The Siren reads Virginia Heffernan's "The Medium" column on Sundays in the New York Times Magazine, and she usually enjoys it. This past Sunday, Ms Heffernan took up the topic of Website comment sections, using as an example the comments on Anne Applebaum's column in the Washington Post. The Siren does not read the Washington Post columnists, as their politics frequently give her a twitch in her right eyelid, but it seems that the people who post on the WaPo site lack respect for Ms Applebaum's credentials, do not engage with Ms Applebaum's writing, are rude and occasionally bigoted and probably post just to see themselves "published."
And the Siren absolutely could not relate.
Indeed, the Siren looked at her own comments section, and felt the same proprietary thrill that a homeowner gets from realizing she has the prettiest rose trellis on the block. Part of that is a question of scale, of course. Still, the Siren does love her comments oasis here. The post on The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami turned into a small discussion of Directors Behaving Badly, and whether indeed most of them ever behave any other way, and the tribute to Jack Cardiff eventually segued into a discussion of the very notion of "auteur." If Ms Heffernan gets tired of the mosh pit of WaPo comments, she is more than welcome to stop by and pull up a virtual armchair.
So the Siren says, once more, many thanks to her wonderful commenters, and she is contributing to the two discussions by posting an anecdote that relates to both prior topics merely by being about Fritz Lang. It's from Henry Fonda's long interview in Hollywood Speaks, the highlight of a very good book. He was an actor who was interested in the process of moviemaking and alert to the different methods and goals of the directors he worked with. Fonda was very aware, for example, of what lay behind Wyler's notorious retakes. That does not mean, however, that Fonda could suffer Fritz gladly--not many could. But the Siren always thinks, reading this particular passage, that Fonda did understand what was making Lang tick. He just didn't want to deal with it.
So here is Fonda, discussing Lang in general and The Return of Frank James in particular. Mike Steen asks Fonda if he was happy making that movie.
No. Because again, it was Lang. Oh shit, he came to me with tears in his eyes and said he'd learned his lesson and so forth. Why Zanuck ever thought he would be the right kind of director for a Western I don't know, 'cause he wasn't at all. He was the same man he'd been on the other one I did with him, You Only Live Once, in the sense he was preoccupied with his camera. He painted with his camera...
...In The Return of Frank James I had a scene where I come into a barn hunting down John Carradine, who has killed Jesse. I had to come in to a point, look around, hear something and exit. That's all there was to the scene. We were about five hours doing it because Lang decides he wants cobwebs from the overhead beam down to the post that stood where I had to stop for a moment. So they send to the special effects department, and a guy comes down and blows cobwebs around. It's easy to do. But then Lang would come in and break holes in them to make them look like old cobwebs. Pretty soon he was breaking so many holes that the entire thing collapsed, and the effects guy would end up having to do it over. I sat there watching. By this time I knew Lang so well I would make bets with guys that we would be three hours, fucking with the cobwebs in a scene where I come in and stand for two seconds, then walk out!
Fonda goes on to talk about filming near Lone Pine and encountering a beautiful fallen tree. John Ford, said Fonda, would have "said 'Oh shit!' and put a tripod down and shot it. But not Lang." Lang made the crew move the enormous log and then ordered a camera platform built to change the angle. Fonda got off easily, however, considering he said Lang also killed three horses on the location by forcing them to run too hard at high altitude.
"So it was not a good experience," said Fonda, "but it was not a bad picture. Somebody saw it on television the other night and told me they enjoyed it. Anyway, I didn't enjoy working with Fritz Lang."