Fri, 1 December 2006
In this double-feature podcast, Clute and Edwards investigate Tay Garnett's 1946 "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and the Coen brothers' 2001 "The Man Who Wasn't There"--considering their merits as films, and as adaptations of the novels of James M. Cain. While Garnett makes noir acceptable mainstream fare, with high production quality and glamorous stars like Lana Turner and John Garfield, his film loses the hauntingly arid psychology of Cain's novel. Conversely, the Coens decide not to adapt any one Cain story, but opt instead to recapture the tone of Cain's work; and Cain's heartache seen through the Coens' lens is the very picture of a radically new noir zeitgeist. This podcast is brought to you by Clute and Edwards of www.noircast.net. To leave a comment on this episode, or make a donation to the podcast, please visit "Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir" at outofthepast.libsyn.com.
Direct download: OOTP_2006_12_01_PARTMWWT.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:37pm EDT
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Hello Luiz, I have a slightly different take on these two moments in THE MAN WHO WASN\'T THERE, so I figured I\'d add my two cents worth to Rich\'s excellent response. I agree with Rich that narrative threads are often present largely to allow the Coens to pursue a certain visual style. The UFO scene is in some ways no more than a way to call our attention to the visual motif of UFO\'s that occurs throughout the film. Yet I suspect that the narrative threads DO tie into a philosophical stance of some sort. That\'s the thing about the COENS: it\'s easy to think they\'re just being quirky, and miss the rather esoteric underlying message (as Rich intimates). I admit, these two elements of the film are the same that puzzled me the first few times I saw it. Here\'s what I think now, though this opinion is likely to change each time I view the film. I suspect that Birdie is present to remind us just how far out of touch Ed Crane is with his emotions and desires. She is the anti-lolita motif, for her sultry presence fails to evoke a sexual response in Crane. Instead, he becomes obsessed with the POTENTIAL inherent in her youth and future. That\'s why it strikes us as so funny when Birdie calls Crane and \"enthusiast,\" and tries to repay him with a sexual favor. Neither of those has any meaning in Crane\'s life. If he is enthusiastic for her, it is only because he has lost all touch with what he wants for himself. In short, nothing means anything to him--not in a visceral way. Thus, when he completes his life story in prison and the UFO\'s appear to him, they make as much sense as everything else. He just nods a little, as if to say \"why not?\", I just wrote down the story of my demise and it feels no more real to me than these UFO\'s. Here, the visual and narrative motifs are certainly tied: the transition between his lack of desire (the scene with Birdie in the car) and his understanding that he will never understand (the appearance of the UFO\'s) is the rolling hubcap. It is a spinning disk against a background that fades to black--then it comes flying back like a UFO, linking these moments in the film. I suspect that\'s why Birdie vanishes at this point: Birdie was really never about Birdie at all, she was a way of demonstrating how little Ed understands about what\'s happening around him. Of course, this is just one guess among thousands. That\'s the beauty of enigmatic films like the COENS\'S--they give us plenty to guess at. Thanks for being such a dedicated listener. All the best, Shannon Clute
Freddy Reidensheider was probably referring to Werner Heisenberg when he brought up \"a guy in Germany named Fritz or Werner\". \"According to quantum mechanics, the more precisely the position (momentum) of a particle is given, the less precisely can one say what its momentum (position) is. \" http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-uncertainty/ wikipedia notes that this often confused with the observer principle \"In science, the observer effect refers to changes that the act of observing has on the phenomenon being observed. For example: observing an electron will change its path because the observing light or radiation contains enough energy to disturb it.\" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect
Dear Clute and Edwards, \"The Man Who Wasn\'t There\" plagues me because a) i love the coens\' films and b) i love film noir, having even taken a college class on the subject. i like this movie but fear i\'m not getting all i should to fully appreciate it, mostly because of two things i dont get: birdie and UFOs. I understand the character of birdie as a lolita motif, but not ed crane\'s involvement with her. why is he interested in her potential?? and why isnt he sexually attracted to her?? after the car-crash, she is pretty much just written out of the movie. i dont get her contribution to the story line, it kinda leads nowhere. With the ufo motif, i just dont get how it relates to film noir in general or this movie. is it just a metaphor for the theme of not controlling destiny and the syssiphus burden that aliens may be controlling the way of the world?? please help!! luiz
Hi Luiz, Thanks for contacting us and thanking for listening to our podcasts. I don\'t think this is a case where you are not \"getting it.\" I don\'t think the Coen Brothers make films that can be tidily analyzed and boiled down to a single meaning. THE MAN WHO WASN\'T THERE is an eclectic film. It has many narrative threads that are only briefly introduced because the Coen brothers, as genre stylists and master filmmakers, are frequently making films that are as much about filmmaking, history and memory as they are about the film\'s plot. The UFO references are a case in point. Since the film is set in the immediate postwar era, the reference is historically accurate. The Coen Brothers are tipping their hat to the UFO hysteria of the 1950s and the incident at Roswell. But in true Coen Brothers fashion they then extend a small reference into a larger metaphysical comment what a UFO might actually symbolize in the American psyche. It is not necessarily done as a dominant thematic thread (though it picks up importance at the end with the sequence at the jail), but one of the joys of the Coen Brothers is that they weave multiple themes together and don\'t tend to overly sermonize on their final meanings. They leave a lot of their meanings open to muliple interpretations, and I don\'t think there is any one definitive reading about what the UFOs signify. The situation of Birdie is similar. I don\'t think the Coen Brothers update single genres in their films, but multiple genres. In that sense they are great postmodern artists who fully embrace the notion of pastiche, a combination of multiple sources. That is how I sense their creation of Birdie. She is not just a classic noir character, but an admixture of many female creations we have seen in movies from many different genres. I like her for how she seems to allow us to see another side of Ed, that most laconic of characters. But again, I would stop short of trying to give a definitive reading of her, since I think the Coen Brothers do a good job of establishing her as a character, even if as you note, the character doesn\'t have a completely established story arc nor perhaps a satisfying closure. Take care, Richard Edwards Co-host, Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir
Postman Always Rings Twice! My favorite. I\'ll listen today. Garfield is forgotten by most, but man he was good. This is a great big-star Hollywood noir. Also, if you guys are interested in a new film noir message board (we link to you guys) you can go to http://filmnoir.suddenlaunch3.com/index.cgi
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