Monday, February 28, 2011

Drive By Truckers: Go Go Boots

It’d be wrong to call the Drive By Trucker’s last album, The Big To Do a disappointment. It was filled with some fine songs. But it was uneven, a lopsided grasp at mainstream success tied up in a few singles upon which everything was bet. It was the first Drive By Truckers album since A Blessing And A Curse that I found to be anything less then compulsively listenable.

Go Go Boots thankfully returns the band to that compulsive level. It’s hard to say what makes the album feel so different. Much of it after all was written and recorded in the same session as The Big To Do. Yet from the opening track the haunting elliptical “I Do Believe” Go Go Boots does feel like a much different beast, more focused less determined to impress. Like the best Trucker’s albums it simply acts as a stage for three of the best song writers in modern rock or country to do what they do best, without ever feeling like one is crowding the others off.

Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and Shoanna Tucker all get ample room to shine in their assorted tracks. Hood provides some more of his haunting story songs, the kind that make him sound like the heir to Nebraska era Springsteen. "Ray’s Automatic Weapon, Used To Be A Cop and The Fireplace Poker" all impress with their scope. But it’s The Thanksgiving Filter that really impresses me, for the resemblance it bears to the novelty songs that started The Trucker’s career yet it's written with a maturity and skill that only fifteen years of song writing can provide. Compare it with something like Zoloft and you can see the evolution of an artist.

Mike Cooley provides a crop of wry, laconic songs, which as always turn unexpectedly moving with his quavering voice. Only Shonna Tucker’s songs compare disfavorably to those on Big To Do. Not that they’re bad songs by any means. As always Tucker proves herself one of the best vocalists in country, able to get a metric tone of pain in her voice. But that’s all she gets to do on this record. Big To Do let her cut loose and have a little fun, better showing the versatility she has.

There are a couple of bum tracks but they’re few and far between. Really the only out and out stinker is the monotonous Everybody Needs Love and no matter how you slice it that’s a hell of an average.

Bands that can remain creative and vital after twelve albums are rare. Bands that leave you hungry for more after said same, are damn near non existent. With Go Go Boots The Truckers once more prove they are both

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Drive Angry

(Thanks to everyone for all the warm wishes. I'm better now save some cuts and bruises. If I missed a few comments when I was out please forgive me. I'll be catching up as I can.

I figured with all the Oscar coverage going around some good dirty disreputable fun was in order. If you are for some unfathomable reason interested in who I'd like to see take home the gold tonight check it out here.)

Drive Angry begins with a shot of a muscle car driving out of hell. It ends with a shot of Nicholas Cage drinking Simpler Times, (a beer that costs 2.99 for a six pack, is seven percent alcohol and contains turpentine) out of the skull of a vanquished enemy. That’s all you need to know.

Brimming with Bad Taste and Cheap Thrills Drive Angry is everything you’d ever want in a B-Movie and I mean that literally. There is gore, mayhem, nudity, muscle cars, and Tom Atkins. And Brother if that’s not a recipe for a good weekend in Vegas I don’t know what is.

Drive Angry starts its mission of mayhem with Nicholas Cage killing a carful of hillbillies with a shotgun. The first of many. It turns out that these are no ordinary unpleasant crackers, but are indeed Satanists. What comes next is a reverse Race With The Devil (and in a sequence built around a chase with a Winnebego a nice homage is paid to it’s fore father) with Cage as hellhound on their trail. Cage at this point has reached a kind of sereneness when he sails over the top in these movies. Like an Olympic Pole Vaulter clearing an ant hill. He has a sex gunfight that puts the sex gunfight in Last Man Standing to shame. And he never so much as raises an eyebrow during it.

He picks up Amber Heard on the way, who I can’t say I’m familiar with, knowing her only as the lead of John Carpenter’s upcoming The Ward. All I can say is that if Carpenter turns her into anything less then a female Snake Plissken in that thing I’ll feel an opportunity has been lost. Heard may look like a Maxim Covergirl, but there’s none of the dead eyed vacancy you get with that type. She has real spirit and a sense of fun and the best thing I can say about her performance is that I look forward to seeing her again in a movie, and not for the reasons that the casting directors so obviously hope for.

Rounding out the cast (excluding Tom Atkins in the Michael Parks role, who in his two scene cameo has more fun then he’s had for years up on the big screen) is William Fichtner, at this point all but possessed by the premature ghost of Christopher Walken. He’s The Accountant, the demon tasked with bringing Cage back to hell and he gets all the best lines (“This is a symbol of our pact with Satan.” “Pact? Really? Funny he’s never mentioned you.”) It’s all in the way Fichtner plays it as perpetually amused, never more then slightly put out no matter how vast the chaos around him is.

I say chaos both with admiring approval and without hyperbole. So hat’s off to Patrick Lussier who orchestrated this madness. Others enjoyed his My Bloody Valentine. I rank it among the worst horror films I’ve ever seen. Drive Angry is exactly the trashy thrill ride that last film was supposed to be. I eagerly await whatever comes next.

It’s an exercise in the outer limits of Bad Taste. It’s filled from end to end with mayhem. It’s more of a sequel to Grindhouse then Machete was. And it left me with a big sloppy grin on my face from the first shot to the last. I doubt I will have more fun at a theater this year. I cannot recommend that you see this highly enough.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Pain... The Pain... And Other Thought's On I Am Number Four

Hey guys.

I crashed my bike on my way to work today. Nothing terribly permanent, but I'm pretty beat up regardless.

(Artist's Rendition)

This is all my way of saying I'll be taking the next day or two off to spend some quality time in a haze of Vicodin.

Hopefully I'll be back on Saturday with my review of Drive Angry which I feel has the oppurtunity to be a preposterous amount of fun.

See ya Then.


I was supposed to spend this evening at the movies with a lady friend. But had to cancel. She had wanted to see I Am Number Four.

Thus here is my review for I Am Number Four. "I would rather hit a loose patch of earth my bike at Top Speed thus fall and then slide face first down a gravel path for ten yards. Completely fucking up my wrist and ankle as I do so, than see I Am Number Four. And I Fucking Proved It.

The Illusionist

I would not be the first and may very well be the last, person to notice just how astounding the resurrection done on Tati is in The Illusionist. In a film itself so devoted to tricks, the raising of the dead somehow seems very appropriate. And yet the completeness of it truly boggles the mind. Had Tati been alive in the era of motion capture (heaven forbid) it is doubtful the mimicry would have been much more impressive.

It simply looks like Tati is there on the screen, his weary dignity, his quiet reserve (reserve not being something animation is renowned for its ability to express) it is so amazing that you eventually stop paying attention to it, and just accept that, “Yep that’s Tati up there.” Which when you think about it, is even more incredible.

It probably helps that Tati is firmly one of those artists who I like and admire without loving on a truly personal level. Oh don’t get me wrong, he is certainly a genius he is simply not my genius (If someone where to make a film out of say one of Buster Keaton’s unused scripts I don’t doubt I’d have a much harder time getting into it). It’s in the little details carried over from his live action films, the way his height forces him to bow under low doorways, the polite but stiff formality in everything he does, the way his slightly overlarge hands and feet shift with agitation to express the worry that his stone face often does not.

The Illusionist is on the off chance you haven’t heard based on an old script of Tati’s about a music hall magician, whose time is rapidly passing in the age of Rock N’ Roll. He accepts his lot with said weary dignity moving from rented room to rented room, shoddy stage to shoddy stage, performing his enchantments for an increasingly disenchanted audience. Eventually he meets a young Scottish girl and takes her under his wing. She thinks his magic is real, rather then dissuade her he takes menial jobs to be able to provide her with gifts.

It’s an autumnal, melancholy film, neither term quite describing just how relentlessly, go for your guts depressing the film really is. Ironically I can’t help but think that in live action may have been nigh unbearable (Given that Tati voluntarily shelved the film, it was not as been reported his final script, perhaps he came to the same conclusion). It is only the liveliness of the filmmaking that makes a film about characters with so little liveliness left to them watchable without the aid of suicide prevention task force.

Which is where the film’s second genius comes into play. Director Chomet has made what is without exaggeration one of the most jaw droppingly lovely animated films I’ve ever seen. European animation normally strikes me as somewhat cold (The good folks at Aardman being a major exception.) but Chomet’s vision bustles with so much life and detail that it makes even his maniac Triplets Of Belleville seem staid (all while never once breaking the feeling austere meditiveness that is a must for a Tati film). He keeps so many simultaneous planes of action on going in every shot that there’s literally always something to see. Every detail is given the same amount of loving care. Tati’s rabbit alone, a bottom heavy, foul tempered wonder, could be used as a master class of character animation.

And yet for all the expressive effusive joy in it’s making (I haven’t even mentioned what it does with Edinborough) it’s the sense of loss that one is left with in The Illusionist. There is a moment where our lead character does not do a trick that was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in a film produced last year. A moment where we see that something inside of him has winked out once and for all. There’s been a somewhat loud and acrimonious debate over whether the film portrays the remorse of the script, which was inspired by Tati’s abandonment and estrangement from his first child. I’m trying to fathom what cut of the film these people possibly could have seen. The Illusionist is a film that seems constructed almost entirely out of remorse. One made with the acute sensation of how much has been lost.


And now for something completely different. Bill R on The Kind Of Face You Hate has just published the only Oscar article you will need.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Project A-Z: Eyes Wide Shut

(One Day I cut an alphabetical swatch through my DVD collection for shits and giggles. Picking the first film that inspired me to write in alphabetical order. This is the result.)

Now that the dust has settled and Kubrick’s “ten year rule” has been proven once again can we all take a moment to acknowledge just how silly much of the initial critical reaction to Eyes Wide Shut was. All that howling over what a supposedly “unsexy” film Kubrick made, as if the critics were appalled and disappointed that the film wasn’t two hours and twenty minutes of Cruise and Kidman fucking. I know it’s tough to believe that a lot of critics at the time were disappointed that the last film by a great director wasn’t porn starring famous people, but go back, check the tape. They were.

Make no mistake Eyes Wide Shut may be an “unsexy” film but it’s profoundly erotic one. Not erotic in the sense of simple titillation, but in the deeper darker sense. Bill Hartford is a man who steps through the floor of his own mind and gets caught in the riptide that lies beneath it.

After being somewhat horrified by the thetan flopping in Vanilla Sky, a performance I’d previously found moving, it’s kind of amazing how well Cruise’s performance holds up in Eyes Wide Shut. How much of Cruise’s impenetrable surface Kubrick penetrates. It’s maybe the first time that Cruise has ever played someone small, someone completely overwhelmed by the things going on around him. Whether it be the demands of his patients, a marijuana buzz, his wives fetish for sailors, or a masked orgy. The twin slight repeating jokes, that everyone from the hotel concierge to the drunken Brooklyn kids making their way home from the bar, in the movie reacts sexually to Cruise and that Cruise is continuously, almost compulsively self identifying as a doctor take on an almost tragic light in this dimension. He keeps claiming himself as a doctor so he can claim that he is something. It’s as if he’s attending a party where everyone is having a good time but himself, and every time he makes a move to join in the consequences promise to be dire.

Kubrick famously considered shooting the story as a straight farce staring Steve Martin. The shocking thing about that isn’t that the idea is absurd but that it’s very plausible (You can still see it peeking through in the costume shop sequence which even goes so far as to feature wacky Japanese businessmen. The essential ingredient of dated 80’s comedy). The escalating episodic structure is exactly the same as a farce, and one can easily imagine Martin’s ever growing sense of frustration as he desperately tries to have sex with someone.

Of course that’s not the film we get and that’s the thing that makes Eyes Wide Shut such a rewarding and maddening film to revisit, it’s that the film that we did get is so elusive. Shifting tones like a prism. It’s an episodic film almost every scene could function independently, the scene between Cruise and the Hooker, plays like a first rate short story by Andre Dubus, The opening party scene with Sydney Pollack at it’s center a figure of desperate masculinity in shirtsleeves and of course the masked orgy centerpiece. Which features in the albino Birdman who leads the woman away one of the most striking death figures in modern art and in the infamous digitally imposed figures block out all the sex at the orgy scene is still one of the stupidest cases of censorship in recent memory. One whose gracelessness is only truly hammered home by the act of watching it (“But if they see sex in a movie about sex they might go mad!”)

The film isn’t perfect. One rather sizable flaw being the scene which sends Cruise out on his odyssey, aided by the most magically potent marijuana in the universe, is one of the most tone deaf in Kubrick’s career (Despite Kidman's best efforts). There is also no denying that the film feels a bit spent (if you’ll forgive the pun) after the climatic orgy. While it’s crucial to the film there’s no denying that Cruise’s half hearted attempts at penetrating the mystery are only so much aftermath further lacking urgency by the film’s very Kubrickian insistence that perhaps there is no mystery at all.

Still for all it’s flaws Eyes Wide Shut remains a masterpiece, and a fitting coda to the great filmmaker’s career (I for one find it his warmest film this side of Spartacus). It has the inconsistencies of a dream, but like the best of dreams it follows you out into the daylight and haunts your steps.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hollywood Boulevard

Hollywood Boulevard is a ramshackled delight. Made for 60,000 dollars on a bet with Roger Corman, Hollywood Boulevard contains a variety show sense of humor, a pace that suggests a severe Benzedrine addiction and enough Stock Footage to make Ed Wood blanch (in one rather perfect moment we see footage of roller derby girls while one character delivers a voice over monologue how much she hates being a roller derby girl only to have it never mentioned again). But what it really contains and what saves it the three or four times it goes careening over the line between smutily amusing and degradingly sexist, is its sense of enthusiasm. Like the two films that Joe Dante and Allan Arkush would make directly after Hollywood Boulevard; Piranha and Rock N’ Roll High School, Hollywood Boulevard is the work of men who fully expect to never make a movie again and thus try to cram in as much as they love about them in one go.

The film follows three aspiring starlets, including the charming legendarily daffy Candice Rialson, who sign up with Miracle Pictures (“If it’s a good picture it’s a miracle!”) Their work takes them places like The Phillipines (“It’s a wonderful scene in which you massacre 300 Asiasatic Soldiers. Now Girls your motivation and this is very important, is to massacre 300 Asiastic Soldiers.”) The Drive In and where ever else Roger Corman happened to be shooting that weekend.

The wide range of locations leads to a wide range of parody. Corman’s sci fi opuses, Phillipine’s Sagas, Post Apocalyptic Flicks, and Horror movies all show up to be affectionately spoofed. Half the fun of the movie for the Corman aficionado is spotting just where different spare parts from The Corman factory ended up.

The pace is fast and the comedy has an agreeably screwball nature to it, filled with Dante’s regular crew of ringers like Dick Miller (as a screwball agent) and Paul Bartel (as a fussy and possibly insane director) who both give the kind of perfect deadpan work that made their name among a certain strata of film fan.

It’s easy (and thus probably wrong) to want to divvy up the credit/blame between the two directors. Sometimes it just seems like common sense. A ten minute long stalk sequence that is clearly tribute to Mario Bava? That one’s probably Dante’s. A leering Wet T-Shirt Contest? I’m going to go ahead and chalk that one up to Arkush.

Be warned this is one Horndog film, with a libido that suggests nothing so much as a Tex Avery Wolf. Dante is usually a pretty sexless filmmaker, so either he’s calmed down or Allan Arkush is an out an out perv. It’s all pretty knowing and good natured, except for twin ugly rape gags that are pretty cavalier.

Yet even a moment as horrendously misjudged as this can’t shake the aura of enthusiasm and even innocence that the film has. It’s a film that can’t help but be pleased that it exists. Sure Hollywood Boulevard is a movie made with spare parts, but they’re assembled with love.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Enter The Void

Looking at my utter lack of connection from Enter The Void I almost can’t help but be impressed by just how utterly and completely the film failed to reach me in any way. I stand off to the side, hand poised thoughtfully on my chin, cock my head to one side and realize “Gee I really got nothing from that at all. Absolutely nothing.” Enter The Void fails as an intellectual experience, an artistic one, a spiritual one, hell it even fails as a sensual one. It ultimately fails at the modest charge of being a good head movie. It is a rare movie where one cannot even appreciate its ambition.

The film follows a lowlife drug dealer whose shot to death in a Tokyo Bathroom flashes back through his life and then follows the aftermath of his death. All the while lingering on the deeply creepy semi incestuous bond he has with his sister. This I was more or less prepared for, as I was prepared and excited for Noe’s ambitious idea of portraying death in the first person and his reputation as an assaultive provocateur. All fine qualities in and of themselves.

What I was unprepared for is just how punishingly repetitive and unimaginative Noe’s imagery would be. The movie runs two hours and forty minutes and you will feel every blessed one of them. Over that long course you’ll get to see each of Noe’s dull imagery several times over. I understand that Noe is attempting to portray the mind in shutdown mode, running over the same repetitive sights, sounds and concepts. If this was the case could he at least choose more interesting and original sight’s sounds and concepts then Bright flashing lights, neon, and car crashes?

Oh I forgot there is extensive imagery of an aborted fetus. Which I’m beginning to think might supplant prayer as the last refuge of a scoundrel. Look can we all agree, that images of aborted fetus should strictly be the province of bad heavy metal bands, radical pro lifers, performance artists, and other sad people desperately seeking attention? (Which come to think of it, fits as a description of Noe so gee I guess carry on.)

So yeah, my Irish is up a little more then it usually is on this blog. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s wasted potential. The opportunity for pure artistic expression comes along so seldom that it’s a shame to watch it squandered. I can only imagine what someone like Herzog or Jodorowsky would have done with this concept and budget.

Enter The Void is loud, garish, ugly and staggeringly empty. If your idea of visionary filmmaking is someone flashing brightly colored lights at you, then count yourself in for a treat; you are about to experience some visionary filmmaking. The rest of us will get a repetitive shuffling of unpleasant individuals doing unpleasant things, intercut with lots of neon and occasionally a towering penis shoved in our faces (Thank God it wasn’t shot in 3D). I don’t care how amazing of a technical experience this is. Not only does the emperor have no clothes. He’s teabagging your wife.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Unseen #59: At The Circus

Why’d I Buy It?: Came In The MGM Marx Brothers Boxset I Bought.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: The Dirt poor reputation of the post Day At The Races Marx Brothers Comedies. But then I found Room Service to be relatively painless. And hey one of my favorite underrated Golden Age Comedies is The Circus and how could the Marx Brother’s spreading mayhem at a circus not be fun?!! Hey maybe I was in for a treat after all!

How Was It?: Relatively dire. If Room Service was pleasant surprise, a minor but energetic and effective farce, then At The Circus is unfortunately exactly the later day studio micromanaged Marx Brothers film you’ve heard it is. The gags fall flat a disorienting amount of the time. The four leads look palpably tired. Worst of all entire swatches of the movie are taken up by the romantic troubles of the bland couple at the center and their truly, truly terrible songs. They fret how to save their circus from the evil loan sharks who robbed them (if only his wealthy aunt could help!) and then sing and sing flat tuneless songs. Every now and again one of the brothers shows up. It takes a full five minutes for one of the Brothers to even make an appearance. Almost fifteen until Groucho appears. That’s not disappointing. That’s near criminal.

It’s not to say that the movie is completely worthless. For Marx completests it’s worthwhile for Groucho’s performance of Lydia The Tattooed Lady, perhaps the last truly iconic routine The Marx’s cooked up. In an odd bit of synchrony with Room Service the one truly stellar sight gag moment is an animal based . This time with Harpo trying to hold an umbrella over a circus seal during a downpour.

But to get to these moments of gold you once again have to sit through some truly interminable filler, which when it’s not boring is just off putting and strange. Like the huge African American musical number dedicated to how weird Harpo Marx is. Really. I didn’t just make it up. It actually happens. Admittedly, while about as far from PC as you can get it’s hard not to be charmed by a musical number devoted to what a mutant Harpo Marx is.

The back half of the film picks up a bit. The invaluable Margo Dumont shows up and the sight of feature Groucho harassing an elderly dowager is one of those things that simply does not get old.

But even the isolated bright moments just feel like the pale reflections of past glories. At The Circus sags under the weight of all too apparent studio mandates, and it shows the Brother’s hearts aren’t in it. At The Circus is a depressingly dispirited movie from the kings of spirited anarchic comedy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Project A-Z: Dreams

(One Day I cut an alphabetical swatch through my DVD collection for shits and giggles. Picking the first film that inspired me to write in alphabetical order. This is the result.)

You see a lot of euphemisms thrown around reviews of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. Words like “stately” “deliberate” and “deeply personal.” All the phrases desperately trying to dance around what the writer really thinks. So let’s get this out of the way, Dreams isn’t just deliberate, it is occasionally as slow as molasses in January. Dreams is a film that requires patience There are no two ways about it. But it is also a film, which rewards patience. Both for the insights it gives into the artist who created and it and as a work of art in and of itself.

It is fascinating if only for the rare occasion of seeing a director usually so preoccupied making films about others finally turning the camera on himself. When Fellini made Roma no one was particularly surprised. But Kurosawa had always been such an unselfconscious filmmaker. Nevertheless the artist reflected in Dreams is surely the same as one who made Kurosawa’s films. All the preoccupations are there, his countries past and uncertain future. His awe at mankind’s boundless capacity for good and sorrow for the equally boundless capacity for evil. His praise for the individual. His love of community and fear of the mob. All are reflected in the eight vignettes he puts together.

“Your mileage will vary” may as well be the tagline for the film. Personally I have a great deal of affection for "Sunshine Through The Rain" and "The Peach Orchard", both of which view Japanese folklore through the matter of fact eyes of a child in a way that reminds me of nothing so much as the films of Guillermo Del Toro. "Crows", which features Martin Scorsese as a Van Gogh is another winner for me (I love the way he delivers the line, “The sun compels me to paint!”) Lovely choreographed to Chopin’s “Raindrops” it features a Kurosawa Stand in (wearing his trademark slouch hat) wandering through Van Gogh’s canvases courtesy of ILM (back when that last phrase inspired anticipation rather then fear).

"The Tunnel", "Mount Fuji In Red", and "The Weeping Demon" all contain some of the most potent imagery of Kurosawa’s career. With images from each that are literally unforgettable. The vast column of the dead marching from the gaping tunnel, the titular spectacle in "Red", and the long montage of the great mass of men writhing in agony, arguably the central motif of the latter period of Kurosawa’s career, that concludes "Demon". But all three are too uneven and at the end too stagy to work on their own as shorts.

Only "The Blizzard", really falls short for me. As I chastised others for mincing words in the opening paragraph perhaps I should clarify that by “falls short” I of course mean “Is nigh unwatchable.” An interminably paced vignette that doesn’t go anywhere or mean anything, "The Blizzard" is the one time where Dreams actually feels as pointless as a coworker trying to tell you all about the really odd dream he had last night. Trust me dear readers “The Blizzard” is what the skip scene button on DVD’s were invented for. It’s a handy place to take a smoke break if you happen to catch the film at a revival. But aside from that there’s not much to recommend it.

The film concludes with "Village Of The Watermills". Which is a microcosm for the film as a whole in a lot of ways. It’s slow and a bit preachy. But it’s also quite beautiful, and I can’t help but find it’s gentle affirmation of the human spirit to be very moving. The fact is I feel better after watching the closing moments of Dreams. There are those who accuse its ending of being a lecture. I say let it be, as a filmmaker who has given so much the very least I owe Kurosawa is a few minutes of polite attention to let him have his say.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

For The Love Of Film Noir: Scenes #7: Kiss Me Deadly

(This is my entry in The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy On Film's Love Of Film Noir Blogothon. This is a celebration of Film Noir but it's also a fundraiser working to save and preserve the film The Sound Of Fury. I've made my donation and I hope you will too. Remember every little bit helps.

And if you like Blogothoning I hope to see you back here at The Sam Raimi Blogothon Things That Don't Suck will be running between March 27th and April 2nd. There's no worthy cause except the celebration of a great filmmaker. But it should be a lot of fun anyway. And contributions are welcome.)

Kiss Me Deadly is one of the finest film noirs of all time, arguably the last great noir of the classic era. It ends with one of the most justly famous endings of all time (incidentally this is the first closing I've covered for Scenes). The film was directed by Robert Aldrich, the man responsible for some of the most macho films of all time as well as some of the first self aware kitsch. Aside from The Big Knife starring Jack Palance, which is closer to a really pissed off The Bad And The Beautiful then a traditional noir, Kiss Me Deadly is the only Noir Aldrich directed.

It's probably the best film of Aldrich's career (though I might have to slot Vera Cruz one of the most preposterously entertaining films of all time in front of it). Dealing with the search for a mysterious box, whose contents are never clear. Until the end... (Consider this your Spoiler Warning)

The scene begins where most film noir’s end, with the femme fatale shooting both the big bad (Dying as he lived. Pedantically.) As well as our anti hero Mike Hammer before finally taking possession of the box.

Gaby Rodgers plays the role with a kind of madness. Unlike most Femme Fatale's she's never portrayed as any kind of sexual dynamo, Hammer shows the least interest in her out of any of the female cast. She just sits there, a quiet and unassuming wallflower, until you suddenly realize there is psychosis in her eyes.

That madness brings Meeker's Hammer up short for the first time in the film. Mike Hammer isn't much of a detective. He is more or less a simple goon. In many ways he is the Anti Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe is a tarnished white knight, the one "who is not mean". Hammer a "cheap sleazy bedroom dick." Marlowe gets information beaten into him. Hammer beats it out of people. He's such a dominate force, even when he's out cold, tied to a bed and drugged that when he's finally genuinely caught off his guard it's a real surprise.

Hammer is instantly diminished, shoved into the smallest corner of the frame. He will never again regain the dominate position in the frame that has been automatic since scene one. It's as if he's almost shrinking in anticipation of the brave new world that Gabrielle is about to release. Doesn't matter how tough you are, you can't muscle atomic energy.

There's a grace and solemnity to the way that Gabrielle opens the box. Despite her supposed motivation of greed her's is not the manner of a cackling woman triumphantly about to enjoy her loot. It's an act that is almost reverent.

This is one smooth invisible edit. The final warning received...

And disregarded...

Once again, the way Aldrich elevates her reaction. He consciencely told the story of Lot's Wife and Pandora's Box before this moment and he clearly means for this moment to rank with them. It's not mere fear that Gabrielle experiences, that's the last emotion to hit her. It's nothing short of awe.

Coupled with the light and the wisps of smoke, the whispering of the box and the malevolent nigh Satanic intelligence it suggests is one of the most effective sound effects I know of.

Soon overlaid with Gabrielle's screams.

Kiss Me Deadly is perhaps the most frankly violent Noir this side of The Big Heat. Though the obvious superimposition is an odd effect, but the surreal nature of the effect makes it even more unsettling.

This odd strobing effect continues throughout the sequence. It is an odd touch, mostly because there is no source for it, being one of the few things that Aldrich does purely for style in the film. Throughout the movie Aldrich eschews the more expressionistic elements of Noir, preferring to let the atmosphere of fifties LA speak for itself. Yet there is no objective basis for the strobe. Every time we see the light it's steady. Yet the stronger the light gets the darker it becomes. It’s as if the device has suspended the rules of reality that Aldrich has worked so hard to preserve.

The fact that the burning (and still screaming) Gabrielle is clearly a dummy does nothing to make the shot less disturbing. If anything it heightens the eeriness of it. Calling to mind the infamous footage of the nuclear tests in the fifties. The model towns disintegrating into ash, the families of mannequins bursting into flames.

Hammer finds his long suffering girl friday and bolt for the door. For a long while the only cut of Kiss Me Deadly featured this as the last shot of our heroes cutting directly from here to the exploding house. However, it seems that this was an alteration done in the European market, with the edit made crudely to the original negative itself. Most film historians agree that Aldrich meant for Hammer to escape.

Nowhere is the converse relationship between the source lighting and effect it has on the environment more apparent. The brighter it gets the darker the surroundings. It's almost as if the light is a vacuum drawing the surrounding light into it, leaving only darkness.

The house itself now appears to be turned into a larger version of the box. Complete with the half seen light, escaping wisps of smoke.

One of the few cases in the sequence where the lighting corresponds to its source and quite well. Sinister, carnivorous darkness is one of the hallmarks of noir style. But obviously the light is the more threatening presence in Kiss Me Deadly. Here it washes out the features of our two leads. As if the light is strong enough to rob them of their individuality as well as their lives.

The odd halo effect.

The Explosion at this point is ridiculously prolonged. Surely an explosion of that size would have destroyed the entire house half a dozen fireballs ago.

But the after image stubbornly lingers. No matter how massive the fire the horror refuses to end.

Rarely have those words seemed more approrpriate. This looks closer to one of the closing shot of a "Big Bug" picture of the same era then it does to your final shot of a noir. They have survived, but the look on their faces is still one of horror, not relief or triumph. They have just witnessed the apocalypse after all.