Monday, May 21, 2012

Scarlet Street (1945)

Chris proposes to paint her. Kitty gives him the nail lacquer she was holding. -Make them a masterpiece! she exclaims. He wouldn't say no, why would he; servility to the object of desire gives much wanted pleasure to some of us. He doesn't even bother to explain he meant something totally different. He doesn't  bother to think she is making fun of him, either.

The sexy and a bit fetishistic idea of a man painting a girl's toenails was not the visual invention of Stanley Kubrick in Lolita (1962), after all. Now I know that expressionist master Fritz Lang was there a good twenty years before. Visual images that tell us not only what to desire, but how to desire -as Slavoj Zizek puts it- are powerful and mighty; it's good to attribute them back to their owners, I reckon.

"Every painting, if it's any good, is a love affair." And for Chris Cross, a middle-aged cashier residing in Scarlet Street his paintings are the only love affairs life ever allowed him. When he was young, he had no time to run after girls. Or money, for that sake. Year after year, things remained the same. He couldn't afford his own house; that's why he ended up taking a room that an obnoxious widow was renting out; that's why he ended up marrying her - he couldn't stand the loneliness any longer. That was the life of Mr Cross until he bumped on Kitty; she turned it upside down, seasoning it with crazy illusions for a little while. Love and creation took a better meaning, until Kitty uncovered her true self of a manipulating woman. The Erinyes took up chasing Mr Cross forever after.

Ow, how cruel is Joan Bennett and ow what an easy prey Edward Robinson makes. Dan Duryea, the preposterous, deceitful lover teams up with them once more, after the equally dark The Woman in the Window made by Lang a year earlier and he is the most convincing of them both. There is not much innovation in the story per se, but there are plenty of twists and great mise en scene in Scarlet Street; and a lot of shadows lurking around the corner. 

It's a different treatment of a story that you've heard before, an unpleasant one. Is punishment in any form a fair and square affair? Is it true what they say that nobody gets away with murder? And what about innocence and guilt? Are they easy to pin down, or are they puzzling concepts that will always elude us?

* Suddenly, the newspapers announcing the execution smashed my casual, even gay feelings towards the Sing Sing prison. It was the same one that Holly Golightly was visiting dressed in chic outfits to have a chat and get the weather report from Sally Tomato.

** For those in Luxembourg, our beloved Cinematheque is doing a tribute to Fritz Lang which naturally includes his best films from M to Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.


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