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An Actor’s Revenge

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of February 23

New at Criterion, a pair of films that inhabit their genres even as they transcend them. Michael Sragow illuminates the many flights of poetry and politics that Ichikawa infused in his studio-mandated remake of An Actor’s Revenge. (“What Yukinojo brings down on his foes really is an actor’s revenge, dizzyingly dramatic in its form, surgically perceptive in its manipulation of movers and shakers too vain to recognize their own weaknesses. And Ichikawa’s giddy, experimental movie is itself an auteur’s revenge on his studio, because he treats the timeworn material as an opportunity rather than a punishment. Until the tragic drama of its climax, the movie remains inventive, amusing, antisentimental, and playfully meta about almost everything and everyone, including the downtrodden and even the hero himself.”) And Amy Taubin gets again to plunk for one of her favorites, The Silence of the Lambs, placing it both within and inarguably apart from a long line of cinematic serial killers and their pursuers. (“In its deliberate, unabashed, and uncompromising feminism, The Silence of the Lambs is to the horror–psychological thriller combo what Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is to classical fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood.” Both works take familiar stories—so familiar that they’ve become part of our cultural unconscious—and turn them upside down. [….] And for a female viewer—for all viewers who allow themselves to identify with a female hero—it is harrowing, exhilarating, and sad beyond measure.”)

“But it is in the emotional arc of the character where Day’s work really shines. From the first moment she is seen on screen, kicking the shins of a dance partner who gets “fresh” with her, we know who she is. When Snyder appears at her dressing room door, she does not cringe from his leer, but barks, “Gotta good look?” It’s clear—even though there’s no language to support it—that Ruth has been “messed with” by men probably from the moment she developed breasts. Watch her body language when men touch her. She’s been pawed her whole life. She sees Martin for who he is, but she’s tough, she thinks she can handle him. She wouldn’t be the first woman to make such a grave error.” Sheila O’Malley demands that attention must be paid to Love Me or Leave Me, Charles Vidor’s surprisingly harrowing mix of musical and gangster melodramas, and its superb lead performances by James Cagney and, most especially, Doris Day.

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