It’s been months since I’ve recommended a movie, so this weekend let me, well, recommend a movie.
The director John Frankenheimer was best known for two movies: “The Manchurian Candidate,” his 1962 Cold War paranoia thriller (with a career-making performance by Angela Lansbury), and “Ronin,” his 1998 late-career masterpiece starring Robert De Niro.
That these films were nearly 40 years apart is a testament to the fact that Frankenheimer had a long and fruitful career, beginning in television in the 1950s and ending with his death in 2002. The 1960s were his decade, however, and he directed a run of films that stand up to the best work of that era. In addition to “The Manchurian Candidate,” there’s the prison drama “Birdman of Alcatraz,” the political thriller “Seven Days in May,” the World War II thriller “The Train,” the period drama “The Fixer,” a highly ambitious (and expensive) racing picture called “Grand Prix” and a strange and disturbing science fiction film called, simply, “Seconds.”
I’ve seen most of these — except “Grand Prix,” which I hope to see in a real theater someday — but the one I want to recommend is “Seconds,” which I watched for the first time this week.
“Seconds” stars John Randolph as Arthur Hamilton, a middle-aged executive whose material success is no match for the ennui of modern life. He is contacted by an old friend who tells him there is a way to live a second life, and with that he is on his way to a physical transformation into “Tony Wilson” — played by Rock Hudson — that he hopes will turn into a spiritual one as well.
It doesn’t, of course. He is still stuck and still lost and still alienated from himself. “The body is reborn,” wrote the critic David Sterritt in his 2013 essay on the film, “but the spirit stays dead.” In desperation, Hamilton/Wilson returns to the nameless — although not faceless — company that gave him his new life and pleads for a second, second chance. They oblige, in a way, bringing the film to its shocking, sobering conclusion.
Somewhat unusual among Hollywood directors of the time, Frankenheimer was, notes Sterritt, preoccupied with the “darker side” of the 1960s: “the sour aftertaste of McCarthyism, the expanding military-industrial complex, the growing sense that technology might be controlling us instead of the other way around.” He was contemptuous of American consumerism and the “American dream” — the idea that you could buy fulfillment from a catalog.
At the same time, Frankenheimer appears to have been suspicious of the idea that you could escape from yourself, that you could free yourself of your obligations and commit yourself to self-discovery. “Seconds” captures both instincts, along with the ironic recognition that whichever path you take, the house never loses — capital always reaps its profits.
I can’t end this without mentioning two other elements of “Seconds.” There’s the abstract and ominous title sequence, designed and filmed by Saul Bass, and there is the look of the film itself, a tour de force of cinematic photography by James Wong Howe, one of the geniuses of the form. Howe, whose career stretched back to the 1920s, emphasized light and movement and dynamism.
Howe brought those qualities, and many others, to “Seconds,” which has the chiaroscuro of noir and a searching camera whose movements, in the most virtuosic sequences of the film, evoke the feeling of a fever dream. Howe also uses a wide-angle lens to great effect, deploying it for group close-ups that emphasize the inhumanity of the people in Hamilton’s new life. Other techniques, like the expert use of deep focus in one particularly harrowing scene — where Hamilton/Wilson is strapped to a bed, surrounded by orderlies — serve to both advance the story and emphasize the extent to which it is a nightmare.
To be clear, “Seconds” is not an impossibly heavy movie. But it is a little difficult, and it does ask you to think. If you are willing to get on its wavelength, however — if you’re willing to embrace everything from its fundamental weirdness to its harsh critique of American society — you might feel as I did earlier this week: eager to rewind the tape, so to speak, and hit Play a second time.
What I Wrote
My Tuesday column was another look at how the unlimited proliferation of guns has (and will) shape our social and political lives:
To harden our soft targets is, in other words, to turn the entire country into an airport security line. And far from a free society, this hardened America would be a continental version of Baghdad’s Green Zone, each checkpoint or guard a visible reminder that we’ve organized our entire lives around the prospect of instant death by lethal violence. We’re already halfway there. It is normal, at many synagogues and Jewish community centers, to have armed security guards. It is normal, at many schools, to have metal detectors. It is normal to drill young children for when a shooter appears — to train first and second and third graders to run and hide or play dead.
My Friday column was an argument that Democrats should be actively trying to delegitimize the Supreme Court:
The problem of the Supreme Court isn’t that its members are mired in ethics scandals (although they are.). It isn’t that it’s been captured by a network of conservative apparatchiks and right-wing billionaires (although it has). No, the problem of the Supreme Court is that it is a powerful and unaccountable branch of government whose traditional role has been to protect the rights of property and the prerogatives of the privileged above all other concerns.
I also did a segment on MSNBC with Chris Hayes on Wednesday discussing my Tuesday column as well as the news and other events.
Willa Glickman on the fight for fair wages, in The New York Review of Books.
Amna A. Akbar on the fight against “Cop City” in Atlanta, for Dissent.
Erin Hatton on labor and the carceral state, for the Law and Political Economy Project.
Tim Barker on political capitalism, for New Left Review.
Jacob Oller on the “intellectual property” era in Hollywood filmmaking, for Paste.
Photo of the Week
This is the shell of an old pay phone at an abandoned Greyhound station in Charlottesville, Va. Greyhound buses still stop in Charlottesville, but the lack of a usable station means that riders have to sit and wait outside (and potentially in the elements) for their bus.
Now Eating: Aloo Palak (Spicy Spinach and Potatoes)
I have not made this recipe yet, but I cook a lot of South Asian food at home and made a chana saag (spinach and chickpeas) this week. This recipe looks like a good one to try soon. I would probably go heavier on the ginger and garlic, use a blend of frozen and fresh spinach, and go with a very generous amount of garam masala. And while it’s far from traditional, I might also finish the dish with a drizzle of olive oil. (I like to finish everything with a drizzle of olive oil.) Recipe comes from New York Times Cooking.
¼ cup ghee or neutral oil
1 large yellow or red onion, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ginger paste or freshly grated ginger
1 ½ teaspoons garlic paste or freshly grated garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 Thai green chiles, sliced (replace with 1 large jalapeño if you can’t find Thai green chiles)
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes or about ⅔ teaspoon Kashmiri chile powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped, or 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
3 medium Yukon Gold or red gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound frozen chopped spinach (unthawed) or fresh mature spinach, chopped
½ teaspoon garam masala
In a large pot, heat ghee for 30 seconds on high. Add cumin seeds and heat until they begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add onion, ginger and garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in green chiles, red-pepper flakes and turmeric.
Add tomatoes and salt, stir and continue cooking until the tomatoes are jammy and the oil has separated, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in potatoes. Add ½ cup water, bring to a boil and lower heat to medium. Cover and cook for 12 minutes or until potatoes are almost done.
Add spinach and turn the heat up to high. Once the mix starts bubbling, lower the heat to medium, cover and simmer until potatoes are cooked through, stirring occasionally, 7 to 10 minutes. Top with garam masala and serve with rice, roti or pita.
Source: Read Full Article