From "Positively the same dame!" (July 15, 2007)
(Barbara) Stanwyck had poise and a sense of barely throttled urgency that the camera feasted on. It was her manner, far more than her appearance, that audiences responded to. "Well, I'm not exactly ugly," she says to Fred MacMurray in "Remember the Night" (1940). She certainly wasn't. Yet Stanwyck was no conventional beauty, either. True, she had a chorine's gams and never lost her trim dancer's figure. (In "Roustabout," the 57-year-old Stanwyck looks better in a pair of jeans than Elvis does.) But her most prominent features were that beaky nose and snaggly upper lip. Her forehead was too high, her cheeks too full. What made her so striking was the slight rasp in her voice, the habit she had of biting her lower lip (simultaneously signaling thought and desire) - and, above all, the tungsten gaze of those so-often-narrowed eyes. Have shrewdness and skepticism ever been so attractive?
What Hopper reflects is something quite different, the unheroic loneliness of everyday people, people like you and me: ushers, secretaries, apartment dwellers. The Hemingway hero, another paragon of American individualism, is in control of his apartness. Hopper's people are not. It's imposed on them by the circumstances of life. Their plight reminds us that individualism without ruggedness simply means being alone - alone even when, as in Hopper's "Room in New York," someone else is there.
"E pluribus unum," one out of many, bespeaks a citizenry coming together, uniting into something larger. What haunts the American imagination is the possibility of one lost among many, the individual trapped in his or her own solitude. American society, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in "Democracy in America," "throws [the individual] back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart." What's most American about Hopper is his bearing witness to that threat.
The only thing shaggy about Stanley Kubrick was his beard. He was the control freak's control freak, the engineer of human souls as filmmaker. All art, the Victorian critic Walter Pater said, aspires to the condition of music. No film director, as it happens, has consistently used music to better effect than Kubrick did. Even so, what his films aspire to is the condition of geometry. They are theorems of seeing: chill, superior, pitiless.