Trouble in Mind (1985)

[Originally posted elsewhere in a substantially different form on May 27, 2007.]

Screen cap from Trouble in Mind

Geneviève Bujold as Wanda


It’s all Ulrika O’Brien’s fault, I suppose. She lent me DVDs of Alan Rudolph’s Choose Me (1984) and The Moderns (1988), and I liked them both — especially the smoky, jazzy Choose Me — so then she lent me a videotape of Trouble in Mind. I’ve now watched it four times since November. I’m hooked, no doubt, and so of course I need to wonder aloud on the reasons. Not surprisingly romantic melancholy is the fifth reason, at least on some lists.

(But I won’t be blue always …)

Nightfall (1957)

Screen cap from Nightfall‘The film opens in Los Angeles, a nocturnal strip of blinking neon, cocktail lounges and cheap rooming-houses. Carefully parceled-out flashbacks reveal why Jim Vanning (Aldo Ray), has become a hunted and haunted drifter, moving from city to city and name to name, trying to escape the aftermath of something terrible that happened in the desolate, snowy mountains of Wyoming.’

— Imogen Smith, “Nightfall, a rare film noir by Jacques Tourneur at Film Forum

Night must fall now …

Berlin Express (1948)

Screen cap from Berlin ExpressThe homogeneity of the film’s effects has nothing in common with the flashy eccentricity of Carol Reed’s The Third Man, another thriller set in the ruins of postwar Europe. Reed’s film is more entertaining and seemingly more serious, but Tourneur’s film is more deeply pessimistic and more mysterious.

— Chris Fujiwara, Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall

Screen cap of Berlin ExpressIn Tourneur’s hands, the plot device of Lindley and Lucienne going randomly into cabarets to look for clues has a lunatic appropriateness. As Lucienne points out, “We are the ones who are being looked over.” The world of the nightclub — with its economy of cigarettes and its tawdry entertainment of tumblers, dancing girls, clowns, and mind readers — is created as definitively and as unforgettably as in a Sternberg or Welles film. (Fujiwara)

Screen cap from Berlin ExpressAsked about the recurrence of evil clowns in his films, Tourneur said: “I must have a sort of complex about that. I don’t find dwarfs amusing, I don’t find hunchbacks amusing, and I don’t find clowns amusing. They’re characters out of a nightmare.” (Fujiwara)

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Screen cap from Experiment Perilous

The main benefit of the decision to switch the period to 1903, suggested though not stated by Fellows’s description of Allida as “a cloistered and frustrated orchid,” is the ability to tap into the subtext of Victorianism. The change strengthens the sexual motifs of the story. Nick becomes the arch-Victorian bourgeios, obsessed with the constant danger of his wife’s sexuality and driven to kill in an effort to control it. The Bederaux family is a classic Victorian family with a dark tragic past (the suicide of Nick’s father), an aunt who must be locked away for a long period, and a neurotic child.

— Chris Fujiwara, Jacques Tourneur – The Cinema of Nightfall

Jacques Tourneur is one of my favorite Hollywood directors of the classical era, especially for I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Canyon Passage (1946), Out of the Past (1947), and Night of the Demon (1957). He’s relatively obscure (although with many champions, ranging from Kim Newman to Martin Scorsese), so it hasn’t been easy to see a lot of his films. Fortunately, the Warner Archive, which is slowly making the entire Warner catalog (including the RKO films they own) available as burn-on-demand DVD-Rs, has put out a number of Tourneur’s rarer films, including Experiment Perilous.

Ars longa, vita brevis …

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Another science fiction romance! I had just watched Monsters (2010) on Netflix Instant, and then I saw this one in the theater last night. I didn’t like it as much as Monsters, but it’s a pleasant enough time-waster. It’s based on a Philip K. Dick story that I’ve never read, and it’s about a rising political star (Matt Damon) who falls in love with a free-spirit (Emily Blunt) only to find out that his options are constrained by a mysterious group of men who have a plan for humanity that this love story doesn’t fit in. These men begin to adjust the story.

As a mystery and semi-thriller, this is an engaging movie that rolls along smoothly. Once it was over and I could think about it, I didn’t find much there. It’s a movie about fate and free will that doesn’t actually have much to say on the matter that hasn’t been said before. Which is fine. Every movie doesn’t need to be profound or original. If I wish that Matt Damon had found the mysterious, never-seen author-figure at the top of the Adjustment Bureau and punched him in the nose, well, I should just write my own damned story. Likewise, the fact that the movie isn’t interested in where the Adjustment Bureau came from or what technology it uses to do its thing isn’t necessarily a fault in the movie, just because I’m left curious.

This is fundamentally a movie about a handsome guy and a beautiful gal who are fated to be together and the trials and tribulations they go through to consummate this fate. Or do they create their fate through free will? Oh hell, what does it matter? There are strange doors and strange men in cool hats. Weird things happen (but not too weird). Years pass, but the memories are not erased. Love is always in the air. It smells like victory.

The Spiral Staircase (1945)

This is an utterly gorgeous and atmospheric Gothic woman-in-peril thriller with unexpected depths. The heroine is mute, and director Robert Siodmak draws connections between her muteness and silent film. Like many woman-in-peril Gothics (e.g., Gaslight and Experiment Perilous, both 1944), the film is set in the 1890s or 1900s, which is also the era of the first films. In the opening sequence, we see an audience watching an early silent film called “The Kiss”. Even more meta than that, we see people sneaking a peek at people watching a movie in the dark.

Screen cap from Spiral StaircaseScreen cap from Spiral Staircase
The kiss of death …


I’ve been writing a lot about film in the past few years, and the first impulse behind this blog is to make that writing more widely available — if only to Google. My ideas about what to publish here are still evolving, however, and I’m likely to at least include reviews of the early science fiction that I’ve also been writing about in the past few years. I guess I’ll figure it out as I go along.

I’m still figuring out WordPress, too, but I think I’ve got enough figured out to get started. No doubt there will be a few modifications going forward. And now, back to the film …

Screen cap from Mystery of the Rocks of Kador