Archive | April 2018

The American Friend

Wim Wenders’ 1977 film, The American Friend, was one of his first films with a large English-speaking cast although various characters speak German and French throughout the film as well. Although an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s then-as-yet-unpublished novel Ripley’s Game, Wenders incorporated elements, scenes, characters and themes from some of her earlier works in the Ripley series. He transposed many of the locations in the book from Hamburg to Paris, and vice versa, whilst also shooting portions of the film in neither place (specifically in New York).

The film is an ode, an homage to film noir, though it is not strictly a neo-noir and fits more succinctly within the arthouse cinema that Wenders and directors like him were working to develop through the 60s, 70s, and 80s in the New Hollywood Movement and the New German Cinema. This burgeoning cinema was inspired by auteurs of the Hollywood system in the 40s and 50s who created noirs, but it was just as strongly inspired by the French New Wave,  Surrealism, the Western, the Thriller, and the film forms that helped to spawn film noir in the first place like Expressionism, Exploitation, and Poetic Realism. As a sort of constant reminder of Wender’s influences and contemporaries, he decided to cast them, mostly directors in their own rights, as the mobsters in his film.

Influences included the casting of the film noir auteurs and Hollywood pariahs: Samuel Fuller (as Pogash, a forger of paintings by a deceased fictional artist named Derwatt) and Nicholas Ray (as The American: a mob figure representing the American syndicate), each of whom had in his own way contributed greatly to the grammar of film noir. The former left Hollywood during the blacklists and later had a long and esteemed career in French cinema as a director and a darling of the Cahiers writers and the French New Wave, which later emerged from that critical movement. The latter was cast out of Hollywood due to his unstoppable substance abuse and his perceived lack of interest in the commercial appeal of his films, which obviously irked his producers.

Contemporaries included the French directors Gerard Blain (as Raoul Minot, a sympathetic crime boss) and the great Jean Eustache (as a Friendly Man within the syndicate) who helped move French cinema beyond the New Wave during his short, but impactful career. Swiss director Daniel Schmid (Igraham) and British director Sandy Whitelaw (a Doctor in league with the mob) round out the European contemporary crowd along with Wender’s New German Cinema counterpart Peter Lilienthal (as Marcangelo).

Finally, to fully round out the class of mobsters for the film, Wenders needed to find his Ripley. He first broached the idea of playing the role to American independent filmmaker John Cassavettes (whose work was influential on the French New Wave, on the very concept of Independent filmmaking, and on auteur filmmaking throughout the world). But as Cassavettes was busy making a film at the time, he told Wenders to consider casting Dennis Hopper instead. Hopper, one of the visionaries and first big voices of the New Hollywood cinema of America, was just coming off of work Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now (one of at least three including The Godfather and The Godfather II). During that film he had immersed himself so deeply into his character using stimulants and hallucinogenics that he had to go through a short stint in rehab before he could even act again for The American Friend.

Besides directors, the few remaining roles were cast with Wenders regulars, as well as an American Folk Singer named David Blue (in the role of a Texan man who buys one of the forgeries by Pogash) and the second principal character of Jonathan Zimmerman, which was played by Bruno Ganz, a veritable force to be reckoned with within German, and European, cinema for the next thirty years. But at this time, Ganz was known solely as a theater actor of great force. Wenders admired him and had seen his few teleplays and the one film adaptation of a play he had performed in for an Eric Rohmer film, as well as dozens of his performances on the stage, and decided that he would be perfect for the role. Ultimately, he would become the face of Wenders’ cinema in much of the same manner that Klaus Kinski had for Wenders’ contemporary Werner Herzog.

The film tells the story of Jonathan Zimmerman, a restoration artist and framer of paintings and photographs, who slights Tom Ripley at an auction by refusing to shake his hand (knowing that Ripley is a fraud and a cheat of forgery racket ilk). Zimmerman is dying of a rare blood disease and is unsure of how long he has left to live. This makes him into a sometimes ornery fellow, which doubly explains his initial irritation with Ripley, though he will later apologize to him for his rude behavior and the two will become friends. But this friendship begins all too late as Ripley punishes the Zimmerman for his earlier slight. Ripley is offered a hit job on two men in the mafia, which he turns down and decides to recommend Zimmerman for. He spreads rumors that Zimmerman has not much longer to live and that his condition has reached the terminal stages, which means he could use the money from the wet jobs to support his family after he is gone. The news spreads quickly and even has Zimmerman wondering whether he is actually dying and just hasn’t been alerted by his doctors. He begins to reflect on life and death more seriously and eventually comes to the decision to take on the job.

After the first assassination, which is done pretty sloppily and would probably leave Zimmerman open to police suspicions, if the man he killed wasn’t a low-life mobster that the cops didn’t care about, Ripley finds out that Zimmerman took the job. He has become friends with Zimmerman and formed a bond of sorts, and as such, on Zimmerman’s subsequent hits, Ripley tags along to help out (he does this also because he feels responsible for Zimmerman’s current predicament). His aid proves indispensable as the next event is complicated by multiple bodyguards constantly watching and protecting the target. But they pull it off. As the murders commence and the job looks finished, somehow news of the identity of the man who ordered the hits, Raoul Minot, gets out to the remaining mafia bosses and Minot becomes a target. Ripley and Zimmerman, who previously imagined that they were through with the whole matter, must now scheme to protect their boss, and by proxy themselves. Because if he goes, they’re next in line as the assassins who actually carried out the hits.

The film is at times very organic and fluid like the handheld camera style of the French New Wave and the New Hollywood movements, at other times the stylization of the piece is more expressionistic and traditionally noir, veritably oozing with mise-en-scene. Sometimes the acting of Ganz reaches a fever pitch of traditional dramatic acting and pathos, and at other moments, like the glorious sequence at the end of the film as Zimmerman and Ripley drive along a secluded beach to burn the bodies of their victims, the sky and the reflective sand are nearly indiscernible and it appears as if the cars are floating across a landscape of waves and clouds. This mode is an ethereal vision of cinema, which is part of arthouse style Wenders helped to develop. This sequence probably comes closest to pure cinema and cinema as painting and sculpting time than anything this side of Tarkovsky and Bergman, and is a style that would return to greatest effect in Wender’s classic arthouse film Wings of Desire.

Much of the experimentation and mixing of styles on the film came from the various inspirations of the directors casted as actors in the film. The greatest direct influences came from oft-time shot and approach advice by Samuel Fuller and the inspiration of Dennis Hopper who pushed Wim Wenders to greater and greater experiments and incorporation of ideas and happy accidents into the finished work. But none of it could have been captured in the manner it was without Wenders’ cinematographer Robby Muller with whom he had worked with as early as 1970 on Summer in the Citywould continue to work alongside until 1995 on Beyond the Clouds, and who provided wonderful work especially on this film, and on Paris, Texas years later. Muller would also collaborate with American director Jim Jarmusch on five films between 1986 and 2003 including his classic Mystery Train, with Lars Von Trier on Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, as well as with numerous other directors both in Europe and in America on independent and large studio productions. But The American Friend is Muller at top form (he even developed the use of fluorescent lighting for films on this work): a level he would astonishingly reach many more times throughout his career as a cinematographer who can safely be ranked amongst the top 50 cameramen of all time.



Cody Ward


(Catch my previous Ralph Bakshi film reviews here: Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic)

For Ralph Bakshi’s third feature in 1975, he decided to tackle a particularly prickly issue head-on in one of the most outrageous, schismatic ways one might imagine: A take-down and critique of racism, prejudice, and stereotyping using racist caricatures to, hopefully, elicit a proper cleaning of house for all those creators in the animation, film, and television industries who had for years been creating caricatures of their own either volitionally or unwillingly.

The mixed animation/live-action film incorporates sequences and characters from the old racially-charged Uncle Remus storybooks transported to a then-modern Harlem where the characters of Brer Rabbit, Bear, and Fox have become Brother Rabbit (Philip Michael Thomas), Brother Bear (Barry White), and Preacher Fox (Charles Gordone) aided by Old Man Bone (Scat Man Crothers). As these animated characters move through an early 70s Harlem, they fight to kill the cops and mafia muscling in and always taking a cut on business and families for ‘protection’ and the promise of not arresting people. But there are constant schisms within the community that have to be addressed along the way.

The first of these being the role of religion in the community as horrendously tied up in the system of oppression with preachers acting as big-wig rock stars of sorts merely taking their weekly ten percent from parishioners without providing any political, economic, social, or even brute force capital in return with which to battle the ‘whitey’ forces draining the community. In a radical move, Bakshi has Brother’s Bear and Rabbit muscle in to kill the local megachurch clergyman (something even a good self-respecting Christian can typically support!) and take his till to buy guns for the upcoming revolution.

Next, the two open a whorehouse that they use to lure in the local corrupt police chief Madigan. Unbeknownst to him, they have hired his own daughter as one of their girls. when Madigan finds out, he flies into a rage and kills his own deputies who have been consorting with the girl for some time. Brother Rabbit knocks out Madigan, has him painted black, and drops him and his dead deputies off in an abandoned lot. He calls the police and anonymously tips them off about some black guy in that location who has killed a few officers. And what comes next is a pretty amazing ironic turn, and a revenge doled out most fitting as Madigan’s own men shoot him down in the lot once he comes to. In a beautiful turn of fate, Madigan’s racism subverts itself and ends in his own death, and his actions can only be interpreted as insanity on his part, leaving no connection to the event as part and parcel of the black community’s revenge.

Finally, Preacher Fox opens a whorehouse where he marries the Johns to his whores for one day before divorcing them. As this process is one of sexual action between consenting adults, and the money paid to the house can be accounted for as marital and divorce fees, he has a good tidy profit and a legal business, which is difficult to prosecute against and makes police involvement in the prostitution gambit in Harlem less likely. As Brother Bear and Rabbit collect all of the mob’s protection money from local businesses and instead use that money to really protect the community, the Godfather begins to send his sons to assassinate the new Harlem bosses.

Bear and Rabbit kill each of his sons and all looks lost for the mob in the region, except for Fox who continues to pay his protection fees to the Godfather. In this way, he gains the ear and affections of the obese white cockroach he is (a de-glorification of the mafia was one of Bakshi’s goals in the film as his contemporaries in the New Hollywood movement of live-action had been making films portraying them as commendable and honorable figures for years) and convinces him to tempt the strongman Brother Bear into a career as a Heavyweight Boxer for the mob. As it was pre-planned, Bear accepts after some deliberation, fights, and eventually becomes the Heavyweight World Champion, which gives Rabbit the opening to trap the Godfather and his remaining family and extinguish their flames for good.

As Harlem is subsequently freed and all those not in solidarity with the prospect of bettering the place are eliminated, a live-action story is simultaneously taking place. Randy (Thomas) and Pappy (Crothers) escape jail while their friends Sampson (White) and Preacherman (Gordone) drive down their way to pick them up. Although just abut everyone is shot up by prison guards during the trip, the four miraculously escape, alive. This signifies that solidarity and tenacity in the approach to total freedom from oppression, prejudice, and racism can, and will, win the day, one day, in time.

The film was given an ‘R’ rating unlike Bakshi’s previous two ‘X’ rated films, and as such, had a real possibility of reaching more theaters and eyes than ever before in Bakshi’s career. This would have been necessary to recoup the $1.6 million USD budget of the film (almost a doubling of his previous budget on Heavy Traffic of $900,000). But it was attacked immediately upon its first screenings by the Congress of Racial Equality who called the film racist. Many theaters didn’t want to deal with the prospect of being boycotted for showing the film or dealing with other sorts of protests for merely choosing to show this specific film, and as such, it made almost none of its money back, despite the film’s support as a ‘difficult satire’ by the more respected NAACP, which had apparently actually given the film a view or two.

And despite its lack of showings theatrically, the film has garnered a strong critical support as one of, if not the greatest Ralph Bakshi film: a sentiment he supports, and which I find it difficult to argue against. And if all of this wasn’t enough to drive one to search out and view the film as an artistic and social document of a progressive nature, then it might also interest one to note that on this film Bakshi hired a largely black animation staff including graffiti artists Bakshi personally mentored and trained in the rudiments of animation, and the first female African American animator, Brenda Banks.


Cody Ward

[Next up: Wizards]

Mai Mai Miracle

(Check out my review for Sunao Katabuchi’s first feature-length animated film here: Princess Arete)

Of Sunao Katabuchi’s three animated features, his first, Princess Arete, is the best in my estimation. It is also the hardest to find, was the least well distributed theatrically, and received the fewest critic awards. None of his films are bad, and each has its moments of brilliance of animation and theme, but I believe as his career continues, Arete will come to be seen as his first real masterwork. That said, Sunao’s second film, Mai Mai Miracle, is great and interesting in its own right.

The story, set in rural Japan (in Hofu in Yamaguchi Prefecture) during the mid-1950s, recounts the adventures and relationships of a young girl growing up during the earliest years of Japan’s industrial-commercial resurgence known as the Economic Miracle (not the ‘miracle’ of the title). It is based on a script adaptation (by Sunao Katabuchi) of a novelization by Nobuko Takagi of her own autobiography. The process is a little bit labyrinthine insofar as Takagi first wrote about her life and published an autobiography, then turned that book into a novel, then had that novel turned into a screenplay by Sunao, who then adapted the screenplay into the animated film.

Like Studio Ghibli pioneer Hayao Miyazaki, Sunao likes to adapt works by female authors, both British (as on Princess Arete) and Japanese. His prior film represents his interest in myth and fantasy and aligns well with one-half of Miyazaki’s thematic approach (as in Castle in the Sky or Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) while being visually similar to the Toei productions of the 1960s like the film Horus: Prince of the Sun on which Miyazaki first worked with the director Isao Takahata with whom he would later co-found Studio Ghibli. On Mai Mai Miracle, the obsession is with rural Japan in the post-war period. The temporality of the film, its setting, its themes of childhood imagination and personal growth, and the fantasy and light within the piece mirror My Neighbor Totoro.

But unlike that film, Mai Mai Miracle is full to the brim with darkness as well. The children of this film must come to terms with death not only through the death of their pet goldfish, which dies through their own negligence, but through real deaths of actual people. The children in the film who play together form close bonds and call themselves the Suicide Squad as they often attempt wild schemes like investigating potentially dangerous caves and creating pools by damming small streams. The cool kid of the group, Tatsuyoshi, lost his mother years ago. His father is a policeman who drowns his sorrows in whiskey at his favorite dive bar in town. After a particularly bad night emotionally, he drinks himself to death, leaving his son behind without a father or a mother.

Another girl, Kiiko, the one who really starts the ball rolling plotwise, comes to the town from Tokyo. Her father is a doctor who has just procured a lucrative position as a the head of hospital in the rural region. Kiiko must adapt to the realities of life in the countryside, make new friends after leaving behind her friends in the city, and cope with the loss of her mother who had drowned to death in an unexplained incident months prior. By the end of the film, all of the children have begun to understand the world a bit better and learned to deal with their emotions and reactions regarding death and dying, suffering and pain. And so, in the end, when Shinko Aoiki’s (the main protagonist of the film) grandfather dies and her family sells the farm and moves to the city, she can reflect on the death as just one more change in life and consequently does not mourn his death for as long as she might otherwise.

The film is about a lot of other things as well. The town is very old and contains within it ruins of the foundations of ancient homes, including one in which a girl lived without any other child companions over 1,000 years ago. She was the daughter of a feudal lord and kept hidden away in a manner of speaking, separated from other children, from commoners. This figure of the lonely noble child was derived in part from Sunao’s mind and in part from the writings in The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon. Shinko and Kiiko learn about this girl from a young archaeologist doing research in the area, and the two develop an affinity for her, wishing that they could bridge the gap of time between her and themselves to become her friend and give her some company through the years in which she waited around alone. Through the force of their imaginations and the miraculous power of Shinko’s Mai Mai (a pet term for the cowlick in her hair), the two manage, in a nebulous sort of way, to transport themselves in this manner, to reach the girl, and to influence her life in a way that allows the girl to leave the palace surreptitiously and make friends with a commoner girl. This relationship gives her some meaning in life and Shinko and Kiiko’s roles in bringing it about cede some to their lives as well.

Sunao’s first film was distributed and produced by his employer at the time, Studio 4°C. But by 2006, he had moved on to the much larger and resourceful Studio Madhouse. At Madhouse, Sunao directed the Black Lagoon anime series in 2006, and after this test, was given the go-ahead to direct his first feature for the Studio, which began production in 2007, was completed in 2008, and slated for a wide international release in 2009. It was popular locally and ran in cinemas in Japan for an astonishing seven months. It did really well at the South Korean box office and played to festival circuits in the US, UK, France, Belgium, Canada, and Australia. And because of the strength of Madhouse’s brand recognition and advertising strength, Mai Mai Miracle won awards for best animated feature in festivals in Japan, France, Canada, and Belgium, whereas his previous feature had only won a minor excellence award at the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Just goes to show that quality may be important (and Mai Mai certainly rises above the quality of your average anime film), but at least just as important is how you market a product.


Cody Ward

[Next up: In This Corner of the World]

Snakes, Trains, and Digimon (Digimon Tamers: Episode 15)

(Check out part 14 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The Digimon Tamers bond has become stronger than ever before and for the first time ever, the three are hanging out together in their leisure time to discuss the nature of the recent disturbances in their world. Takato and Guilmon even make a team war banner with chibi versions of their faces, the faces of their partner Digimon, and of Calumon who they realize by now has some positive effect on their Digimon and can often be the key to Digivolving them to ever higher levels.

The scene transitions to a vignette within the subway system of the city. A police officer escorts a drunk man out of the subway (which is translated for the English dub into an encounter between the officer and a man who is sick because he ate a sandwich from a vending machine, even though children are not idiots and American youth would not be badly served by their animation if realities of life were pictured and broached within them). A thick fog akin to a Digital Field begins to emanate from far down range in the tunnel and moves slowly toward the station platform. Some sort of Digimon is present within it. the officer recognizes the danger and gets the hell out of there as fast as possible (while dragging the drunk with him, of course).

The next day, Takato wakes up Henry at 6:30 a.m. by calling to ask if he wants to patrol the city with him. It’s a Saturday, so Henry makes an excuse to get out of doing it. Rika similarly wants to avoid running around town aimlessly with Takato on her day off, but has a better excuse as she and her grandmother have already planned to visit the theater to watch a Noh play: A traditional form of Japanese theater that is artful and transcendentally styled, symbolic and extremely powerful philosophically-speaking, but which is also very slow and incomprehensible even for modern Japanese speakers as the performers use stylized classical language. From personal experience watching the Noh theater in Kyoto, I can confirm that most people fall asleep during the performance whether foreigners or Japanese, and many more would if complimentary highly-caffeinated tea was not provided for free during the intermission. Rika attends the event and only manages to remain awake by thinking about unrelated topics, like the burgeoning relationship as partners between Renamon and herself.

As Takato leaves his home to head toward the park and rendezvous with Guilmon, he finds a group of classmates (including his friends Kazu and Kenta, and his crush Jeri) standing outside. They all know that he is a Tamer and politely request that he bring them to meet Guilmon, which he does. And just like that Takato’s plans for a day of serious work patrolling the city and defeating aberrant Digimon is scrapped in lieu of fun in the park with Guilmon and his friends. Impmon will also arrive there and make fun of Guilmon for playing with human beings and acting like a human being. But the true feelings of Impmon are clear: he wants to play with them too, he wants to have a friend to move through this world with and enjoy life with. Just not Ai and Mako who were too rough with him and too young to appreciate personal space and boundaries.

After the play, Rika and her grandmother return home using the subway. There, the Digimon in the Digital Field makes himself apparent. His name is Sandiramon, a large Ultimate-level Snake-type Holy Beast Digimon who is one of the Devas like Mihiramon before him. Renamon battles with him as Rika tries to determine his level and type with her D-Power. Once Rika realizes that Sandiramon is an Ultimate, she uses her Digivolution Modify card, Digivolves Renamon into Kyubimon and tries her best to stave off defeat by the much stronger opponent.

Henry has left home for the day to complete a few personal errands. His train collides with Sandiramon on the track, but together with Terriermon and a ‘WarGreymon Brave Shield’ Modify card, he and his partner work to protect those within the train and evacuate them before Sandiramon vaporizes it. He next Digivolves Terriermon into Gargomon and assists Kyubimon in the fight. Rika and Henry both attempt to call Takato, but they have no phone service underground. And in an odd turn of fate, the one guy who was most gungho about going out and fighting Digimon that day is away from the danger in a park, playing with his friends.

Luckily, Impmon left the park a while back after feelings of frustration about his desires to join the others became too much for him to handle. He somehow managed to wander into the subway terminal where Rika and Henry are battling the Snake Deva and decides to warn Takato that his friends are fighting for their lives while he just plays around in the park (making sure in the process to frame this helpful disclosure as a way to make fun of Takato and Guilmon). Takato realizes that the simplest and quickest way to reach them and help is to dig straight down into the subway from where he is currently standing. He Modifies Guilmon with a ‘Digmon’s Drill’ card, advises his overzealous classmates in the park not to follow him as they could be in mortal danger if they chose to do so, and himself follows Guilmon as he burrows deep within the Earth and into the subway.

Once there, Takato Digivolves Guilmon into Growlmon and uses a modify card leant to him by Kazu mere moments prior and strengthens Growlmon with a ‘Power Plug-in.’ The three Champion-level Digimon work together and manage to defeat the Ultimate-level Sandiramon who, as he lay dying, tells them all about his identity and purpose: ‘I am one of the twelve Devas sent by the sovereign one.’ He tells the Tamers that he will be avenged by his brothers, the Digimon who ‘refuse to be Tamed by mere humans’ intent on ruling both the real world and the Digital World.

Sandiramon’s energy is used up completely and he evaporates into data, leaving the Tamers to reflect on the fact that they now have ten more Ultimate-level Digimon to take on in the coming days and weeks, and they may potentially even have to battle more than one at a time. But because Growlmon can Digivolve through Matrix Digivolution to the Ultimate-level, any Digimon fan knows that so too will Kyubimon and Gargomon be able to do so in due time. Which means the Digidestined will probably have no problem dispensing with the Devas. This so-called ‘sovereign one’, however, may be a different story.



The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Grow Mon Grow (Digimon Tamers: Episode 14)

(Catch part 13 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Calumon runs through a crowd. He is being chased by the bully Impmon who has been throwing fire balls at him in a stated attempt at defeating him and absorbing his data. Suddenly everyone in the crowd looks up. Above the office building within which Hypnos functions, the Juggernaut program has taken effect and formed a whirlpool that is dragging Digimon from all over the city into it’s nucleus where they are then destroyed.

Terriermon feels himself being pulled toward it, but is somehow able to result the force of the vortex’s magnetic draw on Digital beings, possibly through his connection with a Tamer, which gives him more physical substance than his Bio-emerged counterparts without them. Rika and Takato both notice the disturbance separately, but somehow manage to meet up in the same part of town with Henry shortly thereafter.

Inside Hypnos, Yamaki gloats about his current success in destroying so many Digimon within the city. Thinking he has won the day and may soon wipe the Digital World out of existence, he waxes prophetic: ‘Beasts of mayhem soon to go away, the world will soon be free from this pestilence forever’ (kind of oddly phrased, eh?). His employees inside of Hypnos must endure the horrendous screams of Digimon as they are killed in the Juggernaut’s vortex. Riley’s partner can barely make it through the proceedings and seems to experience a minor mental breakdown at the horror of the events she is overseeing and help to continue.

But then it happens again: Yamaki’s confidence in the powers of technology and brute force over against existence and life is proven to be wrong-headed. An Anomaly appears within the vortex itself, infiltrating the Juggernaut program, and decommissioning it before Hypnos had time to destroy all Digimon in the area, and eventually, the entire Digital World. A voice projects throughout all of the surrounding area, both physically from atop the office building skyscraper and by proxy through the hacking of television, radio, and internet signals: ‘Humans created us, but now we are free. the time has come to claim our place in the real world.’ He proclaims that the humans have only one purpose under this new rule: to serve the Digimon.

Yamaki is frustrated once again in his efforts. He tells the voice that he will ‘never be a servant to any of you data scum!’ and says that he will never let these prophecies come to fruition. The voice just makes fun of Yamaki and tells him that his program was the sole reason that he [the voice] was able to appear in the real world in the first place. Without Yamaki, the portal between the worlds may never have been opened, made accessible. Takato realizes that the collision of the two worlds could result in both of their destructions and runs off toward the building to confront the Digimon atop it. But on the way, he crosses paths with Yamaki who grabs Takato by the throat and lifts him from the ground. Henry and Rika show up and threaten to force Yamaki to stop, which he does of his own will, showing that Yamaki can be beaten by even the words of a group of young kids. He saunters off, defeated, and dejected.

When the three Tamers reach the building, Renamon jumps up toward the top of the structure and Takato lends Rika his Digivolution modify card, which she uses on Renamon to Digivolve her into Kyubimon (and which also calls into question why they never thought of doing that in the past when they really needed to Digivolve and were unable). At the top of the structure is a Tiger Holy Beast Digimon called Mihiramon. An Ultimate-level Digimon (one of twelve in a group known as the Devas whose purposes are still obscure at this point in the series) who makes short work of both Kyubimon and then Gargomon (who also Digivolves using the Digivolution Modify Card).

The last hope of the Tamers and their world is Guilmon, who Digivolves into Growlmon and takes advantage of a weakness Gargomon recognized in Mihiramon’s battle style: When not attacking, he circles around and is open to attack from the side. Growlmon exploits this and launches both a Dragon Slash attack and a Pyro Blaster beam. both connect, but cause no damage to the Ultimate-level Digimon. Mihiramon bites Growlmon, thereby rending him almost in half, but just as Growlmon begins to fade away and perish, he makes a psychic connection with his Tamer Takato.

The two are transported spiritually or mentally to some sort of in-between realm, a stream of clocks between times where Growlmon can be recovered and the two can make a rally for one last attack. Growlmon asks for Takato’s help, says he needs Takato to win this fight, and that without him all hope is lost. Takato claims he is not worthy of Growlmon, that his defeat was Takato’s fault in the first place, that he has been a coward, but he realizes that this is the last chance. So he takes it. Takato awakens from his daydream to find himself grasping the hand of Calumon, and not Growlmon. As he grabs for a Modify Card, one transforms into a Blue Card through the force of Takato’s will. He scans the card, which activates a Matrix Digivolution!

But he can’t activate it alone. Calumon’s forehead glows bright red: ‘Crystal Matrix Activate!’ Growlmon Digivolves into his Ultimate level: WarGrowlmon. He takes a beating from Mihiramon. every blow of which Takato feels just as does WarGrowlmon, which represents their link as something more than merely that of partners and friends, but of a symbiotic unit of sorts growing ever closer to unification. They launch their Atomic Blaster attack and obliterate their opponent.

Takato, Henry, and Rika are overjoyed that their Digimon are saved. Yamaki is dumbfounded that the children were able to once again clean up his mess, and even reach the Ultimate-level in the process. Kazu and Kenta, who now know that Takato really is a Digimon Tamer envy him, but have been cheering their friend on from the sidelines. Jeri thinks Takato is cute. And WarGrowlmon calls Takato a worthy Tamer. All seems right with the world for the moment, except now the existence of Digimon is no longer a secret and everyone knows that Takato and his friends are Tamers, which may become a problem in the coming episodes.



The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]


(Check out my previous film noir essay here: They Made Me A Criminal)

It has been a good run this past two months and now this film noir essay series draws to a close. Most of the films I reviewed over this time were ones I had never seen previously, and I felt inclined, at first, to continue the process here, but felt it more fitting to essay my favorite noir, the one trad noir closer to my heart than any other: D.O.A.

This 1949 film is, in my estimation, the crowning achievement of the career of one Rudolph Mate. The man began his career in German cinema in the 1910s as a camera assistant working (coincidentally coming up alongside another great camera operator in his colleague and fellow student Karl Freund) before working his way up to the role of cinematographer in the late teens. He developed a style that used deep shadows and chiaroscuro, high contrast, and a very pure cinema approach, which aided him as cinematographer for the greatest of all Danish directors, Carl Dreyer, between 1924-32. During these years, Mate contributed to dozens of films by other directors, as well as three of Dreyer’s five films (Michael, Le Passion de Jean d’Arc, and Vampyr), the latter two of which are classics not only within Dreyer’s oeuvre, but within the history of cinema itself.

In 1934, Mate worked as cinematographer on Fritz Lang’s French fantasy film Liliom, which was the last European picture of Lang’s career for many years to come. With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, many of Mate’s contemporaries had fled the continent for America. Directly after Liliom, Lang left as well, and one can assume he discussed the move with Mate as sometime in the following weeks or months Mate made the move himself.

Known primarily for comedies and action films for the majority of his American cinematographic career between 1935-39, he finally began to break away in 1940 when he provided the cinematography for Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, for which his work was nominated for an Academy Award. This proved to be the first such nomination in what would become a five-year run in which he received a nomination every year for some film or other. With the 1944 war paranoia thriller Address Unknown, the 1946 Hayworth noir vehicle Gilda, and the 1947 Orson Welles’ film The Lady From Shanghai (in which Rita Hayworth also starred), Mate had found a genre within the American Hollywood system that was perfectly suited to his artistic bent and expressionistic/pure cinema stylings: the thriller.

The Lady From Shanghai would prove to be his final job as cinematographer on a film, and finally, he was given a chance to begin directing. The first job was a test. A romantic comedy released in late 1947 in which Mate was paired as co-director with a more experienced director. He passed, and in the following year directed the classic noir The Dark Past. The year after that: D.O.A. 

The film is a story about an accountant named Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) who runs a small, but lucrative firm where he employs a number of secretaries. Chief among them is Paula Gibson, a woman committed to her work and to Frank on more intimate terms. The two have been seeing each other for years, and she has been waiting on Frank to commit for years and propose to her. But Frank is feeling trapped, hemmed in, and he doesn’t like it. And so, now that he has cleared his schedule for the next week, he has plans to go to San Francisco to cut loose, and maybe meet a few handsome broads along the way.

Paula recognizes that Frank needs his space and that he needs some time away to think everything over before, at least hopefully, coming to a decision about his future prospects with Paula. But she’s none too happy with what he might pull while away and as such, she summons all of the forces of postmodern liberal authority and conscience to subversively keep him in line, without having to be physically by his side. She tells Frank, by phone after he has arrived in his hotel in Frisco, that ‘there’s nothing you can do that you have to feel guilty about.’ The effect should be lost on no one and is akin to a parent telling their child not that they have to visit their grandparents whether they like it or not, but instead that they only have to visit their grandparents if they feel like it, but must recognize how their denial of association with their grandparents will make them feel. In a word, she wants him to behave, and to like it too. Just a bit vicious, but not quite fatale.

Despite this form of warning, an odd whistling effect plays every time that Frank passes a beautiful woman in the hall. The quick rise in tone is pretty obviously phallic in nature and is tied explicitly with sexual arousal in a way that makes that first claim a little less obnoxious (as does noir’s oft-fascination with Freudian psychoanalysis as a way to interpret its protagonists and antagonists actions). Whenever these incidents occur, Frank’s face lights up as a visual signifier of his interest, which is lost on none of the women who smile upon viewing his, how should I put this, shit-eating grin. And a particular woman, a woman married to a salesman with whom she is on vacation in Frisco during a Marketing Convention, decides to take advantage of Frank’s sexual repression and lack of cool, devil-may-care demeanor, to take advantage of his puppy dog way to get him to come along with her and her friends, buy her drinks, and dance with her in the Jazz club: The Fisherman (in which some tough players swing like no one’s business that side of Miles Davis).

But things go wrong fast. As Frank is inebriated, a mystery figure finds it easy to sneak up on him and switch his drink with one spiked with poison of a luminous quality. Too drunk to notice, Frank retires to his room and falls asleep where, over the next twelve hours, the toxins seep into his system, making it impossible to pump them out. What’s worse, the doctors he consults to learn this information (he thought he merely had a stomach ache from drinking too much) tell him that this particular poison has no known antidote, and that Frank now has less than a week to live, and potentially as little as a day.

Over the remainder of the film, Frank works to unravel the secret behind why someone would want to poison a lowly accountant, would want to snuff his life out. He becomes a man on the run from, initially against the clock, and eventually away from thugs working for a mob boss who is unnerved by how much information Frank is disclosing in such a short time. As he runs through the streets of Frisco and eventually the City of Angels, some revolutionary shots are taken on the fly. Stolen shots of streets scenes in which Frank runs and pushes real people around as a man possessed, in a cinematic fever dream extending beyond the world of the camera and breaking out with manic intensity into the real world outside of the studio.

Of blacks so black and shadows so deep, and of a situation so dire and paranoiac that the film seems to move past the realm of pure cinema into the very domain of dreams, of the unconscious itself. As if this poor sap is being punished not for merely notarizing some bill of sale, some MacGuffin, six months prior, but by the very world around him acting as superego inflicting pain and suffering as a reprimand for his sexual desires, his inability to settle down and move past the infantile stage of the Puer Aeternis, to become, in a word, civil. And like all deeply, truly Christian individuals who obtain self-knowledge and thereby transfigure every day into the dark night of the soul, Frank feels always guilty for his thoughts, for what he would do even more than what he has done.

And this is why the film hit me so hard as a young religious man at University studying Religion a few years back before my second atheistic turn. It is the fear I felt. That one day everything I imagined and desired and all the sin I incurred like pollution would damn me to eternal suffering like Frank’s indiscretions of conscience damned him to death. And though I now feel free, maybe the knowledge of damnation (or nothingness in my current case) is the condition for that freedom in the same way that Frank’s knowledge of impending death freed him to become the cool, strong character he always failed to be in life. Freed him to realize his love for Paula and the vanity of time wasted. As Bukowski said, ‘Nothing is worse than too late.’

And in the end, the world’s revenge will come swiftly and mercilessly, but not before I, and you, and any other who feels the same is able to strike back. To figure out who or what administered the poison and strike back mortally against it in the hopes that in some small way we can prevent the same fate from striking another. Just as Frank tracked down and found his mortal enemy, hiding away in that great modernist beast The Bradbury Building (in which Deckard’s chase scene would occur at the climax of Blade Runner thirty years later. Surely another reason that D.O.A. grips me like no other trad film noir.) where Frank punches back at the gods who would damn him for ultimately meaningless indiscretions. And like Deckard spitting in the face of his would-be murderer moments before what seems an inevitable plummet to his death in the streets of the City of Angels, Frank pulls the trigger and shows his utter contempt for this world and every god damn son of a bitch in it who would deny him his pleasures.


Rough right?

That’s just the way I like it.

Juggernaut (Digimon Tamers: Episode 13)

(Catch part 12 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

The episode opens to Guilmon in half-hearted combat with DarkLizardmon (a variant of Flarerizamon) who seemingly only wants to defeat Guilmon so that Takato will be her Tamer and she can Digivolve to the next level, which seems particularly difficult for Digimon in the Tamers Universe as none have moved beyond the Champion-level thus far. Guilmon takes her down with a Modify Ability called ‘MetalGarurumon Blast’: an ice attack that freezes the fire-based dark Digimon in her tracks. But before Takato and Guilmon can administer the coup de grace, Hypnos’ helicopters appear, drop units into the car garage compound, fill the space with smoke bombs, grab and restrain DarkLizardmon, and begin their retreat back to HQ. Yamaki, before leaving with his troops, alerts Takato to the danger of Digimon, and tells him that they should be contained as they are lethal beasts.

Over the course of the rest of the episode, Takato seems to develop an insecurity about Guilmon Digivolving again. He doesn’t want Guilmon to change and become another person in the process, and irrational fear consumes him despite the better rational side of himself knowing that Guilmon remained himself in the past when he changed into Growlmon, and that therefore, it is more likely than not that Guilmon will remain himself once again the next time that he Digivolves. The only way I can figure it is that as a kid, Takato’s personality and thoughts drift constantly into irrational spaces, and the changes he experiences physically and mentally, which are quite rapid at this age, cause a total personal instability of sorts. Guilmon seems just as confused as viewers at Takato’s fears and will later explain to Takato that he didn’t change in the past and won’t do so in the future, which seems to dispel Takato’s worries, for the time being.

At Hypnos, Calumon somehow infiltrates the organization and confuses Riley and her tracker co-worker who register the wild signal within the base, but cannot locate it. DarkLizardmon is being held within a large water tank where her data is being analyzed, though the scientists working on the process detail to Yamaki the possibility of the Digimon subject being destroyed if a total analysis is performed. Yamaki urges them onward, reminding them of his naturalness bias against constructed beings like Digimon: ‘A worm is more of a lifeform than this thing. They’re [Digimon are] just data.’ The scientists go forward with the research and inevitably, DarkLizardmon is destroyed in the process. However, the fate of her data, whose survival could lead to her eventual resurrection, is left unknown.

Terriermon plays around with a computer program on Henry’s home computer and opens a program, which keeps popping up new browsers of Digimon in silhouette. Before he can figure out how to turn it off, Susie enters the room and begins playing her ‘doll’ Terriermon, which prevents him from solving the issue at hand, whatever it may be. Kazu and Kenta are still disillusioned with the prospect of playing with Takato anymore, and even against the Digimon Card Game itself, which they have currently abandoned interest toward.

Back at Hypnos, Yamaki gets chewed out for doing such a bad job at preventing Digimon from bio-emerging. They compare Hypnos to mere dog-catchers who stop the problem only after it has caused damage. Some of his superiors seem willfully ignorant about Digimon, while others show a deep understanding of the issues at hand, revealing the very nature of Digimon (in the Tamers Universe) itself: ‘Years ago scientists created artificial life forms also known as Digimon.’ They are called advanced forms of intelligence so smart that even the scientists who created them could not control them.

Yamaki continues the explanation, revealing that the Digimon program was shut down and converted into a mere children’s game. Somehow the Digimon developed the ability to ‘synthesize proteins to take form here in the real world. He explains the danger insofar as Digimon are capable of nearly unlimited power and ‘indefinite lifespans’, which make them a threat to community safety and possibly even national security or an existential threat the human race. His plan is to find a way to eliminate them all, both in the real world and in the Digital World, and it’s called ‘Juggernaut.’ Throughout the rest of the episode we watch as the machine is assembled within Hypnos, and the mechanism is a thing of beauty, but if it works out like his last few plans, the Digital World and the Tamer children’s partners are probably in no real danger.

A man in black visits Mr. Wong, Henry’s father, and reveals himself as a ‘ghost from his past, when tour reckless friends thought you could do anything. Like creating digital lifeforms on the net.’ He tells Mr. Wong that these lifeforms are now out of control and warns that someone will have to pay the price. He requests his help in finding his old friend, a specific friend ‘who refuses to grow up, who is working on the project right now.’ Mr. Wong begins to get angry and presses the man about his identity and who has sent him, but Mr. Wong’s outburst is upset as soon as he turns in the hall to face the man and instead finds his son Henry standing there. This man is certainly not from Hypnos, or else his methods would be more obvious. No, the man in black seems not even to be of this world, as if he is projected by some Digital force of which the series has hitherto not been forthright in introducing or even foretelling.

Yamaki constructs a composite Digital being with which to bait his Juggernaut system, and as the mechanism goes online, an earthquake is felt throughout the town. Guilmon, seeming to know what is happening instinctively, responds: ‘It’s coming.’ His eyes begin to glow in the manner of his primal form. Meanwhile, Henry is at home with his siblings, his mother, and his father, eating dinner. He has some questions of his own for his father, about his time working as a programmer on Digimon coding. Mr. Wong promises to tell him all about it in due time, after dinner. And the episode ends. And for the first time on cliff hanger we are bound to really care about as events are finally beginning to move in the direction of story, of narrative, of plot, away from particularity toward the universal conflict at the core of Tamers. Something that took about five or six episodes too long to arrive in my estimation.



The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Divided They Stand (Digimon Tamers: Episode 12)

(Catch part 11 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Again, Hypnos is tracking a new disturbance, which seems anomalous and unlike anything they have ever seen before. Yamaki sits around with his lighter, smoking cigarettes and looking cool, even though we know he is no genius and has a difficult time keeping up with his duties. That he is, in fact, a weak and ineffectual government employee who mostly deserves the heckling he gets on weekly basis by his overseers. And yet, he complains about the Tamers, calls them a nuisance, despite their strength, their ability to clean up his messes, and the fact that he would be out of a job if it weren’t for them destroying the Digimon who have been emerging from Digital Fields into the real world over the past few weeks. (As Konaka has given us little to grapple with philosophically or psychologically thus far, I’m a little irritated at the series. Especially after having reviewed his far more challenging work Serial Experiments Lain).

Kazu and Kenta are now ignoring their friend Takato. Last episode, Takato told them about Guilmon and invited them to come see him. But when they arrived, they only saw the eyes and heard the growls of Guilmon from within his den before running away in fear. Kazu and Kenta believe that Takato tricked them with some lights and pre-recorded sounds, which is reason enough to avoid him. Or worse yet, they think he may have fooled himself into believing in Digimon. At which point, in their analysis, Takato is insane and ought to be avoided. Jeri passes by the group as Takato tries to get their attention and convince them that Guilmon is real, that Digimon are real. At this point, Jeri gets a feeling that Takato isn’t all there, mentally, as well.

Elsewhere, Rika sulks and whines about how Renamon must not really care for her after all. Otherwise, she reasons, Renamon would have come back around to visit Rika and make amends. If she had ever paid much attention, she would know that Renamon hides in the shadows and has been keeping a close watch on her for some time to ensure her continued safety. Given a little self-knowledge, Rika would understand how alike the two really are, how central stubbornness is to their characters, and how one of the two must bite the bullet and apologize for their friendship to continue, and their partnership to really begin. But she doesn’t.

And maybe this is a central key to understanding most figures in modern literature, film, anime, and narrativity in general: The physical quest once drawn to symbols and myths is now purely psychological. The quest has become one of finding the self, of obtaining self-knowledge, and thereby of conquering the self, of restraining the will. The older narratives pre-supposed this psychological journey, always already including it into a background for a character to be interesting in the first place. The hero not weak and unformed like a slab of marble, but complete, whole, and only in the final stages of movement before the ultimate quest: The quest which is Sisyphean, fundamentally insignificant, but representative of the human will’s power to push the limits and to throttle the boulder, to force it forward and up until the mountain is revealed as finite. And the boulder rolls down its opposite slope, and the eyes of man upon a virgin vista disclosed in the first instance upon a new journey, a new form, a new approach, a new goal, and a new challenge which breathes life into life by its very disclosure.

And in this moment an awakening. In this moment an understanding of the horizon of which Bukowski spoke and of which Heidegger only hinted, which Nietzsche foretold. But giving up on the task at hand would be to show a lack of resolve, a lack of will, and an inability to hone and sharpen my tools. So, for now I return to Digimon, despite the horrors that subject currently inspires within me.

In a local park, on a baseball diamond, three Flybeemon (abominably-designed Armor Digimon apparently the result of Hawkmon after contact with the DigiEgg of Knowledge) appear from within a Digital Field. Renamon arrives first and make short work of the first. Rika and Calumon show up next, and even though Renamon begins to lose the battle to her two remaining combatants, Rika still cannot muster up enough sympathy, friendship, or empathy to rise above her pig-headedness and support Renamon from the sidelines with Modify Cards, let alone even a word of support. Renamon manages to turn the situation around and ends up defeating her opponents without the aid of her Tamer partner.

Later, Rika walk-mopes about, reflecting on her belief that Renamon only wants her as a partner so that she can Digivolve. Henry and Renamon walk about together elsewhere, and he reveals the nature of partnership as one of friendship with an equal. In this relationship, one knows the other’s strengths and weakness, and as such, knows the key to defeating them, but chooses not to in favor of watching their back, protecting them from the exploitation of their weaknesses by enemies. He explains that partners also have commonalities that tie them together and make the relationship more than a mere instrumental defensive pairing. That is to say, in a partnership, the two get along.

Takato, meanwhile, walks about the city (as these characters are constantly won’t to do, which I understand insofar as they are children with little money to afford doing anything of consequence and still of the bent that engenders the desire to explore constantly. However, the monotony seems stifling to me, a viewer, and as such, must be absolutely suffocating to these kids). He runs into Yamaki, who knows Takato’s name, his identity, and tells him that he and his friends are under observation. Yamaki issues a warning that Takato ought to get a new hobby as soon as possible (which would, as I have previously established, actually result in the loss of a job by Yamaki whose inability to stop Digimon from Bio-emerging, or to put them down once they have, would immediately render him persona non grata to the organization and to the government). Later, Yamaki will be spied spying on Takato outside of his parent’s bakery.

Takato runs into Jeri shortly after his encounter with Yamaki, and decides to bring her to see Guilmon. Jeri responds favorably to Guilmon, finding him to be a quite cute and affable fellow indeed. Guilmon asks Takato if she is Takato’s girlfriend, quite openly in fact. And once she departs, Takato asks Guilmon if he believes that Jeri likes him.

Next we have a vignette of Impmon watching two children, Ai and Mako, as they fight over a teddy bear. He has a flashback to a time when he was being pulled apart similarly by the two. He seems to take joy in the fact that he is now a free Digimon without such destructive Tamers. Renamon appears just as the two pull the teddy bear apart, and Impmon laughs at their subsequent sadness. She asks Impmon what is wrong with him and he gives her his whole shtick about being free and powerful without the need of a Tamer. Renamon humors Impmon and inquires further into how one might Digivolve without a Tamer, and as one expects, the clueless little guy has no real answer, leaving Renamon to continue pondering the problem all on her own, as well as the ancillary problem of her destiny and whether it is intertwined with the being (her Tamer) whose will summoned her from the void itself (a seemingly simple question to ascertain the answer to, even at a glance).

At home, Rika acts bratty and isolates herself from her lonely grandmother. She throws away her D-Power again. Her grandmother tells her that ‘no one can make it in this world on their own,’ which is not strictly true. Taken in an emotional-social sense, plenty of people enjoy isolation and in fact thrive on not being around others. Those with the strongest wills are those who really don’t need others at all, and might even be able to survive off the grid, given enough space in which to forage and hunt for sustenance. But, point made. Rika could be more social and would probably benefit emotionally in the process.

A new Digital Field emerges in the park and Harpymon appears. Renamon fights this Digital beast, almost gets killed in the process, and Guilmon and Terriermon watch from the sidelines. Renamon has made no claims about this being her fight and made no demands of the others to stay out of the fight, and as such, they could intervene at any time and wipe out Harpymon quickly, as a team, but they choose not to. Rika arrives and finally decides to help, but she has left her Modify cards in the trash at home. Just as Renamon is about to be killed, Rika rushes forward with a sharp stick and stabs Harpymon in the back. The being turns and is about to kill Rika when Calumon’s head-symbol glows once more, which gives Renamon the power to Digivolve into Kyubimon and defeat Harpymon with her Fox-Tail Inferno attack.

Kyubimon doesn’t absorb Harpymon’s data because she recognizes its unimportance in helping her to Digivolve. Rika and Kyubimon reunite and both reflect on their hardheadedness while Yamaki sits around in Hypnos complaining about ‘data walking around like living creatures.’ But they have become living creatures through a sufficient concatenation of programming complexity and the ability to manifest themselves physically in the real world as creatures, Yamaki. Surely, your background in computer programming included a bit of philosophy of mind on AI, right? If this is a vision of Japanese Cyber-security qua surreptitious technocracy, then they sorely need a better technocrat.



The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

They Made Me a Criminal

(Catch my previous film noir essay here: Hangmen Also Die)

The director Busby Berkeley isn’t typically a name that film buffs associate with film noir. No, Berkeley is known first and foremost as a choreographer of musicals who merely dabbled in directing, and to little great effect. Through the early 1930s, he began the greatest period of his work in the medium of musicals and musical comedy’s when, in 1933, he choreographed dance sequences for 42nd Street. He followed up this triumph with work on Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight ParadeDamesFashions of 1934, direction on Gold Diggers of 1935, and later more choreography on Gold Diggers of 1937 and Gold Diggers of Paris (the whole Gold Digger theme was, needless to say, in vogue through the 1930s). It was a time when people, who could afford to, went to the movies as a distraction from the tortures of daily existence and didn’t expect of their entertainments any heady artistic themes or social pictures that could remind them of the impoverishment of the era immediately following The Great Depression.

However, in 1939, general sentiments had changed and the musical form had largely gone the way of the dinosaur, relegated to the fringes as a new form of film began to take precedence in the cultural imagination. A darker film that bore the imprint of German expressionism visually and dealt with the themes of paranoia and nihilism creeping into the general culture ala World War II, ala so-called civilized Christian nations going at it in total warfare. Film noir. Not called such a thing at the time, the films were thrillers, spy films, war films, boxing films, and films of the Underground at odds with the world around it. Both reactions against and defenses of the greater culture. The films would only later be grouped under the heading of noir, but at the time the look and the elements of the form took shape unconsciously and Berkeley was not immune.

They Made Me a Criminal was a remake of a 1933 film entitled The Life of Jimmy Dolan and directed by Archie Mayo (known for his direction of the the proto-noir The Petrified Forest three years later), which was seemingly popular enough to guide the studio system to commission a remake just six short years later. In the 1939 film, Jimmy Dolan has become Johnny Bradfield (played authentically by the great predecessor of Method Acting, John Garfield), a boxer who has just won an important bout and become the Light-Heavyweight World Champion. Bradfield has cultivated a public mask in which he is seen as a good-natured, homegrown type who loves his mother and respects the rules of the game. In reality, he is something of a conman who cheats constantly using eye-gouges and low-blows, which go unnoticed in part through his ability to lead the eye of opponents and referees alike and in part through expectations about Johnny as his public persona. One night, an undercover reporter catches wind of this information and threatens to publish it in the morning paper the following day. Johnny, sauced, takes a shot at the man and misses. But just as the reporter begins to exit the door, Johnny’s manager clubs the man with a bottle, which leads to a brain hemorrhage and quick death.

The manager plans to pin the murder on Johnny, steals his watch, his money, his girl, and drops Johnny off at his home before riding off into the night. But an A.P.B. is put out on the car as soon as the reporter’s body is found dead in the apartment, and when a duo of police cruisers catch up to the Manager and Johnny’s gal, they make a break for it, and eventually run off of the road, hit a tree, and go up in flames. This turn of events leaves the bodies burnt beyond all recognition, but with the manager wearing Johnny’s watch, the corpse of the Manager is taken for the corpse of Johnny, and the case is closed. Johnny takes the opportunity to run away after recouping what little bit of his money he can from a safe deposit box, and to start a new life for himself in an effort to avoid being convicted for murder of the reporter (despite the fact that Johnny is a southpaw and forensics has concluded that the attack was landed by an orthodox, meaning Johnny would probably have little trouble proving his innocence, with a good lawyer that is).

Johnny runs off and eventually ends up on a Date farm in Arizona where, emaciated and weakened by his long travels atop and inside train cars, as well as by foot, he is taken in by a sympathetic group in the widow Goldie West, Grandma Rafferty, and a group of delinquents from New York (played by the actor troupe known as the Dead End Kids) hired out to improve their characters and keep them out of trouble in the Big Apple now so far away. Things seem idyllic and simple, and Johnny makes a good go of country life, but the farm is under dire financial straits. So, when a travelling Boxer exhibition comes through advertising that anyone who can go more than two rounds with ‘The Wild Bull of Europe,’ Gaspar Rutchek, will receive $500 per round, Bradfield decides to put back on the old gloves and battle it out for the fiscal well-being of his young friends, and the new love of his life, in the hopes that they will be able to buy a gas pump with the money and start raking in dough through their unique geographical situation (placed along a long road with no gas station for 42 miles in one direction and 28 in the other).

But one of the Dead End Kids make a decisive mistake in taking a photo of Johnny during boxing practice, having the film developed, sending it in to a local magazine competition for photography, and winning. The success results in a three dollar prize and the picture’s publication in the zine, which is picked up a New York Detective, one Monty Phelan (Claude Rains) who knows Johnny Bradfield personally and has never believed the claim that the man in the scorched car was Johnny. He begins to track down Johnny, and the two men are set for a confrontation that may end in more violence or in Johnny’s incarceration, but either way in disruption of Johnny’s current predicament and peace of mind.

The film is shot to great effect by cinematographer James Wong Howe (whose achievements I have previously discussed in more detail in my previous film noir essay on Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die), the master of darkness, and one of film noir’s greatest camera operators. The film is taut and paranoiac, but simultaneously vibrant and filled with life, love, adventure, and humor. It’s a shame that Berkeley didn’t direct dozens of film noirs in his time as I believe he had an instinctive knack for it and would have had similar success in future endeavors. However, I’m just glad we’ve got this one, a film noir that combines the thematic staples of the genre with the only sport I really like, one I’ve developed a real love for over the past six months: the Sweet Science of Boxing!


Cody Ward

[Film Noir Essays Concluded here: D.O.A.]

Much Ado About Musyamon (Digimon Tamers: Episode 11)

(Check out part 10 HERE. to go back the beginning click HERE)

It’s night and Rika sits in her room reflecting on the events of the past day. She throws her D-Power and Digi-Modify Cards into her personal trash bin and exclaims that she hates Digimon. The announcement and her actions make as little sense as they did during the last episode and can only really be interpreted as a hatred based on fear. She doesn’t know what the true nature of Digimon are, what their purposes are (which she previously believed to be fighting and collecting data), and she isn’t sure how they function (as just collecting data from defeated Digimon doesn’t necessarily result in Digivolution, while close proximity to a trusted partner human Tamer seems to work no matter the skill level of the Digimon). Rika is confused and as such, lashes out against everything more or less indiscriminately. Digimon in general, and Renamon in particular, only being her most recent target.

The next morning, Takato uses a Hyper-Wing and Speed Plug-in B Card Combo to Modify his Digimon in his card game against Kazu. The combination, which he previously used on Guilmon to defeat IceDevimon in real life, is effective, and wins Takato’s first match against Kazu in what seems like ages. Takato acts cocky and mentions something about the win not being as impressive as winning a real Digimon battle, which throws Kazu and Kenta for a loop and makes them concerned about their friends mental well-being. Later, Takato will run off to feed Guilmon bread before heading out to class.

Elsewhere in town, Henry and Terriermon head to school, Terriermon riding atop Henry’s head in a journey to class that will be a respite from the tortures of dress-up with Henry’s little sister Susie. A Digital Field appears, which is registered visually by Henry and Terriermon, and tracked digitally by Hypnos. Yamaki instructs his employees to use the Yuggoth program, but is advised against it as it seems too late to stop the anomaly from Bio-emerging. Yamaki instructs them to do it anyway and surprisingly the Digital Signature is stopped dead in its tracks by the program, right on the threshold of its Bio-emergence. Then the voice of the thwarted Digimon throws itself into the room at Hypnos and announces its plans to return and seek revenge. The ghastly message is inexplicable as Yuggoth supposedly destroyed the Digimon who planned to Bio-emerge, but instead seems to only have stopped it from emerging into the Digital Field for the time being, meaning that the Yuggoth program isn’t all it was chocked up to be.

Back to Rika. She is laying in bed on her futon ruminating on the previous day when Calumon enters her room and asks why she has thrown away her D-Power and cards. Calumon removes them from the trash, tells Rika that she looks distraught, sad, and that they should play to make her feel better. Rika doesn’t make a move as if to throw away her Tamer-related items once more, or to grab them. She makes no move as if to get up and humor Calumon. However, she does smile and seems somehow cheered up by the presence of the the diminutive, kawaii Digimon.

Meanwhile Renamon arrives outside of the window of Henry’s home (the entire day has passed and has moved from one night to the next relatively rapidly from Rika’s first night at home to Takato and Henry’s daytime events, and now to that night. It’s true that much of consequence happens in the first fourth of Digimon Tamers), prompting him to get on his bike and ride off, following her to a local park (the park where Takato, Kazu, and Kenta regularly meet in the mornings to play Digimon the Card Game). Renamon reflects on how she once believed that her only purpose was to fight and how she gained meaning by absorbing data and working to become the strongest Digimon around. She thought of Rika’s role as a Tamer as only ancillary to her own role as a fighter, as a figure who merely cheered her on from the sidelines and could use Modify cards to help her defeat increasingly stronger opponents. But now, she’s not so sure about any of this, and consequently, the meaning in her life has been called into question. This explains her reluctance to become close to Rika and to reevaluate their relationship as partners. Henry wonders about the meaning of being chosen as a Tamer, wonders if he has some purpose to fulfill or if his role is merely the result of chance.

In class the next day, Takato stares off into the sky over the city, wishing that a new Digital Field would appear so that he and Guilmon could take on the being that would emerge from it, so that the two of them could grow in strength, in experience, and therefore become closer. Kazu appears and challenges Takato to a rematch, which he accedes to thinking he will win no problem. Jeri overhears their conversation and asks: ‘Don’t you ever talk about anything but Digimon?’ Takato is embarrassed and the viewer can tell that he likes Jeri. The gang run off to the park, where Kazu beats Takato and reclaims his title as the King of the Cards, but Takato again downplays the game and tells his friends that he has a real Digimon. Later, he takes them to see Guilmon, but Kazu and Kenta run off when they merely see Guilmon’s glowing red eyes in the back of his den and hear him ‘roar’ (really the beginning of a sneeze).

Guilmon senses a new Digital Field emerging and runs off toward it, just as Henry and Terriermon approach his den. Takato and the others run after him. And Hypnos engages Yuggoth once more, but the Digimon planning to Bio-emerge, Musyamon, destroys the program, proving the ace up Yamaki’s sleeve to be ultimately useless and leaving the organization looking inept once again. Takato uses a series of Digi-Modify cards on Guilmon to combat Musyamon once he appears in the real world, but ultimately overextends his partner Digimon is unable to put a dent in Musyamon’s defenses.

Henry has been standing on the sidelines, unwilling to engage Musyamon and endanger his partner Terriermon in the process. But when a young girl runs into the Digital Field, chasing her run-away balloon, Henry runs in to save her. As Guilmon is pushed aside, Musyamon approaches the little girl and is set to decapitate her and Henry is able to hold back no longer. He sends in Terriermon with a ‘Hypersonic’ Card to stop Musyamon in the nick of time, and then something amazing happens: Calumon, who is nearby watching the events unfold, and who wishes to protect the little girl as well, suddenly begins to glow (at least the red markings on his head do). This somehow gives Terriermon the power to Digivolve into Gargomon and unveils something important, but as yet still obscure about Calumon’s purpose (as a program created to aid other Digimon in Digivolving? As a support Digimon for a strong Tamer team? As a program created to counter evil forces and promulgate good?).

Gargomon defeats Musyamon with little problem, absorbs his data, and as the Digital Field mist dissipates, retreats back to Henry and the others as they return the little girl to her mother on the nearby sidewalk, and disappear into the crowd. As Takato apologizes to Guilmon for just using random cards somewhat indiscriminately in a gambit that put Guilmon’s safety at stake, Yamaki watches the group walk off, and Hypnos now has a gauge on who has been saving their asses and keeping Digimon from running rampant for the past few weeks.



The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

An Inside Story

Life is a game, play it; Life is a challenge, Meet it; Life is an opportunity, Capture it.


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Chaotic Shapes

Art and Lifestyle by Brandon Knoll