Evan C

Film Club October 2016: Scarlet Street

18 posts in this topic

For October, I've picked Fritz Lang's 1945 film noir Scarlet Street. As I said in the other thread, I believe this is one of the greatest film noirs, and I love the way it blends many the traditional elements of noir: tons of shadows, bland everyman protagonist, femme fatale, heavy dose of cynicism, a far fetched plot with many juicy twists, and frequently shifting sympathies.

Here's Ebert's guide as to what comprises a film noir, which could come in handy.

And this chart is good to link too.

I'm looking forward to discussing it, and re-watching it this week. I'll post more thoughts then.

The whole film is available on YouTube. It's not the greatest quality, but it's also streaming on Hulu, and DVDs are fairly easy to come by.

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As luck would have it, I just decided to buckle down and get a monthly subscription to Amazon Prime--and the movie is streaming there as well (though I think I have a cheap DVD of it somewhere).

I'll be getting to this ASAP--probably some time in the coming week.

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So, I loved this film. The plot is so convoluted and twisted that while I somewhat anticipated the basic events of the ending, I certainly didn't anticipate how the story would get there, nor was I prepared for just how disturbing this becomes. The finale is nightmarish, a spiral into despair and psychological madness. This is also about as noirish as it gets in terms of style and direction.

Also a pleasant surprise: this film is an excellent examination on the nature and dynamics of art! Are Chris' paintings genuinely "good," or do people's expectations and the circumstances behind their discovery somehow make them better and more appealing? Under the circumstances, would Chris be considered a successful artist? His paintings do finally sell, but at what cost? If we ever did an A&F "Top 25 Films on Art" list, this should certainly be considered for inclusion.

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I just checked in and am ELATED to see that this is the pick for October.

This is a seriously great film.

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Jeepers, I love this movie. Spoilers, obvs.

More accurately, I love Edward G. Robinson in this movie. I've mostly seen him playing heavies, so seeing him in this sort of role is a real treat. Obviously, standard noir concerns about masculinity are in play here--see how Robinson's character is emasculated by his wife (frilly apron, etc). Layered onto those are worries about age and the sorts of anxieties about white-collar work that would come to a head in studies like The Lonely Crowd. Robinson's double-life--at first implicit and then literalized--as a company man and as an artist probably also play into (not only but particularly) post-War anxieties about the place of art in an increasingly commercialized world (see: the Frankfurt scholars).

Also in the anxiety-about-masculinity camp: Johnny, who "gets the girl" in spite of being a smarmy, woman-beating cad (though Cross doesn't come out much better in his treatment of women, in the end).

The only place I think this movie really does fall flat is the descent into madness at the end. I appreciated that he wasn't allowed to hang himself, but the last few scenes felt entirely too on-the-nose. 

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5 hours ago, NBooth said:

The only place I think this movie really does fall flat is the descent into madness at the end. I appreciated that he wasn't allowed to hang himself, but the last few scenes felt entirely too on-the-nose. 

For me, this final descent was one of the stronger aspects of the film, where it sorta let loose and slides more into thriller territory, even horror (especially in his apartment with the voices).

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I initially thought the ending was an attempt to circumvent the production code, allowing Chris to "get away" with the murder, but the psychological aspects tie into the rest of the film and Chris' midlife identity crisis, his ego and fragile masculinity. So, while it wouldn't surprise me if the descent into madness was written to appease the censors and make sure he doesn't completely get away with murder, I still think it was executed pretty brilliantly.

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41 minutes ago, Evan C said:

I initially thought the ending was an attempt to circumvent the production code, allowing Chris to "get away" with the murder, but the psychological aspects tie into the rest of the film and Chris' midlife identity crisis, his ego and fragile masculinity. So, while it wouldn't surprise me if the descent into madness was written to appease the censors and make sure he doesn't completely get away with murder, I still think it was executed pretty brilliantly.

I don't necessarily disagree that it follows from the rest of the movie. But I really couldn't get the Production Code out of my head during that sequence. 

My quibble is a minor one, however. Overall I really loved this movie. 

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Anyone watch this on Amazon Prime?  If so, was the quality terribly choppy?  Like watching security camera footage?

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1 minute ago, Buckeye Jones said:

Anyone watch this on Amazon Prime?  If so, was the quality terribly choppy?  Like watching security camera footage?

Yes and yes.

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7 minutes ago, NBooth said:

Yes and yes.

Should I keep at it or give up?

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Just now, Buckeye Jones said:

Should I keep at it or give up?

It either got better about fifteen minutes in or I stopped noticing it.

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I can understand the charge that the final 10 minutes may be too eager to hold up the heart's punishment of itself as a Deep Theme. Yet, the final 10 minutes are haunting in a way that kicks the film to a whole new level.  The final moments are the first time it occurred to me that this is a noir in a field of its own. (Disclaimer: I am very unschooled on noir in general, however!)

I'm now eager to read more about the Production Code and what it allowed and forbade. Did it tend to forbid disturbing elements, or did it more forbid cut-and-dried transgressions like allowing characters to get away with murder? I could imagine the Code also discouraging a film from ending on such a disturbing note, one that admits to the axphyxiating nature of guilt without providing a clearly defined remedy.
 

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7 minutes ago, Brian D said:

I'm now eager to read more about the Production Code and what it allowed and forbade. Did it tend to forbid disturbing elements, or did it more forbid cut-and-dried transgressions like allowing characters to get away with murder? I could imagine the Code also discouraging a film from ending on such a disturbing note, one that admits to the axphyxiating nature of guilt without providing a clearly defined remedy.
 

Here's a PDF of the Production Code. Disturbing elements were strictly controlled, but there's a little leeway, I think. Basically, movies needed to end in a "morally uplifting" way, and my understanding is that "moral uplift" was determined by a board or something like that. There were ways around it (*cough*DeMille*cough*) and a lot of really creative stuff came out under those restrictions (because of, not in spite of). In any case, I'm pretty sure "the killer didn't die but lost everything and wound up wandering the streets with the voices of his victims in his head" falls under "morally uplifting."

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Interesting nuance there:

It feels morally uplifting to the degree that the viewer does not identify with the killer at the end of the film. Most will, in fact, separate him from their own lives and transgressions because they have not done anything so blatantly horrible. If however, we consider the juxtaposition of murder and anger in Matthew 5:21 and 22, then we are all right there with Christopher in the final scene looking for a respite from the darkness of our hearts. Most viewers, of course, will experience the ending in the 1st way!

On a different note: it speaks highly of the film's complex view of art that the film does not seem to make a firm affirmation or condemnation of the quality of Chris's art. 

Edited by Brian D

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4 minutes ago, Brian D said:

On a different note: it speaks highly of the film's complex view of art that the film does not seem to make a firm affirmation or condemnation of the quality of Chris's art. 

love his paintings, and I suspect that--since his wife hates them--we're at least supposed to want to like them.

Fun IMDB fact: twelve of the paintings were exhibited at MOMA in 1946.

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Some final thoughts before the month ends:

Regarding the ending, I agree with Nathanael that the scene five years later with the policemen was not needed and it does feel a tiny bit contrived, but boy do I love the way Lang films that set up (Kitty and Johnny whispering and tormenting Chris as the lights flicker), and the last shot of the "self-portrait" is a pretty fantastic indictment.

I think the paintings are supposed to be good in an avant garde contemporary school, which of course is a striking break from the mild mannered, tedious life Chris leads. I also think the vibrant, shocking nature of the paintings is meant to suggest the instability of Chris' subconscious, setting up both that he will murder Kitty and lose his mind. (I'm referring to the scene when his friend from the bank looks at the still life of the flower and says, "...you see that?")

I love the scene when Chris and Kitty meet for the second time. Lang films it like an innocent lunch with flickerings of romance between the two characters: the camera slowly zooms in from above, then shares the screen with the two "lovers," and then cuts between them like a normal progression of establishing shots followed by closeups. However, the slow moving, sinister string underscoring really drives home the idea of how noir turns normal events of the world on their head.

 

 

 

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On 10/28/2016 at 7:27 AM, Evan C said:

...boy do I love the way Lang films that set up (Kitty and Johnny whispering and tormenting Chris as the lights flicker), and the last shot of the "self-portrait" is a pretty fantastic indictment.

Agreed.

Quote

I think the paintings are supposed to be good in an avant garde contemporary school, which of course is a striking break from the mild mannered, tedious life Chris leads. I also think the vibrant, shocking nature of the paintings is meant to suggest the instability of Chris' subconscious, setting up both that he will murder Kitty and lose his mind. (I'm referring to the scene when his friend from the bank looks at the still life of the flower and says, "...you see that?")

I'm betting there's all sorts of stuff to be done with tying this movie in to avant-garde concerns as well as pre-WWII Modernism (Eliot--complex times call for complex art). And, of course, I'm wondering how much the War is background to all of these concerns.

Quote

I love the scene when Chris and Kitty meet for the second time. Lang films it like an innocent lunch with flickerings of romance between the two characters: the camera slowly zooms in from above, then shares the screen with the two "lovers," and then cuts between them like a normal progression of establishing shots followed by closeups. However, the slow moving, sinister string underscoring really drives home the idea of how noir turns normal events of the world on their head.

That scene was fantastic--again, Robinson was incredible in this role, but Lang's direction is a huge part of what made the scene so effective. 

Edited by NBooth

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