Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Collection Project: The Kind of Face You Hate

A little over two years ago, due to my own interest, and at the urging of a few friends, I decided to start a blog (this one!). I knew, roughly speaking, what I wanted to write about thereon (though the tone would be slow in developing), so the one thing that was really holding me back, apart from my lack of computer skills and knowledge, was a title. I wanted a good one, something interesting, and movie-related, but not obviously so, and one that in some way would reflect my interests. And I was coming up with bupkis. I'm generally bad with titles anyway, and whatever movie lines I had rattling around in my head for easy use weren't doing the trick. Nothing that worked as a title, at least..
Then, not long after this problem began, I was watching Requiem for a Killer, the short documentary on the making of Blast of Silence on that film's Criterion DVD. Typically, the makers of those documentaries front load their films with clips from the movie in question, and Requiem for a Killer was no different. Early on, they showed the clip from Blast of Silence where writer/director/star Allen Baron, as contract killer Frankie Bono, is considering his new job, and looking at photographs of his target. Blast of Silence employs some of the best narration (written by Waldo Salt, who is here credited as Mel Davenport) I've ever encountered, using the gravelly voice of Lionel Stander to not just comment upon the action, or allow the viewer into Bono's head, but to speak to Bono, in second person, referring to Bono as "you". Most second-person narration in literature I find to be too much of a self-councious stunt, a lazy attempt to bring the reader into the book to some degree (it's similar to the whole "you're the voyeur!" idea in Hitchcock and De Palma movies, though, obviously, in those cases it's handled with much more grace). But in Blast of Silence that narration, those "you"s, are all about Frankie Bono, and the cynical, sardonic, occasionally even disgusted (it's subtle, but it's there) tone taken by Salt and Stander serve to expose Bono's blasted soul better, even, than much of what's actually on-screen.
Though what's on-screen's nothing to sneeze at its own self. Despite the fact that Baron (who, in Blast of Silence, looks a great deal like The Hustler-era George C. Scott) has had a long directing career, he hasn't made that many films, working mostly in TV for the past 40-some years. As a result, even though it's not, Blast of Silence feels a little bit like a one-off (much of this is due to the relative unavailability of the rest of Baron's film work), like Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls. And both films have a strong ethereal, haunted quality (literally, in the case of Harvey's film) as the protagonists of both films spend a lot of time wandering around their respective environments, and through a particularly gray form of black-and-white photography. Both Frankie Bono and Candace Hilligoss as Mary in Carnival of Souls do have a purpose (of a vague sort, in Mary's case), so "wandering" may be the wrong word, but the very specific purpose behind Bono's movements are, at times, irrelevent to watching him walk through, say, Harlem, because one of the pleasures of Blast of Silence is seeing New York (and it could have been anywhere and been just as captivating) and its inhabitants captured not as extras, because a lot of them weren't, but as people who existed at the age we see them, in 1961, shopping for Christmas presents (for example). Blast of Silence nails down, for posterity, a brief record of daily existence. Not the daily struggles and existential whatevers, but just the facts of it -- this person walked past this store at this time. It's the sort of thing captured in more detail by actual documentaries, like the Maysles brothers' Salesman, but Baron did it at the service of a crime story about a lonely hitman who's about to have to pay for the way he lives.
(By the way, Arbogast of Arbogast on Film once suggested to me that Blast of Silence would make an interesting double-bill with Frank Henenlotter's dirt cheap, New York-based horror comedy Basket Case. I haven't programmed that double-bill yet, but I have seen Basket Case, and in the way Henenlotter steals shots of tucked-away corners of that city, and long-gone storefronts, I believe I found the connection Arbogast was hinting at. If he ever reads this, he can tell me if I'm wrong, which I bet I am.)
Anyway. So I'm watching Requiem for a Killer, and that part where Bono's looking at the picture comes on, and Lionel Stander says, in the narration, that the guy in the photograph wears a mustache to cover up for the fact that he has the mouth of a woman. This kind of face, Stander says, to Bono, is "the kind of face you hate." And there it was. The line had somehow managed to escape my notice when I was watching the actual film, but this time it buried itself in my head. No better title, I figured, could possibly be forthcoming. And here we are.


Greg said...

I still haven't seen Blast of Silence, believe it or not, but I'm sure I'll find it much more entertaining than you will find All Quiet on the Western Front.

And a happy two years to you, again. If Peter Travers were here he'd say, "Bill Ryan's The Kind of Face You Hate" is the kind of blog you love!"

He'd say that right after calling it a "roller coaster ride" and the "best time to be had in years!"

bill r. said...

Peter Travers is sooooooooooo nice. I wish he'd comment more.

BLAST OF SILENCE is great -- I think so, anyway. What you should do is see it.

Greg said...

I hear it's a roller coaster ride.

bill r. said...


Greg said...

"You'll have a blast!"

Has anyone ever made a movie that out-Black Stallioned the The Black Stallion? 'Cause, man, if they did... awesome!

bill r. said...

Oh no no. That would be impossible.

Kelly said...

I heard Sylvester Stallone was making a new Rocky movie where Rocky gets a horse called The Italian Black Stallion. That'll be good.

Arbogast said...

I don't remember why I said Blast of Silence would make a good two-fer with Basket Case... but they both have some lonely bastard kicking around Manhattan, which looks in both cases like not such a nice place to live. Even though it is, or was when I lived there as a lonely bastard.

Maybe I said that because both movies begin with "B" and therefore it would be no great effort to pull them at the same time, provided your collection is alphabetized.