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The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. "Like it" on facebook!

 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Tuesday
Apr152014

Seasons of Bette: The Letter (1940)

Multi-tasking again. Herewith a new episode of three recurring series: Seasons of Bette, "Introducing..." and Hit Me With Your Best Shot in which I, Nathaniel, refuse to show you Bette Davis's face. For here's a perverse truth: none of my three favorite shots of The Letter (1940) include it.

honorable mention: Leslie recounts her crime

Pt. 1 "Introducing..."
Meet Leslie Crosbee, murderess. We're only one minute into the movie when she unloads six shots purposefully nto the back of one Geoff Hammond who is attempting to escape her house. He doesn't make it beyond the foot of her steps. Her face is a frozen severe mask as she drops the gun. It's Bette Davis's most potent entrance into a movie yet.

Where the hell do you go after your protagonist makes an entrance like that? To her confession, as it turns out. William Wyler, here adapting a play by W. Somerset Maugham, is appreciated today mostly as a great actor's director, but he's so much more than that. He's not content to rest on the power of his actors alone, despite the three Oscars and multiple nominations they'd already received at this point. In one of his boldest moves, he even lets the entire cast turn their backs on us -- this movie is cold -- while Mrs Crosbee calmly recounts an attempted rape and the resultant murder in great detail. The camera (cinematography by Oscar favorite Tony Gaudio) becomes a kind of detached slave, following Bette's vocal cue and showing us now vacant rooms, steps and floorboards, as if it exists only as an empty stage for her drama. Given how rapturously and literally shady our leading lady is (oh the sinister cast shadows of film noir!) it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that she's a liar.

best shot: the equally shady widow

Pt. 2 Best Shot
The title character in this noir, is an incriminating letter written by Leslie which is in the possession of Mr Hammond's mysterious Asian wife (Gale Sondegaard in "yellow face"). The movie is casually racist, a product of its time, or at least suggestive of the casual racism of its time. Leslie's lawyer remark that Hammond's marriage to this woman, immediately makes the colonist of questionable character and thus presumed guilty of the rape Leslie has accused him of. And Leslie herself is the most verbally racist of the film's characters, grotesquely repulsed by Mrs. Hammond

Then i heard about that -- that native woman Oh, I  couldn't believe it. i wouldn't believe it. I saw her walking in the village with those hideous spangles, that chalky painted face, those eyes like a cobra's eyes. 

But fortunately for the film, this fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" in any scene in which she appears actually serves to level the playing field. That's especially true of this scene which is tricked up in every way possible with "Asian" signifiers in the scoring, decor, and "dragon lady" costuming (it's worth noting that Mrs Hammond is the only Asian in the film costumed and presented this way as if she's barely real at all but a projection of Leslie's own jealous and racist obsession with her). And in this case, doesn't one have to excuse or even applaud all the exoticism? If you're going to engage in an epic staredown with Bette Davis in which she must suddenly be cowered by you, you'd better bring it by any means necessary. Sondegaard and the cinematography do.

In a curious way, though, The Letter's most fascinating character is the man with six bullets in his back. What kind of a man could own the vengeful hearts of two such lethal women? In his own stiff way he's the perfect embodiment of film noir's powerfully confusing phobic relationship to the female gender. It loves them like no other genre while also living in perpetual fear of their power and agency.

runner up shot: Guadio & Wyler find several great uses for Bette's hands in this film. I love her fingerprints grazing her victim here.

To be Continued...
Tonight at 10 PM we'll post the visual index of all Best Shot entries for this famous noir. 
Thursday Seasons of Bette continues, back-tracking one year for Dark Victory since we fell behind.

Tuesday
Apr152014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Visual Index ~ The Letter (1940)

William Wyler's The Letter (1940) was nominated for seven Oscars in 1940 and remains a compelling example of two essential noir staples: dramatic lighting and the art of the femme fatale. I was watching it for Seasons of Bette, but the dramatic cinematography and Bette's heyday called out for a closer investigation from multiple sets of eyes...

The Letter's 11 Best Shots
in rough chronological order (click on the image for the 12 corresponding articles)

Her body language that it bleeds such layers into her character...
-A Fistful of Films

When William Wyler controls the moonlight, it shines with the all power of a Hollywood spotlight...
-We Recycle Movies

'Oh, it was all instinctive. I didn't even know I'd fired.'
- Sorta That Guy 


The right blend of scared innocent and hardened survivalist, enough to be believable to her in-movie audience while sending out signals to the theater audience... 
- Alison Tooey


We are witnessing a flashback occur in the present without leaving the scene...
 
- The Film's The Thing 


The shadows of blinds in the protagonist’s face might be something that we now immediately associate with film noir...
-Coco Hits NY

Wyler is founding noir right here...
- Cal Roth 


This fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" actually serves to level the playing field...
 - The Film Experience 

But what I really love about this particular shot is the costuming...
-Entertainment Junkie

 It's almost like a standoff in a Western, except the women aren't on equal footing... 
- Film Actually


One of the most visual performers of the sound era offers up an entire film's worth of great expressions...
-Antagony & Ecstasy


I try to think this is the moment where the film ends...
-Manuel Betancourt 

 

Next Tuesday night (April 22nd)
Disney's POCAHONTAS (1995). Can you sing with all the colors of the wind? If so, please join us by selecting your best shot. The more pairs of eyes, the better the cinematic visions. [More Upcoming "Best Shot" Episodes]

Tuesday
Apr152014

Channing "Gambit" Tatum and Your Favorite Superheroes

I've been quite blocked today (apologies) so I'd like to turn the time over to you for an open discussion. With news coming that Channing Tatum would love to play Gambit in a movie (poor Taylor Kitsch. It's not his fault everyone has tried to scrub X-Men Origins: Wolverine from their memory) Fox will surely be jumping all over that to make it happen.

Though the superhero movie boom will surely die out as all movie trends do eventually, we have no idea how long it will last so we'll just try to enjoy it while it does rather than bristle against it.

The other day on Facebook Stan Lee posted a 'name your five favorite superheroes' thread and I answered more quickly than I knew I could. Without thinking about it five names popped right into mind: Nightcrawler, The Human Torch, Storm, Spider-Man, and The Scarlet Witch. Other than Sam Raimi's perfect Spider-Man 2 I haven't had much luck getting my favorite characters translated to my taste on the screen though, so I've tended to enjoy characters I didn't much at all care for in the comics the most onscreen. Like Captain America. Speaking of... my eyes bugged out seeing a brief glimpse of The Scarlet Witch in that film and I'll be curious to see how Joss Whedon and Elizabeth Olsen dramatize her in The Avengers: Age of Ulton. But still, I hate those post-movie tags which are the heighth of pandering narrative inelegance. They're very much like "next week on..." TV tags

But I'm curious. Name your five favorite superheroes in the comments.  I perused through some answers on Facebook and was surprised to see that very few people chose heroes beyond the truly iconic household name ones - batman, superman, spider-man, and wolverine were constantly name-checked.

Tuesday
Apr152014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot. What's Next?

I hope you'll join us tonight when we celebrate The Letter (1940) and I hope you enjoyed the first three episodes of Best Shot this year covering forgetful lovers, violent cops, and disco freaks. If you've never joined the party, please do. Try it. You'll like it. This year has been so fun with more participation than before. All you have to do is watch the movie, pick a shot, post it and tell us why.

Here's what's next:

Tuesday April 22nd Pocahontas (1995)
For Earth Day, sing with all the colors of the wind.
Netflix Instant Watch | Amazon Instant | iTunes Rental

Tuesday April 29th 3 Women (1977)
Robert Altman's fascinating Persona-influenced actress triptych (Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule) went on to influence everyone's favorite amnesiac lebsian mystery Mulholland Dr. If you haven't seen it, you must.
Netflix Instant |  Amazon Rental | iTunes Rental

Tuesday May 6th Blow Up (1966)
To celebrate the publication of the forthcoming biography of Vanessa Redgrave by Dan Callahan, we'll look at Michelangelo Antonioni's mod classic. (I had really wanted to do The Devils which would make an awesome Best Shot episode but it is still just too hard to find in a good print and form - so many different edits and crummy transfers).
Amazon Instant | Netflix Disc  | iTunes Rental

Tuesday May 13th
TBA

Tuesday May 20th BATMAN 75th Spectacular
* a special one-off episode experiment *
For Batman's 75th year watch any theatrically released Bat movie -- there are 8 live action films and 1 animated film from 1966 through 2012 to choose from and select a best shot. Or do multiple movies. And if you do really try to adhere to the one-shot rule that we're all too longwinded to stick to as we should. It'll be interesting when we hit the chronological visual index to see which films, batmen and villains are best represented.

 

Monday
Apr142014

April Showers: Like Crazy

waterworks continue most nights at 11. Here's abstew on Like Crazy

When Like Crazy played at Sundance in 2011, it became an instant hit. It even managed to win both the Grand Jury Prize for Drama and a Special Jury Prize in acting for star Felicity Jones. So it seemed natural that the film would follow in the Oscar-nominated footsteps of fellow Sundance award winners Precious and An Education and translate that success into some Oscar love of its own. If anything, certainly the film would've been the kind of star-is-born breakout for Felicity Jones in the same way Carey Mulligan had experienced 2 years previously. (And discussed recently in another edition of April Showers.) But when it was released in theatres later that year, the love it found in Sundance just never caught on in the same way for audiences or critics. And it seems the only breakout star to come from the film is Jennifer Lawrence in the small part of the other girl. She may not have gotten the man, but I'd said she's doing perfectly fine. [more...]

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