August 4th, 2011
Bethlehem Shoals: I have tried at least ten times to write about They Live By Night and can never manage a single sentence.Eric Marsh: I realized about one-third of the way through that I have, indeed, seen Altman’s Thieves Like Us, but only in bits and pieces on TV, and was marveling at how great Cathy O’Donnell is (that is, better than Duvall, duh) and how much I prefer Ray’s subtle, expressionistic style with the material, rather than Altman’s somewhat vulgar (zooms + flat, dull lighting) approach.BS: Thieves Like Us really upset me. I’m intensely pro-Altman, and if it weren’t They Live By Night transposed. I kind of liked the use of zooms and wan lighting to convey ardor and boredom at the same time, and as a means of skirting malaise without knowing, or wanting, to commit to it. But seeing those characters, and that story, depicted that way—especially when They Live By Night is so luminous and heart-wrenching—was just a drag. It was like dining with an old friend who has decided that all the time we spent together had been a distraction from some totally boring true life’s goal.EM: One thing that stuck with me, though I might be hard pressed to remember a specific example, is how certain words or actions seem to repeat themselves in the film—which gives it this sort of eerie sense of deja vu as its weaving certain elements in and out, adding to an overall sense of continuity (in story) that I found to be just damn good filmmaking.BS: I really liked when Ebert tweeted that Tree of Life was “a prayer”, until I saw the movie and realized how literal that was. But the recurrence of language and gestures in They Live By Night does have an incantatory, hypnotic, effect. This is how emotion gain momentum, and how a love story that the audience buys because of faith and chemistry, manifests itself as something vaguely mystical. These are things we share.EM: The end is a real fucking tearjerker and I’m sure you know that, but just wanted to bring that up because it’s just so damn moving, for real. Which is impressive, since I kind of think that Farley Granger/Bowie is walking a real thin line between being insufferably self-centered and whiney a lot of the time, and yet, the film manages to steer away from that when it needs to most. I’m not sure why I’m having this impulse to talk about actors, either, since they’re generally the least of my concerns (critically), and yet They Live by Night almost (definitely?) demands it.BS: It is funny to think of the two performances in isolation. I don’t think I ever have before. He feeds off of her, and given how hard she starts out, there’s something to him—however annoying and soft-macho he may be—that opens her up.EM: There’s definitely a certain sensitivity in Granger’s performance that’s just so vulnerable and earnest, even when misguided (which is more of a writing thing), that makes Keechie’s love completely believable and truthful. Funny that you use the term ‘soft-macho’ since, after seeing Bitter Victory, it became a whole lot clearer that Ray himself made a habit of tearing down the macho-posturing of men. Rosenbaum thinks Ray’s bisexuality might have had an effect on this, as well as his own uncontrollable personal failings.BS: Cathy O’Donnell in that movie is just perfect to me in every way. She almost embodies love, or love-object, or partner in love.There are times when he seems in awe of her, or unsure how to respond, but he’s as responsible for their bond as she is. He just, in typical dude fashion, doesn’t get that. And yes, doesn’t really get himself. Whereas her character, at every point in the film, is more self-aware and just generally more clued in. Related: He is totally cause-and-effect, and his plot arc is built like that. She’s got faith, which leads to more ambiguity.EM: The best thing about his awe of her is that it’s the audience’s awe as well—the film, I think, delivers on its promise of their bond, giving equal weight and importance to each side, making the audience feel it. Speaking from a strictly male perspective, how can one NOT become enamored with O’Donnell as the near-perfect embodiment of love/love-object/etc? When a film is able to inject such strongly vicarious feelings, something is just fucking working.Why is it, do you think, that you can’t write about it?BS: I think I am in love with it.

Bethlehem Shoals: I have tried at least ten times to write about They Live By Night and can never manage a single sentence.

Eric Marsh: I realized about one-third of the way through that I have, indeed, seen Altman’s Thieves Like Us, but only in bits and pieces on TV, and was marveling at how great Cathy O’Donnell is (that is, better than Duvall, duh) and how much I prefer Ray’s subtle, expressionistic style with the material, rather than Altman’s somewhat vulgar (zooms + flat, dull lighting) approach.

BS: Thieves Like Us really upset me. I’m intensely pro-Altman, and if it weren’t They Live By Night transposed. I kind of liked the use of zooms and wan lighting to convey ardor and boredom at the same time, and as a means of skirting malaise without knowing, or wanting, to commit to it. But seeing those characters, and that story, depicted that way—especially when They Live By Night is so luminous and heart-wrenching—was just a drag. It was like dining with an old friend who has decided that all the time we spent together had been a distraction from some totally boring true life’s goal.

EM: One thing that stuck with me, though I might be hard pressed to remember a specific example, is how certain words or actions seem to repeat themselves in the film—which gives it this sort of eerie sense of deja vu as its weaving certain elements in and out, adding to an overall sense of continuity (in story) that I found to be just damn good filmmaking.

BS: I really liked when Ebert tweeted that Tree of Life was “a prayer”, until I saw the movie and realized how literal that was. But the recurrence of language and gestures in They Live By Night does have an incantatory, hypnotic, effect. This is how emotion gain momentum, and how a love story that the audience buys because of faith and chemistry, manifests itself as something vaguely mystical. These are things we share.

EM: The end is a real fucking tearjerker and I’m sure you know that, but just wanted to bring that up because it’s just so damn moving, for real. Which is impressive, since I kind of think that Farley Granger/Bowie is walking a real thin line between being insufferably self-centered and whiney a lot of the time, and yet, the film manages to steer away from that when it needs to most. I’m not sure why I’m having this impulse to talk about actors, either, since they’re generally the least of my concerns (critically), and yet They Live by Night almost (definitely?) demands it.

BS: It is funny to think of the two performances in isolation. I don’t think I ever have before. He feeds off of her, and given how hard she starts out, there’s something to him—however annoying and soft-macho he may be—that opens her up.

EM: There’s definitely a certain sensitivity in Granger’s performance that’s just so vulnerable and earnest, even when misguided (which is more of a writing thing), that makes Keechie’s love completely believable and truthful. Funny that you use the term ‘soft-macho’ since, after seeing Bitter Victory, it became a whole lot clearer that Ray himself made a habit of tearing down the macho-posturing of men. Rosenbaum thinks Ray’s bisexuality might have had an effect on this, as well as his own uncontrollable personal failings.

BS: Cathy O’Donnell in that movie is just perfect to me in every way. She almost embodies love, or love-object, or partner in love.There are times when he seems in awe of her, or unsure how to respond, but he’s as responsible for their bond as she is. He just, in typical dude fashion, doesn’t get that. And yes, doesn’t really get himself. Whereas her character, at every point in the film, is more self-aware and just generally more clued in. Related: He is totally cause-and-effect, and his plot arc is built like that. She’s got faith, which leads to more ambiguity.

EM: The best thing about his awe of her is that it’s the audience’s awe as well—the film, I think, delivers on its promise of their bond, giving equal weight and importance to each side, making the audience feel it. Speaking from a strictly male perspective, how can one NOT become enamored with O’Donnell as the near-perfect embodiment of love/love-object/etc? When a film is able to inject such strongly vicarious feelings, something is just fucking working.

Why is it, do you think, that you can’t write about it?

BS: I think I am in love with it.

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