Saturday, August 20, 2011
My bird likes Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan lights fuses
I just learned my bird likes Spencer Tracy, and i find her taste reflects most film viewers' sensibilities. My bird can judge friendliness and likability in the matter of time it takes for someone to speak. People are not so different -- we listen and watch just enough to hear the calm and the warmth and the readiness for connection that a likable person's voice would convey.
Spencer Tracy has all these qualities, and as i watch BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, it is inescapably obvious how marvelous Spencer is for this film. Tracy is class, Tracy is a guy's guy, and he is also old guard and the guy you'd never go wrong trusting. He is the good sheriff and the moral compass, even though he enters the film as the one non cowboy and the outsider in the black hat.
It has been nearly 9 years since i've seen this film, and the social mirror of this film now reflects forward into the present day, making me think of Tea Party eccentrics and the laws of the Western genre. The people of Black Rock are unwelcoming and threatening to Tracy's visitor, and their own ignorance and closed community, again, like the Tea Partiers, is what implodes them all to bits. Robert Ryan, in an early sequence, explains to his cronies how this city outsider is a danger. "This guy is like a carrier of small pox. Since he's arrived, this town has a fever. An infection. And it's SPREADING."
Getting back to Robert Ryan, subject of a current series at NYC's Film Forum. Was there any guy better at being the film screen's psychic and visual equivalent to the trigger of a gun or the light on a fuse? He is sexy, carnal and dangerous. He's as fatherly as he is criminal. Incorporating all of these contradictions, he is the ideal identification for fellow haunted men (ON DANGEROUS GROUND, ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW), manic , bawdy and greedy patriarchs (GOD'S LITTLE ACRE.) He elevates every line to a smolder or an explosively hostile relationship. In this film , like INFERNO, the last Robert Ryan selection i saw at Film Forum, also taking place in the desert of the Southwest, Ryan literally is fighting with fire. Both films feature explosive fires in the desert, and it is no ironic observation that Ryan is the common denominator.
It's strange how this picture, which acts as if it's a social issue picture, speaks so much about xenophobia and racism, which is the social issue at the core of this film. The film is actually more of a Western, and it is never illuminating about race. It only speaks of men. And who belongs. but i see no Asians or African Americans, i see men from the city and men from the desert. It's colors bring out the smarts of some men over the banality of others. It's rocky desert topography speaks of the roughness of small town desert life and how simulatneously closed (minded) and open it's spaces and it's people are. BLACK ROCK has spaces closed (in community size) and open (in expansiveness of the desert) ; containing threats of overreaching foreign space that is pure territory...pure nothingness but physical background in which to fight and determine who is allowed to belong. Mostly, the film, for me, is about the experience of watching Spencer Tracy, metropolitan, cityfied movie star, walking in the psychotically beautiful and haunting desert, wearing a dark suit and dark, smart fedora.
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