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I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass. I really like Philip Glass.

Okay, now that the perfunctory Philip Glass joke is out of the way out of the way out of the way out of the way out of the way, I’ll venture into a bit why I really enjoyed Australian director Scott Hicksdocumentary in twelve parts about the life and work of the extraordinary composer.

To be brief, Glass was a musical talent starting early on in his career, including his time at University of Chicago and Julliard. In the 1960s, he collaborated with Ravi Shankar, Chuck Close, and other artistic luminaries in and around New York City with experimental music. His monotonous style is best described by filmmaker (and frequent Glass collaborator) Errol Morris as “existential dread,” but intrinsic in so many of Glass’ pieces is the hope of a break in the clouds, a happy end on the horizon.

The twelve parts cover all aspects of Glass’ life, including his family, his youth, his summer home, his Taoist/Buddhist mash-up faith, his opera, his symphony, his film work.

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Film noir is ridiculous.  I have absolutely no idea why someone first thought creating a movie where everything is murky was a good idea.  “You have a problem with a mostly incomprehensible plot?  Oh, well, don’t worry, the dialogue will be highly stylized and rapid-fire, so viewers will be too distracted to notice what is happening.”  That said, film noir is genius.  There’s constant tension, almost by definition.  Nothing is as it seems, and as such, the movies tend to demand an engaged viewing.

Anyway, on my mom’s recommendation, I finally got around to seeing Out of the Past, which places at or near the top of just about every best-of film noir list.  There’s no real point in trying to describe the plot, since if it could be described, it probably isn’t film noir.  Basically, Robert Mitchum own a gas station in a small town in the southwest.  But one day his past catches up with him, as we find out he used to be a PI, and after accepting a case for a big time bad guy (Kirk Douglas) to find Douglas’s missing girlfriend (Jane Greer), he ends up running away with the girlfriend.  I’ll stop there, but the film contains pretty much everything you’d expect from a movie like this: love triangles, deaths, frantic phone calls, double and triple crosses, and so on.

There’s much to love about Out of the Past, but above all, I love the ending.  I’ll try not to spoil anything, in case anyone happens upon this post hasn’t seen the movie (or if I do, since me happening on this post may mean I’ve forgotten the ending).  But to me, the ending is what most screenwriters wish they had the balls to write.  The question Mitchum’s small town girlfriend (Rhonda Fleming) asks, and the response, coupled with everything else that happens just blew me away.

The snappy dialogue of Daniel Mainwaring’s script (imdb says Frank Fention and James M. Cain did uncredited work on it) is impressive.  Everyone who watches the movie has their own favorite line.  The plot is actually relatively intelligible.  If I had to change something, it’d probably be when Mitchum and Greer first meet.  It isn’t that I don’t believe they would get together, rather, I would have liked to see their early meetings written more cleverly, in a manner befitting the rest of the movie.

I’m no film noir expert; I’ve only seen a handful of films in the genre, so I can’t pretend to place Out of the Past on a list of some sort.  But I definitely enjoyed it more than The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, for whatever that is worth.

July 2008
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