Murder Under Glass
Columbo

The murderer is a critic who gives favorable reviews (puffs) to a group of restaurateurs who pay him for the privilege of not being panned. One of them threatens to blow the scheme wide open, so the critic poisons him with the toxin from a Japanese puff-fish known as fugu (a real delicacy) by injecting a bottle of wine with the envenomed needle-tip of a carbon-dioxide opener (or rather arranging for the victim to do it himself).

This is why they invented the Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery writers. Robert Van Scoyk walked away with it. Jonathan Tunickís score bears special mention by dint of an unexpected relevance to Resnaisí Stavisky.

 

Melvin and Howard

The whole beauty of this is the necessary equivocation not burked, affording a view of the actors over the void on the slackest of wires.

 

Married to the Mob

Most of the work is in front of the camera. Demme revels in this orgy of bad taste, molls with hair like cotton candy in a whirlwind and outfits like jetsam. Thereís only one place where itís at home, and thatís madeover Miami. Scorseseís Goodfellas cast a cold eye on the poshlust of suburban crimedom, whereas here itís Foster Brooksí drunk in an earthquake at the Eden Roc.

The mobsterís widow (Michelle Pfeiffer) is curled up on the narrow bed in the tenement flat she now occupies (the bathtubís in the middle of the capacious kitchen). Demme has a high-angle shot of her touching figure, not too high, as the undercover agent (Matthew Modine) enters for their tryst and sits on the bed in a brusque little shove of her rump with his.

There is some superb camerawork also. The hit on a commuter train has a complex shot with the camera dollying up the aisle and panning right out the window as another train passes. The FBI men show their badges, and Demme cuts out a badge-shaped burst wipe to get to headquarters. The big bossís moll (Mercedes Ruehl) is flying south to meet her wayward husband (Dean Stockwell), landing is announced, she jumps out of her seat to get a garment from the overhead compartment, is rebuked by a stewardess and defiantly falls down out of frameóDemme cuts to a very high angle of surf and sand, tilts up and pans right to a two-shot of Pfeiffer and Stockwell on a balcony.

Some comical slow-motion accentuates the final shootout, and a brief coda suggests a comic-book milieu before the end credits, with a humorous parallel of Donenís Charade throughout.

 

The Silence of the Lambs

Franjuís Les Yeux sans visage is the main basis, but the trick of the composition is to make this an American version of Malleís Black Moon. This seeming dual structure (with a feint toward Dog Day Afternoon) is amusingly realized in the dead end faced by the FBI agents in their corner of the work.

The celebratory cake in the form of an FBI seal surely gives the game away, and yet this uproarious fantasy is held in some quarters to be ďfrighteningĒ, which is almost frightening.

But doubtless this beautifully-made film deserves its many accolades and awards for whatever reason they were bestowed.

A jogging girl is summoned into the offices of the FBI, still sweating, to crack the case of serial killer Buffalo Bill, who skins his victims and sews the bits together for a dress. Her only clue is in the mind of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic psychiatrist with a touch of culture.

She and her roommate solve it one night at a slumber party, from his clues.

Among the many entertainments are Daliís Rainy Taxi with a manís severed head inside looking like Caravaggioís self-portrait as Goliath, and Hannibalís favorite reading matter, Poetryís thin gruel and Bon Appetitís painted meats.

 

Beloved

Demmeís lines of approach are Siegelís The Beguiled and Mizoguchiís Ugetsu Monogatari, principally the latter. He understands the work before him under its two aspects, a work of art and an Oprah Book Club selection. He deals out a deck of cards shuffled so that these two aspects are randomly mixed, relying on trumps to come up inevitably. That is why, from scene to scene and shot to shot, you never know what card will appear, which creates suspension that gets him halfway there, while the metempsychosis of the one into the other over the gaps is enough to finish his involvement, and in the end the film is precisely the masterwork I think he intended, with a perfectly ordered logic and sense understood by Langston Hughes and Mark Twain.

Kon Ichikawa will do a wrong thing to express a right sense, such as Harp of Burma, and Demme does many things wrong to get that transcendent sense of what is right, and he has to deal with the arduous demands of movie sets, toward which he adopts this technique. Rather than hone in on an approximation of the reality he is supposed to represent, he lets the cards speak for him, so that when you are accustomed to a Hollywood mockup of a city street with costumes and busyness, suddenly the dross disappears and something more than a picture is there, a certain dress and hat, snow on the ground, light to see them by. Inauthentic speech allows modern performances, which go as far as they can before the wind in the trees answers them, or something like it.

This is no literary exercise, and no film-school thesis, either. The acting sometimes carries the film, or vice versa. A shot can be tremendously overdone, or not at all. The cinematography is variable, the background music constant. Flaws abound, part of the woodwork.

And all of this is structural, given the story. Thereís nothing quite like it except Harrisís Pollock, itís as though Demme threw the deck up in the air and filmed the cards landing pell-mell right on the table perfectly dealt.