…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “Martin Balsam

Psycho stories and shots

Sorry for the short blog hiatus! There’s more of that to come, unfortunately.

Instead of talking about my favourite shot from Psycho – that’ll come later – or my long-ass history with arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, or my veneration for the woman with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Janet Leigh) and the man with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Martin Balsam) I’ll talk about a shot and a story that I’m probably not supposed to tell. This story also means that I can’t talk about what school I went to, although I probably can’t keep my mouth shut for that long. And that despite the slight Schadenfreude, I feel bad about telling this story because the same things that I might imply on this person might also be said about me.

As a background, in my college, there is a great film professor pushing into his emeritus years. If you wanted an introduction to ways of thinking and philosophy from the 20th century and beyond, he’s your guy. He is much beloved by the earlier classes but the dissent against his has been coming stronger as new generations of students come. My ambivalent opinion towards him doesn’t make the fact that I’m unemployable because I like talking shit any less true.

So me and an alum were talking about B film ‘Hobo With a Shotgun,’ that recently had its Canadian première. I hesitated on saying that I hated it, he was talking about its merits and deeper nuances, about how the film treats. “So, like, the Drake character is Stephen Harper and Rutger Hauer is some guy in some other political party or ‘the people’ or something?”

“No, not that deep.”

“Sorry. I guess it’s the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ training in me that make me over-analyze things.” Although I do believe that every film is political and social, a belief that will lead to a story that I will never tell unless we meet in person.

“Oh, God. Him. It’s like every film to him is about the economy. Like for Psycho. For genre class he made a shot-by-shot analysis of the shower scene. At the end he showed the shot of the drain, and asked the class ‘What do you see?’ You know what he said?”

“The swirling of the water is reminiscent of the dollar sign,” I asked sarcastically.



“And I shit you not, _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ yelled ‘Bullshit,’ walked out of the room and never took his classes again.”

“That is kinda funny. I have _ _ _ _ on my Facebook. I should write on his wall sometime.”

I’m haunted by that sequence because the chunky blood that comes out of Marion Crane (Leigh), eventually being diluted in the water for that ‘zero’ moment.

What’s also ironic is that while I’m talking out of my ass, I’m using one of my prof’s shot-counter shot analysis that he intended for Vertigo – another clue – and how in the earlier scenes, the backgrounds used for Jimmy Stewart’s character had clean geometric borders while the Barbara bel Geddes character worked around a hot mess.  The same thing happens here in Psycho, where two characters are literally a few feet away from each other yet the spaces are clearly bordered. Marion sits in front of a relatively blank wallpaper while Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) chooses to sit with his creepy stuffed birds. The clutter around him shows his conflicted, angry mind while she’s fine if a bit delusional.

Despite Marion’s blood and her effects, the  bathroom feels clean when Norman enters. It’s as if doing the deed is a method of purgation for him. The clouds and the fog hours before seem to disappear for him, the dead trees making way for his brooding face.

Or to a lesser extent, there’s one particular shot with Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and Sam Loomis (wooden John Gavin). It’s a little bit smoky on Lila’s side while the downtown buildings serve as a background for Sam. We can argue which parts of the mise-en-scene make one more troubled than the other, but I like this shot because it’s pretty.

Then there’s the last scene, showing Norman imprisoned around the ultimate void, when the battle’s been won.

This has been part of Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.

The Anderson Tapes

The Anderson Tapes is one of three Sidney Lumet and Sean Connery collaborations. Sidney Lumet is one of my favourite directors, and I’ve also believed that he’s the only director to make Sean Connery act. The opening credits reveal that ‘and Introducing Christopher Walken.’ There was no way I would skip this movie, despite the flaws I’m sensing. Then Dyan Cannon, the less human-looking yet more talented Farrah Fawcett. The flaws kept coming in, yet Martin Balsam plays a dated version of a gay guy. Are there names for the eras when gay guys dressed like Balsam’s character as opposed to today, when gay guys dress like douchebros?

ph. Columbia/Sony

Their characters are some members of a mish-mash group representing maligned groups in America, all involved in a caper that will rob an Upper East side apartment building while being spied on by multiple government agencies.

My mother talks over movies, but I’m in the school of criticism that listens to both Roger Ebert and Carmela Soprano equally. Apparently he looks older and more gaunt here than he did in the 90’s. Also, can I call on the BS on Connery retiring please? His contemporaries are fed leftovers these days. Guys getting roles are five decades younger than him. It’s equally ridiculous to expect him to work. But don’t crap on movies today. If you hate the movies made today, make better ones.

Now, on to the movie itself. The commentary at “The Interviews” suggest a science fiction feel set in their contemporary times, engendered by the digital font of the opening credits, the score and the non-diagetic sound playing while Duke Anderson (Connery) notices the cameras that are obviously watching him. All of those feel a little forced, but it does bring out the futuristic anomalies that people at that time and even this time have to constantly update themselves with. Duke has been in jail for ten years, Pops for forty, prison then mitigates their distance from the evolving technology they missed out on. Being secluded from society during a long period, the changes are more drastic for them, the loss of control of their privacy more alarming. The opposing teams of the film – the capers and the Italian mob against the wealthy New Yorkers and the government, arguably are all groups from the old guard, playing in a new, more technologically equipped playing field.

The film also keeps cutting back and forth between events and locations, calling itself to its narrative. A scene between Duke and Italian mobsters are interrupted by, such as the IRS committees spying on them for other suspected crimes. An audio of a love scene between Duke and Ingrid (Cannon) is played back to them days later, the second time with Ingrid’s other lover present and spying on them. The robbery scenes are intercut with interviews of the robbed after the fact. This structure of the film calls out on how every scene has information we spell out in our heads. Recounting a scene also emphasizes its consequences, who will get caught, who’s getting hurt, who wins.

Final thought on the love scenes, not sex scenes. A little goes a long way. As well as the acting, and that Connery and the other actors playing capers express all that masculine bravado and vulnerability through those masks.