Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Once, long ago, this blog had announced for itself a plan whereby it would post discussions of films on Fridays, music on Saturdays, and books on Sundays. Well, the road to Hell . . .
I would like to try to return to that plan as a way of a) giving this blog some focus at least part of the time and b) keep me reading and listening and watching and not just becoming a grading machine (and some of that will be inevitable now that the new semester has begun). But earlier this evening, I was listening to a Jacqueline du Pre collection called A Lasting Inspiration, along with some oud music, all while sitting with Spivak's book in my lap (see the Current Reading list elsewhere on this page), and I was reminded of that long-ago agenda I had set for myself.
Larry recently bought some off-the-beaten-track film noir DVDs, along with the original version of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), dir. Tay Garnett; starring John Garfield, Lana Turner, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronym). I have yet to watch the others, but I want to say a little about the film noir genre within the context of Postman.
Elsewhere, I spoke about High Sierra as one of the first film noirs. But whereas in that post I wrote about Bogart's character as being flawed yet we still like him, in Postman we don't get to help out Garfield's Frank by liking him. Well, at least I don't. He has itchy feet, he tells us: not a bad sign in and of itself, but surely not a sign of stability. Turner's Cora, we learn, is just as itchy. Her husband is easily the most likeable character in the film, and yet he has to die so Cora and Frank can pursue their love for each other. Pure selfishness, that, and their betrayal of each other to the police plumbs a still-lower depth of selfishness. Yet we keep watching. It must be masochism--or hope for their redemption--that keeps me watching. But they are on their own: I cannot redeem them, cannot justify their actions, and I'm as romantic as the next guy. Their love--and their (self) loathing--are both driven by despair; thus, what we witness of their relationship wasn't founded on a healthy sense of self to begin with. Frank must make his own redemption, and he can do it only by rationalizing that his execution will be for the murder he DID commit but wasn't convicted of, and not his wrongful conviction. IS that redemption, though? HE feels at peace, but do we? I found myself thinking that Frank feels he has no choice but to rationalize his damnation, but perhaps that is too harsh.
Noir's moral ambivalence is fascinating to me. It makes for the best kind of drama--unpredictable drama. It also seems truer in that we sense that most of us are much less clear about our values systems than we profess or would like to be. But noir doesn't produce obvious tragedy of the sort that Aristotle would recognize. It's more akin to Death of a Salesman than it is to Oedipus. No one mighty falls in Postman. The tragedy is that there isn't one, nor was there one beforehand. The choices that seem obvious to us are inexplicably not options for Cora and Frank . . . hmm. It still ain't Sophocles, but in Postman the characters' sense of fatedness still drives their choices--except that they wouldn't talk about it in those terms.
This bears more pondering. But right now, my bed needs to bear me.

1 comment:

jennifer said...

To avoid into lapsing in a state of blog envy, I like what you've done as well. It was nice to see that someone I didn't know was not only reading my blog but posting to it as well. So if you'd like to add a link to mine feel free. Also I found your comments regarding the genocide in Dafur and humanitarian intervention most insightful. With your permission, I'd like to forward them to some of my friends for discussion purposes. Please feel free to read and post again and I will be reading your blog and commenting as well.

Have you read Susan Buck-Morss's book "Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and critical theory on the left"
or Derrick Jensen's "Reading, Writing and Revolution" or his "The Culture of Make Believe"? If not, do add these to your list as you will most likely enjoy them.