Monday, September 14, 2020

The Pawnbroker

Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker (1964) could only have been made in its time. It’s the black and white world of gritty New York, the world of movies like Little Fugitive about the kid who gets lost in Coney Island. The Quincy Jones music, the down home lettering of the film's logo, the faces of families crowded in tenement windows, the famous scene of the hooker pulling off her top and the even more famous scene of Nazerman's (Rod Steiger) stigmata. Then there are the Checker cabs, Nina Simone headlining at The Apollo, the marquee of the L Shaped Room with Leslie Caron and, of course,  those 60s subways cross-cutting to the cattle cars on the way to the camps. “You have made this afternoon very tedious with your constant search for an answer,” he tells Marilyn Burchfield (Geraldine Fitzgerald), the resident social worker, trying to break through. He also intones, “Next to the speed of light which Einstein sights as the only absolute, only second to that is money.” Today The Pawnbroker with its lightning quick flashbacks might be an essay in trauma theory. A concentration camp survivor, who has lost the ability to feel, relives his past. “I didn’t die,” he later tells Marilyn who significantly occupies an apartment near an iconic seat of culture, Lincoln Center, “Everything I love was taken away from me and I didn’t die.” There have been many other films made about the Holocaust, but the The Pawnbroker is a period piece, a film with method acting melodrama, played to the hilt, that’s at the same time eternal. It should be noted that Boris Kaufman, younger brother to  Dziga-Vertov of Man With a Movie Camera fame was the cinematographer and the cross-pollination between European culture and the gritty timebound urban landscape may account for the film's majestic compass and earthbound newsreel style. 

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