Friday, June 29, 2007

The Last Sunset

At the end of Aldrich's The Last Sunset (spoilers from beginning to end of this post), there is an unusual series of long shots that transform the final location into a kind of imaginative space. The climactic shootout happens in an empty dirt lot, and Aldrich announces his visual plan with a static shot from high overhead that shows both combatants in the featureless, shadowless space, with a railroad track curving through one side of the frame to impose an unsettling sense of geometrical emptiness. After the shooting, the four main characters are gathered on the final set, and Aldrich poses them allegorically, with a lack of concern for psychology: Kirk Douglas lies dead on the ground, lovers Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone are frozen in embrace near the body, Carol Lynley mourns Douglas on her knees. The oddest thing about this tableau is not that it is not naturalistic, but rather that it is reiterated through more than one shot: the dimensionality of the space is asserted even as the contents of the space are ritualized into abstraction. The effect was not unlike a 3-D video game, where a computer can regenerate a space infinitely but cannot make it seem real. I made a mental note to try this template for size on the rest of the director's work. When one thinks of Aldrich's visual style, one perceives two elements that seem at odds with each other: a deliberate and formalized compositional sense; and decoupage that runs a little wild, and can even seem messy. In the scene I described above, it occurred to me for the first time how those two elements might work together.

On the whole, I didn't care a lot for the film, despite some appealing hard-edged long-shot compositions. The acting is very uneven and ungoverned (though Lynley is wonderful), and there's something middlebrow about the way that the script is constructed in non-psychological terms (get these people on a cattle drive together, and don't bother me with the details! says some imaginary mogul) and yet must still exert itself to pretend that the characters are motivated by psychology. The introduction of the incest theme into 60s Hollywood only heightens the middlebrow effect: suicide is an implausible solution to Douglas's problems, but an acceptable way to soothe the audience's discomfort. (Like I said, spoilers from beginning to end.)

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