Published in 24fps, February 2004.

Part Five (Zach Campbell)


I must confess that at this point I’m feeling frustrated because Daisy Kenyon is not a film to be defined or theorized without great effort and countless dead ends.  All the grains are aligned here and I still can’t get over how in tune every collaborator seems to be with the ultimate vision, but the film’s amazing diversity of tonal shifts, stylistic commands, and thematic webs (which you two have pointed out in great detail) almost make Daisy seem dauntingly large and virtuosic on paper when the experience of the film is quiet, and the viewer is (like the characters) subject to currents of “real life” that push us along unexpectedly.  But I think I may have found a way to begin conceptualizing the film while doing justice to its intelligence and humanity.

Damien threw in an excellent observation about Andrews’ Dan pouring coffee in Daisy’s home, a “stolen moment in imitation of normal domesticity.”  After reading his paragraph several times, I thought he was really onto something, specifically in the use of the word imitation.  Not only is the world of Daisy Kenyon a world in motion, but it’s a world in search of reality, conviction, foundation—things that ‘love’ would provide the characters.  And the characters express this unworded, primal search in terms of mimicry: to mimic a marriage, for instance, as Dan and Daisy do initially, whether through a level of comfort in the other’s kitchen or in the making (and breaking) of dinner dates with couple-friends.  “I’ve got to be going somewhere, even if it’s to the movies,” to quote Daisy—is the point made that motion the metaphysical effect of yearning? 

Rivette advocated cinema’s ability to “plunge us into horror,” and to me Daisy Kenyon recognizes this horror by subtly dismantling the sense of absoluteness behind the characters’ vocalizations and acts of love.  We especially get this in Dana Andrews’ character, in whom we see the complex fluctuations of sincerity and insincerity, and through whom we first realize that there may be no boundary between “true love” and anything else.  Dan O’Mara clearly loves his daughters, and yet he often treats them in ways that register as condescending or obliged—and he does the same with Daisy.  A simpler film, spearheaded by a lesser filmmaker, would have managed to quarantine Dan’s insincerity and glorify those moments and situations in which he is being “true.”  (And this hypothetical film would still be more intelligent than the worst possible scenario, in which Dan O’Mara is wholly and visibly fake.)

If the character of Dan gives us an “in” to the way the film conceives of love, then Peter Lapham redirects and completes the conception.  Peter is an emotionally troubled person, but some part of him realizes that even “true love” is subject to calculations, second thoughts, antitheses—whereas Dan moves without deep self-awareness between sincerity and insincerity, blurring distinctions, Peter is aware of this structure, and those “modern combat tactics” he employs are a conscious effort in a gamble for Daisy’s love and companionship.  Peter truly loves Daisy, as does Dan, but Peter knows that “allowing” Daisy her freedom might give both of them what they want.  Daisy Kenyon is a film about love, one that respects both love and lovers, because in a certain way it does not believe in love as we usually know it.

Thanks to Dan Sallitt’s diligence in finding and reading Janeway’s novel, there is reason to conclude that this thematic intricacy and intelligence—so tied to the tonal and formal material of the film—are in fact "all creations of the filmmakers."