600 Anatomy of a Murder

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L.A.
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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#26 Post by L.A. » Sun Feb 12, 2012 6:36 pm


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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#27 Post by stwrt » Mon Feb 13, 2012 5:08 am

... "occasional patches of grain" as though it were a fault.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#28 Post by ShellOilJunior » Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:31 am

Grover Crisp delivers again.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#29 Post by aox » Sun Feb 19, 2012 12:47 pm


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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#30 Post by kinjitsu » Thu Feb 23, 2012 3:37 pm

Dukie by author Robert Traver

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#31 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Mar 25, 2012 8:51 pm

Anatomy of a Murder is a fascinating film. It is not one which I could say that I particularly like, though that does not mean that I think it is a failure. Quite the contrary - it beautifully succeeds in its portrayal of the workings of a law case. Yet it exposes a rather hollow, transactional view of society throughout. It does not suggest, rather problematic in their own way, notions of crusading and idealistic lawyers or saintly clients, instead follows a pragmatic point of view to such an extent that any sense of morality feels less than useless and quick to be abandoned, if not non-existent.

Nothing particularly matters about the case (except the lawyer's fee, although even that proves elusive by the end!) - perceived guilt or innocence does not matter, which may initially seem admirable in the sense of an attorney putting aside personal feelings to do their job of defending a client. Yet is that what is happening here? No, that is too idealistic a view. Instead this is about an attorney defending an important client for financial, even self-publicity reasons. Does it matter that the soldier killed a man in cold blooded murder? Not particularly - just as long as he can give the right reasons for his action. Does it matter that the wife who was attacked frequents bars dressed provocatively? Not particularly - just as long as she buttons up during the trial so she doesn't give the game away. Does the testimony from the other prisoner that the defendant was crowing about duping his attorney and beating his wife (presumably for her infidelities) once the trial was over mean anything? Not particularly - that's a whole different matter and neither issue is one worth dealing with. Pragmatism takes primacy.

The case matters above all, yet because it has no principles behind it, just a lot of point scoring (even a distracting dog brought in to charm the audience), it ceases to have any particular impact. The courtroom becomes a space for a theatrical performance rather than the understanding of the 'truth' of a matter, with the best (or most likable) team of performers winning. Appearance, even if it is just a facade, matters even more than hard evidence (as in the youthful appearance of the Army doctor being met with disappointment).

Yet success or failure also appears to mean nothing. Even as the points are being scored, nothing is being remembered. Every moment is critical as it occurs, yet totally irrelevant once it has passed. Short term pragmatism means everything is constantly being reset and nothing is being built upon. The slate is being wiped clean which on the one hand allows for a new start, but on the other prevents anyone from having any relevant past history, or to fight to have it remembered. Even the verdict means nothing, has solved nobody's problems and almost in a blinkered way refused to shed any difficult light onto any of the relationships or motivations of those involved, just allowed things to move on somewhere else (In a sense all these issues are present in many of Preminger's other films, such as Exodus, The Cardinal or Advise and Consent)

In other words it is probably the most clear eyed view of the law profession I have seen, which makes it one of the more condemnatory of them (as perhaps personified in James Stewart's anti-heroic performance, manipulating the facts around to suit his case as much as Scottie did to recreate his perfectly imperfect woman in Vertigo. The only difference is that he now has a partner in the prosecution doing the same thing from their perspective!). I'm not too sure how much the filmmakers are understanding the Pandora's box they open with this film - with the idea of whether justice is done or not or the pursuit of truth, however imperfect, getting lost in the incurious amorality of the law, we are just left with an incuriosity that allows logic to be overwhelmed by theatrics and suggests that guilt or innocence are relative and all that matters is how good the performance of your lawyer is. (I love the scene when the attorneys are waiting for the verdict to come in - suddenly, after all of the grandstanding, know what it is like not to have control over the direction of the result, and seem to feel slightly aggrieved at both the wait but also the sense that they have no further input to make, and perhaps even a slight nagging possibility that the jury themselves might not have felt the need to have listened to anything they were saying and might even have had the temerity to come to their own conclusions!)

Perhaps the one person who isn't portrayed in a slightly cynical (or realist!) light is the presiding Judge, who gets to be one of the warmer human beings, with all the best jokes and yet also a clear sense of being able to draw a line, whether in sustaining or overruling objections, or in admonishing the court to take discussion of Mrs Manion's panties seriously. Does this mean to suggest that Judges are better people generally than attorneys? Or are they able to be better for having been slightly removed from the bear-pit of dealing with defending and prosecuting clients? Or are we meant to think it is just this particular Judge who is a rather kind, difficult to fluster person who is able to sensitively guide the case to its conclusion? The one thing that prevents this view of the law being totally horrific in implication is the presence of the Judge, but what happens if you get a Judge who is just as biased, blustering and, dare I say it, pragmatic as the attorneys? What hope for anyone then?

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#32 Post by knives » Sun Mar 25, 2012 10:54 pm

Great writeup, really fantastic. I suppose it's important to note that Preminger grew up under a lawyer and even went to law school back in Europe which might be why he takes such an open approach. It really makes the casting of Stewart all the more vicious like a Vertigo light.
colinr0380 wrote:Perhaps the one person who isn't portrayed in a slightly cynical (or realist!) light is the presiding Judge, who gets to be one of the warmer human beings, with all the best jokes and yet also a clear sense of being able to draw a line, whether in sustaining or overruling objections, or in admonishing the court to take discussion of Mrs Manion's panties seriously. Does this mean to suggest that Judges are better people generally than attorneys? Or are they able to be better for having been slightly removed from the bear-pit of dealing with defending and prosecuting clients? Or are we meant to think it is just this particular Judge who is a rather kind, difficult to fluster person who is able to sensitively guide the case to its conclusion? The one thing that prevents this view of the law being totally horrific in implication is the presence of the Judge, but what happens if you get a Judge who is just as biased, blustering and, dare I say it, pragmatic as the attorneys? What hope for anyone then?
By the same token though doesn't it suggest also that there are people out there not beaten by the system who can take control and do good which is more than can be said of Preminger's other dablings with the law in Hurry Sundown and especially Advise and Consent where nobody keeps their ethics if it benefits somebody.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#33 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:50 pm

colinr0380 wrote:Does it matter that the soldier killed a man in cold blooded murder? Not particularly - just as long as he can give the right reasons for his action.
The 'cold-blooded' aspect is certainly up for debate- there is question about whether or not the murder was premeditated, but I don't think there's any question that Gazzara's character is a hot blooded man who acted on the spur of the moment.
Does it matter that the wife who was attacked frequents bars dressed provocatively? Not particularly - just as long as she buttons up during the trial so she doesn't give the game away.
Are you suggesting this should matter?
Does the testimony from the other prisoner that the defendant was crowing about duping his attorney and beating his wife (presumably for her infidelities) once the trial was over mean anything? Not particularly - that's a whole different matter and neither issue is one worth dealing with.
Here and in your previous point, it's key that as pragmatic as Stewart is, the movie carefully contrasts him to the evidently far nastier Dancer- he spends quite a lot of time trying to build a 'she was asking for it' case about the possible rape, and I have very little doubt that he would happily push a prisoner to give false testimony.

It may be a trite comparison, but there's a Rashomon quality to the case- the elements that don't fit together and the sense that there is more than one true story of the events as they occurred, even with everyone struggling to tell the truth to the best of their ability, reflect how difficult is the job of even the most honest and scrupulous court. While it's obviously somewhat uncomfortable to have an obvious pretext like 'uncontrollable urge' carry the day in court, the overall sense is that Dancer's court strategy is terribly nasty (much of it revolving around a 'she was asking for it' implication towards Mrs. Manion's rape) and if anything, the lingering sense I got from the movie is that such attacks were not rewarded. Neither side is entirely honest, and certainly the quality of the attorneys' theatrics mattered as much or more than the substance of the case, but I do think the better case won- and as such, the movie is unwilling entirely to discount the merits inherent to one's plea. I think Preminger's viewpoint was that the system was obviously imperfect, but it was also the best one available, and I think the movie reflects that view- though I'm not sure even such a guarded statement of it isn't overly optimistic in real world terms.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#34 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:18 pm

knives wrote:By the same token though doesn't it suggest also that there are people out there not beaten by the system who can take control and do good which is more than can be said of Preminger's other dablings with the law in Hurry Sundown and especially Advise and Consent where nobody keeps their ethics if it benefits somebody.
Yes, definitely it suggests that a decent person is still around, though I find that adds to the sense of arbitrariness - it is just the luck of the draw that you get a rare, principled person. Which is kind of more worrying in highlighting the contrast than there being a feeling that the Judge is just one of many. Instead I get the feeling that the James Stewart and George C. Scott characters are more abundant!

Although with such emphasis placed on the opacity of the characters in the film (in order to 'place us in the role of the juror', which I don't hesitate to say is a fascinating concept, and I think it is interesting to see that applied just as much to every character in the film as to those on trial or on the witness stand) that makes it rather difficult to know whether the Judge is being portrayed as the nicest character in the film in service of a point about the decency of judges in general, or whether it could just be because the filmmakers (as suggested in the extra features) were in awe of Joseph Welch's real life comments at the McCarthy hearings ("Have you no sense of decency?") and that affected the rather idealised portrayal of the Judge that he was portraying in the film. Is a wider point being made, or a specific one, or was a conscious point intended to be made at all? One of the best aspects, and also the most troubling one, is that this isn't made clear.
matrixschmatrix wrote:
colinr0380 wrote:Does it matter that the wife who was attacked frequents bars dressed provocatively? Not particularly - just as long as she buttons up during the trial so she doesn't give the game away.

Are you suggesting this should matter?
It obviously matters enough to Stewart's lawer Biegler to admonish Remick's Mrs Manion for immediately hanging around bars, along with not visiting her husband in jail for days, since that is giving out the wrong message which could hand ammunition to the prosecution if they caught wind of it. It is the practicality of giving that advice which is kind of frightening - the idea that someone recognises the problems with that behaviour but only from the point of view of how that will affect their case. It could be seen positively as Biegler not getting involved in other people's business, yet it also exposes the performance aspect of the trial, almost as if Biegler is already formulating that scene where he gets Mrs Manion to stand up, take off her hat and do a twirl so that he can show off her beauty at the exact time of his choice. It feels as if it exposes that understanding the motivations, or thought processes, of the actual people in the case are not really important, instead it is about manipulating them into certain jury-pleasing stances. Which all leads into the actual result refreshingly not being a turning point for anyone, or a grand climax, instead just as arbitrary as anything else - the moment when one side or the other finds out whether their tactics have worked.
matrixschmatrix wrote:
colinr0380 wrote:Does it matter that the soldier killed a man in cold blooded murder? Not particularly - just as long as he can give the right reasons for his action.
The 'cold-blooded' aspect is certainly up for debate- there is question about whether or not the murder was premeditated, but I don't think there's any question that Gazzara's character is a hot blooded man who acted on the spur of the moment.
This I think is a turning point in the trial - the whole basis of Biegler's defence of Mr Manion is that he was acting with 'irresistible urge' i.e. temporary insanity because with an hour having elapsed between Mrs Manion coming back from being assaulted and Mr Manion going to kill Barney Quill, the whole defence of having acting in a hot headed manner and shooting Quill is not tenable. So anything that suggests that Manion is being driven temporarily insane (such as bringing in a convict to report on what he has overheard), can ironically only serve to strengthen his case and ironically work against Dancer having called that witness (which is presumably why he describes it as being a 'last resort' witness, since all the convict serves to bring to the case is the idea that Manion has duped Biegler and that when he gets off he will beat his wife for her intransigence, both elements which, while being juicy details, bear no relevance on the case at hand - although they help to fill in a few gaps (or do they?) for the audience).

It is a misstep that is equivalent to Dancer mistaking Miss Pilant's relationship with Quill as a sexual, sugar daddy-style one (when it is a real daddy one!). Otherwise until these moments Dancer and Biegler seem totally equivalent, with each anticipating each other's moves (suggesting this is a highly codified game, again without too much focus on the individual characters involved in specific cases) and not being surprised when they use them due to their preparation. I particularly like Scott's performance in the scene where Stewart brings up the precedent case of 'irresistible urge' that justifies his defence - while Dancer's companion is at first annoyed by the inane chatter about fly fishing between the Judge and Biegler and then surprised by this turn of events, Dancer is instead quiet, suggesting that he knows where this is going and was already familiar with that precedent case, and while hoping that Biegler would not have picked up on it, they now just proceed on from Biegler having scored that point. Though likely the prosecution would have been happy if the other party had not been so on the ball with regard to old law cases!
matrixschmatrix wrote:Here and in your previous point, it's key that as pragmatic as Stewart is, the movie carefully contrasts him to the evidently far nastier Dancer- he spends quite a lot of time trying to build a 'she was asking for it' case about the possible rape, and I have very little doubt that he would happily push a prisoner to give false testimony
I think you have a point (I particularly like that scene where Dancer is questioning Mrs Manion and slowly moves ever closer to her during the questioning. In one of the interviews on the disc this is suggested to be like a seduction of Mrs Manion but to me, especially in the way that the shot feels very much from her point of view, there felts like more of a sense of overwhelming intimidation to that scene. Of pushing her to the edge), yet the thing that makes me see Biegler and Dancer as equivalent is Biegler's treatment of Miss Pilant - that in order to get his client off he is not above getting the daughter of a murdered man on the stand to get her to give damning testimony that her father could have been a rapist. (I think it is not for nothing that her name is an anagram of 'Pliant'!)

(EDIT: Compare this to the treatment of the mother in John Ford's Young Mr Lincoln being pressurised by the prosecution to say which of her two sons she saw holding the knife used in a murder until Lincoln steps in and puts a stop to the questioning, asking the Judge to not force a mother into choosing which of her sons will live and which will die)


The most disturbing thing about the film for me is that it really doesn't seem to matter whether or not the wife was raped or was willing (or whether she does or does not wear panties on her visits to a bar). Or whether the husband shot Quill for honour reasons to defend a violated wife, or out of anger at a wife's infidelity, or even just out of an 'irresistible impulse'. Or whether Quill was an actual rapist or was led on. Or whether Miss Pilant is left wondering if her father was a rapist who got what he deserved, or an adulterer who was murdered. These aren't questions that the law is concerned with - they are too complex to be dealt with in a courtroom definitively. So they get reduced to an abstract, performance based level to allow the law to deal with it (usually based on previous precedent rather than on a case-by-case basis).

I agree that the film is like Rashomon, but I think Anatomy of a Murder is both better than, and far more disturbing in its implications than the Kurosawa film (The Kurosawa film, for one thing, never loses sight of those people actually involved in the case, even if they all have different perspectives on the events. Although Rashmon does bring up the idea that the best actor has to be the one telling the truth, only to continually dash that notion. Anatomy of a Murder instead treats those directly involved in the murder case as pawns in the machinations of a larger organisation, even if the Manion's also seem to be playing another private game of their own)
Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Apr 03, 2013 7:38 am, edited 6 times in total.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#35 Post by knives » Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:33 pm

I agree heartily with all of that though it makes me respect and love the film all the more as one of the best concerning modern legal proceedings (though I think the best is Advise and Consent). I'm not sure what to add without repeating you, but the best thing it does get right from my own experience sitting as both a jury member and objective seater (my grandfather was a lawyer and I would once in a while sit with his as one of his defense friends had a case) is that despite being the best of the known alternatives the jargon, politicking, and emphasis on history does abstract the facts of the case and even the people involved to a molecular degree. The question of course becomes whether this is a good thing. In general the people and facts of the case of split apart and examined until it becomes impossible to be emotionally invested and you are just left with the mechanical parts of the case.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#36 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:38 pm

That's fascinating and makes me think even more that the film should more accurately have been called "Anatomy of a Murder Trial", rather than just of a particular murder!

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#37 Post by knives » Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:51 pm

Good call though I took the title to refer to how trials break down crimes like a coroner would a body. It shows the anatomy of the crime, the murder, though in doing so the film also reveals the anatomy of the trial too.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#38 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:52 pm

I'm not actually sure I disagree with you on any major points, colin, I think we just have a somewhat different view of the justice system portrayed in the film- I think for me, it reflects the way truth operates in the real world as well as anything does, and I've long since come to terms with how depressingly vague real-world notions of 'truth' are. Certainly, I agree with knives that the amorphous sense of reality that comes out of the movie is very much one of its strengths, however cynical the portrait may be.

There's no question that the movie portrays the legal system as being almost a form of dance (perhaps another self-conscious name there), in which those who are competent know all the steps by heart- I never feel that Dancer is surprised by anything, though he is frequently unsuccessful in his gambits. I don't think it makes that dance seem so arcane as to be totally unconnected to real-world events- it's not Strangelove, where the way a war is negotiated and the results it has are so absurdly disconnected that an accurate display is inherently parodic- but it does very much feel like a sport, where there's a distinct arbitrariness to the whole affair and however hard people may pull for their side, it generally doesn't really matter that much to them in the long run.

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Re: 600 Anatomy of a Murder

#39 Post by Reverend Drewcifer » Sat Mar 09, 2013 5:22 pm

First-Time Poster...

Saw this on the Warner Archive:

http://www.wbshop.com/product/anatomy+o ... nd&from=fn" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Details

Running Time: 160 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16 X 9 FULL FRAME|ORIGINAL ASPECT RATIO - 1.85:1
Format: Made To Order DVD
Audio Format: DOLBY DIGITAL SURROUND 5.1
Box Type: Amaray Case
Copyright Info: © 1959, renewed 1987 Otto Preminger Films, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#40 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jul 20, 2020 6:20 am

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, August 3rd

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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#41 Post by ando » Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:32 pm

There are things I love about this film (Eve Arden, Jimmy Stewart's sexual awkwardness, Greg Toland's beautiful camerawork) and things I loathe (the use of Duke Ellington's music, the total flip in tone from bungling investigation caper to deadly courtroom procedural). And I can't say this ambivalence makes it any more compelling the way some of the great Hollywood classics do. But it'll take another viewing to pull my thoughts together before I can make a more coherent response (surprised at the lack of replies despite being the club's choice - I missed the vote altogether).
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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#42 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:39 pm

It's what often happens, unfortunately: people vote for the film they like best, not the one they have the most to say about

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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#43 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Jul 26, 2020 11:13 pm

My writeup from the 50s thread:
therewillbeblus wrote:
Sat May 09, 2020 8:24 pm
Anatomy of a Murder

Maybe I'm forgetting some masterpiece out there, but Preminger’s courtroom drama is probably my favorite of the subgenre. Stewart’s ‘Everyman’ recontextualizes his empathic innocence into looseness in ethically flexible, provocative individualism, and I love how he’s able to keep his gentleman-qualities and morality while sprawling out in experimental behaviorist tourism that feels like one his most authentic characters. The introductions of each character are so well-written into the detailed atmosphere I find this to be one of the more involving first acts in cinema, exacerbated by Preminger’s tact for patience, pacing, and balancing the perversity and tempered approaches to heady material.

The philosophy within the narrative is interesting, and it helps that we know the basic facts right out of the gate to enjoy the ride, because regardless there is compulsively compelling excitement around the intricate facets of the trial- though it’s the lived-in world and people built and breathing here that sell me time and time again. Lee Remick steals scenes as the unreadable sultry wife, but O'Connell embodies the alcoholic co-worker with a realism that exists between the worlds of cinema and documentary. He is exhibit A of Preminger’s restrained objectivity that manages to pierce the threshold of a character’s psychology in movement and framing just enough to tell us all we need to know without holding our hands.

The jazz score livens up the subject matter, as does the repetition of incongruities, most obviously in Remick’s flirtatious attitude not matching her claims of her husband having no reason to be jealous, but also the picking at ambiguity in statements of perspective in cross-examination- my favorite thematic exposition in ping-ponging tense grey composites applied to seemingly clear-cut space of facts in the house of law and order. This all adds to Preminger’s own impartial formalism reflecting his apparent worldview of compounding perspectives that shatter truth in belief. He’s one of the few filmmakers to make relativist stances so smooth and light in vibe, yet not sugarcoating the brash seriousness of the story.

The tone is neutral yet spirited, and how Preminger makes a film about a trial for rape so consistently enjoyable feels like an oxymoron, but he’s expertly skilled at eliciting piercing energy with calm hues that, like every time I try to talk about his style, I’m left speechless. He lets the fact that the case is being manipulated through some non-verbally communicated witness coaching slide right by any opportunity to stew in judgment, and even cracks a joke in the courtroom about the groundbreaking lewd content discussed in his film. Come to think of it - his filmmaking is a lot like this trial. Deceptively straightforward, with the magic in the process. After seeing this as many times as I have, I still don’t know what to think or feel about the ‘truth’ of the findings, and yet that mystique could not be more honest. O'Connell’s “12 different minds, 12 different hearts” speech about juries only drives home the verity of individualized context, completely in step with my own musings on the topic. This is a lock for my list.
Perhaps someone who's more of an expert on Preminger's objectivity than me can get deeper into this, but I've always found this film to be one where even after many, many revisits, I'm still left somewhat in the dark. The continual pull into a grey space of unknowability allows us to be the jury trying to look at reasonable doubt or tangible facts, coming up with some evidence but mostly without clarity, which reflects the verdict (even if that's reached based on something apparently more concrete). We go into this trial knowing that the defense's specific case of insanity is a lie, so we go looking for truth in the facts of what-the-fuck-happened while coming out with a respect for the process when those details cannot be pinned down. The film is about perspective, and how complex a world is where we have to contend ours against others continuously (in a marriage, a potentially flirtatious/miscommunication of attraction, moral hierarchies of where to enforce justice and where to look the other way, loyalty to friends and their kin, etc.)

In my writeup I began to argue that this film is essentially a thesis for Preminger's style of filmmaking, but I don't know if better-versed Preminger-scholars want to weigh in on how this fits into his filmography, and worldview?

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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#44 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Mon Jul 27, 2020 1:41 am

In Daisy Kenyon, one of the characters (Daisy, I think) remarks after hearing a story from another that they believe the facts but not the melodrama. I've taken this to be one of the key quotes in Preminger's work, one that helps clarify how we are meant to approach much of his cinema; at least his attitude towards how the camera interacts with what we see. (There's a similar moment in the film; after Dan has a very sincere, emotionally frank scene with Daisy, she closes the door and instead of moving on, Dan very casually leans down and picks up a jug of milk and drinks from it, before moving on. This is, in Preminger's cinema, a fact.) Of course, the punchline is that the characters in Daisy Kenyon who refrain from melodramatics and focus on the facts are the ones who get what they want in the end.

Meanwhile, in a film like Bonjour, Tristesse, the story is narrated by a clearly troubled young woman, whose narration is often contradicted by these images we see, with are with shown with Preminger's regular clarity and distance. Preminger's faith in the image that we see is twofold: it at once belongs to a pre-postmodern era where we can trust what we see. Facts exist insofar as we can see them. And, secondly, and this relates to the first: behavior is factual. Tristesse's grip on reality may not be accurate, but our ability to observe her behavior is. I draw this particular point from Christian Keathley's "Otto Preminger and the Surface of Cinema," where in the dearth of visual flourishes he focuses in on character action to determine meaning and direction in scenes.

Why do I begin all this? I believe that Anatomy of a Murder is Preminger's quintessential film, stylistically. It most fully embodies the relationship between body language, the screen, and facts. Much of what's most important here is already obvious: the film restrains itself almost entirely to the courtroom and conversations with key witnesses and actors in the case. What actually happened is ambiguous; characters talk about things that don't occur on screen and the shape of the drama never particularly provides closure––I'm thinking primarily of when one of the other inmates says that Manion said he was going to beat his wife when he gets out. Of course, eventually, a piece of evidence is found that says something concrete, for once––but that pair of panties doesn't say whether Laura was raped or whether it was consensual sex. But it comes with such a shocking fact, one delivered in such an opportune moment, that the melodrama helps win the day.

Which is what this film is about. It is secondarily about relativity of truth. That is the playground or battlefield in which our protagonists exist. The last time I watched it, I found myself wondering, what was the point of this film? Because I remembered being a little disappointed the time before, at how sort of meaningless it ended up feeling. Not meaningless, of course: it is a very enjoyable film. But it leaves you so high and dry, seemingly. Manion and his wife, who apparently was crying (another missing fact), skip before paying Paul, or even thanking him in person. But when I last watched it two months ago, it all clicked. And it clicked very early on, too!

After Paul visits Manion for the first time, still undecided about whether he will take the case, there is a scene of him and Parnell having lunch. They're eating hardboiled eggs. Paul is doubtful whether he will take the case: there is literally no point for him to take it, and it seems rather dismal in its prospects. He doesn't much want the money even if he is strapped, he doesn't like the client, he just wants to fish, really. Besides, this is an ex-Army man who lives in a trailer park: not much likelihood of a big payout, anyway.

But Parnell needles him: are you afraid of getting licked? he asks Paul. And that was it. That, for me, is the point of the film. Like another 1959 masterpiece, the dramatic arc of this film is Paul proving how good he is; how good he is not only at the law (which he's pretty confident in once he finds the precedent), but also in courtroom performance. Performance is the key word: the entire film is performance. Melodrama, sass, sarcasm, playing sexy, playing prudent––Paul is primarily interested less in Manion's actual outcome, but rather whether he can work the case well enough to get him off on a totally bogus point. Which radically changes the way the film plays, of course. And changes how we are meant to approach the facts. The facts are bendable, shapeable, transmutable, ignorable, not because facts don't exist but because we are not in possession of them, because all we see are the insides of a courtroom. Human behavior are the facts: how nervous is someone, how angry are they, how passionate, how sincere, what's their word choice. And of course patterns of behavior are fair game too––how many times has Manion beat his wife? Did the other inmate have a history of charges?

The film is not about who murdered who, who was insane or not, who was raped or not––it's not even about the thought of whether anything happened or not. The film is about how we can shape their reality based on talk, attitude, and dramatic structure. It's about whether you can make the jury believe the melodrama, and not the facts.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#45 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Jul 27, 2020 1:59 am

I do think the film is playing with the audience (like a jury)’s desire to move toward facts as a default (hence perhaps why you were let down on a previous watch, searching for that ‘meaning’) but it arrives in that ‘playground’ that acknowledges relative perspectives (rather than truth, per se) to influence subjectivity with power. In that sense its process in involving the audience is complex enough to be aimed at revealing different onion layers as we become acclimated to what Preminger is up to. Great read, HDTS- you really get at how what could be pessimistically manipulative winds up feeling so exciting and fulfilling in action.

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HinkyDinkyTruesmith
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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#46 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Mon Jul 27, 2020 2:16 am

I don't quite know if I'm reading you correctly, TWBB, but I don't think the film sees "unknowability" (a word you use in your first post) and "relativity" as the same thing. The way your argument goes seems to elide them together. I think that the first word is appropriate, as the film is filled with things we don't know. In that sense, there are relative perspectives––who knows more than the other? But the film doesn't seem interested in misinterpretations or clashing interpretations of the same thing. I mean genuine clashing interpretations, rather than two lawyers trying to frame the same thing in different ways. The film believes that Laura was raped or she was. The film believes that Manion was acting on irresistible impulse or he wasn't. The film believes in Truth (hence why it's pre-pomo), it just isn't convinced that we can always obtain it––or that we even care to.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#47 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Jul 27, 2020 2:51 am

I don't think it does either, nor do I understand where you're getting that from. In my last post I explicitly said that the film acknowledges that relative perspectives, rather than relative truths, exist... so I agree with you. Truth is not what is relative, but our ability to find it based on our own subjective anchors is. The "different minds and hearts" speech hits on this being significant for us, the people- so I believe that we absolutely care to find truth, but Preminger brings us into a place where we can stop for a little while and stew in what I interpret to be a morally relative space. That doesn't mean that Preminger is saying that morality is meaningless, and certainly not the intensity of the subject of rape, but instead that morals don't have a mirrored relationship with truths as fixed figures, are both (unsettlingly) unknowable, and are not all that matter. So the 'melodrama,' or theatrics, or influence via agency can influence the facts which provoke the morals as people search for the truth.

Your comment that we may not care to obtain truth isn't something I wholly reject by the way, because I think those who comfortably don't place as much 'care' into it are more accepting of both that unknowability and see the world as grey in terms of believing in systems that can reinforce such unknowability with moral relativity (i.e. the loopholes in defense case, the 'bendable facts' as you say). Still, as the jury and the audience, most viewers of the trial are starting off searching for a Truth where morality and truth align and facts are granted. But a part of us want the melodrama too, so as the film plays on those onion layers peel back and we see the world through a gradual acceptance of that unknowability, the 'movement' of which seems to be a purpose of the film -involving the audience in the process. We may be more interested in slightly different sides of what the film is doing, though even if so not by much, but I don't disagree with anything you've said.

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HinkyDinkyTruesmith
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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#48 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Mon Jul 27, 2020 2:58 am

I see what happened. You wrote "...that acknowledges relative perspectives (rather than truth, per se)..." and I interpreted that to mean that the film acknowledged relative perspectives rather than The Truth, instead of what you meant which was "relative truths."

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#49 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Jul 27, 2020 3:04 am

I still don't see how that would have my argument elide together "unknowability" and "relativity" in a way that repelled you though, since your initial perception of my use of "relative perspectives" pertained to what you responded to in agreement verbatim, but okay

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Roger Ryan
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Re: Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

#50 Post by Roger Ryan » Mon Jul 27, 2020 8:14 am

ando wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:32 pm
There are things I love about this film (Eve Arden, Jimmy Stewart's sexual awkwardness, Greg Toland's beautiful camerawork)...
The photography is really good, but it's by Sam Leavitt (Toland died a decade before this film was made).

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