One Murder After Dark and Four Stories

Cowboy Junkies, Money, and Murder in a Trailer Park

Songs make for interesting story telling devices. The best songs tell great stories, and great stories always deserve a closer look. These closer looks (criticisms if you want to sound literary) can serve to inform, to entertain, and to persuade. “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” by the Cowboy Junkies is one such great story. There are multiple approaches and interpretations of this song, but I want to focus on how money plays a role in the lives of the characters in this song.

The central plot of “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” is the murder of Mrs. Annabelle Evans. She is murdered some time after sunset. Annabelle’s body is identified by a neighbor, Peg. Nearby an unidentified character is prompting someone by the name of Ann Marie to pack her bags and leave with him. Meanwhile, across town, George Evans is at a bar getting drunk, buying rounds for the regulars, and bragging about how he won big at a game of craps. Later this same night, we see a “faceless man” in a hotel room counting out crumpled bills and waiting for the sports results on TV to see if his wagers have come in. These four scenes occur on the same night, and it is money that connects them.

The apparent motive for Mrs. Annabelle Evans’ murder is robbery. She is killed for what amounts to not much more than pocket-money. The central action of this scene revolves around money, and money plays an important role in each subsequent scene. We aren’t made fully aware of the motive for the unidentified character’s desire to move and to what extent Annabelle Evans’ death may have in that decision, but this character has “been saving pennies” in preparation for the move. He tells Ann Marie that they will head west and make a new start (and money is always needed for new starts). George Evans, who we can presume is Annabelle’s husband, is getting drunk at a local bar and is oblivious to the fact that his wife has been murdered. One can’t help but wonder how things may be different if George had gone home instead of spending his winnings at a local bar. Finally, there is the “faceless man” in a hotel room. Annabelle Evans’ murder has made the late night news. This “faceless man” turns down the sound on the TV and waits for the sports. He isn’t as concerned with the murder of Annabelle Evans as he is with whether or not he has won his wagers. These scenes show that money is more valuable to these characters than the life of Annabelle Evans.

Songs are just one of many ways to tell a great story, and great stories are worth criticizing.  “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” by the Cowboy Junkies tells the story of a murder after dark, and how money is more important than a human life.

-K-

“Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” from Black Eyed Man by Cowboy Junkies

The Prescience of Peeping Tom

How a Sixty Year Old Movie Foresaw Our Fascination With Watching. 

If a movie predicts the future should it be billed as sci-fi? Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom debuted in 1960 to negative critical reviews. It wasn’t until years later that critics began to see Powell’s production for the well-crafted movie that it is (positive reviews from the likes of Martin Scorsese help). Peeping Tom is billed as a crime drama and a strong argument can be made that it is one of the first modern slasher/horror movies. This movie is great when viewed on all these levels, but there are some interesting points in the movie that can be viewed as eerie predictions of life in 2019. Powell’s movie is obviously not science fiction, but his depiction of scoptophilia provides some interesting connections to our current fascination with watching and being watched.

Although the movie debuted in 1960, there are a few scenes that would be perfect in a contemporary movie focused a compulsion to watch. Mark Lewis, played by Karlheinz Bohm, is the central character of Peeping Tom. Mark suffers from scoptophilia, what is explained in the movie as, “The morbid urge to gaze.” That very explanation sadly can be applied to many people who are drawn to live feeds and up to the minute posts. The first scene of the movie involves Mark secretly filming an event as it happens. Immediately after this first scene we see it replayed as Mark watches his film of the event. The scene may be shocking on first view but it loses some of this shock on a second viewing. One is left to wonder if Mark’s urge to gaze wears off a little with each viewing.This same question can be asked of viewers of the aforementioned live feeds and posts. When does shock give way to apathy? When does the desensitization begin? Although the movie centers on Mark’s morbid urge to gaze there are also scenes that imply an urge to be gazed upon.

We find out rather early in the movie that Mark’s childhood was closely monitored and filmed by his father, a renowned biologist. Mark refers to the key events of his childhood as a series of “sequences” that were all filmed. This scene is prescient of people who currently live their lives on social media. The event (sequence) is less important than the number of likes and shares that it gets. The urge to be gazed upon is not just shown through the character of Mark. Vivian, played by Moira Shearer, is an aspiring actress who agrees to be part of a film Mark is shooting. She makes two statements that speak to an urge to be gazed upon. First, Vivian says, “Make us famous,” while Mark is preparing a set. This quote sounds like a mantra for those who, in 2019, aspire to be ‘instafamous’. Secondly, Vivian playfully gets behind a studio camera and says, “I’m photographing you photographing me.” In her desire to be watched she is oblivious to the danger she is in. How many people living online worry about (or even acknowledge) the possible dangers? Powell’s presentation of both the morbid urge to gaze and to be gazed upon made for an excellent movie in 1960 and gives contemporary audiences a few scenes to contemplate.

Peeping Tom was not well received in 1960 because of its subject matter and Powell’s approach to presenting that subject matter.  That subject matter, the urge to gaze and be gazed upon, is a common topic today. Peeping Tom has several prescient scenes that are worth a closer look for those interested in our obsession with watching and being watched.

-K-

Peeping Tom with Karlheinz Bohm and Anna Massey.  Directed by Michael Powell.