Criterion Collection

Movie Review: Carnival of Souls


Written by John Clifford. Directed by Herk Harvey. 1962.

The highest compliment I can pay Carnival of Souls is to give it three bananas, that rating reserved for, alternately, the average and the B-picture. Souls is hardly average, but it is the latter, and it revels in its B-ness, so much so that giving it four bananas -- my impulse -- would be a kind of betrayal. But it's startling in its creepiness, in its sexless heroine, in its oftentimes Felliniesque evocation of place and people. Great locations may be all you need for an excuse to tell a story, and Carnival of Souls is nothing if not an ode to such striking, scary places.

"It's funny. The world is so different in the daylight. In the dark, your fantasies get so out of hand. But in the daylight everything falls back into place again." -- Mary Henry


Two-Lane Blacktop

"You can never go fast enough."

"You can never go fast enough."

Written by Rudy Wurlitzer and Will Corry. Directed by Monte Hellman. 1971.

Two-Lane Blacktop is a movie about the greatest of all movie subjects: loneliness -- in particular that sense of isolation that comes with and is symbolized by the changing landscape of the road. These characters "can't get no satisfaction," as the Girl sings to herself, playing pinball in Arkansas. The loneliest of all is Warren Oates as G.T.O., a magnificent and goofy liar whose fabrications are ultimately woven from the lives of the car-freaks he's racing. He tells his fantastic lies to the odd hitchhikers he picks up, one of whom, the Oklahoma Hitchhiker, is "H.D. Stanton." Harry Dean slips his hand onto Oates' knee. "I'm not into that!" Oates barks. "I thought it might help you to relax," H.D. says. The joke, of course, is that nothing will. G.T.O. has no time for momentary satisfaction. He wants the pleasure of beating another man in a race and stealing his girl, the sense of personal triumph that wins him loyalty and love. Possibilities not in the road unspooling behind these characters, but rather in the blacktop still before them. "Those satisfactions," Oates says, "are permanent."

As genuine and complete a vision as I've seen.

Drunken Angel

"Fall in love for someone like me. I may be scruffy but you get free medical care."

"Fall in love for someone like me. I may be scruffy but you get free medical care."

Written by Keinosuke Uekusa and Akira Kurosawa. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. 1948.

"Japanese make too many useless sacrifices," says Shimura's doctor, a criticism of both Mifune's Yakuza thugs who populate the dingy, disease-ridden back-alleys of Tokyo and the militarists who made them -- both the thugs and the alleys. Kurosawa's historic epics, from Seven Samurai to Kagemusha, are his calling cards, but I'll always prefer his noir. His gangsters and drunks swagger and bluster, protesting under the burden of who they are, and it's in their darkest places their humanity shines brightest. Drunken Angel climaxes with a useful sacrifice: Mifune's life for the doctor's. At the movie's end, Shimura buys one of his patients, a seventeen-year-old girl who's survived TB, a sweet, payment on a bet. "Where does one buy sweets?" the old man asks. The girl laughs. "You really don't know anything, do you. At the sweet shop." They stroll off arm in arm and are immediately lost in the marketplace, in a sea of shuffling bodies -- all the more lives the doctor may now save, thanks to a thug.

The Lower Depths (1936)

Written by Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak. Directed by Jean Renoir. 1936.

Is the love of the right woman enough to set a crooked man straight? Is forty rubles enough for two people starting over? I don't know, but Gabin believes yes and yes. And, as an old man says of a dying girl's picture of heaven, "If she believes it, it is true." This --the tenuous alliance between fear and hope, what some of us would call faith -- is the truth of Renoir's beautiful movie.