Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to Tread Water in Givenchy

I've now seen four movies where Audrey Hepburn plays a good hearted ditz living in Paris. Last night's was How to Steal a Million, a decent two hour diversion by William Wyler. It has lovely costumes and set designs, an okay score by a young "Johnny" Williams (yeah, the Star Wars John Williams), and an amusingly clever, if improbable, heist sequence. Peter O'Toole's the male lead, and Eli Wallach and Charles Boyer also have small parts, but the flaw in the film is its lack of interesting characters.

I asked myself if this romantic lead business was something Peter O'Toole just wasn't cut out for before I finally realised it's simply not a very well written character. Simon, the detective masquerading as a burglar, has the smugness of a default 1960s male romantic lead that Cary Grant could maybe pull off and sort of does in Charade. One would think O'Toole would work in such a role too since he has a very vulnerable quality, but the key difference between him and Grant is that O'Toole never really seems conquered. He always maintains this arrogant distance, which was of course so perfect for Lawrence of Arabia.

Hepburn as Nicole, the innocent daughter of a counterfeit painter, is again playing well trodden ground for her. But even in The Children's Hour, a dramatic movie Hepburn had made with Wyler a few years earlier, her character still didn't resonate as deeply as the character she played in Breakfast at Tiffany's. I still need to see Two for the Road and Green Mansions, but it's looking like Breakfast at Tiffany's was probably a singular, perfect merging of actress and character, though it probably didn't help that Hepburn continually sought these fluff roles. She is, anyway, adorable.

There's an almost Hitchcockian attention to detail when she and O'Toole carry out their plan to steal her father's sculpture from a museum before it can be inspected and discovered as a fake. The attention to the process almost creates the tension otherwise prevented by the insubstantial 60s comedy business, though a five minute scene showing how Peter O'Toole gets them out of a locked broom closet with the use of a magnet and a wire may have lasted longer than its credibility supported. The scene does feature Johnny Williams' most memorable musical moment in the film, a peculiar cha-cha Wyler must have insisted on when he realised watching O'Toole fishing a wire under a door for two minutes needed something more with it.

I kept thinking of Charade, though, so who knows, maybe I'll like this movie a lot more if I end up seeing it twenty or so times.

Friday, June 29, 2012

To Boldly Observe

In 1979, I'd say most people would have needed to have been at least thirty years old to appreciate Star Trek: The Motion Picture and it would help if the person wasn't a Trekkie. To-day, I'd say it would take an average non-Trekkie of at least 37 years. I'm excluding myself at 33, of course, because, let's face it, I'm a little weird. But even I would say that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is flawed.

It's fundamentally a different animal than the original series was--its slow, contemplative pace and focus on a more tactile impression of space travel obviously show the influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey--as does the fact that visual effects were done by Douglas Trumbull.

I have to say I rather love director Ray Wise's decision to devote attention to exploring commonplace aspects of the series like the transporter beam and the warp engine. The scene where the transporter malfunctions and kills the two people has stuck with me rather vividly since childhood. No other Star Trek film or TV episode conveys the impression of just how dangerous space travel was, and with so many shots of people going EVA, one can see this ground level impression was exactly what Wise was aiming for.

Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of some of the series' strengths, particularly character. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are relatively passive and one of the things that made the substantially lower budget Star Trek II a superior film was its attention to how events were affecting the characters personally.

All the character drama in The Motion Picture is mostly given over to William Riker and Deanna Troi prototypes Willard Decker and Illya. This is what his penis looks like;

Illya, the famously beautiful and bald Deltan (two planets away from Betazed I guess) demonstrates the remarkable awkwardness of what little dialogue the movie has when, upon reporting for duty on the bridge for the first time, she volunteers without prompting, "My oath of celibacy is on record, Captain." Maybe the very presence of Kirk is a come on.

Illya is gorgeous, but gets really sexy when the emotionless V'Ger designs to dress her in a little robe and a pair of cute shoes that make her legs look like the most perfect things in the galaxy.

The latter half of the film, despite an apparently vicious behind the scenes struggle over writing credits, owes much to the series episode "The Changeling". It's interesting, but doesn't quite fulfil the promise of the film's first half.

Twitter Sonnet #400

Clouds of elbows grease with no real focus.
Nebula gas aimlessly starts to singe
Fibre optic horizontal circus.
Wrenches snap the ancient stubble wrought hinge.
Rubber oatmeal mashes mental ramen.
Yearning noodles boil new baseball cleats.
Easter presents lavender to women.
Ra knows the plural of foot is not feets.
Tentacle tennis shoes scream girlishly.
Triangle gluttons take no rectangles.
Diamonds do not answer clocks honestly.
Beetle wings wedge nicely among Pringles.
Jellyfish are justified to loiter.
The cold vacuum cures the cosmic goitre.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Youth is Hunger

It was a good day for ducklings yesterday. The littlest ones don't eat bread, but the teenagers saw nothing wrong with mobbing me. I felt like a Beatle.

Target acquired.

I normally avoid using pictures with my shadow in, but I actually thought it made this picture kind of interesting. Take courage, ducklings everywhere. You can emerge from under my shadow.

I have a lot of colouring to do to-night. I won't have to do any pencilling and inking until next week, fortunately, but colouring, I'm always lagging behind with this comic. It was always the most time consuming part but now that I'm working with airbush more it takes even longer. It's also a matter of me simply aiming for more complex shading. Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time looking at Rembrandt paintings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dubious End

There are several reasons why "Turnabout Intruder" isn't a very good final episode of Star Trek. It wasn't conceived as a final episode--NBC pulled the rug out from under the cast and crew two episodes shy of finishing the third season. So it doesn't feel like a last episode. It's also a sad legacy in that the plot is about how women aren't fit to be in charge of starships. One could say it's a product of its time, but I feel like by 1968 people ought to have gotten past the idea that women are completely dominated and infantilised by their emotions. Particularly a show like Star Trek, which aimed to be socially progressive.

In the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki entry for this episode, there's this amusing note;

Lester's line, "Your world of starship captains doesn't admit women", was taken by some to mean that women could not yet become starship captains by this time. This was later disproved by the introduction of Captain Erika Hernandez in ENT: "Home". A female captain would also appear 17 years later on the bridge of the USS Saratoga in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and of course Captain Kathryn Janeway would take command of the USS Voyager on Star Trek: Voyager, 102 years after this episode takes place.

Taken by some to mean women couldn't be starship captains? I guess the rest didn't speak English. It's so funny watching Trekkies trying madly to get everything to fit into continuity. Personally, I'd rather accept a sexist starfleet than accept Enterprise as canon.

The plot involves Kirk's resentful ex-girlfriend from the academy switching bodies with him and trying to take control of the Enterprise, but of course her womanness causes her to burn with rage when Spock or anyone else questions her orders. This, and Shatner's rather broad (pardon the pun) performance makes it a little silly that it takes everyone so long to realise there's something wrong with Kirk.

Though I will say watching Shatner do his lady impression provided some delightful camp.

So that's Star Trek: The Original Series. At it's best, a series of intelligent ideas delivered by good performances of endearing characters with terrific chemistry. The Kirk/Spock/McCoy triangle that reaches its peak at the latter portion of the second season is wonderfully natural and engaging, while it's the first season that has some of the best concept episodes ("The Enemy Within", "The City on the Edge of Forever"). Season three isn't without value just for sheer silliness.

To anyone who thinks Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a silly idea, I invite you to contemplate this screenshot from "The Savage Curtain";

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Background to Jack's Sleep

I haven't had as much time to read lately since I've been working on a comic, so I'm still slowly getting through my re-reading of Kerouac's On the Road. I read this bit a couple weeks ago;

For 35¢ each we [Kerouac and Neal Cassady] went into the beatup old movie and sat down in the balcony, till morning when we were shooed downstairs. The people who were in that allnight movie were the end. Beat Negroes who'd come up from Alabama to work in car factories on a rumour; old white bums; young longhaired hipsters who'd reached the end of the road and were drinking wine; whores, ordinary couples and housewives with nothing to do, nowhere to go, nobody to believe in. If you sifted all Detroit in a wire basket the beater solid core of dregs couldn't be better gathered. The picture was singing cowboy Roy Dean and his gallant White Horse Bloop, that was number one; number two doublefeature film was George Raft, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in a picture about Istanbul. We saw both of these things six times each during the night. We saw them waking, we heard them sleeping, we sensed them dreaming, we were permeated completely with the strange grey Myth of the West and the weird dark Myth of the East when morning came. All my actions since then have been dictated automatically to my subconscious by this horrible osmotic experience. I heard big Greenstreet sneer a hundred times; I heard Peter Lorre make his sinister come-on, I was with George Raft in his paranoiac fears; I rode and sang with Roy Dean and shot up the rustlers innumerable times. People slugged out of the bottles and turned around and looked everywhere in the dark theatre for something to do, somebody to talk to. In the head everybody was guiltily quiet, nobody talked. In the grey dawn that puffed ghostlike about the windows of the theatre and hugged its eaves I was sleeping with my head on the wooden arm of a seat as six attendants of the theatre converged with their nights' total of swept-up rubbish and created a huge dusty pile that reached my nose as I snored head down--till they almost swept me away too.

So I wanted to track these movies down and watch them. Strangely, I can't find information about this "Roy Dean" anywhere--the best bet I can find is a 1937 movie called Sing, Cowboy, Sing which stars Tex Ritter and a minor character, a judge, is called Roy Dean. It could be Kerouac got details of this movie mixed up in his head, writing in 1951 in a famous marathon writing session about events in 1949. But the movie with George Raft, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre, I figured, could only have been 1943's Background to Danger, a wartime adventure film directed by Raoul Walsh. I watched it last night.

The Wikipedia entry notes the making of the film was prompted by the success of Casablanca, and it does feel like it takes place in the same dimension--an American tough guy named Joe Barton (Raft) meets a strange Russian woman on a train in Turkey, is asked by her to hold sensitive documents since an American is less likely to be searched. She turns up dead and an okay espionage plot starts to spool out. The main difference between this film and Casablanca is its lack of romance and a corresponding lack of character depth for the lead.

Raoul Walsh made a few good films--my favourite probably being High Sierra, in which Ida Lupino and Humphrey Bogart have more of a love story than I've seen in any other Walsh picture I've seen. Mostly when romance is involved, its perfunctory window dressing for the action/adventure centrepiece. In Background to Danger, it's kind of ludicrous--Brenda Marshall's in the film as a Russian agent and sister to a fellow agent played by Peter Lorre. At the end of the film, Raft and Marshall are together at the airport and head for Cairo to, as Raft says, "cement Russian and American relations". This is less that thirty seconds before the film ends and it's the first hint we have that these characters had any interest in each other.

It's said Humphrey Bogart owed his career to George Raft constantly turning down roles Bogart was second choice for, though I'd say the fact that Bogart was eight hundred times the actor Raft was may also have had something to do with it. Raft is his usual totally bland in this movie, though the fact that he was a gangster in real life lends some reality to his fight scenes. When he smashes up a newspaper press, one does get the impression he's done something like it for real.

Sydney Greenstreet is great as usual, with his keenly crafted cadence, but performance-wise, the best reason to watch this movie is Peter Lorre, who's extraordinarily unflappable. He never panics, even at gunpoint, and every scene just seems to be a job he has to get out of the way before he can have his vodka.

Walsh is great with pacing and following action, so the movie's engaging, though it's hampered by a plot that doesn't make any sense. It's said it doesn't really matter what the MacGuffin is, just that everyone cares about it, but in this case the MacGuffin is a set of military plans everyone knows are forgeries that the Germans are trying to get a hold of so they can print them in the Turkish press to turn Turkey against Russia. Raft's character even remarks at one point that the Germans could always make new fake plans--he says he's only really following them so he can learn about all the players, but that doesn't explain why everyone else is ready to kill or die for them.

Certainly this isn't a movie I'd want to watch six times in a row . . .

Twitter Sonnet #399

A sapphire spoiled the Skittles bag.
Sugar stitches pentagrams on the Coke.
Poultry's politely invited to SAG.
Macaroni brakes are cheesy but broke.
Martian whipped cream dispersed on the orange wind.
Chasms cracked by coughing cats grow cherries.
Blue sailor letters are too light to send.
Feather canals choke with static ferries.
Yellow rind fields burn ether pulp to blue.
Pope populations squeeze mountains of lime.
Demon wigs grey in the gallows cut glue.
Os can offer all disks the displayed time.
Siamese digits jam the giant dials.
Operation noses shine for miles.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Violent Mists

"Why should the falls drag me down here at five o'clock in the morning? To show me how big they are and how small I am? To remind me they can get along without any help? All right, so they've proved it. But why not? They had ten thousand years to get independent. What's so wonderful about that? I suppose I could too although it might take a little more time." There's some questionable logic in Joseph Cotten's opening voice-over for 1953's Niagara--how exactly the Niagara Falls are independent, I don't know. But the line is an example of some of the movie's better character work--we don't get any explicit exposition explaining George, Cotten's character, to us--we learn he was in a military hospital for mental health reasons, he talks about "fouling up" everything he's ever tried. He's a classic example of a noir character--fate seems to continually play him bad hands, he continually makes bad choices and does terrible things, and yet we sympathise with him. He falls through the cracks of pre-World War II American morality, the inevitably unhappy noir ending offering him and his wife Rose--Marilyn Monroe--up for heaven's judgement. It's a beautifully shot, flawed but mostly good film.

Of course, it's Marilyn Monroe and not Joseph Cotten who's more associated with Niagara--it was her breakout leading role and it's no surprise. Her thermonuclear sex appeal spills out the edge of the frame, bleeding over her costars. The first time you see her, she's in bed naked with her legs spread, covered in a sheet, calculated shadows, and ruby lipstick. She looks like candy.

Jean Peters is in the film, too--Candy herself from Pickup on South Street--though in this case she's not really playing a character so much as a blank audience POV probe--Polly Cutler and her husband Ray (played by a shrill, yucking Max Showalter) seem like they're the product of studio anxiety over bankrolling a Technicolour noir. They do basically nothing except hang around, being shocked by George and Rose's behaviour, though Polly has an interesting moral dilemma when, after she discovers George survived Rose's attempt to murder him, he asks Polly to conceal the fact that he survived so he can make a new start. For some reason she's terrified of George now and spills his secret to the police in what sounds like a piece of dialogue added in post production--we're looking at the back of her head when she says it and though she says that he's planning to kill his wife she nevertheless seems shocked to learn this fact later in the film.

But Peters certainly looks really good, though she's playing the nice girl, understandably overshadowed by Monroe.

Monroe is a down the line femme fatale here, having no apparent compunction about killing her husband. There's an effective but indefinable tension when George pursues her up a tower. We're afraid for her life, we don't want him to kill her, yet we sympathise with his position more. The scene probably would be less complicated if Monroe weren't so damned hot.

Sure, she's a cold blooded killer. But she's fucking gorgeous. How can you ask us to make up our minds about someone like that?

I actually think the movie would've been improved if we'd had a bit more of her point of view, her motivations for being such a cutthroat, but I guess this is a reflection of the movie being made by heterosexual men.

It is a good movie. I watched Shadow of a Doubt again a few days ago and comparing him in the two films, one really has an appreciation for Joseph Cotten's versatility and ability to paint his characters with nuance. He's playing a killer in both films, in both films he's playing men with deep, bitter, fundamental damage, but he portrays them so distinctly from each other. They both seem like victims of themselves, but Uncle Charlie was like a psychotic kid while George was like a soldier of a defeated country still in enemy territory.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Space Colours

I heard comedian Adam Carolla, a generally rightwing guy whose parents were hippies, describe the hippie phenomenon as essentially being a form of depression--he ascribed the practices of growing one's hair long, generally caring less for personal appearance and discipline, to a melancholy resulting from a feeling of rejection from society. He may have a point. And I see this description reflected in the broadly hippie characters in "The Way to Eden", a third season episode of Star Trek I watched a couple nights ago. How else could you explain those dopey songs? Like Carolla, the makers of the episode seemed unable or unwilling to see anything especially useful in the counterculture of the 1960s.

This is despite Spock being portrayed as someone who "reached" the hippies' hope of finding their "Eden". The people making the episode at least, on some level, desired to put forth a balanced perspective. But they ought to have realised having people rebel against the utopian Federation of Planets is different from having people reject a destructive and heartless western orthodoxy in the 1960s.

They have to bend over backwards to create conflict--the hippies want to find their mythical "Eden" planet in Romulan space, their leader is a certifiably insane doctor carrying a deadly disease. Every suggestion Kirk makes to them, even one as simple as telling them they might be more comfortable in a reception room rather than sitting on the transporter pad, is met with ridicule.

Of course, the hippies are somehow able to take control of the Enterprise, despite being portrayed as too dumb to figure out it's a bad idea to look for a planet to colonise in Romulan space. I have no doubt there are hippies who are ornery pricks, but seeing Star Trek dismissing the entire subculture so cartoonishly is pretty sad.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ice and Rocks in Bed

Things are changing everywhere, including Iceland. 101 Reykjavik, an Icelandic film from 2000, at first seems to be a story about the eccentricities of Iceland's capital and gradually becomes more about the changes to the basic social framework in the city, changes that resemble those taking place throughout Europe at the time. It's a sometimes funny and sexy movie, though it's slightly too broad to effectively bring its point across.

The film follows a 29 year old NEET named Hlynur, who lives with his mother in Reykjavik. There's not a lot to do in the city--as one character observes, the only reason to live in Reykjavik is if you were born there. But Spanish Flamenco teacher Lola does decide to move in with Hlynur and his mother, fundamentally altering his lifestyle that involved Internet surfing and watching porn during the day and clubbing at night.

Hlynur seems improbably lucky with women for a NEET. Even before the lesbian Lola mysteriously falls for him, a cute blonde is shown frustrated, pursuing him nightly. The two women eventually seem to engage in a brief, coy war of words over the boy.

Hlynur describes the clubbing community as being so small that pretty much everyone has had sex with everyone else at some point. His boredom with the city's nightlife seems to reflect the austere natural environment around the city and the apparent pointlessness of accepting the always available government jobs offered. In one somewhat cartoonish scene, he starts putting money into parking meters for other people's cars, causing a nervous parking attendant to call for backup.

The end of the movie reminded me of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman, and the subject matter of the film would probably have been better served by Lee--he loves and excels at stories of misfits dealing with a world that's changing around them. 101 Reykjavik is a curiosity as it is, though, and gives some perspective on a culture in Europe that may be endangered now by the current economic crises.

Twitter Sonnet #398

Oil shoulders slant on skies of a flank.
Cloudy ribbons arch in row formation.
Boxer barrels are swapped out for a tank.
Bloodless cheese is chosen for claymation.
Exquisite purple anvils soon wither.
Cardboard rockets appeal to cigar fish.
Fear's loud joy was a bad kid to Ritter.
Captive stockings collect a leggy dish.
Sterile stereos stop binary germs.
Used yarn falls from sweater shoulders too soon.
Earliest birds can only dream of worms.
Prussian trumpets erupt on Greece's spoon.
Honest staples hallow married paper.
Flamingos fall before the landscaper.

Extra Pigeon

I made this drawing of Pigeon to-day for an Echo Erosion banner, but I forgot how crazy thin banners have to be. It's pointlessly tiny on the banner, so I made a quick wallpaper out of it. Enjoy, if you're so inclined;

Large version

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finch and Pigeon Don't Fight Crime

The second chapter of Echo Erosion is online. Go for the catgirl, stay for the creative work ethics on display.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Though You Never Do Get to See the Box

Yeah. Well, as dreams go, Medaka Box (めだかボックス) isn't bad. I watched the final episode of this, the newest GAINAX series, with breakfast to-day. It might be best described as rigorously not bad. It's certainly not the delightfully unrestrained Panty and Stocking with Garter Belt, it's closer to Dantalian no Shoka, as I said when I started watching, as it seems like an attempt by GAINAX to dip its toe into the trends of modern anime. Nevertheless, it has plenty of good, familiar GAINAX qualities, in terms of violence, fan service, and intellect.

It's not the free form psychological exercise Evangelion is famous for, but Medaka Box is the most straight forward contemplative anime GAINAX has done since Top o Nerae 2, its fodder being philosophies of public service. The climax of the series sees the busty Student Council president, Medaka, facing off against an evil looking Unzen, a ten year old prodigy who advanced to high school early for his incredible abilities. Not that you see any of the teachers or school administrators who make these decisions--I think we only see one adult in the entire series. The cops don't even show up when the battle between the two characters destroys half a building.

Unlike Top o Nerae or even FLCL, Medaka Box doesn't take place in a world that takes itself seriously, even though it takes its subject extremely seriously. We're just supposed to accept that Unzen slaughtering all the kids in the music club falls under his jurisdiction as part of the school's "Enforcer Squad". It's his cynical belief in harsh justice without any particular love for humans that creates the ultimate rebuttal for Medaka's philosophy of unconditional love for humanity presented throughout the series in the form of a number of goofy vignettes.

The difference between the two of them, Medaka tells Unzen, is that she accepts that she does not have the answers and does all she can to minimise harm.

It's nice a show presents this kind of food for thought, and I certainly love the supremacy of compassion and cooperation embodied by Medaka's character--which is not, as I might have feared, hypocritically brought across by her brute force on the show. Though I'm not sure I feel the philosophical material quite mixes naturally with the story and characters. There's a lot of that notorious aspect of anime normally absent from GAINAX series--the scenes of the super powerful characters engaging in endless dialogue instead of jumping into the massive beat-downs they keep promising.

In terms of less directly given thematic content, I wondered if the makers of the series intended it to be some kind of commentary on motherhood. There's something about a caretaker girl with oversized breasts in a position of authority fighting a ten year old boy rebelling against her philosophy that resonates in a way I'm not entirely sure it was meant to.

But the characters are in themselves lovable and the GAINAX animation style is definitely present and recognisable. A fair GAINAX series is still ten times better than most everything else out there.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You can Wash the Man Out of Your Hair but You Can't Wash the Hair Out of Your Man

Season of the caterpillar is again upon us. I diverted a few from paths of certain squashing when I was on my walk to-day, but I know some of the mob won't make it. Too bad these spines don't work on feet.

I'd pretty much totally switched from listening to The Howard Stern Show to listening to Nick and Artie, but since I worked on my comic for twelve hours yesterday I ended up listening to both and so caught Stern's interview with Billy Corgan. I love Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Adore, but Corgan must be the most narcissistic singer of a band I'm into. I couldn't believe how casually and frequently he referred to some of his songs as "classics". He also seemed quite happy to discuss the shortcomings of his original Smashing Pumpkins band mates, which for all I know may have been honest statements. They were a notoriously fractious band, which was too bad because they had such a great aesthetic. What other popular American rock band had a woman on bass, an Asian guy on guitar, and bald white guy for a lead singer? It was like the bridge crew of the Enterprise formed a band.

But otherwise, it was nice to hear Corgan yesterday decrying the prevalence of modern "robot" music, though his swipes at Radiohead for being the "anointed" indie rock group seemed a bit petty. He performed "To-night, To-night" at Stern's request and sounded really good;

And they played a track off his new album which didn't sound bad, though of course no-where near as astounding as that weird, short, mysterious period when the Pumpkins were making some of the greatest rock music of all time.

Corgan also talked about his experiences with a psychic, his love of professional wrestling, and dating Jessica Simpson. I just kept drawing.

Twitter Sonnet #397

Yellowstone fake whales secrete the picnic.
Centipedes played counter PR leap frog.
The wet bowling balls destroyed the hammock.
Immortal men are made with lots of grog.
Apples repeal positive torque from trucks.
Bloated Tonka cries weirdly on the chest.
Construction stalls on the saint statue's crux.
Questions yelled demonstrate Mott's sauce is best.
Pyramid mouse gymnasts negate panic.
Jelly landmines effect thousands of Thors.
Stretching chair legs gallop to the attic.
Electric crust covers the old top scores.
Beetle language gushes green penmanship.
All alleys lead to a lampless worship.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sharp, Thin Threads

There's a point where psychological voyeuristic fetishes get really ugly. In To Catch a Thief and The Birds, there's a mischievous delight taken in the subtle give and take, cat and mouse game between a man and woman analysing each other when one or both harbours impure--and fun--impulses they attempt to conceal. Hitchcock's 1964 film Marnie takes this flirtation over the line, to see what happens after the psychological strip tease ends. The result, in this case--due to a smug and violent male lead--is a cruelly imbalanced relationship. The film suffers from an unprecedented, self conscious analysis on the part of Hitchcock, but it is a captivating, frightening, and fascinating film.

Tippi Hedren gives an incredible performance as Marnie, a woman whose obsessions and preoccupations have driven her into a life of serial robbery, constantly changing her identity, recolouring her hair to net jobs in offices with loaded safes she eventually pilfers, spending her spoils trying to win her mother's affections. The change of identity and hair colour to facilitate a life of crime brings to mind Judy Barton in Vertigo, but Marnie's a more disturbed individual, falling into fits when seeing the colour red and being utterly repulsed by the touch of men.

And yet, she doesn't seem to mind being held by Sean Connery's Mark Rutland until after she knows he knows her secret. She tells him it was because she was willing to put up with it in order to get what she wanted, but one senses she was simply more comfortable when she was in control of the situation. Like Vertigo, Marnie is largely about people controlling or attempting to control one another. Where in Vertigo it was Judy who got off on viewing the male lead's naked and strange psychology, in Marnie it's Connery's Mark who knows Marnie's game from the beginning and watches her mode of living laid bare without her knowledge. He obviously gets a great deal of pleasure from this and it's the basis upon which he eventually blackmails Marnie into marrying him. And he seems annoyed when he finds out Lil, a spurned potential lover of his, coyly demonstrates she has knowledge of Marnie that he does not himself yet possess.

Mark's carried initially by Connery's charm and his coolness in surreptitiously courting a beautiful thief, but when he uses his knowledge to hold her in the captivity of a marriage--to her intense protest--he becomes a threatening and despicable character even before he rapes her. In this way, the movie exploits the key difference between the Sean Connery/James Bond archetype and Cary Grant--Grant played men who liked to be conquered by women, while Connery preferred to conquer women, especially when he could do so without making himself vulnerable. One could point out that his assumed right of sexual dominance as husband to Marnie is a product of the time in which the movie was made, but I would disagree. I would point to The Quiet Man where John Wayne, left sexually unfulfilled by his new wife, nevertheless refrained from forcing himself on her.

Another earlier Hitchcock film of which Marnie is reminiscent, Suspicion, featured Joan Fontaine caught in a marriage with homicidal Cary Grant, yet again he was the one with the psychological vulnerability, and she, with the grace of a pacifist mother, sacrifices herself.

In fact, if one is to find an avatar of Hitchcock in the movie, Marnie herself is a more likely candidate than Mark. She's the one in the film with a complex about her mother, and all the suspense in the film is generated by scenes shot from her point of view.

At one point, Mark tells her, "In Africa, in Kenya, there's quite a beautiful flower, it's coral coloured with little green tipped blossoms, rather like a hyacinth. Now, if you reach out to touch it, you discover that the flower was not a flower at all, but a design made up of hundreds of tiny insects . . . they escape the eyes of hungry birds by living and dying in the shape of a flower." This seems to describe Marnie--Mark is also shown poring over criminal psychology books, all part of an attempt to psychological possess Marnie intellectually as well as physically.

The end of the film features dated psycho analysis exposition that weakens the film in a manner similar to the ending of Psycho. The details of Marnie's childhood trauma not only don't really account for her adult behaviour, the information is far less interesting than the subtler and more complex character presented by Hedren. This is largely why Vertigo is a superior film--that, and Vertigo has a more complex male lead. But Marnie is nevertheless a movie that grabs you by the gut and twists for its intense portrayal of a woman hopelessly caught in the web of her own mind and the people who use the way she tortures herself to take further advantage of her.