Showing posts with label ambiguous endings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ambiguous endings. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Deadly Messages (1985 TV-movie), 2.5 of 4

Kathleen Beller has haunted me since 1980, when I saw the PBS film of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter."  (She plays the title character, left.)  Only recently, I recognized my avoidance of her other work.  Of course, I'd cherished the memory.

Beller's credits show an impressive run: for a decade, she was TV-movie royalty.  Granted, Deadly Messages is considered middle-of-the-pack (nor is it helped by the marginal dupe currently on YouTube).  It's a pleasantly wry DePalma pastiche, evoking Body Double especially.

The gaslighting subgenre is both timely and venerable, reaching back at least to the eponymous film (1940, and the Hollywood remake of 1944), Hitchcock's Rebecca, What Lies Beneath and others (and The Others).  In this form, the viewer guesses along with the female protagonist about who (if anyone) is menacing her, and why.  Here, the title alludes to a Ouija board which may or may not have supernatural powers.  The twisty ending comes somewhat abruptly, as it vaguely offers a sequel or series.

Thomas M. Sipos pans Deadly Messages as illogical, e.g., detective Dennis Franz discredits Beller's murder report only because she can't present a corpse.  This critique ignores the movie being an expressionist female nightmare, especially common in the era (The Stepford Wives, Demon Seed and many TV-movies, notably John Carpenter's Someone's Watching Me!).  Note that in Deadly Messages, the men all seem to resemble each other (variously ethnic-urban, proletarian).  Fraught as ever, Beller asks understanding, as she wonders about trusting any of them. 

in the 1981 TV-movie, No Place to Hide
The oddest thing about Deadly Messages is the way Beller is presented, almost as if to conceal her figure.  Was she hiding a pregnancy?  The choice may (also) reflect career anxiety.  Hers had depended on ingenues in hothouse romances, even in a feminist era.  By 1985, America had besmirched this baby-madonna with two years on the prime-time soap, Dynasty; there was no returning to the virginal victims of assault (as in Deadly Messages, and 1978's career-defining Are You in the House Alone?), stalking (No Place to Hide), or dying young (Mary White, Promises in the Dark).  Post-Deadly Messages, Beller made short-lived series and a few obscure features, before retirement in the early '90s.

In the fog that is fannish admiration, I imagined an exotic fate for Kathleen Beller, as in the decamp to Europe, or hie-to-a-nunnery like Dolores Hart.  Coincidentally, her last film, Legacy (1993, 55 minutes), was produced by the Mormon church, for internal use.  The actual bio is both appropriate and heartening: she married musician Thomas Dolby in 1988, they have three children.  (Dolby's 1982 hit "She Blinded Me with Science" is a gentle spoof of just such tales as Rappaccini's Daughter.)  Beller's IMDb page teases the cultist with a 2016 horror short, her first credit in 22 years.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

everything has a reason: The Sopranos cuts to black (2007)

In November, I published this essay on Bright Lights Film Journal.  (My thanks to editor Gary Morris for the presentation, and for patience with endless revisions.)

The essay is 11,000 words and tough to summarize.  That being said, I examine the series-ending cut-to-black from three angles.  In critical context, the cut means parity, as it places Hollywood television beside the New Wave (e.g. The 400 Blows, Bonnie and Clyde), and foreign series such as The Prisoner.

An artistic nugget unearthed too late for inclusion: The Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is a likely formal influence on the Holsten's scene, each using a guillotine ending.  According to Wikipedia, the song's overdub session was the last time the four Beatles worked together in the studio.  (Edit, 7/5: Sopranos creator David Chase is a fan, and remembered "fab" in 2012's semi-autobiographical Not Fade Away.)

In terms of closure, psychology and spirituality, the cut-to-black confronts viewers on identifying with these characters.  Along with the reminder to savor "the good times," the finale promotes humility: if we won't forgive Tony, why should anyone forgive us?  On the bedrock level of plot: if the cut-to-black symbolized Tony's death, why did Chase say it was "disgusting" fans wanted to see Tony die?  Is there so much difference?

Chase said the finale was meant to have a "sense of foreboding."  This is the political aspect:  Americans have reason to identify with an entitled clan wrestling decline.  The attentive viewer may be left feeling like Tony as he retreats from his final visit to Uncle Junior.

Originally, my goal was to dispute glib assertions that a) Tony is dead or b) the ending is false or otherwise disappointing.  I ended up solving the cut-to-black, to my own satisfaction, at least.  By their nature, some things can't be proven, but may have the ring of truth.

"Is Tony dead?" is the wrong question (as David Chase has said).  At this remove, the question, for America: Is Meadow in that doorway?