≠ Information

Episode Two Hundred Nineteen: Information.
In which we came in on the Streamliner.

1 comment:

  1. Bad Day At Black Rock (1955, dir. John Sturges). I had never seen this film, but it seeped into my consciousness via social media postings of the ass-whooping scene in the café where Ernest Borgnine is beaten by the one-armed Spencer Tracy. (Borgnine plays what I suspect is supposed to be a young thug - early 20’s at most – but the actor was nearly 40 in real life.) I had also noted the frequency with which reviews appear in cineaste publications.

    I didn't know what to expect, but I did not expect this, which suits the film. A Streamliner stops unexpectedly in this dusty backwater, and off steps a contemporary man. At once, we are in the Western, in which the train-stop now brings anticipatory catalyst, tension, justice. Yet, this is also a condemnation of these Western tropes: this is the modern man bringing the Western to the modern era. Is this a Noir characteristic? The fall of the old order?

    And, of course, although the events that Tracy investigates predate the film (too taboo to depict?), the film is about white supremacy and the collusion that perpetuates social injustice. Timely themes.

    At one point, Tracy is trapped in the town. There's no going for help, there's no moving forward. This works as a plot device - he is forced to deal with the consequences of having called out the injustice of the murder - but it is also the emotional landscape of a nation that has seen its own injustices committed. Once you acknowledge how you got here you will be stuck and cannot move on until you acknowledge that you yourself need to act. This seems a sound psychological principle; consciously *avoiding* that realization becomes the genesis of neurosis. This is the neurosis that plagues the sheriff, lacking the courage to act and having turned to drink as a result.

    Dean Jagger’s performance (the actor who played the sherrif) struck me as awkward. I found a weird timing to his lines, and an odd sense of waiting from Tracy in response. The scene here in this cartoon, in which Tracy is trying to size up the sheriff and solicit his help, was particularly noticeable. Dean's position, and the way he holds his hands on the desk, seemed curious (it felt deliberately 'continuity' conscious). But I can never tell if my response a result of an accurate criticism, or the result of my own expecting something, of if I'm unaware that the actors are doing something that should influence my response. (David Mamet's 'Practical Aesthetics' acting method, I guess, lending itself to that distinctive line-reading, is the first time I became cautious of my own reaction.)

    Still, his recitation of the line, "This ain't no, uh, information bureau," stuck out. And then it slipped out. Slipped out from the film and into my head and suddenly it echoed my own brain trying to assess reality while also denying its own role in creating reality. The sheriff is the law and order in the plot. If he can't be relied upon to provide reliable information, what do you have? This is my complaint with my own faculties in general; I'm always backtracking to confirm my bearings, and in the process feel as though I'm just getting further lost. I ask the question, and ask it again through multiple filters, taking it all apart, until what I'm left with is nothing but unusable elements. This is clearly mental illness, right? This is misery. And yet, everyone seems to think I'm a functioning member of society.

    In the story of the film, the sheriff's denial is a crucial moment: this is the realization the Heart of the film must fight - one-armed - without the benefit of the brain or the muscle. This tale is down to pure Righteousness. A fight based purely on faith. As this is a Hollywood movie (is it?), faith wins out in the end. Stranger boards Streamliner and leaves town. Wait, was it was a Western after all? End.



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