Archive for January, 2010
Director: Samuel Fuller
A sudden explosion of violence. A woman advances toward the screen, brandishing her purse like a weapon and smacking the hell of some drunken palooka who’s just trying to escape. Frenetic jazz music heightens the sense of chaos as the screaming woman continues her assault. Then the man pulls her hair off—her wig we realize— revealing a woman who is completely bald. When she finally wrestles him the ground with the help of a bottle of spray seltzer, she removes a wad of money from his wallet declaring that she is taking only what is coming to her.
This is the opening scene in Samuel Fuller’s 1964 film, The Naked Kiss. These stark events unfold, rapid fire, in the first few moments following an initial title card. Using mainly a hand-held camera and frequently cutting to a P.O.V. shot of the retreating man, the audience itself feels like it’s under attack. It is a sly, utterly convincing conceit on Fuller’s part. The scene is unexpected and unnerving and once the main character, Kelly’s (Constance Towers) wig comes off it gets weird, really weird (this opening scene itself is really worth the price of admission). We realize in short order that Kelly is a prostitute that’s had it with her pimp and is ready to severe all ties. But Kelly is also someone with morals, even in this dirty business. This is a theme that Fuller would return to again and again over the course of the film.
The Naked Kiss is a movie strangely out of time. I still don’t know what to make of it. It certainly feels like film noir, with its snappy dialogue and pulpy storyline, but it also exists in b-movie territory; low-budget and off-kilter, it lurks about in lurid, often taboo material. At the same time it seems to fit the mold of the 50s melodrama, movies mostly geared toward women. Fuller undermines all of these genres, pulling from them at will, using their hallmarks as subversion, as a way into darker issues. Indeed, the topics that Fuller tackles are still weighty subjects to this day and I can only imagine that movie goers at the time must have been either scratching their heads or utterly incensed by the scandalous content. This is grotesque stuff indeed, a film that doesn’t fit the mainstream mold, that’s not the typical “Hollywood” picture. Fuller had long been know as director with a maverick bent, churning out films like The Baron of Arizona (1950), Pickup on South Street (1953) and Shock Corridor (1963) ; The Naked Kiss only helped solidify this notion.
After Kelly’s initial attack on her pimp, the film skips ahead several years. Kelly arrives in a small town called Grantville, stepping off the bus with only a few pieces of luggage and a new head of hair. Posing as a saleswoman, she quickly takes up with the town cop, Griff (Anthony Eisley), as her first “john” in the new town. Griff offers her work at the town’s brothel, Candy’s. Instead, Kelly decides to shed her past once and for all and takes a job as a nurse helping handicapped children at a local hospital. Once Griff learns that she rejected his offer for work at the club, he begins to shadow her, not believing that she can relinquish her unsavory past.
Kelly soon meets Grant (Michael Dante), the town millionaire and a supposed beacon of the community. They quickly fall in love and Grant proposes. Kelly has several initial reservations about marrying Grant, her former life as a prostitute being one. True to her nature, she comes clean, revealing her past to Grant. To Kelly’s surprise he doesn’t care and still wants to marry her. But, the strangest, out-of-left field twist is still to come.
Fuller executes the story with precision and economy, as he did with most of his films, but like Shock Corridor, the movie that preceded The Naked Kiss, he also allows for detours into dream-like moments, exposing the psyche of the characters, especially that of his heroine, Kelly. They are often odd, unsettling moments: Kelly imagines floating down the streets of Venice in a gondola as the living room of Grant’s mansion vanishes into a sort of stagey darkness; handicapped children singing a song that is recorded for posterity, that we hear again later and is made all the more creepy by the events that follow it.
Cinematographer Stanley Cortez helps solidify Fuller’s dark, moody vision of small-town America. Cortez shot the one of the most gorgeous black and white films, The Night of the Hunter and brings many of same sensibilities to bear in The Naked Kiss. Large, almost empty rooms are defined by hard-edged shadows. Fuller lingers mostly in wide and medium shots, only occasionally going into a close-up. He moves the camera only when it serves a purpose. There is nothing extraneous; he expedites the storyline efficiently with camerawork that only serves further the plot.
With the The Naked Kiss Samuel Fuller creates a pulpy, sensationalistic assault on small-town morality. It is a film that doesn’t pull its punches, literally. The Naked Kiss reveals its horrors and hypocrisy at a singular, unrelenting pace. Kelly is a woman shunned by society, a pariah, but it is she who is really the moral force of the film. The town holds horrible secrets and is itself corrupt to a degree; from the cop to the philanthropist, they are in league, these two archetypes, ready to expose the failings of others while holding themselves as examples of societal “norms”.
But in Fuller’s world there is no room for notions of good and evil, these thematic manifestations simply don’t jive with his world view (Kelly is no saint, but neither is Griff). His is bare-knuckled social commentary, the kind born from years as a newspaper man working in tabloids (in his teens Fuller was a crime reporter for a newspaper called “The Graphic” and continued working in tabloids until turning to Hollywood where he wrote novels as well as directed movies). Indeed, the dialogue itself feels like it was ripped right out of dime store pulp novel. After discovering that a fellow nurse at the hospital made 300 dollars in one night at Candy’s club, we get this monologue from Kelly:
“All right, go ahead. You know what’s different about the first night? Nothing. Nothing… except it lasts forever, that’s all. You’ll be sleeping on the skin of a nightmare for the rest of your life. Oh, you’re a beautiful girl, Buff. Young… Oh, they’ll outbid each other for you. You’ll get clothes, compliments, cash… And you’ll meet men you live on… and men who live on you. And those are the only men you’ll meet. And, after a steady grind of making EVERY john feel at home, you’ll become a block of ice. If you do happen to melt a little, you’ll get slipped a tip behind Candy’s back. You’ll be every man’s wife-in-law, and no man’s wife. Why, your world with Candy will become so warped that you’ll hate all men. And you’ll hate yourself! Because you’ll become a social problem, a medical problem, a MENTAL problem!… And a despicable failure as a woman.”
True, some of the writing stretches into the realm of cornball, but there is an interesting cadence to it as well, like the writing of James Ellroy or Elmore Leonard, both of whom have an ear of how dialogue is delivered, not simply how it exists on the page. This bit of monologue sums up Kelly’s character fairly neatly, because, after all, it is Kelly’s story. Fuller peppers his script with punchy dialogue such as this throughout the film; as hardboiled and cartoonish as it might seem, it also reveals Fuller’s social conscience and his desire to tell stories that were honest, that exposed humanity for what was.
Perhaps most illuminating of all, Fuller cast his tough-as-nails character, Kelly, as his lead, a role he usually reserved for men. It’s a reversal that is fascinating to watch, especially given the time period in which it was made. Kelly doesn’t need a man to survive, and when she does let her guard down, when she fails to abide her instincts, it leads to her downfall (the “Naked Kiss” of the title refers to the kiss of a degenerate, the taste of ugliness and despair; this was a feeling she experienced with Grant, something she ignored). She is vindicated in the end but chooses to leave town; there is nothing left for her, whatever good she had done was already tainted. She must keep moving, seeking a life that remains elusive, that remains a dream.
Kelly is a woman who knows who she is; perhaps the only character in the movie with enough guts to allow herself this sort of honesty. She will ultimately be alone; made an outcast not by her past, but because of what she believes.
Through the magic of the internet (and the magic of “memes” for that matter), I have been nominated by fellow bloggers, NeverMind Pop Film, for A Kreativ Blogging award. No, this isn’t for being the best blogger at the Kremlin or some sort of Ponzi scheme sans large sums of money, but for being a blogger, that’s well, creative I guess. Thanks and Huzzah!
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.
And now the 7 things…
1. I have an unhealthy, some might say psychotic devotion to the band, Guided By Voices.
2. My least favorite Stooge was Moe.
3. My first concert was Huey Lewis and the News on their Sports tour. To correct this travesty, I built a time machine, went back in time and now my first concert was the Dead Kennedys on their Bedtime for Democracy tour.
4. I am a one man Welcome Back Kotter. I can do impressions of all of the Sweathogs and am available for birthdays and funerals.
5. Since college I have gotten, “You know who you look like…” to which I immediately respond, “Yes, I know, Al Franken”. When I actually met Al Franken a strange thing happened: we shook hands and suddenly exchanged bodies without anyone else knowing it. At this moment I am in Minnesota cracking jokes and writing bills and Al Franken is currently writing this post entitled, “Becoming Kotter”.
6. I once had the highest score on Ikari Warriors for all of 2 hours at a video arcade called “Nickels and Dimes”.
7. I like the smell of old newsprint.
The Last Stand of the Unstoppable Daisy Black (1969)
Released in 1969, The Last Stand of the Unstoppable Daisy Black concerns a woman, Daisy Black, the lead singer of an all-girl garage band which does covers of Swedish versions of Frank Sinatra songs. After an almost fatal motorcycle accident, Daisy Black is reconstructed with the latest in state-of the-art government cyborg parts thanks to the help her long time friend Dirk Benedict, (they’re just friends) an agent in a secret government cabal.
Meanwhile, a rouge scientist has ripped a hole in the so-called 5th dimension and released a horde of ASTRO-MONSTERS, beings for an appetite for HUMAN FLESH and Stove Top Stuffing, but especially HUMAN FLESH.
The government enlists Daisy Black’s help, and she must use her unique, robot-like powers as well as a sudden, unlimited knowledge of Kung-Fu to stop the dreaded ASTRO-MONSTERS. As we soon discover, the ASTRO-MONSTERS will stop at nothing to consume all of humanity.
Last month the New Yorker ran a new short story by the late David Foster Wallace entitled, “All That”. The story concerns childhood, and that not knowing how certain things work, seems magical as a kid (OK, I’m simplifying the story). (Reading it I was reminded of another short story by Wallace, Oblivion, from a collection of the same name, which concerns, among other things, a man trying to prove to himself and others that he doesn’t snore.) “All That” has many of the Wallace hallmarks: a dense conversational tone, hyper-attention to detail, digressions within digressions and a deep sense of humanity that is often lacking in other writers that are considered “postmodern” (which, as a label, has pretty much run its course by now).
According to the Howling Fantods site, “All That” is indeed another excerpt from the forthcoming Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s unfinished final novel about IRS agents and boredom (to be released in April 2011 (OK, I’m oversimplifying again; nothing is that straightforward when in comes to Wallace’s writing)). Knowing that this will be the last published novel by someone as immensely talented as Wallace makes the anticipation all the greater, and the excerpts that have been published so far (Good People, Wiggle Room) hint at something that could very well live up to all of the expectations or completely derail them. I guess that’s the beauty of Wallace’s writing: you never really know what you’re going to get, all you know is that it will be worth reading.
OK. I’ll admit it. Up until a few months ago I had never heard of Kim Morgan, film critic at large for such sites as MSN Movies and the Huffington Post, as well as the proprietor of the film blog, Sunset Gun (what, am I under a giant rock?). Well, I can say, with all enthusiasm, that I’m a fan (and that she shares my admiration for Woody Allen and David Lynch doesn’t hurt). Kim Morgan has a no-nonsense, warts and all love of cinema; from film noir to B-movies to Grindhouse and points in-between, her wonderfully written articles reflect this dominant passion, sans any pretentious banter. These are not mere movie reviews, they are fire-cracker essays, violent bursts of blood-soaked prose and impassioned love letters that speak to the art of film and its history, all from a fiercely personal point-of-view that you can’t help but admire. Consequently, her writing is able to do what all good film criticism should do: persuade, illuminate, and engage.
Hell, Ms. Morgan just might convince me to start watching Tarantino films again (maybe).