The Stranger, dir. Orson Welles, 1946
The third Hollywood film Orson Welles directed, a topical noir shot by cinematographer Russell Metty in the moody black-and-white he brought to Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958), and with the same complex crane and dolly moves. Considered a work-for-hire, it fell into public domain, was seen for years in bad prints. Shown in its original luster, The Stranger emerges as an intense anti-fascist character study, with Welles an escaped Nazi intellectual teaching at a New England prep school, Edward G. Robinson in full Double Indemnity mode hot on his heels. Welles cajoles and threatens his new wife, Loretta Young, and Robinson subjects her to Nazi atrocity footage, the first time such documentary material appeared in a Hollywood film, just months after it was shot. Here Welles anticipates his performances as Harry Lime and Gregory Arkadin, and places Robinson in the role of critic and destroyer of that conception of character. Billy House, as a mirthful-but-macabre general store owner, is their acting equal, presiding over a late fall-early winter Connecticut town square built to perfect scale on the backlot.
Writer and film critic A. S. Hamrah is the author of The Earth Dies Streaming: Film Writing, 2002-2018 (n+1 Books).
A Moment in Love, dir. Shirley Clarke, 1956; Home Movie #20: Dance Tests, dir. Shirley Clarke, 1953
Take “unrequited” away from love and give it to Shirley Clarke’s short films and later video works. While her place in New American Cinema was cemented by her experimental documentaries Bridges-Go-Round (1958), cited as influential for Barbara Hammer; and Skyscraper (1959)—whose delightful credit sequence alone makes Judy Holliday’s billboard-frenzied It Should Happen to You look positively dispossessed—underseen others like In Paris Parks (1954), Bullfight (1955), and A Moment in Love do far more than offer testament to Clarke’s range, depth of feeling for movement, and treatment of editing as rigorous craft-work. They also each see recognition as pivotal for interdependence. These are a handful of the artifacts available to us from someone who valued performance and process over product (even before her move to single-channel video in the 1980s, Clarke claimed to have made over 400 tapes). Savage/Love (1981)—one of two made-for-television works from this period developed in collaboration with downtown acting legend Joseph Chaikin, and New York’s favorite playwright of manhood Sam Shepard (Clarke’s interest in masculinity and the city go deep: check Skyscraper’s flash of an advertisement for Look Back in Anger, which hit Broadway in 1957)—floors me. On the surface, a “happening” tale of one not-iconic man’s romantic attachment as it moves from naivete to fulfillment to disenchantment to castigation to the worst: ambivalence, dysphoria. But Clarke’s near-end cuts of Chaikin’s shuddering face (“Is this the face that shows me?”) remind that it is filmed love that is often hollow; while love onstage, transpiring before your eyes “in relation to what is vital, rather than what was,”* bears the possible. In Clarke’s radiant short works, liveness is everything.
*Joseph Chaikin on how to perform Brecht, The Presence of the Actor
Corina Copp is the author of The Green Ray, and the North American translator of Chantal Akerman’s My Mother Laughs. She programs a screening series, Rotations, in residence at 2220 Arts + Archives in Los Angeles.
Nostalghia, dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983
Maybe funny isn’t what most would call Tarkovsky’s 1983 film about a bad trip to Italy. But who among us hasn’t pinned all our hopes on some journey, sure it would fix all that ails us and provide the key to finishing our work on earth? Scholar Andrei and translator Eugenia’s attempts to understand old-world Italy and one another reflect the in-film idea that poetry is untranslatable from one language to another. Tarkovsky captures the alienation that only comes from going to a beautiful place you’ve dreamed about and finding that you still miss the childish comforts of home.
Molly Lambert is a writer and the host of podcast HeidiWorld: The Heidi Fleiss Story (And The Secret History Of LA).