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Peggy Cummins

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 12

“Before her husband goes to the leaves to the theater, Madame fixes his shirt; afterward, her hand slides, naturally and forcefully, toward the piano. Her reflex gesture will be punished: he locks up the piano case, preventing her from playing. As always, every affirmation of her self is crushed by her husband. The film’s drama starts precisely here: when the door to Madame Beudet’s fantasies is locked up, and when her husband debases and colonizes those fantasies, turning them progressively into her worst nightmare.” Cristina Álvarez López praises Germaine Dulac’s The Smiling Madame Beudet as a film that employs surrealist freedom of imagery to pierce its domestic melodrama with a greater, more terrifying truth than most subsequent “women’s pictures” could allow.

“Here it’s perhaps worth asking why so many artists become a part of our lives and identities, while only a precious few are enlisted to prop up our moral universe. Though he’s never claimed to be a dissident, and has in fact proven allergic to ironclad political positions, Jia still inspires a special kind of hope, particularly among fans in the Chinese world who long to see change in the motherland. His principal genius lies in how he makes that longing palpable, often by interpreting social upheaval through the subtle modulations of sentiment you find in Mando- and Cantopop songs, which he uses liberally and without irony. He does this with the knowledge that, not long ago, those private yearnings were condemned as “decadent.” Indeed, he often recounts a memory of his father implying that, at the height of the Maoist era, a movie like Platform, with its languid evocations of nostalgia and thwarted possibility, would have gotten him labeled as a rightist.” With Jia Zhangke launching a new festival, directing car commercials, and indulging in other moves that seems to ensconce him into the mainstream of the Chinese film industry, Andrew Chan reminds us to consider both Jia’s obstacles and his personal ambitions, which never perfectly aligned with the rebel image many thrust upon him.

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Gun Crazy

[Originally published in the National Society of Film Critics anthology The B List]

John Dall and Peggy Cummins

If you had to select a single film to justify the present enthusiasm for film noir and define its allure, few movies could compete with Gun Crazy. The same goes for celebrating the potential of B-movies to achieve grade-A flair, excitement, and artistic intelligence. The picture taps brazenly into a sexual, almost feral energy that makes it unique, even in a school of film known for perverse psychology and smoldering subtexts. And it achieves its ends on an observably limited budget, via two strategies that ought to clash but instead invigorate each other: the bold stylization of expressionistic, verging-on-minimalist settings, and the camera’s embrace of the real world in adventurous, sustained takes that approach documentary realism … except that the keynote of documentaries is rarely frenzy.

The premise is elemental. Bart Tare, an orphaned boy in a small American town, has an obsession with guns—owning them, touching them, and especially shooting them with proficiency, which makes him “feel awful good inside, like I’m somebody.” Following several years in reform school and four more in the Army, Bart the man (John Dall) comes home an earnestly pleasant young fellow, albeit with his obsession intact. When he crosses paths with Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a carnival trick-shooter who happens to be, in the words of her spieler boss, “soooo appealing, soooo dangerous, soooo lovely to look at,” no power on earth could keep them out of each other’s arms. What Bart doesn’t know till much later is that Laurie once killed a man (Gun Crazy initially was released under the title Deadly Is the Female), and before long she has persuaded him to join her in a cross-country crime spree that also plays like an extended honeymoon.

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