This year I’m devoting more time to revisiting films I’ve seen only once, a practice I’ve shamefully neglected. My Reintroduction posts are a place for me to jot down some thoughts and observations.


#28. A Face in the Crowd (1957, Kazan)
First Seen in: 2007

My overpowering memories from A Face in the Crowd were the beginning and the end, the major landmarks in the transformation of Lonesome Rhodes. It’s still startlingly prescient today; its indiscreetness beaming out of the screen, full-on assaulting the audience. There’s a nightmarish quality to the film, with Andy Griffith at the helm. This is an in-your-face Method-like performance, an example of the more modern style of acting to be ushered into fifties American film, with Elia Kazan’s work being a major flourish zone of the time for  actors to strut their emotive bursts. Griffith starts grating and ends grating; it’s one of the great performances, all hoarse guffaws and boundless in-your-face stamina. Griffith loads his performance with endless shadings and variations on the character’s defining traits.

Screenwriter Budd Schulberg and Griffith could have made the Lonesome of the beginning and end unrecognizable to each other. But Lonesome always remains Lonesome, except now he’s drunk and deluded with both megalomania and alcohol. That streak of the wandering man is erased, substituted with a quickened sense of the power of influence, of his voice. I can’t harp enough about Griffith, because his presence is what had stayed with me through the years when I thought of the film and how much I loved it. In the latter half, another Lonesome personality emerges. He has a tendency to be still in his scenes, shrewdly observant in his business suit, daggers in his eyes. The more devoted his audience becomes, the more he despises them. The performance reflects a this-could-happen-to-anyone theme. All you need is a taste.

Elia Kazan and Harry Stradling use the lighting of the opening prison-set scene to influence everything that comes after. Stradling is heavy on shadowing, highlighting the escalating monstrous presence of Lonesome and the film’s bitingly sinister edge. I had forgotten the havoc Lonesome wreaks on Patricia Neal’s (who is fantastic) mental state. So many shots are concentrated on Marcia looking at him, at first like a chanced-upon discovery, then of desire, and finally a what-have-I-created haze paired with masochistic lovelorn. The closer you are to him, the more you’ll be hurt, unless you hurt him first. A race to the finish. A Face in the Crowd is pretty unrelenting stuff. We are at the whim of mass media and ‘personalities’, choice is an illusion and we are all suckers. Both a companion piece to Network, a fellow abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter takedown of mass media, and my favorite Elia Kazan film.

Forbidden Games_best shot

#29. Forbidden Games (1952, Clement)
First Seen in: 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot post:


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