I first saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up many years ago. I liked it for it’s imagery, the sexy photography, the swinging London scene it took place in, seeing Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck playing with the Yardbirds, probably the same reasons that made it Antonioni’s biggest box office hit. I just rewatched it and I have a different take on it now. It seems like a quantum detective story. Quantum physics tells us that what we see and perceive as solid matter is really just a bunch of organized energy fields, things are mainly composed of space, in that light watch our protagonist of Blow Up. David Hemmings portrays a successful photographer. When we meet him he’s a Materialist, always trying to buy things, like the antique shop or his neighbors latest painting. He tells his editor he wishes he had piles of money. “Why?” “To be Free.” “Like him” says the editor pointing to a photo of a bum that Hemmings just snapped. The editor also advises Hemmings that he should look at photography like a detective in a story, “always looking for Clues.” This proves to be a prophetic statement and starts our photographer on his trip down the Rabbit Hole. Hemmings shoots some stills in a nearby park, in a beautifully photographed sequence, he follows a couple that are frolicking and kissing , the British overcast skies make for incredibly rich color and texture. Antonioni must have been ecstatic , he was a fanatic for color, paining buildings or environments to suit he is needs.
The photographs he takes become the clue his editor spoke of and by blowing up and carefully examining them he discovers a murder was committed.
He blows up the image of the dead man that it becomes an abstract collection of dots and blotches, very similar to his neighbors abstract painting so comments his neighbors girlfriend on seeing it.
His marginal morality does not compel him to call the police, instead he thinks these images will be a great ending to his new book. He goes to the park and finds the body but is spooked by a sound and heads back home, when he gets there all the images and negatives are gone, except the extreme blow up that looks like a Jackson Pollack painting. He goes out to meet his agent, sees the girl from the park and tries to follow her, like a detective in a movie. This brings him to the Ricky Tick club where the Yardbirds perform.
He manages to catch Jeff Becks guitar neck when Beck having stomped his guitar to bits tosses it into the crowd, causing a mad scramble as they all try to grab it. Hemmings wins out and runs out of the club only to discard the neck like so much trash. After finding his agent at a party, getting loaded and passing out, he awakens the next day returns to the park but he’s too late, the body is gone. He sees a group of Mimes playing tennis without a ball or racquets, al the Mimes watching follow the imaginary ball with their eyes as its batted back and forth.
Hemming watches amused but when the ball is hit over the fence near him and the Mime playing looks to him beseechingly to retrieve it, Hemmings does so, picking up the invisible ball and throwing it back. Then he too tracks the back and forth movement with his eyes and we hear on the soundtrack the sound of a tennis ball being hit and returned. Has he learned a lesson in the Non-Materiality of the Universe or succumbed from the peer pressure of all the watching Mimes to see the ball that isn’t there. I believe the former because after a few moments he shakes his head, retrieves his camera and then vanishes himself as the words THE END appear.
It’s an amazing comment on perceived reality, also perhaps a comment on Art, Critiscim, peoples response to anything new. They can’t see it until someone explains it to them. Supposedly when Columbus’ ships anchored off the coast of the new world, the natives could not see them as they were so foreign to their experience, days later a sham explained to the tribe that they were there and what they were and then they were visible.
Come to think of it I heard somewhere that Antonioni was a tennis pro before he became a filmmaker. Just think of all that time he had his eye on the ball, how important that fuzzy sphere was to him, how much effort and concentration he put into that. For him to make the climax of his film, the moment where the protagonist changes his point of view a tennis game speaks volumes.
Here’s a wonderful documentary about the making of The Misfits, a classic B&W film. What an amazing collection of talent! Arthur Miller, John Huston, the cast, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Monty Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter, the brilliant crew including the genius cameraman Russell Metty and the spectaculer editor George Tomasini.
Russell Metty with Orson Welles
The Great George Tomasini
What a group. Out in the middle of nowhere making an existential Western. Wow, I wish I could have been there. I first saw this film back on the WOR Million Dollar Movie, it fascinated me as a young movie nut. I loved Marilyn and I had never seen Gable in a movie like this. The incredible cinematography blew me away, especially the mustang catching sequence. Metty had shot such masterpieces as Orson Welles Touch Of Evil, Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession, Kubrick’s Spartacus, to name a few. George Tomasini was best known for his work with Hitchcock, including, Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window and North by Northwest. One of the greatest editors of all time. Anyway here is Part one of the doc. Check it out.
This is a classic movie, iconic L.A. locations, a twisted noir plot, amazing San Francisco street footage, a crazy bebop Jazz sequence and Neville Brand. Where to begin? Well I had a friend in town visiting frome Rome, Italy that is, Trevi Fountain, Cinecitta. Anyway I wanted to show him around downtown L.A. and one of our stops was the amazing Bradbury building. Most people recognize it as the location in Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford fights Rutger Hauer but I think equally as important a use for this location was in D.O.A.
I recommended to my Italian friend that he watch D.O.A. and see how the building we just visited was used in that film. I wound up watching it again and I realized that Russel Rouse was one of the writers and Harry Popkin was the producer.
These guys were responsible for some of the hippest 50’s noir to hit the silver screen of your local drive in. I did not know they were part of the D.O.A. team. Popkin and Rouse worked on The Well, a searing indictment of racism, ahead of it’s time and The Thief. Rouse made Wicked Woman, a film I recently wrote about. So that got me re-interested in D.O.A. , Let me just vsay it right out front I am not a big fan of Edmund O’Brien, but his scene chewing style works pretty well at times in this film and he runs like no one in Cinema! His frenzied run for your life performance on the streets of San Francisco, crashing into innocent bystanders is a highlight of the film.
Other wonderful elements include an incredible sequence aboard a city bus, where the gangsters that want to kill O’Brien are following the bus he’s on and you can see them out the window of the bus at night as they stalk him. A beautiful nightmarish sequence. Actually the nighttime photography of downtown L.A. is particularly great, Neville Brand taking O’Brien for a ride especially.
There is a great wild man jazz sequence that has frenetic performances of Black Jazz musicians that is outstanding. I love musical sequences and this one is a doozy.
I think it would be educational to compare this sequence to some that Robert Siodmak did, like the crazy jazz jam session in Phantom Lady or the dance scene in Criss Cross. The D.O.A. scene is really great performances, great shots and great editing, Siodmak’s reveal a planned out sequence that works beautifully, it was created in the director’s mind while the D.O.A. scene was put together in the editing room.
Rudolph Mate’ the director of D.O.A. started as a camerman in Europe, shooting such masterpieces as Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, this is the movie that Anna Karina watches in Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie. Mate’ also directed a film that was a location on another stop of my downtown tour, Union Station, a noir that takes place at perhaps the most iconic downtown L.A. location.
Rudy at the camera films Dietrich
Mate’ was director of photography on many, many classic Hollywood films, Pride Of The Yankees, Dante’s Inferno, Foriegn Correspondent, Stella Dallas, Sahara, Gilda and The Lady From Shanghai, to name just a few. He delivers a fast paced ( 83 minute) gem that never let’s up and has many especially well directed scenes, take for example the final confrontation, at The Bradbury Building. It is shot just like a classic shootout from a Western, incredible.
Whenever a director can put another subtext or layer of meaning onto a scene and it is harmonius with the action not obtrusive, it’s a wonderful thing. Watch it for yourself, a film class in 2 minutes. Then there’s Neville Brand, so over the top as Chester the thug or maybe goon is better, Sadistic, simple minded, evil but with a lot of personality.
Chester doesn’t like Bigelow. He’s soft in the belly!
I like Neville Brand, check him out in the underrated Eaten Alive by Tobe Hooper. And as Quentin Tarantino once told me, the second most decorated soldier of WWII after Audie Murphy. So check out D.O.A. then go down and visit the Bradbury building, you can park across the street at the Grand Central Market and have lunch.
P.S. Here it is on YouTube.
Here is a very informative documentary about early German Cinema in general and Metropolis in particular. Fritz Lang said he never paid any attention to the critics, maybe he had something there, Metropolis was panned when it came out. I read somewhere that Lang was still editing the last reels of Metropolis while the first reels were being projected at the Premier, a motorcycle messenger would race with the reels to the theater as Lang finished them! This outdoes Michael Mann for editorial craziness and gives credence to the old saying “Films aren’t finished they’re abandoned”. Anyway if you are interested in the great Expressionist heritage of German Cinema check it out.
Here is a great documentary about German film director F.W. Murnau and the making of his early masterpiece, Nosferatu. Recently Murnau’s grave was broken into and his head was taken, authorities reported finding melted wax at the location and a possible “occult” connection was made.
Could a group of Satanists or Magick practitioners have made off with Murnau’s head? and why? Probably because he is the man that created Nosferatu, those indelible images of the bald, animalistic vampire.
In this great documentary an expert on the occult, Wolfgang Kistermann testifies that the producer of Nosferatu and founder of Prana films, Albin Grau, was a leader in German occult societies and had dealings with the O.T.O. , the group led by Aliester Crowley.
Perhaps this secret society is still active in Germany? Perhaps they are responsible for the violation of Murnau’s grave and the theft of his kopf? I read an interview with Murnau’s brother, he travelled to Tahiti, where Murnau had made his last film, Tabu. The Tahitians told him Murnau had offended their Gods by building a mansion on a tabu site, a place the Tahitians shunned, and the Gods had caused his untimely death in an automobile accident.
This is a great restoration of a seminal film. Masters Of Cinema has done it again. They release high quality material. The Cabinet Of Dr. Calgari went through a rigorous restoration by the F.W. Murnau Siftung. The original camera negative was used whenever possible, I believe for most of the film except the first reel. You can see so many details that were lost, like the chalk lines on Cesare the somnambulist’s black outfit and the painted sets, costumes, and characters faces have never looked so good, so full of expression.
Ceasare, the sensative somnambulist
It is fascinating to watch a film that takes place in such an unrealistic setting, almost all scenes were photographed in front of painted backgrounds and yet is so effective. A miraculous achievement. This film was a huge commercial hit as well. Perhaps owing to it’s unorthodox “You Must Become Calgari” ad campaign.
A still from The Blackguard, a film Hitcock worked on at Ufa in Berlin in 1925
Tony Perkins does resemble Cesare, Cesare (Conrad Veidt) later played Maj. Strasser in Casablanca, the Nazi Bogey shoots at the airport. He was also in The Thief Of Baghdad with Sabu.
Cesare in Hollywood, transformed into evil Nazi Maj. Strasser
There’s a story that Fritz Lang wanted to direct Calgari but wasn’t able to do so because of other commitments, I believe it, Lang later went on to direct the DR. Mabuse films and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse shares a similar theme with Calgari, the head of an insane asylum is an evil maniac, spreading mayhem and murder.Lang was not above borrowing from his peers, in Murnau’s Faust, a fantasy sequence shows rising rings of energy surrounding the transforming Faust, this same imagery was used by Lang in Metropolis during the creation of the robot Maria.
Such an incredibly rich period of German Filmmaking! They really set the stage for fantastic, dark, atmospheric, dreamlike Cinema. Then they fled Hitler came to the USA and created Film Noir, a great legacy.
UPDATE: I recently read that Murnau’s grave had been broken into and his head was stolen. They found melted wax at the scene from candles, suggesting an occult angle. Satanists wanted the skull of the man that made Nosferatu and Faust?
Here’s a tasty noir treat from 1953, Wicked Woman. Written by filmmaking team Russel Rouse and Clarence Greene, directed by Rouse, produced by Greene on a shoestring, the movie works despite of our maybe partly due to it’s limitations.
Here’s a lesson to low budget filmmakers, keep your locations to a minimum. Wicked Woman basically has two, a bar and a cheap rooming house. The sets are pretty bad but that’s what makes them good, at one point Billie (the Wiced Woman) throws her sleazy neighbor out and slams the door, the wall of the set shakes, but I think that’s cool, it’s like Fellini said the magician must show the audience he has a card up his sleeve so when he does trick them it’s even more astonishing. This movie works on an iconic level, the Blonde Bombshell travelling from town to town leaving a trail of decimated men and women.
The Main Title Theme is sung by Herb Jeffries, The Bronze Buckaroo, a black singing cowboy star. Beverly Michaels is great as the Wicked Woman, too bad she retired after only a few more films, maybe she was too real, too ahead of her time to be appreciated. I think she’s great. Russel Rouse must have thought so too, he married her. They had a son Christopher Rouse, he’s a film editor that’s won an Academy Award.
The filmmaking is top notch, beautful images , great lighting, great sets. The wonderfully evil Dr. Cyclops, Albert Dekker.( I’ve got some great stories about him but I’ll save them for a later post) William Conrad and Charles McGraw are the amoral Killers of the title and they are bad news.
This movie besides being beautifully made by a master craftsman at the height of his powers is a very influential film. The Killers terrorizing ordinary citizens in a lunch box diner, a scene we have seen many times since , the guy from the Past recognizing his prey at an out of the way gas station, a lot like Out Of The Past. The intricate flashback structure, effortlessly pulled off.Miklos Rosza’s score, introducing the theme from Dragnet.
A seminal film! One of the first Film Noirs! Then we get Don Siegel’s The Killers with John Cassavettes, Angie Dickinson, The amazing Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager and in his last role Ronnie Reagen! As a bad guy no less, wow!
The sets are pretty amazingly fake looking, especially in BluRay, you can see the blown up photograph backgrounds and rear screen projection a mile away. But in spite of that the movie works, a tribute to good acting and directing. Reagen is great as an evil prick, he even takes part in a heist! I had never seen this gem before and I’m glad I did. I am a big fan of Siegel. This movie is a bit wack but it doesn’t disappoint.
We also get as an adeded bonus, Andrei Tarkovsky’s student film version of The Killers and it’s great. It’s great to hear this dialog in Russian! Super Noir american gangster speak in Russian, how cool is that. They throw in a radio play version acted by Burt, Shelly Winters, and I think William Conrad, it’s cool but the coolest thing is to here Robert Siodmak speak! He’s on the show nd they’re trying to spin that he was born in Memphis Tennessee, a bull story to make him American and not a German! WWII was just over. He sounds very funny! The guy was a genius, he got his US directing break by amusing Preston Sturges and making him laugh. Also we get a recorded interview with Siegel, man can he talk fast! All in all, alot of bang for your buck. Get one today!