Sunday, December 30, 2007

Otto Preminger

Film Forum is organizing a retrospective of Otto Preminger's films. There is a brief article in New York Times. He is not as widely celebrated as Hitchcock, Wilder or Lang but he certainly belongs in the same company.

Laura and Anatomy of a Murder are two of my personal favourites of his films. Laura one of the finest examples of Hollywood film-noir and Anatomy of a Murder is one of the finest court-room dramas, despite its really archaic sexual politics. In fact like the above three mentioned directors, his films should also provide ample fodder for feminist film critics. I haven't seen it in quite some time. More on it if I get to see it sometime again soon. Early this year I also saw Angel Face, Advise and Consent and The Man With a Golden Arm too which are all great as well, specially Advise and Consent which is in a way another court-room drama.


puccinio said...

Preminger is better than Wilder in my opinion. He's really among the great Post-War directors, along with his fellow Prussian, Douglas Sirk. The weird thing about Otto is that he's a late bloomer. He really took of in his middle age and became better and better.

''Advise and Consent'' might actually be the greatest American film of the 60's(well it doesn't have much competition). It's certainly the greatest political film in American cinema and one of the very few to show you how that politics work, which is largely through blackmail and backstabbing.

Of course this is cliche but what Preminger does well is to show you the details of how these people live and breathe in their society and rituals. In Washington, there's no private life, you are both your private and public self. The achievement of the latter depends on the denial of the former. And practically everybody wants to survive ready to do what he takes use whoever he wills. Including the President, who's shown without the slightest reverence.

And while Preminger's camera and mise-en-scene is too objective to be considered sympathetic, he understands that these people are human beings and even comes to the conclusion that most people in Washington do want to do good by the Constitution but cannot function in a manner befitting that intent and so they have to resort to exterior tactics and even blackmail people within their parties. Of course he shows what happens because of that in the electric and suspenseful final scene when Henry Fonda's nomination is rejected by two erstwhile social climbers who finally got their chance.

Paul Schrader returned to that theme in a beautiful film called ''The Walker''.

My personal Preminger favourites is ''Where the Sidewalk Ends'', starring the underrated Dana Andrews and his lone Western, ''River of No Return'' with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. The latter film is neither Preminger's or Monroe's favourites but it's a beautiful and quite mature film. And it also gives you a chance to see Monroe as the intelligent, great actress she was instead of the dumb blonde sex-bomb image Hollywood tagged her with(which she got a chance to parody in ''Gentlemen Prefer Blondes''.)

Then ''Bonjour Tristesse'' is a very beautiful film. In fact Godard upon seeing that film, decided to cast Jean Seberg because he thought her role in ''Breathless'' is a continuation of that film. Two films of Preminger's which I want to see very much is ''Saint Joan'' and ''The Cardinal''. The film got a big critical drubbing in the English speaking world but is a favourite among the Gauls. It has a screenplay by Graham Greene adapted of a G. B. Shaw play.

''The Cardinal'' from what I hear is a rare film which shows how the world's oldest political insitution functions, and a frequent would-be censor to Preminger's films - the Catholic Church.

Alok said...

I have not seen Bonjour Tristesse though I know about the Godard connection and how he treated the Seberg character in his own film as a continuation.

Advise and Consent was also controversial in its time because of the subplot involving homosexuality, though it looks a bit tame now. One major contribution of Preminger was to push the boundaries in matters of tastes and depiction of taboo subjects so that films could become more mature and honest. Large sections of Anatomy of a Murder are deliberately designed to tease the censors and the prudish and conservative audiences alike.

puccinio said...

I'm sorry...tame?

It's one of the most horrifying scenes depicting the self-destruction people invite on themselves by denying their sexuality. So there's nothing tame in that. And not only did Preminger show a gay bar he showed it without any stereotype. It's a bar just like any other, only it has no women.

''Advise and Consent'' tanked at the time, well not surprisingly. It was a very serious exploration about the political institution of the country, and while it was very right to make it during the civil rights movement, the public weren't yet ready for it.

It'd take Kubrick's pop portrayal of Cold War politics in ''Dr. Strangelove'' to really unsettle things. And while that film is fine as social protest, as a serious political investigation it pales in comparison. 'Course by the early 70's, ''All The President's Men'' made so soon after Watergate made a huge impact on the public, and Preminger's film is more cinematic and shows more brio than that film's pseudo-documentary pontifications(although it's still a good movie). If it were made then, it might have done better. But then Preminger would not have found money for that project then, since he lost all influence in Hollywood in the 70's.

One major contribution of Preminger was to push the boundaries in matters of tastes and depiction of taboo subjects so that films could become more mature and honest.

Preminger went further than anyone to combat censorship. And he lived to tell the tale and make movies well after that. He got the last laugh. And if you ever saw the cheesy Batman show of the 60's, where he played Mr. Freeze, you'll know he laughed best too.

dave said...

Daisy Kenyon - Don't miss it.
One of the best movies ever made, and for my money Preminger's best by a mile. Seriously unmissable, and totally unavailable on vhs or dvd.

Bunny Lake Is Missing is also very good, in a Hitchcockian mode.

I'm looking forward to catching some of the films I haven't seen and filling in my Preminger gaps.