“Johnny Guitar” – The Power of Pacing

This weekend I watched Johnny Guitar for the first time since I was in film school. What struck me immediately was the pacing. From the moment Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) walks into Vienna’s (Joan Crawford), I was mesmerized. Director Nicholas Ray knows how to use silence masterfully. There’s no music or dialogue, yet there’s already tension in the air, as Johnny looks around the empty place and makes eye contact with Vienna’s three employees. He’s a stranger and clearly they’re on edge.

The effect is mesmerizing, and is compounded when Emma (Mercedes McCambridge) enters a few minutes later accompanied by the Sheriff (Frank Ferguson) and about a dozen men who will later form her posse. Emma and her men are looking for the Dancing Kid (Scott Brady) and his men, who they accuse of robbing a stagecoach. But the real tension is generated between these two powerful women, their mutual hatred and their sublimated sexual attraction.

Ray understands the power of this psychological premise and lets the story unfold on its own pace. He doesn’t overload the plot. There are no unnecessary surprise twists. The audience knows the women are in the grip of powerful emotional forces which will lead to a violent climax and we watch, almost as if caught by the tide ourselves. It’s a perfect example of a director trusting the material. If you have a powerful conflict, you don’t need pyrotechnics or plot twists get in the way; if anything, you can let the story unfurl at its own pace. The effect is hypnotic and emotionally satisfying.

Lost Gem: Carol Reed’s “Odd Man Out”

Carol Reed’s “Odd Man Out” is an example of a movie that might not be as well-known as his other two works, “The Third Man” or “Fallen Idol,” but that deserves to be watched and studied for the unique approach that Reed takes to the genre of psychological thriller.

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Anti-heroes

I realize that I sound like a grandma for writing this, but recently I realized that, as great as the new TV series are, binge-watching them is making me feel beat-up. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a tough Fall –by which I mean September through October, not that I’ve fallen–, but I can’t watch another show about a serial killer or a tortured detective. Even shows in which nothing violent happens are often written in such a way as to be emotionally disturbing. I binge-watched Transparent over the weekend and while I think it’s truly terrific, I also feel… soiled and tired. Watching people behave horribly and selfishly toward others might be part of being human. It’s reality, I know. But it can also be completely disheartening. Or am I too sensitive?

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The Age of Glamour

 

Annex - Loy, Myrna_01Today is Myrna Loy’s birthday. It just so happens that yesterday was my birthday and as a fellow Leo girl, I thought I’d write about glamour, or at least my definition of glamour. The word automatically brings up images of black and white photos of starlets from Hollywood’s golden era: luminous skin caught in glorious black and white, shot through a gauzy, loving lens that faithfully imitates a lover’s dazzled gaze. The old style glamour is all about being seen, ourselves in the eyes of others. There’s a little bit of mystery, yes, and with it a certain otherworldliness. The very beauty of the shots evokes the idea that these women are figments of our imagination, and therefore not real.

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Make Your Weakness Your Strength

This is the first rule in my personal Tao. What others perceive as a weakness is actually what sets you apart. Anyone else can adapt to the rules by changing herself. You are not just anybody. Your goal in life is to be more yourself. Hence, turn your weakness around. You have a gap in your teeth? Don’t get braces and look like everyone else — play up your defect. It’s what will make you memorable. Look at Madonna. All that money and success and she still hasn’t gotten that gap fixed. She was strong enough to be herself.