BAMcinématek’s Beyond the Canon—One False Move + Touch of Evil


One False Move, courtesy Sony Pictures; Touch of Evil, courtesy Universal Pictures

of which is actually no secret of which the cinema canon has historically skewed toward lionizing the white, male auteur. This kind of monthly series seeks to question of which history as well as also broaden horizons by pairing one much-loved, highly regarded, canonized classic having a thematically or stylistically-related—as well as also equally brilliant—work by a filmmaker traditionally excluded coming from of which discussion.

This kind of month’s double feature pairs Carl Franklin’s brilliant One False Move with Orson Welles’ classic Touch of Evil. Both films exemplify the film noir genre while also investigating interracial relationships on both an intimate as well as also community-wide scale. Guest writer Michael Boyce Gillespie examines the genre as well as also how of which relates to, as well as also was born out of, boundary crossing.

By Michael Boyce Gillespie

Film noir remains one of the richest as well as also most difficult film categories to quantify. In More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, James Naremore addresses the lack of a definitive consensus surrounding its origins as well as also status as genre. He suggests of which This kind of indeterminacy represents a need to rethink noir as well as also the idea of genre more broadly: “If we want to understand [film noir], or make sense of genres or art historical categories in general, we need to recognize of which film noir belongs to the history of ideas as much as to the history of cinema; of which has less to do having a group of artifacts than having a discourse—a loose, evolving system of arguments as well as also readings, helping to shape commercial strategies as well as also aesthetic ideologies.” To place Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil (1958) as well as also Carl Franklin’s One False Move (1992) together is actually to recognize the crucial ways of which borders as well as also crossings constitute a central concern of film noir as the history of an idea. Both screen at BAMcinématek on April 21.

Touch of Evil, courtesy Universal Pictures.

Film noir itself resulted coming from “crossings” of ideas—consider how the hard-boiled novels of the 1920s—30s, as well as also the later Hollywood studio adaptations, were each labeled as “noir” by the French existentialist as well as also surrealist communities of the day. Crossings as well as also borders are negotiated in every noir film, evident inside aesthetic distinctions of high contrast lighting, signifying distinctions about culture, ideas of race, conceptions of Great as well as also evil, as well as also of which which distinguishes social order coming from chaos. Yet, these binaries are conceits of which can never be fixed in simple terms of black as well as also white. The way these binaries bleed into one another is actually the crux of every noir story.

At its start, Touch of Evil is actually compelled by border anxieties as well as also the fear of miscegenation evidenced by its newlyweds: Mexican law enforcement agent, Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), as well as also his white bride, Susie (Janet Leigh). This kind of is actually compounded by Heston’s non-ironic, brownface performance. His body alone is actually a comic as well as also grotesque vessel of boundaries as well as also whiteness as a dangerously normalizing standard. Initially, the multiple crossings of the borderline between Mexico as well as also the US amplify the implied distinction between the civility of white society as well as also the lawlessness of Mexican gangs as well as also drug lords. yet This kind of slowly erodes. In spite of the film’s anti-Mexican/white supremacist tones, of which is actually Hank Quinlan (Welles), a law man with impeccable intuition, who comes to represent the greatest evil of the film. His reputation is actually eventually revealed to be built on violent coercion, false confessions, as well as also the planting of evidence. The law man as arbiter of justice is actually concurrently the everyday injustice of the police state.

One False Move, courtesy Sony Pictures.

The fraught traversing of boundaries is actually equally central to Franklin’s brilliant One False Move (1992). “Star City, Arkansas,” the destination of its on-the-run characters, is actually a Southern town of which sounds of future promise, yet in truth is actually a place of which connotes an unreconciled as well as also/or arrested past, a time before one was cast out or just ran away. Fantasia (Cynda Williams), the child of a black mother as well as also an unknown white father with another family, embodies the crossing of borders. Unlike Sarah Jane of Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959), who is actually desperate to pass as white as well as also erase all vestiges of being black, Fantasia challenges the tragic mulatta with the additional measure of also being the film’s femme fatale. Her return home entails the revisiting of secrets as well as also violations of which dovetail with her old persona, Lila Walker. She is actually a fugitive woman on the run (femme fatale) as well as also the product of miscegenation fears (tragic mulatta). The meeting of these two tropes results in something different than a resolution yet more a fantasy of which social order has returned.

To pair these two films is actually an opportunity to view noir as the history of an idea—how of which produces distinct accents on a politics of transgression, the idea of race, as well as also film form. These accents are neither clean nor unproblematic. yet “happily ever after” is actually never the real point of film noir. Perhaps the real force of film noir resides in staging the fantasy of immutable categories as well as also moreover, the desire of which these fantasies remain impossibly intact.

Join us for
Beyond the Canon next Sat, Apr 21.

Michael Boyce Gillespie is actually Associate Professor of Film at The City College of completely new York, CUNY. He is actually the author of Film Blackness: American Cinema as well as also the Idea of Black Film (Duke University Press, 2016).

ⓒ 2018, Brooklyn Academy of Music. All rights reserved.

BAMcinématek’s Beyond the Canon—One False Move + Touch of Evil

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