Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Doctor X

This is a reprint of a 2007 piece. All images are current from 2021. Please excuse the Blogspot formatting. I'm much more enthusiastic about Raymond Bernard than I was 14 years ago.

Chlorine Fumes from Everywhere

There are some films that don't do anything until 45 minutes in, 50 minutes in, two minutes around the 45-minute mark and then 55 minutes in again — just check out Raymond Bernard's The Chess Player [Le joueur d'échecs, 1927], thou-all those now seeking out more Bernard after catching up with Wooden Crosses [Les croix de bois, 1932] and Les misérables [The Wretched, 1934] on account of the fourth Eclipse set from Criterion — or, again, look no further than Jeff Garlin's film-portrait about John Waters. (Okay, I haven't seen it yet, but there it was today at the Princeton Record Exchange...)

Doctor X [1932] is one of those films, but that 45-minute mark, and those last fifteen minutes, are among the greatest in all of American cinema. You know what, I'll go one further — the entire film attains echte Totemischkeit if one douses the soundtrack and watches only the images without cue-accompaniment or dialogue. Someday, at the ciné-club I keep forgetting to found, I'll program just such a screening... for the time being, kill the sound yourselves, the same way you do on your Masters of Cinema editions of Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl [Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, 1929]. You see, in Doctor X, nearly every shot's imbued...

For those just tuning in to the movies (and, obviously, there's no shame in that), Michael Curtiz is the director of great films like The Adventures of Robin Hood [1938], Angels with Dirty Faces [1938], Casablanca [1942] — although the home-studio of such doesn't freely advertise that the latter film even had a director (cf. The Wizard of Oz — 1939, FYI), because giving directors who never demanded pride-of-place in the first place would only serve to undermine the star-system and the orbiting guilds. Regardless, Curtiz was a good director who enacted a "workman-like best" as necessary and whenever his interest in the material rose to the "suitably piqued" — sometimes fragmentedly so, around given-project-X. In other words, he wasn't Howard Hawks. He was, however, the director of over 170 films — and even if Hawks, the director of under 50 pictures, made more than a few works that on their lonesome could be counted as aggregating the merits of (m)any four or five Curtiz films — there's still much to be said for this Hungarian émigré's prolific and, yes, often estimable output in motion-pictures. Egyáltalán nem of which, incidentally, was said by Steven Soderbergh's The Good German from last year — a work consciously and admittedly infused with "something" of the Curtiz style (or: of an amalgam of the semi-particularly-noir'd-out studio-system aesthetic). (I should clarify the Hungarian means "nothing" or "nothing at all" — should clarify, because I don't want to give Soderbergh credit where it's not due. P.S. — I saw ten minutes of Traffic on TV a few weeks ago, a film I remember not-hating when it was in the theaters — and now it struck me as absolutely disgusting, an unconscionably vile piece of shit.)

The long-and-short, for right now: Curtiz's Doctor X is a film one should not speak too explicitly about, for reasons beyond the language and the times. So I'll leave you with these shots from Long Island, captured with the two-strip Technicolor process, and in close bid you all a day of awe.


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