marți, 6 martie 2012

No ire

Laura (US, 1944), Directed by: Otto Preminger

A.S.: To my Romanian readers, I beg your pardon for writing in English. The vast majority of you can read it anyway, which is not what I could say about my English readers and Romanian

If it’s by mere face-value, I would say Laura is quite a silly movie. But having saying that I made it obvious that it is not by mere face-value that this film should be judged. The first thing we should look at is the time it came out. It was 1944, and the movie public was different than what it is now. Noir was a well-established genre, with its own rules and dogmas, much in the same manner as poetry. So as a filmmaker you had to be catchy, spectacular, innovative and creative while at the same time, more or less consciously you had to comply with the genre norms. Even more so as this was the studios era, most of the creatives were on a studio paycheck so there were a severe supervision over taking creating risks.

That is why, as a 40’s noir, Laura’s got all the ingredients, and a few extra as well: the crime plot is right there in the beginning, the badass trenched detective is the all-knowing hero saving the day, everybody is lying and doing a double game, we’ve got the necessary plot twist and even the grand finale, with the suspects all in one room, with all but one still wondering who the killer is.

In the past 60 years though, we’ve seen all these tricks pulled over and over again so many times and in so many times that all what’s left of Laura is a black and white feature that’s the laughing stock of the 21st century movie viewer. It is packed with stereotypes, only they didn’t know what was about to become a stereotype back then. Besides, it still holds some entertainment value even for the blased viewer of 2012, so it’s safe to assume it was a pretty entertaining movie in its time. Dissing Laura due to changes in esthetical evaluation that are none of its making would be like mocking Shakespeare for writing crowd-pleasing cheesy stories.

The same is true on a technical level. So much has changed in movie making by now that trying to compare Laure to a recent action movie is a logical non-sense. They hardly use the passing from one room to another straight through the fake wall now. Or the sourcy rain, or the snow-storm following the on-screen character wherever he goes. But this is how they worked back then. And they’re using conventions now as much as ever, it’s just that they’re different. But the directors of the 40’s didn’t need a realistic rain or an equally dense storm on the entire screen. They’d just get shitloads of water on the actors out of some rough pipes, and the spectator would understand it’s supposed to be raining. Just pull your hat on the side, plant a cigar between the lips and say you’re the police, and the viewers would now you mean business.

And there’s a certain feel to the 40’s movies that gets me regardless of the story. It has something to do with the body of the image, although I’m not sure what it is. The way they light faces, always along a vertical line across the nose in a confrontation scene or along a horizontal light ray when there’s just one individual in the shot and the suspense is supposed to accumulate... Or the costumes and haircuts that make all the stars of the era look pretty much the same... Or the music pointing out the most important moments of the action, no doubt a remnant of the mute era...

It’s interesting and refreshing to see the director not shying away from what have come to become tabus on film nowadays, such as everybody over-smoking, or the cop being an intrusive prick. I was a bit surprised the movie was shot in 4:3 format, but I guess Cinemascope was reserved for the big historical productions. It also makes more sense, but it’s good to notice how we’ve grown the habit of seeing everything in 16:9 format ever since HD cameras and flat-screen TV’s took over.

So if you plan on seeing just one 40’s noir, there are certainly better ones than Laura out there. But if you’re a 40’s regular that saw most of the noirs ever in existance and you’ve still not had enough, Laura is certainly worth a shot. 01:58

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