Posts Tagged ‘cinema’

The Vision of Metropolis

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Ninety six years ago, on 10 January 1927, the movie Metropolis premiered. Now-a-days, Metropolis is primarily remembered for its robot and for its depiction of a city of great skyscrapers, elevated roadways, and aircraft. Others will remember it for what they take to be a humanistic message about the relationship between physical laborers and thought-workers being brought and kept into harmonious relations by kindness. The ideologic subtext is often unrecognized.

Within the social order depicted in the movie, while money is a feature of the economy, that economy seems to be fundamentally technocratic. The city is under the ultimate control of a single institution, with headquarters in der neuen Turm Babel [the New Tower of Babel]. At the least, this institution controls power production and water delivery. The institution seems to employ the entirety or nearly the entirety of a substantial proletariat, living and working underground. The institution can act as a state in response to a violent uprising by this proletariat. Moreover, the head of the institution, Joh[ann] Frederson, is said to be responsible for the city more generally.

Observable, productive members of society, fall into very few classes. The narration and the female protagonist refer metaphorically to the proletariat as die Hände [the hands] and to a managerial class or to its leader as das Hirn [the brain]. Other classes are nearly irrelevant to the conception. For example, those dismissed from managerial positions are said to descend to the proletariat.

(The managerial class and proletariat are depicted as utterly male. Females employed above ground seem all to be young courtesans; females below ground are shown as living with the wage laborers, but not as employed outside the home.)

The work of the proletariat is terrible; their living conditions impoverished. But the proletariat are lacking in intelligence and self-control. When one, Georgy 11811, is rescued by Freder (son of Johann Frederson) from labor that is overwhelming Georgy, and tasked by Freder with going to an apartment to meet with him later, Georgy instead takes money left in his care and goes to the pleasure district, even as his savior suffers in place of Georgy. (Freder's other disciple, drawn from the managerial class, is unfailingly faithful.) Later, with just the one exception of a foreman, each and every man and woman in the underground allow themselves to be persuaded to destroy the machinery running the city, and then thoughtlessly monkey-dance in the ruins even as their children face drowning when water from the reservoir comes flooding into the residential area. Plainly, one wants no dictatorship of this proletariat, nor to have them make any decisions of import.

But, using that robot, Johann Frederson deliberately had the proletariat agitated to such violence, to excuse his bringing them under more repressive control. He's not merely callous, but quite willing to do horrific things to human beings, in order to realize his vision. He only comes to recognize that he has done horrific things when he discovers that his own son may be amongst those killed.

The resolution is to be a new order in which the classes — die Hände und das Hirn — are reconciled by Freder, das Herz [the heart].

Fritz Lang, who co-scripted and directed Metropolis, was reportedly appalled to discover that the National Socialists loved the movie. Despite assurances that he would not be considered Jewish though his mother had been born a Jew, Lang fled Germany. His wife Thea von Harbou, the other scriptwriter and the author of the novelization, was not appalled, and joined the National Socialist Party after divorcing Lang.

The reason that Lang should not have been surprised is that the popular visions of fascism and of Naziism — and the vision of a better society presented by Metropolis — were of a technocratic order in which class distinctions were natural but classes were brought together in harmony. Yes, indeed, the Nation Socialists in particular wanted to wipe-out a great many people on the way to such a harmonious technocratic order, but still such an order was part of their vision.

The bottom line is not that Naziism was somehow less awful because it had the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is not that fascism is somehow cool because it has the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is that Metropolis has a fascistic vision, and so people should be goddamn'd uncomfortable if they've thought that its vision were cool. They ought to ask themselves Hey, am I, after all, a bit of a fascist?

Most people are. No one ought to be.

Romance noir

Saturday, 31 July 2010

A confluence of recent events provoked me to acquire and watch a copy of the Fox Film Noir DVD of Laura (1944). [Still image showing portrait of Laura Hunt in background] Included on the disc are some commentary from David Raksin (who scored the film), from film professor Jeanine Basinger, and from historian Rudy Behlmer. Some of these comments add real value, but I was unhappy about things that the commentaries missed, and am thus provoked to write this entry.

Most useful discussion of this film entails some spoilers, and will further presume familiarity with the film. Behlmer strongly urges his listeners to have watched the film with its ordinary soundtrack before listening to his comments. Similarly, I suggest that, if you haven't watched Laura, you stop reading this entry right after I give you just one piece of advice.

That advice is that, while you watch Laura, you dismiss if you can the lyrics that Johnny Mercer later wrote for the theme melody, which impose a new significance to the melody that it wouldn't have had when the film was first made and shown. The melody actually figures within the story (at least in a minor way), and within the story is not about Laura. (By all means, recall and enjoy the Mercer lyrics after watching.)

(Here Be Spoilers!)

Is he in hell?

Friday, 16 July 2010

I'm rather a fan of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), and the reasons are largely to be found within about 8 ½ of its 97 minutes. I offer those 8 ½ minutes here in a clip. The excerpt can be understood without being set-up; all the essentials can be inferred as one watches. So you may want to skip ahead to watch the video. But, for those of you more comfortable with more context, I'll provide some:

La Révolution française is cutting-off heads by scores daily. (There is some confusion in the movie over the year in which la Terreur began.)

Percy Blakeney had married Marguerite St. Just about a year earlier. Some time after the marriage, he learned that Marguerite had been instrumental in bringing-about the execution of a French aristocrat and his family. Not knowing that she had been tricked into providing the information that had led to that execution, Percy asked her about it. Marguerite, given to impetuosity, did not explain, but angrily admitted that she had. Percy began paying for the fact that he loved — that he still loved — Marguerite, by adopting the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel (the red pimpernel being a wildflower) and forming a team, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who enter France in disguise, to steal political prisoners from la guillotine. The identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is unknown to all but members of the League. Blakeney further secures his secret — and pushes away his wife — by adopting the persona of a fop.

Marguerite's brother, Armand, part of the League, has been taken prisoner in France. Chauvelin, an agent of the French, has offered to surrender a key piece of evidence against Armand if she will reveal to Chauvelin the true identity of the Pimpernel. Unaware that the Scarlet Pimpernel is Percy, she has done what she could. Last night, she learned and reported to Chauvelin that the Scarlet Pimpernel would at mid-night be in the library of an estate where a party was being held.

When Chauvelin went to the library, Percy was there, pretending to sleep on a love-seat. Chauvelin eyed him suspiciously, but then adopted a derisive expression. Shortly after mid-night, Chauvelin himself briefly fell asleep, then awoke to find a mocking note from the Pimpernel, with Percy still apparently asleep. Chauvelin glanced at Percy as if dismissively, and then left. Percy arose, and wondered how Chauvelin had come to be there and whether his dismissal were sincere.

As the clip begins, Lord and Lady Blakeney are returning home.

There's all kinds of things right with the scenes in this clip.

When Marguerite comes to speak with Percy, we see that his affectation of effeminacy is, as much as anything, a very bitter way of rejecting her. Harry Stack Sullivan once wrote Hate is love turned angry, and when Marguerite says You … hate me. she's not far from the truth. However, Percy's question in reply isn't merely rhetorical; he truly wants to know why she denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr. At the least Percy wants to see what sort of person she really is, but what he really wants is some vindication for her actions, so that his love for her will not have been — will not be — wrong.

After he hears her explanation of what really happened with respect to the Marquis and his family, there remains the issue of Marguerite's trade with Chauvelin. Note the desperation in Percy's voice. He doesn't just need the information qua Scarlet Pimpernel; he wants to know whether, after all, she's still done something dreadful. He want to feel free to love her. When he learns what she gave to Chauvelin (a report that the Pimpernel would be in the library at mid-night), Percy is almost ready to laugh aloud from relief. And watch Leslie Howard's left hand, as he raises it up, partly into frame, almost to his heart, his fingers flexing; his character wants to reach out and take hold of Marguerite.

When Marguerite says that the Pimpernel might be going to his death, and Percy says Well, that's all the fellow lives for, he's really now talking of how he has been living. That demmed, elusive Pimpernel has not been in Heaven. But now he's climbing out of Hell.

The subsequent meaning of Percy's body language is obvious to the audience. The rest of their interaction is, of course, two people speaking of their love one for another, with one of them almost oblivious to what is being said, as she doesn't recognize the relationship amongst referents. Almost oblivious, but as Percy leaves the room, Marguerite knows that there's something that she isn't seeing clearly.

The principal reason that the story-telling in this clip stays with me is because it has a moment [Marguerite, suddenly reälizing who the Scarlet Pimpernel is] where pieces all click together in the mind of one of the characters, revealing something important.

For this sort of moment to work, it's important that the character not have been positioned for the reälization before hand. Rather than having some twit finally see something that he or she should have seen all along, the story needs to put that character in possession of a new datum (preferably no more than one) and then have the character's mind move with fair intelligence towards the reälization.

I love the way that Merle Oberon presents Marguerite's reäctions, all within a matter of seconds. She questions her reasoning. [Marguerite, overtly reäcting to the reälization] As she looks again at the painting, her mouth is asymmetrical as she moves towards laughter [Marguerite, almost laughing] at the deception Percy has effected. But the joke is displaced in her mind and her expression moves towards a different, symmetric sort of smile [Marguerite, almost smiling] as she starts to think that her Percy is a better man than she had come to think him, and indeed a better man than she had thought him when they married. She doesn't get very far with that thought, as it hits her [Marguerite, seized with fear and with grief] that Percy has sailed off not only into danger but into danger that she has caused to be greatly increased.

Ghosts of Christmas Past & Present

Friday, 4 December 2009

My latest poll has rather many options, so I'm not placing it in the sidebar.

Cover Girl

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Woman of Interest alerts me to reports that Marge Simpson is to appear on the cover of the November issue of Playboy.

Which cartoon character is sexiest?

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To see Elmer Fudd in drag, watch The Big Snooze (1946, directed by the egregious Robert Clampett).

Not a Moment to Be Lost

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Professor van Helsing, having just had a confrontation with Dracula, in which van Helsing has learned that Dracula has made Mina Harker drink his blood, walks up the stairs, one at a time, to her room. As he is part-way up, Seward comes up from behind him. Van Helsing stops, and takes a step down to meet Seward.

Van Helsing: Seward! That which I have feared from the beginning has happened!

Seward: What?

Van Helsing: Dracula boasts that he has fused his blood with that of Miss Mina! In life she will now become the foul thing of the night that he is!

Seward: But, van Hesling—

Van Helsing: No, no! Come, Seward! Van Helsing resumes walking up the stairs, one at a time. Come! There's not a moment to be lost!

Judging a Cover by Its Book

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

On 10 February 2006, Broadview Press released a version of H. Rider Haggard's She (1886). The cover of this edition [image of a mummified woman] is interesting, in large part because it is almost perfectly wrong. I'll explain what's wrong with the use of the image of this mummy by comparing and contrasting She with, well, the Mummy.

In many respects, the movie The Mummy (1932) is a retelling of She. Consider the two title characters. Ayesha is about 2000 years old; Imhotep about 3700 years old. Ayesha has been living in a tomb for most of those centuries; Imhotep has been sealed in a sarcophagus. Each was thus consigned by a wrongful act associated with love. Each seeks over all else to be reünited with the reïncarnation of the one whom he or she loved those many centuries earlier. To effect that reünion, each must transform the loved one as Ayesha or as Imhotep have been transformed, but the loved one shrinks from the transformation, and as a consequence Time catches-up with Ayesha and with Imhotep. Each has and uses the ability to kill by some dreadful mesmeric power. Both Ayesha and Imhotep face young rivals in love (Ustane and Frank, respectively), and are willing to use their dreadful power to destroy those rivals.

There are more minor echoes. Ayesha uses a vessel of water in her chambers as a device to see things elsewhere and of other times:

Then gaze upon that water, and she pointed to the font-like vessel, and then, bending forward, held her hand over it.

I rose and gazed, and instantly the water darkened. Then it cleared, and I saw as distinctly as I ever saw anything in my life—I saw, I say, our boat upon that horrible canal. There was Leo lying at the bottom asleep in it, with a coat thrown over him to keep off the mosquitoes, in such a fashion as to hide his face, and myself, Job, and Mahomed towing on the bank.

and Imhotep puts a pool to similar purpose. [screen-shot of Imhotep before the viewing pool] There are even occasional lines of dialogue in The Mummy (1932) that are essentially lifted from She:

SheThe Mummy

Shall I raise thee, she said, apparently addressing the corpse, so that thou standest there before me, as of old? I can do it, and she held out her hands over the sheeted dead, while her whole frame became rigid and terrible to see, and her eyes grew fixed and dull. I shrank in horror behind the curtain, my hair stood up upon my head, and, whether it was my imagination or a fact I am unable to say, but I thought that the quiet form beneath the covering began to quiver, and the winding sheet to lift as though it lay on the breast of one who slept. Suddenly she withdrew her hands, and the motion of the corpse seemed to me to cease.

To what purpose? she said gloomily. Of what good is it to recall the semblance of life when I cannot recall the spirit? Even if thou stoodest before me thou wouldst not know me, and couldst but do what I bid thee. The life in thee would be my life, and not thy life, Kallikrates.

Imhotep: It is thy dead shell. I tried then to raise this body; I could raise it now. But it would be only a thing that moved at my will, without a soul.

Imhotep: It was not only this body that I loved; it was thy soul.

Once Ayesha feels secure that Kallikrates is restored to her in another body, she pours a mysterious fluid on the prior, preserved body and reduces it to smoke and ash. Once Imhotep feels secure that Anck-es-en-Amon is restored to him in another body, he sets her prior, mummified body afire. (I destroy this lifeless thing.)

The parallels are not mysterious. John L. Balderston, who wrote the screen-play for The Mummy (starting with a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer but changing it from a science-fantasy about a serial killer who maintained an existence through the centuries), was in-process also assigned by Universal Studios to adapt She.[1][2]

But there's a very great departure with The Mummy — greater than the reversal of sexes.

Imhotep is dead. He is dead when he is found in the sarcophagus; he is reänimated by a scroll,[3]

but it is something that only works upon the dead, and does not restore true life. Balderston's script, Pierce's make-up and Karloff's incredible performance convey that Imhotep is dry and stiff. The dialogue is quite explicit:

Dr Muller: If I could get my hands on you, I'd break your dried flesh to pieces.
and there's the terrible moment in which Anck-es-en-Amon recognizes that Imhotep is dead:

Ayesha, on the other hand, may be about 2000 years old, but she is utterly alive.

Though the face before me was that of a young woman of certainly not more than thirty years, in perfect health, and the first flush of ripened beauty, yet it had stamped upon it a look of unutterable experience, and of deep acquaintance with grief and passion. Not even the lovely smile that crept about the dimples of her mouth could hide this shadow of sin and sorrow. It shone even in the light of the glorious eyes, it was present in the air of majesty, and it seemed to say: Behold me, lovely as no woman was or is, undying and half-divine; memory haunts me from age to age, and passion leads me by the hand — evil have I done, and from age to age evil I shall do, and sorrow shall I know till my redemption comes.

She has never died, having bathed in a column of pure life energy.

We stood in a third cavern, some fifty feet in length by perhaps as great a height, and thirty wide. It was carpeted with fine white sand, and its walls had been worn smooth by the action of I know not what. The cavern was not dark like the others, it was filled with a soft glow of rose-coloured light, more beautiful to look on than anything that can be conceived. But at first we saw no flashes, and heard no more of the thunderous sound. Presently, however, as we stood in amaze, gazing at the marvellous sight, and wondering whence the rosy radiance flowed, a dread and beautiful thing happened. Across the far end of the cavern, with a grinding and crashing noise — a noise so dreadful and awe-inspiring that we all trembled, and Job actually sank to his knees — there flamed out an awful cloud or pillar of fire, like a rainbow many-coloured, and like the lightning bright. For a space, perhaps forty seconds, it flamed and roared thus, turning slowly round and round, and then by degrees the terrible noise ceased, and with the fire it passed away — I know not where — leaving behind it the same rosy glow that we had first seen.

Draw near, draw near! cried Ayesha, with a voice of thrilling exultation. Behold the very Fountain and Heart of Life as it beats in the bosom of the great world. Behold the substance from which all things draw their energy, the bright Spirit of the Globe, without which it cannot live, but must grow cold and dead as the dead moon. Draw near, and wash you in the living flames, and take their virtue into your poor frames in all its virgin strength — not as it now feebly glows within your bosoms, filtered thereto through all the fine strainers of a thousand intermediate lives, but as it is here in the very fount and seat of earthly Being.

We followed her through the rosy glow up to the head of the cave, till at last we stood before the spot where the great pulse beat and the great flame passed. And as we went we became sensible of a wild and splendid exhilaration, of a glorious sense of such a fierce intensity of Life that the most buoyant moments of our strength seemed flat and tame and feeble beside it. It was the mere effluvium of the flame, the subtle ether that it cast off as it passed, working on us, and making us feel strong as giants and swift as eagles.

We reached the head of the cave, and gazed at each other in the glorious glow, and laughed aloud — even Job laughed, and he had not laughed for a week — in the lightness of our hearts and the divine intoxication of our brains. I know that I felt as though all the varied genius of which the human intellect is capable had descended upon me. I could have spoken in blank verse of Shakesperian beauty, all sorts of great ideas flashed through my mind; it was as though the bonds of my flesh had been loosened and left the spirit free to soar to the empyrean of its native power. The sensations that poured in upon me are indescribable. I seemed to live more keenly, to reach to a higher joy, and sip the goblet of a subtler thought than ever it had been my lot to do before. I was another and most glorified self, and all the avenues of the Possible were for a space laid open to the footsteps of the Real.

Then, suddenly, whilst I rejoiced in this splendid vigour of a new-found self, from far, far away there came a dreadful muttering noise, that grew and grew to a crash and a roar, which combined in itself all that is terrible and yet splendid in the possibilities of sound. Nearer it came, and nearer yet, till it was close upon us, rolling down like all the thunder-wheels of heaven behind the horses of the lightning. On it came, and with it came the glorious blinding cloud of many-coloured light, and stood before us for a space, turning, as it seemed to us, slowly round and round, and then, accompanied by its attendant pomp of sound, passed away I know not whither.

For Kallikrates/Leo to be joined with Ayesha, he must bathe in this Flame of Life as she once did. Holly's narrative makes it plain that to be in the presence of the column is thrilling, and causes him to throw-off his former rejection of the near immortality that it would bestow.

And that will I also, I cried.

What, my Holly! she laughed aloud; methought that thou wouldst naught of length of days. Why, how is this?

Nay, I know not, I answered, but there is that in my heart that calleth me to taste of the flame and live.

Leo has been promised that he will not be harmed: It is not wonderful that thou shouldst doubt. Tell me, Kallikrates: if thou seest me stand in the flame and come forth unharmed, wilt thou enter also?[4]

On the other hand, Anck-es-en-Amon/Helen has been taken to a place of embalming, and informed that she must be killed and mummified to be joined with Imhotep. Upon setting her prior body alight, Imhotep had promised her Thou shall take its place but for a few moments. And then … rise again even as I have risen.

When Time catches-up to Ayesha, it is to age her:

As soon as it was gone, she stepped forward to Leo's side — it seemed to me that there was no spring in her step — and stretched out her hand to lay it on his shoulder. I gazed at her arm. Where was its wonderful roundness and beauty? It was getting thin and angular. And her face — by Heaven! — her face was growing old before my eyes! I suppose that Leo saw it also; certainly he recoiled a step or two.


She was dying: we saw it, and thanked God — for while she lived she could feel, and what must she have felt? She raised herself upon her bony hands, and blindly gazed around her, swaying her head slowly from side to side as a tortoise does. She could not see, for her whitish eyes were covered with a horny film. Oh, the horrible pathos of the sight! But she could still speak.


On the very spot where more than twenty centuries before she had slain Kallikrates the priest, she herself fell down and died.

When it catches up to Imhotep, it is to reduce his body to bones and dust:

The Mummy ends with Time catching-up to an old corpse; but She climaxed with Time catching-up to an old woman. At no point in She is Ayesha mummified or anything much like that. What is left behind in the cavern is the body of a very agèd, hairless, shrunken woman.

In fairness to Broadview Press, I note that the cover image is of the mummified corpse of Neskhons, which had attracted Haggard's interest, albeït after Haggard had completed a draft of She.

[1] There had been six prior movie adaptations of She. In the end, Universal did not produce a version, and ultimately sold its rights to RKO Pictures. The script for the 1935 version from RKO was badly written by Ruth Rose (with some additional dialogue by Dudley Nichols).

[2] Paul M. Jensen, in his commentary to The Mummy for the 2004 release, eventually touches upon the relationship of The Mummy to She, but makes confused misstatements about Haggard's story in the latter.

[3] In The Mummy's Hand (1940), the titular mummy had instead been kept alive for centuries by a potion brewed from tanna leaves. This movie makes other radical changes and, though it reüses footage and significant elements from the earlier film, doesn't represent a continuation of nor prequel to the story in The Mummy.

[4] Jensen asserts Before Ayesha can be reunited with her reincarnated love, he must die and be reborn, thus becoming immortal like her. Plainly, he is in error.

Ill-Remembered History

Monday, 1 June 2009

Recently, I began watching The Stranger (1946) for the first time in many years.

There are many things that one might say about this film, and in particular about the sociological aspects of this film. Here, I want to draw attention to one in particular.

Here's a clip:

On another page, I provide a fairly full transcription of the dialogue for the whole clip. Here, let me focus on a shorter excerpt from within this clip.

Dramatis Personæ
Mr Wilson(Edward G. Robinson)undercover agent of the Allied War Crimes Commission
Franz Kindler
aka Charles Rankin
(Orson Welles)fugitive Nazi official, living under an assumed identity
Adam Longstreet(Philip Merivale)Justice of the SCotUS
Mary Rankin
née Longstreet
(Loretta Young)daughter of Judge Longstreet,
newlywed bride of Charles Rankin
Noah Longstreet(Richard Long)son of Justice Longstreet
Jeffrey Lawrence(Byron Keith)town doctor
Red(unknown)Mary's dog

Wilson: Do you know Germany, Mr. Rankin?
Charles: I'm sorry, I— I have a way of making enemies when I'm on that subject. I get pretty unpopular.
Wilson: Well, we shall consider it the objective opinion of an objective historian.
Charles: Historian? A psychiatrist could explain it better. The German sees himself as the innocent victim of world envy and hatred — conspired against, set upon by inferior peoples, inferior nations. He cannot admit to error, much less to wrongdoing, not the German. We chose to ignore Ethiopia and Spain, but we learned, from our casualty list, the price of looking the other way. Men of truth everywhere have come to know … for whom the bell tolled. But not the German. No, he still follows his warrior gods, marching to Wagnerian strains, his eyes still fixed upon the fiery sword of Siegfried. And [glances at Jeffrey] in those subterranean meeting places that you don't believe in, the German's dreamworld comes alive and he takes his place in shining armor, beneath the banners of the Teutonic Knights. Mankind is waiting for the Messiah; but, for the German, the Messiah is not the Prince of Peace. No, he's… 'sanother Barbarossa, another Hitler.
Wilson: Well, then, you, uh, you have no faith in the reforms that are being effected in Germany.
Charles: I don't know, Mr. Wilson. I can't believe that people can be reformed except from within. The basic principles of equality and freedom never have, never will take root in Germany. The will to freedom has been voiced in every other tongue [Wilson nods.] — All men are created equal, liberté, égalité, fraternité — but in German—
Noah: There's Marx: Proletarians, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.
Charles: But Marx wasn't a German; Marx was a Jew.
Justice Longstreet: But, my dear Charles, if we concede your argument, there is no solution.
Charles: Well, sir, once again, I differ.
Wilson: Well, what is it, then?
Charles: Annihilation. Down to the last babe in arms.
Mary: Oh, Charles, I can't imagine you're advocating a … Carthaginian peace.
Charles: Well, as an historian, I must remind you that the world hasn't had much trouble From Carthage in the past … 2,OOO years.
Justice Longstreet (chuckling): Well, there speaks our pedagogue.
Mary: Well, uh, speaking of teachers, Mr. Wilson, …
Wilson: Yes, huh?
Mary: The faculty is coming for tea next Tuesday. If you have nothing better to do, would you like to join us?
Wilson: Uh, I'd like to, but my work here is finished. [Charles smiles faintly.] I'm leaving Harper tomorrow.

(Later, Charles and Mary Rankin enter their home.)
Mary: Extraordinary, isn't it, clocks being Mr. Wilson's hobby, too?
Charles: Yes, isn't it?
Mary: Well, Red, how do ya like your new house?
Charles: He loves it. Come here, Red; I think I'll take you for a walk. Come here, boy.
Mary: Oh, darling, you don't have to take him out. Just let him out. He won't run off.
Charles: I need the walk; I'm restless. Come on, boy.

(At Wilson's room.)
Male voice from phone: That's good. How are you coming along?
Wilson: I'll be in Washington tomorrow afternoon. You were right about Rankin. He's above suspicion.

Notice that Professor Rankin has advocated genocide — wiping-out the Germans Down to the last babe in arms. The only person at the table who raises the slightest objection is Mary, and even her response is mild. Wilson, the principal hero of the story, concludes from this advocacy that Professor Rankin is above suspicion — the emphasis on above is Wilson's — rather than, say, a pathological Germanophobe.

When Americans remember the war and its aftermath, we tend to forget that there was a time when preaching genocide, while a minority position, was socially acceptable. In fact, such sentiment reached up to the highest levels of government. Here are a couple of excerpts from The New Dealers' War by Thomas Fleming (which excerpts may be familiar to those who followed my LJ):

New Dealers and others around the president made no attempt to alter this dehumanizing war against the Japanese. In September 1942, Admiral William Leahy, Roosevelt's White House chief of staff, told Vice President Henry Wallace that Japan was our Carthage and we should go ahead and destroy her utterly. Wallace noted this sentiment without objection in his diary. Elliot Roosevelt, the president's son, told Wallace some months later that he thought Americans should kill about half the Japanese civilian population. New Dealer Paul McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower Commission, went him one better, recommending the extermination of the Japanese in toto.


At the White House on August 19, 1944, [Secretary of the Treasury] Henry Morgenthau told Roosevelt the British were much too benevolent in their postwar plans for Germany and so were the State Department and the European Advisory Commission. The Secretary was, incidentally, shocked by FDR's appearance. He is a very sick man and seems to have wasted away, he told his diary. But that observation did not deter him from urging the president to stop this soft approach to Germany.

Roosevelt's animus against the Germans erupted into fury. Give me thirty minutes with Churchill and I can correct this, he told Morgenthau. We have got to be tough with Germany and I mean the German people, not just the Nazis. You either have to castrate [them] or you have got to treat them … so they can't just go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past.

Morgenthau left the White House convinced that he had a mandate to create a better plan to deal with postwar Germany. He put Harry Dexter White in charge of a special committee to draft the Treasury's analysis of the German problem. The result was the Morgenthau Report. It proposed to divide Germany into four parts. It also recommended destroying all the industry in the Ruhr and Saar basins and turning Central Europe and the German people into agriculturists. At one point Communist agent White, who was described by his Soviet handler as a very nervous cowardly person, feared they were going to extremes. He warned Morgenthau this ideal was politically risky; it would reduce perhaps 20 million people to starvation. I don't care what happens to the population, Morgenthau said.

…but they will be eaten last

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Yester-day, I received a copy of The Call of Cthulhu (2005), which I watched this morning.

I come at this movie from the perspective of one who has read all or most of the fiction by HP Lovecraft, but actually liked only one of his pieces (The Rats in the Walls, Weird Tales, March 1924). I read Lovecraft's work largely because of its cultural significance; and especially, in particular, because it informs some work that I do admire (for example, Michael Shea's brilliant story, The Autopsy[1]).

Most films based upon Lovecraft's work, certainly every other Lovecraft film that I've seen, take great liberties with the material. Call of Cthulhu works sincerely to be faithful, and its makers had the clever idea of trying to give this film the look-and-feel that it would have had, had it been made shortly after the story was published — The Call of Cthulhu (2005) is a black-and-white, silent film.

And my over-all evaluation of it is very positive. This film will be enjoyed by most fans of HP Lovecraft, and by most admirers of horror films from the silent era. It will also appeal to those who enjoy films that are well made on extremely tight budgets.

I have some quibbles and qualms. The acting is too naturalistic; part of what makes classic horror films work is the very unnaturalistic acting in them, and it would have been better if the acting had captured the look-and-feel of 1926 or '7. The costuming doesn't look authentic when the men are in suits, for the simple reason that the collars are too low on their necks for the periods in which scenes are set. I reälize (from watching the extra features on the DVD) that it was terribly hot and uncomfortable when most of these scenes were filmed; but, while that and budgetary constraints might excuse the flaw, a flaw it remains. The direction and cinematography gives most of the film a look that is probably too modern; though there is something of an extra burden for the audience in the cinematography of the typical film of the silent era, this film needed either greater contrast, or the grey-scale of someone such as Carl Theodor Dreyer. While montage is used to good effect in this film, it is a bit anachronistic; it was considered avant-garde into the sound era. And, while I appreciated that text (title cards and what-not) did not linger as if each member of the audience had to sound out the words, the happy speed wasn't very authentic. Cthulhu probably would have worked better as drawn and painted animation, and in any case his neck is probably a bit too long and certainly far too thin. And, while the use of green screen was, through most of the film, remarkably adept, given the budget, it was rather evident in some of the swamp scenes.

But my recommendation is that the reader nod at these qualms and quibbles, and watch the film in spite of them. It's almost surely worth 47 minutes of your time.

[1] The Autopsy first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Dec 1980. It has since been reprinted at least a dozen times, including in Dark Descent 1: The Colour of Evil (Hartwell, ed; 1990) and in Aliens Among Us (Dann & Dozois, ed; 2000).


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

One of the significant gaps in my classic horror movie collection has been that I haven't had a good copy of the Lon Chaney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). Because this movie has slipped into the public domain, there are many different editions, which raises the obvious question of which one should get.

Over at Silent Era they have a review of various editions. They are quite certain that the version to get is the 2007 edition from Image Entertainment.

However, while the 2007 edition includes something like 40 seconds of footage not found in the 1999 edition from Image Entertainment, the the 2007 edition omits about 12 second of footage that is in the 1999 edition.

I ordered a copy of the 2007 edition, but growled and fretted about those 12 seconds. Finally, in the context of the reviewer having pin-pointed where the missing footage would go, I decided to get also a copy of the 1999 edition. I am going to rip these two DVDs, splice those twelve seconds from one file into the other, and burn a new DVD from that.

I'm not sure just what I'll do about the sound-track — I'll probably just let it go silent during the intervals from the 1999 edition.