Cinema Reviews

Movie making is a form of writing (obviously) and can be more than just taking the novel to the screen.

RLK 07-06-09

Fish Film Noir: Moontide
San Pablo is a bay but in this film it is a port south of San Francisco. The setting is a wharf and the year is 1941. This is important to the protagonist because in real life Jean Gabin has to flee occupied France to star in Hollywood. He is not the usual hero of American cinema but suits this genre just as well. He comes across as a sort of French William Bendex though he doesn’t have “The Life of Riley”. He is an alcoholic but sober enough to save his heroic veneer when the chips are down. In the movie’s first scene the viewer is treated to a DTs surreal vision of a night in the bowels of the waterfront. I wouldn’t say the surrealism is up there with Brunnel or Dali but it conveys the important elements that will drive the plot.

Ida Lupino shows up in the second scene as a washed out suicidal 20-something. The really charming thing about the screenplay is that it doesn’t moralize or sludge through character exposition. Ida wants to spill her guts to Jean but he is a man of few words. He actually philosophizes his optimistic viewpoint in a Sartre-like dissertation on terseness; hence no background on Ida and very little on him. He has strong hands, hands that have held strong whiskey and strangled a man—possibly men.

Ida’s character shows a naivete and freshness that later in her career she will discard for a sultry hard-bitten appeal. Good thing too because there is already plenty of grittiness in this film. Many would find objection with the hero’s dirtiness and macho affect but he is a fish out of water and doesn’t have the values or the customs of Americans. He rationalizes petty thievery in his hotel room. He takes a poor man’s money for doing a job and then walks away from the work. And throughout the story the viewer is fairly convinced that he is the murderer of an old man.

I write no spoiler here when I say Jean redeems himself completely. It is the magic of this movie, which has taken no budget to make, and yet is a one of a kind work of art.

I have never heard of Jean Gabin before but Ida Lupino would go on to play many memorable characters and work magic from behind the camera as one of the first acclaimed American women directors.

The King’s Cosmic Speech Problem

“The King’s Speech”, an academy award winning film, delves into the mystery of cognitive psychology and the form and function of speech pathology. Colin Firth delivers such a fine performance as a stutterer that the audience forgets they are watching a display of how speech is produced. While speech may not seem likely to fit into the Principles of General Semantics, the actual case study fits very well. The wonder is that this case is based on real history regardless of the historical-fiction classification.

The therapist uses loud music to break the feedback loop in the king’s articulation. The formation of all the phones (a phone is a smaller bite of phoneme which you have probably heard linked to phonics) is a subconscious action while the monitoring and adjusting element in speech production is conscious. We aren’t made aware of these production values until we are given a tongue twister and focus on bypassing the linguistic trap to rapidly produce the tongue twister sentence with all the correct words. The therapist has discovered that in order nullify the conscious speech editor (the speaker), even bone resonance must be drowned out, so loud music through earphones is the method he prescribes, and it works.

The King is working on somatically learned speech. Put another way, what he hears is actually bits of sound through the autonomic nervous system in a part of his brain called echoic memory. The meaning of these sounds and whether they are correct is controlled by a different part of his brain right before short-term memory often referred to as the gestalt. Both short-term and long-term memory works in tandem to form linguistic meaning to those gestalts. The king’s psychological pathology hyper-corrects his speech center thereby producing a stutter. This is all well and good in denoting but it is the speech pathologist who works the miracles to over-come the stuttering. A charming word, miracle, deceptive too because the speech teacher really employs science and intuitive health care.

Van Vogt’s specialty is General Semantics, and although it is a philosophy, it is a branch of semiotics that is based in science.

Cosmic Encounter is a novel that A. E. Van Vogt wrote in 1980, 31 years ago. The Weapons Shop and World of Null A were his famous works; the latter being his big debut novel and the former being a novella for which he is better remembered.

I’ve enjoyed both but I think that as a student of the Principles of General Semantics I feel let down by them. My bias stems from Van Vogt’s NRA stand in The Weapons Shop wherein I feel he overly imitates Robert Heinlein’s style and narrative voice.

The World of Null A is just too lame as a serious study or use of Semantics. I would have expected a student of Count Alfred Korzibski (the father of General Semantics) to make fuller use of that material but I found at least one flaw when applying the principles. Van Vogt studied with Korzibski personally!

Cosmic Encounter reflects his semantics teachings in highly informative and stylistic prose. He doesn’t actually make any reference to semantics or club the reader over the head with it as he does in his Null-A novel and its sequel. He writes with it as the philosopher’s stone on which he grounds his story. The story wanders in a way few authors would care to attempt. We have a very unusual setting, the Caribbean Sea in 1604, peopled with characters such as pirates and time-travelers. The reader is drawn into the character study with little plot to concern him. Indeed, I don’t go astray when I say this novel is not plot driven writing.

To date, Cosmic Encounter is his best novel that I have read. He maintains his dream-sequence writing style peppering the novel with gems from semantics and physics. Van Vogt even takes a stab at cosmology in a manner I thought I devised many years ago (i.e. inanimate communication as the origin of the universe).

The author succeeds in intriguing problem solving; he creates a truly imaginative story. Creativity is important to science fiction, and an author who manages instructive writing in some field in which he is a specialist writes the best narratives. An author who has no specialty leans toward fantasy novels rather than real science fiction. The dilemma the sci-fi author faces is how to dress up meaningful facts in order to entertain.

The King’s Speech could never be called science fiction because the screen playwright worked from the king’s diaries and the therapist’s writings on the case. A “what if” scenario is rightfully not attempted so it doesn’t really wander into the fiction side of science. One can assume that the fictional element in this story arises from fleshing out the characters and what they “might” have said or “might” have intended from what they actually said. That the story is a problem solved in the arena of General Semantics may never have occurred to the screenwriters. Did they get an Oscar too?

Richard Kaderli March 2011

3 Responses

  1. The Triplets of Belleville

    The Triplets of Belleville, a 2003 animated film in the International Animation style by Sylvain Chomet, an artist from France (I presume) is wonderful. Thank you Marco McClean for recommending it to me.

    And to everyone else I recommend that you only see the DVD version not the VHS (if you cannot see it at say an International Animation Festival) so that you can watch the music video in the special features.

    I have not watched MTV for something like four years now. I was hoping it would go away as I thought the concept of TV over radio for music was corrupting the rock world completely. Indeed its novelty has waned considerably for the rock music fan though I understand it is ever popular for the Rapper audience since street thugs on the screen is somehow a wonderful concept. Yet I am glad to say that MTV works if it were only showing trailers for movies. The music video for TToB is not actually its theatrical trailer, that is slightly different and included in the DVD too. But both are visually interesting and evoke some sense of nostalgia and the surreal.

    Which goes some ways to describing the movie. The ennui and despair that are evident in the protagonists damaged my enjoyment and appreciation of this film. I don’t blame the artist/writer for it. That is the sense he wants and he succeeds in his depiction. I could have used a love interest or something that supported hope in this movie. Rather Chomet wants political and social satire and he remains something of a purist. For instance, he must be very tired of American/ Brit national slander calling French “froggies” to include the culinary aspect to TTOB. And the satire of American diet and the incurring obesity, or the state of things with professional sports or suburban development—these are all important aspects of Chomet’s film, though he does not offer them to uplift the audience.

    The entire black and white musical section was a work of art. That it immediately starts the feeling and theme and that Chomet uses it as a device in the conclusion is worthy license, artistically. Had the song for this film not been so catchy or the namesake characters so interesting, it would have been a drag rather than the animation movie I prefer over both Hollywood and Manga. See it.

  2. Iron Man

    What they salvaged from Tales of Suspense they recrafted well. The best segment of this movie was in the suspense built up while Tony was designing the original Iron Man suit in the cave. Also the touch about “Following The Plan” showed exceptional writing and acting especially in a comic book movie.

    That this was not a very superhero oriented movie worked well within the plot and time constraints. If I have any negative criticism it would be that Downey doesn’t seem like he is going to fit into a superhero role eventually. He has many Bond-like qualities. His self deprecating humor while talking to himself is some of the best dialog. I cannot see him filling the heroic selfless status of The Golden Avenger but he may be about the best thing introduced to the Marvel line-up and I wish this film and its sequels all the success they deserve. I don’t think Ben Affleck got the chance he deserved with Daredevil. Maybe this writer can help that line out too should they ever revisit Daredevil.

    • Hells Angels On Wheels

      I just saw this flick after hearing about it as a teenager some 40 years ago. My peers were torn between hating it and loving it. they loved that Barger was in it. They loved that it had some cool bikes and interesting riders. They thought the story and fight scenes were all fake.

      I just couldn’t have cared less about it so I didn’t see it. I loved Easy Rider when I saw it when it came out, so I am writing this as an open minded biker movie fan.

      But now I am a Jack Nicholson fan and I loved seeing this movie as a vehicle for him. It is a very C grade movie and an exploitation movie in the worst sense.

      But who cares. Jack is getting beaten up by four sailors and the Hells Angels got his back.

      Jack wants the Club Leader’s girl even though Jack hasn’t even earned his colors (though he has a terrific nickname ‘poet’). And he goes after her very Jack style. He tries to win her with reason and common sense. This is doomed to failure in a movie titled “Hells Angels On Wheels”

      And the ending to this movie is so bad that it has to rate as the schlockiest ending ever made. If not the worst then it certainly rates. I am talking about a burning dummy, a fake scream, and the scene cutting to animated sillouettes.

      Yet it isn’t a bad movie because it has so many nostalgic icons and worthwhile moments.

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