Monday, December 28, 2009

Bigger Than Life (...but aren't all movies, really?)

Nicholas Ray is one of my favourite "Hollywood renegades" of the 1950's and 1960's. I was first impressed by his charasmatic performance as the one-eyed forger in Wim Wenders' The American Friend (which also was my "official introduction" to the work of Patricia Highsmith, on whose middle Ripley novels it is loosely based - though followers of this blog will know that I had a formative childhood encounter with a certain story of hers about giant man-eating snails. It doesn't quite count, as I didn't really know or care who Highsmith was at that point, as I was in elementary school and only in it for the snails). Also being a fan of Wenders' Im Lauf Der Zeit (Kings Of The Road), I was very curious to see The Lusty Men, which that film quotes, and was most impressed when I caught up with it. It tells a story of rodeo riders and the woman who loves them (who is much wiser and mature than any of the men-boys in the movie; great Susan Hayward performance, for fans of hers - worth seeking out); it's unavailable officially on DVD to my knowledge, but bootlegs of it can be found. Johnny Guitar was a bit over the top for me (though it would bear revisiting), and I haven't looked at Rebel Without a Cause in years - recalling its social commentary as being somewhat broad (though I do retain a vivid memory of Jim Backus' ass waggling in the kitchen as, housewife-like, he scrubs the floor; why do I remember that image?). His first film, They Live By Night, is a terrific and inventive "doomed lovers on the run" noir which makes striking use of helicopter shots, rare at the time; but by far my favourite film of Ray's is In A Lonely Place, with Humphrey Bogart as a helplessly self-destructive screenwriter, modeled in part on Ray himself (who is storied, if I've got this right, to have once thrown a movie projector out of a window to register his disagreement with a producer). There aren't many American filmmakers of the 1950's whose canon I am so familiar with; perhaps only Billy Wilder rivals Ray in terms of films I've sought out, with Douglas Sirk and Sam Fuller in distant third-and-fourth place).

Bigger Than Life - soon coming out on Criterion - is not exactly my favourite Ray film, but that's partially my own fault: the idea of James Mason as a professor in the 1950's who succumbs to drug-induced megalomania is so damn appealing to one such as myself that it interfered with my being actually able to appreciate the film on its own terms, the one time I saw it. Good news, then, that I have a shot at catching a theatrical screening: it's currently playing at the Cinematheque, alongside an Elia Kazan film that I have not seen. Cinephile followers of this blog are advised to check it out!
Nothing else to say. Today would have been my father's 76th birthday. I'm going to spend it with Mom. Over and out.

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