Sara Driver's Carte Blanche selection of the Hollywood masterpieces Cat People and Topper provides an exemplary lesson in low-budget filmmaking, a reminder that a filmmaker with no money should avoid making storyboards detailing what to shoot, and instead daydream and night dream enough to muster up a mood of paranoia, lust and regret, and glean from this familiar urban mix exactly what not to show on screen.
Shadows are important for this mood, but so are ghostly lights and sounds. Driver excels at both of these in her 80s New York nocturnal fairytale Sleepwalk, as well as in her Paul Bowles-based (and seemingly Jane Bowles-inspired) featurette You Are Not I, about mental illness and sisters swapping identities. The haunted, dreamy spell cast by Driver's films make them absolutely worth seeing, but the charm comes from the humor, both kooky (most notable in the form of a sexy foreign flake played by Ann Magnuson in Sleepwalk) and downbeat. It's terrific then that she's screening the great ghost comedy, Topper, based on a book by the king of occult light literature, Thorne Smith.
Topper is the story of self-involved socialite ghosts in limbo (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett) who continue to drink endless Pink Ladies and get into some extramarital hanky panky while trying to do a good deed to get out of purgatory. Their target? Painfully uptight Cosmo Topper, who they want to loosen up, to make ride slides into paper lantern-lit nightclubs and to hang from chandeliers, as they do. Sexy Bennett (sister of Joan) is the siren to pull him out of the mud he's stuck in, with her breezy delivery of lines and her slinky body that pops in and out of view. At one point, while talking to Topper, she says droopily before dematerializing, "You don't mind if I save my energy and you just look at nothing for a while, do you?" As in Driver's work, there is an ineffable and weary charm in Topper, here from bodies that go unseen, or half seen, if they can muster up the energy.