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Stars in My Crown

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  • ptonguette@aol.com
    I ve been watching Jacques Tourneur s Stars in My Crown lately; I saw it for the first time on tape in December, have re-watched the film twice since then,
    Message 1 of 17 , Jan 13, 2004
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      I've been watching Jacques Tourneur's "Stars in My Crown" lately; I saw it
      for the first time on tape in December, have re-watched the film twice since
      then, and find myself revisiting individual sequences repeatedly. I'm simply
      astounded at the greatness of it. The amazing "I Walked With A Zombie" was my
      favorite Tourneur film prior to "Stars," but I must say that, great as "Zombie"
      is, it almost pales in comparison to "Stars." I thought I'd post some
      thoughts as a way to kick start a discussion on "Stars."

      There are some spoilers below.

      The opening shot and the final succession of shots are stunning in the way
      they are tied to the singing of the beautiful hymn "Stars in My Crown." The
      opening shot is a slow reverse dolly shot moving away from the church as the
      music is heard on the soundtrack. The same camera move is repeated in the film's
      very last shot and it's echoed in the next-to-last-shot, which is a reverse
      dolly inside the church as the congregation is singing the hymn; Tourneur
      dissolves from this shot to the final shot, creating a sense of movement across
      space. (Incidentally, the context of the singing of "Stars in My Crown" in the
      final scene is quite different from the singing heard over the first shot due to
      events which have transpired in the story.)

      Another standout scene in the film, for me, is the wordless sequence when
      Josiah (Joel McCrea - superb) visits the bedside of a dying woman at the request
      of her doctor. He sits beside her bed in prayer as Tourneur frames him in
      alternating close-ups and wide shots. After several moments, the wind suddenly
      picks up outside and the woman awakens and grabs Josiah's hand; this shot is
      the first time in the sequence that we see a medium shot of the woman, by the
      way. Seemingly 'cured,' I suppose, she and Josiah exchange looks, and he exits
      the room. Tourneur's mise-en-scene renders this scene utterly amazing.

      As Mike Grost notes in his essay on the film, "Stars in My Crown" is also a
      very bold film from a political standpoint, containing one of the most
      clear-eyed attacks on racism of any film I've seen (let alone a film released in
      1950). We were talking about movie lines on the group recently; Josiah's line
      ("It's the will of God") following his preventing the lynching of Famous is one of
      the great lines in the cinema, I think. Wind also plays a role in this
      scene; the two blank sheets of paper which are so important to the scene are swept
      up by the wind for John (who narrates the film as an adult, looking back) to
      find.

      "Stars in My Crown" is an astonishing film and one of my very favorites.

      I note on the IMDB that the author of the novel upon which the film is based,
      Joe David Brown, also wrote the novel which inspired another of my favorite
      films, Peter Bogdanovich's "Paper Moon." Another of his novels was the basis
      for a Delmer Daves film, "Kings Go Forth." Has anyone seen this one? Zach?

      Peter
    • hotlove666
      The shot of the trees seen by the kids lying in the hay wagon recalls Dreyer s Vampyr. It was the omnipresent (since his death) Jean-Claude Biette who pointed
      Message 2 of 17 , Jan 13, 2004
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        The shot of the trees seen by the kids lying in the hay wagon recalls
        Dreyer's Vampyr. It was the omnipresent (since his death) Jean-Claude
        Biette who pointed this out, in a piece on the film that begins by
        listing Tourneur's recommendations for young directors in the
        interview Maxime posted a bit of: "establish strong visual points of
        reference and suggestive rhythmic contrasts, fix the spectators'
        attention on one or two pieces of visual or aural information each
        time you change shots..." Then JCB points out that in Stars in My
        Crown Tourneur breaks all his stated rules: scenes that follow with
        no marked change in composition of the shots, relatively little
        rhythmic variation, no strong contrasts in sets or characters
        ("nothing could be further from the grand contrasts of Ford").

        "In fact the art of Tourneur Jr. is secret and stubborn: even though
        this cineaste accomodated every assignment, he was always able, even
        in the worst stories, to impose objectively [your word, M. C.] and
        without bothering anyone (least of all the spectator) his point of
        view...The way Tourneur films - with the sureness of a sleepwalker -
        imparting a unity of rhythm that borders on the monotonous to his
        mise-en-scene, refers all differences to the essential one: the
        thematic opposition between the medicine of the spirit and the
        medicine of the body... Tourneur believes in what can seem like dime-
        store irrationalism, which recurs throughout his films, but since his
        mise-en-scene is entirely based on this belief, its logic gives his
        belief objective form...For example, in the very beautiful scene
        where the boy is poisoned objectively by the well-water, but
        subjectively by the way the magician addresses him during his
        performance. [There you go!]

        "All this reminds us of Dreyer: the resistance of bodies,
        resurrections, miracles, the force of the Word (the reading of
        Famous's will to the Klan members - a scene where non-differentiation
        is carried about as far as it can go), or the scene where the boys
        lying on the hay-wain watch the leafy branches passing overhead,
        which recalls by contrast the voyage in the coffin in Vampyr. In
        Tourneur and in Dreyer there is the same close attention to light and
        to vocal dynamics. But something very strong separates them, in which
        we can see the influence of Hollywood.

        "The laws governing the economy of the spectacle are not the same in
        their respective films, but they are both extreme cineastes: Dreyer
        in his revolt (and its consequence: intransigence - no one has ever
        accepted less), Tourneur in his acceptance (and its consequence:
        renunciation - no one ever revolted less against his working
        conditions). The first wanted to seize the absolute of life; the
        second explored as deeply as is possible the relativity of art."

        This is essentially what Maxime and Mike both heard in JCB's
        definition of "cineaste" - a word which I notice recurs twice in this
        passage. And I like the fact that Mike stresses the idea of
        originality: Tourneur recalls Dreyer, but creates a vision that is
        completely his own, unique, based on an individual viewpoint - one
        which includes but is not limited to Tourneur's occultist beliefs -
        that even extends to things like the common view of race differences
        in 1950. And by being original - a word I would like to underline in
        relation to "What Is a Cineaste?" - the true artist creates something
        that will endure.

        I'll quote from a thread running parallel to this one, Fred in
        6637: "Work made with passion makes itself" without aiming at short-
        term success, at pleasing an audience, at anything but the
        imperatives of the artist's individual viewpoint, which can be
        expressed in personal styles as different as Dreyer's intransigence
        and Tourneur's submission. That kind of work will last through the
        ages, but it isn't even made with that aim (says idealist Fred) -- or
        maybe it is, says Freudian Bill, but there we are talking about
        fundamental differences in our theories of just HOW Tourneur handled
        the influence of Dreyer, and that's a whole other conversation that
        will get me hooted at by David if we ever get to it.

        The main thing for me is that whether we accept JCB's terms or not,
        some of us seem to understand what he is getting at in his definition
        of "cineaste," and it beats "repeated themes and obsessions" by a
        country mile.
      • joe_mcelhaney
        ... Isn t it interesting, though, how Tourneur has gradually become a cineaste-like figure over the last couple of decades? Sarris s Expressive Esoterica
        Message 3 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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          --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "hotlove666" <hotlove666@y...>
          wrote:
          > This is essentially what Maxime and Mike both heard in JCB's
          > definition of "cineaste" - a word which I notice recurs twice in
          >this passage. And I like the fact that Mike stresses the idea of
          > originality: Tourneur recalls Dreyer, but creates a vision that is
          > completely his own, unique, based on an individual viewpoint - one
          > which includes but is not limited to Tourneur's occultist beliefs -
          > that even extends to things like the common view of race
          >differences in 1950. And by being original - a word I would like to
          >underline in relation to "What Is a Cineaste?" - the true artist
          >creates something that will endure.

          > The main thing for me is that whether we accept JCB's terms or not,
          > some of us seem to understand what he is getting at in his
          >definition of "cineaste," and it beats "repeated themes and
          >obsessions" by a country mile.

          Isn't it interesting, though, how Tourneur has gradually become a
          cineaste-like figure over the last couple of decades?
          Sarris's "Expressive Esoterica" category seemed to stick for a
          while. Even critics (at least English-speaking ones) sympathetic to
          Tourneur's work in the 1970s, like Robin Wood or Roger McNiven, were
          much more cautious in their praise. In an early essay on Tourneur,
          Wood referred to the general excitement he felt when he first began
          to discover Tourneur through things like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and
          CAT PEOPLE, wondering why Tourneur wasn't in Sarris's pantheon, and
          he thought Tourneur comparable with Ford and Mizoguchi -- until he
          began to see films like EASY LIVING,etc. And Roger also explicitly
          resists seeing Tourneur is such canonical terms, insisting that while
          Ford and Mizoguchi "offer a rather monumental concept of society in
          terms of the historical evolution of cultures" Tourneur operates on a
          much smaller level, more as a metteur-en-scene.

          Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to read Chris Fujiwara's book
          yet but I wonder if he traces out JT's reception history in this
          regard.
        • MG4273@aol.com
          Wholeheartedly agree with Peter Toungette s post: Stars in My Crown is the best Tourneur film ever seen here. It even surpasses his classics in the horror
          Message 4 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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            Wholeheartedly agree with Peter Toungette's post: "Stars in My Crown" is the
            best Tourneur film ever seen here. It even surpasses his classics in the
            horror film (I Walked With a Zombie, Night of the Demon) and film noir (Out of the
            Past, Berlin Express, Nightfall).
            I think Tourneur's reputation has risen with 1) the increasing availability
            of his films, and 2) the ease of rewatching films on tape or DVD. Tourneur is a
            "pictorialist" filmmaker: someone whose films are rich in beautiful
            compositions, like Ford, Sternberg, Mizoguchi. Being able to watch the films again and
            again, hit the pause button on frames, and so on, allows one to really
            appreciate the beauty of his visual style.
            "Stars in My Crown" was simply never shown on TV here, until recent
            screenings by TCM. I had barely heard of it, till Jonathan Rosenbaum included it on his
            list of Top 100 American films. This list is available in Rosenbaum's book
            "Movie Wars", and on the Chicago Reader web site. It repays serious study - it
            is full of important classics.
            "Stars in My Crown" now represents Tourneur on my own list of Outstanding
            American Films, on my web site (shameless stealing from another and better
            scholar!) It IS an important film, and demands inclusion on any such list (my
            defense).
            The story of "Stars in My Crown" shows how difficult it is for people to
            arrive at truth. People eventually discover the true source of the epidemic, and
            how to defeat it, but only after a titanic struggle. They have to abandon all
            their cherished beliefs, re-learn reality from the ground up, and struggle and
            struggle to arrive at the truth. Very important lessons for anybody to keep in
            mind, in all fields of study. Tourneur would be appalled at all the people
            with "easy answers" about things. "Stars in My Crown" would make a good double
            bill with "The Magic Alphabet", Tourneur's short film about the equally
            difficult real-life discovery of vitamins.

            Mike Grost
          • hotlove666
            I repeat, Sarris s hierarchy is half esthetic, half socio-economic. No one but H wd A-list directors need apply for the Pantheon.
            Message 5 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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              I repeat, Sarris's hierarchy is half esthetic, half socio-economic.
              No one but H'wd A-list directors need apply for the Pantheon.
            • hotlove666
              And let me add that the presence of a sturdy A-lister like Stevens in The Far Side of Paradise while Dwan, Ulmer, Boetticher, Siegel and Tourneur languish in
              Message 6 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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                And let me add that the presence of a sturdy A-lister like Stevens in
                The Far Side of Paradise while Dwan, Ulmer, Boetticher, Siegel and
                Tourneur languish in Expressive Esoterica confirms it. This doesn't
                mean that the hierarchy isn't any good - I love The American Cinema.
                But it is not based on solely esthetic criteria.
              • joe_mcelhaney
                ... Right, but my question was not Why did Sarris rank Tourneur as Expressive Esoterica in 1968? Rather, I was asking why, over the last couple of decades,
                Message 7 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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                  --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "hotlove666" <hotlove666@y...>
                  wrote:
                  > I repeat, Sarris's hierarchy is half esthetic, half socio-economic.
                  > No one but H'wd A-list directors need apply for the Pantheon.


                  Right, but my question was not Why did Sarris rank Tourneur as
                  Expressive Esoterica in 1968? Rather, I was asking why, over the
                  last couple of decades, has Tourneur's reputation steadily risen to
                  the point where Biette (and Biette doubtless does not stand alone
                  here in his opinion) can come to regard Tourneur as a cineaste rather
                  than a metteur-en-scene.
                • David Ehrenstein
                  ... I think this relates to Tourneur s elsusiveness in terms of the Hollywood studio system as a whole. First he s part of the Lewton team, then he s off on
                  Message 8 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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                    --- joe_mcelhaney <joe_mcelhaney@...> wrote:

                    >
                    > Right, but my question was not Why did Sarris rank
                    > Tourneur as
                    > Expressive Esoterica in 1968? Rather, I was asking
                    > why, over the
                    > last couple of decades, has Tourneur's reputation
                    > steadily risen to
                    > the point where Biette (and Biette doubtless does
                    > not stand alone
                    > here in his opinion) can come to regard Tourneur as
                    > a cineaste rather
                    > than a metteur-en-scene.
                    >
                    >
                    I think this relates to Tourneur's elsusiveness in
                    terms of the Hollywood studio system as a whole. First
                    he's part of the Lewton team, then he's off on his
                    own. He never has a log-term contract with a major
                    studio the way Walsh did, nor is he a
                    producer-director like Hawks. He's all over the map.
                    While most people who are interested in his work start
                    with the Lewton material and then skip right to "Out
                    of the Past" and "Curse of the Demon," they overlook
                    the fact that Tourneur is a major director of
                    Westerns.

                    It should also be noted that in the same career he
                    managed to direct the pro-Soviet "Days of Glory"
                    (Gregory peck's debut) AND the McCarthy era insanity
                    "The Fearmakers" -- with Dana Abdrews, Mel Torme and
                    Veda Ann Borg.

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                  • jess_l_amortell
                    ... Sarris s own summation changed from a stylist, if not a full-fledged _auteur_ (!!) in the American Directors issue, to simply a triumph of taste over
                    Message 9 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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                      --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "joe_mcelhaney" <joe_mcelhaney@y...> wrote:
                      >
                      > Isn't it interesting, though, how Tourneur has gradually become a
                      > cineaste-like figure over the last couple of decades?
                      > Sarris's "Expressive Esoterica" category seemed to stick for a
                      > while.


                      Sarris's own summation changed from "a stylist, if not a full-fledged _auteur_" (!!) in the American Directors issue, to simply "a triumph of taste over force" in the book. Was this an elevation, or otherwise?


                      > Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to read Chris Fujiwara's book
                      > yet but I wonder if he traces out JT's reception history in this
                      > regard.


                      Fujiwara ascribes "the belatedness of this attention" in France to "accidents of distribution that kept some of Tourneur's major films off French screens until the late sixties."
                    • Paul Gallagher
                      ... accidents of distribution that kept some of Tourneur s major films off French screens until the late sixties. An article in the Dec. 1963 Cahiers du
                      Message 10 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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                        --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "jess_l_amortell" <monterone@e...>
                        wrote:

                        > Fujiwara ascribes "the belatedness of this attention" in France to
                        "accidents of distribution that kept some of Tourneur's major films
                        off French screens until the late sixties."

                        An article in the Dec. 1963 Cahiers du Cinéma lists some of the
                        American films that hadn't yet been released in France. Tourneur's
                        Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man, Stranger
                        on Horseback, The Fearmakers, Easy Living, Days of Glory,
                        Nightfall, and Night of the Demon had not yet received a release.
                        Not being able to see the Val Lewton films must have given a
                        different perspective on Tourneur...

                        (Some other films unreleased in France: What Price Glory (Ford);
                        The Man I Love, One Sunday Afternoon, A Lion Is in the
                        Streets (Walsh); The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees (Donen);
                        Force of Evil (Polonsky); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel);
                        Detour (Ulmer); The Actress (Cukor); The Tall T, Ride
                        Lonesome, Decision at Sundown, and Comanche Station (Boetticher);
                        China Gate, Crimson Kimono, Forty Guns, Park Row (Fuller);
                        Paths of Glory (Kubrick); The Clock (Minnelli); The Track of
                        the Cat and Lafayette Escadrille (Wellman); The Phenix City
                        Story (Karlson); The Tall Target (Mann); Flame and the Flesh,
                        and A Catered Affair (Brooks); My Son John (McCarey); A Kiss
                        Before Dying and Fury at Showdown (Oswald); Carmen Jones
                        (Preminger); Take Me to Town, All I Desire, There's Always
                        Tomorrow, Hitler's Madman, Meet Me at the Fair, Has Anybody
                        Seen My Gal (Sirk); Comrade X, H.M. Pulham, Esq., An American
                        Romance (Vidor); The Damned, The Boy with Green Hair, The Big
                        Night (Losey). Carmen Jones wasn't released because of a dispute
                        with the estate of the opera's librettists. What Price Glory,
                        Lafayette Escadrille, and China Gate were unreleased, and Paths
                        of Glory was banned, because of unfavorable depictions of the
                        French military. My Son John and Force of Evil were too
                        politically controversial for the distributors.)

                        In a discussion on Usenet you mentioned the fairly obscure
                        Tourneur films two Cahiers critics chose as among the best
                        American films: Bernard Eisenschitz chose "Way of the Gaucho"
                        and Dominique Rabourdin selected "Wichita." (I haven't seen
                        either -- I don't think they were at the Tourneur retrospective at
                        Lincoln Center.)

                        Here's the entry on Tourneur by Jean-Louis Comolli in the dictionary
                        of American directors that appeared in the Dec. 1963 issue.

                        Jacques Tourneur

                        Erreur de le croire précis parce que raffiné : Tourneur,
                        précieux à ses moments perdus, et surtout (et quand il est pressé)
                        cinéaste du mal-à-l'aise et de l'instable. En marge d'Holly­wood
                        funambule et somnambule, il traverse le cinéma U.S. sur une
                        corde et dans un rêve. Il a l'air tout autant égaré en
                        lui-même qu'en ses films, où il perd pas mal de plans et
                        gagne plus d'inquiétude à se chercher. Quand il se trouve :
                        efficace et concis, il montre un peu de sa force à foire
                        rimer présence et violence (Nightfall) ; quand il se cherche,
                        il s'épuise en méandres : filandreux et faible, il s'embrouille
                        dans ses scénarios (Cet People) ou dissipe son esthétisme
                        en épiphénomènes (Flame and Arrow). Quand il ne se cherche
                        ni ne cherche, il se rencontre et se possède : c'est la
                        rigueur et le dénuement d'un poète des contrastes (Timbuktu),
                        ce sont aussi les variations d'un découvreur d'accords
                        subtils (Great Day in the Morning). Dons tous les cas, soins
                        et soucis extrêmes se retournent contre lui ; l'audace peut
                        le sauver, le laisser aller doit le mener, et la décontrac­tion
                        l'accomplirait, mais ce ne serait plus Tourneur, cinéaste de
                        l'entre­deux mises et des demi-mesures par excès déplacé.
                        - J.-L. C.
                      • Paul Gallagher
                        Movie magazine s editorial board listed its favored American and British directors in May 1962. It seems to be limited to directors still working in 1962.
                        Message 11 of 17 , Jan 14, 2004
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                          Movie magazine's editorial board listed its favored American
                          and British directors in May 1962. It seems to be limited to
                          directors still working in 1962. Tourneur rates high.

                          GREAT
                          Howard Hawks Alfred Hitchcock

                          BRILLIANT
                          (American)
                          George Cukor Stanley Donen Anthony Mann Leo McCarey
                          Vincente Minnelli Otto Preminger Nicholas Ray
                          Douglas Sirk Jacques Tourneur Raoul Walsh Orson Welles
                          (British)
                          Joseph Losey

                          VERY TALENTED
                          (American)
                          Robert Aldrich Budd Boetticher Richard Brooks Frank Capra
                          Blake Edwards Richard Fleischer John Ford Samuel Fuller
                          Henry Hathaway Elia Kazan Jerry Lewis Sidney Lumet
                          J. L. Mankiewicz Gerd Oswald Arthur Penn Don Siegel
                          George Stevens Frank Tashlin Edgar Ulmer King Vidor
                          Charles Walters
                          (British)
                          Hugo Fregonese

                          TALENTED
                          (American)
                          Richard Breen Roger Corman Andre de Toth Gordon Douglas
                          Allan Dwan J. Frankenheimer Michael Gordon Byron Haskin
                          John Huston Phil Karlson Stanley Kubrick Mervyn LeRoy
                          Rudolph Mate Robert Mulligan Joseph Newman Robert Parrish
                          Richard Quine Mark Robson Alexander Singer Andrew Stone
                          Don Weis Paul Wendkos Fred M. Wilcox Richard Wilson
                          (British)
                          Robert Hamer Seth Host Karel Reisz

                          COMPETENT OR AMBITIOUS
                          (American)
                          Joseph Anthony Jack Arnold Laszlo Benedek David Butler
                          John Cassavetes Joseph Cates Shirley Clarke Herbert Coleman
                          Hubert Cornfield Michael Curtiz Delmer Daves
                          Edward Dmytryk V. J. Donehue Philip Dunne John Farrow
                          Jose Ferrer Mel Ferrer Melvin Frank Jack Garfein
                          Hal Kanter Harry Keller Gene Kelly Irvin Kershner
                          Henry King Howard W. Koch Stanley Kramer Anatole Litvak
                          Joshua Logan Ranald MacDougall Daniel Mann Delbert Mann
                          George Marshall Lewis Milestone David Miller Richard Murphy
                          Norman Panama Joseph Pevney Irving Rapper Martin Ritt
                          Robert Rossen George Sidney Jack Webb William Wellman
                          Billy Wilder Robert Wise William Wyler Fred Zinnemann
                          (British)
                          Michael Anderson Ken Annakin Anthony Asquith Roy Baker
                          John Boulting Roy Boulting Jack Cardiff Michael Carreras
                          Don Chaffey Jack Clayton Robert Day Basil Dearden
                          Charles Frend Guy Green Val Guest John Guillermin
                          Guy Hamilton Ken Hughes Pat Jackson Philip Leacock
                          David Lean Jack Lee J. Lee Thompson Michael McCarthy
                          John Moxey Ronald Neame Michael Powell Alvin Rakoff
                          Carol Reed Tony Richardson Wolf Rilla Wendy Toye Harry Watt

                          THE REST
                          (American)
                          Irwin Allen Hall Bartlett James Clavell Morton da Cos
                          Jerry Hopper Bruce Humberstone Nunnally Johnson Nathan Juran
                          Henry Koster Walter Lang Robert Z. Leonard Jean Negulesco
                          George Pal Daniel Petrie Dick Powell Russell Rouse Roy Rowland
                          George Seaton Jack Sher George Sherman Vincent Sherman
                          R. G. Springsteen John Sturges Norman Taurog Richard Thorpe
                          Robert D. Webb William Whitney
                          (British)
                          Julian Amyes Robert Asher Baker & Berman Compton Bennett
                          Muriel Box Stuart Burge J. Paddy Carstairs Henry Cass
                          Arthur Crabtree Charles Crichton Paul Czinner Cy Endfield
                          William Fairchild Terence Fisher Lewis Gilbert Sidney Gilliatt
                          John Gilling B. Desmond Hurst Anthony Kimmins Frank Launder
                          John Lemont Jay Lewis David MacDonald Kevin McClory
                          Leslie Norman George Pollock Vernon Sewell Alfred Shaughnessy
                          Gerald Thomas Ralph Thomas Herbert Wilcox Terence Young
                          Mario Zampi
                        • jess_l_amortell
                          For those who ve seen Stars in My Crown recently, a possibly dumb question. ***For others, possible epidemic SPOILERS*** Even though I m not especially strong
                          Message 12 of 17 , Jan 15, 2004
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                            For those who've seen Stars in My Crown recently, a possibly dumb question.
                            ***For others, possible epidemic SPOILERS***


                            Even though I'm not especially strong on narrative plausibility in general (and not that great at simply following plots - which may be part of the problem), one thing did puzzle me the last time I saw it (when it was blessed, by the way, with an introduction by Chris Fujiwara, whose chapter on the film is so wonderful): Why don't they ever check out the well? Even the wise Uncle Famous rules it out as the source of the epidemic because he's sure it would have been tested by then. But it seems that it hasn't been, and apparently only because Joel McCrea *assumed* that the boy wouldn't have drunk from it before school started ... although Tourneur makes sure that *we've* seen children playing there. (The boy himself presumably being as yet too sick to be interrogated.) Is this some sort of comment on civic and medical negligence or is it a hole in the plot, or most likely, is there something else I'm neglecting, perhaps key to Tourneur's often curious, convoluted yet understated approach to narrative.

                            Mike Grost, actually, seems to be referring to this on his Tourneur page when he calls attention to Tourneur's "deluded" characters: "In several Tourneur films, Something Bad is going on. The audience knows this, but the good characters are either in ignorance or denial. The Bad activity is often quite destructive. Eventually the Bad activity can locate itself near water: the sea ships here, the swimming pool in Cat People, the aquariums in Experiment Perilous...." What seems so odd in Stars is that much is made of the McCrea character being accused, and eventually cleared, of one delusion -- his alleged denial that he may be transmitting the disease -- but (as far as I recall) he's completely let off the hook where it matters: the film never seems to make a point of, or even especially notice, the actual delusion inherent in his curiously automatic and unthinking assumption about the well...





                            --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, MG4273@a... wrote:
                            > The story of "Stars in My Crown" shows how difficult it is for people to
                            > arrive at truth. People eventually discover the true source of the epidemic, and
                            > how to defeat it, but only after a titanic struggle. They have to abandon all
                            > their cherished beliefs, re-learn reality from the ground up, and struggle and
                            > struggle to arrive at the truth.
                          • MG4273@aol.com
                            I ll have to re-watch Stars in My Crown for a definite answer. But memory is this: People in the film think they know how the epidemic is being spread.
                            Message 13 of 17 , Jan 15, 2004
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                              I'll have to re-watch "Stars in My Crown" for a definite answer. But memory
                              is this:
                              People in the film think they "know" how the epidemic is being spread. They
                              do not. And this "knowledge" blinds them and makes it almost impossible for
                              them to learn the truth. The same thing is true in "The Magic Alphabet", a
                              recreation of the discovery of vitamins. The scientist in that film "knows" why
                              people are dying of disease. It is caused by a germ - like other diseases. He
                              does all the "right" things to look for the still unknown germ. And he never
                              finds it. Meanwhile, people are dying like flies all around him. Eventaully,
                              chance and humbling experiences and great effort slowly make him realize the truth
                              - there is no germ. In fact, people are dying because they are not getting an
                              essential ingrediant in their food. Once he learns this, he can immediately
                              start saving lives. And he has discobvered the "vitamin principle" - that people
                              need to eat vitamins to stay healthy.
                              Both of these films give a terrifying look into the scientific process. The
                              people in them are confronted with genuine mysteries. And they have to unlearn
                              all their bad ideas first. This is an authentic portrait of real science and
                              real scholarship - but you don't often see it in the movies outside of Tourneur!
                              Tourneur's short films are amazingly complex in terms of plot and
                              characterization. And his long films are correspondingly even more complicated in plot
                              and character! There is an especially good discussion in the fujiwara book of
                              the fabulous complexities of "I walked With a Zombie". (And I hope my discussion
                              above about science in Tourneur is not just lifted from somewhere in
                              Fujiwara's excellent book. If so, my apologies!)

                              Mike Grost
                            • Chris Fujiwara
                              ... rules it out as the source of the epidemic because he s sure it would have been tested by then. But it seems that it hasn t been, and apparently only
                              Message 14 of 17 , Jan 16, 2004
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                                --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "jess_l_amortell" <monterone@e...>
                                wrote:
                                >>>Why don't they ever check out the well? Even the wise Uncle Famous
                                rules it out as the source of the epidemic because he's sure it would
                                have been
                                tested by then. But it seems that it hasn't been, and apparently only
                                because
                                Joel McCrea *assumed* that the boy wouldn't have drunk from it before
                                school
                                started ... although Tourneur makes sure that *we've* seen children
                                playing
                                there.<<<

                                The other reason, which is stressed more strongly in the novel than
                                in the film, is that the town's one doctor - blinded by envy - is
                                absolutely convinced that the parson is the carrier. (To the point
                                where, in the novel, the parson feels he must bring a sample of the
                                well water to another town to be tested, because he thinks the doctor
                                will just laugh at his suspicion that the well is infected.)

                                In the film, the handling of this part of the plot somewhat lessens
                                the blame to be attached to the doctor (even at the risk of making
                                the parson seem negligent, as Jess's reaction proves), making it
                                possible for us to see him as a more sympathetic, though still
                                misguided, character (while making the parson more complex).

                                Also, the failure to test the well, if we see it as questionable,
                                heightens the emphasis throughout this section of the film on the
                                irrational, fear, and doubt. And by showing the two white adult male
                                authority figures as unable to see the truth, the film sets things up
                                for the realization to come from the boy, inspired by Uncle Famous's
                                chance remark: another critique of institutional power and knowledge
                                (as in the Tourneur-Lewton films) and another case of the socially
                                marginal character becoming central to the story, as happens in
                                several Tourneur films.
                              • Zach Campbell
                                I watched STARS IN MY CROWN the other day and wanted to briefly revive the discussion from a few weeks ago (as per Peter s suggestion to me). This is a
                                Message 15 of 17 , Jan 28, 2004
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                                  I watched STARS IN MY CROWN the other day and wanted to briefly
                                  revive the discussion from a few weeks ago (as per Peter's
                                  suggestion to me). This is a tremendous film. (Spoilers follow.)

                                  Tourneur may have been the greatest of 'atmospherists' in all of
                                  cinema, or at least, narrative cinema. Bill discussed (I believe)
                                  Biette's characterization of Tourneur as someone who could run a
                                  monotonous rhythm through scenes, and barely alter the mise-en-scene
                                  from shot to shot. Tourneur's great gift was in making tangible the
                                  atmosphere of his given film-worlds. The air between objects is
                                  always deeply felt, often greatly charged, in his films: tense and
                                  electric in much of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (culminating in the
                                  frightening nighttime journey to the voodoo site), dark and
                                  suggestive in CAT PEOPLE, thin and desolate in NIGHTFALL. The
                                  camera angles, the lighting, the production design, and the acting
                                  all seem to cohere in Tourneur's work to create a precisely balanced
                                  tone: to make the very environments of the characters of a certain
                                  piece. This environment returns to everything else (those angles,
                                  the acting) a highly finished, sustained *tone*. The mood of a
                                  Tourneur film seems to be the way Tourneur made the atmosphere, the
                                  environment, the space seem. What other Hollywood filmmaker was so
                                  consistently concerned with the expressive possibilities of light,
                                  shadow, the (in)visible, and the wind? Sternberg for the first two,
                                  I suppose.

                                  STARS IN MY CROWN has that amazing scene where the Parson prays for
                                  Faith Samuels in her room, and Tourneur's imaginative realization of
                                  her miraculous recovery (a plot turn that might well have turned out
                                  hackneyed) is to alter the atmosphere of the image before our very
                                  eyes. In a room contrasted between light and dark, the wind picks
                                  up and sets to motion the composition, suggesting the currents
                                  that 'move' Faith back into health. Inscribed in the back of our
                                  minds is the image of the Doctor praying in the hallway, which was
                                  the shot immediately preceding the one inside Faith's room. I don't
                                  think any Hollywood filmmaker comes to mind who would have handled
                                  the scene in such a way, and it stands as perhaps the most
                                  unexpected and briefest tour-de-forces in Tourneur's filmography. I
                                  was moved to tears and (because I was watching this on video)
                                  immediately rewound the scene to watch it again, something I don't
                                  know that I've done in recent memory.

                                  A striking thing about STARS is that it, like Mulligan's MAN IN THE
                                  MOON and Tarkovsky's NOSTALGHIA, doesn't seem to work unless you
                                  invest at least a hypothetical belief in God/providence/the
                                  supernatural. I don't know how seriously we can take Tourneur's
                                  films on a metaphysical level, because my impression is that
                                  Tourneur would apply his talent (rather than express it full-
                                  fledged) to bring out and, hmm, ennoble his plots' often run-of-the-
                                  mill worldviews. And yet there's nothing run-of-the-mill about the
                                  things we experience in CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, or STARS
                                  IN MY CROWN.

                                  --Zach
                                • George Robinson
                                  I want to propose another paradigm for Tourneur, one that makes him, along with Walsh and Boetticher, a profoundly radical filmmaker in terms of conventional
                                  Message 16 of 17 , Jan 28, 2004
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                                    I want to propose another paradigm for Tourneur, one that makes him,
                                    along with Walsh and Boetticher,
                                    a profoundly radical filmmaker in terms of conventional Hollywood
                                    discourse.

                                    At the heart of the classical narrative structure is the ability of the
                                    protagonist (heck, the hero, 'cause it's
                                    almost always a male) to control the narrative. Someone -- I think it
                                    was Pascal Bonitzer but I wouldn't
                                    stake my life on it because we're talking about a 27 or 28-year-old
                                    memory here -- describes this as "the master position"
                                    in the narrative. It's the ability to take an active role in determining
                                    the outcome of events, often even a sort of surrogate metteur-en-scene
                                    role (in the more literal, rather than the Biette, sense of the term).
                                    To some extent, the master position is determined by the
                                    centrality of the hero to the narrative, the certainty and correctness
                                    of his actions; in the work of someone like Hawks -- I think the best
                                    example of this principle in action -- it also comes out of the
                                    protagonist's place in the mise-en-scene.

                                    Where Tourneur differs is in the basic narrative structure of his best
                                    films -- all of the Lewtons, Out of the Past, the westerns,
                                    Curse of the Demon, Stars in My Crown, Easy Living, even a rather
                                    pedestrian work like Berlin Express. In these films the
                                    hero -- and it is signficant that the character in question in these
                                    films is invariably male -- is confident of his ability to control
                                    events and of the rightness of his worldview. At each turn his
                                    confidence and his philosophical position is undermined by
                                    events. The shrink in Cat People, the husband in I Walked with a Zombie,
                                    Jeff and Whit in Out of the Past, Holden in
                                    Curse of the Demon, -- these are all sexually agressive men whose
                                    control over the world is predicated on a mixture of
                                    rationalistm and testosterone. By the end of each film, their worldview
                                    is shattered, they have either lost control of events or,
                                    in the cast of Demon, only survive by giving in to the seemingly
                                    irrational. I think that you can make a fairly good case for
                                    Stars and the westerns as adhering to a milder, less sexually charged
                                    version of the same structure.

                                    So Tourneur is offering a counter-view to the traditional,
                                    phallocentric, hero-driven narrative of the period. Why do I bracket him
                                    with Walsh and Boetticher? Because Walsh's films are usually structured
                                    around the out-of-control forward rush of his heroes who
                                    are unable to understand the forces of history arrayed against them
                                    (think of the amazing crane shot at the Little Big Horn in They
                                    Died with Their Boots On, when Walsh reveals that Custer is chasing a
                                    diversionary movement by the Sioux and that he is about'
                                    to be cut off -- and massacred -- by the main body of their troops). My
                                    favorite example of this is Objective Burma -- is there any
                                    other Errol Flynn film in which he spends more time totally unsure of
                                    what to do next? As for Boetticher, the Ranown cycle, Legs
                                    Diamond, A Time for Dying, The Killer Is Loose, even Arruza, are all
                                    films about heroes whose chief project is doomed, either
                                    by their inability to control events that they have set in motion or
                                    because they are ultimately irrelevant to the narrative (as Kitses
                                    aptly points out about Buchanan Rides Alone).

                                    And I suspect that it is the sheer subversiveness of these three
                                    filmmakers -- as well as the usual problem of working with
                                    unfashionable actors like Andrews, Scott, Flynn, in unfashionable genres
                                    -- that is why they are regrettably neglected.

                                    George Robinson
                                  • ptonguette@aol.com
                                    ... Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this amazing film! It s great to see that Stars in My Crown has so many supporters on a_film_by. Tag has said that
                                    Message 17 of 17 , Feb 2, 2004
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                                      Zach Campbell wrote:

                                      >I watched STARS IN MY CROWN the other day and wanted to briefly
                                      >revive the discussion from a few weeks ago (as per Peter's
                                      >suggestion to me). This is a tremendous film. (Spoilers follow.)

                                      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this amazing film! It's great to see
                                      that "Stars in My Crown" has so many supporters on a_film_by. Tag has said that
                                      it wasn't too widely seen in the '60s and perhaps this is the reason why even
                                      such a major Tourneur supporter and scholar as Robin Wood doesn't even mention
                                      the film (or barely mentions it) in his otherwise superb entry on the
                                      director in the Roud volume. Does anyone know if Wood wrote about "Stars in My
                                      Crown" at a later date?

                                      >STARS IN MY CROWN has that amazing scene where the Parson prays for
                                      >Faith Samuels in her room,

                                      This is my favorite scene of the movie and I also found myself rewinding it
                                      and watching it again on my first viewing.

                                      >In a room contrasted between light and dark, the wind picks
                                      >up and sets to motion the composition, suggesting the currents
                                      >that 'move' Faith back into health.

                                      What's particularly astonishing is that the atmosphere changes within a
                                      single shot: the long shot of the Parson praying at the bedside of Faith. I
                                      haven't clocked the exact duration of this shot, but it feels lengthy in relation to
                                      the cutting rhythms of the rest of the scene; the wind picks up towards the
                                      very end. Also notable is the shot following it, of Faith turning her head,
                                      'cured'; her recovery has been almost instantaneous.

                                      A small thing I commented upon in my original post on "Stars in My Crown" is
                                      that Tourneur also utilizes qualities of the atmosphere by having the wind
                                      sweep up the fake 'will' of Famous's at the end of that extraordinary scene.

                                      Fred Camper wrote:

                                      >I still
                                      >remember seeing "Mouchette" for the first time in French without
                                      >subtitles, not getting much of the dialogue, and still being
                                      >overwhelmed, and overwhelmed in a way consistent with my later viewings.

                                      You know, I have to say that probably the biggest change I've undergone as a
                                      filmgoer over the past year or so is my belief that looking at even sound
                                      films as one would look at a silent film is >not< an impoverished way of viewing
                                      cinema - provided that it's a great movie. In fact, as Bogdanovich noted
                                      thirty years ago in an essay in his "Pieces of Time," sound movies have an
                                      advantage over silents in terms of one's visual experience of them; there aren't title
                                      cards which interrupt the imagery. Spoken dialogue is a lot easier to block
                                      out than title cards.

                                      Anyway, if I find myself watching a narrative film and drifting from
                                      following the plot as its expressed through dialogue or acting, that's sometimes all
                                      it takes to convince me that the film I'm watching is a great one.

                                      Peter
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