Sunday, April 20, 2008

DVD: Blast of Silence (1961)

Remembering ...

You’d heard of this movie before, in whispered tones. Church voices. Blast of Silence. A gritty, low-down noir shot guerilla-style on the streets of New York. Back in the early days of scrounging together bucks to make films on the cheap. You’d never seen it. Figured you never would. But you catch a break when lips slip that it’s getting the Criterion treatment. Five star all the way.

You jump on it as soon as you have the chance. Grass don’t grow under your feet.

You watch it, this movie written and directed by Allen Baron. He even stars in it, playing Frankie Bono, a Cleveland hit man who trains in to New York over Christmas to take care of a guy. But Frankie runs into some people from his past, a girl. He starts thinking about his life. You don’t want to do that. Not with that life.

You know the movie’s not perfect. The plot gets a little convenient, and if he can’t see the ending coming you figure Baby Boy Frankie Bono may not be the sharpest cannon in the shed.

But you’re not watching this one for the story. No. You’re watching it for the mood. The feeling. The energy that Baron finds on the streets of your hometown and channels into every frame. In Harlem. In Greenwich Village, beatniks pounding their drums and their libidos ‘til everything’s raw.

Remembering ...

You read Lawrence Block’s A Diet of Treacle not too long ago, from the same time and set on those same streets. The movie takes you right there. In style, in attitude, you’re watching one of those old Gold Medal paperbacks come to life. Or as close as you’re gonna get.

Most of all, you’re grooving on that voiceover. Written by blacklisted writer Waldo Salt under a phony name. Delivered by blacklisted actor Lionel Stander under no name at all. Putting you in Frankie Bono’s head. Making you feel Frankie’s palms sweat. Or not sweat. You know the meteorology of Frankie’s hands is important. You can’t get enough of that voiceover, think that Dave Kehr had it dead to rights when he called it “second person accusative.” You start doing that voiceover all the time. You can’t stop. You understand why friends of yours lapse into it on the streets of Philadelphia after a showing at NoirCon. You wish you were there to do it, too.

You even dig the extra features on the DVD. Baron’s still around, still kicking, still feisty. You like the guy, Martin Scorsese crossed with George C. Scott from The Hustler. He had a nice career for himself in TV. He takes you back to the locations, thirty, then almost fifty years later. Shows you the ways the neighborhoods change. And the ways they don’t.

You don’t see the best extra, though. A short graphic novel adaptation of the movie by Sean Phillips, one of the genius bad-asses behind Criminal with Ed Brubaker. That’s because you punked out, rented the DVD when you knew you should have bought it. You’ll pony up now, though. You want to come back to it.

Remembering ...

You watched Murder by Contract a few months back, another hit man movie. Picked by another genius bad-ass, James Ellroy. Vince Edwards wandering L.A., starting to feel bad about killing. You remember Ellroy talking up Contract as the first movie to give you the assassin as existential hero. Yeah, maybe. But you think Silence is the first one to get it right.