Four Flies On Grey Velvet, Dario Argento and the Psychology of Place

Written by Joe D on December 30th, 2007

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Watching this Argento masterpiece I suddenly became aware of a phenomenon, it was something I’d thought about in other films but here in 4 mosche di velluto grigio it was so clearly exercised it jumps out and hits you over the head just like the killer in this movie. I’m talking about the use of perceived space or sense of place, private, personal space and public space.
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Place Of Recurring Nightmare

Isn’t it more horrible when an atrocity happens in a public place and no one can do anything about it? Especially for the victim, it creates a sense of false hope, ” Look over here, someone’s trying to kill me! Can’t you see!” The dream our protagonist has says it all, a public execution in a square in Saudi Arabia. A guy is kneeling, the executioner jabs him in the neck with a stiletto, he jerks his head up and the killer chops his head off with a sword. This takes place in a large courtyard or plaza, a very public place. In a way this is the quintessential image of horror, of nightmare. A person being killed in cold blood out in the open for all the world to see and no one’s doing anything about it. They sit and watch complacently.( The image of the execution reminds me of a scene in Alain Resnais Last Year At Marienbad, another film with an interesting use of space).

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Marienbad Psychological Space

Taking his cue from this nightmare image Argento then stages some of the murders in a way that takes advantage of our perceived sense of place. The set up for the whole film is a man intruding on our hero’s personal space. Roberto,(Michael Brandon) a rock drummer sees a guy always looking at him wherever he goes.
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Roberto, he looks more like a guitar player than a drummer to me

He gets fed up and chases the guy into a theater or opera house. It’s empty, a public place turned into the setting for a nightmare.
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Roberto accidentally kills his stalker and is photographed in the act by someone wearing a clown mask.
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Soon he is being threatened by the mysterious photographer. Later a woman calls the killer and demands blackmail, I have to comment on the genius sequence that follows her voice over the phone lines, underground, through a switching station to the killer’s apartment,super cool,
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Following the voice over the wires

the blackmailer arranges to meet the killer in a park. There are lots of children playing, lovers in the bushes, music is piped in. A very safe public place. But as it gets later and later and the killer doesn’t show, the woman daydreams, smoking a cigarette. Suddenly she notices the music has stopped, the children are gone, the lovers have left. Argento accomplishes this in a beautiful way, jump cutting from a wide shot of the children to the same wide shot without them, ditto the lovers in the bushes. Brilliant!
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One second they’re there
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The Next They’re Not
Then our hapless blackmailer hears the scrape of the gate as the watchman locks it, the sun is setting, she’s now trapped in a nightmarish maze of bushes and walls with a psychotic killer hunting her.
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The Innocent Park has Nightmarishly Transformed into a Labyrinth of Death

Argento has captured the logic of the nightmare perfectly, but for me it is his understanding and manipulation of “place” that makes it so powerful.
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Famous Argento Use of Color

Later in the film a gay private detective tracks the killer on the subway, a crowded public place, the killer gets off and the private dick follows.
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Subway to Hades

Once again the public space transforms to a nightmarish claustrophobic death cube ( a public restroom). Another killing is a classic, a young girl hears the killer enter her apartment, she sneaks out of her bedroom and into a hallway, there she stands at the foot of a stairway. The stairway is psychologically a scary place, I believe it comes from our childhood when it was physically dangerous to us, also you can’t see what’s at the top of the stairs, Hitchcock took advantage of this phenomenon in Psycho.
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Stairway to Heaven, I mean Doom

Then the young girl goes up the steps and hides in a wardrobe, like a closet. Another nightmare place from childhood, the child hiding from the punishing or abusing parent. This was also used very effectively by David Lynch in Blue Velvet.
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Childhood Trauma

Ther is another cool sequence where the police use the dead girl’s retina and a laser beam to record the last image seen by the victim, this idea has been used in other films but I think this was the first time it appears,
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this movie is extremely rich in creativity and for me Four Flies On Grey Velvet is the best use of the manipulation of our perception of place in Cinema. Bravo Dario Argento!
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Hats Off To Argento!

Lucio Fulci, Beatrice Cenci

Written by Joe D on December 26th, 2007

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Hard to find but worth it! A historical drama based on a true story about a beautiful young girl (Beatrice)
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Francesco vs. Beatrice

her tyrannical father and a loyal servant that loves her, of course with all the usual Fulci fetishes, eye-trauma, torture, rape, etc.
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Fulci signature Eye Trauma! That’ll teach him!

It’s told in a sort of time jumping flashback style from multiple points of view, a riff on Yojimbo but not the same technique. Great production value, medieval Italia, Roma, villas in the campagnia.
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Cool Optical, Matte shot using Castel Sant Angelo

Soldiers, cardinals, Inquisitors, there’s even a papal investigator who is a Medieval Columbo!
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The Pope’s Colombo! Official Investigator Of The Vatican

A dysfunctional family headed by a father who is a total sadist prick. He has one guy torn apart by dogs, throws a party when two of his sons are killed in Salamanca ( he’s notoriously cheap and rejoices he dosen’t have to foot the bill for his sons crusading any more), imprisons his daughter in a filthy dungeon, abuses her and everyone around him.
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Tomas Milian as loyal servant Olympio
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Olympio loves Beatrice

Tomas Milian plays Olympio the servant, he becomes Beatrice’s lover and helps her off her old man.
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The Torture Of Olympio

The best scene in the movie is when Milian, who has been graphically tortured in horrible ways and has confessed implicating Beatrice, is brought before her to confront her. The Inquisitors expect him to contradict her and say she’s guilty, he looks at her from the floor, his body torn up, shattered, a mess. He apologizes to her and says she’s innocent!
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When confronted with His Lady he recants his confession

The Inquisitors are pissed! They drag him off to torture some more and while breaking his bones on the Wheel, he dies. There is also a wild boar of a man called Il Catalano. He is a hired killer brought in to finish off Francesco Cenci( George Wilson). We first meet him in a cave where he lives, he’s passed out with two naked prostitutes.
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Catalano, The Human Wild Boar

This guy is great, there’s no one like him in Cinema today! Ignazio Spalla! Check him out! Super cool casting by Fulci in giving this cat the part.
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Boar Hunt

Everyone cracks under torture except the beautiful Beatrice, they wrap a rope arond her head and tighten it until her head almost explodes but she doesn’t crack. She’s the toughest one in the movie, maybe from putting up with that asshole of a father for all those years. She tells the court how he raped and abused her and her lawyers shout it at the trial for the whole world to hear.
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The people of Rome want her set free! She gets a groundswell of support which pisses off the Pope, a dude with a hugh, hairy mole on his puss.
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Pederast Cardinal with his Holy Boy Toy

The papcy covets Cenci’s land and fortune, what better way than to off his family and claim it all for the Church! I heard tell that when this movie came out in Italy people in the theater were yelling for the director to be killed! Fulci pissed off the Christian Democrats with this anti-Church tale of greed, torture and murder. It does bring to mind the Salem witch trial where women were offed so greedy townspeople could glom their real estate! It also bears comparison with another cool movie, Michael Reeves Witchfinder General. Check it out if you can track down a copy, you won’t be sorry. vlcsnap-8027386.png

Italia A Mano Armata, Franco Micalizzi,

Written by Joe D on December 20th, 2007

This is a killer clip of an orchestra in Italy playing the theme from Italia A Mano Armata (A Special Cop In Action, USA) an incredible piece of music by Franco Micalizzi. I have a story about this particular tune. I was working as an editor on Kill Bill. One day Quentin tells me that two great Poliziotto’s are playing at The American Cinematheque that night. So we go and see them, they were great. Italia A Mano Armata and Roma A Mano Armata. Cut to a few months ago. I’m working on Death Proof, QT cuts in a piece of music in the big car chase, it’s Italia A Mano Armata! He tells me he’s been wanting to use that music ever since we saw the films at The Cinematheque during Kill Bill! Enjoy! Have a glass of Nebbiolo!

Fetish Quartet Video, Daniele Luppi

Written by Joe D on December 19th, 2007

I just found this video on YouTube. I directed, shot, and edited it for my pal Daniele Luppi. It’s a music video set to his tune Fetish Quartet from his album An Italian Story. Daniele did the score for my film One Night With You and his album features performances by a few of the same legendary musicians he employed on the soundtrack, mainly Alessandro Alessandroni and Antonello Vannucchi. It’s a great album, check it out. By the way Daniele has been busy working with Gnarls Barkley on some amazing tracks. Keep your ears open for their next collaboration.

Leonard Mann Interview

Written by Joe D on December 17th, 2007

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Me & Leonard

Well I finally did it. Traveled up to the Central Coast of California with a camera, got my pal Joe Montgomery to shoot and interviewed Leonard Mann. I had met Leonard this summer by accident. We were at a party for a mutual friend, in talking to him I quickly found out who he was and what films he had starred in, a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of Italian genre film! Spaghetti Western, Poliziotto, Giallo, SciFi, Historical Drama, Sex Farce, all the cool genres the illuminati of film are into. Leonard acted with some luminaries in these films, James Mason, Marcello Mastroianni, Woody Strode, Laura Antonelli, Henry Silva, Ivan Rassimov, Stephen Boyd, Allida Valli, Richard Kiel, Harvey Keitel,to name just a few. But the real reason for the interview was not a particular film or a particular actor or even a particular genre. I wanted to try and capture a little bit of the spirit of those times, recreate a feeling of that incredible milieu when all of these films we love so much were born. I’m linking this to a Podcast (audio only) but I may create a video version complete with illustrative film clips and release that into the ether in the near future. For now I hope you enjoy this visit to Roma 1968.

Leonard Mann Podcast

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Legend Of The Poisoned Seductress, Female Demon Ohyaku

Written by Joe D on December 13th, 2007

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Check this out! A crazy Pinky Violence type film from Japan, in B&W Scope no less! A smoking hot chick out for revenge, gore galore, a pit and the pendulum type finale, what more could you ask for! These Japanese genre films never cease to amaze me! They are so well made, the rest of the world cranks this stuff out on a shoestring budget with ketchup blood effects, shot in Uncle Louie’s butcher shop with a camera mounted in a shopping cart and starring whoever didn’t get a job that summer. This stuff looks like Yojimbo! I guess they had a big homegrown market for this genre cause it sure as hell didn’t make it out of the country! They made a profit strictly on a one country theatrical run! Those were the days! If you’d like more info on this series click the magic link below and be transported to The Outcast Cinema Blog!
A World Of Wacky Wonder Awaits!

La Resa Dei Conti, Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Sergio Sollima

Written by Joe D on December 13th, 2007

Here’s the trailer to Sergio Sollima’s magnificent Western La Resa Dei Conti or as it’s known in the USA, The Big Gundown. This is one of my favorite Spaghetti Westerns, up there with the Leone masterpieces. It features an incredible score by Ennio Morricone, vocal work by Alessandro Alessandroni’s Cantori Moderni, and solo vocal by Christy.

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Is Christy Really Gianna Spagnulo?

Sergio Sollima and Sergio Donati imbued the screenplay with Socialist overtones but it’s the interplay between Milian and Van Cleef that really elevates this film to the Olympian heights of Western Greatness. As a matter of fact I think it rivals, maybe even surpasses the buddy/enemy dynamic of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. That’s a tall order! Van Cleef did this immediately after GBU, what a great year he had! (Check out Mike Malloy’s cool book Lee Van Cleef for more info on this great actor.) There’s a Classical Greek reference in a sort of Odysseus on the Isle Of Circe scene with Milian as Odysseus. Also this trailer features some of the supercool optical work from the ultra groovy main title sequence. Check it out, you won’t be sorry!

Beautiful Main Title Sequence

The Story Of G.I. Joe, William Wellman, Robert Mitchum, Ernie Pyle

Written by Joe D on December 11th, 2007

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They ran an episode of The Men Who Made The Movies the other night on TCM. It was about William Wellman.

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“Wild Bill” Wellman
The guy had an incredible career, winning the first Academy Award for Wings, making great films like Public Enemy with James Cagney, a film that ushered in the Gangster Era of moviemaking and is the bookend to White Heat in terms of Cagney’s career. Both are about tough characters with doting mothers. This would make a great double bill. He also made The Ox-Bow Incident and another great war film Battleground. But it’s G.I. Joe that I’m here to tell you about. It’s my favorite war movie of all time. I even like it better than Attack with Jack Palance. I was gratified to learn via The Men Who Made The Movies that it’s Welman’s favorite film of all! It is great. Written by Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent, ably portrayed by Burgess Meredith in the film.
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Burgess Meredith and Ernie Pyle flank an Unknown guy

Pyle went into the thick of the action and wrote about the common man, his stories of the dog soldiers on the front lines carrying out orders in the face of intolerable conditions are what inspired Wellman to make the film. Wellman spent time with Pyle in New Mexico at Pyle’s place. Ernie came to visit the Wellman’s in Hollywood and while playing shoot em up with the kids uttered a line that stuck in Wellman’s head “A man falls dying only once.” It would prove prophetic. The film follows a unit of infantry led by Capt. Bill Walker(Robert Mitchum) as they struggle to take Monte Cassino. Wellman filmed in real bombed out towns in Italy, where snipers still abounded. He used real soldiers as extras, firing a Howitzer and performing other military tasks to add reality. A lot of the soldiers in the film never got to see it, they were killed in action shortly after filming.

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Life In A Bunker

There are some amazing sequences, one soldier carries a recording his wife back in the states made of his baby boy’s first words. He carefully guards the disc like a treasure, looking for a phonograph so he can hear it. Finally he finds one in a burned out village but it doesn’t work. He struggles to fix it but he can’t get it to go. Then after it seemed it would never work, it does. He hears his son’s first words and he snaps, charging out of the cave he’s been living in to kill all the Germans. He has to be restrained, his mind is gone.

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Wild Bill got his nickname as a WWI pilot

But it’s Robert Mitchum’s nuanced performance as the bone tired world weary Capt. Walker that steals the show. He has to write the letters to the next of kin. He has to order new, inexperienced men out to the front line where there life expectancy is two hours. He has to be sane, and responsible in the face of the insanity of war. He delivers in spades. This is the film that made Mitchum a star. The Story Of G.I. Joe is an anti-war movie. One of the best. Something we need to see today, maybe more than ever. And Ernie Pyle never got to see the movie either. He was killed by a Japanese sniper bullet in the South Pacific before the film was released. ” A man falls dying only once.”

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Give Eli Wallach an Academy Award!

Written by Joe D on December 8th, 2007

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December 7th was Eli Wallach’s 92nd birthday. Please members of the Academy give the guy a career Academy Award! He deserves it! He’s a National Treasure. His portrayal of Tuco in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is one of the greatest in the History Of Cinema! He should have won back then. Let’s show the man how much we appreciate him while he’s still here! Who deserves it more than him? He’s never gotten one and it’s a disgrace to our film community. I’m starting the campaign now! Spread the word! Write your Congressman! Petition the Academy, Seize the Chinese Theater! Maybe the American Cinematheque can have a retrospective and generate publicity, any and all ideas welcome. Let’s honor this great artist! Clint jump on the bandwagon for your old buddy, don’t leave him hanging like at the end of GBU.
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Take the shot, elevate him to the firmament of Super Stars!
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Million Dollar Movie- WOR-TV Channel 9

Written by Joe D on December 6th, 2007

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I found an old ad for the wonderful Million Dollar Movie! During the 60’s M$M would run the same movie twice a day for a week! I guess the idea was based on movie theaters where the same movie would be shown several times a day for a week or two. This enabled you to watch a movie over and over and the ability to do that before VCR’s and home video got a lot of youngsters interested in filmmaking. George Romero, director of Night Of The Living Dead has said that watching Tales Of Hoffmann over and over on M$M inspired him to pursue a career in film. This is where I first saw films that got me interested in filmmaking. Lord Of The Flies, The Boy With The Green Hair, Robinson Crusoe, The Crawling Eye, King Kong, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Two Women, La Dolce Vita, etc., etc. Someone was programming European Art Films from the 50’s as this ad demonstrates. So to the unknown programmer, wether living or up in Film Valhalla, a million thanks from all the incipient filmmakers you inspired.

This is the opening for Million Dollar Movie that was used during the 1970’s.

Mutiny in Outer Space, The Human Duplicators, Film Scam 101

Written by Joe D on December 5th, 2007

Once Upon A Time a producer type guy told me a funny story. It involved these two films, Mutiny In Outer Space and The Human Duplicators. This guy claimed he had been sent to Rome by the producer Bernard Woolner, best known for his el cheapo classic of Pop Iconography Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman.
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Woolner had gotten a budget from an East Coast Supermarket magnate to make a SciFi Space Opera, Mutiny In Outer Space.
But Mr. W had a brainstorm, why not make two films at the same time and charge them both to Mr. Magnate! According to my source he had the sets built back to back on the same stage, in the morning they’d shoot one movie, after lunch they’d shoot the other. All the film went to the same lab and supposedly a lot of the same crew worked on both films.
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The grips at Cinecitta knew what was up, they’d shrug and laugh when anyone asked what was going on. Dolores Faith was the female lead in both films. So they finished both films with Mr. Supermarkets footing the bill. When they were all done they turned his film over to him and they kept the other one, free of charge! Creative Film Financing 101! Both films were directed by the same guy, Hugo Grimaldi and both were written by the same guy Arthur C. Pierce, funny name for a Sci/Fi writer.
Is this story true? Who knows, I’m just repeating what I was told but it is suspicious.
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I’m going to the SuperMarket!

Citizen Kane

Written by Joe D on December 3rd, 2007

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TCM did it again. They showed a movie that got me thinking and then got me writing. The case in point, Orson Welles incredible directorial debut Citizen Kane.

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Welles was a wunderkind, playing The Shadow and directing and starring in his Mercury Theater Radio dramas, a lot of which were adaptations of great literature. But it was The War Of The Worlds that really launched young Orson into the Stratosphere of Fame. It was a huge scandal with stories of panicked listeners drinking poison, committing suicide, going crazy. My father heard the broadcast as a youngster, he said the thing that really unnerved him was the use of real street names in the broadcast, “They’re attacking the Pulaski Skyway…”. I am reminded of the beginning of another Cinematic career that started with a scandal. Luis Bunuel andUn Chien Andalou. The slicing of the Eyeball vs. the Shattering of the Snow Globe.

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Violated Optical Orbs
Due to his gigantic popularity Welles was offered carte blanche at RKO, an unprecedented amount of creative control. He began developing an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, the type of material he worked with on his Mercury Radio productions, but after a few months abandoned the idea due to budgetary limitations. Many years later another Cinematic Giant would struggle to bring his version of this story to the screen, I’m referring of course to Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Welles then switched gears and developed a screenplay with Herman Mankiewiscz, Kane. Another coincidence, I know Christopher Mankiewiscz, the nephew of Herman, he told me he was related to Joseph Conrad! Welles kept it in the family!

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Orson Horsin’ around with the dancing girls, Kane rehearsal

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Shooting Kane

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Despite protestations to the contrary it certainly seemed that Kane was based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst’s fortune was based on a silver mine in Colorado, so was Kane’s, Hearst created the Spanish American War through his muckraking newspapers, so did Kane. Hearst obsessively collected Art in Europe and sent it back to his Xanadu (Hearst Castle) , the married Hearst carried on an affair with a blonde entertainer(Marion Davies) so did Charlie, and finally as legend has it, Rosebud was Hearst’s nickname for Marion Davies clitoris! That’s pretty wild! Probably the most well known, important word ever uttered in Cinema and it refers to a woman’s sex organ! Not only that but the shot where Kane utters his fateful last word is an extreme close up of his mouth, his lips fringed on top by a mustache mouthing “Rose..Bud, the image is undeniably sexual, vagina-like.
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Rose…Buddd…
The snow globe drops, rolls from Kane’s paralyzed hand, loss of control, then bursts with a splash, ejaculation! What happens next? He dies, the orgasm is also known as the little death, another parallel to Un Chien Andalou.

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Un Petit Morte
It’s fitting, it captures the whole phenomenon of Film, a creative endeavor capable of flights of the most amazing beauty, of the loftiest intellectual speculation, rumination operating through our emotions, our sex drive, our blood lust.

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There is a man, A certain Man…Good Old Charley Kane!

Watching Kane again I was struck by it’s tone. It’s emotional tone is unique in Cinema, kind of a melancholy, removed storytelling. You’re never involved in Kane in a normal identifying way. You don’t sit there and think ” Come on Charlie, don’t fire Jed Leland! or Don’t leave your wife for that floozy!”. You watch fascinated, I think Welles chose not to manipulate the audience through conventional emotional storytelling. It’s got an icy cold grip on your mind. Maybe this is why I didn’t love Citizen Kane as a kid watching it on TV. I watched it mesmerized but I enjoyed King Kong more. Kane succeeds where Radio succeeds. Radio conjures worlds of fantasy in your mind through dialog, acting, sound effects, music. Kane through it’s incredible technique does the same thing. The Freedom of Creativity expressed by it’s images, it’s brilliant , light years ahead of it’s time. The scene where the investigating reporter reads Mr. Thatcher’s manuscript for example. The perfect Victorian handwriting, obviously done with a quill, the whiteness of the paper gradually giving way to a young Charles Foster Kane playing in the Colorado snow. The low angles in the Kane household, Agness Morehead’s beautiful performance as The Mother who wanted to give her boy a better life.

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Deep Focus- Let Me Know If You Find The Snow Globe

Someone told me they saw the snow globe somewhere in this scene, where Agness is signing the papers to give control of her fortune and her son to Mr. Thatcher, but I can never see it! Maybe I get so caught up in this scene every time I watch it that it eludes me. You look for it and see if you can find it. The amazing scene outside the Kane house where Mr. and Mrs. K introduce young Charlie to Mr. Thatcher.

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Just listen to this scene, the perfect timing and this is with a child actor! It’s like a Radio Play, brilliant.

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Sloppy Joe’s, Watchamacallit,Xanadu
Maybe because it’s all about remembrance, the past. Old people talking about their youth. Does anyone in this movie love Charles Foster Kane? Even his mother? She sent him away. What a strange story for a young Orson Welles to tell. A story of the ultimate “primitive accumulator” trying to fill his empty life with things.

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