She gained movie immortality in her first film, playing Rose Smith, Judy Garland's older sister, in Meet Me In St. Louis.  The next year she danced with Fred Astaire in Yolanda and the Thief, and when that film proved to be a flop, her career took a precipitous downward turn.

She danced with Astaire again in the movie musical revue Ziegfeld Follies, adorned the cover of Life magazine in 1946 and had a supporting role in Till the Clouds Roll By the same year, but MGM gave up on her after that, loaning her out to poverty-row studios for parts in negligible films.

She threw in the towel soon afterward, married the son of a former President of Mexico and went to live with him in La Paz, Baja California, until their divorce in 1963.

Bremer had been a Rockette and a Broadway chorus girl before moving to Los Angeles.  She was spotted by Arthur Freed dancing in a show at the Versailles nightclub, given a screen test and almost immediately cast in Meet Me In St. Louis, which Freed produced.  She is often referred to as a “protégée” of Freed, and one of Judy Garland's biographers says she was sleeping with him, which might account for her meteoric rise at MGM.  I hate to think of her sleeping with Freed, a married man, while they were making Meet Me In St. Louis, that heartfelt paean to family values, but Hollywood is Hollywood.

I don't know what accounted for her meteoric fall.  She was a good actress and a talented dancer, but I wouldn't say she had star quality, and in Till the Clouds Roll By she sometimes looks haggard, worn out at 29.  Of course Garland was burnt out at an even younger age — MGM had that effect on some people.

It's a strange and sad tale, except for the part about La Paz, one of my favorite places on earth.  I like to think of Rose Smith strolling along the malecón there, of an evening, enjoying the breeze off the Mar de Cortes, far from the intrigues of Culver City.

[Image above © 2007 Harry Rossi]


. . . damnation itself is an immediate form of salvation — of salvation from
the ennui of modern life, because it at last gives some significance to

This comes via Tony D'Ambra and his films noir web site.  Its application to film noir is perhaps obvious, but it has a profound relevance to the modern age in general.  Without knowing the quote, I wrote something similar in a previous post on this site, WHORES: A VALENTINE'S DAY MEDITATION, about Baudelaire's obsession with prostitutes.  Eliot's observation comes from an essay on Baudelaire and it sheds a terrifying light on many otherwise baffling phenomena of our time.  It explains why middle-class American teens sometimes go ballistic and murder their schoolmates, then kill themselves.  It explains why hopeless Palestinian kids strap on bombs and martyr themselves in order to kill Israeli civilians.

Our culture values survival and comfort above all other considerations, and denies the horrifying truth that life without meaning, without transcendent purpose, is worse than death.  Anything that promises meaning, even if it's the meaning inherent in damnation, or in a spectacular pursuit of oblivion, is better than a life spent, as Blake puts it, “wailing on the margin of non-entity.”


Tristan, on his blog the emotional blackmailers handbook, recently posted the above painting by Winslow Homer, Summer Night, which I was happy to be reminded of.  There's something mysterious and wonderful about the image — two girls dancing together, by the sea, in the light of the moon.  It's not quite erotic, but there are tidal forces at work here which might easily lure a lost mariner to his doom, if he didn't have all his wits about him, crossing the bar.

Check out Tristan's site, which usually contains photographs of lovely, gracious things in and around London.  It's like a visit to a fine old pub, where you can knock back a pint of Guinness in a corner by yourself and mull over visions like the one above . . . at a safe distance.  In that corner, starting on your second pint, you might call to mind, if you've been wise enough to memorize it, this poem by Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crossed the bar.


In the whole history of cinema there is no greater feast for the eye than Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail, from 1930.  It cost something approaching $100 million in today's dollars — though in truth it probably couldn't be made today, without CGI, for less than $300 million — and Walsh put all of the budget on screen, creating an epic vision of a wagon train's journey from the banks of the Mississippi to the Pacific coast.  It was shot in a standard 35mm format and in a 65mm wide-screen version, which has recently become available on DVD for the first time.

Because so few theaters were willing or able to refit to show the 65mm version, and because the film was not a hit, Hollywood abandoned the wide-screen format until the 1950s, when it was taken up again in response to the threat from television.  So The Big Trail remained a costly experiment gone awry — but it hardly plays as an experimental work today.  Walsh's composition for the wide screen is as elegant and accomplished as any in the later history of the format — it bears favorable comparison with the best wide-screen work of John Ford or David Lean.

As a film shot almost entirely on location, it also bears comparison with Greed and Ford's The Iron Horse for its pictorial realism, which is downright breathtaking.

That's the good news.  The bad news is that the script for this early talkie is marred by stilted dialogue delivered in a stilted style by almost all the actors, including John Wayne in his first starring role.  The location sound is extremely impressive for a film from 1930, but not impressive enough to hold its own with the stunning visuals.

I can say without hesitation, however, that if The Big Trail had been a silent film, it would today be ranked among the greatest movies ever made.  If you can look past its limitations as a talkie, you can see the masterpiece it might have been — the masterpiece that on one level it certainly is.

Ford, who discovered Wayne, is said to have held a grudge against him for making his starring debut in another director's film.  I suspect, however, that this was in part displaced resentment against Walsh for creating such magnificent images of the American West, which rivaled and sometimes surpassed those Ford had created in his own silent Westerns.  It is perhaps no accident that Ford abandoned Westerns entirely during most of the 1930s, returning to the form only in 1939, with Stagecoach . . . and I'm tempted to suggest that Ford spent the rest of his career as a maker of Westerns trying (successfully) to live up to the visual poetry of Walsh's The Big Trail.


This is the seventh in a series of essays in honor of André Bazin . . .

In an article on film and painting, André Bazin argues that the frame around a painting has the purpose of cutting it off from the real world, establishing the limits of a conceptual field necessary to analyzing the painting in its own terms . . . while the frame around a cinematic image is not a boundary marker but merely a masking device, blocking out an infinite expanse of space which we are meant to imagine as existing outside the mask.

This doesn't seem quite right to me.  There are certain kinds of painting which evoke the world with an optical integrity, an über-photographic reality, which make it not only possible but desirable to imagine a universe beyond their frames.  Much Victorian academic painting has this nature — it was a quality of painting which modernism rejected but which still had its virtues.  Some “classical” painters used this quality — Vermeer, for example.  The conceptual universe of Vermeer's paintings does not end at the edges of his frames.

And the frame of a cinematic image is often much more than a mask — a device for focusing attention.  It sets the boundaries for creating a drama of space, exactly as the proscenium arch does in classical ballet.  The distance or nearness of two dancers in a ballet only has dramatic meaning in relation to the space defined by the proscenium arch.  In ballet, the frame of this arch doesn't just demarcate an arena of theatrical illusion — distancing it from the real world inhabited by the spectator — it has a functional role in defining the expressive terms of the dance.

It's true that in photographed cinema, as opposed to animation, say, we can readily imagine a world beyond the frame with the same ontology as the actual objects photographed within the frame, but there is a counter impulse to discount this peripheral world in order to read the space within the frame as a theatrical arena whose dramatic content only makes sense within that frame.

Take the scene in The Searchers, for example, when Debbie appears in the far distance on top of a ridge behind Nathan and slowly moves towards and into the foreground space they occupy.  This becomes a visceral objective correlative to Nathan's dawning acceptance of Debbie as an individual human being, not just a symbol of his sense of disenfranchisement as a man, an object for the vengeance he wants to visit on life.

The shot is an image of a real place in a real moment of time, but we cannot imagine the world beyond its frame, we cannot imagine the space as seen from Debbie's perspective, for example, and still experience the full meaning of the shot.  The frame here acts as a frame does with most paintings — it creates a conceptual field distinct from the world beyond its borders, and only within that conceptual field does the shot “work”.

Bazin's formula is just too simple.  In the paintings Alma-Tadema did of the ancient world, we feel that the frame is indeed just a mask — a window onto a whole lost world beyond its frame which we delight in imagining.  And conversely, when we are swept into the space of a great animated cartoon, it's hardly necessary to seriously imagine a whole cartoon universe beyond its frame.

We can imagine such a universe beyond the cartoon frame, just as we can, with much less effort, imagine a world beyond the ridge Debbie appears on, but it's the way the frame limits such images, takes them out of the larger world, that makes their meaning in purely cinematic terms possible.

Here again, I think it's Bazin's location of cinema's power in photographed reality, rather than in the drama of space, that leads him to a deficient theoretical proposition.


Amy Crehore is showing her stuff in two art exhibitions opening next week, one in Las Vegas at the Hardrock Hotel & Casino starting tomorrow and running for two days and one in Brooklyn at the Ad Hoc Art gallery starting on the 25th and running through August 24th .

An image from the Brooklyn show is seen above, one from the Las Vegas show below:

If you're wandering around either of these two cities in the days ahead, drunk, heartsick, sorry about the whole thing, wondering where it all went wrong, try an art pick-me-up — good for what ails you.  Here are the details:


HUGE Art Exhibition in Las Vegas
Friday, July 18th – 7pm to Midnight
& Sat. July 19th – 1:00pm to Midnight

Curated by m modern Gallery

Free & Open to the Public!

And . . . clear across the country, practically . . .


49 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, NY


Opening July 25, 2008 from 7-10pm

Gallery hours Wed-Sunday 1-8pm

Crehore will attend the Brooklyn opening.


I'm still having a hard time believing that Barack Obama actually voted with the Bush administration to cripple the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, much less understanding why he would do such a thing.  I know he's got a lot of very intelligent advisers.  Did they identify a large group of swing voters who would be more inclined to support Obama knowing he was willing to trash the Constitution in order to create a false sense of security about terrorism?  Was it larger than the group of committed supporters, like myself, whose support would be catastrophically undermined by the vote?

I made a very small contribution to Obama's campaign — the first time I've ever done such a thing.  I feel now as though I was played for a sucker.  I certainly won't be sending the guy any more cash.  More than that, I want my money back.  It's no wonder that Obama's fund-raising efforts have been redirected recently towards more traditional big-money donors.  The little guys like me who got him where he is today weren't looking to finance an attack on the Bill of Rights.  Maybe the fat cats will be less finicky about such things.

I can understand taking a “nuanced position” with respect to abortion, or gun rights, or the timetable of withdrawal from Iraq, because these are genuinely complex issue, but is it possible to take a “nuanced position” on the Fourth Amendment, one of the keystones of the American system — a “balanced positioned” somewhere between
enforcing the amendment and abolishing it altogether?  I don't think so.  A watered-down Bill of Rights isn't a bill of rights at all — it's just a meaningless expression of good intentions.

This is all made even more mysterious by the fact that Obama had previously vowed to support a filibuster against any bill granting immunity to the telecoms for violating the Fourth Amendment.  When such a bill came before the Senate he couldn't even bring himself to vote against it, as so many other Democratic Senators did.

The only conclusion I can come to is that Obama is a true Democrat, a true American progressive.  He's committed, unconsciously at least, to losing.  The American Left is all about losing.  It enjoys complaint and grievance — it has no ambition to govern.

What else could explain the Democratic Party's effort to nominate Hillary Clinton in place of Obama?  What else could explain the Clinton campaign's decision to play the race card repeatedly, in an effort to divide the electorate, and to continue with this tactic long after it was clear that Hillary wasn't going to win the nomination?  What else could explain Jeremiah Wright's efforts to derail Obama's quest to become the first African-American President, or Jesse Jackson's bitter animosity towards Obama?

Indeed, what else could explain the odd cover recently published by The New Yorker, a leftward-leaning publication?  Masquerading as satire, it merely sent an image out into the culture around which irrational suspicions of Obama could coalesce.

The truth is that the American Left is terrified that Obama might actually win this election, violating the only enduring image it has of itself — that of self-righteous loser.  Obama, far from transcending outdated images like this, seems to be buying into them.  My guess is that the vote to undermine the Fourth Amendment won't be his last effort to alienate his most passionate supporters, the only way he can lose a contest whose outcome ought to be a foregone conclusion by now.

You just can't underestimate the American Left's lust for failure.


Lonesome Dove is one of the great American novels. He took
three weeks off from writing it to pen
The Desert Rose, which is a
fine novel in its own right, and one of the best ever written about Las
Vegas. Set in the 80s, when Vegas was a little down on its luck, it's
the story of a showgirl coming to the end of her career as her teenage
daughter starts one, as a dancer in the casino where her mother works.
It captures the melancholy laced with enchantment that can overtake
people who actually live and work in this strange town — the
good-natured sadness you often see in the eyes of older cocktail
waitresses . . . in their relentless hopefulness that you're not going
to be a jerk.

are only a couple of revues left in town which feature showgirls like
Harmony, the novel's protagonist, but the type of woman who is
basically paid to be beautiful remains — and the town has its share of
girls like her daughter Pepper, whom the system has robbed of joy and

Harmony, McMurtry creates a character whose only strength is optimism,
but he grants her the grandeur of that strength, without condescension.
She's a wondrous creation — as heroic in her way as any of the
legendary frontiersmen of his period fiction.

Desert Rose
is period fiction itself now, twenty years on, but the
feel of the city hasn't changed all that much — it still takes courage
to find real joy amidst the ruthless merriment of it all . . . and
women like Harmony are still the key to everything.


I've posted before about the innovations in photographic equipment which allowed for the first action shots of war by correspondents covering the Mexican Revolution.  They made most of their income by selling their images of the war as postcards — like the one above, featuring Pancho Villa himself, in the light suit flanked by the two darker-clad men.


This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

This poem was not published during Keats's lifetime.  It was found after his death, written or copied on the manuscript of another poem.  The last line is startling, as though the poet were trying to reach out from the page, emphasized by the shift from the expected “thee” to “you” in the last line.  In Keats's day “thee” was considered the loftier usage, more fitting for a poetic utterance — “you” brings the poem into the world of vernacular speech, like the hand trying to reach out into the reader's reality.  Keats holds his hand out not to thee, gentle reader of poetry, but to you — you, whoever you are.

Since this was one of the last poems Keats wrote, when he knew he was dying, we can read the reaching out as something directed at us, at posterity, from the grave he knew he would soon inhabit.  Perhaps it also embodies a cry of despair about the limits of poetry itself.  On a more literal level it may have been addressed to Fanny Brawne, his muse, from whom he knew he would soon be parting.

The sketch of Keats above is by Charles Brown, made in 1819.  Within two years the beautiful boy it records would be dead of consumption at the age of 25, in Rome, where he had traveled in hopes of a miracle cure.  A letter from Brawne which reached him after his death was buried with him, unopened.  At his request these words were carved on his headstone — “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”  Within the long shadow of Eternity, all our names are writ in water, but the brook where Keats's name is writ still sings, and will probably continue to do so for quite some time.


The Bad and the Beautiful is sometimes called a film noir but it's nothing of the sort — it's a romantic soap opera whose stylistic “darkness” is purely aesthetic and whose thematic “darkness” derives from simple perversity.  A true film noir presents the image of a morally chaotic universe, a universe in which moral choices are either unclear or existentially useless — The Bad and the Beautiful glamorizes evil and asks us to love it.

The Bad and the Beautiful is the only film ever made about Hollywood which manages to capture its peculiar culture of perversity.  Hollywood, in the classic studio era, was not about money.   Given the fact that the major studios had a virtual monopoly over film distribution, money was a given.  Movies were a rigged game.  It wasn't about power, either — power was also a given, a consequence of all that money.  And it wasn't about sex — money and power guaranteed sex, not only for the beautiful people who paraded their wares in front of a camera but for the nerdy little businessmen who organized the parade.

The coin of the realm in Hollywood was brutality and betrayal .  The ability to hurt other people, especially one's friends and allies, with impunity was the one entitlement that signified genuine status in Hollywood.  It was the only behavior that had a lasting and enduring glamor there.

The Bad and the Beautiful
is about (and also part and parcel of) the sentimental myth created in Hollywood to lend a romantic flavor to the puerile exercise of brutality and betrayal — by insisting that it was all for art, for the good of the picture, for the good of the public.  This  myth was meant to disguise the fact that brutality and betrayal had an erotic charge in Hollywood, that it constituted a kind of moral pornography — that it existed for its own sake.

In a world of total material and sensual satiation, moral perversity was the only thing still capable of delivering a charge.  It was the sort of charge that attaches to a child killing an insect or a small animal, to high school kids tormenting an outsider into suicidal despair, to the enslavement and torture and destruction of helpless people by governments.

Simone Weil wrote, “Brutality,
violence, and inhumanity have an immense prestige that schoolbooks hide
from children, that grown men do not admit, but that everyone bows
before.”  This insight is the key to Hollywood's culture, and to
The Bad and the Beautiful.  For The Bad and the Beautiful is not about money, not about power, not about sex — not even about filmmaking or Hollywood per se.  Its emotional climaxes, its juice, come from moments of lurid, glamorized, unrepentant brutality and betrayal.

One might say the same for most of Greek drama, of course, and much of Shakespeare.  The difference is that The Bad and the Beautiful calls down no retribution from Olympus, from the inexorable workings of fate.  In Sophocles as in Shakespeare, the frisson of moral perversity is part of the entertainment, but there is a price to be paid.  In the perpetual adolescence of Hollywood, so brilliantly evoked in The Bad and the Beautiful, no price is exacted — except a kind of emptiness, that money and power and celebrity and Oscars can't fill up.  There is that kind of emptiness at the heart of The Bad and the Beautiful, but it's not acknowledged.  The film is a perfect paradigm of true spiritual despair — a despair that is unaware of itself.


Given a terrific story, Lon Chaney in the role of a lifetime, some of the most spectacular sets ever built in Hollywood, a cast of thousands and a decent cinematographer, even Wallace Worsley could make a great movie — and in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame I think he did.

There's a lot about the film one could criticize.  Much of the filmmaking and much of the acting, apart from Chaney's, is merely serviceable.  Worsley can be clumsy in his staging of ensembles and in his handling of the comic relief.  But with a film this entertaining, a film that showcases a performance like Chaney's, criticism seems a bit churlish.

Chaney's performance is highly theatrical, highly stylized, but it's always calculated in terms of movement, of dance.  His physical presence is never less than riveting.  He doesn't stint on the grotesque aspect of Quasimodo, whose teeth seem to be rotting out of his head and whose tongue flicks out like a lizard's when he gets excited.  He's genuinely repellent — which only makes the revelation of his kind heart more affecting.

Orson Welles said that as a kid he never had much interest in movies as a medium per se — what he was interested in was movie actors, and he singled out Chaney's Quasimodo as one of the performances that most inspired him.  This probably had a lot to do with Welles's lifelong interest in make-up effects, especially his obsession with facial applications, which he wore in almost all of his stage and screen roles.

In The Hunchback, Chaney's Quasimodo pops in and out at irregular intervals through most of the film.  When he takes center stage in the final reels, the movie sings as only a silent film can.  Chaney dances to a melody that only he and Quasimodo can hear — until suddenly, by following the shapes and rhythms of the dance, we can hear it, too.  It's a kind of miracle.

Sadly, the film survives only in poor prints.  Kino's recent “Ultimate Edition” on DVD is mastered from what's identified as an “original”
tinted print
, and it's not bad, considering.  The movie still manages to shine through the scratches — and makes one dream about what the thing must have looked like on its initial release.  The Kino edition also offers a fine commentary by Michael Blake, Chaney's biographer and a make-up artist himself, who provides a wealth of information about the cast members and the production.  The musical score, complied by Donald
Hunsberger and orchestrated and conducted by the always reliable Robert
Israel, is first-rate.


The web log If Charlie Parker Was A Gunslinger is a new thing under the sun — a kind of journal of visual culture composed almost entirely of images, with minimal comment.  I think of mardecortesbaja as primarily a journal of visual culture, though the commentary has an equal place with the images.  But at Charlie Parker it's mostly the images that talk — to us and, perhaps more importantly, to each other.  The result is a sort of subliminal conversation that too much interpretation would drown out.

Tom Sutpen, one of the guiding lights at Charlie Parker, has just started a different kind of web log, Illusion Travels By Streetcar, devoted to his writing about film.  In the first post, he produces this evocation of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which he jotted down on a legal pad for some writing project he can no longer remember:

that occult skyscraper of vision piled atop ever more crazed vision; of
fairy tale narrative and futuristic nightmare; of half-buried eroticism
and a mystic symbology lifted, with all the weightless ease of an empty
bottle, from the Old Testament; all in service to a vaguely Socialist
fever dream its director, Fritz Lang, had no real interest in. That
Metropolis, in all of its deranged willfulness and splendor, will almost certainly never be seen in its entirety again.

It's a lovely piece of writing and a fine summary of the film but its last line has taken on a new resonance with the news, only recently reported and now spreading through the Internet like wildfire, that a complete print of Metropolis has been discovered, in a film archive in Buenos Aires.  It's a 16mm preservation copy of a battered 35mm original, but it's all there — the film as Lang originally made it, before it got cut down by its American distributor — the only known copy of the complete film in existence.  (The image above is a frame-grab from the print.)

This is exciting in itself and also for the wild hopes it arouses that other lost footage might someday still be found — a copy of Von Stroheim's four-hour cut of Greed, for example, or the footage RKO cut from The Magnificent Ambersons.

But enough dreaming.  Check out Sutpen's new blog — I suspect it's going to be essential reading for movie fans.