WEIRDLAND: Masculinity & Violence (John Garfield in Classic Noir, Fincher's Fight Club)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Masculinity & Violence (John Garfield in Classic Noir, Fincher's Fight Club)

Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. in "Zodiac" (2007) directed by David Fincher - This Is Zodiac (DVD Extra)

Still of Edward Norton as The Narrator in "Fight Club" (1999) directed by David Fincher

Experiencing Masculinity in "Fight Club" (1999): "The androgynous millennial man seems to be the ultimate realization of masculine fears of ornamental culture. The search and experiencing of an “authentic masculinity” will take up a large portion of Fight Club’s narrative. However, the character’s construction of an “authentic” masculinity will be imagined in opposition to images of men that are disseminated through consumer culture. Tyler Durden playfully responds that "self improvement is masturbation” and that “self destruction is the real answer.” In Fight Club the false bodies of the consumer culture are a symptom of the same process by which 'real men' are emasculated. If the defining aspect of Fight Club’s emasculated landscape is a lack of control over the image of the body, then part of the narrative’s subsequent searching and experiencing of masculinity will be the reclamation of the white male body through violence.

In order to experience his masculinity, Jack must first become aware of his masculinity. The film’s first act shows our protagonist as an anonymous consumer devoid of a particularly masculine identity. However, this dilemma will soon be solved with the introduction of
two characters, Marla Singer and Tyler Durden, who both act as dark reflections of Jack‘s troubled psyche.
Helena Bonham Carter as Marla Singer in "Fight Club"

Jack's solution to his masculine crisis is disrupted by a transgressive female figure. “Once again, repressed white masculinity is thrown into a crisis by the eruption of an ultraconservative version of post-1960’s femininity that signifies both the antithesis of domestic security, comfort and sexual passivity offering neurosis and blame in their place. The character of Marla may secretly be the key figure of the film.

In addition, as a spectator unaware that Tyler and Jack are the same person, Marla witnesses Jack’s schizophrenia first hand. This leads to the Marla character becoming surprisingly sympathetic to the audience upon second viewing of the film.

In being both the impetus for Jack's masculine awakening, and a bystander in Jack’s one man war with himself, the film positions the woman as the only psychological stable force in the schizophrenic emasculated landscape. -"White Masculinity in the American Action Film" by Gordon V. Briggs (2007)

"Until his death on October 26, 1999 at the age of 1988, Abraham Polonsky remained very involved with writing screenplays, teaching about film and speaking out about the political issues facing Hollywood. For example, he was on the front lines of the protests against presenting a Lifetime Academy Award to informer Elia Kazan. In a typical example of his hard-bitten wit, Polonsky told a reporter that on the night of the Oscars, "I'll be watching, hoping someone shoots him. It would no doubt be a thrill in an otherwise dull evening."

Two days before his death, he went to an academy screening of "The Fight Club". He hated the movie so much that he stormed out after an hour, stopping as he walked up the aisle to grab the arms of people he knew, saying, "What the hell are you doing, watching this piece of expletive! You should get up and walk out too!" Source: www.columbia.edu

HARD VIOLENCE IN WORLD WAR II COMBAT FILMS:
John Garfield and Eleanor Parker in "Pride of the Marines" (1945) directed by Delmer Daves, based on life of Marine hero Al Schmid.

"Pride of the Marines" (1945) portrays the emotional recovery of Al (John Garfield), who is blinded by a hand grenade during a fierce battle against the Japanese on Guadalcanal. Al and two Marine buddies, Johnny and Lee, are dug in with a machine gun, trying to halt the Japanese advance on the island. The Japanese kill Johnny and wound Lee before Al is blinded. The film shows Al’s great fear and anxiety during the long night during which he faces the enemy,
and it subsequently portrays the bitterness that seizes him after he is blinded.

Al’s blinding is portrayed in horrific terms, first as Al’s subjective view of the exploding grenade and then in the grimly stoic response of Lee when he sees Al’s face (a view of Al that the oblique camera framings do not allow the viewer). The shootings of Johnny and Lee occur suddenly and without warning, as Japanese snipers pick off the Marines. Johnny is shot in the head, quite rare in this period. The head contains the brain —the seat of reason and the locus of personality —and the face is the gateway to one’s being. Thus, Hollywood film generally avoided head shots, and when they did occur, as in "The Big Heat" or "Machine-Gun Kelly", they produced no blood or visible damage. In most clutch-and-fall deaths the body merely “goes to sleep” with no trauma, while retaining its dignity. Johnny’s lifeless face, by contrast, is one from which all personality has gone. It shows no emotional tone, no muscle control.

After Lee is shot, Al places him on the ground and continues to man the machine gun. Subsequent cutaways to Lee reveal blood pooling in his wound. It punctuates the act of violence with absolute finality.


John Garfield embracing Lana Turner on Laguna beach in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946)

In "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946), the adulterous lovers Frank (John Garfield) and Cora (Lana Turner), conspire to murder her husband, Nick. They take him for a drive, and Nick, who is drunk, begins to sing and call out into the canyon, which is a kind of echo chamber, playing his voice back to him. The echo amuses him, and, since he is calling when Frank murders him, it will mark the moment of his death.

Like the killing in "Double Indemnity" (though the action in that film was staged as metonymy), this one takes place in a car with the victim’s wife present. When the bottle breaks off-screen and the ghostly echo of his voice replaces Nick’s actual voice, the action cuts from the floorboard to a close-up of Cora. She reacts with fear and revulsion as the echo continues for a moment and then dies out. As in many film noirs, the universe in Postman is full of bitter irony. The framing of the action occludes Cora’s injuries not only from the camera’s and the viewer’s field of view, but from Frank’s as well. -"Classical Film Violence" by Stephen Prince (2003)

The on-set sexual tension between John Garfield and Lana Turner was clear to all involved during the filming of "The Postman Always Rings Twice". According to "Body and Soul: The Story of John Garfield" by Larry Swindell, Garfield had proposed Lana on their first day a sexual tryst to which she replied "You bastard!".

Originally, before MGM offered John Garfield the role of Frank Chambers, it had been refused by Joel McCrea. Garfield would recall this role as one of his favorites. Lana said of "The Postman" director Tay Garnett: "He was a roaring, mean, furniture-smashing drunk. Nobody could control him".

"You've been trying to make a tramp out of me ever since you've known me. But you're not going to do it. I stay here". -Cora to Frank

-"Will you give me a big kiss before I sock you." -Frank (Garfield) to Cora (Lana)

The boxer stands alongside the cowboy, the gangster, and the detective as a character that shaped America's ideas of manhood. In his book "Knockout: The Boxer and Boxing in American Cinema" (2011), Leger Grindon relates the Hollywood boxing film to the literature of Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Clifford Odets.

Dick Powell and Evelyn Keyes in "Johnny O'Clock" (1947) directed by Robert Rossen

The modest success of "Johnny O’Clock" led to an approach by Roberts Productions, including John Garfield, to direct Abraham Polonsky’s script of "Body and Soul" for the new Enterprise Studios. A few years earlier Rossen had expressed an interest in making a boxing film with Budd Schulberg, who was writing the expose that would be published as "The Harder They Fall", in 1947. According to Robert Parrish, Rossen had suggested the use of Ernest Hemingway’s story ‘Fifty Grand’ at the end. The film’s assistant director, Robert Aldrich, always supported what he felt was the ‘proper’ ending, of the death of a hero who is aware that ‘the probabilities are that he’ll lose’.

John Garfield and Patricia Neal in "The Breaking Point" (1950) directed by Michael Curtiz

John Garfield takes on the Bogart role in "To Have and Have Not" as a debt-ridden charter boat captain reluctantly embroiled in a smuggling racket. Patricia Neal holds her own in the sultry temptress part that made Lauren Bacall famous. Curtiz sticks closer to the original text than Howard Hawks. Garfield perfectly embodies the hard-luck Hemingway antihero, his in-built fatalism the essence of noir masculinity. Source: secure.cinema.ucla.edu

-"John did take me aside to talk about the character that I would play, as if he was my director, and he was saying 'you know you are a whore, you know what I mean?' and I was roaring with laughter, and I said 'I know what you mean'. -Patricia Neal in "The John Garfield Story" Documentary (2003) by David Heeley


Robert Rossen was blacklisted; his next film was "Mambo" in 1955. He was to appear twice before the House Committee during its second wave of hearings, beginning in 1951. In that year he testified that he was no longer a Communist. Unable to get his passport renewed he appeared the second time as a cooperative witness, providing – or more precisely confirming – the names of 53 Communists.

Piper Laurie and Paul Newman in "The Hustler" (1961) directed by Robert Rossen

Only with "The Hustler" (1961) did Rossen return to critical and commercial success, and to a variation on his earlier themes. On his premature death in 1966 he was preparing a film which would have again dealt with the relationship between notions of American reality and myth" -"The Hollywood Left: Robert Rossen and Postwar Hollywood Film Studies" by Brian Neve (2005)

John Garfield during his performance in "Skipper Next to God" put on by the Experimental Theater (1948).

Garfield’s career was part of the internationally influential film industry that received its first blow in 1949 when the American government renewed its anti-trust campaign against the economically booming film industry, and the subsequent trials and defamation of film directors and actors for their social ideas began the breakup of the collective studio system, resulting in the trivializing of previous highly artistic film-styles, whose continued production was replaced with watered-down commercialized TV films for mass consumption, both for American and foreign audiences. The Hollywood’s decline is the result of this breakdown of past high standards, and the inability (or disinterest) to make use of socially positive human ideals and convictions by contemporary film companies commercially controlled.

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