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Arthur Penn 1922-2010

Another great is gone. This has been a mean season for the movies. My New York Times obituary is here.

131 comments to Arthur Penn 1922-2010

  • Alex Hicks

    Blake, My favorite Hitchcock author of all, Robin Wood, takes your view of the Baltimore design. But it’s pretty clear from testimony to the contrary from one of the actual film crew (reported in Kapsis’ “Hitchchock: the Making of a Reputation” –production designer Robert Boyle as I recall without Kapsis handy) that Wood was stretching his case for “Marnie” at this point and the Baltimore backdrop was regarded with some dismay at the time of filming. There is also an account (somewhat documented, somewhat hypothetical) offered by Daniel Spoto in his “The Dark Side of Genius”: Hitchcock had just been rebuffed by the latest and last of a long string of inspiring Blonde infatuations (going back to his early encounters with Grace Kelly, and across Hitchcock’ possible great run of film, pretty much the full run of color works with Burks). Tippi Hedren rebuffs! The bubble is burst. The final scenes to be shot –the Baltimore ones– where shot without the maestro’s relentlessly passionate care of yore. Indeed, one can argue the end of 30 rather than 10 years of directorial Mastery ends shooting those (for me quite dreadful) Baltimore scenes.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I am totally with Blake on my love for the artifice in Marnie and many other films.

    One of my favorite things to see in older movies are miniatures. I particularly love moving trains in them, which are clearly “phony” and “fake” and not credible if one studies them too closely. The same thing with the mattes in Marnie.

  • Alex

    “Marnie” scholars should read Kapsis and Spoto. As for me I’ve seen “Marnie” over 20 times and my view is probably pretty settled, quite independently from any general bias against Hitchcockian artifice. “Marnie”‘s a great Pennsylvania film and –alas, as it might have been one of Hitchcock’s VERY greatest and all– a wretched Baltimore one.

    I never saw much in the complaints about the sub-par FXs for Marnie’s horse riding scenes.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, when it comes to jaw dropingly phony, you really can’t beat the helicopter in THE 39 STEPS.

    I take umbridge in Alex finding anything related to Baltimore as dreadful and in Blake continuing to insist that FRENZY is misanthropic. The back of me projection to all of you!

  • Peter Henne

    Alex, In fact, I was thinking about how crucial the harbor’s phoniness is to pulling the film away from Mark’s dominating point of view–he would never see a harbor that way–and more in concert with Marnie’s world view, returning to a memory, engaging her emotions more and not so tied to the hard facts of anything. I’m not really suggesting the camera takes subjective POV, but in a more indirect way it does. So Hitchcock has to do something here to get away from allying with Mark, who started out as a stand-in for us, in the way that conventional heroes do. Just as he undercuts this identification with Mark, he also pulls the carpet on our getting a rational view of the scene which will mean everything emotionally for Marnie. Mark orchestrated this visit, but if anybody owns this place, it’s rightfully her.

  • Brian Dauth

    I think FRENZY is one of Hitchcock’s most humane and compassionate films. Together with TOPAZ and FAMILY PLOT, it forms a culminating triad where Hitchcock pushes his aesthetic and vision to new heights/depths. FRENZY strikes me as the wondrous amalgam of British Hitchcock and Hollywood Hitchcock, where he breaks through to a new expressiveness. Because these film depart so radically from his Classical Hollywood style, they are misunderstood as examples of failing artistic power.

  • Junko Yasutani

    About Baltimore harbor scenes in MARNIE, there is contrast of shallow backdrop for one and state of the art matte shot for an other. Shallow back drop does not spoil shot for me, like Peter Henne suggests it is having meaning attached to it that resonates to the movie. Technician quoted by Alex can have their opinion, but it does not change emotional effect of the movie for me.

  • Alex Hicks

    Peter Henne,

    Your “pulling the film away from Mark’s dominating point of view” might just be clever (indeed insightful) enough to make me reconsider my rather settled view of “Marnie.”

    Actually, I don’t think I could ever go so far as to attribute that gestalt switch you have proposed to “harbor’s phoniness.” But perhaps the overall, trashy Southern distinctiveness of segments were meant to stand out to do as you say. (Not sure I’ll ever think that worked, though.)

    Not sure I think FRENZY, TOPAZ and FAMILY PLOT (or IRON CURTAIN) are as good as the best half dozen or so De Palme films.

    Barry, let’s not FX polish across as long a gap as that between 39 STEPS and MARNIE. As for Baltimore, on my few, 1964-ish visits I drove a Simca so inclined to stall that I had to get out and push the thing — at times on busy major thoroughfares, so I might be prejudiced against that town (THE WIRE aside).

  • Barry Putterman

    Well Alex, a wind-up toy is still a wind-up toy regardless of what year it appears in. If you compare the 1976 KING KONG to the 1933 version, you would have to conclude that FX had regressed quite a bit in the intervening period.

    For my part, I’m not sure if the best half dozen or so De PalmA films are as good as some randomly selected entires from the Fred F. Sears filmography. And, just for the record, it is Donald Spoto not Daniel.

    So, the problem was Baltimore and not the Simca?

  • Alex Hicks

    Barry, clever Kong comparison, but I don’t think it was Jackson’s FX that done him in so much as his.. .everything else (most especially the infantile Jack Black in the Robert Armstrong role).

    Well, a person could transfer a Simca trauma to his surroundings –especially when they’re Baltimorian! (Back in ’64, Baltimore was so dilapidated that there were downtown department stores with the windw’s bricked that looked like warehouses.) Same year as that of MARNiE’s release! (Which I saw at the expense of missing a Friday night Fairfax High football game! Perhaps I can only get my slant on MARNIE straight by … GOING BACK TO BALTIMORE!

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Alex –
    Barry was referring to the Paramount John Guillermin King Kong, a film that seems to have disappeared (among other reasons because the NY signs were set at the World Trade Center).

  • Not if you have AMC, it hasn’t. The 76 KK is also on DVD and import Blu-ray. It seemed to play once a month in primetime on one of Hong Kong’s two English-language TV channels when I lived there in the late 80s; hugely popular for some reason, and like all primetime movies strangely scheduled, beginning at 9:15, breaking for a half-hour of news at 11, then returning.

    But I digress. Oh, there’s a World Trade Center on Baltimore’s waterfront, too, but not in MARNIE’s time.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Thanks Robert for the correction.

    It was mentioned after 9/11 that the film was not out on DVD and otherwise had been withdrawn. AMC usually doesn’t show in proper AR, edits and has lots of commercials, so I missed that it has returned there.

  • Vivian

    “Technician quoted by Alex can have their opinion, but it does not change emotional effect of the movie for me.” I’m with you there, Junko.

    To me the Baltimore scenes in MARNIE are heartwrenchingly tense, mysterious, and emotionally resonant. But then I guess I’m a sucker for formulaic and ill implemented revelations, odious Moms, garish melodramatics and cinematography — not to mention famously hokey backdrops.

  • Alex Hicks

    To be more detailed and, thus (I think), fairer, this is what Kapsis (1992,pp. 129-130) has to say about his interview with production designer Robert Boyle regarding the Baltimore backdrop in MARNIE: “According to Robert Boyle, the backdrop of the ship was supposed to have looked very realistic. “We didn’t intend it to look phony.” It happened that one of the scenes that used the backdrop called for rain. With the water on the backdrop, recalls Boyle, the ship, as well as the painted bricks of the houses, looked glossy. Robert Burk, the film’s director of photography, agreed. So Boyle approached Hitchcock, almost pleading to reshoot the sequence. Much to his surprise, Hitchcock didn’t seem particularly upset with the backdrop sequences. In fact, Hitchcock said, “I don’t see anything wrong with it, Bob. I think it looks fine.”

    As I recall, Orson Welles once said that “a director is a person who presides over accidents.” In this case, Kapsis’ report is consistent with both those who think that Hitchcock presided well and those who think that he presided poorly. Spoto (1982, pp, 50-505) provides one account of why Hitchcock might, quite understandably, have presided poorly.

    It’s an imaginatively rich account, as it helps make sense of not only the especially extraordinary (if variable) greatness of Hitchcock from REAR WINDOW through MARNIE, but the shift from traditional Hitchcockian suspense thrillers into master narratives of obsessive love that is marked by VERTIGO, THE BIRDS, MARNIE and perhaps PSYCHO.

  • Brian Dauth

    The way a viewer responds to the Baltimore backdrops of MARNIE will depend on her own personal aesthetic. Whether or not Hitchcock intended the backdrops to look that way or merely accepted them for how they were; and despite any and all eyewitness testimony from the time and place of production, in the moment of aesthetic experience, each viewer will have to negotiate those backdrops for herself. For Junko, the backdrops are part of the film’s emotional charge; for Alex, they are dreadful and detract from the movie. Both opinions are “right” as both are grounded in specific formal elements of the film as experienced by each viewer.

    One of the interesting issues that will arise as succeeding generations of film viewers are born is how their aesthetics, created in the age of the digital image, will react to the Baltimore backdrops. As with the various responses to Freudian thought posted to this thread, responses will change with succeeding generations.

  • Blake Lucas

    Re Brian’s post at 2:44 –

    (Not about the Baltimore scenes, since plainly there is a divergence of opinion and I’ve already given my own…)

    But as regards subjectivity of the viewer, even a highly critically conscious and cinematically sensitive viewer, did others here see the docu on PBS “Letter to Elia” co-directed by Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones that was on Monday night?

    Scorsese narrates–as in other of these kinds of films he has participated in, he is either a really good actor as narrator (note the quaver in his voice when he describes the hallway in EAST OF EDEN or how when he was in his seat in a movie theatre he felt safe) or these experiences are as personal as he makes them sound and still resonate as deeply for him, which I’d personally bet is the case, given how much he’s given to restoring and preserving films. Not that anyone gives all of himself away–I’m still wondering about Scorsese’s relationship with his brother; scenes from ON THE WATERFRONT and EAST OF EDEN that so affected him suggested it was as charged as those relationships in the films though we still don’t know exactly how it was or why.

    In any event, cut to the chase. What was so interesting about this film is that it set up very eloquently the relationship between the film, its maker, and the viewer, with the viewer (in this case Scorsese) bringing a subjectivity equal to his more purely aesthetic critical perceptions; but I never felt Scorsese’s subjectivity distorted what was in those images, which isn’t the same as saying we would all value them equally or in the same way, but that he accurately represented what was there in the narration even while making a point of how personal it was for him.

    Surely there is this balance (and I know Brian for one has insisted on the subjective element many times here) between the viewer looking at a movie in terms of his/her own subjectivity but also being able to express a conscious appreciation that squares with the film being discussed. There are also points at which this balance may be lost and what is passed as objective (like “painted backdrops are no good” or “all scenes are most expressive with painted backdrops” to take extreme examples relevant to the discussion) is only theoretical, while on the other hand, simply walking in looking for a specific resonance of one’s own experience can mean closing oneself off to what an individual film has to give.

    In any event, I really like the way the Kazan docu showed the relationship between those aspects of viewing, acknowledged that the film is partly what we bring to it as well as what the filmmaker has brought to it (yet the images also suggested that every moment Scorsese and Jones selected was intensely personal for Kazan), and that this reality should not preclude nuanced aesthetic appreciation at the same time as it provokes an emotional response.

    I for one was really glad I watched this. And yet I hesitated to do so. Honestly, I don’t much like seeing Kazan himself, and I know I don’t need to explain this. But I do like some of his films, deeply love several of them, and long ago was able to separate my dislike of seeing the man from having any problem watching those films (and am actually looking forward to WILD RIVER restoration screening at the Academy next week). Yet somehow, in this docu, the intercut scenes of Kazan himself seemed an important part of the film, as much as Scorsese’s reminiscences but in a different way, while the intercut scenes from the films were not affected for me by any external element–as they came on, to the extent that Kazan’s images and scenes work for me in the films, they came alive on their own immediately.

    In any event, I’m mainly discussing because it’s related to something that comes up here often, as it’s right that it should. And highly recommend “Letter to Elia” for those that missed it and have a chance to see it later.

  • Alex Hicks

    Blake, I saw “Letter” at an academic venue a bit before the NY premier ago and thought is was terrific, though whether more as an ideal for of criticism or aS simply a refreshing one, whether as criticism or as an aesthetic memoir with critical payoffs, I am not sure.

    Kudos to Scorsese and Jones!

  • Brian Dauth

    I second Blake’s recommendation of A LETTER TO ELIA (and my previous post was probably written under its influence). As much as it was about Kazan, it was about what Scorsese found in Kazan’s films at a crucial point in his life. As I was watching it, I thought of my own relationship to ALL ABOUT EVE, a film that entered my life at just the right moment. AAE gave intimations of hope and possibility to this queerboi who understood that he was not what the world (public or private) wanted. The film nourished me much as Kazan’s work did for Scorsese. And like Scorsese, as my love of movies grew, I returned to AAE and other Mankiewicz films to see a) how they worked; and b) if an argument could be made for the power of Mankiewicz’s use of formal elements which I could then share with others.

    I also came to realize that others may ultimately not share my experience of or passion for Mankiewicz and his work, even though they might find my position defensible. Understanding this fact freed me in my own responses to films. I will never respond to the hallway in EAST OF EDEN as Scorsese does, but his explication makes clear how his response is among the possibilities, and, most importantly, he solidly grounded it in both the fact of the film and his own personal experience.

    For me, the critical equation can be expressed in this shorthand way:

    Formal elements regarded with acuity + honestly scrutinized/expressed subjectivity = robust aesthetic critiques.

  • Ted Kroll

    Brian- Kindly remove the ‘vulgarly’ from the description of your formula. Seems to me you have encapsulated the positive struggle (dare I say the dialectic) that characterizes the ongoing discussions of this blog.

  • jbryant

    Another superb director has passed — Roy Ward Baker, at 93. He’s been mentioned here a number of times in recent months, for one film or another (I recall exchanges on INFERNO, THE OCTOBER MAN, DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK and, I think, VAULT OF HORROR). RIP

  • Johan Andreasson

    It’s a tall order responding to anything the way Scorsese does. After all in “A Personal Journey Through American Movies” he claims to have had his life changed by watching A DUEL IN THE SUN at age four. (I still don’t respond to that movie.)

    But you really can’t get enough of that kind of passion. It will probably take a while before I can see “A letter to Elia”, but I’ll make sure not to miss it.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    It’s curious that as someone who in this thread posted about the turning point in my life seeing Bonnie and Clyde was might be somewhat less impressed by A Letter to Elia.

    Scorsese has covered this area – how his childhood was highlighted by his interaction with movies in theatres, as well as on TV – in the past. But is it that different from the rest of us? The first three movies I saw in theatres were Merry Andrew, 10 Commandments and The Shaggy Dog, and I’m sure others could take similar experiences and tell us something about themselves and movies as well. But what for me was unconvincing about the film was why Kazan’s films really stood apart from others as a formative experience (not that is exactly what he said, but it seemed implied.) East of Eden rather than Rebel Without a Cause? On the Waterfront rather than Rear Window?

    The handling of his ratting was rationalized (old argument) about the horrors of Anatolia and his feeling like an outsider, with no reference to the fact that he was reasonably wealthy, very successful and if he had fears of being blacklisted, he could have easily gone to Broadway and have been welcome with open arms. I appreciated the statement that his films after the HUAC incident were more “personal,” but why, except that what happened was a big deal, also was underdeveloped.

    Ultimately, this was as much or more about Scorsese as about Kazan. And that is not necessarily without interest – but since he already made one documentary (A Personal Journey Through American Cinema With Martin Scorsese) from a similar POV, not sure what new he added.

  • Brian Dauth

    Ted: “vulgarly” removed as kindly requested. Thank you.

    I think the kind of passion Johan refers to is in evidence on this blog on a regular basis. I also agree with Blake that we should always be open to responding passionately to what a film has to offer. But sometimes it just does not happen, and I believe that we must also acknowledge that when passion fails to ignite in a viewer, it is not because of some defect in the person.

    There is what I call the Aesthetic Romantic Fallacy (ARF). ARF crops up in those arguments which maintain that if a viewer (or reader or listener) would only refine and calibrate her aesthetic correctly, then passion for a particular art work would bloom. I am with Johan: I still do not respond to DUEL IN THE SUN, but I do not think there is anything malfunctioning in either of our aesthetics. To maintain critical integrity, I should remain open to the possibility that one day DUEL IN THE SUN will topple ALL ABOUT EVE, while at the same time admitting the slight likelihood of this occurring. A significant element of an individual’s critical mechanism is provided by (and remains deeply intertwined with) her life’s experiences, both aesthetic and non-aesthetic. In fact, I would venture that this element is the fuel that a formally powerful work of art ignites, thus unleashing the extraordinary passion each of us experiences in the presence of the works of art we love.

  • Brian Dauth

    For me, A LETTER TO ELIA is about Scorsese’s first encounters with Kazan’s art, and I wonder if at that time he had any awareness of Kazan’s involvement with HUAC greater than mine about Mankiewicz’s battle with C.B. DeMille over the DGA when I first experienced ALL ABOUT EVE. Later I learned of both incidents, but that moment when Margo first dazzled me from the (television) screen was (blissfully) free of such historical knowledge. Here was an instance where one particular film engaged one particular queerboi on the deepest of levels. From A LETTER TO ELIA, I sensed that the intense emotionality of Kazan’s films coupled with a focus on problematic/antagonistic brother-to-brother relationships reached similar depths in Scorsese.

    And Scorsese and I are left in interesting situations as we contemplate the actions of our beloved directors. Kazan informed and then took out an ad to explain/justify his actions; Mankiewicz won the battle that night, but signed the loyalty oath the next day, saying that he did not object to the oath, but only to its being other than voluntary. It would be great if throughout his life Mankiewicz had behaved as I (with hindsight) would have wished him to, and always espoused opinions I could agree with. But he didn’t, and I still love everything he directed from DRAGONWYCK to SLEUTH. His combination of cool passion and fierce intelligence was just what this queerboi needed/needs.

  • Ted Kroll

    I know the Hitchcock thread has slipped away, but a question – Is UNDER CAPRICORN anywhere to be found? These days, it would seem to the most obscure of Hitchcock’s ‘Hollywood’ films. In its day it caused much critical hub bub with avid supporters and just as strong detractors. It seems to have disappeared. I wonder how well it has aged over the years, or should it remain in the cellar?

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Is UNDER CAPRICORN anywhere to be found?’

    There is not so good Chinese manufactured DVD.

    I have seen beautiful restored print in London 15 years ago, so maybe there is UK DVD. It is great Hitchcock movie, very beautiful.

  • Michael Dempsey

    Image Entertainment released a Region 1 DVD of “Under Capricorn” in 2003.

  • Brian Dauth

    My Image dvd of UNDER CAPRICORN is okay to my eyes. The film itself is a great achievement, and with ROPE constitutes a lovely brace of films concerning transgressive couples and how society deals with them. After Anouilh, ROPE is a “piece noire” and UNDER CAPRICORN is a “piece brillante.”

  • david hare

    There used to be a French PAL DVD of Under Capricorn released by Universal which was far superior to the Image disc(which I thought was not so good.) This seems to have slipped out of print, but this UK edition might be the same transfer. The only problem with it is “fixed” French subs on the ENglish language track version. (Which are rippable on a computer.)

    Orbit may have exported the French telecine. Then again they may also have exported the appalling German disc released by Kinowelt. Maybe you need to take a trip to Paris and search through the shelves at Gibert Joseph!

  • I know this post is about Arthur Penn — but I gotta say, this Italian poster for LEFT HANDED GUN has to be one of the greatest, most underrated Paul Newman movie posters around!