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I Guess It's Romantic, If You're a Dog:
JOHN ASHBERY



SS: Who do you think moved best during the days of the silent film? Who had the best face — Irma Vep? — and who was the best acrobat?

JA: As I said before, I’m not an authority on film nor a film critic, which affords me the luxury of not having to have an opinion on every film-related topic, such as who moved best during the days of the silent film, etc. That said, Irma Vep, or rather Musidora, the actress who played her in Feuillade’s films, certainly had one of the best faces and moved pretty well, too. I remember seeing her at screenings at the Cinémathèque in Paris in the late Fifties. She was by then a respectable-looking, well-dressed oldish lady, with nevertheless a few glints of the fiendish characters she had played years before. I can’t think of too many acrobats. I suppose Douglas Fairbanks was one, but I can’t really remember him doing his stuff on the screen. Maybe Harold Lloyd.

SS: I have a pet theory that the precondition for a great movie is that at some point the lead characters, though not in a strictly-defined musical, nonetheless burst into song. I’m thinking Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, To Have and Have Not, Pierrot le Fou, the list goes on. Can you help me add to this particular canon?

JA: I’m not sure I agree with your theory, and I can’t remember characters bursting into song in any of the movies you mention, except for Dorothy Comingore in Citizen Kane. Maybe one example would be René Clair’s Le Million, though it actually is a musical.
I recently saw on Turner Classic Movies an exquisitely tacky Forties film called Four Jills in a Jeep, in which there was a lot of “bursting into song,” though it could just have been poised on the cusp of being a musical.

SS: Have poets been depicted accurately in any movie you can think of? What did you think of the character of poet Jason Hoag in Val Lewton’s classic horror film, The Seventh Victim?

JA: Offhand, I can’t remember any poets depicted in films, though I probably could if I sat down and really concentrated. I rather like Jason Hoag, but mainly because the actor, Erford Gage, bears a physical resemblance to Frank O’Hara. I don’t see why poets should be any more interesting to watch on the screen than they are in real life.

SS: Do you remember the first movie you ever truly fell in love with? Did that happen before or after your first poem?

JA: Le Million was probably the first movie I fell in love with, as an adult at least. I went to see it many times, and about the same time I was serially viewing the superb Bea Lillie comedy On Approval.

SS: You’ve spoken very highly of Val Lewton’s movies in Modern Painters. What is your single favorite scene in a Val Lewton movie?

JA: Again, it’s hard to come up with a single favorite scene. One contender would certainly be the scene in Cat People where Jane Randolph is walking through Central Park at night tracked by cat person Simone Simon, and is providentially saved by a bus, which emits a catlike hiss as its doors open. And there’s the shower scene in The Seventh Victim, which is supposed to have influenced Hitchcock, although Kim Hunter doesn’t get murdered, only menaced, by the sinister Mrs. Redi. Maybe the best scene of all occurs in that movie, when Isabel Jewell sweeps the poisoned drink from the heroine’s hands and bursts into tears. In fact, I think the movie belongs to Isabel Jewell.

 



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