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In A Lonely Place

NICHOLAS RAY

Nicholas_Ray

In a town full of eccentrics, Nicholas Ray blazed a relatively brief yet notably distinctive path through Hollywood. He is remembered, in both his life and in his art, to this day (“cinema is Nicholas Ray,” proclaimed Jean-Luc Godard in 1957).

He was born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle, Jr. in Galesville, Wisconsin, on August 7, 1911. His high school years were split between nearby LaCrosse and Chicago, where he stayed with his older sister. Finishing 152nd out of 153 students (excelling only in English and public speaking), Ray subsequently spent but one semester at the University of Chicago, yet managed in that time to befriend both professor Thornton Wilder and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. After working with folklorist Alan Lomax recording folk and blues musicians for the “Back Where I Come From” radio program, he worked as Elia Kazan’s assistant on the 1944 film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and subsequently directed his only Broadway show, the Duke Ellington musical “Beggar’s Holiday”, two years later.

Shortly thereafter he directed his first picture, the influential They Live by Night, which was held up for release until 1949. After nearly a dozen black and white films, including In A Lonely Place, Ray in 1954 directed the defiantly uncategorizable Trucolor drama Johnny Guitar, which Francois Truffaut described as “the Beauty and the Beast of westerns”.

The next year, Ray proved himself both a perceptive interpreter of outsider youth and a master of the widescreen CinemaScope frame with Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean’s final film and the only one in which he received top billing.

A heavy smoker and fond of drink and drugs, Ray’s contrarian instincts made him a tough sell in the 1950s studio system, and despite such remarkable work as Bigger Than Life(1956), Party Girl(1958) and the 1961 biblical epic King of Kings(derisively referred to by some as “I was a Teenage Jesus”), his career ended abruptly after he collapsed in the midst of the 1963 epic 55 Days at Peking.

Following that, as the story goes, Ray ran in to Dennis Hopper at a 1970 Grateful Dead concert, and the actor secured him a job teaching filmmaking at the State University of New York in Binghamton. He spent the next two years making the improvisational feature We Can’t Go Home Again with his students. Shortly after collaborating with Wim Wenders on the 1980 documentary Lightning Over Water (aka Nick’s Film), Nicholas Ray succumbed to lung cancer on June 16, 1979 at the age of 67.

THE TIMES

By 1947, the fiercely liberal Humphrey Bogart had just about had enough of the Hollywood studio system he’d worked in steadily since 1930. Never one to suffer fools gladly, Bogart had often clashed with higher-ups over his assigned parts and once advised Robert Mitchum the only way to survive the town was to be an “againster.” High Sierra (his last role as a gangster), The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca had made him a bona fide star earlier in the decade, and his new contract allowed him to form his own independent production company, which he promptly did with producer Robert Lord right before filming The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in 1948.

Named after his yacht, Santana Productions, the shingle got down to business with the Bogart starrers Knock on Any Door and Tokyo Joe (both 1949). Neither Bogart or his chosen director, the similarly head-strong Nicholas Ray, were entirely happy with Knock on Any Door, but they teamed up again in 1950 to make a film of Dorothy B. Hughes’ 1947 novel “In a Lonely Place”.

The story of hot-headed screenwriter Dixon Steele, who may or may not have murdered a coat check girl, the book was adapted by Edmund H. North and written by Andrew Solt. Bogart loved the script, with critics subsequently theorising it was because it was the one role to date that was the closest to his own personality, warts and all (Steele even eats Bogart’s favourite meal, ham and eggs—twice).

In a Lonely Place

Bogart had originally wanted his wife Lauren Bacall to play the female lead, aspiring actress Laurel Gray. The two had met while filming Howard Hawks To Have and Have Not in 1944 (he was 44, she was 19), co-starred once again the following year in The Big Sleep and married in May 1945 less than three months after Bogart’s divorce. Studio chief Jack Warner put a stop to that idea, almost certainly as revenge for Bogart forming Santana and the pair’s popularity (Dark Passage and Key Largo followed).

Ginger Rogers was considered for the part before Ray persuaded them to hire his then-wife, Gloria Grahame. The pair had married in 1948, but it was a rocky relationship and they divorced in 1952 after Ray found her in bed with his 17-year-old son from his first marriage—whom Grahame later wed herself.

In a Lonely Place is often called a noir, though the darkness is more in the story than the visuals (note the haunting shot of Bogart’s eyes during a key monologue). The film was photographed by Tennessee-born Burnett Guffey, who began as an assistant to John Ford on 1924’s western saga The Iron Horseand was hired by Columbia Pictures 20 years later. He photographed some 20 films noir (including Knock on Any Door), and subsequently won Academy Awards for From Here to Eternity (1953) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

Art Smith, who plays Steele’s long-suffering agent Mel Lippman, was a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist in 1952 and lost his career, though he went on to originate the role of Doc the soda shop owner in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story”. As for Bogart, his very next film was The African Queen. He sold Santana Productions to Columbia Pictures for a million dollars in 1955 and died of oesophageal cancer at 57 in 1957. With the passage of time, In A Lonely Place has emerged as a career highlight for Bogart, Ray and Grahame, and one of the most thought-provoking films noir in that most provocative of genres.

THE FILM

“Can I have your autograph, mister?” asks a young lad outside Paul’s, the favourite Hollywood haunt of screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart). “Who am I?” Steele asks. “I don’t know,” says the kid. “Don’t bother, he’s nobody,” says a more jaded girl with him. “She’s right,” Steele answers, with apparent sincerity. This exchange comes shortly after the post-credit sequence, when Steele almost gets into a fight with another driver at a traffic light.

In a Lonely Place2Taken together, the two scenes are an effective introduction to the protagonist, a weary curmudgeon with a violent temper who’s well-regarded in the industry but hasn’t written a hit picture “since before the war.” At Paul’s, Steele’s agent Mel Lippman (Art Smith) presses a thick book on him with the promise of a job but, too tired to read it, he persuades the coat check girl, Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), who’s devoured it while working, to explain it to him that night in his apartment.

Sending her home with cab fare, he’s surprised the next morning when old army buddy turned cop Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) reveals that Mildred was murdered after leaving Steele’s place. Even though new neighbour and aspiring actress Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) alibis him, Steele remains a suspect in the crime and the tension affects both his career and growing relationship with Gray. Is Dixon Steele a murderer, or merely cursed with a violent streak that taints his personal and professional relationships?

THE RESTORATION

The new restoration of In A Lonely Place premiered at Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2018. Introducing the program, Columbia Pictures executive Grover Crisp mentioned that he had never been happy with the previous restoration prepared for the DVD release in 2001. Since that time, the technology had been developed which enabled the damaged Original Camera Negative to be repaired and then used, for the first time, as the material for this stunning 4K digital restoration.

CREDITS

Dir: Nicholas RAY | USA | 1950 | 94 mins | B&W | Sound | English | DCP (originally 35mm) | PG.

Prod. Co: Columbia Pictures, Santana Pictures | Prod: Robert Lord | Scr: Andrew SOLT, Edmund H. NORTH, from the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes | Photo: Burnett GUFFEY | Edit: Viola LAWRENCE | Des/Art: Robert PETERSON | Sound: Howard FOGETTI | Music: George ANTHEIL.

Cast: Humphrey BOGART (Dixon Steele), Gloria GRAHAME (Laurel Gray), Frank LOVEJOY (Brub Nicolai), Carl BENTON REID (Capt. Lochner), Art SMITH (Mel Lippman),  Jeff DONNELL (Sylvia Nicolai), James ARNESS (Young Detective)

Source: Park Circus.

Notes by Eddie Cockrell

Wanda (Barbara Loden, USA, 1970)

Wanda - 1970BARBARA LODEN

Loden (pictured above in 1975) was a dancer, TV comedienne and actress. She appeared in the films Wild River and Splendor in the Grass, both directed by her then husband Elia Kazan.

The story goes that while on safari with Kazan in 1966, a mutual friend, Harry Schuster, offered Loden $100,000 to write her own movie. Encouraged, she wrote the screenplay for Wanda. Failing to attract any interest from directors, including Kazan, Loden took on the task of making the film herself. It was completed on the miniscule budget of $115,000. In 1970 Wanda was chosen for the 31st Venice Film Festival where it won the Pasinetti Award for Best Foreign Film.

The following notes on the film have been specially written for Cinema Reborn by Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian Martin.

 WANDA: Woman in a Landscape

Oh you, who must leave everything that you cannot control

It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.

– Leonard Cohen, “Sisters of Mercy” (1967)

wanda2Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970) has spent far too many years in semi-obscurity; it has frequently found itself written out of cinema histories, even (amazingly) the histories of feminist and radical political filmmaking. Despite several DVD releases – Isabelle Huppert lent her prestige to its distribution in France in 2004 – the most recent and best restoration, by Ross Lipman for the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2011, has taken 8 years to reach the DVD/Blu-Ray platform, and hence these Cinema Reborn screenings. To hijack the words of Herman G. Weinberg: like many of the best films made by women, Wandahas, for much of its existence, sat forlornly in the “sad twilight of a cult reputation”, more whispered about than actually seen and publicly discussed. Loden herself died from cancer in 1980, leaving behind several tantalising unmade projects. But, finally, the situation is changing for Wanda.

Wanda incontestably ranks among the cinema’s greatest works. Positif magazine recently listed Loden among those special directors who made only one feature film, but indelibly marked cinema history with it: The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955), Espoir: Sierra de Teruel (André Malraux & Boris Peskine, 1939), The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle, 1970), The Forbidden Christ (Curzio Malaparte, 1951) and, most recently, Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still (2018). Although sometimes aligned with the work of John Cassavetes and his many flaky imitators,Wanda functions as the inverse of films like A Woman Under the Influence (1974): where Cassavetes’ style is explosive and hysterical, Loden explores a sullen, implosive energy.

The imploding star at the centre of this movie is the character of Wanda, played by Loden herself: a “floater” (as Loden described her), for all intents and purposes homeless, passive, utterly dependent on the often treacherous favours of random men, and undone by her need to be validated by them. The film poignantly conveys Wanda’s helplessness, her lack of initiative. As a character, she in no way conforms to the type of ‘positive heroines’ that were called for during the 1970s (and again today in the Bechdel Test era). Loden’s film is both bleaker and more astonishing than those easy options.

Wanda3Loden described Wanda as being about a woman unable to adapt to her environment. There is never any home or family or community anywhere for her, never any sign of belonging. She fits in nowhere, never understanding the rules of any place or situation: “Life is a mystery to her”. Thanks to Loden’s extraordinary performance (she was a beloved and deeply influential teacher of acting, as made clear by David Krasner’s popular textbook, An Actor’s Craft), Wanda is a presence laid bare on the screen through a superb conjunction of body, behaviour and space; she becomes, for all time, an axiom of cinema.

Loden’s performance as Wanda radiates a suppressed intensity through minimal means: her gaze; the forward slump of her body; the turning of her head; her blank, affectless voice; and, above all, the physical prop of her hair, which is constantly arranged into different shapes, and just as constantly gets in Wanda’s way – one more part of her world that she cannot control.

Wanda is frequently shown on the move, traversing large distances by bus or car. Yet even when she is actually going somewhere, the film renders her voyaging as an irresolute drift, without clear destination or purpose. She is an estranged body in motion, wandering through city streets; she is glimpsed crossing vast industrial landscapes and barren coal mining fields. Loden often frames her own performance at very threshold of places and spaces, off-centre, waiting at a doorway or in a corner, almost disappearing off the edge; sometimes, even the camera appears to deliberately forget that she’s there, somewhere.

Dismissed by some (most egregiously by Pauline Kael) as “an extremely drab and limited piece of realism”, Wanda reveals itself to us today as a brilliantly directed, highly controlled and expressive work. In mise en scene terms, Loden shapes a very precise portrait of a woman who does not have any space of her own, and cannot make any space her own, either. Wanda often hides in plain sight: surrounded by others, denied any privacy or intimacy. And yet, at the same time, she is usually overlooked, avoided, unacknowledged. Wanda is an invisible woman.

wanda

She is also an unusual and ambiguous heroine. Instinctively rejecting dominant values of family and society, Wanda does so without any real consciousness. She is not presented as an anarchist or revolutionary; her rejection of the world entails no possible alternative to it. Loden was working against the positivist Zeitgeist of her time and culture – and her gesture of reaction or rejection is still salutary today, in the “Me Too” context. Wanda, as an exemplary figure, scuttles the clear-cut categories of woman-as-victim and woman-as-survivor.

In its time, Wanda escaped any tidy genre classification – which did not help its commercial chances one little bit.  It is not a ‘criminal couple on the run’ movie like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – which Loden regarded as phony and “idealised – full of beautiful things, beautiful colours, beautiful people”. But nor does Wanda play by any of the standard ‘indie’ templates of our time: it isn’t a quirky romance, a story of personal redemption or family reconciliation. We had to wait for certain later films by Chantal Akerman or Kelly Reichardt in order to get back to the profound, disturbing depths that Loden plumbed in her precious, unique gift to us.

Indeed, as Bérénice Reynaud summed it up: “Wanda explores the opaque, ambiguous territory of unspoken repression that has so often defined the condition of women”. Not to mention the condition of Wanda itself as an unseen and forgotten object. It’s time to fully reclaim and redeem this masterpiece.

Note: A 2016 audiovisual essay on Wanda by Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian Martin can be viewed if you click here; and a longer text essay by them, placing Loden in a tradition of female actor-filmmakers, can be consulted on the website of the Spain-based, multilingual journal  Cinema Comparat/ive Cinema

© Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian Martin, March-April 2016 / January 2019

THE RESTORATION

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding by the Film Foundation and Gucci.  Laboratory work by Cinetech and Ascent Media Sound Restoration by Audio Mechanics Sound Transfers by NT Picture and Sound

 CREDITS

Dir, Scr: Barbara LODEN | USA | 1970 | 102 mins | Colour | Sound | Eng. | DCP (originally 35mm) | U/C15+.

Prod. Co: Foundation for Filmmakers, Bardene International Films, Inc| Prod: Harry SHUSTER | Photo, Edit: Nicholas T. PROFERES | Sound: Lars HEDMAN.

Cast: Barbara LODEN (Wanda),  Michael HIGGINS (Norman Dennis), Jerome THEIR (John), Dorothy SHUPENES (Siste), Peter SHUPENES (Brother-in-Law).

Source: UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The Nun/La Religieuse

JACQUES RIVETTE

RivetteRivette (1 March 1928 – 29 January 2016) was one of the leading figures in French cinema for more than half a century. He was a key figure in the critical debates of the 50s and 60s, writing extensively for and editing Cahiers du Cinema.  He was the first of the New Wave directors to embark on feature film production but his debut feature was years in production and eventually appeared in 1961, some time after his fellow Cahiers critics Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Francois Truffau and Jean-Luc Godard had all released at least one feature.

Rivette’s second feature was first released as Suzanne Simonin, la Religieuse de Denis Diderot but has become known as La Religieuse/The Nun since it underwent a restoration and was re-presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.

Rivette completed twenty-nine feature films, the last being Around a Small Mountain in 2009.

The following notes have been written for Cinema Reborn by Adrian Martin. They are published by kind permission of the author.

La Religieuse2A DIFFICULT SOUL: JACQUES RIVETTE’S THE NUN

Jacques Rivette (1928-2016) almost missed out on benefitting from the entire, public phenomenon of the Nouvelle Vague – even though he was, as a core member of the Cahiers du cinéma crowd, such an integral part of it. His first feature, Paris Belongs to Us (Paris nous appartient) began production well before Claude Chabrol’s early films, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) and finally Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960) pounded this New Wave into the minds of audiences in France and well beyond. However, due to infernal complications, its completion and release were delayed until the end of 1961. Then his second feature, The Nun (or, more properly, Suzanne Simonin, la Religieuse de Denis Diderot), went through an even more protracted birth cycle: beginning as a 1960 play (adapted by prime Nouvelle Vague screenwriter Jean Gruault) from Diderot’s novel, Rivette directed it first on the stage in early 1963, and then began the long haul of getting the necessary resources together to make it as a film.

This time, alas, finishing the work in 1966 signalled only the start of the real problems faced by Rivette and his adventurous producer, Georges de Beauregard: in the face of well-organised protests from religious quarters, the ‘Commission of Cinematic Control’ (!) banned the film from both local and overseas exhibition not once but twice – a ban only overturned in 1967. Rivette was duly amazed to see that his rather discreet, chaste – albeit extremely powerful – film could ignite such a scandal in the mid 1960s.

All this is to say that Rivette – like his Nouvelle Vague travelling companion Éric Rohmer, and also like the innovative Jacques Rozier (whose masterpiece Adieu Philippine was shot in 1960 and released in 1962) – was a rather untimely figure within the French cinema of the early to mid 1960s. He had not only effectively missed the Wave but, when he finally got back on his surfboard, what he delivered to the world was a (to some) puzzlingly old-fashioned, classical film – more like the tragic historical melodramas of Otto Preminger or Kenji Mizoguchi (two directors he had praised as a critic during the 1950s) than anything Jean-Luc Godard was doing in his rambunctious prime. The Nun is untimely in another, properly Nietzschean sense, too: it is only now that the film is reborn in a carefully restored version, over fifty years after its sign-off date, that we are able to truly appreciate its greatness.

Rivette was always, in an intuitive and unself-conscious way, the most feminist member of the Nouvelle Vague’s all-male auteur crew; that much became patently clear with the release of Céline and Julie Go Boating in 1974. But The Nun hits with an anti-patriarchal wallop that was launched well before its time, and waiting for our time to really make direct contact: the tale of Suzanne Simenon, this “difficult soul” (as she is described) is one long, sustained wail of pain and frustration concerning an endless ordeal of abuse and manipulation. It is not ‘men’ who are so much the problem (some of the women here are A-grade sadists, too); rather, it is the various institutions (church, law, family, convent) that unfairly position some people with power (when they scarcely deserve it), and others forever without it. Suzanne is a victim of every system going, beginning with a largely unspoken moral-social code that deprives her of money, autonomy and freedom of choice; but she is also someone who never ceases crying out against injustice, revolting with her whole, soulful being against injury and indifference.

This role gave Anna Karina a special opportunity (her hubby of the time, Monsieur Godard, had financed the stage production which also starred her), and she made the absolute most of it. Karina was both blessed and cursed (then as now) with the tag of icon or emblem of the Nouvelle Vague; almost everyone who cast her (including Luchino Visconti, Tony Richardson, even Rivette himself in the wonderful musical Haut bas fragile[1995]) exploited that association, and rarely required of her to play an individual character of any depth. The Nunis the shining exception to that rule: in every respect, the role shows what she’s capable of as an actor.

The 25 year-old Jacques Aumont, writing the rave Cahiers du cinéma review for its October ’67 issue (no. 194), put the matter of The Nun’s aesthetic orientation firmly and correctly: far from opting for “non-modernity”, Rivette had detoured around received wisdom concerning what constitutes cinematic novelty in order to arrive at “one of the two or three most innovative films” of its time. Crucial to the film’s staggering formal coherence is Rivette’s approach to the soundtrack: with composer Jean-Claude Éloy and editor Denise de Casabianca, he went through the entire film and mapped its holistic “score” for music, direct sound recording of voices, and added noise effects (bells, birds, wind …). The result is a stunning example of what filmmakers now routinely call “sound design”, on par with what only a few truly “audiovisual” directors (such as Ritwik Ghatak) were doing at the time. The model of serial music (in the Karlheinz Stockhausen tradition), with its intricate interrelation and patterning of parts, informed the film at all its levels: Rivette joked that he conceived it as a “cellular” movie about people imprisoned in cells.

Rivette would again take up much of the iconography of The Nun, and its agonised dance of emotional and sexual relations, years later in Don’t Touch the Axe (2007), adapted this time from Balzac. But, in the immediate context of the film’s release in 1967, Rivette declared he had been “utterly bored” by the often tedious process of realising such a thoroughly pre-planned project, and had already made a bolder leap into the void: with the long-form, largely improvised, evidently contemporary film-and-theatre game launched in L’Amour fou (1967). That particular milestone, which would set the experimental parameters of Rivette’s art for the following 15 years, now awaits imminent digital restoration: therefore, it is another must-have for a future iteration of Cinema Reborn!

© Adrian Martin, January 2019

THE RESTORATION

Restored in 4K from the original camera negative by L’Immagine Ritrovata, under the supervision of StudioCanal and Mrs. Véronique Manniez-Rivette, with the support of the Centre National du Cinéma, La Cinématheque Française, and the Franco-American Cultural Fund-DGA-MPA-SACEM-WGAW.

CREDITS

Dir: Jacques RIVETTE | France | 1966 | 135 mins | Colour | Sound | French with Eng. subtitles | 4kDCP (originally 35mm) | U/C15+.

Prod. Co: Rome Paris Films, Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie | Prod: Georges de Beauregard | Scr: Jean GRUAULT, JacquesRIVETTE, from the novel by Denis Diderot | Photo: Alain LEVANT | Edit: Denise DE CASABIANCA | Des/Art: Jean-Jacques FABRE, Guy LITTAYE | Sound: Urbain LOISEAU, Guy VILLETTE | Music: Jean-Claude ÉLOY| Costume: Gitt MAGRINI.

Cast: Anna KARINA (Suzanne), Liselotte PULVER (Mme De Chelles), Micheline PRESLE (Mme de Moni), Francisco RABAL (Dom Morel), Francine BERGÉ (Soeur Sainte-Christine).

Source: StudioCanal.