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World Cinema Series - Mickey One

When 8 February 2011 (Tuesday), 7.30pm
Where National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
93 Stamford Road Singapore 178897

Free admission but members only -- flash your membership card to go in. You may bring up to 2 guests if you hold a SFS Reel membership card. Non-members may sign up online or at the door -- we will issue membership on the spot. No tickets will be sold. Free seating.

1965 / 93 min / B & W / USA
Directed by Arthur Penn

Dismissed and forgotten by the establishment almost immediately upon release, Mickey One remains as one of the best attempts Hollywood has made to shake off the classic narrative and leap into new, unprotected territory. Warren Beatty, plays nightclub comic Mickey—a man who may or may not be wanted by the Mafia. Mickey is sure that he owes them a debt, although he isn’t exactly sure just what he owes. It’s either $20,000 or the “whole damn life I’m living,” he bemoans. Such is the metaphysical arrears that send Mickey into hiding, riding freight trains, washing dishes, stealing a social security card from a dead Polish man. Ultimately, Mickey cannot deny his comic talents and he winds up performing again in the certain knowledge he will attract attention to himself and be destroyed. Thus, the narrative is balanced precariously between director Arthur Penn’s ghoulish reality — all fractured angles and quick editing—and Mickey’s paranoid fantasy of significant glances and suspicion, which makes for a curiously unnerving experience.

On the surface, Mickey One revels in its adopted French New Wave hipness, replete with narrative ellipses, frequent utilisation of loaded symbols, playful fragmentation from moment to moment, dangerously out of sequence for the viewer. But Penn pulls out all the stops, pushing the film ever deeper into a realm of dystopian psychological horror. A sense of overarching but untraceable guilt, transient identity and victimization, worthy of Kafka, permeates the film at different levels. The score by Eddie Sauter, with improvisations by Stan Getz further accentuates the film’s existential underpinning. While the crisp black-n-white cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet (between jobs for Louis Malle and Robert Bresson) luminates Mickey One’s wild abandon towards a fusion of noir and modernism.

Film still courtesy of Park Circus