What is Hollywood, you ask, dear children? A quorum of whores babbling endlessly on about fucking while the bordello is razed for a penny arcade -- Paul Bern

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Sam Wood's movies are koans for auteurists.

Of course, everyone wants to blame Menzies or the DP's for what's good or interesting in them.

But I'm not so sure. And in the case of Kings Row -- the beloved Menziean flourishes are few and far between. The stolid languidity, flat staging, the perverse lack of engagement with the subject, the Wood-en solemnity is running at red-hot blazes. These are things that, for me at least, sustain the strangeness of the object that is Kings Row.

The fundamental energy of Kings Row is studied contempt for the material -- which everyone involved agreed was a major & unhealthy downer --  a Preminger movie in embryo:  incest, sportfucking, murder suicide, medical malpractice, neurosis, and cancer. A dismal swamp, in short.

What's eternally popular about Kings Row is that it takes a rather dim and surrealist view of the medical profession. And psychiatry, in a daring move for the time, turns out to be the perfect tool for repression of ugly community secrets -- voiced by a pair of lovely, damaged hysterics -- while Cummings, the "hero", is a satanic normalizing force.

Wood, not Menzies, emphasizes and undercuts the out-of-timeliness of Cummings in the performance. He is both the pale and false dream of hope, but also a link to an unsustainable past that must die. What's lovely and creepy (eternal...??) about Kings Row is that Cummings looks as if he's in a movie from 1925, while the rest of the movie feels uncomfortable with its perfunctory and modish expressionism. The film is as schizoid as the world it's portraying.

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