Three More Films - The Red Devil Battery Sign, Noir et Blanc, and The Migrants
The Red Devil Battery Sign
A documentary (1976) with live commentary by Annette Cardona, The Red Devil Battery Sign is TW’s full-length play with music and dance set in Dallas. Critics claimed it was TW at his most paranoid and unfocused, what with its impossible idea of a Texas conglomerate in a conspiracy to start a foreign war in order to sell weaponry. David Merrick produced it in Boston – planning on a Broadway run. Anthony Quinn starred as a dying mariachi player, Claire Bloom played his lover, an electro-shocked society matron. Hollywood film star Katy Jurado (the first Latina nominated for an Academy Award) played Quinn’s wife, a hotel maid. The role of Quinn’s daughter, a fl amenco-dancing ingénue, was played by 18 year-old Annette Cardona (who would go on to star as Cha Cha DiGregorio in the movie Grease). A documentary with footage of Red Devil performances, rehearsals, interviews and press conferences was shot for the Encyclopedia Britannica and narrated by TW. The obscure 8mm film fell into public domain when a former LA Times reporter, Greg Barrios, found it on E-Bay,and arranged for its transfer to DVD. In March, Cardona hosted the movie at the New Orleans Tennessee Williams Festival. Prompted by questions from the audience she began to remember her audition in the dark with David Merrick, the over the top arguments in rehearsal between Quinn and Katy Jurado (so ready to quit she brought her luggage to rehearsal), and her quiet friendship with Williams which was, perhaps, research for the young girl and older writer in TW’s The Notebook of Trigorin.
Noir et Blanc
The French version of "Desire and the Black Masseur” (1986) Claire Devers’ first feature, Noir et blanc, won the Camera d’Or in 1986 and attracted the attention of cinephiles. Since then, she has kept a low profile on the international film scene, though she has made several features and TV films; and even her debut is little remembered today Noir et blanc is not only about the relationship between a black and a white, but it is also shot in black and white (by Daniel Desbois, with Christopher Doylen also receiving a camera credit). Under cover of the retro choice of film stock, the filmmakers create an odd, dusky lighting plan, starting with washed-out grays on grays, and gradually moving to more abstract images that look as if they were shot in some eternal twilight. Devers’ visual style is predominantly calm and naturalistic in the Nouvelle Vague tradition, but she has a taste for crowding the foreground of her frames, Fritz Lang-style, so that space seems to open up behind a foreground figure who is presented with a hint of visual urgency. Her editing is elliptical almost to the point of comedy, and the droll fragmentation of her storytelling goes hand in hand with the reserved, withholding acting around which the movie is constructed. Though Devers films with attention to ambience, her story (adapted from TW without credit). The movie starts in digression and slow accumulation, eventually focuses on a sexual obsession that might give pause even to the most libertarian viewers, and follows the concept by logical steps to an unthinkable conclusion.
– Dan Sallitt
Story by TW, screenplay by The Migrants opens with the foreman intoning “Beans this morning, corn this afternoon, and tomatoes tomorrow”… “…this is the mantra of the Barlow family, as trapped by the fields they harvest as the families in other Williams works are trapped by memory, trapped by the Continental Shoe Company, trapped by a devouring universe, or trapped by economics. The gritty story of transient farm laborers is an idea of Williams, based on a 1941 poem by TW’s poet friend . The teleplay was by , the author of Hot l Baltimore. The Glass Menagerie echoes here: Cloris Leachman is at the top of her game as the Mother who fights for her family’s survival. Ron Howard, as the son, simmering beneath a boil with the passion of Tom Wingfield to leave his mother, does some of his best work. Sissy Spacek (pre-Carrie) turns in a compelling performance as his dependant sister. Cindy Williams (soon to play Ron Howard’s girlfriend in American Graffiti) is cast as the small town local girl, an ‘emissary in a worldset apart’ from the Barlows. Directed by producer Tom Gries, the production was nominated for seven Emmy Awards, including best score, direction, cinematography, teleplay, and leading actress. It won in no category: Leachman lost to Cicely Tyson’s Miss Jane Pitman (as did Katherine Hepburn, who was nominated that year for The Glass Menagerie) A New York Times reviewer noted …”just so lean is Williams here that he is down right matter-of-fact, tapping his words down like tacks into a wall.” – Ed Martin(1974)
@Whalers Wharf Cinema