10 June 2007

Daisy Kenyon (1947, Otto Preminger)

{99, A, ****} | Museum of Modern Art, "To Save and Project: The Fifth MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation"

• First of all, since somebody asked: Yes, this is the highest rating I've given since I switched to the 100-point scale in the summer of 2002. Which is not to say that Daisy Kenyon is now my favorite film of all time or anything—Only Angels Have Wings, The Lady Eve, Brief Encounter, A Star Is Born ('54), The Night of the Hunter, North by Northwest, Yojimbo, Woman in the Dunes, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Manhattan, Exotica, and (yes) Memento will all likely get the magic 100 if/when I watch them again. But it's been a long, long while since I've encountered a "new" (that is, previously unseen by me) old-Hollywood masterpiece. Give those zany auteurists credit for carrying the banner on this one. I'm sorry I doubted you, guys.

• So what's so astonishing? Simply put, Daisy Kenyon is the most bluntly realistic romantic melodrama I've ever seen. At the same time, however, every element of the film is subtly, expressionistically heightened, creating a mesmerizing tension between naturalism and artifice—which, not coincidentally, is the subject of a recent post by Kenyon fanatic Dan Sallitt. Crawford, Andrews and Fonda all give impassioned yet detached performances, as if they were both within and without the narrative—not in some cutesy ironic way, mind you, but in a genuinely bizarre, modernist sense. The film's explosive dialogue, courtesy of David Hertz (from the novel by Elizabeth Janeway), is at once florid and terse, like some weird amalgam of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Preminger's camerawork, likewise, runs the gamut from startlingly mobile to breathtakingly still, forever keeping pace with the characters' roiling emotions. The movie as a whole feels decades ahead of its time—it's probably still a few years ahead of our time. Perhaps the best I can do by way of analogy is to suggest that you try to imagine your favorite '40s or '50s melodrama—pick a really good one, a favorite— as possessed by the sensibility of Hong Sang-soo. Really, it's that prickly, confused and ambiguous…yet also that elegant, literate and controlled. Breathtaking.

• My only slight quibble is with the final scene, which is not without its own magnificence but wraps things up a tad too neatly, providing the film's only taste of moralism and handing an unequivocal victory to one of the three characters. On top of which it feels somewhat superfluous following the [SPOILER ELIDED] and its poetically dazzling aftermath, as Daisy stumbles blindly toward the camera that's spent the past sixty seconds discreetly backing away from her anguished dilemma. Preminger composes this as if he really wanted it to be the final shot; in my memory, it sort of is.

• No, it's not available on video, which must have something to do with its bewildering obscurity.


Jaime said...

Anyone who's interested can contact me for a VHS dub. The quality will be "acceptable."

jaime dot christley at gmail dot com

J said...

Don't forget Troll 2, obviously. Easy, easy 100 right there.

Josh said...

They're showing it again at MOMA on Monday night.

Anonymous said...

OMG! The schedule is set.
Daisy Kenyon will show on MoreMax, July 13 at 5:45am EST.
Get your VCR ready.

David McDougall said...

I saw the 2nd MoMA show and was as blown away as you were.

ZC said...

Coming a little late to the party, but--I hadn't dropped by here in a few weeks, so when I was chatting with Steve Erickson yesterday and he mentioned how much you loved this one my jaw kind of dropped. "D'Angelo gave this film a 99? But I would probably give it a 99! Whoa." This really is one of the greatest films ever, and I'm glad that over the last few years it's been getting more exposure (a lot of that no doubt stemming from Dan's proselytization). Good call, Mike.

Btw, how did you feel about the audience laughter at MoMA? I was there just for the first (weekend) screening, and I felt that the most vocal segments of the audience were really not giving the film (and its quiet intensity) a fair shake.

I heard the second screening was packed.

Ryan said...

I *have* to get haul my ass to a NY rep screening some time. Perhaps we get an older crowd in LA, but out west we really don't have these inappropriate laughter problems that appears widespread in NY.

Certainly don't recall inappropriate laughter from the rep screening of Daisy Kenyon. I remember chuckling at some of the Henry Fonda stuff in the third act, but you know, folks seem to take the melodrama pretty seriously, as they should.

Glad to see others getting aboard recognizing this as an unsung masterpiece. Just remember that Dan and Zach were there from the start.

md'a said...

NYC rep audiences are nuts in a multitude of ways. Just tonight at They Were Expendable I was seated near a sixtyish dude, sitting alone, who, the moment John Wayne first appeared onscreen, announced "That's John Wayne" in the same tone and at the same volume usually reserved for "May I have your attention, please?"

I wasn't terribly bothered by the laughter at the first Kenyon screening, perhaps because some it seemed like a defense mechanism in response to the discomfiting emotions the film provokes. Certainly that was the case with the "For a long time I thought you weren't worth killing" line. Not so much mocking laughter as incredulous laughter. See also Bigger Than Life and the immortal "God was wrong!" (Also, I think the "Avenue of the Americas" bit you singled out in your own post is intended to be funny, albeit in a wistful way.)

That's Ed, I was pleased that the second screening was more placid.

Ryan, we'll find something for you to see while you're in town, unless you're crazy busy the whole time. Though ironically the big MoMA series that week is called "MoMA Laffs," featuring Airplane!, Lebowski, Modern Times, etc.

Berger said...

when are you going to review a real film, like TRANSFORMERS

Jared Peace said...

This sounds like the kind of thing Criterion should be taking care of for us.