Monday, December 27, 2010

Nightfall


Chance Operations?


Nightfall by Jacques Tourneur, 1957:



Jacques Tourneur invented the "bus shot" in his and Val Lewton's Cat People: during a scene already teetering on the edge of infarction a bus careens suddenly into frame to pick up waiting passengers — a quotidian detail reconfigured as a mechanism for delivering a shock — is the Cat People bus shot an exploitative device conceived outside the world of the film, its sole purpose a jolt against the audience slammed deus ex machina-style on the part of the director, or is it something more interesting: its sudden impact, unexpected blast, a too-natural phenomenon in a supernatural world? / A bus shot of sorts occurs in Nightfall within the first five minutes of the picture, as a bus nearly smashes the physical camera apparatus that's in the process of tracking backward at the moment the bus enters frame / But what is 'the world' at this early moment of the film? / The modern world? / No discernible source of tension yet — except Tension itself / A series of dissociations permeate Nightfall / No discernible source of tension yet — except an author / Or: some presence-'off' / Let's come back to this shortly / For now draw attention to Anne Bancroft at her most beautiful ever / To the smile made of the lovely imperfect teeth that could tear off a man's collar / She convinces me less in her sympathetic moments / But, again, we'll come back to this / "Mind if I just look?" "See anything familiar?" "Familiar looks very different." / ....For the time being: When the tension discovers a reasonable origin — the two heavies (Brian Keith and Rudy Bond) who confront Jim Vanning (aka "Art," played by Aldo Ray) — another vehicle almost smashes into the camera head-on / We should now begin to ask ourselves why must this camera die? / And the movie keeps moving / It becomes The 39 Steps / Kill the lights / It becomes The Killers (Siodmak) / Menacing, hunting duo / It becomes The Big Heat before the car-bomb / Domestic tranquility for Ben Fraser (played by James Gregory), the insurance investigator trailing Vanning, and Mrs. Fraser played by Marlon Brando's sister Jocelyn / Their household is a vision of peace, twinned with the opening encounter between Vanning and Marie Gardner (Bancroft), two alone who come together, as 'the promise' (INLAND EMPIRE) / "Do I look like a married man?" / (The tenderness and vulnerability between damaged souls: the five-dollar bill, the vodka, the warm martini, the way Bancroft crumbles and clutches her bills, the "No girl ever has.") / Two worlds / The shadow-self / The shadow-man / A man is trailed by his opposite / A man is trailed by his demons / Nightfall is a film that has little to do with literal night; its landscapes, which are psychoscapes, figure largely as day-for-night exteriors, apartments brightly lit at 3am, snow decked pastures in Wyoming, over-exposing, sunlight-terrible, like the scene in the woodland gorge in Build My Gallows High (Tourneur's preferred title for Out of the Past) / Nightfall is the overlap-oeuvre for the worldviews of Tourneur and Lewton, with the title that might have been used by the latter for a magnum opus / Chance presides in Nightfall — the manner in which destiny is built on a foundation formed of the slimmest probabilities which nevertheless come to pass: (1) Stumbling into these robber-killers in the wilderness, who will hunt Vanning for weeks after... (2) Sitting down next to Marie / Anne Bancroft in that bar... (3) Doc's bag looking just like the one that holds the loot... (4) Doc's young wife happened to write Vanning indiscrete letters, which in hindsight might implicate him in her husband's murder... / And then beyond 'chance,' there's the fabricated coincidence: that Ben Fraser, the man Vanning met at the beginning of the film, should also be aboard the same bus, on his way to Butte, Montana as Vanning and Marie are en route to the scene of the crime in Moose, Wyoming / And the elements that don't 'fit together': the Al Hibbler theme song placed across the opening credits; the 'mystical' arrivals across space and time of the killers; Bancroft's sympathy, empathy, her niceness, her innocence, that contrasts with her position and disposition in her first minute onscreen, contraindicate the rapacious qualities of her gaze and jaw... most people in life are not even 'nice,' let alone open to a proposal of marriage after two days; the uncharacteristically humid (for LA), strangely nocturnal heat remarked upon in the opening sequence but which seemingly plays no dramaturgic purpose — rather, serves to 'negative' the Wyoming cold and white of the wilderness — in other words, a purity that embodies its opposite / Its shadow / For the world of Nightfall is a dream-world / Where immaterial desires take shape / Where movie-residue resonates / Where fears walk (pursuers, near-accidents, and accidents that come to pass though one somehow survives to cut/warp to a subsequent moment) / Where interior Fantasy and unfulfilled Wish, the presence-'off' of the subconscious, govern / The inland empire that no camera can film / And Nightfall is one story of that kingdom, of and by the interior author / The Man of Dreams cannot trust the material world / Oil-derricks are killing him / Buses are killing him / Auto-grilles are killing him / Snow-tractors are killing him / Smashing up bodies / Machines want the camera to die / Prosperity, love, tenderness / The world around us wants these in ruin / We are never truly alone / We walk with fear or desire / The other side of the mirror / Our fantasy-world / Our impulse-world / At the end of the movie the killing pair show-down as in a mirror — even the doppelgänger has a shadow-self / Which itself has an impulse / The positive and the negative — as in the last image of the film, the black bag of money laid on the snow, an abstract lump and a blot on the Field of Vision / "Every night I got that much closer to tomorrow my chances got that much better." / "Things that rarely happen are always difficult to explain." / Nightfall, in the sense of 'snowfall' / Like a prayer

Nightfall by Jacques Tourneur, 1957:









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