Sunday, August 22, 2004

Movie: In A Lonely Place (1950)

Movies may have the freedom to engage directly with adult themes now, and thanks to the revised ratings system, you’ll even know when they do going in. But few films of recent vintage match the disturbing impact of this Nicholas Ray drama. It’s often categorized as film noir when it’s actually a psychological portrait etched in acid.

Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a fading screenwriter who becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. Bogart’s performance is one of the most daring ever given by a major star; he completely inverts his persona. Superficially he’s the wisecracking, confident Bogie we know and love. But here the glibness stems from the fact that Steele genuinely doesn’t care about anyone other than himself, and his brash self-assurance masks a welter of neuroses. He’s paranoid, self-sabotaging, prone to fits of rage and despair.

Bogart holds nothing back; at times his performance is difficult to watch. For all the praise heaped on Marlon Brando for his revelatory work in LAST TANGO IN PARIS, there’s a showy aspect to his work in that film. Bogart achieves the same ends here simply by delving deeper into our image of him. He’s matched beat for beat by Gloria Grahame as Dix’s last chance for happiness. The ending is heartbreaking. So is the knowledge that this story would never be told in today’s Hollywood. Dix would be put on Paxil, embrace his status as a hack, and become a bore at parties.

Concert: Liza Minnelli

Rosemarie won tickets to this show, along with V.I.P. wristbands. We didn’t feel V.I., because everybody in the joint seemed to have them.

Not that it dampened our enthusiasm. It was a beautiful night for an outdoor concert, especially one featuring a legendary performer. Liza may not have the voice she used to, but she knows how to work what she’s got. She did what I think of as a Foxwoods set: 75 minutes of hits and then everybody back out to the tables. The high point was ‘So What,’ a non-Sally Bowles number cut from the film version of CABARET.

I wanted Liza to mention Seattle by name during her patter; the show is such a well-oiled machine, right down to the ‘impromptu’ a cappella encore of ‘I’ll Be Seeing You,’ that I was convinced she didn’t actually know where she was. (I crave those Spinal Tap-meets-the-Simpsons, “Good evening, Springfield” moments.) But I got something even better. She had just started a song when Seattle’s waterfront streetcar rolled past, blowing its horn. Liza segued into ‘The Trolley Song,’ then lost her place and decided to break for her costume change early. It was a wonderful burst of spontaneity that made the set’s polish gleam more brightly. Liza is among the last of those veteran entertainers who understand showmanship, who can make a large venue feel intimate. I’m glad I had the chance to see her perform live.

Miscellaneous: Link

Newspapers across the country consider the fate of the daily comic strip.