Thursday, March 3, 2011

Contract of Depravity

The title of this post is from one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies of all time - Robert Rossen's The Hustler. There have been plenty of times in the past when someone has asked me what my favorite movie of all time is and the first answer that sprung to my heart, mind, and lips was usually The Hustler. Sometimes Stalker. Sometimes Ruben & Ed. Occasionally Terror in a Texas Town. A few others definitely. But quite often The Hustler. I used to watch it multiple times each year, but it's been at least a few years now since I've watched it last. I just figured that now is a good time to pledge my unconditional love for that film. The New World might be the most agreed upon film in this little club of ours. Could The Hustler be next in line?


I've been witness to a lot of depravity lately. No one wants to hear me testify except you brave few.

This past week, I've been serving on a Grand Jury, but I've been sworn to secrecy and can't talk/write about any of it.

Yesterday, I watched Touch of Evil. As a member of CR5FC, I've been informally sworn to public sharing of all film viewing. It is my fervent desire that y'all will seriously consider serving Welles a Bill of Indictment. The charge? Dazzling brilliance in the 1st degree.

Touch of Evil is a masterpiece. After one viewing, it has skyrocketed to a place of honor in my personal pantheon. I feel about it the same way I felt when I first saw Blast of Silence last year. I feel at home. Which may sound like a strange thing to say about a movie concerned with vice and corruption.

Noir is the rebellious twin brother of the Western. While most Westerns generally had their hats on straight concerning who was good and who was bad and what is right and what is wrong, the lines tended to blur when Noir surveyed the same landscape. Still, the two are funhouse mirror images of one another. Both, with very few exceptions, do maintain strongly that there is such a thing as Evil. More importantly, that there is such a thing as Good. And that what is right and good is worth fighting for regardless of the cost.

Touch of Evil lovingly details the cost.

The good do not remain entirely unscathed. The bad get what they deserve. Most importantly, the good who allow even a touch of evil are brought to their knees. This is what is absolutely devastating about Touch of Evil. Vargas, the pure, is not our man. Hank Quinlan is.

Small evils in the service of good are surely right, no? No. But this isn't just an examination of "ends justify the means" thinking. This film is an all-out assault on the little compromises that we give in to in order to make things easier for ourselves.

Back to the Blast of Silence comparison, both films announce their virtuosity with incredible opening shots. It's easy to know within minutes that here is something unique. Both use a sort of hyper-reality to convey an ordinary reality, heavily stylized, but authentic.

I stand by my assertion that Blast of Silence is the still mostly unheralded end of noir. Yes. Amen. True.

That said, Touch of Evil is the perfect fulfillment of every Noir impulse. This is the height which none can surpass. Touch of Evil is the end of the book, the satisfying conclusion. Blast of Silence is the epilogue, the final cross at the top of the cathedral of Noir.

My only real concern is whether or not Touch of Evil is the best film of 1958 or of 1998, the year of the Murch/Rosenbaum revision/restoration. For now, I'm going to say that it's definitely both.


Welcome to film club.

I promise to call you if I decide to see True Grit again. I also might actually see Black Swan now that it's at the Saver.

I'm looking forward to your Birth of a Nation post. I really can't begin to describe how much that film changed the way I view all films. To the best of my recollection, it was the first silent feature film I had ever seen.

Have fun on tour. I'll be listening to the NPR: All Songs Considered coverage, waiting to hear Bob Boilen announce Summer People as the next Justin Bieber.

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