9.09.2016

Three homes

By sheer coincidence, I watched three films this week that, in spite of their many differences, share a common factor: they’re all housing stories.  Elia Kazan’s Wild River (1960) is a modest, solidly acted real-estate drama in which Tennessee Valley Authority agent Montgomery Clift struggles to convince nonagenarian Jo Van Fleet to vacate her cabin on an island in the middle of the Tennessee River, a task that becomes only marginally easier after Clift shacks up with the old woman’s granddaughter, a single mom played by Lee Remick.  Less politically strident than many of Kazan’s other films, Wild River suggests that both Clift and Van Fleet have something to learn from each other, and generally depicts all of its characters humanely and sensitively, racist white yokels included, even as it insists that the Jim Crow South must die (and will).

Jo van Fleet and Lee Remick in Wild River.

The Uninvited (dir. Lewis Allen, 1944) is a classic-Hollywood horror film that, for all its charms, can’t help but feel a little creaky, what with its pop-Freudian plot devices (a young woman of dubious parentage is haunted by the ghosts of her parents) and Gothic clichés (candelabras, billowing curtains, disembodied laughter, etc.)—although in true Gothic fashion the real intrigue concerns queer sexuality, as represented by the oddly close relationship between the brother and sister who keep house together together in a mansion on the coast of Cornwall, as well as by the domineering, mannish proprietress of a neighboring sanitarium.  Even the dueling ghosts haunting the house—the spirits of two women, both of whom were sexually involved with the same man—are reflective of a queer polyamorous relationship that must be exorcised so that everyone else in the film can move on to make, as Freud would say, good object choices.   

The old dark house: Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland in The Uninvited.
   
I’ll admit that I’ve never been much of a fan of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the acclaimed and prolific German filmmaker who made some thirty films in fewer than half as many years, but I found his early film Katzelmacher (1969) to be a scathing, wicked indictment of the German bourgeoisie as represented by a coterie of yuppies who proceed to target a Greek immigrant who moves into the apartment complex where they live.  The film typifies Fassbinder’s interest in ethnicity, gender, and sex, though it’s ultimately about class: the good immigrant is one who can be exploited for money.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (right) in Katzelmacher.
 

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