It’s been lowtide for good classic DVD releases since… since last freakin’ spring! Warner Brothers is dumping the dregs out like a fish peddler on a rainy Sunday night – post-code musicals with drab, dry gals hoofin’ in their big 1940s bonnets and preaching to the morally correct choir, and westerns… and now, thank God – MOONTIDE. This is a great little piece of California neo-realist “dream poetry” – something John Steinbeck might dream up after a night of opium smoking with his Cannery Row bum buddies. Jean Gabin speaks lovely French accented English, a mix of Bogart toughness and Chevalier suave. He’s a wandering laborer with a penchant for black-out drinking, saddled with a blackmailing alcoholic groupie played by Thomas Mitchell. There’s a murder he may have committed, and a waif he rescues from drowning, played by Ida Lupino. She and Gabin fall in love under a studio moon as a million Joseph Breen-no nos squrim through the censor nets in the darkness.
The special features documentary reveals just how much luridness they had to scuttle to pass the ratings board (including a Dali-designed drunken blackout sequence) and yet amazingly the film still packs shocks. Part of the reason is the cool intellect of the Eugene O’Neill style old anarchist wharf rat played by Claude Raines, whose way of sliding his words around as if on a greased pole make everything he says inherently… wicked. The code can’t touch him because the Joe Breens of the world are conditioned to bow and scrape before Raines’ King’s English. Mitchell also does a good drunken creep, and Lupino is her usual sizzling self. This movie is a crippled beauty, the code took a leg but one day Ida will walk again.
As for the special features documentary all I can say is – dudes, the code is over, why are you still keeping the lady talking heads hobbled and to the kitchen chained? Maybe it’s professional jealousy, but these critics and historians get on my nerves, especially when I see bright cool people (women) on them getting relegated to tiny sound bytes in favor of the dudes. Dudes! What happened to chivalry? There’s a speech Claude Raines gives in MOONTIDE about remora eels; they attach themselves to sharks, feeding off the catches of the larger fish. Surely this can’t be lost on some of these film professors and historians, who similarly affix themselves to the annals of film history, trying to link their names and faces to movies we’d rather love without them?
The demand for special features on these discs has created a whole new way for film writers to get exposure as “experts.” But no one has, apparently, stopped to take into account “who” should represent the guardians of the canon. Who is qualified to judge, even? Not me, obviously. I am merely pointing out what I see as a bit of lopsided sexist injustice in these documentaries, as the girls get relegated to cheerleaders in micro-bytes while the boys get to drone on… and on. We are all remora eels in the eyes of god, but who gets first suck? That’s something Joe Breen still decides… the Joe Breen in our minds!
Speaking of giant eels, check out this clip from AT THE MOVIES wherein guest Kim Morgan and Richard Roeper review Korean giant mutant sea monster movie, THE HOST from last year. Roeper’s take is that the film is “just plain gross” and “stupid,” though entertaining enough to “sit through once.” The monster, he notes with a grade school grasp of simile, “feeds on humans as if they’re pringles!” When Kim says “I watched it twice,” he replies, with a dismissive sally of nervous humor: “We’re learning a lot about you, Kim.”
I include this clip not to bash Roeper–it’s not his fault; he was offered the job for reasons more complex than his cinematic alacrity–but to illustrate the issue of older men in power positions being terrified of the intellect and superior knowledge of an attractive woman with light hair and eye-liner and the desperate, high school clique-style measures they throw up to defend their imperiled sense of entitlement. Morgan is a powerhouse in this clip, she sees more into the film than Roeper does, expresses herself better and says more all in less time, and he reacts… like a guy. Not all the guys act like that of course-Eddie Muller and Robert Osborne seem above reproach, and to be fair, Morgan gets in some good lines on the Moontide documentary, but in general, I would ask you– what makes an old guy more of an authority on 1940s films than a younger girl? Presuming of course, said old guy didn’t actually help make, or have anything to do with, said films? The answer: code brainwashing! Even without Joseph Breen salivating on our shoulder, we’re still threatened by a pretty girl, unless of course she agrees to play dumb and let the boys use all the big words.
Kim Morgan continues to work on her own excellent blog, Sunset Gun, and write for MSN and meanwhile gets the barest minimum of screen attention on special features, when she’s capable of–and deserves–so much more. And what about the other great bloggers and writers out there who get ignored because they’re women? Stacie Ponder seems to be doing all right with a gig at AMC, but she could be doing more! more! more! what about the Self-Styled Siren, Tenebrous Kate or Cinebeats’ Kimberly Lindbergh?
Summers of Love and sexual revolutions may come and go, but when the first child arrives and the picnic gets rainy, even the staunchest liberal falls back on his patriarchal notions of family, church, state and reasonable bed times, despite the tough efforts of Barbara Stanwyck in NIGHT NURSE… Well, sorry, grandpa but the Kim Morgans and self-styled sirens of this world aren’t gonna be your dumb bitches any more, even if that means you keep them out of your unconsciously coded documentaries in favor of another endless stream of talking… headed…. old dudes. Just know that without these cthonic mermaids nothing you say or do will be worth a misbegotten Moontide’s worth of a damn, and the watery grave you draw will be as lonely as the echo of an empty classroom.