Stygian Gloom

Episode Two Hundred Forty One: Stygian Gloom.
In which we adjoin.

1 comment:

  1. Robert Rossen's 'The Hustler' (1961), starring Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott. I had seen this before, but a recently viewing impressed me as to how solidly raw it is emotionally. Many of the 'Angry Young Men' stories from the 50's feel stilted to me, in retrospect, but if this is what they were going for, I get it.

    When I grabbed this scene for this comic, I was still watching the film and hadn't realized what a portentous moment this exchange will turn out to be; nor had I sensed how chilling both the dialog and the significance of the location (hotel adjoining rooms) will turn out to be just a few hours later. That these two (George C. Scott, Piper Laurie) would end up in adjoining rooms points to the parallel relationships each has with Newman's Fast Eddie; Scott's Bert Gordon manipulating Eddie's obsessiveness and Laurie's Sarah Packard finding refuge in a fellow addict. But three is a crowd, and Gordon makes it quite clear, here, that Packard better keep out of his way. In the final frame he justifies his immorality with the typical hand-washing gesture (figuratively speaking).

    Roger Ebert's 2002 review notes that this was a breakthrough film for Newman, and that Scott was only appearing in his third film. This is hard to believe because the entire cast is so perfectly seasoned. Scott is so natural and unbothered in his amoral position that I am still somewhat shaken thinking about it. (Ebert also refers to the pool-hall feel as being imbued with Stygian gloom, which is where I copped the title.)

    Laurie's wiped-out drunk, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to piece together a life, and here, confronting an interloper threatening to unravel the small piece of it she's managed to scrape in place... That resonated with me. The good she sees in Fast Eddie, and how she leans on it to keep herself standing up, is portrayed as such a vulnerable calm when Gordon's wolf catches the scent and so confidently kicks it out from under her. The vulnerability that she portrayed - the exposure of an alcoholic, the powerlessness of being a woman in that culture - was perhaps the most moving part of the film for me. Feeling at prey to manipulative interests.

    The title, as appealing on its own as it was, turned out to nicely compliment the letterboxing that incidentally ended up filling the margins on three of the frames. This was a result of messing with the framing of the shots in that scene, some of which were resized to exclude the aspect ratio and cut out the letterboxing on one or both sides. Looking at the title, I realized that these black bars (onto which I arranged the dialog) serve to encroach and bring a claustrophobic sense of dread. Less accidental, the halftone pattern was played with for quite some time, and I think it ended up perfect.

    So, this one turned out to be an A+, which is rewarding. A happy confirmation that I am able to replicate the success I had with that second Soap Strip comic in which the two women are discussing Occam's Emery Board. And that feels good.



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