Are you down with the sickness?: In a Lonely Place and Modern Traumas

Interesting times right now, I have to say.  And the synergy of my film viewing and the world at large is not going unnoticed by this rabid cinephile.

Tonight I went to the Silent Movie Theater to see In a Lonely Place, a film that I fell in love with back in college at UCSC, when my best friend Ray showed it to me. Since then, I have read the book it was based on, wrote a paper about it, and, better still, found an absolutely fucking BRILLIANT song that was based on it (using one of the best lines from the damn film).

This is undoubtedly a troubling film. There is no question in my mind that it is one of Bogart’s best performances, as you see his range of acting through an array of facial expressions that he rarely gets the opportunity to use in most of his more standard roles, however…it makes the film (and his character) that much more, well, disturbing.

See, there’s a murder, right? And it’s a noir, so there seems to be a wrong man thing, right? (And no, I’m NOT going to give anything away, I hate spoilers and ruining films for people with the heat of a thousand burning fires) And of course there’s a love story somewhere inside. All set within the confines of Hollywood and the film industry. Now, the WONDERFUL thing about many of the films in the ’40’s and ’50’s that were made about Hollywood is the way that they treated the landscape. Far from it being the environment where dreams come true and stars are born, it is diseased. Hollywood is sick and rotting, it is a corpse being slowly picked apart by the vultures who live there; beasts who feed upon it (some call those agents, but hey…) trying to gain some substantiation but end up with nothing but more contamination. My point is, that this film is about the sickness.

I am not a stranger to Hollywood, nor am I a stranger to infirmity, especially the kind discussed within the narrative of this film. I wish I could say that it was foreign to me, however, whether it was a personal experience or a friend’s, it is all too familiar. See, no matter how you cut it, Bogart’s character, Dixon Steele, is guilty. I know, I know, I just told you I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but hear me out- I’m not. The main issue in this film has to do with anger issues, and, more crucially, domestic violence. As the cops look at his case, they go through Dix’s files, they come across case after case of fights and brawls and assorted other socially “acceptable” male misbehavior. Then they come to one of his former girlfriends. She retracted the call she made about him, and said that she had broken her nose by “running into a door.”

This is the point where we start to worry and wonder. This is the part where we become disturbed. THIS is the part where the acceptable “guy-ism” of punching the other dude’s lights out doesn’t count. Because you hit a girl. Now I am a full-on feminist, but I don’t think that there aren’t extenuating circumstances to many situations and the term “hitting a girl” does kinda rub me the wrong way at times because it infers that, well, I couldn’t punch the fuck outta someone if I wanted to. However, I also realize that it is a biological FACT that most men are physically stronger than most women in many circumstances (minus weightlifters, bodybuilders, military, and probably a good percentage of the crazy nutjobs that survive Burning Man on a yearly basis, etc), and therefore? YOU DON’T HIT A GIRL.

Which brings me back to my main discussion. Nicholas Ray’s film and Chris Brown and Rihanna. Wh-wh-wh-what??

Yes, I wrote exactly that. Now the interesting thing is, as I was driving to the theater tonight, I was oblivious to the connection between the two (Gee, I dunno, film noir from 1950, R&B teeny-bopper couple from 2009…connection just *didn’t* immediately spring to mind…call me crazy), but as I watched the film unfurl, I was horrified to realize that there was Too Much There. Watching Dixon Steele unravel, watching Gloria Grahame respond, watching their relationship build to the crescendo that it does, the magnificence that is that film…I found more items inside of the diegesis alarming that I had before. Yet, I also found them more heartbreaking and more heartwrenching as well.  Because nothing is ever simple, nothing is ever easy, and love, above all, is the most difficult of all things. However, this film shows that love, with certain people, can be a combat zone, and does nothing to hide that fact. As a sidenote, it would seem to me that this at least partially stemmed from the fact that Nicholas Ray and his star, Gloria Grahame, were in the middle of ending their marriage during the making of the film (he slept on the set, actually, claiming the need to “work late”). However, like war, in this film love is hell.

However, it is not that simple. Especially not in real life. And especially not when the media gets involved (also one of the pivotal messages of the film- a critique of fame and the role that the media plays in making/breaking personal lives).  This very aspect of media involvement hit me like a jackhammer. Actually, it hit me more like the unending barrage of updates I’ve been seeing everyday at the gym about Chris Brown and Rihanna. And I was fascinated by the parallel issues that I was seeing within fiction and non-fiction, with the more than 50 years in between.

I had been listening to a piece on NPR about teenagers in LA and their responses to the Chris Brown/Rihanna thing right before I pulled up to the theater. See, it’s pretty phenomenal what fandom and fan culture will do to people and their synthesis of actual real life events. The way I see it, there are three main activities that fans regularly engage in that can be seriously and horrifically detrimental in situations like this.

1) Fans will intentionally ignore the negative/unacceptable in order to keep their image of their Perfect Idol “perfect”

2) Fans will actively search for and find “back up” evidence (no matter how outlandish it may seem) that defies the event in question in order to reposition and restore the Perfect Idol back to his/her “rightful” throne

3) Fans will vigorously disseminate their version of events as the absolute truth, as a result of their expert knowledge in that area

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am a HUGE fan of Fandoms and Fan Culture. I study it, love it, AM it, to a certain extent. Each of the above things in and of itself is not inherently evil. However, when it comes to a situation like Rihanna and Chris Brown…it becomes very dangerous. These three things are, obviously, methods that fans use to intentionally distort the truth. This is not bad when it comes to the discussion of William Shatner’s toupees, but it is damaging beyond words when it comes to something like domestic violence.

Especially when there are, oh, no celebrities with the balls enough to stand up and say “Hey guys- this shit don’t fly. This was not good.” That certainly doesn’t help. So when KCRW has these teenagers discussing their feelings about whether Rihanna hit him first, and then whether she deserved to get hit back because she started it, and others disowning Brown altogether, you end up realizing that there is an entire generation of kids out there right now, struggling to cobble together some kind of reasoning and some kind of meaning from all of this with no guidance. Oh boo hoo, so Brown isn’t getting to do that awards show. Is that going to help these girls who love(d) him? Not really.  One of the girls said something to the effect of “Oh, he’s never going to be able to come back from this one. He’s being called Ike Turner, you don’t come back from that.”  Tragically, and especially after rewatching the film tonight, I have to play the cynic on this one. He’s already coming back. His PR people are working overtime to make damn sure that happens. Thus I say, welcome to the sickness. Welcome to the disease. Welcome to the virus-ridden place that used to be located in Hollywood, but has now been expanded to a meta-location called, simply, Celebrity.

inalonelyplace3791 I was going to post a picture of Rihanna and her face, but do you really need to see that? I mean, that is a physically embodied example of illness and malady, physically imposed and created, but sickness nonethless. But I thought better of it. We’ve all seen it by now, and if you haven’t, google it. NO ONE should EVER get beaten like that. I’m glad that picture got leaked though, even if her 21-year-old ass isn’t. It’s going to make a difference in someone’s life. I hope. But I’m not going to repost the damn thing.

Do we need to see more reiteration on WHY you shouldn’t beat another human being to a bloody pulp? I’m thinking….no.  So instead, I’ll end with a brief musing on the foreign poster I found for In a Lonely Place. I thought it was particularly fascinating because, well, the title change. I have a penchant for foreign film posters. BIG time. My favorites currently are the Polish ones. But this one is pretty interesting. The film’s “tagline” literally says “Of hatred? or of death?”  And the title? Well, this film is now called “Death in a kiss.”

Quite a different feel from In a Lonely Place, eh? The association of kisses with violence and death with hate and intimacies, all against the backdrop of what seems to be Bogart caressing Grahame’s face in his hands…It’s quite intense. Not unlike the film. Translations and updates can be funny things, not unlike language itself. It can change a film from having a semi-moody, melancholic title to one that connotes vicious violence and explosive passions. That very same language is also used to change one man’s actions of anger and violence into a simple “mistake,” or something that was “taken out of context,” with very similar effects: the entire scene changes.

At the end of the day, media is as sensitive as we are. However, as it seems to be continually proven, not all the people who are producing it these days, are. They are those vultures as mentioned earlier, circling, waiting. At this point it is just up to us really. We have to decide whether we’re going to be down with the sickness, or abscond to greener pastures and leave it for others to deal with, as the celebrities seemed to have done with the Rihanna/Brown case. Alternatively,  we can always try and revitalize this bitch, give it some blood, a new title and tagline perhaps. I don’t know about you, but those foreign posters? They always speak volumes to me.

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4 Comments

  1. Ariel,

    A brilliant article This is one of those films that (as you know very well) one can get obsessive about. There is so much here about male violence and its chorus of excuses, and the terrible cage that violence is for men as well: one can see Bogart throughout the film trapped horribly by his own violent nature, out of control at the very moments when it counts. Brilliant analysis here, putting it in a pop-culture context. You are amazing X!

  2. I agree – a great post! Weirdly enough, I don’t think I’ve seen In a Lonely Place and I’m not sure why. Now I want to, so I can comment better.

  3. […] Chinese 3 for Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (1956). Some of you may remember that I have written about Nicholas Ray before or know my passion for his films, so you can imagine how excited I was. Well, quadruple that. It […]

  4. […] get a chance, the novel written by  Dorothy B. Hughes is brutal and simply terrific. With that, here is my article on Ray’s film. Keep checking back. I’m hurriedly prepping something else. Advertisement […]


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