Friday, August 15, 2014

David Brooks, Feminist Film Critic

Dark Passage, by Delmer Daves (1947).
I think Brooks's main aim this morning is to display his quirky independence by devoting his Lauren Bacall tribute not to the most cliché moment of her career (from To Have and to Have Not, Howard Hawks, 1944) but instead to the second most cliché moment [jump]
(The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks, 1946), to argue that Bacall revolutionized Hollywood's view of women, showing us that a woman could be strong and vulnerable at the same time (unlike all the other female stars of American cinema from Barbara Stanwyck to Marie Dressler). It's not very interesting, and to whatever extent it's offensive to women I think I should leave it to women to lay that out.

One mildly funny bit is the amateur critic's classic error: trying to convey what Bacall and Bogart brought to their roles, he simply quotes their dialogue at great length as if under the impression that they'd written it themselves (one of the writers in the Big Sleep stable was William Faulkner!), or that Howard Hawks would have permitted them to improvise it like John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Not bloody likely.

My favorite thing, if you want to know, would be Bacall's hilariously calm composure* in the erotic frenzy of the screwball comedy,  the relaxation in her voice and the disposition of her legs, as she soared, unwinking, over the strictures of the Hays code; it was simply beneath her. Here, for instance, with a hungover Gregory Peck wondering what exactly they got up to the night before, in Vincente Minnelli's Designing Woman (1957):

*Extremely hard won, by the way: we're told she suffered from terrible camera nerves at the beginning of her career, and later said she developed one signature posture, the smoldering look upward from downbent head, just to keep her chin from trembling.

Also, of course, as Driftglass reminds us, her true-Blue, New York Jewish, Committee for the First Amendment, McCarthy-defying liberalism, as one of the braver Hollywood leftists of the 1950s and then for the rest of her life, which Brooksy kind of forgets.

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