Published in 24fps, February 2004.
Part One (Zach Campbell)
To my fellow cinephiles,
one of the loneliest films, sitting high in the pantheon no matter how one
looks at it (Joan Crawford vehicle, Otto Preminger film, 1940’s
Hollywood melodrama), and yet a work overlooked throughout history by
enthusiasts and even by its own director, who once told an interviewer he
had no memory of this picture. Fair
enough, but the film demands recognition.
Daisy Kenyon is an enigma, a wholly realized capture of
love’s processes in which Crawford’s Daisy, Dana Andrews’ Dan, and
Henry Fonda’s Peter form a love triangle of acute insight.
David Hertz’s screenplay reveals an astonishing, unsurpassed
sensitivity to the emotions of lovers who find that circumstance and
individuals have passed them by. It
is as if everyone—Preminger, Hertz, the cast—were in perfect
synchronization at some meta-level (because on a narrative level every
character is hopelessly out of pace and place with the others).
key to unlocking Daisy Kenyon might be in diving into the messy,
sophisticated ways that the film presents its characters, who are
complicated individuals par excellence, and who resist easy
categorization. Hertz pulls
in the appropriate gravitas by forcing the characters into extreme duress
(romantic and otherwise) and making them articulate their most private,
latent emotions to each other. Fonda
takes Crawford out for a night on the town, and walking her home he hangs
his head like a sentimental drunk and moans sadly, “I love you.” The moment exists delicately, tempting associations with
alcohol and dreams, where the inhibitions of the lonely lover burst out
unrestricted. Preminger has a
great gift with this kind of dialectic: overwhelming romanticism deflated,
but not destroyed, by the appearance of impassivity and coldness.
Instead of pointing wickedly at the smallness of our romance in the
larger world, Preminger lets us feel the fullness of emotion at the same
time he broadly contextualizes it, and asks us to contemplate the two
of the aim of this symposium is either to debunk or complicate the
standard characterization of Preminger as a cold objective omniscient
presiding over his characters with limited interest.
Daisy Kenyon is a good way to begin thinking about Preminger
in different terms, because Preminger isn’t so much impassive as he is
interested in multiple perspectives.
How does this sharp, elusive film demonstrate this to us—or does
it demonstrate something decidedly different?