Walking in Art


Charlie Chaplin, Limelight: a case of hysterical paralysis

Claire Bloom and Charles Chaplin in LimelightLondon, 1914. Calvero (Charles Chaplin), once a great music hall comedian, is now an alcoholic. Arriving home drunk, he smells gas coming from another apartment in his boarding house, and breaks down the door. Inside he finds Thereza (Claire Bloom), a ballerina, lying unconscious. Calvero carries her to his room and cares for her while she recovers. Thereza, or Terry as she prefers to be called, discovers she cannot walk. Her doctor tells Calvero there is nothing physically wrong with Terry and that she is suffering from hysterical paralysis. Eventually Terry overcomes her paralysis and, encouraged by Calvero, starts to make her way in the ballet world.

Calvero finds new motivation in his relationship with Terry and attempts a return to the stage. But he can only get small engagements at which he is an abject failure. At this point in the story, the tables turn and it is Terry who has to provide support and encouragement to Calvero. While she tells him that she loves him, she is really in love with Mr Neville (Sydney Chaplin), a young composer who is also making his way in the world. Calvero realises this and abandons Terry. Turning again to drink, Calvero ends up busking for coins in the street. He again meets Terry, who arranges for him to be employed as a clown in her ballet. A benefit
concert is arranged for Calvero, but things do not turn out as expected...

Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) & The Lady from Shanghai

The film begins with dramatic music, as the Paramount Pictures logo dissolves into a backlit silhouette of a man on crutches hobbles toward the camera. The setting is as ambiguous as the identity of the man in the center of the screen: We don’t even know if it is day or night, for all we see is thick fog. Superimposed on this image are the titles, which dissolve into each other. We soon see the title of the film, "Double Indemnity". As we find out later in the film, double indemnity is a clause in a life insurance policy which states that if a man dies in highly unlikely circumstances, the premium is doubled. However, "Double Indemnity" sounds a lot like "Double Identity", and the significance of this is evident in this first shot, if one is not viewing the film for the first time; for we have no way of knowing if this man on crutches is the protagonist of the story, Walter Neff, or the man he will impersonate in the film, Mr. Dietrichson. In any case, the issue of duplicity is immediately referred to, as is ambiguity and injury.

The presence of husbands on crutches or in wheelchairs in film noir (Double Indemnity, Lady from Shanghai) suggests that impotence is somehow a normal component of the married state

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned How to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1963)

Mein Fuhrer…. I can Walk!

In the War Room, Strangelove (Peter Sellers as, perhaps, Edward Teller or Wener von Braun) explains that perhaps not all is lost. A nucleus of human specimens could be kept in our deeper mine shafts. Greenhouses can grow food, and animals can be bred and slaughtered. And, in order to ensure that humankind will continue, a ration of "ten females to each male" should be maintained, with the females being of a "highly stimulating nature," and the presence of the Joint Chiefs beuing a necessity. Even DeSadesky appreciates the idea, and as Turgidson demands that we continue to stockpile nuclear weapons for when we emerge, DeSadesky walks quietly away -- taking pictures with a hidden camera. And as Turgidson reaches a climax, demanding that we must not allow a "mine-shaft gap," Strangelove staggers from his wheelchair: "I have a plan... Mein Fuhrer! I can WALK!" 

And a chorus of atom bomb explosions follows, matching a recording of Vera Lynn singing, "We'll meet again...don't know where, don't know when....But I know we'll meet again some sunny day."

Before the Cold War began, the US and Russia were allies in defeating the threat of world fascism posed by the Nazis. And now that that threat is gone, the two countries threaten to destroy each other and the rest of the world. And who is helping them to design their weapons? Scientists like Dr. Strangelove, who, we can infer, probably also designed weapons for the Nazis. Although in real life German scientists who ended up working for the US and the USSR may not have been very sympathetic to the Nazi cause, Dr. Strangelove obviously was. However, now he has come to the US, changed his name, and is working for the government. The fascist part of him that remains is embodied in his right half, which he is constantly trying to suppress, as his right hand tries to make the fascist salute. His stiff smile and nervous demeanour show that he is trying to suppress this part of himself, often making mistakes such as     saying "Mein Fuhrer" instead of "Mr. President."

So here's what's happening in the last scene: The US and Russia have destroyed themselves, and Dr. Strangelove suggests a plan for preserving humanity. His plan is a realization of the Nazi's ideal world. A human breeding stock will be selected to live, while everyone else dies, to form a supreme race. Strict military discipline will be enforced in the caves. After the nuclear holocaust, the fascist ubermensch cave dwellers will rule the world.

Dr. Strangelove represents fascism: not dead, as the men in the war room assume, but merely confined to a wheelchair. When it seems that the cave plan will be adopted, fascism is re-released on the world and Dr. Strangelove can walk again. The last line, "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!" is his cry of victory, as if he is telling the memory of Hitler that after the Third Reich seemed to have been destroyed, he survived to help develop weapons which would lead to the fall of the US and Russia and to the beginning of the fascist world.

So among many things, the film shows the irony in the fact that the US and Russia, after defeating fascism, built nuclear weapons which represented rule by military force and the possibility of mass holocaust to an even greater extent than the Nazis did.

On the US campaign trail in 2004, Democratic Vice-Pesidetial John Edwards said this: ''We will do stem cell research.  We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases.  America just lost a great champion for this cause in Christopher Reeve. People like Chris Reeve will get out of their wheelchairs and walk again with stem cell research.''

 What was going on here?  Overwhelmed by the belief that the election of the Kerry/Edwards ticket was a matter of cosmic truth and justice, Edwards allowed his mouth to get ahead of his mind. He actually suggested that his esteemed running mate, John Kerry, would heal the cripples and raise the dead.  It was an absurd thing for any candidate, even for vice president, to say in front of God and everybody.

But Edwards said that.  It was his ''Strangelove'' moment.

On the 35th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie, ''Dr. Strangelove,'' it’s worthwhile to reconsider the final scene of that black comedy about government and war.  The director had intended to end the movie with a food fight in the War Room.  But as the final scene was being shot, Peter Sellers, playing the dark genius Dr. Strangelove, forgot his lines.  At the end, when Strangelove was outlining his plans for the survival of a ''nucleus of civilization'' in mine shafts after the nuclear destruction of the world, he was overwhelmed by the great opportunities for himself and his leader, President Muffly Merkin (also played by Sellers).

So what Sellers did then, ad lib, became the end of the movie.  It was such a perfect moment that the actor playing the Russian              Ambassador lost his composure and had to suppress a smile on his face, which is visible in the movie.  It was a darkly perfect parallel to John Edwards’ ''heal the sick'' stump speech this week.

Dr. Strangelove pushed himself out of his wheelchair and staggered to his feet.  His uncontrollable right arm shot out and up in the familiar salute.  And he said to his great President, Muffly Merkin:

''Mein Fuhrer, I can valk!''  John Edwards could not have said it better.

Colonel Rosa Klebb, From Russia With Love

In Bond film From Russia with Love, lesbian Colonel Rosa Klebb is played by Lotte Lenya. Her name punningly derives from the popular Soviet phrase for women's rights, khleb i rozy, which in turn was a direct Russian translation of the internationally used Labor slogan bread and roses.

She tracks Bond to Paris, dressed as a wealthy widow. After failing to kill him with a gun hidden in a telephone, she tries to poison him with a venom tipped dart hidden in her shoe but Bond blocks the attack with a chair. She is then captured by Bond's friend Rene Mathis, of the Deuxième Bureau.

Rosa Klebb was one of two inspirations (the other being Irma Bunt) for the character of Frau Farbissina, of the Austin Powers series of films who is a lesbian/bisexual.

The shoes are on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Marching Hammers, The Wall (Pink Floyd, Gerald Scarfe, 1982)

Pink Floyd - The Wall (Hammers)Hammers are a major dichotomous symbol in "the Wall" possessing both creative and destructive powers, simultaneously beneficial and oppressive. The same hammer that constructs a house has the power to tear it down. Similarly, the hammers in the machines metaphorically create ideal members of society while destroying each child's individuality. Both natures of the symbolic hammer are explored in greater detail later in the movie and album as Pink slips further into his dementia.  Furthermore, like the dual nature ofthe hammers, what begins as a productive revolution (the regaining of individuality) turns into destructive violence as the children destroy their school and create a bonfire with the instruments of their past educational repression that serves as a funeral pyre for their teacher whom they drag out of the school kicking and screaming. This scene of absolute anarchy spawned by the overthrow / absence of an authoritarian figure is evocative of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies in which a group of school children Schoolrevert to being savages when their plane crash lands on a deserted island. Similar to almost every theme in "the Wall," Waters alludes to both the creative and destructive forces of any one idea. While overly-domineering figures are destructive to personal development, the absence of any authority figure is just as caustic. The dictatorial teacher represses each individual child but the lack of any education whatsoever is just as harmful. In this sense, living life is like walking a thin wire between two polar but equally destructive forces; to live, one must either skate over the thin ice carrying the personal burdens of the past or break through the ice and drown in self-destruction.

Animated goose-stepping fascist hammers (Gerald Scarfe) appear in Waiting For The Worms  ("City of fascism"), UK  The fascists are marching. The hammer flags are rising everywhere and Pink is shouting his orders. Some argue that his work loses some of its nib-scratched, blotching bite in animated form. Scarfe himself has admitted there were problems transferring his designs. To begin with, most of the film's animation crew were more used to drawing 'toons'. And then there were the   restrictions of the production itself - think of the time and cost that would have been involved in animating each stab of Scarfe's pen! (remember, this was way  before the advent of the cgi techniques we're so familiar with today...)

'The starting point for this whole project was me feeling bad about being on stage in a large stadium. There was an
                  enormous wall between me and the audience - albeit an invisible one - but one that I felt was there on the basis of the
                  people I could see in the first 50 or 60 rows; swaying heads - it looked to me as if they were experiencing it as well. It's
                  like when you're singing a very quiet song on an acoustic guitar on stage and about ten thousand people are shouting and
                  screaming and whistling, which happened a lot on the 'Animals' tour. There were at least 20 people that I could see
                  whistling and going berserk and screaming. They were trying to 'be with me', if you like, but it doesn't help, you know;
                  "Whooa-wow-get down", you know, and I'm trying to sing this quiet little song.
                  Obviously they [don't understand what I am doing] - the ones who are making the noise. The problem is that you know
                  there are thousands of other people who do, and they want to listen to it. If they were all like that, then OK, you could say,
                  'Mindless pigs, let's just take the money and run', but you know that there are people out there who do want to listen to it
                  and they do understand. The starting point of this project was me thinking, 'wouldn't it be good theatrically to do a show
                  and to physically construct this wall between me and them during the show and just cut ourselves off, really antagonise the
                  audience and let them find out for themselves, how they feel about that. So in the show we do that - but we don't leave it at
                  that. In terms of structure of the piece the wall gets finished at the end of side 2 or, in terms of the show, about half way

At the last 80.000 spectators gig of the tour in Montreal,
                  Canada on July 6th, 1977 something finally snapped. Roger had been asking the noisy audience several times to keep
                  quiet during the quiet songs but it didn't help; they kept on yelling and screaming and letting off fireworks. He eventually
                  focussed all of his anger on one guy in the public and at one point in the show he got so disgusted that he spit that person
                  right in the face.
                  Roger: 'A very fascistic thing to do. It frightened me. But I'd known for a while during that tour - which I hated - that there
                  was something very wrong. I didn't feel in contact with the audience. They were no longer people; they had become 'it' - a
                  beast. I felt this enormous barrier between them and what I was trying to do. And it had become almost impossible to
                  clamber over it.' 
                  The show ended with session guitarist Snowy White playing a long and sad blues as an extra encore to calm the berserk
                  crowd down. Dave Gilmour had already left the stage. Although nobody could know it back then, it would be the last real
                  tour of Pink Floyd in this line-up.

'It's supposed to be about how I think parents start inducing - or almost injecting -
                  their own fears into their children from a very early age. Particularly in my case where they've just been
                  through a world war or something like that. We all go through devastating experiences and we tend to pass
                  them onto our children when they're very young, I suspect.'
It's meant to be about any family where
                  either parent goes away for whatever reason; whether it's to go and fight someone or to go work somewhere. In a way it's
                  about artists leaving home for a long time to go on tour - leaving their families behind - and maybe coming home dead, or
                  more dead than alive. This has happened to some.'

2001 A Space Odyssey (Kubrick/Clarke)

Dave Bowman (Keir Dulea) as an old man (?stroke) - note wheelchair by side of table.

The Wizard of Oz

One of the big trees had been partly chopped through, and standing beside it, with an uplifted axe in his hands, was a man made entirely of tin. His head and arms and legs were jointed
upon his body, but he stood perfectly motionless, as if he could not stir at all.

Dorothy looked at him in amazement, and so did the Scarecrow, while Toto barked sharply and made a snap at the tin legs, which hurt his teeth.

"Did you groan?" asked Dorothy.

"Yes," answered the tin man, "I did. I've been groaning for more than a year, and no one has ever heard me before or come to help me."

"What can I do for you?" she inquired softly, for she was moved by the sad voice in which the man spoke.

"Get an oil-can and oil my joints," he answered. "They are rusted so badly that I cannot move them at all; if I am well oiled I shall soon be all right again. You will find an oil-can on a shelf
in my cottage."

Dorothy at once ran back to the cottage and found the oil-can, and then she returned and asked anxiously, "Where are your joints?"

"Oil my neck, first," replied the Tin Woodman. So she oiled it, and as it was quite badly rusted the Scarecrow took hold of the tin head and moved it gently from side to side until it
worked freely, and then the man could turn it himself.

"Now oil the joints in my arms," he said. And Dorothy oiled them and the Scarecrow bent them carefully until they were quite free from rust and as good as new.

The Tin Woodman gave a sigh of satisfaction and lowered his axe, which he leaned against the tree.

"This is a great comfort," he said. "I have been holding that axe in the air ever since I rusted, and I'm glad to be able to put it down at last. Now, if you will oil the joints of my legs, I shall
be all right once more."

So they oiled his legs until he could move them freely; and he thanked them again and again for his release, for he seemed a very polite creature, and very grateful.