I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I saw a grown-up cry. It wasn’t that the elders around me were all that even-tempered; most of them were no less capable of lashing out in anger or indignation than the average human being. But open displays of melancholy were nonexistent in my household, to the point that I would have been about as shocked to witness an adult family member weeping as I would have been to stumble on one of them having sex. It was in the movies where the grown-up world was allowed to reveal itself in various states of despair. Melodrama in particular was like an alternate universe, not just because tears flowed more freely there, but also because instead of condescending to the miserable among us, the genre seemed to use every device at its disposal—harrowing plot twists, invasive close-ups, swelling music—to build a case for their misery. More than anything, it was the acting that bore the burden of carrying this off, and an élite class of performers were preternaturally gifted at breaking down for the camera. If you happened to be watching in the darkness of a theater, you might have felt you’d been given permission to fall apart right along with them.
Keaton at the Crossroads: Buster’s Last Silent Comedy, Spite Marriage
Despite the studio system’s stifling conditions, Buster Keaton’s follow-up to The Cameraman remains a testament to the funnyman’s singular style.
The Same Old Song: A Guide to Neonoir
Since its classic-Hollywood heyday, noir has remained a vibrant mode in both studio and independent filmmaking, taking on nostalgic resonances in the highly referential work of Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, Brian De Palma, and the Coen brothers.
Carole Lombard’s Divine Lunacy
A raucous, fast-talking diva, the actor had a remarkable ability to convey both glamour and silliness, a gift that made her the queen of screwball comedy before her untimely death in 1942.
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