Jack Garfein and Hal Ashby

strange one

A couple of curiosities enter the marketplace this week: Jack Garfein’s 1957 “The Strange One,” an anti-fascist allegory with homoerotic overtones that somehow slipped past the Production Code, and a recently discovered alternate version of Hal Ashby’s 1982 comedy “Lookin’ to Get Out,” featuring Jon Voight, Burt Young, Ann-Maragaret and about fifteen minutes of unseen footage. Reviews in the New York Times.

161 comments to Jack Garfein and Hal Ashby

  • Brad Stevens

    “What would we get to see in the uncensored version that we don’t get on our DVDs?”

    More shots of Norman spying on Marion as she undresses, shots of Norman staring at the blood on his hands as he cleans the bathroom, and more of Arbogast’s murder. You can find some frame-grabs here:

    http://www.schnittberichte.com./schnittbericht.php?ID=1921

    The version shown by the BBC was actually missing a single shot from the shower murder, a shot which can be found in the R-rated US cut, so the only way to assemble a complete edition might be to combine footage from the US and UK variants.

  • edo

    Alex Hicks said: “edo, As I said, “I recently re-viewed MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and LIBERTY VALANCE” I specifically I re-viewed them last weekend.
    I suspect I’m being to iconoclastic to get anywhere much on my low opinion of VALANCE. On my view of it visually “flat” I say merely that the justifiably great GERTRUDE does seem a pretty apt comparison, that indoor scenes have something to do with my impression (as it is daytime indoor scenes I find most flat), that part of what I mean is a confinement of more B&W light gradations than I like to shades of grey, and that I am pleased skelly provides for one voice here that expresses a view of the film’s look something like my own. (I prefer feeling controvertial and provocative without feeling entirely out alone in the cold). Ditto on sets, as far as I’ll go into mise-en-scene here. The rocky grove where Cat (ooops, Valance) and his boys stop early on the film is as rote a concoction of pawer mache boulders and “trees” as on finds through episode of the Lone Ranger.
    On Brennan versus Marvin, I don’t think that Brenna’s Old Man Clanton so much a caricature as a vehemently nasty SOB, but I find Marvin’s Valance all ready for his turn in CAT BALLOU.
    In a more positive view, I am somewhat surprised that the script for VALANCE has not become a high school theater regular. In its civics lesson mode, it’s pitched just right. What seems to have looked like a rich summa of Ford Western tropes to some looks like an ambitious Cole’s Notes treatment of that wide-ranging terrain to me

    I do believe that the carefully keyed and richly arch lit cinematography of CLEMENTINE’S Hollywood era was over by around 1960, though such miraculous B&W swan song’s as “The Tarnished Angels” were not all that far off.”

    I apologize for not reading your post closely enough, Alex. I shouldn’t have assumed when you had last seen the films.

    In any event, I think this whole question of “flatness” is confusing me somewhat, because not only is it a partially relative esthetic term – one composition is more flat than another – but on the one hand we’ve been using it as a simple descriptive and on the other as a pejorative.

    If in saying VALANCE is flat, you simply mean that descriptively it offers a more limited tonal range than you find pleasing, then this becomes a matter of personal preference that I won’t dispute.

    But, what nags me is that it sounds like your criticism actually cuts much deeper than that. You seem to be suggesting that VALANCE’s lack of tonal values accompanies, and even translates into, a coextensive lack of complexity. If this is the case, I must ask if you really believe that. Does an expansive range of tones automatically make a film richer? Or, rather does a lack thereof automatically make it worse? That strikes me as an awfully conservative view with regard to film style. It privileges a certain style of lighting, accompanying a certain manner and mode of expression, that was in force and effect over a certain period of time in a certain place. And your linking of VALANCE and GERTRUD suggests to me that the prejudice is really blinding you to rather obvious differences.

    If you think GERTRUD resembles anything you’ve ever seen of 1950s TV, I don’t know what to say… Maybe on the sheerest, most thinly superficial level, it does. By which I mean, maybe if one watched GERTRUD on TV, it would resemble a film made for TV. Myself having seen GERTRUD on 35mm, I can’t imagine that film, the sheer luminosity of which demands the burning bright bulb of a projector, translating to television. That is to say it’s a galaxy FAR FAR AWAY from “flat”. You’re right that it’s compositional style is planimetric and unadorned, and that its tonal range is austere and restricted, but the utter physicality with which the bodies and objects are gradually sculpted in motion gives the whole a delicately ephemeral presence that is perfectly rounded and three dimensional. Its a film that almost pops off the screen. It would’ve been amazing in 3D.

    VALANCE on the other hand does have a “flatness” to it. Where Dreyer uses sinuous camera movements to articulate the boxy depth of his sets, Ford’s movements are mostly push-ins and pull-outs that tend to accentuate, rather than counter the flatness of its surfaces. And when Ford does stage in depth, which he still does quite often, he directs the actors in very simple, lateral movements. Thus, our focus is on these actions themselves, and the depth does not call attention to itself. It functions as a container, an environment in which any movement, say, a gesture or vector, is clearly articulated, and not just clearly in the sense of legibly, but such that this movement is defined in relation to a space that gives it resonance: social (the individual defining himself within his position in the community), political (the individual galvanizing and articulating a community), and historical (the movement leaving its mark on the community). I think this is one of the major qualities of Ford’s art, if not in fact its basis, its key formal ideal – the clear articulation of figure movements in space – and it pervades even CLEMENTINE (I would cite the famous church dedication sequence). To reject these qualities as deficient or, worse, “crudely stagey” when compared to the exaggerated angularity of CLEMENTINE’s saloon scenes with their lapping chiaroscuro just seems incredibly misdirected. The “flatness” of characterizations, of compositions, of sets, and of lighting whether they owe anything to an emergent TV esthetic or not (I don’t know really) strike me nevertheless as perfectly right. Personal preference is one thing. If you like tonal values, you like tonal values. But to hold these values as having some essential esthetic validity over and above other values constitutes an extension of modernist precepts far beyond their worth. What is the point of chiaroscuro in and for itself or a well designed, more naturalistic set in and for itself? BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, Ulmer, 1960. Now there’s a FLAT film. And if you want outrageously cheap sets, there you have them. To these eyes, the film is a masterpiece, and its sets are a determining factor in establishing it as such. Without those sets, it wouldn’t be the film it is.

    Finally, it is not that I would deny that great directors can go into slumps or declines, but I frankly don’t think it’s ever that simple. There are usually incredibly convoluted chains of causality for why a film turns out the way it does, and then for why another film by the same filmmaker and produced the following year turns out the way IT does. Ford never went through declines in my opinion. But there were certainly a lot of rough patches, periods of uncertainty and doubt where he was experimenting with new things, and reconciling old values to new ones. Short of a lobotomy, I don’t think a genius loses it over night. If that’s so, he or she was never a genius to begin with. Ulmer through and through his career in the Z-grades never lost his spirit of creativity.

    And, in any case, VALANCE is one of the great films…

  • Alex Hicks

    I fear it might be churlish of me to further argue that VALANCE is one of the great films.

    I just can’t see personally credible reasons –cinematography, overall performance quality, script, mise-en-scene, or spme combination of these — for thinking the film is very good, much less great.

    For what it’s worth, edo, I wouldn’t argue with your point abour “essential esthetic validity” versus functional role as a general one; and I find your description of viewing a good print of GERTRUD in 35 mm intriguing. (Must I assume that viewing a Criterion DVD version of a film on a 40 inch flatscreen provides no assurance of capturing the visual magic?)

  • edo

    I actually think the criterion dvd is very very good. Like all DVDs though, the compression results in a very flattened image. But there’s still magic there, I feel. I mean, it’s the way I first saw the film. Seeing it on 35mm did not change my mind so much as greatly deepen my appreciation.

  • Peter Henne

    The Criterion DVD of GERTRUD is cropped to 1.78:1 when seen on a hi-def TV. The ratio is discussed here:

    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDReviews21/gertrud_dvd_review.htm

    Edo, I thought you made an articulate and fantastic description of LIBERTY VALANCE’S flat visual traits, but speaking for myself the Criterion edition of GERTRUD is unwatchable–there is too much of the frame missing. The BFI disc, which I haven’t seen, is said to be 1.61:1. Looking at the frame enlargements in David Bordwell’s book on Dreyer, where you can see to the furthest four edges for many frames, the BFI ratio seems to be close to right, and in any case the film looks to be slightly less wide than 1.66:1. I’ve seen it in a matted 16mm print owned by MOMA as well as the Criterion release.

  • Brad Stevens

    Just heard the most terrible news: Charles Eastman has died. Sadly relevant to this thread, as he was the screenwriter of Hal Ashby’s SECOND-HAND HEARTS. But he was also the director of one of American cinema’s unknown masterpieces, THE ALL-AMERICAN BOY.

  • edo

    Yes, Peter, I agree that the frame is too pinched on the CC disc. The BFI disc also looks a tiny bit sharper from the screencaps on Beaver. Still, I think the CC disc is very good, up to their usual standard in terms of overall transfer quality.

  • jbryant

    Brad: Haven’t seen either of those Eastman efforts, but I did catch LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSY, which he wrote, at a drive-in when I was about 13. Don’t remember the film too well, but I can still hear the hook of the Johnny Cash title tune in my head. Don’t know what the film’s rep is, but I’m surprised there’s no video release.

    THE ALL-AMERICAN BOY sounds fascinating. Amazon.com has VHS copies for sale, and it can also be rented or bought via their Video On Demand service. RIP Charles Eastman.

  • Alex Hicks

    Junko, have any opinion of Ko Nakahira’a “Crazed Fruit” (1956), which airs on TCM during tomorrow’s wee hours?

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘have any opinion of Ko Nakahira’a “Crazed Fruit” (1956)’

    I think you should see it, because it is from novel by Ishihara, right wing politician now. Nakahira has undermined the novel but still keeping plot, characters. Interesting movie. There is 1980s version, not so good.

  • Alex Hicks

    Thanks, Junko. I’ll tape it, then give it a look.