Interview with Film Graphic Designer Annie Atkins

© Annie Atkins

 
Films feed our imaginations. And it takes imagination, craftsmanship, precision, revision, and practical knowledge to create a detailed fictional world. Everything you see in a film, in a good film at least, is there for a reason. Those hundreds of names you see in the closing credits are there for a reason, and I always stay until the end credits have rolled. Because each of their contributions and talent are what have made the film.

Film graphic design requires intensive research, specialized hand-work and hard work, dedication, an obsessive flare for detail and enough grace to accept that you will most likely remain one of the unsung heroes in a film. There is a whole world dreamt up in a movie, and that world is made up of hundreds of objects in the background that are meant to quietly assist, not distract from the story being told, that add depth, authenticity and a lived-in quality to the environment on screen, especially for the actors who have to convincingly inhabit that world. Newspapers, magazines, books, posters, company logos, signs, postcards, maps, clothing labels, wallpapers, shop and street signage, merchandise packaging are all examples of objects the actors come in contact with or make up their world and which are the responsibility of the graphic designer. And although much of a graphic designer’s work must blend into the setting, there are also moments when the design needs to be the center of attention. And a talented graphic designer knows the importance of those moments.

In few films is that aspect more relevant than in Wes Anderson’s films, and The Grand Budapest Hotel may very well be the Wes Anderson film that takes the cake in that department. The graphic artist behind it is Annie Atkins, one of Wes Anderson’s amazing team of hand-picked production designers who have brought their contribution to the unique visual universe of the filmmaker and whose influence runs so deep with film lovers and artists alike. Annie started her film design with the tv series The Tudors, has worked on Penny Dreadful, The Boxtrolls, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, continued to collaborate with Wes Anderson on Isle of Dogs, and most recently on Joker. In our interview, Annie talks about her creative process, about what it is like to work with Wes and about the biggest misconception on Hollywood.
 

© Annie Atkins

 
 
Annie, you’ve recently designed graphics for Joker. Is it a bad thing I didn’t notice them in the film?
These things are really meant to be invisible… we don’t want to make anything that distracts from the storyline, so, no, it’s not a bad thing! I really only played a very small part in this movie, I dressed two sets with graphics, the social worker’s office and the signage for a Papaya King on a street scene. The social workers office was absolutely full of paperwork: medical records, noticeboards, box files, and it all had to be dressed with completely legible and relevant material. Sometimes these things aren’t made directly for the cinema audience: sometimes they’re really for the cast.

What was the biggest challenge in working on a film whose main character’s story has already been told in different ways?
I don’t really think about other iterations of stories when I’m designing props. I only think about the story at hand. The filmmakers stipulated that this shouldn’t be seen as a Gotham City that we might be familiar with from other DC movies, they really wanted it to be New York in 1981, so I took my reference from real paperwork from that period. I always start each job with real research material, even if it’s for fictitious lands.

Hardly any of your work is visible on screen in a very obvious way, or at least that’s how it is meant to be, but it plays a huge role in helping the actors get into a time and place, into a certain world and atmosphere. Yet, Wes Anderson has created such a unique universe in his movies and he is well known for his painstaking attention to details, therefore every little thing and letter in his movies are an integral part of the storytelling, the props are often filmed in close-up, are meant to be noticed (or at least his influence runs so deep that the viewers have started to look for them more avidly than in any other films), are having their own screen time, are characters in their own right. As was the case with the pink Mendl’s box for The Grand Budapest Hotel. How would you describe your experience working with Wes?
Wes Anderson is an auteur director with his own very distinctive visual style, so working for him is a little different to working on, say, a historical costume drama. But we still start every piece with a real reference from history. It’s just that we then develop that piece to fit into the world that Wes is creating. One of the great joys in working for him is that these things often get a close-up, and they’re often fun, distinctive pieces. I feel like most of the work I create belongs in the blurry background, but with Wes you know at least a handful of the props you make for him will get some screen-time.

From designing and lettering packaging and newspapers (because Wes Anderson writes every story that appears in every single newspaper in his films), to hand-drawing maps and hand-lettered signage, these are all part of your film work. What less obvious props does film graphic design involve? And what is your creative process like, where do you start your research, do you have any unexpected sources of inspiration, how do you attain the authenticity so important in a Wes Anderson production?
The graphic design team basically makes anything with lettering on it, anything with pattern on it, anything with a picture on it, and anything that’s made out of paper. It could be piles of paperwork on someone’s desk or a prison escape map, or a tiny handwritten note. The first step in my research process is usually the internet, but we also go to museums, libraries, flea markets… raiding your grandmother’s attic usually turns up some good finds. The pieces of research material I need aren’t generally particularly beautiful pieces, it might just be an old menu from 1960 or a bus ticket. We then study those pieces to try to really imitate the printing and type setting styles of the time.

I have to bring up your poster for the film as well. Pure graphic beauty, no people in it. Five years have past since the film’s release and I still love it, want to frame it and put it on my wall. And that’s what I believe a good poster does, that it will have a life past the release date, and will always linger as a reminder of the film it represents. What makes a good movie poster in your opinion?
That poster was all Wes, I was purely a technician there! I don’t think I would have thought to make a poster for a film like that without people in it, but it worked beautifully. I’m very proud to have been able to help him execute his ideas on that one.
 

© Annie Atkins

 

You have also worked on Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies. What do you prefer, period or contemporary movies, and why?
I love period movies. I love designing for the mid-century. It’s so fascinating to design for a time before computers. I haven’t really done much contemporary work at all.

How much handicraft and how much digital work does your job involve?
Half and half I think, I’m constantly switching back and forth between my computer and my drawing desk.

You are a maker, your work is about craftsmanship, it’s niche handiwork and you said it is fascinating to design for period films, a time before computers. Has your work become even more challenging with the rise of CGI?
I often create pieces for the VFX team to drop in to scenes. Say, for example, a city street scene shot from a crane or a drone, we might make billboard posters for signs high up above the rooftops. My working process is the same, it’s just that I get to deliver a digital file rather than have to employ a printer for these things.

What led you to film graphic design and what sparked your passion for cinema in the first place?
I loved Spielberg movies when I was a kid, Jaws, ET, Indiana Jones, all those family adventure films. It’s a real treat getting to work on pieces for him now. I studied a masters in film production, but I’d already been a graphic designer for several years, so it was a natural progression for me.

If you could choose one classic or contemporary film to design the graphic props for, which one would it be?
I saw the Melissa McCarthy film Can You Ever Forgive Me and thought that looked like a fun one to design for – it’s all about a woman forging letters from famous authors and selling them to dealers. She has all kinds of different typewriters, she bakes paper in the oven to age it: it’s basically a masterclass in our craft! Much respect to the graphic designer on that film, it looks fantastic.

I know your entire body of work for a film plays a subtle but crucial part in setting the scene and atmosphere for the story, but can you think of a specific moment in your film career when your props helped an actor get into character?
We actually very rarely hear back from the actors! I once heard from Timothy Dalton that he liked a notebook I’d made for him. Did it help his performance? I don’t know, I’d be immodest to say yes!

What is one misconception people have about Hollywood?
That all films are made there. I’ve never set foot in Hollywood!
 

© Annie Atkins

 
 

Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps: Designing Graphic Props for Filmmaking,
by Annie Atkins, is available for pre-order and will be out in February 2020.
Website: annieatkins.com | Instagram: @annieatkins

 

Posted by classiq in Film, Interviews | | 1 Comment

Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia and Her Star Image Making

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in “The Blue Dahlia”, 1946

 

As the clocks turn back and the weather turns cold, I turn back to my favourite genre,
film noir, transforming “Noirvember” into one of my favourite months.

 
 
Back from the South Pacific, Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd), returns home only to discover a dark truth from his wife and the past catches up with the present. Later on she is found dead and he is the prime suspect. Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake) picks him up on the street, but there is something she runs away from too. There are more dark sides to the story and one of them has to do with Johnny’s friend, Buzz (William Bendix), who suffers a trauma, an enlisted man brain damaged in the war, a psychological subject sometimes explored in noir films. The possibility of Buzz killing Johnny’s wife hovers over the entire film, thus touching a visceral level. There are, of course, other key elements of classic noir, specific visual qualities, that are also explored.

I am a fervent proponent of costume design as one of the most important parts of film language and one of the most far-reaching influences of cinema, but the costume design approach had certain particularities in those days, even in the case of the best films. The goal of a film costume was not resumed to supporting the actors in their roles and further the plot. In film noir, for example, one of the defining elements of the genre was the stylization, from settings to wardrobes. Films, especially in the hay-day of the major Hollywood studios, were trying to entertain, therefore some characters’ wardrobes didn’t exactly match their economic status. Clothes were often used to attract the audiences, as part of the escapist element of classic cinema-going and the American films were fashion phenomena, leading to women haphazardly copying the stars in a manner unsuited to their lifestyle and body types. Costume designers and wardrobe supervisors would also often recycle costumes and use the same clothes for different films, for different actors, for different characters. And there were some actors (both male and female) whose star image was so well shaped by the studios that they brought the same look on screen time and again. On the other hand though, people back then, regardless of social position, were so elegant that someone not so well-off could nonetheless look impeccably dressed. That is to say, there used to be various factors involved in costuming the classic actors.
 

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in “The Blue Dahlia”, 1946

 
This Gun for Hire, 1942, was Veronica Lake’s and Alan Ladd’s first film together. They had great chemistry and would be paired in three more productions. In This Gun for Hire, Veronica Lake is a poor singer, dating an ordinary detective, but she is dressed in a luxurious lamé gown when we first meet her. This may be a case of ill-fitted character for her class-belonging, but it could also be true that this dress could perfectly well belong to the club where she works. Her elegant wardrobe in The Blue Dahlia makes perfect sense though. It is a clear indication of her social status. But her wardrobe also employed a few tricks. Lake was very petite, and certain measures were taken to make her look taller. In the aforementioned This Gun for Hire, Edith Head had dressed her in long-sleeved and floor-sweeping gowns to hide very tall heels, in turtlenecks to elongate her neck and cinched waists. It was about image-making.

The actors were the biggest style influence and sometimes things went to the extreme. Veronica Lake was nicknamed “the peek-a-boo girl” after the hairstyle the studio came up with for her, with long blonde locks covering the right side of her forehead and her right eye. There was hardly any other star who wore long hair back then and when, in I Wanted Wings (1941), Veronica Lake “walked into camera range and waggled a head of long blonde hair at a suddenly enchanted public”, wrote Life magazine that same year. She donned this hairstyle in This Gun for Hire, but when she appeared in The Glass Key, 1942, in her second film alongside Alan Ladd, the hair-do was missing. Reportedly, her hairstyle had become so popular with women during the war that several accidents occurred in factories because women could easily get their hair caught in the machines. As a consequence, Paramount was officially asked to change Lake’s hairstyle. But in The Blue Dahlia Veronica would return to her signature look, although trimmed, in support of the war effort. In 1930, an average of 80 million viewers attended movies every week in the United States. In 1946, the year The Blue Dahlia was released, the record of 4 billion annual moviegoers was reached. The influence of fashion in film could not possibly be overstated.
 

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in “The Blue Dahlia”, 1946

 
 

“Every guy has seen you somewhere before. The trick is to find you.”


 
 
The Blue Dahlia (1946), based on an unfinished story by Raymond Chandler, was sold to Paramount and Chandler came along to script it. He didn’t finish the screenplay when production began, so Edith Head had to dress the two female characters, Veronica Lake and Doris Dowling, for a film that was being written as it was shot. Lake’s wardrobe bore the hallmarks of a film noir protagonist (she is not a femme fatale, it’s rather Johnny Morrison’s wife who plays the steely vixen, but she is an ambiguous and mysterious character nonetheless), but it also fit Lake’s star image. When Johnny meets Joyce that rainy night, she is wearing a white trench coat and gloves. He is wearing a trench coat, too, navy, thus associating Morrison with his job in the service. When the trench coat became an optional item of clothing in the British army during the First World War, only officers were allowed to wear it. “Few officers were ready to give up their coats when the war ended,” writes Josh Sims in his book, Icons of Men’s Style, “and the style entered civilian life and sartorial history.” It had since come to be the uniform of Chandler-esque characters of the 1940s.

Veronica Lake wears again a floor-length evening gown with long sleeves, a black-sequined and key-holed dress this time, and, in another scene, a turtleneck. Unusual for a film noir heroine, she also wears trousers, a pair of white wide-legged trousers, and a dark-coloured, shoulder-padded oversized coat, thus making her look one of the most modern and current noir film styles. It was not the only time Veronica wore trousers in a noir. In This Gun for Hire, she disguised as Philip (Alan Ladd), also borrowing his hat and trench coat, to take the police off his trail. And in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), she impersonated a bum for part of the film. Although not a noir, this was a satire that played with the idea of star image, and that contrasting role I believe was in accordance with Veronica’s own beliefs.

According to Edith Head, Veronica Lake was a woman who could totally transform herself through costume. “Her real personality was in direct opposition to the wisecracking and seductive image created for her by the studio,” writes Jay Jorgensen in the book Edith Head-The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer, and she eschewed any display of overt sexuality and hated posing for cheesy photographs. The real Veronica liked to wear simple clothes, tweeds, flat heels, and her hair pulled back. During fittings, when she had to get into her characters’ clothes, she used to say do Head: “Pardon me while I put on my other head.” One cannot deny the promotional reasons behind the star image making machinery during Hollywood’s Golden Age, but it also worked well to keep the actors’ personal style and life at bay. That kind of mystery, that kept the screen magnetism of the stars intact and would make the viewer eagerly wait for a new movie, is lost today.
 
Related reading: Gloria Grahame in Film Noir / Bacall and Bogart in The Big Sleep / Lizabeth Scott: She Had What It Took for Film Noir

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | 2 Comments

The Culture Trip: November Newsletter


 

A regular round-up of the latest talks, films, music, books,
interviews and cultural news that have caught my attention
and have myself experienced in one way or another. Stay cultured!

 
 
A new book by Patti Smith feels like a Christmas present, or, better yet (because I am a firm believer that you should enjoy the things you love every single day, not just on special occasions), like the best kind of gift. I feel peaceful when I read Patti Smith, her writing commands you to stay still and absorb everything you read, cherish your moments together and ponder on your own life, too. It’s like meeting an old friend again, and having a good old conversation, the kind we used to have (before everyone being so busy that the only conversations we have today revolve around how busy we all are, without knowing how we truly are and feel in fact), face to face with our friends, where we would find out what each other has been doing, what books we have read, what concerts we’ve been to, what trips we’ve taken, what our children have been up to, what we think about the world, a reality check of sorts, the kind only a good friend can give you. Because that’s what Patti Smith’s books, and Year of the Monkey, published this September, too, do for me: it’s heartfelt time spent in good companion, listening to the good, the bad, and filling up on culture: the books, movies, musicians, songs, places, cafés she peppers the conversation with and you take notes of. It always feels like it takes you on a path of discovery and you always end up the journey richer, a little wiser, more grounded, more present. But Patti Smith’s writing is also at this crossroad between reality and realm and you can just wander off. It’s beautiful.

“I just do not participate. I very much live in this little bubble. I don’t read fashion blogs. I don’t read fashion magazines. I don’t know who any other designers are. I really keep my head down. I feel that it distracts the work and it takes me off my path when I spend time doing those things. I don’t go to fashion events. I don’t go to dinners. I’m just doing me, you know? And I don’t do well with all the distraction. I do best when it’s just me in my space doing the work: go to the ocean, do that thing, come back, spend time with my family. That’s how I’m able to make something of value. That doesn’t work for everybody. But that’s just what I figured out through all this passing time, that that’s what I needed.” Fashion designer Jesse Kamm is interviewed for Time Sensitive by Andrew Zuckerman. If there is anyone who epitomises my idea of sustainable fashion designer, and the idea of a fashion designer as a matter of fact (for example, she has no intention of expanding her business beyond its current scale – “We can’t all grow. It’s just not sustainable. There isn’t enough resource on this planet for us all to keep growing. When I hear global expansion, I want to puke, because to me, it just means destruction. But I think by saying no, I keep my sanity. And in addition, it makes it a little more special.”), then that’s Jesse Kamm. Not just that, but she’s also someone I completely relate to from a personal lifestyle point of view, too.

Do tune in to the Time Sensitive podcast for more great talks with “curious and courageous people in business, the arts and beyond”. One of the things I particularly like about this podcast is that it is not solely an audio experience. You will find edited transcripts of the interviews on the site, with hyperlinks and corresponding visuals.

I do believe that beauty can save the world. Anuar Patjane Floriuk’s Underwater Realm Project is about raising awareness through beautiful photography. “We see and care when a forest is gone because it is visible to everybody, but we don’t see when we destroy life underwater, we don’t see how nets from the tuna, the shrimp industry and the whaling vessels cause damage and death to the sea.”
 
 

Jesse Kamm and her son on Panama island, when Kamm and her husband built a house with their own hands,
photo courtesy of Jesse Kamm and Time Sensitive / The Underwater Realm Project, photo by Anuar Patjane /
In search of silence in the Canadian Rockies, photo by Nadya Zim

 
 
“It is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown.” – Ernest Shackleton. The brand Shackleton was inspired by one of the greatest polar explorers of all time, and supported by Ernest Shackleton’s grand-daughter, The Hon. Alexandra. I always have a bigger appreciation for brands founded on solid values and inspired by real life and real life heroes, but my interest with this one also lies in their interviews with present-day adventurers and explorers.

Ernest Shackleton has also inspired one of the most beautiful illustrated children’s books.

Freedom of thought is something uniquely human and should be a fundamental right. Why should? Because it is an international human right given by law, yet it is a right we are constantly deprived of. How can we protect our minds to avoid being manipulated by others in the digital age? How can we own our own ideas? How can we stay human?

There are still brands who do not want to promote themselves. “The brand was not interested in press, we were told.” Yes, I would buy their clothes, too.

In anticipation of the release of the film Ford v Ferrari (it will hit theaters in a little over a week and I can not wait to see an action film that is not based on comic books or part of a franchise and which is hopefully a nod to the classic action movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s), let’s have a look at another movie revolving around the legendary 24-hour endurance motorsport race held annually near the town of Le Mans, France. A notoriously troubled production, the 1971 Le Mans racing movie starred and was produced by Steve McQueen. A passion project for McQueen, in tribute to a sport that had always been close to his heart. In one of our interviews, Pierre Vudrag, the founder and president of Limited Runs, the premier collectors of rare and limited edition photography, goes behind the scenes of Le Mans and gives us a rare view on one of the handful of undisputed Hollywood stars and on what makes McQueen such a contemporary figure.

Alec Baldwin talks to James Caan on his podcast, Here’s the Thing.

A good photographer and storyteller brings something new to any place: In search of silence in the Canadian Rockies is a different kind of travel experience, and in the noisy and over saturated media of overwhelming travel guides, easily forgettable photography and do-this lists, this truly is like a breath of fresh air, a connection with the feelings of the traveller.

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film | Leave a comment

Lizabeth Scott: She Had What It Took for Film Noir

Lizabeth Scott in Dead Reckoning

Lizabeth Scott and Humphrey Bogart in “Dead Reckoning”, 1947

 

As the clocks turn back and the weather turns cold, I turn back to my favourite genre,
film noir, transforming “Noirvember” into one of my favourite months.

 
 
Humphrey Bogart was resentful when obliged to perform with whom he considered an inferior Bacall-look-alike, Lizabeth Scott, in the 1947 Dead Reckoning. He had made two films with Lauren and their pairing in their first film together, To Have and Have Not, is still hard to match – at the tender age of 19, Bacall could crack wise with Bogie, measured up to his personality and was even “a little more insolent than he was”, as Howard Hawks, the film director, said. In fact, little was my surprise when I found out that Lizabeth Scott was originally molded by studio executive Hal B. Wallis to be the new Lauren Bacall, but eventually had to settle for B pictures, the way noir films were usually categorised. But the truth was that she had what it took for a first rate film noir femme fatale and then some.

With sparkling, luminous eyes, shimmering blonde locks, sculpted cheekbones, slinky figure and husky voice (“Cinderella with a husky voice,” Bogart’s character describes her when he first meets her), Lizabeth Scott exuded irresistible allure, but the kind of feline allure that belies danger and a maelstrom of scheming, deceit and betrayal. On screen, she came off as beautiful in an otherworldly kind of way (Lizabeth herself didn’t think of her as beautiful, but interesting) – she seemed she was always thinking elsewhere, always dreaming up a different kind of life, which plays up only too well for a noir character. Her on-screen image however was in fact contrasting with her real life. Lizabeth Scott was very down to earth, never interested in the material side, never believed in spending too much money on clothes, and choosing to invest her money wisely, which allowed her to live a comfortable life in Hollywood her entire life, while vigorously protecting her privacy, even if she retired from the movies very early on.

Scott had made her debut with You Came Along in 1945, then she made The Strange Love of Martha Ivers in 1946, costarring Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas and Van Heflin, but Dead Reckoning was her breakthrough. She did pretty well, too, because, right until the end of the film, you are not quite sure which side of the fence she is playing. Bogart’s Captain Rip Murdock put it this way: “I didn’t like the feeling I had upon her, the way I wanted to put my hands around her arm, the way I kept smelling that jasmine in her hair, the way I kept hearing that song she’d sung. Yeah. I was walking into something alright.” Dusty is the type that listens, waits and disappears until nighttime (she’s got the name to prove it, too), in the classic noir tradition of a femme fatale, who lives by night and is not afraid to walk alone down the empty streets under dimly lit lamps, nor to meet him in nightclubs and the darkest alleys, in pursuit of security, comfort and furs. She is also the type that brings the ultimate demise to the guy who falls for her. Only the game she’s playing might prove too dangerous for her as well.

Film noir suited Scott well because it touched, she observed, on “the psychological, emotional things that people feel and people do. It was a new realm, and it was very exciting, because suddenly you were coming closer and closer to reality. What you call film noir I call psychological drama. It showed all these facets of human experience and conflict – that these women could be involved with their heart and yet could think with their minds.”

Here are the ensuing roles that earned her a well deserved place in the pantheon of classic film noir.
 

Mary Astor and Lizabeth Scott in “Desert Fury”, 1947

 
Directed by Lewis Allen, Desert Fury, 1947, was one of the few noir films shot in glorious Technicolor, following up on John M. Stahl’s great Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney in an extraordinarily layered and unsettling role, from 1945. Mary Astor is Fritzi, the owner of the biggest local casino in Chukawalla, Nevada, anticipating the roles of Marlene Dietrich’s in Fritz Lang’s 1952 Rancho Notorious and Joan Crawford’s in Johnny Guitar, 1954, directed by Nicholas Ray. Fritzi was one of Astor’s few occasions of playing scheming characters, much to her disappointment. Lizabeth Scott is her rebellious daughter, Paula. She is the good girl gone bad gone good again. She is not afraid to stand up to her powerful mother. She wouldn’t hesitate to side with the bad guys if there was no other way for her to break loose from her mother. It’s clear that she has a dark side, something that in fact exists in every human being. It’s just that she is more likely to let it out, if triggered, than most. Another femme fatale trait.
 

Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr in “Pitfall”, 1948

 
In Pitfall, 1948, directed by André De Toth, Dick Powell, in an excellent role, is a cynical insurance man, John Forbes (married to a beautiful and resourceful wife, Jane Wyatt, and father of a little boy), who is having a life crisis and meets another woman at the wrong time. The film explores the darker side of the American dream. The setting is not the large, dark, looming city, but the seemingly idyllic suburbia populated by everyman and everywoman, which makes this noir film unusually relatable – it is this same contradiction between the strong sense of family life depicted and the dark underlay, something very unusual for noir, that makes Shadow of a Doubt my favourite Hitchcock film (taking turns with Rear Window) and one of my favourite noir films. I used the words “another” woman and not the “wrong” woman above for describing the character of Mona Stevens, played by Lizabeth Scott in one of her best performances, because, despite being the lure that attracts Forbes and drives him away from the safety of his bourgeois home, she is not a femme fatale in the classic noir sense, but rather a doomed innocent, a woman who happens to fall for the wrong guy time and again (her ex-boyfriend is a jailed crook and when she becomes involved with Forbes, she does not know he is married and ends it immediately after she finds out). She is not the one who leads any of the men who fall for her to their doom, it is quite the contrary (the individual gets sacrificed for the bigger “good”, to save the society patterns of respectability and “happy” American family), and therein lies another particularity that makes this noir stand apart in the film noir canon, and a particularity among Lizabeth Scott’s noir roles, too.
 
Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears

Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy in “Too Late for Tears”, 1949

 
Byron Haskin’s Too Late for Tears is a different type of noir, too, but from entirely different reasons. It is a femme fatale noir. Sure, the femme fatale character is present in most movies of the genre, but rarely do we see and live the story from their point of view. And the lack of any trace of sentimentality here (“too late for tears”) is one of the reasons why this one is such a good, although highly under-appreciated, noir. Because a genuine noir does not force or does not mislead you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending. Another different thing about this noir is that the femme fatale is a housewife. And not just any housewife, but the middle class American housewife. And she turns out to be a cold blooded murderer. Lizabeth Scott gives a riveting performance as Jane Palmer, a housewife whose dreams seem will never come true. Her obsession with money is so powerful – the true relationship she has is not with any of the men she gets involved with, but her relationship with money – that she finds self-justification for greed, for any wrong doing, for murder. And she is what she is without apologizing. She’s even got you thinking: “That’s how badly she wants something to change in her life”. It’s just incredible how easily Lizabeth Scott pulled off this devious, psychopathic role.
 

Lizabeth Scott and Robert Mitchum in “The Racket”, 1951

 
‘Do you like nightclubs?,” is what a decent guy who has a crush on her asks Irene Hayes (Lizabeth Scott), a nightclub singer, in The Racket. “No, I don’t,” she answers. “But I like to eat. Three times a day.” In this 1951 noir, directed by John Cromwell, Robert Ryan, at his volcanic best, is a racketeer, and Robert Mitchum is the incorruptible cop who is determined to bring the mobster to justice. Lizabeth Scott is predictably involved in the rackets and that job of hers that she mentions is meant to be only temporary. Because she has a bigger goal in life, which is finding the man who will get her everything she wants, and that everything has very little to do with love. Only when the crooked world she’s surrounded with comes crumbling down, is she willing to take a chance with that decent man. “If honesty is the style around here, I’d better play along,” she says. But I don’t see her future settled, this could rather be the beginning of the story in Too Late for Tears.
 
Related reading: Gloria Grahame in Films Noir / Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven / The Femme Fatale Is Wearing White

Posted by classiq in Film | | Leave a comment

The Films that Made Me: Blade Runner

“Blade Runner” (1982) | The Ladd Company, Warner Brothers

 

Some of my favourite creatives and cinephiles share a favourite movie experience: the film
that left a mark on them, that changed them, that influenced them personally, creatively or both.

 

Words by: Thomas Puhr

 

Blade Runner and the Unicorn

When my father took the VHS tape from its shelf at our local Blockbuster, I had never heard of Blade Runner or Ridley Scott. He explained how he and my mother had first rented the film and watched it at home while taking care of my older sisters. He thought I would like it, but, in case I didn’t, he picked up another movie before we went home.

Needless to say, I’ve forgotten what the second option was. I won’t pretend I can vividly describe that first viewing, but I can recall its impact and the fascination in film that it helped provoke in me. I remember feeling frustrated over not “getting” the ending (what was with the unicorn figurine left on the floor?), but also exhilarated from encountering a story that purposefully left some dots unconnected.

​Some years later, when in high school, I went with my father to see the remastered cut that was released in theaters. I had seen the movie many times by that point, but watching it on the big screen was like viewing it for the first time; it actually felt like a different movie (and not just because a few scenes had been slightly altered here and there).

​Though I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Blade Runner, I must admit that I’ve never seen the original original version; that is, the one with the infamous Deckard voiceover narration. A college professor once urged me to check it out, claiming that it was better than the director’s cut.

I’ve never watched it, and I don’t think I ever will. I know that by doing so I reject critical objectivity and succumb to nostalgia, but I want to keep this particular film memory untouched.
​ 
 

Thomas Puhr lives in Chicago, where he teaches English and language arts. A regular
contributor to Bright Lights Film Journal, Film International, and Beneficial Shock!, he is
also the editor for The Big Picture and sporadically updates his film blog, Screen Icebergs.

 
From the same series: Favourite film: Lost in Translation / Favourite film: Alice in the Cities

 

Posted by classiq in Film, The films that made me | | Leave a comment