Screengrab Archives #8: Valentine’s Edition

Excerpt From “Bloody Valentines: The Worst Relationships in Cinema History” (Original post: 2/12/09)

To paraphrase Edwin Starr: Valentine’s Day!  Huh!  What is it good for?  Well…depends who you ask:  it certainly didn’t work out too well for the poor Roman priest who got himself beaten, stoned, beheaded (and later canonized) for nuptializing Christian couples out of season, nor for any of the other Catholic martyrs named Valentine whose various grisly fates somehow led to the annual tradition of grown-ass men dropping seventy bucks a pop to have teddy bears in boxer shorts with hearts on them delivered to grown-ass women in the middle of winter. 

Scholars blame Geoffrey Chaucer for ruining February 14th by linking a bunch of obscure Roman Catholic feast days with the aggravating concept of courtly love, thus stressing out singles and couples alike for centuries to come with unrealistic, unattainable expectations about all the perfect moments of romance we’re all supposed to be having (instead of weeping lonely tears into our popcorn at solo matinees of He’s Just Not That Into You or forgetting to buy a frickin’ card for our significant others and never hearing the goddamn frickin’ end of it).

It should, of course, be remembered that St. Valentine’s ol’ pagan buddy Cupid is the son of both a goddess of love AND a god of war, and thus not all the couples the little bastard shoots with his arrows wind up living happily ever after. Therefore, as a cheery reminder that things could always be worse in this infernal season of l’amour, your friends-with-benefits here at the Screengrab are proud to present BLOODY VALENTINES: THE WORST RELATIONSHIPS IN CINEMA HISTORY!


A sort of preemptive riposte to the 20th century’s literary canon of professors effectively leveraging their intellectual heft for the purpose of seducing their students, The Blue Angel has stuffy Rath (Emil Jannings) falling for cabaret singer Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich) when he goes down to waggle his finger in her face and tell her to stop distracting his students. Instead, she captivates and reduces him to a pathetic spectacle, as pathetic in the public’s eyes as he is in hers. If Rath had at least a little touch of submissiveness in him, maybe he’d enjoy being constantly humiliated in a sub-dom 24/7 way; as it is, Lola reduces him to a man with no free will. Dietrich’s star was made in this first collaboration with Josef von Sternberg; meanwhile, Jannings’ performance is frequently looked down upon as an anachronistic acting style from another age. Which actually makes perfect sense for the character he’s playing. As a depiction of a May-December, intellectual-emptyheaded, pompous-earthy, and every other kind of mismatch possible relationship, The Blue Angel isn’t painful only because it’s more conducive to distanced contemplation and sarcastic laughter than visceral empathy. Should you have extra time at work (should you still be employed, in fact), some kind soul has uploaded the whole German version to YouTube, but the embedding has been disabled, so enjoy the trailer above, then click here to watch the whole thing.


There may be bloodier couples in the history of cinema, but there are none whose hatred burned brighter. George and Martha – a small-time failure of a college professor and his crude harpy of a wife, played by real-life couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor – may not want to kill each other, but it’s only because dead they would be past inflicting pain, which is all that keeps them going. Considering that Martha speaks of their marriage in terms of total warfare, and George’s idea of whimsical banter is to point a rifle at his wife’s head during a cocktail party, it’s no surprise that this movie has become shorthand for violently feuding couples. This is a couple that’s beyond mere feuding, but whose initial passion has never soured: it’s been transformed into something just as fiery, a loathing built on complete knowledge of, and complete dependence upon, one another. The film shocks us right out of the box by presenting us with a couple whose fury and loathing for each other is deeper than the love in an any big-screen romance; it then shocks us even further by showing how deeply, albeit bizarrely, they care for each other, and how much more profound their relationship is than the seemingly happy couple that contrasts them.


There’s a lesson here that a lot of you girls would do well to heed: when your boyfriend runs off to Sicily without a word, gets married to a perfect stranger he met over there about ten minutes after he got off the boat, and then, after somebody sticks dynamite under the hood of the car and blows her sky high, he shows up where you work, again without a word, and announces that, lucky you, he’s looking to fill the position of second wife and he’s prepared to consider your qualifications — honey, take a breath. If you feel swayed by his liquid brown eyes and passionate words, try and think about how you’re going to feel waking up next to him in a few years, when the face is set off by a toupee like an earth-tone fireworks display and that insinuating voice keeps erupting “HOO-hah!” Then you tell Casanova that as much as you appreciate the offer, you feel that you might be overqualified on account of your ability to count above ten without taking off your shoes. Unless you’ve got some kind of fetish for having doors slammed in your face.


If you’ve seen The Shining as many times as I have – and there’s very little chance of that – you’ve probably spent some time speculating about the marriage of Jack and Wendy Torrance. How did they meet? What was the attraction? When did they decide to get married, and didn’t they have any friends or family to talk them out of it? Some would point to the obvious incompatibility of the brooding, hot-tempered Jack (Jack Nicholson) and the frail, skittish Wendy (Shelly Duvall) as a flaw in the movie, but to those people I would pose this query: Do you know any married people? Because if you do, surely you are aware that for every couple that seems inevitable and perfect for each other, there are at least three that make no sense whatsoever on any rational level. It’s easy to blame Jack for the eventual dissolution of the relationship. He is the guy who starts talking to ghosts and running around with an axe, after all. But let’s not let Wendy entirely off the hook. She did go along with a plan that entailed living in total isolation with a man who has a history of alcohol abuse and domestic violence (no matter how much she may have tried to downplay it), and she brought her young son Danny into it. At the very least, she’s guilty of poor judgment, but at least it all works out in the end.


Frank Booth and Dorothy Vallens, the two emblems of maniacal deviance and defiled virtue (respectively) in David Lynch’s surrealistic neo-noir Blue Velvet, may share things…but love isn’t one of them. Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) is a nightclub singer with a daughter and an air of mystery, which – as Kyle MacLachlan’s amateur sleuth Jeffrey peeps after being shoved, post-blowjob, into a closet – is due to her association with Frank (Dennis Hopper). Frank is a sociopath holding Dorothy’s husband hostage so she might sexually gratify him, and the twisted sadomasochistic tryst (replete with helium inhalations and erotic asphyxiation) that Jeffrey witnesses while hiding in that closet may stand as some of the most disturbingly unsettling material ever shot by the peerlessly out-there Lynch. The couple’s relationship ultimately ends when Jeffrey shoots Frank dead, but this being Lynch, the ensuing happy ending is laced with perversion, due in part to the earlier suggestion that Dorothy, conditioned to Frank’s beatings, has been warped into associating pleasure with pain.

Click Here For Part Two, Three, Four, Five, Six & Seven

Contributors: Andrew Osborne, Vadim Rizov, Leonard Pierce, Phil Nugent, Scott Von Doviak & Nick Schager


0 Responses to “Screengrab Archives #8: Valentine’s Edition”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: