Wednesday, December 18, 2019

On Dangerous Ground: The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949), Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949)

Knocked-out loaded, ingesting a tried and true drug of choice,
contracted to punch past his prime. Sparring with shadows on
the bleak side of capitalism, bopping until dropping, dancing
and countering until only the scars remain standing. Smoke and
cigar tissue blur multiple crimes, in the name of defending one-
self at all times. Stoker, pleading for one more payday. Though
anyone who's been down for the count has heard that one be-
fore but never quite like this, in real-time (again, as opposed to,
what? unreal time?). Accompanied by those rounds of bruised
neon. So you ask, how much is a poem worth? It depends.
In this case, RKO parted with $1000 for Joseph Moncure March’s
middleweight narrative. Though a black boxer just out of prison,
this is post-war Hollywood, so forget that popular front bullshit.
Just grab a mouthpiece and deracinate where necessary, what-
ever to butter the popcorn, titillate fancies and  secure a place
on the under-card. Stoker's manager, Tiny, furtively shtum, 
having taken a punt against his fighter. But, hey, isn't that
Weegee keeping time, Stoker giving as good as he gets, ducking
without diving, his lethals broken by Little Boy, the crime boss-
synonymous with the punch that kayoed Hiroshima four years
earlier- exploiting sporting flesh. Wise had to travel all the way
to Long Beach to sniff some working class sweat, a hustler giving
a blow-by-blow to a blind man. Wise wanted Blondell, but
Hughes was drooling for more glamour, so opted for the
unglamorous Trotter, her critique at ring level, “Don't you see,
Bill, you'll always be just one punch away.” A split decision,
their lives depending on it. Chasing a final round, the low
blows, clinches, jabs, hooks and everything we claim to be true.

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

Face down in the proverbial amniotic, the swimming pool seen
from below. Us ordinaries, reflections in a mirror, might also be
dead. Yet who writes often cannot read. Lest one assumes the
role of screenwriter who narrates from death to an era when
Hollywood, if not the world, was so innocently tacky. In Wilder
moments there will always be a wholesome sucker, and even a
European butler, some former director fallen from grace, have
broken his proscenium to graft for an ageing star he discovered
years before. Taking a murdered actor and actress whose butler,
no less, murdered that actor. On the one hand, it's all smoke
and venom; on the other, something approaching the human
condition. Necessarily on the run from a repo man, because
debt, in the end, is what makes the world go round. Mistaken
for an undertaker whose c.v. includes burying chimpanzees.
“The dream...desperately enfolded her," like art imitating
barely more than nothing, the past uncomfortably present.
Watching Queen Kelly, the chimp unwillingly chimes at
midnight, in "your standard monkey funeral shot." A willing
gigolo, partaking of Sennett-style diversions and old-school
poker games. Louis B. to Wilder: “You should be tarred and
feathered and run out of Hollywood!" Wilder: "Go fuck your-
self." File under occupational dissent, with a dash of alienated
labour and commodity fetishism thrown in for good measure.