Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The new Vanity Fair

Very interesting issue of Vanity Fair--

James Wolcott uses his colum to remind us of a movie that, while not a cult classic, seems never to go away. My first memories of Andy Griffith were from the Ed Sullivan show when he'd appear as a hayseed and tell us in broad comedic strokes about a small Southern town much like Mayberry. This was seven or eight years before his TV show. Cornball stuff though amusing.

In tenth grade I went to see a movie called "A Face in The Crowd." I was just beginning to become aware of directors then and as a result automatically saw everything Elia Kazan directed. Whatever I expected I didn't get. Griffith still played the hayseed but this time he wasn't amusing at all. As an enormous TV star he was a dark force, a facist presence all gussied up in his pore boy trappings.

Even then I knew that the movie didn't quite work. But that didn't stop me from being absorbed and impressed with it, particularly with the performances of Griffith, Patricia Neal and Tony Franciosa. Not to mention a very young and dazzling Lee Remick as a baton-twirling beauty who obsesses Griffth.

Wolcott quotes a passage from Neal's autobiography in which she talks about accidentally slapping Franciosa so hard one take that he began to cry. And he continued to cry all through lunch. If that's true, it's a disturbing take on acting. How hard could she have hit him?

The most interesting part of the column is Wolcott's discussion of how drama in the Fifties divided pretty neatly into two categories--drama abve the Mason-Dixon line, drama below the Mason-Dixon line. Below meaning the influence of Falkner-Erskine Caldwell-Tennessee Williams. Above meaning mostly Arthur Miller--over the top passion versus cold scolding.

I was a big fan of Tennessee Williams when I went through college on a playwrighting scholarship but somewhere in my Thirties I found myself unable to sit through even his best plays. Just too florid. And I've never liked Miller beyond Death of A Salesman. So the Mason-Dixon judgement doesn't work for me personally. In my dotage my favorite American playwrights are Eugene O'Neil and Clifford Odets (who is finally being produced again in both NYC and LA).

Very good piece by Wolcott. And rent the film if you get a chance. There are some truly hair-curling scenes.

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Another piece is by Ann Sheridan (?) on film noir. In addition to some great movie posters, her assessment of overlooked noir actors is especially interesting. She touts Robert Ryan and Dana Andrews among others. I always prefered Ryan to Bogart as a noir icon and quiet insular Andrews never got his due for those sad doomed characters he created wth such soft-spoken power. Plus there's a poster of a Lawrence Tierney starrer that should scare the hell out of anybody in his right mind.

2 comments:

Vince said...

The VF noir article is by Ann Douglas, who wrote an interesting book called Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. I enjoyed the piece too, especially Douglas' take on what noir had to say about suburban and small town life in the '40s and '50s.

Todd Mason said...

Glad someone else has noted the extra-photo shoot noir coverage in the current VANITY FAIR...this is the first issue I've picked up in several years, and I'm reminded again of how much like a more sophisticated supermarket tabloid it is, down to the drowning in ads (no shortage of ad pages here, and each model more anorectic than the last). Sadder still, I picked up the new ATLANTIC at the same time, not having picked up a non-Special Fiction Issue for a few years, and found that it's ever more a blandly slick smugly rightwing (not extremely, but certainly dully, rightwing) magazine, a shadow of what it was even three decades ago when I started reading it, much less the impressive thing it was a few decades before that.