Thursday, January 31, 2008
This fine morning on Alex's blog we were treated to a photo taken from her ferry ride back to her island. She lamented the loss of her snow and mused a bit about transitions, states of transit, and chakras. Her musical selection today was ChakraSuite1 running 3:10 minutes. It transported me somewhere else, somewhere warm, a place of incense and beautiful women.
Sitar daydreams and
from Mother India,
bleached, blended, and blinded
for a tiny moment,
on the Taj facade,
muddied, bloodied, and littered
with fat yellow flower petals;
golden, yet still
trimmed pink to red
as you cajole us
to place them, it
between our lips,
sliding it, gulping
into our awaiting
so that we can
get to know its
bitter at first
on the very front
of our tongue,
but soon becoming
and a gentle humming
and a tantalizing tinkle
as it drops
down our bare throat;
sweet at last,
devouring the last of the
with our eager
Glenn Buttkus 2008
And what follows is the Shapiro hidden poetry, always cleverly disguised as prose, but not from me, never from me.
My beloved snow
White has been
by the vibrant green
and travel from there
and I ferry
back and forth
in all its forms
is a constant
Alex Shapiro 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Alex Shapiro is at it again on her terrific blog site, NOTES FROM THE KELP. She was returning to her beloved San Juan Island from Seattle yesterday, and the snows of kilimanjaro hit, leaving actual "snow" there on the island. She seems to enjoy the stuff. I am a native Northwesterner, used to hills and dales and valleys and forests, and every damned time the snow hits it rains on my parade. I love to look at it if I do not have to drive in it. Alex wrote on her blog:
It’s not uncommon for islanders to head south for the winter months and join the other snowbirds, even though the season here is very temperate. Most days are in the low to mid forties, dipping into the 30’s at night. There isn’t the bitter cold of the Minnesotan or New York winters that Charles and I grew up enduring. The air here is crisp and fresh and pure and invigorating, and tromping around outside to chop wood or spread birdseed is a joy. This dark-eyed junco is especially pleased that I feel this way. It rarely snows and when it does, the powdery fluff is gone within hours, melted into a memory.
But yesterday as I was headed home from Seattle, it did indeed snow on San Juan Island– and the snow stuck! A couple of very pretty inches that have turned everything in view into a work of art. I’m loving all phases of winter here and can’t imagine why others flee for Arizona, Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii and Central America. Ok, well, I can– but I’m so completely at home in this, that staying here seems like a vacation in and of itself. The weather here is so much better than where I grew up. Is there a word for feeling even more at home than where your original home was?
Then, in her way, she posted a wonderful picture of the bird in the fluff snow, and posted some of her music to illustrate the illustrate, or to illuminate it, or to underscore it. The piece was The White Horse. It was 45 seconds of bliss, part Celtic, part jazz, all Alex. I wrote a little piece of free verse as a response to her music.
SNOWS OF SAN JUAN
The white horse,
a white blaze,
not completely white,
on a white day moment,
in the snow,
in the fluff,
white on white;
and its magnificent tail
swished like a
humming in the crisp air,
the equus concerto,
as her pink-blue eyes
In my white snow suit,
behind my white and green scarf,
neath my silly white and red woolen hat,
with my slender white fingertips
clicking and clicking
the imaginary pic
that would cue
that wonderful trick
for it must be
to salve my imagination,
to soothe my emotions,
the euphoria deep
in my chest,
and to provide
the necessary sustenance
for my Muse,
who is always,
Glenn Buttkus 2008
Then I thanked her for her epic poem that I clearly read in my mind as I read her prose. It went something like this:
It's not uncommon
to head south
for the winter months
and join the other
the season here
is very temperate.
are in the low
into the thirties
the bitter cold
of the Minnesotan
or New York
that Charles and I
The air here
is crisp and fresh and pure
and tromping around
to chop wood
or spread birdseed
is a joy.
The dark-eyed Junco
is especially pleased
that I feel
It rarely snows,
and when it does,
the powdery fluff
melted into a
as I was headed Home
it did indeed
on San Juan Island--
and the snow
A couple of pretty inches
that have turned everything
into a work
all phases of
and can't imagine
for Arizona, Florida, the Caribbean,
Mexico, Hawaii, and Central Amerca.
but I'm so completely
that staying here
like a vacation
in and of
The weather here
is so much
I grew up.
Is there a word
even more at Home
your original home
Alex Shapiro January 2008
There probably is such a word, dear lady, but it is spoken only by the wind in whispers, rattling your warm windows late at night, interupting your dreams, becoming your dreams, wrapping you like silk, sitting, lying quietly, watching you sleep, hoping you will wake soon and come out and play.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Doug Palmer had a few "words" to say as introduction to his incredible Violin Duet last Friday night in Seattle.
You can view
by Nadia Boulanger students;
or you can say
it's Steven Foster
to slave chant
The latter of which
(though not always
for the right people).
I have achieved
in this piece,
it is American
and it is unlikely
Doug Palmer January 25, 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Here is an interesting email exchange from Doug to me to Doug and back to me. It reveals some salient bits of humor and hubris, as well as insight of a sort. The performance went well and all's right in the universe on this day. Doug Palmer deserves recognition. Some of us, through our own devices, as slaves to our own ego, and falling in line with our Type A personalities have had our fair share of limelight, applause, accolades, awards, and atta boys. I think we ought to get ahold of the mayors of Renton and Seattle and declare a DOUG PALMER DAY each January 25th, just because, just for the hell of it. Three cheers, hurrah tripled, Dougie--and may many more triumphs follow on the hot heels of this one. Many thanks to Alex Shapiro for her kind and warm appearance and her support of fellow composers, music, the arts, and all like that.
Hi Glenn, My book group is reading "No Ordinary Time" about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during WWIIOne of the group has asked for movies about that time. Do you know of anyone who might be able to help her out?All I can think of is "Dumbo"Or maybe Belushi's "1941"See Ya later.......................................Dougie
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 14:30:30 -0800From: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: WWII Dramatic films
Of course the number of films that have WWII as a background are too numerous to put on a single page; but most of them are classified as "war films", full of action, death, battles.Your request is a bit vague, but here goes.
If the folks want films about the Roosevelts, the mini-series ELEANOR AND FRANKLIN would be a good place to start. A half dozen actors have played FDR over the years. But if what you, or they, are seeking is an interesting "drama" that is not technically a war film, they might look up:
1. John Boorman's HOPE AND GLORY.
2. YANKS with Richard Gere.
3. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES with Frederic March.
4. THE BRYLCREEM BOYS with Gabriel Byrne.
5. THE GATHERING STORM, both the Richard Burton version, and the superlative Albert Finney version, about Winston Churchill.
6. THE LAST DAYS, kind of grim about the Holocaust survivors.
7. THE WAR LOVER with Steve McQueen.
8. ATONEMENT in theaters presently.
9. HANOVER STREET with Harrison Ford.
10. WATERLOO BRIDGE, with Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh.
There are several more, but I would have to actually think about it. These are off the top of my kopf.
p.s.: Hope the performance at Good Shepherd went well.
From Doug Palmer this morning:
Sorry you couldn't make it to the salon. The piece was a big hit. I'm walking on air.Alex is as nice as you would expect. David Mesler showed up. Janet and Mack too. I even got comments (and advice) about the piece last night at the opera from Keith Eisenbrey (a friend from the Seattle Composers Forum)Tom Baker has promised a recording, I'll post it asap.I think this list of films will be good. Kate Chatham referred herself as historically ignorant. It's up to us who know virtually everything about that period from Mein Kamfp to Nagasaki to enlighten the ignorant.Many thanks.
It does appear that sometimes the stars align and the universe smiles and "good things" happen to each of us. Doug Palmer is a hell of a composer, and maybe, just maybe, he will spend some time in the sun, and will receive so many pats on the back he will be lame for three days after.
Friday, January 25, 2008
THE THIEF (1952)
VOICELESS IN MANHATTAN
Director Russell Rouse was best known in Hollywood as a terrific screen writer in the late 1940’s and into the 50’s-60’s. He wrote screenplays for 18 films. He won an Oscar for his script for PILLOW TALK (1959). He had written D.O.A. (1950), another interesting shift in thriller perspective. [He also wrote the screenplay for the modern 1988 remake of D.O.A.] His first directorial effort was THE WELL (1951), and then he sat at the creative helm for THE THIEF (1952). Interestingly, this hot shot screen writer picked a topic that included the challenge of silence. He wrote the script and directed the film. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for THE THIEF script. A bit of a maverick, he only directed 11 films in his career, 1951-1967, which included THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956), with Glenn Ford, and ended up with THE OSCAR (1966), with Stephen Boyd.
Except for Charlie Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS (1931), THE THIEF (1952) was the first film to use fully synchronized sound, and yet did not have a single word or line of dialogue. Chaplin created what probably was the “last silent movie”. Mel Brooks fans were delighted and a bit perplexed when he released SILENT MOVIE (1976), containing only one word of dialogue spoken by the recently deceased world renowned Mime—Marcel Marceau. THE THIEF was not very well received at the box office, being considered a “gimmick” film. Perhaps, though, it was far more than that.
Dennis Schwartz from OZUS WORLD MOVIE REVIEWS wrote, “Russell Rouse (THE OSCAR) directs and co-wrote this unique but tedious spy/Red Scare thriller set in NYC. There’s no dialogue throughout. It is a silent film in the true sense of a silent film. The gimmick, except for natural sound effects, never caught my interest, but as the film drags laboriously along after the novelty wears off, it becomes downright annoying. It seems contrived, and serves no purpose—or does the “gimmick” make the film more interesting? But at least with no dialogue, we don’t have to listen to a lecture on patriotism or any shrill anti-Red diatribe.”
From the 1952 NEW YORK TIMES review, “It has been 25 years since the screen acquired the gift of tongues, and now with THE THIEF, which arrived at the Roxy yesterday, Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse, an enterprising pair of film artisans, are trying to prove that some movie yarns are better seen than heard. Their effort is a successful tour de force. For, generally speaking, theirs is a spy melodrama in which language would appear to be redundant. But it is a feature-length chase, occasionally repetitious, in which suspense is only intermittent, key reasons for the crimes are missing and logic sometimes hangs by a fragile thread.”
The star of the film was Reginald Alfred John Truscott-James, all 6’2” of him, better known to most folks as Ray Milland. He had to carry this film squarely on his shoulders, appearing in every scene, having to convey a myriad of feelings and emotion without uttering one word with that mellifluous voice of his. Ironically in 1945, when he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor after his role in THE LOST WEEKEND, he never said a word. He just bowed, smiled, and exited casually stage right. I read where both Cary Grant and Jose Ferrer had been considered for the role in LOST WEEKEND. He was born in Wales, trained to be an actor in England, and his first early films were done in Britain. Interestingly, he never had a hint of the British accent like David Niven and Stewart Granger did. American Standard English was good enough for him. He was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actor for his work on THE THIEF (1952).
During Milland’s 60 year career in Hollywood it was said of him that he never partied much, was not a socialite; rather was a “book-loving homebody”. His filmography was immense, 173 films starting in 1929 in THE INFORMER. He was in CHARLIE CHAN IN LONDON (1934), THE GLASS KEY (1935), EBB TIDE (1937), MEN WITH WINGS (1938), BEAU GESTE (1939), with Gary Cooper, REAP THE WILD WIND (1942), with John Wayne, THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942), THE UNINVITED (1944), THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), THE BIG CLOCK (1948), ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949), BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON (1952), DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954), GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING (1955), then tried his comedic flair playing Professor McNulty on the television series THE RAY MILLAND SHOW (1955). Like so many other studio stars, his career took a bit of a nose dive in the late 50’s and he appeared in TV series roles, and “B” films like PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO (1962), and PREMATURE BURIAL (1962), MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963). Working without his toupee he had a resurgence for a time after he appeared in LOVE STORY (1970), and on the TV mini-series RICH MAN, POOR MAN (1976). He actually was quite good in comedy roles, but was only given marginal opportunities.
From the 1952 NEW YORK TIMES review, “Above all, Russell Rouse, who also directed, has gotten a sensitive and towering performance from Ray Milland in the title role; his portrayal of the traitorous scientist, a man whose motivations are not apparent, is superb.”
Mackjay2 on IMDB wrote, “Right off the bat we can expect quality with Ray Milland in the lead: the man can act! THE THIEF is a graphic demonstration of how acting requires much more than good line-readings. Milland immerses himself in the drama from the word go, and we almost never think of him as an “actor” until the end, when the impact of the film really hits.”
Ray Milland played award-winning physicist Allen Fields. We are introduced to him just as he was being “contacted” by his foreign agent compeers. In a dark apartment, a dial phone rings three times. A man lies fully clothed on the bed, listening. After a few moments it rings three more times, and then stops. Milland rises reluctantly, visibly agitated, conflicted, and unsettled. He walks the dark streets of Washington D.C. until he met his “contact” (Martin Gabel). The contact crumples up a cigarette package and drops it on the sidewalk, and then walks away. Fields stoops and scoops up his “orders”.
Director Rouse lets the story play out like Hitchcock-lite, much of the action happening without explication—not even some form of silent explanation. Fields, apparently “successful” as a GS Civil Servant scientist, lived in a very modest apartment, alone. There were no photographs around of a wife or a family; just a physics award plaque on the mantle. What country was Fields spying for? Did he begin spying for the extra cash, and if so why did he appear to be so conflicted? Was his wife or family, if they existed, being held hostage, and he was being forced to spy? Was he from a “progressive” family background, with socialist roots sprouting out of the Depression? We can only guess and surmise.
We soon witness Fields at his government office with the Atomic Energy Commission building in Washington, D.C.—snapping tiny microfilm photos of “top secret” documents. As he wandered the cold hallways, and no one ever greeted him, or paid him much heed, there was a wonderful TWILIGHT ZONE feeling of isolation. The drop zone for the microfilm was the D.C. public library; a cavernous edifice that dwarfed all who prowled about its voluminous numerous aisles of shelves—a perfect place of silence, where people did not stare or care. We watch as Fields places the canister, and Gabel picks it up, and soon the diminutive canister is transferred from one “cell member” to another, and finally one of them boards a plane bound for Cairo.
Lo and behold, the next drop and transfer of secrets goes awry. One of the nefarious couriers was killed crossing a busy street, while apparently day dreaming and the city cops confiscated the “evidence”. Soon those great patriots, those zealous Commie-haters and hunters, F.B.I. agents, get involved and lickety-split fast they begin closing in on the spy ring. Fields watches helplessly as an aged colleague he has stolen secrets from is arrested and taken away.
Fields feared that he will be next to be apprehended, so he appealed for help, and his brothers in espionage provided him with a car (a ’52 Chev business coupe like I drove in high school), and he drove it traveling light to New York City. Those shots of a modestly cluttered freeway covered with vintage cars were nostalgic beyond measure. He rented a seedy room near the Waterfront. Soon he is contacted, a fake passport and passage is provided for him on a freighter headed for the Middle East. The public phone hanging on the wall in the hallway was integral to Fields; his touchstone. But he found that he had a neighbor who used the phone a lot too, a sultry and sexy young woman (Rita Gam). She, at first, seemed to give him come-on glances, but when he stared at her a little too lasciviously, she slammed her door in his gaze—another loose thread in this plot that only lived in the moment.
Fields met an operative on the 88th floor of the Empire State Building, the observatory level. He was unaware that the operative was being shadowed by an F.B.I. agent (Harry Bronson). The agent notices Fields reading his “instructions”, and a chase ensues. Up the steep stairs they raced, with the younger man closing in on the aging and puffing Fields. They climbed higher and higher, until Fields in desperation climbed up the final ladder and emerged above the 102nd floor, on the very top of what was at that time the world’s highest skyscraper. The camera work kicked in my latent vertigo. My feet ached and my head swam watching the scene. I half expected King Kong to peek around the corner, or to see WWI biplanes appear in the sky, diving down to spray machine gun bullets. Fields was horrified as the F.B.I. agent reached out and grabbed the physicist’s ankle. As a reflex, Fields stomped on the agent’s hand, and then kicked down at his head. The agent fell the 20’ to the steel deck, breaking his neck. Later, safe in his room, Fields cried out in anguish when he fully realized he had murdered someone. That cry and two previous loud screams were the only human “sounds” we were treated to. The only dialogue was the musical score. Even at the great crowded train station, and on the busy pedestrian-strewn streets, we never heard even the murmur of ambient dialogue; heightening the sense of immersion in an alien landscape.
From the 1952 NEW YORK TIMES film review, “All the characters are involved in areas that are visually exciting, from the Library of Congress to the quiet, tree-shaded streets of Georgetown, and to the subways, teeming midtown streets and the tower of our town’s Empire State Building, in which part of this chase takes place. They, too, have an excellent assist from the sound track, which has recorded sounds of the street and interiors with fidelity and often—dramatic impact. And they have a story that is simply a peg to hang an interesting novelty. Novelty, in short, is this melodrama’s basic virtue.”
Interesting in a post script for this article from 1952, there was mention of the “between show” that was common in big city theaters in the 40’s and 50’s. “Featured on the stage of the Roxy are Johnny Johnston, Jerry Colonna, and the ice-skating revue starring Arnold Shoda.”
Martin Gabel played the head conspirator. Oddly his name was misspelled as “Gable” in the credits for THE THIEF. Considering the “cigarette package clues” in the film, and the propensity of smoking in all 50’s films, it was sad to read the Gabel died in 1986 of lung cancer. He did a lot of theater work in NYC. He appeared in 31 films from 1951. THIEF was his fifth film. (An odd thought occurred to me. SAG only pays “actor’s rates” after one word of dialogue is uttered on film. This meant that the extras who belonged to SEG worked for less. Since THE THIEF was done without one word of dialogue, did SAG balk at paying the stars?) Most of Gabel’s career was television roles. He was in MARNIE (1964) with Sean Connery, and LADY IN CEMENT (1968), with Frank Sinatra. He was married to Arlene Francis, and he managed to be “the most frequent guest” on TV’s WHAT’S MY LINE.
Mackjay2 on IMDb wrote, “His main contact is played nicely by Martin Gabel, an actor with a face perfect for sinister, wordless intrigue.”
Rita Gam, the girl of the hallway, the simmering sexpot in THE THIEF, was one of those very striking beauties that never quite achieved star status. She was still lovely when I worked with her at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1974 in CAMINO REAL. She appeared in 46 films starting in 1950. She was in NIGHT PEOPLE (1954), with Gregory Peck and Broderick Crawford, MOHAWK (1956), with Scott Brady, SIERRA BARON (1958), KING OF KINGS (1961), with Jeffrey Hunter, and KLUTE (1971), with Jane Fonda. Gam was married to film director Sidney Lumet from 1949-1954. She was good friends with actress Grace Kelly; was a bride’s maid at Kelly’s Monaco super wedding. Ms. Rita Gam was nominated for a Golden Globe for THIEF as “The Most Promising Newcomer.”
From the NEW YORK TIMES 1952 film review, “Rita Gam, a beauteous newcomer recruited from television, only indicates in her brief appearance as the temptress in the tenement hallway used by Milland that she could fill a bathing suit neatly.”
On the plus side the film sported a strong performance by Ray Milland, giving new depth to the meaning of “inner monologue”. This was just a few years after his Oscar-winning performance in THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), and a couple of years before he worked with Hitchcock in DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954). THE THIEF is a unique kind of hybrid movie, part noir thriller, part Red-scare government-sanctioned anti-Communist piece of proper patriotic propaganda—and something else, something mute and alien, something still born unto it, fresh and strange, that becomes both irritating and fascinating.
We hear a dynamic musical score written by Hershel Burke Gilbert, a fledgling composer plucked from noir predecessors; a score that had to “speak” and convey emotions, underscore events, a score that was nominated for an Academy Award. He composed 45 film scores from 1946, and hundreds of TV series themes and scores. He wrote the scores for THE MOON IS BLUE (1953), CARMEN JONES (1954), WHILE TH CITY SLEEPS (1956), and the hard core jazz score for SLAUGHTER ON 10th AVENUE (1957).
From the 1952 NEW YORK TIMES review, “The musical score by Hershel Gilbert is insidiously suggestive in creating atmosphere as well as indicating the emotions of the principals.”
Spelvini on IMDb wrote, “Hats off to Ray Milland and the wonderful musical score because just as in the early films of the silent period—all the plot points of the film are underscored through purely visual means, pushing the film to the level of pure cinema. The musical score that Hershel Burke Gilbert composed says volumes about the character Allen Fields, and his emotional state. Gilbert received an Oscar nomination for his musical score and one watching will tell you why. Gilbert creates swells and moods to support the facial expressions and other physical language that Milland utilizes to show us what is happening with Fields and his eroding state of mind.”
Mackjay2 on IMDb wrote, “Just as important as the acting and directing is the musical score. Hershel Burke Gilbert must have outdone himself for this project. This is an excellent score; never obtrusive, always supportive of the action, pleasing, but never calling attention to itself. The music really makes the film work. An example of how intelligent the approach to the scoring is comes at the film’s climax—when Milland is followed to very top of the Empire State Building—the music stops completely for about 10 minutes. The effect is very Hitchcockian.”
We enjoyed well thought out and executed cinematography by lenser Sam Leavitt, returning to work after an odd 17 year hiatus, providing us with a moody noir shadow world, where the darkness swallowed everything, with much of the action taking place on back streets in big cities at night. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on THE THIEF (1952). He was head lenser on 65 films from 1932. He did not work from 1935-1952. He shot A STAR IS BORN (1954), CARMEN JONES (1954), THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955), COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL (1955), won an Oscar for THE DEFIANT ONES (1958), PORK CHOP HILL (1959), ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959), EXODUS (1960), CAPE FEAR (1962), MAJOR DUNDEE (1965), and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? (1967). He was quite a heavyweight cinematographer actually.
From the 1952 NEW YORK TIMES review, “The fine photography of cinematographer Sam Leavitt, whose cameras have captured the lights of actual, and familiar, locations in Washington (D.C.) and New York, contributes strongly to the tensions of the hunt.”
Spelvini on IMDb wrote, “The night exteriors are textbook noir examples of lighting and camera. In this case the ambient sounds of the Washington D. C. locations are contrasted well with those of the NYC locations, especially the wide shot of Milland arriving in the beautiful Pennsylvania Train Station before it was demolished.”
Dennis Schwartz of OZUS WORLD MOVIE REVIEWS wrote, “What we get is a tense mood piece through the excellent dark visuals delivered by cinematographer Sam Leavitt. It shows a lonely and alienated unsympathetic man on the run, who is trapped in a shadowy world of chaos—but is not fleshed out in his character, so we never become concerned with his plight as a human interest story.”
For me the negative side of this film was miniscule. Even at a running time of a mere 85 minutes, I felt that the gimmick of zero dialogue grated on my patience. The concept would have made an excellent 30 minute effort by Rod Serling, or a one hour episode on THE OUTER LIMITS. Several of the scenes going wordless just defied logic, strained credulity—like the scenes with the fetching Rita Gam; even if Fields remained mute, she gave the impression of brashness and verbosity. So I felt pushed, manipulated, forced to watch without hearing dialogue, without reading placards. My fascination eroded into crankiness. When Allen Fields halted at the base of the cat walk leading up to his escape freighter, and then gave in to his guilt, tore up his fake passport, and walked away with his head down and his shoulders stooped in righteousness, there were not cheers from the peanut gallery, only groans. You could hear John Edgar Hoover clapping along with hordes of lackeys, but the rest of us grimaced.
Watching this film in 2008, 55 years after first seeing it at the Roosevelt Theater in Seattle as a kid, I did enjoy it more. I did appreciate the artistry and audacity it projected. It remains a special and unique experiment, a vibrant and challenging movie experience that is certainly worthy of viewing and discussing.
Glenn A. Buttkus 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)
Detective and crime novelist Raymond Chandler, it was said, was not terribly thrilled with this film adaptation of his 1944 novel. His character, Philip Marlowe, an ex-cop turned detective turning budding novelist, was somewhat autobiographical, and he felt strongly that the “gimmicky” way the film was handled “did not serve the story very well.”
Adrienne F.: [early on in her negotiations with Marlowe] People who write usually don’t know the facts, and people who know the facts usually can’t write. Authenticity has very little to do with it. If the people who read our magazines knew the facts of life, they wouldn’t be reading our magazines.
Adrienne F.: [now pitching Marlowe’s story to her boss, Mr. Kingsby] And he is a very well known private detective. That’s what makes his stuff so authentic; so full of life and vigor and heart. So full of…what would you say it was full of, Mr. Marlowe?
Marlowe: Short sentences.
Lt. DeGarmot: [learns that Marlowe is writing detective fiction] What are you trying to do, elevate yourself?
Actor Robert Montgomery, an MGM studio player and star from 1929, had mostly played society roles, comedy, and leading men. During WWII he had served in the U.S. Navy, and one could see with his hard-boiled persona playing a PT boat commander in John Ford’s THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), that the combat experience had changed him, given him a harder edge to his personality. [Similar things happened to James Stewart, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, and Glenn Ford after the war.] Montgomery was a full Commander in the USNR. His portrayal of Marlowe, in LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), was criticized for its “unevenness”, but he must have learned something from the experience. Later the next year he went on to direct himself much more successfully in the fine film noir feature, RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947).
Montgomery appeared in 64 films from 1929-1960. He was in PRIVATE LIVES (1931), BLONDIE OF THE FOLLIES (1932), RIPTIDE (1934), played a deranged killer in NIGHT MUST FALL (1937), enjoyed a lot of success with MR. & MRS. SMITH (1941), with Carole Lombard [Becoming quite the action film in 2007 with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie], THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947), JUNE BRIDE (1948). He hosted his own television series, ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS (1950-1957). Daughter Elizabeth Montgomery got her start in the business on her father’s series.
For many years Montgomery was considered one of the most well dressed actors in Hollywood. He would not wear a wallet in his back pocket because “it would ruin the drape of the suit.” He was the President of SAG from 1935-38. He was a friendly witness in 1947, at the HUAC hearings, and he named names. Even for a big star like himself, this did not boost his career. By 1950 he found himself downsizing to a career on the new medium: television. He was re-elected President of SAG from 1946-47. In 1949, when Laurence Olivier was absent from the Academy Award Ceremony, Montgomery acted the Best Actor for him, for Olivier’s role in HAMLET. Montgomery won a Tony in 1955 for directing his version of THE DESPERATE HOURS on Broadway. Even though in some ways he was a pioneer on television, joining Jane Wyman and Loretta Young and others with their own dramatic series, he got around in 1968 to writing a book, OPEN LETTER FROM A TV VIEWER, in which he blasted the television industry for its monopolistic schemes and violent programming. I wonder how he would respond to the near nudity and cuss words found almost every night presently on the tube?
Robert Montgomery once said, “If you are lucky enough to have success, by all means enjoy the applause and the adulation of the public –but never believe it.”
His portrayal of Marlowe was not half bad, it just seemed strained, pushed, and not centered. It does not stand up to the others who have played the Chandler alter-ego, actors like Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Robert Mitchum, Elliott Gould, even James Garner. Purists feel that George Sanders did a good job too in a made-over B plot film from MURDER, MY SWEET novel.
Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci on IMDb wrote, “Robert Montgomery’s sardonic snap mostly works for the cynical Marlowe, though he sometimes forgets to tone it down during tender dialogue, making him sound simply cranky.”
MGM was not a studio well known for making film noir projects. One notable exception had been THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946). One of the problems was purely stylistic. MGM was known for “well lit” films, where their stars all looked handsome and glamorous. Film Noir, by definition had to have darker blacks and whiter whites, creepy characters inhabiting ten shades of shadow. Noir thrillers were more the purview of studios like Warner Brothers, Columbia, Universal, and RKO/Pathe. Montgomery convinced MGM to let him direct his first film and Chandler’s LADY IN THE LAKE was his choice. It was very nervy, and innovative to make the creative decision that the camera lens would become first person, would see what Marlowe saw; most of the time.
MGM was put into a mild shock when Montgomery presented them with this film, so they had no choice but to push for a big marketing campaign. In the trailer for the film we heard the narrator exclaim, “MGM presents a Revolutionary motion picture; the most amazing since talkies began!” They tried to sell the public on the uniqueness, stating that, “this picture is the first “interactive” movie experience.” They went on in the ads to state, “YOU and ROBERT MONTGOMERY solve a murder mystery together! YOU get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect. YOU accept an invitation to a blonde’s apartment!”
This technique had only been used sparingly prior to this film, like a few minutes as Dick Powell is swimming back to consciousness in Edward Dmytryk’s MURDER, MY SWEET (1944). A few months after LADY IN THE LAKE was released, director Delmer Daves used the technique for the first few scenes in DARK PASSAGE (1947), before the Bogart character has his plastic surgery. Presently audience have been inundated with news reporters, reality show participants, documentarians, and stand-up comics –all playing directly to the “eye” of the camera. Of course, good “film actors” like John Wayne and Alan Ladd understood a “look” masking inner monologue, and they were able to relate to the camera as their audience –but the strange notion that the lens represented a character in the drama for “most” of the film had never been done before.
In January 1947, the NEW YORK TIMES film reviewer wrote, “In making the camera an active participant, rather than an off-side reporter, Mr. Montgomery [they were a lot more polite in those days of yore] has, however, failed to exploit the full possibilities suggested by this unusual technique. For after a few minutes of seeing a hand reaching for a door knob, or lighting a cigarette or lifting a glass, or a door moving toward you as if it might come right out of the screen—the novelty begins to wear thin.”
I was thrown for a loop during the opening credits; those precious hand-painted set “cards”, all Christmas-sey and cutesy were just Montgomery having fun with us. When the last Hallmark Hollywood placard is picked up, and we see the small pistol in close up, we kind of understand how much we have just had our leg pulled.
So with LADY IN THE LAKE (1947) we are confronted with a film where 95% of the time we do not “see” our protagonist, Marlowe, except in mirrors and store fronts. Yet Montgomery made an odd choice and put his character in “front” of the camera in the prologue, middle explication scene, and epilogue –using the camera in the very conventional manner of letting the lens have the audience’s point of view. He talks tough, challenges us to “pay close attention” to the mystery to be solved, tells us that we will “see” events “just as I saw them”, and the gimmick is launched. I feel that the premise, the process could have, or would have worked better if Montgomery would have had the courage of his creativity, and perhaps opened the film with voice over, letting the camera lens see a bathroom sink and shaving gear, and only then we would meet and see Marlowe for the first time in the mirror while shaving. He could have been consistent with this technique throughout the film if he had storyboarded it to be such. It might have been less jarring for us viewers, and might have allowed us a chance to adjust the process, the idea, and get more quickly into the mystery and the plot. The “theatrical” convention of a character suddenly turning to and addressing the audience in an aside is as old as the Greek narrator or chorus.
The camera equipment of the 40’s was large enough that Montgomery was able to squat under the lens of the behemoth 35mm “eye” and deliver Marlowe’s dialogue. Actors had to struggle not to look down at him while responding with their dialogue. Too often in the film we watched many of the cast side-stepping and shuffling to align themselves with the omniscient lens. It appeared that in addition they faced overlong “takes” without cuts, which most of them were unaccustomed to. All the camera sweeps and moves were smooth as they were anchored to cranes and dollies. Sometimes it might have been interesting to shift the POV more quickly, even adopting the “jumpy shot” as the “eye” moved from visual task to other targets. His ultra-smooth zooms onto a door knob, waiting an eternity before the character’s hand opened the prop door, were often overused; that and doorbells, and reading signs, and staring at paintings and prints, or at one point ogling a curvy receptionist as she returned the flirty gaze making her sexy way out of the room. For many decades now, since the advent of the steadi-cam, a POV can shift in, around, and through the most bizarre of obstacles, tracking from room to room, floor to floor, pillar to post, effortlessly, like shots in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004), and THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (1992). In that regard, Robert Montgomery was a pioneer and truly an innovator.
The plot was far from innovative, and some form of it could be found in countless detective yarns in Hollywood, most of them in the “B” films starring Boston Blackie, the Saint, Charlie Chan, or Simon Templer. In LADY IN THE LAKE we had Philip Marlowe being summoned to Kingsby Publications to meet with an A. Fromsett. This was pure Hollywood noir fare from the 1940’s. A. Fromsett turns out to be “Adrienne” Fromsett, who has been reviewing Marlowe’s manuscript for a new detective story. She grilled him about his honesty, and work ethic. He saw through her scam, and demanded to know what she really wanted. She “hired” Marlowe to find her bosse’s wife, Mr. Kingsby. She produced a telegram from Mrs. Kingsby, sent from Mexico stating that she wanted a divorce and that she intended to marry a man named Chris Lavery. The boss makes an appearance at the office, Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames), and we see at once that Adrienne has him on a short leash, that she is a smart cookie who has fur coats, diamonds, and new cars on her mind. Kingsby, however has seen Chris Lavery in the neighboring Bay City recently. Marlowe takes the job, and trots off to confront Lavery.
Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons), just a gigolo, claims innocence, saying that he had not seen Mrs. Chrystal Kingsby for several months. When Marlowe pressed the issue, Lavery sucker-punched him, knocking out the detective, who woke up in jail. It is there, in the Bay City Jail that he met Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan) and Capt. Kane (Tom Tully). They claimed that he was found drunk and passed out in his car. This puts into motion a series of events that involve double-crossings, several murders, crooked cops, infidelities, bad marriages, grief-stricken parents, impersonations and a body in Little Fawn Lake. The episode at the lake, integral to the plot, is handled clumsily, letting Marlowe explain thinks to the camera; this happening because the camera as first person would not work outside, or in that environment pretending to be outside. When characters are shot, there is a lot of grimacing, but no sign of blood. Sex is present, but only “suggested”. Processed shots and studio shots are abundant. Most of the characters smoke and all the men wear hats.
The script writer for LADY IN THE LAKE was Steve Fisher, who worked hard to adapt the Raymond Chandler novel, and still write within the parameters of Montgomery’s vision. Fisher was a busy Hollywood script writer for 50 years, starting in 1939, and he was no stranger to film noir stories. He wrote I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941), DESTINATION TOKYO (1943), JOHNNY ANGEL (1945), DEAD RECKONING (1947), ROADBLOCK (1951), CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953), THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO (1953), and he stayed busy writing dozens of shows for television, including COMBAT. Between 1966-68 he wrote a series of odd “B” westerns that starred all of the remaining old time actors. One of my favorites for its absurdity was ARIZONA BUSHWHACKERS (1968), with Howard Keel, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Roy Rogers Jr. (his only film).
The cast all reacted differently to their daunting task, to this new methodology. Audrey Totter (Adrienne Fromsett), veteran of many other film noir roles, seemed to take half of the film to get over her jitters and constant mugging. Her eye brow arching was distracting, clumsy, and would have put wrestler the Rock to shame. Lloyd Nolan (Lt. DeGaimot), quite a good film actor normally, had some discomfort adjusting to the lens POV. When he was punched in the jaw by Marlowe, as a disembodied fist shot into the frame, as Nolan fell backwards, we could see the tape marks on the floor where he was to land. Tom Tully (Capt. Kane) was much more successful in appearing natural in his scenes. He even calmed Nolan down when they appeared together. Dick Simmons (Chris Lavery), better know in the 50’s as Sgt. Preston, managed a workable scene, including punching the lens in the lip. Jayne Meadows (Mildred Haveland and others) was also fairly successful at this new technique, primarily because she seemed un-intimidated by it, and was able to maintain a more “natural” posture, and shift her gaze as the dialogue suggested. Ms. Totter just spent way too much time staring wide-eyed into the lens, frozen to the floor like a raccoon in truck headlights.
Audrey Totter was a veteran of 86 films from 1945-1987. She ended up working a lot more on television that even Robert Montgomery did. In the 40’s and 50’s she was considered the “Bad Girl” in a lot of Noir features, like MAIN STREET AFTER DARK (1941), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), and of course, LADY IN THE LAKE (1947). She was slated to be the femme fatale in THE KILLERS (1946), but her work on LADY held her up, and Ava Gardner snagged the plum role. She was in ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949), THE SET-UP (1949), with Robert Ryan, THE BLUE VEIL (1951). By the mid-50’s she began to work more on television than in feature films, and TV became her second career. Ironically, she came out of retirement to replace Jayne Meadows on MEDICAL CENTER (1969), working four seasons with Chad Everett. Today, at 89 years old, she is living in the Nursing Home wing of the Motion Picture and Television hospital in Woodland Hills, CA.
Adrienne: Do you fall in love with all your clients?
Marlowe: Only the ones in skirts.
Adrienne: We get hundreds of submissions every week.
Marlowe: Why don’t you print a few?
Adrienne: [to Marlowe] Perhaps you need to go home and play with your fingerprint collection.
Adrienne: [to Marlowe] I want to be your girl, that’s what I want for Christmas.
Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci on IMDb wrote, “Audrey Totter eventually tones down her mugging and becomes genuinely affecting as her Adrienne lets down her hair and her guard and begins falling for Marlowe. You may love or hate this lady—but if you enjoy mysteries and you’re intrigued by offbeat movie-making techniques, give her a try.”
I have to agree with this assessment. Totter was just plain awful in the first third of the film, mugging, shuffling, arching her eyebrow—and the two times the camera came in to her face in close up to first fake a kiss, and then later to plant one on her, this became the cinema of the absurd. But after Chris Lavery punched out Marlowe, and he visited Adrienne’s apartment at 2:00am, and Totter answered the door with her hair down, in that sexy nightgown and robe, she began to find a comfort zone with the camera and the character. Many have commented on her choice of brassieres –showing us perhaps the pointiest boobs in film history; but it was just another affectation of that era, along with the padded shoulders in her dresses and blazers. Frankly I never fully bought into her sudden flip-flop from gold digger to girlfriend, but it might have worked better if the film had been more conventional, and we were more privy to some dynamics between her and Marlowe, where we could see the chemistry at work. Something was missing here, like those murders in Greek plays that all happen off stage.
Lila Leeds who played the sexy blond receptionist only appeared in ten films from 1946-1949. LADY IN THE LAKE was the only film that she was identified in the credits. Her other nine roles were “uncredited”. Her claim to fame came on August 31, 1948, when she was arrested with Robert Mitchum for possession of marijuana.
For Actress Jayne Meadows, LADY IN THE LAKE was her second role in what would become a 50 year career. She had been a star on Broadway in 1941, which led to her Hollywood contract, and elevated her performances above many around her. She appeared in 72 films from 1946, movies like SONG OF THE THIN MAN (1947), DAVID AND BATHSHEBA (1954). In 1951 she appeared on ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS. In 1954 she became Mrs. Steve Allen, and she did work on all of this TV shows; like THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW (1958) and THE STEVE ALLEN COMEDY HOUR (1967). She is, of course, sister to actress Audrey Meadows of HONEYMOONERS fame.
In WIKIPEDIA we discover, “The gimmick was criticized by many reviewers of the day, including the film critic at The New York Times. Although Montgomery received some positive comments for the inventiveness of his direction, and the contrivances he employed to enable his face to appear on-camera, by catching himself in reflections. Regarded as something of a curiosity and an oddity in its day, the film has retained that reputation, although some modern critics, while maintaining that the storyline itself is routine, assess the film overall as more worthwhile than did the contemporary critics.”
If a viewer suspends their belief and gives this subjective camera technique half a chance, often it is serviceable. I felt that overall though, it pulled too much unnecessary focus of the events and the plot pieces that should have held our interest more; after all the film was supposed to be a crime/mystery thriller. Montgomery’s Marlowe is a weak sister characterization when held up to others. Regardless, LADY IN THE LAKE (1947) will always hold a special place in cinema history, unique unto itself. It is certainly worth a look both for curiosity and furthering one’s film education.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
Eureka, the concerto is completed, and the performance is upcoming. Perhaps Doug will make a more formal announcement as to the venue. The performance will be in the University District, Seattle, on Friday night January 25th. He posted the 18 minutes of wonderous music on his master blog, FEEL FREE TO LAUGH today. Check it out. I did.
Now as to YOUR long awaited, often referenced VIOLIN CONCERTO, I think it might be your best work yet. It really pleased me to be able to hear it, knowing that I will not probably feel up to the drive north on the 25th, after 4 hours of sitting with an IV in my arm. Your three mpg's seem to add up to about 18 minutes of music. Is that about how long the whole piece would be in person? There are several other instruments on the track. How will you solve that when the piece is played in concert with just the two violinists?
I call your concerto:
First Movement: THE CANYON 5:10
Moving along the rushing river, skimming its muscular waves as it carves rocks, and bellows its way through hundred foot high cliffs; stone that it beat down and slashed out of its way over the millennium; cliffs of rainbow rock, sandstone and granite. You and I are winging along the corridors, spiraling on the updrafts, fighting against the downdrafts. You are the hawk and I am the crow. Listen, above the sound of the water, and the groan of granite, can you hear that? Something is calling us, something forlorn and far off, a coyote, a wolf, a canine pack of street corner warblers and growlers. So we rise up, flapping hard to catch the crest of a thermal, blasting us out of a canon past the red-yellow rock toward the ribbon of the sky above.
Second Movement: THE DESERT 6:10
The wind caresses our tailfeathers as we sweep out of the canyon and behold the vastness of the desert plateau, punctuated with monoliths, red-brown in the morning light, neath an electric blue sky, dotted with popcorn white cactus clouds, arms of mist stretching out thin and long, the air pregnant with sorghum and sage and alkaline, and we wing together high, high up into a hot thermal, to get a big picture, the wide shot of the southwestern tableau, and we barely hear brother coyote, his mournful howls beat down by the thunder of thousands of moccasined feet, lost in a yellow cloud a mile distant, gray-blue and shimmering in the late morning. We fly toward it, attracted by the rolling thunder beneath clearish skies, and then we realize--that there are human legs, leather breeches, loincloths, buffalo robes, skin wraps, wool blankets, eagle feathers, and Winchesters all populating the dust; Apaches, a band of them, rag tag, faces white from the dust, white with black eyes piercing through, straining to see ahead, to possible sanctuary, their white masks looking odd, like zombies, like shuffling Noh players in some kind of traditional dance, dance of flight, and the thick dust is also full of horses, dappled, spotted, short, strong mustangs, paints, and Appolosas, and dogs of every kind and color, yipping in response to the gray ghost brothers who slink along parallel, looking for scraps and stranglers. And yo-hey, what a day, because out in front is a magnificent white tall stallion, its long tail and mane throbbing and whipping in the wind, and astride is a short muscular dark warrior in a pure white shirt, loin cloth, black bear moccasins, a buffalo skin vest, and mule deer leather britches, wearing a red bandanda around his black short-cropped shoulder length hair. God in heaven, it's Geronimo, on the run.
Third Movement: THE RIVER 6:31
Two miles behind Geroniomo's tribe, his band on the run, is another dust cloud, pure white alkaline, white hats, white faces, silver buckles, scabbords, and officer's swords, bushy moustaches, hard white eyes, the Seventh Cavalry, with another short warrior at the fore, leading them in pursuit. It is Custer, back from the dead, eyes dead, arrows still sticking out of his chest, thighs, back, calves, and shoulders, bristling with Sioux feathers, wood stubbles like a hair shirt, like a porquipine in a white deerskin shirt, hatless, scalped, angry, sword protruded and pointed at the sadness of the fleeing Apaches, the white scourge bearing down on the red menace, barroling down, like 400 hooves tearing at the hardpan and clay and deep arroyos, dipping, swerving, but coming on, coming on strong, ever coming on. We wing west, hawk and crow, and there is Geronimo, astride his magnificent steed, watching like a parent, as his tribe crosses the wide water, the Rio Grande, escaping to Mexico, to the Sierra Madre, to the thorn bushes and dark skinned brothers of the soil; and the tribe forded, swum, paddled, thrashed the water, horses whinnying, with children clinging to their tails in the fast rapids, babies held high as mothers did side strokes, warriors all straining to look at their back trail, to see if Custer would bring his ghost riders, his bloody gang of white spectres down upon them, clutching their spears, bows, and rifles; ready, at the ready, forced to be ready. The last to enter the water, to make the last crossing was Geronimo himself. He did not look back. He was not afraid of white ghosts or white bullets. His medicine was strong. His people were safe, for now.
Man, that Doug Palmer can put some visualizations into his compostions. He is out there now, even giving some loving competition to supercomposer Alex Shapiro.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The Blank Page;
A few lines of inane nonsense.
A desire to give it up.
Cutting and pasting.
Tossing rhythms and harmonies
carelessly around with no specific plan
Wait a minute, that sounds
What if I try....?
Wow this is great!
That stupid tune
I started with
really comes alive
on the horns.
I bet oboes would work here.
I've rewritten the solos
six times and nothing
It's almost there.
The whole piece is starting to sound
I'm getting tired of this.
I'll call it
The violin concerto is
I'll post for your annoyance
posted by Lane Savant at 11:41 AM
This was the posting done on FEEL FREE TO LAUGH this afternoon by Doug Palmer, who is blogmaster, poet, composer, et cetera.
Volumes, myriad of pages, lectures, countless hours have been written and spoken about Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking film, MEMENTO (2000). Yet egotist that I am, I felt that the world needed one more interpretation; mine. And besides, who am I to deny the world its due?
Cinema of the Reverse
Director Christopher Nolan was unknown in 1996 as he took a cross-country trip with his brother, Jonathan; who pitched a storyline to him. Christopher loved it and they began to collaborate on the project. Christopher finished his screenplay for a future film before Jonathan finished his short story, which he called MEMENTO MORI. The film did not come to fruition immediately. In Jonathan’s story, the protagonist is called Earl, and many of the plot pieces were the same, writing notes and having things tattooed on his body, but unlike the film, his wife was definitely murdered, and there was no ambiguity about Earl finding and killing the anonymous man responsible.
Memento: Something that serves to warn or remind; souvenir; aka Momento.
Nolan was born in England, and he spent his childhood moving back and forth between the United Kingdom and the States; ending up with dual citizenship. Like Steven Spielberg, Nolan started making films when he was seven years old, working with his father’s Super 8-MM camera and his toy action figures. When he went to college in England, he was an English Literature major.
Christopher Nolan said, “I studied English Literature in college. I wasn’t a very good student, but one thing I did get from it, while I was making films at the same time with the college film society –was that I started thinking about the narrative freedoms that authors had enjoyed for centuries, and it seemed to me that filmmakers should enjoy these freedoms as well.”
Nolan also was quoted to have said, “In commercials and music videos, cross-cutting and parallel actions are absolutely standard and acceptable as a mainstream language. Filmmakers, like me, enjoy the fruits of that experimentation and the absorption by the mainstream. I think people’s capacity to absorb a fractured storyline is extraordinary compared to 40 years ago.”
Following the extraordinary success of MEMENTO, Nolan went on to making several more important films. He directed INSOMNIA (2000), giving us an excellent remake of the Swedish crime thriller. His American version starred Al Pacino and Robin Williams. After that film did well, Nolan wrote a great screenplay, and began to put together a film on Howard Hughes. He got Jim Carrey interested in starring in it. But then the word came down that Martin Scorsese was making THE AVIATOR (2004), with Leonardo DiCaprio, this scuttled interest in Nolan’s epic. So he went on to direct BATMAN BEGINS (2005), reinventing the caped crusader saga, reinvigorating the series, and beginning his association with actor Christian Bale—who also starred in THE PRESTIGE (2006), and presently they are putting the finishing touches on the next Batman film, THE DARK KNIGHT, which is to be released in 2008.
Like many film projects, MEMENTO underwent several casting changes. Nolan at first tried to get Alec Baldwin for the lead. Then Brad Pitt was slated to play the part, and he was interested in it, but was unable to do it because of a conflict with another project. Other actors auditioned include Aaron Eckhart and Thomas Jane. I think the one other actor who might have been very good in the part was Val Kilmer. When Guy Pearce was chosen for the role, it was in part because he was not a huge celebrity, and when he discussed the role, he was very enthusiastic. This turned out to be essential since Pearce had to be on the set for every day of the shooting.
Mary McCormack was very interested in getting the role of Natalie, but Nolan had seen THE MATRIX (1999) and was very impressed with Carrie-Anne Moss. Nolan said, “Carrie added an enormous amount to the role of Natalie that wasn’t on the page.” For the role of Teddy, the corrupt cop, Moss suggested one of her co-stars from THE MATRIX, Joe Pantoliano. Nolan was very pleased with the “subtlety” the actor brought to the role. Jorja Fox was still fairly unknown at that time, before her seven successful seasons on CSI, with William Petersen, and she brought both mystery and softness to the role of Leonard’s wife. Larry Holden played the dope dealer, Jimmy. He has worked with Christopher Nolan in several of his films now. Mark Boone, Junior, played the motel clerk, Burt, giving us a great sleezeball performance. Stephen Tobolowsky snagged the plum role of the stricken Sammy Jankis, and Harriet S. Harris played his doomed diabetic wife. Callum Keith Rennie became Dodd, the thug trying to retrieve the money that Jimmy owed him.
Nolan designed the MEMENTO’s official website. It was intended to provide further clues and hints to the story, while not providing concrete information. After a short introduction on the home page, the visitor is shown a newspaper clipping that is written about Leonard Shelby’s murder of Officer John Gammell. Clicking on highlighted words will lead to more material about the film, including some of Leonard’s notes, photos, and some of the police reports. Nolan edited the film trailers himself, and their cleverness helped the movie gain widespread interest and score well at the box office.
In the middle 90’s, he had shot a low budget film in London. It was called FOLLOWING, and it was released in 1998. It was shot in black and white, and it had a fractured non-linear plot line. Simultaneously, Nolan’s lady friend, Emma Thomas, was pitching his finished script for MEMENTO. It was considered by the executives who saw it, “the most innovative script” that they had seen in ages. It was green-lighted, and given a budget of 4.5 million dollars. It was originally slated to be shot in Montreal, and then the project shifted to Los Angeles. It was said that at Cannes, after the screening of FOLLOWING, in 1998, Nolan gave a pitch to the audience for funding to make MEMENTO. One just has to admire such audacity.
Nolan had felt for a long time that he liked the way commercials and music videos were shot in a non-linear fashion. He also responded to literature presented that way. So he decided to take the methodology, and what he learned on his first feature, refine it and transfer the concept to MEMENTO; creating a wondrous cinematic puzzle of a picture. It certainly is evident that he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination.
This concept of working a film plot backwards, or playing with and fracturing timelines is not entirely new, or course. It is just the Nolan gave it a completely new twist. Roger Ebert pointed out that Harold Pinter used this methodology for his film BETRAYAL (1983), based on his play. Ebert went on to write, “Pinter told the story of adultery and the betrayal of friendship, beginning with the sad end and then working his way back through disenchantment to complications to happiness to speculation to innocence. His subject was memory and regret, and the way adulteries often begin playfully and end miserably. His purpose was the opposite of the strategy used by writer/director Christopher Nolan in MEMENTO. In Pinter’s film there was an irony in the way the characters grew happier in each scene, while the audience’s knowledge of what was ahead for them deepened.
Nolan’s device of telling his story backwards is simply that –a device. It does not reflect the way Leonard thinks. As a character he still operates in chronological time, and does not know that he is in a time-reversed movie. The film’s deep backward and abysm of time if for our entertainment and has nothing to do with his condition. It may make the movie too clever for its own good. I’ve seen it twice. The first time I thought I’d need a second viewing to understand everything. But the second time I found that greater understanding helped on the plot level, but didn’t enrich the viewing experience. Once is right for the movie. Confusion is the state we are intended to be in. That said, MEMENTO is a diabolical and absorbing experience.”
Actually I find myself somewhat disagreeing with the maestro. Most of the serious film buffs that I know have seen this film more than three times, some of them a half dozen times. Somewhere midst those multiple viewings we click into the structure, and we begin to appreciate the “fun” director Nolan is having with us; not at our expense or at the expense of the film’s success –rather pointedly forcing us to realize that a film can be so much more than mere “entertainment”, that as an art form is can embrace the technology and techniques practiced within literature, commercials, and music videos, that some mysteries do not lend themselves to a solution, that some situations do not present closure, that a conundrum may not be a bad thing, that a film can be a thrill ride even without fully comprehending the mechanics of it, that somewhere in the pieces of plot we begin to question, to consider, to think about memory; its validity or lack of it. And I do think that the “backwards” telling of episodes did put the audience in a state that was empathetic for, and in line with the confusion that Lenny experienced; or seemed to experience. Timeline shifts were explored as well in films like GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), with Bill Murray, CLEAN SLATE (1994), with Dana Carvey, and PREMONITION (2007), with Sandra Bullock.
The film was shot in a very short 25 days in September, 1999. They decided to shoot in LA, because of the city’s Noirish qualities. The Travel Inn in Tujunga, CA was repainted and used as Leonard’s and Dodd’s motel. The home used for the Sammy Jankis interiors were shot in the suburbs of Pasadena. Natalie’s house was in Burbank. The mysterious derelict building that Lenny used to commit the murders in had the interiors done in a studio, and the exteriors at an Oil Refinery in Long Beach. The scene where Lenny burned his wife’s belongings was done on the other side of the refinery. A lot of the driving scenes were done on Victory Boulevard in Burbank. The tattoo parlor in the film is named after Emma Thomas, who is now writer/director’s wife and the movie’s associate producer. The rather unique looking clock used as Lenny’s wife’s stuff, that later he burns, was used earlier by Nolan in his film, FOLLOWING.
MEMENTO raises the curtain showing us the end game, an action that is the result of circumstances we do not yet know, presented in color. It takes us a moment to realize as the Polaroid picture is fading and not clearing up as Lenny shakes it; thus the action is being shot backwards. This is further complicated because the sound effects occur normally. But as Teddy screams “No”, that is backwards. Then it jumps to a separate narrative line, what we figure out is a flashback, presented in B&W, with our protagonist, Leonard Shelby waking up in a “strange” motel room. That is when we discover, as he talks to someone on the phone, that he suffers from a rare form of amnesia, known as “anterograde”. “I know who I am. I just can’t form new memories.” When he awakens in that motel room, or in any room, he seems to have to piece together just where he is. Then we are flashed forward to about five minutes ahead of where we left off in the color narrative. Lenny’s attention span seems to be about 5 minutes, and each time it begins to fade, we are transported to the B&W storyline shown in what seems chronological order. Odd as it seems, the color narrative is being shown in reverse chronological order; that is to say that the color section is presented in a linear fashion, but each time we return to it, it begins 5 to 10 minutes prior to where we left off, filling in some plot gaps as it approaches the inevitable fade out.
Leonard Shelby: [voiceover] So, where am you? You’re in some motel room. You just –you just wake up and you’re in –in a motel room. There’s the key. It feels like maybe it’s the first time you’ve been there, but perhaps you’ve been there for a week, three months. It’s—it’s kind of hard to say. I don’t—I don’t know. It’s just an anonymous room. There’s nothing in the drawers. But you look anyway. Nothing except the Gideon bible, which I, of course, read religiously.”
As an audience, we are confused, dazzled, and fascinated as we endeavor the meaning of these two independent parallel timelines. We watch, we make assumptions, we surmise, and as the film comes to what might be closure we realize that the two narratives were not parallel, rather they were moving toward each other, one linear from the past, the other in a tantalizing mind-blowing reverse mode, kind of in the present. Suddenly, following the action in the B&W narrative, the two timelines merge, and the action is transformed to color; with the narrative lunging toward us repeating the opening scene of the movie, becoming an action that is more like in the middle of the plotline. Are we more confused? A little perhaps. The plot threads converge and the “mystery” is explained, although it might not be accurately explicated, and in some ways it only deepens as even more options and solutions present themselves.
There are critics out there that feel if Christopher Nolan had just run the film chronologically; it would not have been very interesting. On the special 2-disc DVD, if one can solve the puzzle set up by Nolan, they can view the film run chronologically, and see for themselves.
Marjorie Baumgarten of the AUSTIN CHRONICLE wrote, “The film relied too much on the story’s reverse chronology. In forward progression, the narrative would garner little interest, thus making the reverse storytelling a filmmaker’s conceit.”
Sean Burns of the PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY commented, “For all its formal wizardry, MEMENTO is ultimately an ice-cold feat of intellectual gamesmanship. Once the visceral thrill of the puzzle structure begins to wear off—there’s nothing left to hang onto. The film itself fades like one of Leonard’s temporary memories.”
Rob Blackwelder of SPLICED WIRE.COM wrote, “Nolan has a crackerjack command over the intricacies of this story. He makes every single element of the film a clue to the larger picture…as the story edges back toward the origins of (Leonard’s) quest.”
William Arnold of the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER wrote, “Director Christopher Nolan not only makes MEMENTO a delicious one-time treat, working as a non-linear puzzle film, but it is also a tense, atmospheric thriller.”
James Berardinelli of REEL VIEWS.COM wrote, “What really distinguishes this film is its brilliant, innovative structure. It is a fascinating, wonderfully open-ended motion picture that will be remembered by many who see it as one of the best films of the year.”
On line, on Wikipedia, there is an attempt to provide a linear and chronological synopsis for the film. Using that as guideline, let’s see if we can attempt to unravel the unravel able.
A man (Guy Pearce) awakens in a non-descript anonymous motel room, and does not seem to understand where he is, or why he is in that room. We notice a big map of Los Angeles, and a large piece of paper with photos attached to it, and notes of all kinds. An envelope is shoved under the door. There are notes in it, and a photo, and Lenny shirtless, smiling, blood on him, pointing to a bare spot on his already tattooed chest. One of his notes warned him not to answer the phone. When it rings he tries to ignore it, but finally he answers the phone, and begins to have a conversation with an unknown caller. The man identifies himself as Leonard Shelby, formally an insurance investigator working out of San Francisco. He relates the story of Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky).
Leonard Shelby: I met Sammy through work. Insurance. I was an investigator. I’d investigate the claims to see which ones were phony. I had to see through people’s bullshit. I was useful experience, because now it’s my life.
Sammy Jankis wrote himself endless notes. But he’d get mixed up. I’ve got a more graceful solution to the memory problem. I’m disciplined and organized. I use habit and routine to make my life possible. Sammy had no drive. No reason to make it work.
[listens to the caller and looks at a tattoo on his chest that reads “John G. raped and murdered my wife” which can only be read looking in a mirror since it is tattooed on his chest backwards, and he looks at the tattoo on his wrist that says, “Remember Sammy Jankis”.]
Leonard Shelby: Me? Yeah, I got a reason. Facts, not memories. That’s how you investigate. I know. It’s what I used to do. You know, I can remember so much. The feel of the world…her (sighs). She’s gone, and the present is trivia, which I scribble down as fucking notes.
Leonard continues the conversation with the caller. Sammy suffered from anterograde amnesia, which prevented him from forming new memories. As the insurance investigator, Leonard was assigned to determine the “validity” of Sammy’s condition; whether or not it was caused by a physical injury, because if it was it would have to be covered under his insurance policy. Sammy was given some psychological tests, in which he had to choose three objects out of a dozen. A triangle was electrified, and if he picked it, rather each time he picked it, it would give him a shock. Sammy kept making the same mistakes, and shocking himself. He did not seem to “learn” in order to avoid the punishment.
Sammy Jankis: That’s a test? Where were you guys when I did my CPA?
[after receiving the electric shock] What the fuck?
Doctor: It’s a test, Sammy.
Sammy: [flipping him the bird] Test this, you fucking quack!
Leonard then concluded that Sammy’s condition was not physical, that it was instead psychological, and the insurance claim was denied. Sammy’s wife (Harriet S. Harris) during the same time period, like Leonard, kept seeing what seemed to be glimpses of her old Sammy. Each time Leonard visited them, he was sure that Sammy had the look of recognition in his eyes. The wife was not sure that Sammy was not faking it. She visited Leonard at his office. She asked him if he thought Sammy was able to make new memories. Leonard only would repeat that the concluded Sammy’s condition was “psychological”. After several weeks of her doubt, the wife decided to give Sammy, “his final exam”. This form of amnesia does allow a person to have long term memory, so Sammy was able to remember that his wife was a diabetic, and he remembered how to draw up her insulin, and give her an injection when she asked for it. Leonard had observed Sammy doing this. The wife, overcome with her doubts, tricked Sammy into giving her multiple insulin injections. Each time she felt that the next time she asked for a shot, he would “remember” and not give it to her. But he kept injecting her, and as she lapsed into a diabetic coma, she still had an incredulous look on her face; she died still in doubt. It appeared that Sammy had unwittingly administered the lethal overdose. As a result, Sammy was confined to a mental institution, but since he was incapable of remembering her death, his days of staring at television, happiest with the commercials that he could follow without getting lost, stayed eternally the same.
Leonard: When I looked into his eyes I thought I saw recognition. But now I know. You fake it. If you think you are supposed to recognize someone you just pretend. You bluff it to get a pat on the head from the doctors. You bluff it to seem less like a freak.
Leonard then related to the caller how his own wife (Jorja Fox) died. One night while Lenny was sleeping, he was awakened by voices in the bathroom. Two men in ski masks had broken into his home, and they were molesting her in the bathroom. He broke into the room, brandishing a pistol. He shot one intruder, killing him, but he was attacked by the second intruder, being struck with a blunt object from behind. On the floor, just before he passed out, he looked at his wife’s face, wrapped up in a plastic bag. She was dead. They had murdered her.
Natalie: What’s the last thing you do remember?
Leonard: My wife…
Natalie: That’s sweet.
Natalie: Tell me about her again.
Natalie: Because you like to remember her.
Leonard: She was beautiful. To me, she was perfect.
Natalie: No, don’t just recite the words. Close your eyes…and remember her.
Leonard: You can just feel the details. The bits and pieces you never bothered to put into words. And you can get the feel of a person. Enough to know how much you miss them…and how much you hate the person who took them away.
I don’t even know how long she’s been gone. It’s like I’ve woken up in bed and she’s not there…because she’s gone to the bathroom or something. But somehow, I know she’s never gonna come back to bed. If I could just…reach over and touch –her side of the bed, I would know that it was cold, but I can’t. I know I can’t have her back, but I don’t want to wake up in the morning, thinking she’s still here. So I lie here not knowing—how long I’ve been alone. So how can I heal? How am I suppose to heal if I can’t –feel time?
When the police investigated, they took down the details, but they never bought the notion that there was a second intruder.
Leonard: I was the only guy who disagreed with the cops—and I had brain damage.
Interestingly, director Nolan gave us one flashback scene with Leonard and his wife that makes us wonder if their relationship was always rosy.
Leonard: How can you read that again?
Wife: It’s good.
Leonard: Yeah, but you read it like a thousand times.
Wife: I enjoy it.
Leonard: I always thought the pleasure of a book was wanting to know what comes next.
Wife: Hey, don’t be a prick. I’m not reading it to annoy you. I enjoy it. Just let me read…please. (smiles at him).
After the attack Lenny developed anterograde amnesia secondary to the injuries to his head. This was, of course, extremely ironic, since the memory of Sammy Jankis still haunted him. He found that because of this “condition” he could not remember anything after the accident for more than a few minutes. He, regardless, is determined to locate and kill the second intruder, to “avenge” his wife’s murder.
He developed his own system to somehow compensate for his short-term memory issues. He would take pictures with a Polaroid 690 camera, write notes on the back of them to identify the pics, wrote notes to himself about everything of importance, and for those things of paramount importance he would tattoo onto his body. Some of the tattoos he did on himself; others he went to a tattoo parlor. One of the clues identified the second intruder, the killer, as John G. On the phone, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano), who turned out to be the mysterious caller at the motel, informed Lenny that the murderer was a drug dealer—and that he could be found in an abandoned shack.
Lenny goes to said abandoned building, and when a smart dressed thug arrived, named Jimmy (Larry Holden), Leonard attacked him and killed him.
[Jimmy takes off his shirt]
Leonard: Take your pants off too.
Leonard: I don’t want to get blood on them.
Before they shot the scene where Lenny strangled Jimmy, actor Larry Holden informed Guy Pearce that he wanted to “really be attacked”. Pearce, a former body builder, and much stronger than he first appears, took the man at his word, shooting the scene without holding back much. This left Holden covered in bruises as he played his short but pivotal death scene.
A few minutes later, after Lenny has put on Jimmy’s 300 dollar suit, Teddy arrived at the site. Teddy revealed that Leonard had been tricked, and Lenny attacked him. But Teddy talked his way out of it. It was true that the man Lenny had just killed, Jimmy, was a local successful drug dealer, and was not involved in the wife’s murder. Teddy began to talk rapidly and at length, realizing that Lenny would not be able to keep up, or remember the details.
Teddy: You don’t know who you are anymore.
Leonard: Of course I do. I am Leonard Shelby. I’m from San Francisco.
Teddy: No, that’s who you were. Maybe it’s time for you to start investigating yourself. You don’t want the truth. You make up your own truth. So you now lie to yourself to be happy. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all do it.
Teddy, holding his head, still threatened by Lenny said that Leonard’s wife survived the vicious attack and rape, but it was she, not Sammy’s wife that died of an insulin overdose that had been administered by Lenny. [The viewer flashes on the scene where Lenny’s wife is sitting on the bed in bra and panties, and she fusses as Lenny injects her in the thigh and the scene where Sammy is sitting in a chair in the mental institution, because for 3-5 frames, director Nolan inserted Lenny over the top of Sammy. In addition when Jimmy is being assaulted, he cries out, “Sammy” as Lenny is pummeling him.] According to Teddy, the real Sammy Jankis was actually a fraud who was not even married; never had been. Teddy claims further that he was the investigating police officer, who had taken pity on Lenny, after the wife went into a diabetic coma and died, that he (Teddy) had assisted Leonard track down and kill the real John G. over a year before. [The viewer recalls the Polaroid snap of Lenny, shirtless, smiling, covered in blood, pointing to that empty place on his chest]. Teddy admitted further that he took advantage of Leonard’s condition, and had manipulated him to destroy other enemies Teddy had.
Teddy: You are not a killer. That’s why you’re so good at it. Someone has to pay, Lenny. Somebody always pays. You are OK. You are living.
Leonard: Only for revenge. My wife deserves revenge, whether I know about it or not.
But since Lenny had “forgotten” that he found the attacker, John G., and had killed him already, he began to search for John G. again. Teddy was in some kind of shady business with Jimmy, the drug lord, Dodd, the enforcer, and Natalie, the moll and bar maid. He admitted that he manipulated Leonard into killing Jimmy for the $200,000 that he carried in a satchel in the trunk of his Jaguar. Jimmy had come to the abandoned building because Teddy had lured him there with the offer of a big drug buy.
Teddy: You need to set yourself a puzzle that you won’t ever solve. You know how many towns, how many guys called James G? Or John G.? Shit, Leonard, even I’m a John G.
Leonard: You’re name’s Teddy.
Teddy: My mother calls me Teddy. I am John Edward Gammell.
While some of these revelations were still clear to Lenny, he consciously decided to continue the quest, to keep looking for John G., and to set up Teddy to be his next victim. He writes down the license number of Teddy’s vehicle, and writes himself a note assigning this number to John G. He also reminded himself to have this tattooed on his body for emphasis. Dressed in Jimmy’s clothing, he decides to take Jimmy’s car, the Jaguar, and leave his old blue pick up at the parking lot for the abandoned building.
Leonard: [voice over] I’m not a killer. I’m just someone who wanted to make things right. Can’t I just myself forget what you’ve told me? Can’t I just let myself forget what you made me do? You think that I just want another puzzle to solve? Another John G. to look for? Hell, you are a John G. So you can be my John G. Will I lie to myself to be happy? In your case, Teddy…yes, I will.
Teddy: [pointing to Jimmy’s Jag] you can’t take his car!
Leonard: [takes a picture of the vehicle] Why not?
Teddy: Because the guy you killed owns it; somebody will recognize it.
Leonard: Well, I’d rather be mistaken for a dead guy than a killer.
Lenny had thrown Teddy’s keys into the bushes. While Teddy is searching for them, Lenny drives away in the Jaguar, and drives along thinking about his wife, and all that he can recall about what Teddy just revealed to him. At one point he glances at the Polaroid shot of him smiling, covered in blood, pointing to the bare spot on his chest; the photo that was earlier shoved under his door at the motel in an anonymous envelope. Lenny thinks about his wife, in flashback. They are in bed. Her head is nuzzled up to his bare chest, already covered in tattoos. She touches the spot on his chest that in the photo was bare, and clearly tattooed there now were the words, “I’ve done it”.
Leonard: [voice over] I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still out there. Do I believe the world’s still out there? Is it still out there? Yeah, it is. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.
Lenny drives until he comes to a tattoo parlor, Emma’s, and he slams on the brakes, stopping there to tattoo the license # on his body. The Jaguar skidding to a halt was a hoot for some of us who know a bit about cars. The Jag has anti-lock brakes, so the only way a stunt driver could make it look it skidded to a panic stop was to pull on the hand brake. Teddy shows up at the parlor for a bit, seeing the Jag parked out front.
Leaving the parlor, Lenny finds a note written on a cardboard coaster from a bar that Jimmy’s girlfriend, Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) had written. Appearing to forget that he is not Jimmy, he is only wearing Jimmy’s clothes, and driving Jimmy’s Jaguar –Leonard drives to the bar where Natalie works. He introduces himself and explains his problem, as he is prone to do with everyone he meets.
Leonard: I take it I’ve told you about my condition.
Teddy: Only every time I see ya.
Natalie: Is that what your little note says? It must be hard living your life off a couple scraps of paper. You mix your laundry list with your grocery list and you’ll end up eating your underwear for breakfast.
Leonard: There are things you know for sure.
Natalie: Such as?
Leonard: I know what that’s going to sound like when I knock it. I know that’s what I’m going to feel like when I pick it up. See? Certainties. It’s the kind of memory you take for granted.
Natalie: But even if you get revenge you’re not gonna remember it. You’re not even going to know it happened.
Leonard: My wife deserves vengeance. Doesn’t make a difference whether I know about it. Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meaningless. The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes, does it? Anyway, maybe I’ll take a photograph to remind myself, or get another freaky tattoo.
Even after multiple viewings it is hard to keep the timelines straight. On another visit to the bar, after Natalie knows who Lenny is, and all about his condition, she bets a regular customer sitting there that she will doe something nasty to Lenny and he will not be aware of it. She gets the customer to spit in the glass of beer. Then she spits in it, a big long luggie. Then she talks Lenny into spitting in it. She mixes it up and sets it aside for a couple minutes. Leonard moves to a nearby table. Natalie walks up casually and plunked down the beer glass. “On the house”, she chirped. Lenny smiled and drank deeply from the free beverage. The customer cracked up, and we were privy to the real and actual nature of the character called Natalie.
Lenny is staying at a motel. It “appears” that he was checked into it by the mysterious caller; probably Teddy. In the motel room we see a huge city map and photographs on the map with strings running to landmarks, and notes on the photos. There is a stack of police reports that Lenny studies, given to him by the police. He thinks that he still had contacts with the police, but it seems that Teddy gave him the reports. There are some strategic pages missing. Lenny does not know why. Teddy, during his confession, after Jimmy is killed, tells Lenny that he removed the pages himself, so that the mystery could deepen, so that the endless quest could continue; that he was hooked on the adrenalin rush of the chase, the fights, and of course, the killings. Every time he leaves this motel he talks with the desk clerk, Burt (Mark Boone Jr.), and he reintroduces himself and talks about his “condition”.
Leonard: I’ve told you this before, haven’t I?
Burt: Only every time you see me. You really don’t remember me? We have talked a bunch of times.
Leonard: No, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I mean if we talk too long, I’ll forget how we started. Next time I see you, I’m not going to remember this conversation. I don’t even know if I’ve met you before.
Burt: What’s it like?
Leonard: It’s like waking. Like you just woke up.
Burt: That must suck.
At one point Lenny has misplace the motel key, leaving it at the bar with Natalie. She gave him some information he wanted, and he put his motel key down when he went to the men’s room. Leaving the restroom, he left the bar, forgetting his stuff. He has asked Burt to open his room for him.
Burt: Oh shit. This is the wrong room. You’re in 304 now. I’m sorry. I fucked up.
Leonard: This is not my room?
Burt: No, come on, let’s go.
[picking up a bad with something written on it]
Leonard: Why is this my handwriting?
Burt: Ah…this was your room, but now you’re in 304.
Leonard: When was I in here?
Burt: Last week. But then I rented you another room on top of it.
Burt: Business is slow. I mean, I told my boss about the, your condition and stuff, and he said to try and rent you another room.
Leonard: So how many rooms am I checked into in this shit-hole?
Burt: Just two—so far.
Leonard: Well –at least you are being honest about ripping me off.
Burt: Well hell, you’re not gonna remember anyway.
Leonard: You don’t have to “that” honest, Burt.
Burt: Leonard, always get a receipt.
Leonard: That’s such good advice. I will have to write that down.
At some point Lenny is “staying” at Natalie’s house. She, being a controlling bitch, taunts him about something, and he slaps her in the mouth.
Natalie: You know what? I think I’m gonna use you. I’m telling you now because I’ll enjoy it so much more if I know that you could stop me if you weren’t such a fucking freak! You sad, sad freak. I can say whatever the fuck I want, and you won’t remember. We’ll still be best friends. Or maybe even lovers. Do you know what one of the reasons for short term memory loss is? Venereal disease. Maybe your fucking cunt of a fucking wife sucked one too many diseased cocks and turned you into a fucking retard.
She goes outside and sits in her car for five minutes. Lenny is struggling to remember what she said to him, looking for some paper to write himself a note. She returns, slamming the door. She has a fat lip and a bit of a bloody nose.
Leonard: What happened to you?
Natalie: What do you mean? You know what happened. He beat the shit out of me.
Natalie: Dodd. I went to him and told him what you wanted me to say and he beat the crap out of me.
Leonard is thinking.
Natalie: Get rid of Dodd for me. Kill him. I’ll pay you.
Leonard: Are you crazy? I am not going to kill someone for money.
Natalie: What then? Love? What would you kill for? You would kill for your wife, wouldn’t you?
Leonard: That’s different.
Natalie: Not to me. I wasn’t fucking married to her!
Leaving the house, Lenny finds Teddy in his Jaguar. He seems to know Natalie, and he warns him that no matter what she has told him, to beware, that she is poison. Natalie had written down directions to find Dodd (Callum Keith Rennie), however, and Lenny goes after him. But it seems that Dodd is looking for him too, and the money; recognizing Jimmy’s Jaguar, Dodd, driving a red SUV, pulls up alongside the Jag, and points a gun at Lenny. Leonard in a panic, parks the car, and Dodd gets into the passenger seat. Leaping out of the car, Dodd shoots the driver’s side door window out. Lenny runs in a panic. In the middle of running, he forgets why he is running.
Leonard: [while running] Okay, what am I doing?
[Sees Dodd also running parallel to him]
Leonard: Oh, I’m chasing this guy.
As Lenny careens toward Dodd, the thug shoots at him and misses.
Leonard: Nope. He’s chasing me.
Somehow Lenny got into his Jag, and pulled out, which is incredulous since it appeared that Dodd had parked behind him to prevent him from getting away. But Lenny manages his escape, and following the directions given to him by Natalie, he arrives at Dodd’s apartment before Dodd does. He shakes it down, looking for a weapon. He finds a partially consumed bottle of scotch. He goes into the bathroom and sits on the commode, holding the bottle. Then he forgets his stratagem, and stares down at the bottle of Scotch.
Leonard: I don’t feel drunk.
He put the bottle down, and inexplicably he strips and begins to take a shower. In the middle of the shower Dodd arrives. Lenny leaps out naked, and attacks the thug. Lenny is tough, and he beats the crap out of Dodd, and disarms him. Pulling on his pants, he finds some duct tape, and tapes up Dodds hands behind the back, and tapes up his mouth, dragging him into a closet. Pulling out a picture of Teddy, he picks up the phone and calls him. After Teddy arrives, Lenny now has the pistol, and is confused about what has taken place. Lenny pulls off the mouth tape, seeing this battered man in the closet.
Leonard: [To Dodd in the closet] who did this to you?
Leonard: Who did this to you?
Dodd: You did?!
At gunpoint Teddy and Lenny march Dodd to his vehicle and force him to leave town. There were numerous scenes where Teddy would drop in on Lenny, lying to him about his own identity, manipulating him, trying to get him to take care of all the obstacles so that he will be able to take the drug money all for himself. He is constantly reminding Lenny, confusing him when possible, not to rely on his memory; but Lenny seems to have his own concept of the value of memory.
Leonard: Ask any cop, an eye witness can not be trusted. Don’t overrate memory. It is not absolute, not constant. Memory can change the shape of a room. It can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.
Again, unraveling the unravel able is very difficult, and the timelines of many scenes swim in my memory. At one point, Lenny is at his motel, and he calls an escort service. He arranges to have a girl come over for a visit, a tryst. He sits quietly, and seems able to formulate in his mind what he wants the prostitute to do for him. Later he awakes while lying in bed. The sound of the bathroom door slamming has awakened him. He feels the sheets next to him, and realizes that they are warm. He rises with alacrity, sneaking over to the bathroom, where he hears someone, and bursts into the room. The call girl (Kimberly Campbell) is terrified. We then find out that when she arrived Lenny had given her specific instructions to set certain articles out in the room, a clock, a teddy bear, and other things. Then she was to lie down next to him until he fell asleep; then rise and go to the bathroom, slamming the door loud enough to wake him. This precious three minute scenario was reminding him of his wife, and her demise, and he needed that false scenario more than sex.
Another scene, one that preceded this one in the film, following this one in chronological order, had Lenny driving the Jaguar late at night into an industrial area, mostly abandoned buildings, like a foundry. He gets out holding a paper sack, and builds a small fire. Out of the sack he pulled his wife’s clock, Teddy bear, some photos, and tosses them into the fire. He sits there a long time, watching them burn, somehow keeping track of why he is there, until daylight and ashes conclude the ritual.
Leonard: Probably burned truck loads of your stuff before. But I can’t remember to forget you.
At some point Natalie and Lenny have slept together, and she has made a note of his license plate # tattoo. She uses one of her police contacts and traces the plate. She tells him that he will finally be able to find and kill John G. But the copy of the license plate shows the picture of Teddy, called John Edward Gammel. Leonard matches the ID photo to his photo of Teddy, and he feels that his revenge is close at hand.
Leonard: I found you, you fuck.
So after Teddy has assisted Lenny in rousting Dodd, he accompanies Lenny in the Jaguar. Teddy asks where they are going, and Lenny tells him he has a tip on the whereabouts of John G. Leonard, as we know by then, has decided that Teddy is the real John G, the man who supposedly raped and killed his wife. They pull up to the abandoned building, and find the blue pick up; Lenny’s old vehicle. Lenny begins to check it out.
Teddy: Oh, that truck’s been there forever.
Leonard. No, those tracks are just a few days old.
Teddy: What are you, Pocahontas?
They go into the building, pushing past the plastic drop cloths covering the entrance. Suddenly Lenny pulls his pistol and smacks Teddy, knocking him down. Teddy begs for his life, again trying to convince Lenny that he does not remember things properly; doesn’t even seem to remember that the blue pick up was once his own, or that Jimmy was lying dead in the basement of that building. Leonard, smiling, comes full circle in his mind, again, and he shoots Teddy in the head. This is the end of the story, and it was presented as the prologue, in this fascinating backwards cinema of the reverse.
The novelist Joyce Carol Oates referred to MEMENTO as “ingeniously contrived” and “among the most admired” out of a long list of films that depict amnesia.
Several medical experts weighing in on MEMENTO stated, “the film is one of the most realistic and accurate depictions of “anterograde amnesia” in any motion picture. “
CalTech neuroscientist Christof Koch said of MEMENTO, “this is the most accurate portrayal of the different memory systems in the popular media.”
Esther M. Sternberg, physician, and Director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program at the National Institute of Mental Health labeled the film as “close to a perfect exploration of the neurobiology of memory.” She concluded, writing in the Journal SCIENCE, “This thought-provoking thriller is the kind of movie that keeps reverberating in the viewer’s mind, and each iteration makes one examine preconceived notions in a different light. MEMENTO is a movie for everyone interested in the workings of memory, and indeed, in what it is that makes our own reality.”
A good friend of mine, pillar of the TACOMA FILM CLUB, Ronald Boothe, who is a retired professor, formally the Director of Graduate Program in Neuroscience and Animal Behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, was so impressed with MEMENTO that he used it as a basis for a series of lectures on memory for his graduate students. Boothe wrote, “The main character in MEMENTO, Leonard, asserts that he has a memory problem” that affects his short-term memory. Leonard is clearly mistaken (perhaps out of ignorance or misinformation) when he makes this specific assertion. All of his symptoms revealed in the film are ones that are related to a specific form of deficit in “long-term memory”.
Memory refers to our capacity to retain and later retrieve information about our prior experiences [which includes he goes on to say, our “sense memories”]. In fact, only a tiny fraction of what we experience gets stored. Another way of expressing this is to state that memory is “highly selective”. Psychologically, memories give us a feeling of continuity with our past. If we do not have long-term memories, then our way of maintaining a sense of “self” is to continuously chain together from one set of short-term memories to the next.
In the movie, Leonard exhibits no problems involving his sensory or short-term memory systems. His symptoms relate to the fact that he can not remember anything that happened to him more than 30 seconds or so since he stopped rehearsing it. This is because none of his short-term memories are getting transferred into permanent long-term memories.
So every new situation Leonard encounters is interpreted and organized around an underlying theme he keeps in his “memory”. Since he can not keep this memory in his head, he puts it on his (body) in the form of a tattoo [or he writes on the backs and bottoms of Polaroid pictures, or on paper bags, or scraps of paper, or bar coasters, or matchbooks]. His life is organized around the theme that he needs to find the person named John G who raped and killed his wife. But here is the rub—we know that memories can be unreliable. So what if this is a false memory? In order to interpret the film, one task that we are going to have take on is to evaluate whether this memory that is guiding Leonard’s entire life is true or false. We know that the memory is “true” psychologically for Leonard in the sense that it is the major theme for his existence. But speaking objectively in terms of what actually happened in the past we need to ask some questions. Was Leonard’s wife raped? If so, was it done by John G.? Was Leonard’s wife murdered? If so, was that done by John G.? Is Leonard’s wife even dead? Did Leonard even have a wife? Yikes! Once one starts doubting the reliability of memory, it is hard to know where it might lead.”
Daniel Pendick, author of MEMORY LOSS AND THE BRAIN, wrote an article he titled
MEMORY LOSS AT THE MOVIES. In it he wrote, “Hollywood has a love affair with amnesia. Since the 1930’s, this memory disorder has had a major or minor role in nearly 80 films. One of the most notable recent examples of a film showcasing amnesia is MEMENTO (2001).” And, “In important ways, MEMENTO depicts amnesia more accurately than any other major film release to date. Character Leonard Shelby has profound anterograde amnesia. The disorder is marked by an inability to create memories of facts and events. This is often referred to as declarative memory, consisting of what happened to you yesterday, the name of someone you met on the street, or the town you just arrived in the previous day.
In explaining his condition, Shelby says he has “no short-term memory” That is true. Short-term memory is the bin in which we store recent experiences and perceptions for minutes to hours while they are consolidated into more enduring “long-term” memories.”
David Julyan did the musical score for the film, much of it synthesized. He said that several synthesized soundtracks inspired him, like Vangelis’ BLADE RUNNER, & CHARIOTS OF FIRE, and Hans Zimmer’s THE THIN RED LINE. For MEMENTO, he felt there needed to be two distinctive different kinds of music for each narrative, “brooding and classical” themes for the color section, and “oppressive and rumbling noise” for the black and white section. Julyan said, “I thought of the whole score at “Leonard’s theme”. The emotion I was aiming at with my music was yearning and loss. But a sense of loss you feel, but at the same time you don’t know what you’ve lost, a sense of being adrift.” Julyan has composed scores for 18 films, starting out as a friend of Christopher Nolan’s in England, scoring the Nolan short, DOODLEBUG (1997), following up working for free, like everybody else on Nolan’s FOLLOWING (1998). He kids that the music budget for that film was 8 dollars. He scored MEMENTO (2000), and then worked on Nolan’s INSOMNIA (2002). He did music for THE DESCENT (2005), and then worked for Nolan again on THE PRESTIGE (2005).
Wally Pfister was the cinematographer on MEMENTO. He has shot 36 films since 1991, five of them collaborating with Christopher Nolan. He started out as a news cameraman, from 1982-1985. When director Robert Altman came to Washington D.C. in 1987, to shoot his TV mini-series, TANNER, he wanted a “real news cameraman” to shoot some of it, and be a consultant; enter Wally Pfister. After shooting MEMENTO with Nolan in 1999, he went on to lens SCOTLAND, PA (2001). Following that with the Nolan feature, INSOMNIA (2002). He squeezed in LAUREL CANYON (2002), and THE ITALIAN JOB (2003), before shooting Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS (2005), and then went right into production of Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE (2006). He was nominated for Oscars on both films. Presently he is finishing up shooting on Nolan’s Batman sequel, THE DARK KNIGHT (2008).
Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby was astonishingly good, both a lost soul and a dangerous avenger; a man so logical, so meticulous, so organized that he found a way to circumnavigate his inability “to form new memories”. As an actor he has never been more physical, more intimidating and lethal, pulsating with pent-up emotion and energy –yet he manages to capture our empathy, and holds our attention, his hopes become ours, his quest our own. With the odd reverse narrative, the director gets us to rediscover time and place much as Lenny has to, as we careen along beside him, off balance, piecing together the plot like manic chimps putting together a puzzle while swinging on a rope; several ropes.
James Berardinelli of REEL VIEWS wrote, “Guy Pearce gives an astonishing, tight, and thoroughly convincing performance.
Carrie Ann-Moss as Natalie the bar maid, the gangster’s moll, a drug runner, a femme fatale, love interest, abuser, and ten times a bitch –was very effective, creating a character that we can not shake from our senses, emerging as sexy, selfish, and far from innocent. She aspired to be the queen bee, acting as a black widow, shamelessly manipulating all the men in her life; steering toward what she perceived was her big pay off.
Joe Pantoliano, a veteran of putz roles, usually playing shady, vicious, unreliable, and untrustworthy types, leaves shadings of all this in his John “Teddy” Gammel, a man who misrepresents himself to Lenny, changes his identity often, and hides his purpose; whatever that might be, from hour to hour, from episode to episode. Yet his role as cop, or ex-cop, crooked and larcenous, comes off as semi-sympathetic –quite a feat for any actor.
This film provokes discussion, after challenging the viewer to stay with it. Director Nolan has created a complex methodology that continues to perplex us, even after multiple viewings. The movie is not easily pigeon-holed or labeled. It requires that we consider the fragility and the ineptness of memory that includes some misrepresentations and implanted data, and is rife with occlusions. MEMENTO has dozens of scenes that change point of view, or particulars of plot, as we experience them; plot elements that surely are in conflict with themselves, perhaps even some teasing red herring moments. I feel that director Nolan intentionally played games with us, as his later suggestions of multiple endings, and his complex DVD and websites data are testament to. Regardless, this is a film like no other, an original that is worthy of both its accolades and its criticism.
Some plot points that may not “ring true” for me include.
1. Daniel Pendick, author of MEMORY LOSS AND THE BRAIN wrote, “One example of this is his vivid memory of the physical attack in which he is injured. People with anterograde amnesia often cannot remember the trauma that caused the memory loss as well as the memories of events, just before the trauma.” This then makes us wonder how could he consistently recall the “incident” in such vivid detail.
2. Which makes me wonder how he could stay focused enough to make a phone call to the Call Girl service, sitting quietly and waiting for her, know who she was when she arrived, and knew exactly what he wanted her do, distributing the personal items that once belonged to his wife, falling asleep with her on the bed, and then having her rise and slam the bathroom door; so that for a few precious minutes he could feel the heat on the sheets next to him, and wonder if his wife was “just in the other room”.
3. He seemed to have access to his wife’s belongings, many of which he burned up
because he could “not remember to forget her.” That is all fine and good, but if he is now in Los Angeles, and his wife was “killed” in San Francisco, where they lived while he worked in the city as an insurance investigator, how did he have access to those items; even the ones only implied at? If he had a storage unit, how could he remember where it was, or how to use it? He might have carried some things in his old original blue pick up truck, but it did not have a canopy or space cab, so there was nowhere in it to store items, and besides he abandoned it at the old warehouse after he killed Jimmy and took his Jaguar. This brings up the question, was he ever in San Francisco? Maybe officer Gammel (Teddy) was the only one from San Francisco, where he somehow through his crooked drug deals came into possession of Leonard’s existence; if Leonard Shelby was his name, and not Sammy Jankis, or Sammy Somethingelse. So many of Leonard’s memories could have been implanted, manipulated, or suggested by Teddy.
4. With the specific memory issues Leonard had, in remembering directions to
destinations, how could he “read” a map of LA, and actually find a place, or remember main arterials. Maybe LA was his home city, and he already had some long-term memories of how to drive around in it.
5. Was Leonard ever an insurance investigator? Was he ever married? Did Sammy
Jankis ever exist? If so did he ever have a wife? Or was Leonard’s wife actually attacked and raped, which caused TBI for “Leonard”, and she survived, and she was the diabetic of the “Sammy Jankis” tale, told and retold, memorized from repetition?
6. If Leonard’s wife did survive, was it she that did not believe he was truly
amnesiac? Was it she that used to have Leonard/Sammy draw up her insulin and give her the injections? That twice repeated scene where Jorja Fox sat on a bed in just her bra and panties at first had Leonard just pinching her thigh, and the second time it ran we saw that he was injecting her with a needle. Was it she that gave Leonard/Sammy the “final exam”, letting him inject her repeatedly until she lapsed into a diabetic coma, and then died? Was this death, accidental or otherwise, enough of a trauma to further complicate Leonard’s memory issues with a new psychological component?
7. Teddy said that Sammy Jankis was real, but that he never had a wife, that Leonard
had invented his version of the tale to live with the memory or half-memory. That being the case, after Leonard’s wife died of a diabetic coma, did he become so ill that it was he that was put into the mental institution? Remember that in the scene recalled by Leonard, with Sammy sitting in the chair in the mental institution watching television; if one slows down the frames you can clearly see that Nolan superimposed Leonard in the chair in place of Sammy. Was the mental home where Teddy first found Lenny? As has been suggested by some, did he spring Lenny for the purposes of creating the perfect assassin, the killer who will not remember his deed?
8. There is an urban legend that as Leonard is killing Jimmy the drug lord, he cries
out, “Sammy” as he is dying. Multiple viewings did not allow me to “hear” Sammy get called out. But if one puts on the sub-titles, is does say, “Sammy”. This is perhaps another of those fun-filled red herring scenes that Christopher Nolan has inserted just to muddy the waters, to twist our tails, to push us down strange pathways, to suggest more than it should, to provide a clue that may not have, nor was it intended to have a solution.
9. One of the more obvious “goofs” or examples of poor memory and muddled
recall and cognition, there is the “Dodd finds Leonard Scene” Dodd is driving a red SUV, and he drives up parallel to Leonard in the Jaguar. Leonard flees and Dodd pursues. As Leonard parks the Jag, and is collecting his wits, Dodd, still in the red SUV, blocks the Jag in, and then goes up to the sports car and gets in on the passenger side, popping a shot off at Leonard, blowing the driver’s side window out. Leonard leaps out of the car, and Dodd pursues, they chase about the parking lot, with Dodd shooting at Lenny. When Lenny gets back to his Jaguar, there is a blue pick up (possibly his own blue pick up still left supposedly at the Jimmy murder scene) parked behind him, but “not blocking him in”. He is able to back out, swing around, and take off, and when Dodd gets back into his vehicle, it is once again, the red SUV.
10. How on God’s green earth could Leonard read his scribbled directions written out
by Natalie, drive fast enough to shake Dodd in hot pursuit, and lose him, and get to his apartment before him; leaving enough time for Lenny to break in the apartment, look around, pick up the partially empty Scotch bottle, go and sit in the bathroom, forget what he was doing, strip, and be taking a shower before Dodd arrives. How did Dodd not notice Lenny’s clothes in the bathroom, or Lenny in the shower? How could Lenny turn off the water and leap out naked and still have the element of surprise, beating the crap out of Dodd? In addition it has been noted the color of the walls in Dodd’s apartment changes, and there was no window in it as Leonard arrived, and later there is a window on the left side. Is this more proof on the fallibility of memory? Is Nolan just messing with us, or was he one of the poorest mixers and matchers on the set, and lost his way from shot to shot? That would be unlikely.
11. Obviously, Teddy is tight with the whole motley gang of drug kingpins and their
moll, Natalie. Is gets very confusing trying to conjecture who is double-crossing who, and why? Were Jimmy and Dodd and Natalie not familiar with Leonard? Was this Teddy’s dirty little Terminator, his secret weapon, his equalizer? At some point after Natalie gets the drift of things, she too is using Lenny to kill or run off Dodd, and it is her that sets up Teddy. Were she and Teddy in on the first double-cross to kill Jimmy, and get rid of Dodd? She had to be aware of the 250 grand that Jimmy had in the trunk of the Jaguar. Leonard, early on showed it to Teddy, after he killed Jimmy. How could he know about it, remember it, conjecture about it at all, unless Teddy gave him some implanted data, some repeated memories, while he talked him into action on the phone?
12. The Polaroid picture of Lenny, shirtless, smiling ear to ear, covered in blood,
pointing to that bare space on his chest where later he would put “I’ve done it”
for posterity, was supposedly taken by Teddy, then later put in an envelope and
shoved under the motel door—if any of these timelines were even remotely
accurate, when did the scene where Leonard and his wife are lying in bed, and she
has her head on his chest, and she is pointing to that spot on his chest, and the
tattoo is clearly there, when did it happen? After the death of the first John G.?
After the death of the second or third John G.? Did it happen at all, or was it
wishful thinking on Lenny’s part, and how could that be?
13. What was that old dog-eared paperback that Leonard’s wife was reading, that later
he burned, or seemed to burn, or might have burned?
14. Those police records that Leonard kept with him, using them as part of his
detective work, were they given to him by the SF police, or by Teddy? Who
altered the records, was it Teddy to keep Lenny confused, or was it Lenny in
order to keep his quest extant?
15. If under the most bizarre of circumstances Leonard was faking his amnesia, as
as a real psychopath, why would he continue to have the memory symptoms even
when he was by himself? Why would he continue to do the permanent tattooing at
all, when he could get a similar effect by just using notes on several scraps of
16. When Leonard wakes up in the middle of the night at Natalie’s house, he wanders
about and discovers a photograph of Jimmy and Natalie. Jimmy has a moustache
in the photo, the same moustache he has when Lenny killed him. But later in the
scene the photo is shown again, and Jimmy is clean-shaven.
17. Why does the size, the width of the duct tape used to close Dodd’s mouth change
from shot to shot?
18. When Natalie kisses Leonard good bye, her lips are not cut from his smacking her
in the teeth earlier; but she does have a cut lip in the shots before and after the
19. When Teddy and Lenny arrive at the abandoned building the weather is cloudy,
but when they get out of the Jaguar, the sun is out, and it is a cloudless day.
20. In the scene where the motel clerk admits to renting Leonard two rooms, Lenny
called him Burt. Since he can never remember conversations with Burt, how did he remember the clerk’s name?
21. In one scene he calls Natalie by her name. How can that be when he can walk into the diner and walk right past her after having slept with her, and had several scenes with her earlier?
22. When he stops at the tattoo parlor (named after the director’s wife) he puts
Fact 6: SG1371U, even though he wrote and said SG137IU. Is Nolan having fun again with us? When he is sitting in the Jaguar, and he has formulated that he is going to frame Teddy, he writes Fact 6: and how does he remember that that would be Fact 6? He can’t see, nor can he remember his other tattoos.
23. The note on FERDY’S BAR beer coaster in alternating scenes is written first
in print, and then in cursive.
24. So many issues are not clear about Leonard’s memory. Sometimes he
“remembers” things, and sometimes he doesn’t. Does he review the stuff in his police files several times a day? How can he remember to do it, or the significance of what are in the files? How can he remember to tell so many new people about his “condition’? How does he remember his disagreement between himself and the SF PD about the murder investigation? How does he remember there were two men in the assault?
25. How does Natalie know exactly how long it takes for Leonard’s memory to fade,
The spittle in the beer episode, and the sitting in the car after Lenny smacked her, and then returning to lie about he fat lip, and blame Dodd, and sick Lenny on him?
26. Many have wondered if Leonard was just an insurance investigator, when did he
learn to handle weapons so efficiently? Was using a credit card to pick a motel room door lock old memory? Where did he learn to tattoo himself with just a pen and a needle?
27. If a pivotal plot device is that Leonard “can’t make new memories”, unless he
Repeats something enough times, is this conditioning that would apply with his memory problem specifically? Unfortunately, with all the red herring and changeable data Nolan throws at us, the premise is more like Leonard can’t make new memories –except when he can. Logic be damned here, sir. For instance, if the wife was raped, and he was banged on the head, causing some form of memory loss, was this a different kind of memory loss than occurred after his wife’s actual death?
To muddy the waters even further as one considers this fine perplexing film, in the GOOFS section for this film on IMDb, there is a notation:
“Since the movie is about memory and its fragility/unreliability, it is eminently possible that all supposed continuity errors are deliberate. However, given the structural complexity of the movie, and bearing in mind the number of errors which manage to find their way into even the simplest linear narrative, it is equally possible that they are genuine errors.”
Christian Lilley, in a Comments section for SLATE MAGAZINE wrote, “There are so many opportunities for alternate interpretations of the available facts because I think Christopher Nolan went out of his way to keep us in the dark. The things Teddy tries to foist off on Leonard are in no way verifiable either way for the viewer, so we’re stuck cruising along on almost the same ride of uncertainty that Leonard is; we are forced to decide on the spur of the moment who to believe and which memories…are “real” memories. MEMENTO has certain convenient plot holes, without which the movie would not be as effective as it is, and which almost no movie this complicated could avoid. That said, the viewer can eliminate most of the rest by looking for Nolan’s intent, and understanding that almost “every memory” Leonard thinks he “has” is open to interpretation and question. Not even one of them should be accepted completely. As with Hamlet, we are left wondering, “Is he crazy, or is he just a victim of circumstance?”
Roger Ebert summed it up for me in the CHICAGO SUN TIMES, writing, “The purpose of the movie is not for us to solve the murder of the wife. If we leave the theater not sure exactly what happened—that’s fair enough. The movie is more than a poignant exercise, in which Leonard’s residual code of honor pushes him through a fog of amnesia toward what he feels is his moral duty. The movie does not supply the usual payoff of a thriller (how can it?), but it is uncanny in evoking a “state of mind” Maybe telling it backward is Nolan’s way of forcing us to identify with the hero. Hey, we all just got here.”
Glenn A. Buttkus 2008