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October 1997, Week 2


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Dennis Bingham <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 7 Oct 1997 14:06:57 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (55 lines)
What I'm about to write is not based on any intensive study (I wish it
were), but Cain's novel seems a pulp distillation of late-19th century
naturalist fiction by the likes of Zola, Hardy, and Norris.  The
conventions of the protagonist locked by fate, biology, sometimes even
genetics, into an unstoppable trajectory triggered by base instincts
(lust, survival, greed) stems from these authors' literary rebellions
against Victorian moralities.  I saw U-TURN a few weeks after teaching
Renoir's film of Zola's LA BETE HUMAINE.  The similarities are striking,
above and beyond the basic noir plot of an unstable, luckless antihero
interjected into the life of a murderous central couple, with a background
of incest.  U-TURN's Greek chorus character, the blind beggar played by an
unrecognizable Jon Voight, lectures on the "animal inside man," the "bete
humaine" which in naturalism/poetic realism/noir cancels out redemptive
spirituality.  Most important, Stone's making a ferocious, exuberant
plunge into the genre's tar pit of fate and bestiality following the
commercial failure of a string of ambitious socially conscious masterworks
(I'm a fan of NIXON, a film that got Stone-walled on SCREEN-L winter
before last) recalls Renoir's no-holds-barred wallow in naturalism
following the collapse of the Popular Front, and with it, Renoir's hope
for a united front against fascism, anti-semitism, and capitalist greed in
late-30s France.  Stone, who has never shrunk from autobiography, appears
to relish putting himself and his protagonist through a private Vietnam of
noir conventions that is as senseless yet as logical as the travails of
the ticking genetic timebomb Gabin played in Renoir's film.  If Nick Nolte
had played a New York Times editor* rather than a real estate shark, the
autobiographical link would have been clearer.  BTW, have the reviewers
busy comparing LA CONFIDENTIAL to CHINATOWN noticed that Penn's last line
in U-TURN is a paraphrase of the famous ending words of the
Towne-Polanski-Nicholson pastiche?
Dennis Bingham
Indiana University Indianapolis
* I'm referring to the score of anti-Stone articles the NYT obsessively
commissioned in the years following the release of JFK.
On Mon, 6 Oct 1997, Lang Thompson wrote:
> U-Turn is the latest variant on the basic story of The Postman Always Rings
> Twice.  Does anybody know if Postman is more or less the origin of this
> drifter meets doublecrossing couple plot?  (I mean the book since none of
> the film versions are anywhere near as good.)
> Lang Thompson
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