22 April 2007

O My Darling Clement Times

Here in my little neck of Southern Ontario, we're on our third consecutive day of genuinely gorgeous weather. The sun's out, the sky's blue-- and best of all, forgive me ladies, halter tops are back, and they truly comprise a sight for sore eyes. (*Sigh.* Go ahead, sue me for having a Y chromosome.) We've been through a long & dreary winter; not a brutal one by any stretch of the imagination, but a bleak and apparently-endless half-suffering, like a Henry James paragraph. So we're in a period of probably too-brief beauty here. Canadians are to climatological goodness as pimply teenaged boys are to sex: they're grateful for any little bit they can get.

And for all that sunny talk, one of the items most on my mind of late is Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg, a brilliant film in so many regards, though sadly these days it's largely remembered for its so-called stunt-casting (Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland; and, though not stunting at the time, William Shatner's presence will invariably but ahistorically seem a stunt of some sort). Watching it again lately with many interruptions, and ergo pausing it, I was impressed by how easily one can cease the movie's movement and land upon a perfect still shot. Kramer had a magnificent eye, and everything about that film sustains visual arrest. I can think of no recent director of whom I could say same, and very few of the classic ones.

Another thought thereto: It's easy to forget, amid the respect generally conceded him, what a truly magnificent presence Spencer Tracy became in his later years. Beyond playing the legal-judicial part to which he got regularly assigned in this period (Inherit The Wind, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?), he manages to indicate so much with so little. There's a scene in the film in which he has drinks with Marlene Dietrich, and you can perceive, in the mere postulations of his eyes, first his desire to understand Germany, then his disgust with it, and then his disgust with himself for lapsing into (temporary) hatred as he tries to remain objective as a judge in the Nuremberg climate. Tracy knew how to register to a camera, and he reminded me of the critic who said that Alec Guinness could say more with a furrow of his brow than most actors could by shouting from the rafters. Tracy was probably the Robert Frost of modern acting, deceptively folksy, but always making the complexity of his art seem so easy, or at apparent ease, you'd never notice it. Consider it a bit of a reminder, or a cautionary suggestion: sometimes the most transparent is the most opaque-- and the most opaque the ostensibly clearest; and that there's sometimes genius in being so manifestly clear. Something to keep in mind?

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