An adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett story by the same name. Watching The Glass Key did little more than make me re-evalute Miller’s Crossing. The Coen Brothers borrowed heavily from Hammett’s story, uncredited I might add, but it never felt as if they got away with theft. After seeing The Glass Key charges might need to be filed. Yes, they do the gangster genre slicker, cooler, and with more bravado than Stuart Heisler, but there are not just shots lifted from the earlier film, there are whole performances in Miller’s Crossing whose tone and deliver feel cut and pasted straight out of The Glass Key. Does this make the Coen Brother’s crooks? Probably not. In today’s film world everyone is simply paying homage. It’s just that no one is listing their sources. Perhaps we need to start rolling a bibliography after the credits.
Now I’ll have to track down the 1935 version of The Glass Key
I love punk rock. I love watching old footage from early punk rock shows. I love hearing stories about the glory days, to a point. You Weren’t There a documentary about Chicago’s punk scene from 1977-1984 is a bloated history lesson told by aging punk rockers, comfortably seated in their rather posh homes reminiscing on the good-old-days.
The Chicago scene really never did get the attention that London, L.A., New York or even Washington D.C. received, but still it spawned many important and interesting acts. Bands like Naked Raygun, Strike Under and the Effigies are featured in wonderful archival material, but when this material is contrasted with the modern-day interviews a huge disconnect occurs.
The spirit of punk rock has fallen to the way side. The politics and anger that got so many of these musicians to form bands has been lost and they are left with nothing but memories. As much as it could sound like I’m faulting the band members from selling out, I’m more upset with the filmmakers for not doing a better job in staging their interviews. If you want to record these geezers in their rather un-punk rock environs to make a point that is fine, but make that point. Ask them if they’ve traded in their ideals or at the bare minimum take the time to hide your mic cords. Contrary to what some might think sloppy production values are not punk rock. Your work needs some sort of message.
And now, a taste of the Effigies:
Vive le baleine aka Three Cheers for the Whale is a short documentary ode to whales. Made by Chris Marker & Mario Ruspoli, the film relies heavily on Marker’s pedantic narration and his use of rostrum camera technique to create sympathetic meditation on the world’s largest mammals. The piece starts out with dueling narration, in this English dubbed version of the film it is one male voice, the other voice is female. It is a technique I have heard in other films of this era, but one whose practical purpose I cannot fully understand. In short time the male’s voice is lost and we are left with the soft, but condemning female voice. She speaks directly to the whale, saying ‘you’ and asking it questions. She retells the history of whaling from its earliest days as a source of protein and nutrients to its latter days as a commodity and source of oil. The harshest criticism is for the Japanese and Americans who turned the hunting of whales into huge commercial empires.
The film itself works its way through the scientific to the romantic to the harsh reality of whales and whale hunting. Images taken seemingly from illustrated text books present the creature as a specimen. Later historical paintings of whaling expeditions full of action and danger show man wrestling with a natural force far greater than himself. Then, lastly, there is the present day footage of man, a top his massive sea vessels, manning huge harpoons. Human ingenuity has won, but the narration quickly questions the cost of winning. In the last few moments of the film the narration recedes and we are left only with the sounds of singing whales. What we see on the screen are conquered whales processed for the so-called greater good of man.
As heavy-handed as the film may seem, and I must say I am already fully on the side of the whales, Marker always speaks with a quizzical, contemplative tone. While the voice never waivers in its strong-footed beliefs, it also does not need to raise itself to get the message across. It is not a tone suited for today’s loud, brash culture. Then again, it might simply not be a tone for America.