Jane Eyre (2011)

Still from Jane Eyre (2011)

It’s been so long since I’ve read Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel that I have no idea how closely this film follows it. I do know that it works very well as what it is: a masochistic wish-fulfillment romance with gothic elements. It is visually sensuous and intimate, which is appropriate in a romance. I suppose I could have used a little more gothic, but I liked what was offered. Rochester’s estate is a great pile of stone, and it is suitably dark and chilly. There’s one lovely scene where Jane’s face fades in and out of darkness as Rochester tries to light a fire. Jane’s face becomes the flame.

The success of a romance depends a great deal on the two leads, and it’s actually a little hard for me to judge how well they spark off each other here. I really liked Mia Wasikowska as Jane. She carries the movie with a combination of true grit and vulnerability. Michael Fassbender as Rochester played wounded — soul and pride — very well, although perhaps lacked an air of cruelty. Yet the story is so basic and strong, with such powerful cruxes, that quibbles seem beside the point. The performances almost seemed beside the point. The atmosphere and sense of unspoken, restrained emotions roiling against the pile of stone was enough for me.

The class aspects of the story are curious, and I’m not sure I actually understand what Jane’s class is. Did she come from money but was dispossessed by her aunt? In the end it feels that Rochester has been reduced and Jane restored, but is that a fairy tale or actual economics? And Rochester still has a housekeeper, so all he really needs is a house.

Was Judi Dench as the housekeeper a bit under-used? But I’m quibbling again. Mia Wasikowska holds the stage. All the moor’s a stage.  It feels like a dream, and the film knows it. I probably prefer dreams to swoons anyway.

The Locket (1946)

Like Inception (2010), The Locket is perhaps notable more for its elaborate structure and visual pleasures than for the somewhat banal story it tells. But instead of Inception‘s dream-within-a-dream structure, The Locket‘s structure is a flashback-within-a-flashback that goes down three levels, with each flashback from another character’s point of view. As with Inception we return to the current time frame level by level, giving closure to each flashback along the way, and the question of closure lingers over this neat narrative gimmick. For one thing, the deeper the flashback, the further the narrative drifts from the person allegedly narrating — second hand, third hand, fourth hand — thus raising the question of reliability as well. There is also a murder in one flashback that we’re never sure is actually solved. At the center of it all is the femme fatale, Nancy, a kleptomaniac living in a delusional world. Unlike other Freudian movies of the ’40s (e.g., Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945)), it’s not clear that Nancy’s trauma is healed by bringing it to the surface. In fact, the memory only seems to cause further trauma.

Screen cap from The Locket

(Inside the locket … )

More Trouble

‘Geneviève [Bujold] was the Claire Trevor character, Keith [Carradine] was the Richard Widmark character, Lori [Singer] was the Ida Lupino character, and Kris [Kristofferson] was John Garfield.’

— Alan Rudolph, interview in “Halves of a Dream,” an extra on the Trouble in Mind DVD

On the set in 1984: Bujold, Kristofferson, Singer, and Carradine.

Still from Trouble in Mind set

(He said, ‘I think I’m playing Sydney Greenstreet, and I should wear a tuxedo.’)

Seattle in Mind

When I first watched Trouble in Mind in November 2006, it wasn’t available on a Region 1 DVD. Last year Shout! Factory released a 25th Anniversary Special Edition of Alan Rudolph’s 1985 film. It’s not exactly the Criterion treatment, but it’s a good presentation and a good reason to watch the film yet again — and therefore to write about it again too. As I wrote earlier, one of the attractions of the film is that it captures a portrait of Seattle as it looked when I first moved here the year before. To some extent, 25 years later, that Seattle is gone, so here I’m presenting images of that lost city as seen in the film.

I’ve always assumed that this shot from the opening credits was from the Union Street Station, but I’m not completely sure. It could be the King Street Station, which shows up later in the film too. This is also one of numerous shots in the film that echo Blade Runner (1982) in some way. There’s a concerted effort to mix up the time signifiers in costumes and cars and so on, and the Blade Runner imagery signals a science fictional retro-future.

Screen cap from Trouble in Mind

(Everybody wants to go to Heaven; nobody wants to die…)

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 …