Published in 24fps, February 2004.

Part One (Zach Campbell)

To my fellow cinephiles,

Daisy Kenyon is 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). 

The 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 realities.

Part 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?

- Zach