Search davidnmeyer.com
Film Review Cloud
13 Tzameti A Prophet Afghanistan Alan Sharp Aldous Huxley Aldrich Alex Garland Alphaville Altman Anthony Mann AntiChrist Antonioni Assazyez Baader Meinhof Badlands Baumbach Belmondo Ben Foster Bergman Best Films of 2008 Best Films of 2009m Jia Zhang-ke Best Films of 2010 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Bielinksy Big Dead Place Bill Pullman Billy Name Binoche Black Narcissus Blleder Blue Crush Bob Dylan Bone Tomahawk Breillat Bresson Brick Brisseau Bruce Surtees Bullwinkle Carlos Casino Royale Celine and Julie Go Boating Chabrol Chaplin Charlie Haden Cherry Jones Chris Pine Clint Eastwood Coen Brothers Criterion Da Vinci Code Daisies Dante Spinotti Dassin David Watkins David Wilentz Days of Heaven Deadwood Dean & Britta Death Proof Deborah Kerr Delon Delueze Dennis Wilson Derek Jarman District 9 Don Cherry Douglas Sirk Dreyer Driver Dumot Dunst DW Griffith Eastwood El Aura Elizabeth Olsen Elliot Gould Emeric Pressburger Errol Morris Ex Machina Exiled Exodus Exterminating Angels Fata Morgana Fiennes Film Forum Fish Tank Fistful of Dollars For a Few Dollars More Freddy Herko French Frtiz Lang Gaby Rogers Galaxie 500 Ghost Town Gil Birmingham Godard Gomorrah Greenberg Greta Gerwig Grizzly Man Guadagnino Gus Van Zant Hackman Hank Williams Hara Kiri Help Me Eros Henry Fonda Herzog HHelp Me Eros Hitchcock; Vanity Fair Hong Sang-soo Hudson Hawk I Am Love I Know Where I'm Going ImamuraTarantino In Bruges In The Loop Insomnia Isabelle Huppert Jar City jazz Jeff Bridges Jennifer Warren Jimmy Stewart Joanna Hogg John Ford John Woo Johnny To Jose Giovanni Jude Law Julia Ormond Kael Kang-sheng Lee Ken Russell Kiiyoshi Kurosawa Kill! Kiss Me Deadly Kristen Stewart Kubrick Kwaidan LA LOI Lance Rocke Lars Trier Laurie Bird Layer Cake Le Mepris Le Samourai Lebanon Lenny Bruce Lessons of Darkness Lester Bangs Let The Right One In Linda Linda Linda Lino Ventura Lou Reed Lumet Maddie Hasson Maïwenn Malick Marc Abraham Marcel Ophuls Margot at the Wedding Marina Vlady Masculin feminin Mastroianni Mayersberg; Croupier McCabe & Mrs. Miller Mechanic Meeker Melancholia Melville Memories of Murder Michael Blodgett Michael Caine Michael Mann Michael Powell Michael Shannon Miroslav Slaboshptskiy Miyazaki Montand Monte Hellman Mopar Mungiu Nicholas Ray Nicholas Winding Refn Nico Night and the City Night Moves Nolte Nuri Bilge Ceylan Oliver Reed Olivier Assayas Ornette Coleman Oscar Isaacs OSS 117 Lost in Rio Pale Flower Paranoid Park Paris Passion of Joan of Arc Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid Paul Schrader Paul Verhoeven Pecinpah Penn Pierrot le fou Police Adjective Polisse Preston Sturges Pulp Fiction Pusher Pusher II Pusher III Raoul Coutard Raw Deal Raymond Chandler Red Riding Red Shoes Refn Restrepo Richard III Rififi Rivette Robert Altman Robert Graves Robin Hood robots Rock Hudson Rodney Crowell Rohmer Russ Myer Sailor Suit & Macine Gun Sam Raimi Samuel Fuller Samurai Rebellion Samurai Spy Sautet Schnabel science fiction Sergio Leone Seven Samurai Seventh Seal Sexy Beast Shotgun Stories Sjostrom Soderberg Spartacus Blood and Sand Spartacus: Blood and Sand State of Seige Sterling Hayden
Books By David N Meyer
  • Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music
    Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music
    by David N. Meyer
  • The 100 Best Films to Rent You've Never Heard Of: Hidden Treasures, Neglected Classics, and Hits From By-Gone Eras
    The 100 Best Films to Rent You've Never Heard Of: Hidden Treasures, Neglected Classics, and Hits From By-Gone Eras
    by David N. Meyer
  • A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Renter's Guide to Film Noir
    A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Renter's Guide to Film Noir
    by David N. Meyer
Social Links
Login

Entries in Night and the City (1)

Monday
Aug022010

HURTS SO GOOD, ITALIAN STYLE

La mia prestazione é debole
Jules Dassin has a gift for depicting highly ritualized violence, both physical and psychological. Well, and psycho-sexual, too. The Code made sure the rough stuff in his American films was implied, never depicted—our loss. But once the Communist witch-hunt and Blacklist ran Dassin out of America, his already apparently seething rage (Check outBrute Force [1947] for a prison’s worth of dudes glowering shirtlessly and sweating at one another with deep multiple intent) boiled over.

Night and the City (1950), the most hysterical of all the hysterical-period noirs, includes an over-long, super-close-up, sweaty, squishy pro-wrestling grapple between two flabby squirmy guys in little tiny rubber underpants. It’s deeply unsettling, and functions as a physical metaphor for all the psychic violence the lead characters inflict on one another. When our poor schmuck of a small-time hustling hero gets his comeuppance, Dassin doesn’t even show his violent demise. There’s just a forlorn splash in the Thames to mark the spot where a real loser really lost: death as ritual.

There’s also an extended wrestling sequence between sumo-size squishy Turkish men in little tiny underpants in Dassin’s Topkapi! (1964), his one good-humored caper movie. For added wrestlingness, the Turkish men douse themselves with and rub into their sweaty skin about a gallon of (olive?) oil apiece. Then they grapple, squishily, oilyly. This event is framed as a traditional rite, so that we understand that the oily guys grappling are like totally manly and everything. Dassin clearly digs wrestling, of a sort.

As inflamed as Night and the City might be, it was only a warm-up. After a five year hiatus, Dassin returned with the magnificent caper noir, Rififi (1955). Showcasing his love of ritual, Rififi features a 25-minute wordless vault break-in performed as ballet. Dassin himself stars as a dapper safecracker. Among the several deeply perverse interpersonal dynamics that Dassin presents as utterly matter-of-fact, the foremost is between the leader of the caper and his former girlfriend. As of our hero’s release from prison, which commences the film, the girlfriend has taken up with the man who’s going to get robbed. She has a tearful reunion with said hero. After they hug and smooch with great tenderness, our hero takes off his belt, turns his girlfriend around, rips open the back of her fancy dress, and whips her to the floor.

The whipping is silent, save the crack of the belt. The man’s face shows no pleasure, only resignation; the woman takes it. Dassin kinda suggests that she takes it and likes it; but whatever, she definitely thinks it’s her due. The beating is for screwing the other guy, apparently. In a film renowned for its visceral encounters, this is the most heartfelt. The psycho-sexual beating touches Dassin deeply. His baldly presented interest in such things has no equivalent in films of this era.

 

Sado-masochistic dynamics move to the fore in every relationship in the revelatory La Loi (The Law), Dassin’s 1959 magnum opus, brought to light in an amazing B/W print by Oscilloscope Laboratories, the heretofore indie-only distribution company owned and run by Adam Yauch, MCA of the Beastie Boys. 

La Loi takes place in an exquisite, impoverished, improbable—except in Puccini—seaside Italian town with every possible narrative cliché in residence. There’s a dashing thug who runs the town’s underworld (Yves Montand with a killer spiv mustache); a rotting old aristocrat who’s ruled the town and everyone in it for his entire lifetime (Pierre Brasseur, the God-faced god of French theater and cinema); the miserable, lovely wife of a wimpy little judge (Melina Mercouri, married to Dassin and his great, epic beloved in an intermittently credible, but totally hot performance); a naïve young agronomist who arrives in town with his city clothes and “northern ways” (Marcello Mastroianni mailing it in); and a trio of va-va-voomish working-class sisters who serve and service the aristocrat.

One sister, however, refuses the old goat. Va-va-voom all-star Gina Lollobrigida is too proud, too wild, too full of ze romantic passion for ze life to succumb. For this, every man in town wants her and every woman of her class or lower hates her. She will, it goes without saying, end up with Marcello. Lollobrigida’s problematic inability to act and her, for me, problematic non-status as a lust object prove, how you say, problematic. For me, she’s always been the Italian Anne-Margaret, whose attempts to ape the behavior of someone experiencing lust come off as over-played, truly weird, and in the end, creepy. Her scenes with Marcello are, for the most part, laughable as they fight for camera position. Gina has lovely skin, and the energy pours off of her, but she never figures out how to channel it. Marcello responds to this onslaught by smiling wispily in a manner that makes one want to smack his face.

Dassin always had problems with pacing, pacing within scenes, within sequences, even within shots. His story drags and his tour-de-force set-piece camera-choreography takes forever until, suddenly, a moment turns real and riveting. The momentary effect is maddening but the overall effect is oddly moving and memorable. There’s much to admire formally about the picture, even if the formal elements often interfere with any sort of entertaining or smooth narrative. The constant power struggles, their denial, and how that repression ends up expressed in eroticism, make the picture a bizarre, one-off classic.

What really grabs and lingers is when folks stop being polite and start hitting one another. In the first of those moments, Lollobridgida’s smokin’ sisters tie her to a thick wooden table and whip her repeatedly with leather straps. Their faces filled with envy and unknowing lust, they lash out at Gina’s considerable beauty. But they cannot mar her perfect skin; she takes every blow—and there’s lots of them—and smiles as they strike. The sisters considerately tied Gina down—in her thin, clingy Italian 50s-movie sundress—so that her breasts are upthrust by the rope just below them and her thighs exposed to the max. Gina looks like a cover illustration for True Magazine. Being tied down and writhing elicit her most credible moments onscreen.

Later, Yves Montand wacks his son in the face just as the boy was about to escape into a life of bliss with Melina Mercouri. She’s twice his age and they’re madly in love. They sneak onto the one bus outta town, but Yves finds them pre-departure. One of them would do anything for the other. One of them, sadly, can be turned from love with a slap to the face. When Melina returns defeated to the town that night, Yves drags her off to the room he keeps for his paramours. Telling her his son is a “whippersnapper”, but that he has what Melina needs, Yves commences an extraordinary dance of dominance and submission. He rips Melina’s dress, kisses her, pushes her away, waits for her to fight back, then tears up her clothes some more. She digs it. Neither speak, both pretend they do not know what they’re really about, and both are totally into it. This scene—the most perverse, moving, and real in the picture—speaks to something primal in the director. It’s hot stuff.

And it aligns/expresses the theme of La Loi, which depicts everyone in town as locked in power struggles and sado-masochistic symbiosis with everyone else. The Law of the title is a drinking game, a grim take on Truth Or Dare, in which guys sit around a table drinking and informing one another of their shortcomings. The psycho-sexual tension between the town’s menfolk as they verbally abuse, attack, and/or cower from one another makes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? seem likeOn Golden Pond.

Dassin’s clearly got issues. And rage. And the betrayals he suffered during the Blacklist ramped up his already uncharitable view of humanity. His darkness makes La Loi sing. He stumbles only when he tries to be nice.