Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sergeant Rutledge, John Ford, 1960

One detail in the train scene early in the film: While getting to know each other, Constance Towers's Mary and Jeffrey Hunter's Tom are standing in the middle of one of the compartments of this rather un-trainlike looking train. They are facing each other while being aligned perpendicular towards the direction and movement of the machine. When the train suddenly breaks they should, according to the laws of physics, stumble parallel to the movement of the train, and also parallel to each other. However, they stumble towards each other instead, resulting in Mary falling into Tom's arms.

On the one hand this is a precise definition of movie magic: Cinema has the power to alter ficticious force, to refract it by 90 degrees (these 90 degrees might also be thought of as the romantic bias of cinema). On the other hand, the very strangeness and exposed antinaturalism of the scene fits this particular film perfectly. In Sergeant Rutledge, the chains of cause and effect aren't exactly broken, but they work in peculiar, almost absurd ways. The extremely beautiful, and despite its strangeness extremely moving film is first and foremost concerned with celebrating and mythologizing the „buffalo soldier“, with inscribing the faces of black americans on the iconography and texture of the hollywood western / of Ford's cinema... but it does this through a convoluted, meandering plot, structured around an investigation which, for most of the film's running time, seems to move not towards, but away from the crime it is supposed to solve. Only to be thrust back to it in the end by way of a rather bizarre deus ex machina development, resulting in an almost ecstatically overacted confession scene.





Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Donna

Donna fehlt noch in meinem kleinen Dallas-Starschnitt. Aber was gibt es zu Donna zu sagen? Sie ist sicherlich durch ihren ihr fast schon direkt im Gesicht ablesbaren gesunden Menschenverstand ein stabilisierendes Element innerhalb eines hochneurotischen Systems, aber gleichzeitig bleibt sie weitgehend eigenschaftslos. Wie wenig die Serie mit ihr anfangen kann, bemerkt man daran, dass sie ihr die ganze Zeit Aetws zu tun gibt. Donna hat inzwischen (Season 7) bereits zwei Bücher geschrieben und mehrere politische Kampagnen erfolgreich absolviert. Und damit hat sie zwar deutlich mehr geleistet als die Millionen wie Spielgeld hin und her schiebenden Ewing-Männer (von deren schon von der Organisation eines Barbecue hoffnungslos überforderten Frauen ganz zu schweigen...), aber um Leistungen dieser Art geht es in Dallas nun einmal nicht. Zugang zu den spektakulären Ursache-Wirkungs-Zusammenhängen der Familienintrige hat Donna nur aufgrund ihrer durch nichts zu erschütternden Liebe zu Ray, was sie zur ewigen Passivität, zum ewigen Seufzen über Rays jeweils neueste Dummheit verdammt.

Das interessanteste an Donna sind Augen. Mit dem richtigen Make-up sehen sie aus wie dunkelblaue Scheinwerfer, die die Welt um sie herum ein wenig mondäner ausschauen lassen.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Long Gray Line, John Ford, 1955

When you watch the parade passing by you can't be part of it yourself. Not only a film about a life almost completely lived by proxy and the growing invisibility of history (in the age of cinemascope), but also about the specific melancholy of cinema.

Also: Maureen O'Hara as the last great silent movie comedian. Her love on first sight scene with Tyrone Powers might be one of the most beautiful slapstick routines ever.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

3 Godfathers, John Ford, 1948

My favorite part comes when, towards the end of the film, shortly before he arrives in this film's version of Jerusalem, John Wayne stumbles through a canyon, thirsty and depleted. As in other scenes before, exhaustion is treated not as a bodily condition but as a prerequistion for the state of grace. Wayne, however, doesn't fall into a soft, cloud-like death, but instead becomes something like a mad saint, he starts hallucinating, and the world around him transforms itself into a cinematic echo chamber, complete with ghost voices, superimpositions, and a donkey miracle. In a way, the whole film works like this: While Ford's other westerns of the period (probably even the intimate Wagon Master, which I'll have to revisit soon) are deeply invested in making sense of the emerging post war world, 3 Godfathers often feels like a private fantasy: John Ford, hanging out in his own cinematic echo chamber.

Of course this isn't a surprise, given that 3 Godfathers is a remake of Ford's own 1919 film Marked Men and also a tribute to its star, Harry Carey. The true miracle is that, despite its openly, even proudly anachronistic setup, the film never once feels claustrophobic. One reason for this might be, that the two main structural levels of the film - the genre exercise and the religious allegory - never completely collapse into each other. No matter how deliriously christian things get, Ford at the same time always stays true to the simple chase narrative which twice in the film is sketched as a spatialized diagram. Thereby, 3 Godfathers permanently sidesteps the notion of mythical closure which always seems to lurk behind the next corner.

More important, probably, are single scenes, evelated shots which seem to come out of nowhere (the one with Wayne shielding his dying friend from the sun), singular intensities. This, more than the naive storyline, connects the film to early cinema, to the cinema of attractions. Of course, every single one of these moments is also a triumph of craft. The sandstorm, for example, is a triumph of Hollywood studio artifice, on par with the storm in The Hurricane. But the best special effect is much more basic: the baby itself, the faux christ found in the desert, and fed with cactus water. Each time the bundle in which the infant is wrapped in is opened, the film seems to discover the wonders of life anew, as if for the first time. Here, in the spiritual center of the film, glorious artifice suddenly breaks through into pure realism: The tiny hands grabbing Wayne's tanned, life-worn fingers, the mouth sucking, by way of pure reflex, on the improvised milk bottle.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Freiheit

Das Vorzimmer der Macht ist der einzige Ort in Dallas, in dem die ungebundene Kontingenz der Welt in die Serie hereinragt. Im Empfangsraum der Chefbüros von Ewing Oil sitzen, tagaus, tagein, zwei bis drei Sekretärinnen. Die Frauen sind loyal zu ihren Chefs, in den Intrigenspielen, aus denen die Serie hauptsächlich besteht, erhalten sie jedoch höchstens winzige Nebenrollen (Ausnahme: die bemitleidenswerte Sly in Season 7). Sie werden allerdings auch nicht "unsichtbar" wie das Personal der Ewing-Ranch, da sie andauernd mit kleinen, logistischen Aufgaben betraut werden: Mal wird ihnen aufgetragen, eine Information weiterzugeben, mal müssen sie einen aufdringlichen Besucher abwimmeln, oder einfach nur dem einen Ewing-Bruder Auskunft über den Aufenthaltsort und die Beschäftigung des anderen verschaffen. Sie legen dabei eine wundervolle Lässigkeit an den Tag, werfen sich gegenseitig ironische Blicke zu, oder betrachten auch mal ausführlich ihre Fingernägel. Sie sind die einzigen Figuren, bei denen man neugierig wird auf das Leben, das sie außerhalb der Serie führen. Allzu viel Einblicke erlangen wir nicht, nur sehr selten lassen sie ein paar wenige Worte fallen über ein misslungenes Date, oder einen grässlichen Veggie-Burger ("never again").