bogart/Bacall vehicles.
I’ll deal with each of these criticisms in a moment. First however, the plot: Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a convict who has just busted out of prison when the film starts. He’s picked up by a talkative motorist named Baker (Clifton Young). It doesn’t take Baker long to figure out that Parry’s a fugitive, so Parry slugs him, takes off on foot and is picked up by another motorist. She’s Irene Jansen (Bacall), and surprisingly she already knows who Parry is and wants to help him. It turns out that Parry was convicted of killing his wife, and Irene followed his trial in the papers, convinced of his innocence. Before long, Parry undergoes a facelift and sets out to track down his wife’s killer.

Because the story involves plastic surgery, the makers had to come up with a way to handle Parry’s transition from one face to another. Their solution was to have the pre-facelift sections of the movie told from Parry’s point of view through a subjective use of the camera (i.e. the camera functions as his eyes, so we never see his face). The subjective camera was a hot concept in 1947.Orson Welles had planned to use it in his proposed adaptation of Heart of Darkness before abandoning the idea as unworkable. Robert Montgomery picked up the idea and shot his entire adaption of Raymond Chandler’sThe Lady in the Lake with a subjective camera. The results there were disastrous. Here, the technique is a bit distracting, but Daves is able to blend it a little more seamlessly into the story. For one thing, although much of the first forty minutes of the film is done subjectively, not all of it is. Daves gives himself the freedom to alternate between Parry’s point of view and a more conventional point of view that includes establishing shots. It also helps that once the facelift occurs we cut to Bogart’s lovely visage. While the subjective camera stuff is gimmicky, it has the virtue (unlike in Montgomery’s film) of serving a purpose and solving a problem presented by the story.
The other obstacle standing in the way of Dark Passage’s reputation is that it has the unfortunate distinction of being lumped together with the other Bogart/Bacall films (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Key Largo). Those movies are masterpieces (at least the first two are), and I will grant that Dark Passage does not rise to their level.
However, this is quite a fine piece of work. For one thing, Bacall is excellent. She has to carry the first half of the movie by herself because Bogart isn’t onscreen, and she also has to make Irene’s rather odd character believable. She carries off both of these tasks with great skill, and her work here is far more interesting than in Key Largo, where her job mostly consisted of staring at Bogart with longing for two hours. When Bogart does appear onscreen, he’s as good as she is. His Vincent Parry is an underacknowledged swerve for the actor. Parry isn’t a superhero like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. He’s a normal guy who’s in over his head.
The first two Bogart and Bacall movies were all about the sexual tension between the leads. They were falling in love onscreen and having an affair offscreen. By the time they made Dark Passage, however, they were married. The sexual tension of the earlier work—which also owed something to the airy touch of director Howard Hawks—is here replaced by gravity. Bacall has a way of looking through Bogart, stripping him of any defensive shield. And Bogart’s mournful visage—especially his dark, heavy eyes—seems weighed down by a deep-seated knowledge of failure. This quality is perfect for Dark Passage, based as it is on an early novel by the great David Goodis, an author incapable of writing about heroes. His characters are sad, lonely, broken people. This movie glosses things up a bit, of course, but the last few scenes between Bogart and Bacall have a fragile emotionalism unlike anything else in their work together. The last shot of the film is probably the sweetest one they ever shared.
The rest of the cast is equally good. In particular, Clifton Young is a sleazy joy as Baker, the slugged motorist who resurfaces later in the movie to make trouble for Bogie and Bacall. And it is always good to see Agnes Moorehead. Here she plays Madge, an old friend of Parry’s and the key to unlocking the mystery at the center of the movie. When she was used right, there was no one more hypnotically watchable than Agnes Moorehead, and here she’s used right.


I’ve always thought Delmer Daves was an underrated director. For one thing, his movies unfailingly have a great physicality. This made him a strong hand at westerns (3:10 to Yuma, The Hanging Tree), but it also served him well in his noir work (The Red House). His films usually have atmospheres achieved through their excellent utilization of black & white photography and even more through a mastery of art design, set decoration and camera work. Daves wasn’t a realist, but he had a realist’s eye. In Dark Passage you can almost smell the cheap apartments, the cigarette smoke, and the alcohol. Some of the film was shot on location in San Francisco, and he exploits that glorious city as well as anyone ever did.
Dark Passage isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a damn good piece of work and one that I never seem to tire of seeing again.

Jake HinksonThe Night Editor, is the author of The Posthumous Manand Saint Homicide.
Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ben Boulden Gravetapping THE DRAGON MAN by Garry Disher






Gravetapping



Posted: 16 Oct 2014 10:42 AM PDT
The Peninsula is “a comma of land hooking into the sea southeast of Melbourne” in Victoria Australia. It is a tourist destination known for its beaches, wineries, and coastal towns. It is sparsely populated, beautiful, and, recently, the stalking ground for a sex killer. One woman was found dead on the Old Peninsula Highway—a lonely road treading the eastern coast of the peninsula, cutting south and west—and another has disappeared.

Inspector Hal Challis, the regional homicide specialist, is assigned the investigation. The search is headquartered in the fictional city of Waterloo. A city with a small police force, and an even smaller CIB—Criminal Investigation Branch—squad. The killer is careful and clean. The only significant lead is the track of a rare brand of tire near the dumping site of a victim—

“There was no semen. The killer used a condom. There were no fingerprints. The killer used gloves. What he’d left on his victims wereabsences, including the absence of life.”

The Dragon Man is a beautifully written police procedural. The main plot is supplemented with crisscrossing subplots. An overzealous constable. A series of house burglaries. A frightened woman trading sex for drugs. And Hal Challis. An almost broken, flawed man. A man who is married to a woman who, along with her lover, attempted to kill him. A man who is underestimated by most, and a man who is likable, and, at times, real.

“He drove on. Christmas Day. With any luck, someone would find a body and free him from Christmas Day.”

The setting is rendered with care, and the small details—a bucket in the shower to catch the water for additional use in the garden, dry draught-like conditions of mid-summer heat, herons feasting on mosquitoes—create a real world believable place. A place that is familiar, but simultaneously exotic. Mr Disher also plays with morality. The police often behave more consistently with the criminals they chase. One steals evidence from the police locker. Another attempts to blackmail a woman for sex during a traffic stop.

The Dragon Man is the real deal. It is the first novel (of six, so far) featuring Hal Challis. It is something of a cross between literature and police procedural. It is economical, meaningful, and a wonderfully entertaining novel.