An odd paralysis

I have the oddest feeling that nothing is moving forward in my life. I have a dissertation chapter that is mere days from being done (this is perhaps the source of the anxiety), and that I fear will never get there (It will. Right?). My reading plan has stalled out completely thanks to Nick Hornby and his ability to distract me with tempting reads. I have had the same three Netflix sitting on top of the TV for over a week, untouched (normally this only happens if I am, I don't know, too ill to open my eyes), and my TiVo is about to collapse under the weight of Ben-Hur, which I am recording later today without having made room for it by watching something else, like Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Well, two initial points I want to make, after watching a whopping 15 minutes of Gunfight. First, even a roughly chronological move through the 1001 Movies you Must see Before you Die list has made me into the most grumpy of movie conservatives. When I moved out of the silent era I groaned and moaned about the conventions that died with the advent of sound. There was a heightened theatricality to silent film, a surreal creativity sparked by the need to do without spoken words, and an delightful odd relationship to the written word, that I had developed a substantial affection for after all those hours of watching. Now, I am sad to say that I am moving into the great age of Technicolor, and I am basically hiding under my sheets, hands over my eyes. So garish, I cry quietly to myself, so tasteless! Oh for the elegant play of black against white, gray against gray, particularly in my favorite, high-contrast, expressionistic cinematography. Alas for the Silver Screen!

Suffice it to say that I suffered greatly through the cartoonish opening moments of Gunfight at the OK Corral. But I was glad to see Kirk Douglas, for whom I have developed quite a fondness. I had recently watched the really excellent The Big Carnival (a.k.a. Ace in the Hole), Douglas's only collaboration with Billy Wilder, which I hope to review soon, and in which Douglas at first seemed overwrought but finally emerged as ferally brilliant. This brings me to my second point: is grabbing women by the hair and wrenching their heads back with sexualized menace Douglas's signature move? In the 4 or 5 films of his I have seen so far, he has made this astonishing, disturbing gesture in at least 3 (The Bad and the Beautiful, The Big Carnival, and Gunfight at the OK Corral). Is this a larger convention of cynical, charismatic men in the cinema of the late 50s? In part, I suspect that it comes up so often because (as a gesture) it is densely expressive of character and relationships of power, but more pointedly, because it frames the two bodies both neatly and dynamically in a relatively tight shot. Thoughts?

One Response so far.

  1. Best of luck with the dissertation chapter -- you will totally finish it, without a doubt. (I was there only last year ...)

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