restricted access Conclusion: The Crimson Kimono, or Odds for Tomorrow
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Conclusion The Crimson Kimono Odds for Tomorrow There is no end in art. —Samuel Fuller, “Los Angeles, Mon Amour,” A Third Face (2002) Whether the symptomatic film is considered to be Touch of Evil or Odds against Tomorrow, the critical consensus has been that the historical period of film noir concludes in the late 1950s. Although a number of formal and ideological factors have been adduced for this demise (for example, TV and HUAC, respectively), the end of classic noir, like its advent or origination, is more a matter of degree than kind. For example, if the tricked-out stylistics of Touch of Evil can be said to crystallizetheclassicexpressioniststrainof ’40snoir,itsexplorationoftheMexicanborderandthehybridperformativecharacterofracialandnationalidentities , nottomentionitsuncannyanticipationofHitchcock’sPsycho,pointtothefuture. Similarly, Odds against Tomorrow looks both forward and backward—backward as the “culmination of the grittily realistic style with which [Robert Wise] had becomeso clearlyidentifiedin the 1940s”and forward in terms of the film’s overt engagement with the issue of racial conflict.1 Another late classic film noir that not only looks both forward and backward but explicitly tackles the problem of race in the United States is Samuel Fuller’s CrimsonKimono,whichwasreleased,likeOddsagainstTomorrow,inOctober1959. However, whereas Odds against Tomorrow was Wise’s last film noir, The Crimson Kimono is the prelude to a trilogy of seminal Fuller films—Underworld U.S.A (1961), Shock Corridor (1963), and The Naked Kiss (1964)—that, together with Psycho, redefine the genre. In fact, The Crimson Kimono can be said to constitute animplicitcritiqueof’50s“orientalist”noirslikeMacao,WorldforRansom(1954), 230 Conclusion and The Shanghai Story as well as a considered revision of Fuller’s own House of Bamboo,arevisionsharpened,paradoxicallyenough,bytheshiftinlocationfrom Tokyo,Japan,toLittleTokyo,LosAngeles.Subgenreiscriticalhere.WhileHouse of Bamboo is a gangster noir, The Crimson Kimono is a policier or, more specifically , a police melodrama. The last subgeneric determination, which is central, like that of the “crime melodrama,”2 to the origins and formation of classic noir, also captures the peculiar, operatic tonality of The Crimson Kimono.3 One way to understand the tonality of these late Fuller films is from the perspective of Bertolt Brecht’s influential notion of, among other things, the Lehrst ücke (“learning plays”) or what Fuller called “illustrated lectures.”4 Discussing oneofthesignaturecomponentsofthedirector’sstyle,“shockediting,”Nicholas Garnhamarguesthat“justasBrechtwasforcedtodestroythetraditionaltheatre,” Fuller regularly deploys the sort of self-reflexive devices and “alienation effects” associated with Douglas Sirk’s ’50s melodramas. This distanciation is most obvious in The Crimson Kimono in the frequently startling discontinuity between the “romantic” and “professional plotlines” as well as the juxtaposition between the “master” long takes and the kinetic, analytical editing.5 It’s apparent as well in Fuller’s iconoclastic use of close-ups as “headlines.”6 If in the history of cinema the human face has been invoked since D. W. Griffith as a privileged “vehicle for conveyingthoughtsandfeelings,”inTheCrimsonKimonothefaceislessawindow than a mirror, where the mirror is itself a figure for the cinematic screen.7 The opening credit sequence of The Crimson Kimono, set in an artist’s studio and composed of a series of dissolves of a life-size sketch of a woman in a crimson kimono that metamorphoses into a full-fledged easel painting, foregrounds the importance of process and perception in art and, by extension, life. The sequence concludes with a hand that enters the frame from screen right and signs the painting “Chris.” Although we do not know who the artist is, the signature is a self-reflexive gesture and suggests that the artist is a surrogate for the director, as if Fuller, at the very beginning of the “picture,” is signing it. Fuller’ssignaturestyleof“shockediting,”underscoredbythedramaticchange in Henry Sukman’s score from romantic orchestral music to a “sleazy,” big band vamp,canbeseeninthefadefromtheclose-upoftheartistsigningthepaintingto a semidocumentary aerial shot of the city of Los Angeles at night—“Main Street 8:00 p.m.”—that’s succeeded by a high wide shot of a marquee featuring a blowup doll and neon burlesque dancer: “burlesque on stage and in person / sugartorchand nudiedolls.”Afterthecameratiltsupfromanother,closer shot of the marquee to a shot of a nudie doll, there’s a match cut to Sugar Torch (GloriaPall)onstage performing astripteaseandsingledoutbyaspotlight.This transition is, to saythe least,jarring andstagesaflagrantdisjunctionbetweenthe high, fine art of easel painting and the low, not to say debased, art of burlesque;8 231 The Crimson Kimono it anticipates, moreover, the discontinuousness between the romantic-melodramatic and criminal-investigative plotlines. Consequently, when a sunglassed figure in a hat and trench coat fires at Sugar Torch after she has just come off stage and...


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